The Indigo Wombat (indigowombat) wrote,
The Indigo Wombat

Behind the Curtain

Sometimes, I think the issue isn't so much that we autistics have a deficit in our ability to communicate, but that neurotypicals, non-autisitics, are more successful at deluding themselves into thinking that communication is actually taking place, most of the time.

Throughout humanity, from mind to mind, brain to brain, person to person, we have far less in common in our perspectives and ideas and worldviews than we generally imagine we do.  I found this article roughly a year ago or so, and it explains this point quite well.  Please take a few moments and check it out; it's worth the read, even if it does threaten to go pretty far off-topic toward the end.

So, every mind, every brain, works differently, right?  It's likely that no two of us perceive the color red in quite the same way, just for example.  And that's talking about our shared experience of something that's supposedly a fairly immutable property of external, objective physical reality.  When it comes to things like our hopes and dreams, our ideals and standards, our values and beliefs, why in the world should we think we have a truly meaningful grasp of how the person next to us experiences reality?

But from what I can determine, society doesn't really function unless we all play along with the idea that we're more or less talking about the same thing, that we all mean more or less the same thing by the words we use, by the concepts we invoke, even though the cultural and social contexts surrounding those concepts is experienced remarkably differently by each and every one of us.

There's a good chance that by this point, you, the reader, might think I'm entirely full of bunk, that the fabric of our shared reality isn't nearly so tenuous as I represent it to be here.  Okay, then we disagree.  We aren't reaching agreement on a fundamental aspect of our relationship to each other and to external reality.  In that case, we're not likely to make a lot of sense to each other.  But as long as you're disagreeing with me anyway, let me be so bold as to put forward this radical idea.  We're not disagreeing just because I'm a crazy person who's ranting and speaking nonsense.  We're just jointly aware of our mutual continuing disagreement because I was so impertinent as to point it out, to call it to our attention.  My goodness, how rude of me!

I hypothesize that humans have evolved the social behavior to not question each other's beliefs too closely, to not peer too intently at the underpinnings of our ideas, for fear of exposing the little rifts and mismatches between our worldviews, and casting the person we imagine to be "the same", "one of us", as actually a member of the dreaded class of "the other."  No, surely, the person sitting next to me in the church pew must be in complete agreement with me on our beliefs about abortion, about homosexuality, right?  How could it be otherwise?  We're members of the same congregation!

And so we delude ourselves, and each other, into thinking we're sharing the same conversations, that we mean the same things by what we say.  We've evolved a set of behaviors designed to steer us away from the uncomfortable realization that we don't know the person next to us nearly as well as we think we do.

Except that this doesn't work for everyone.  It's a matter of statistics, of averages.  This biological imperative for a shared social construct simply produces a set of behaviors that will allow most of us, most of the time, to get along reasonably well without experiencing the cognitive dissonance of realizing you don't mean the same things by the same words as the person you're talking to does.

Some of us find that this mechanism doesn't work for us, however.  Maybe it's a difference in the neurological wiring that performs that function, that should help us know how to play along with everyone else in the delusion.  Or maybe it's simply a difference in perception and worldview that's outside the range of differences that this mechanism can accommodate.  But for whatever reason, this shared social construct, this fig leaf with which we conceal our unsightly bits from each other, doesn't really seem to do the job of providing us with adequate coverage for polite society.  We are autistic, and we are unseemly, and you're supposed to avert your eyes and not look too closely at those bits of us that awkwardly protrude from behind the fabric of our shared social customs.

So where does that leave us?  From my perspective, that can leave us closer to a true understanding of the world than the average person out there.  We can be aware of this fantasy, this fig leaf, this delusion, and so understand one another at least a little better, even if it's a lot more work than just going along with the flow and allowing ourselves to believe that we're not really that different.  Some of us don't have it so easy.  Some of us don't have convenient access to that luxury.  But however much effort one option or the other might entail for us as an individual, we can try to pretend, and go along with it all, or we can disobey the Big Talking Head and Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain.

Guess what I'm doing?
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