Nurturing shared understanding in a deceptive world

Social construction of neuronormative reality

Many medical doctors, engineers of all stripes, economists – and all other professions that serve the established social order, as well as celebrities, are co-opted into the cult of individual busyness, where they all defer the most important decisions to power drunk “leaders” in industry and government.

I have yet to see any design initiative from a larger organisation that does not have the primary objective (often unspoken) of maintaining and strengthening established power gradients. The unspoken ‘universal law of social design’: Institutional power must be reinforced. The discipline of design has been co-opted to perpetuate and strengthen established oppressive systems of power.

This is why it so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives fail.

This is why Autistic perspectives are marginalised in autism research.

This is why government strategies to deal with existential threats are based on incrementalism and on kicking the can down the road.

People engage in magical thinking when they believe they contribute to genuine change by making things a bit less bad within a small silo within an established system of power that optimises for profit and material growth. Less growth is still growth. Less unsustainable is still unsustainable. And no level of incrementalism within the system will ever lead to a reduction in the overall ecological and material footprint of humans. It is common practice to obscure the universal law of social design by relabelling institutions, changing reporting structures – known as reorganising, but nothing ever changes for those at the receiving end of institutional power.

William C. Rees does an excellent job of describing how the construction of social “reality” has completely decoupled from the physical and biological world – humans are animals, and this decoupling is having massive health impacts. Most of W. C. Rees’ observations are spot-on, but he underestimates the long-term multi-generational perspective that is baked into some if not many indigenous cultures. Internalised social norms can either amplify the short-term thinking, or they can maximise the human capacity for long-term thinking within the constraints of human cognitive limits.

My understanding of individual human cognitive limits, social dynamics, and collective human capabilities is informed by what I have observed in many different small team environments that are embedded in larger institutional settings, in the context of what I refer to as ‘knowledge archaeology’. I have seen and measured several fold reductions in spurious cultural complexity that become possible in small high trust de-powered (i.e. safe) social environments.

In our industrialised world knowledge archaeology extends into the domain of software and data intensive systems. Having used tools to analyse and visualise the dependencies between millions of lines of code, and having seen how engineers naively (ab)use abstract mathematics to cobble together so-called machine learning systems, has equipped me with with a high level of techo-scepticism. It is very easy for those who have not waded through the mud of big junk data to get sucked into magical thinking about technological options going forward. Fully open and transparent science, and establishing a global knowledge commons are very important, but such efforts are crippled in a hyper-competitive, i.e. learning disabled world of exponentially growing junk data.

I empathise with much of what Daniel Schmachtenberger talks about, and the way he is looking for ways to protect humans from our own stupidity, but in doing so, at times I feel he over-estimates (a) the potential and usefulness of digital technologies and (b) our ability to understand the world beyond human scale – by definition we can’t. Being able to think in abstract terms about super human scale systems does not equate to a deeper understanding of such systems, it does not give us additional predictive powers, but it can alert us to super human scale phenomena that we should be monitoring and measuring. It comes down to how low or how high we want to set the bar for what we consider “understanding”. You can listen to the following interview with Walid Saba on the state of the art of human language processing and then think about how this fits together with André Spicer‘s observations on institutionalised and sanctified BS and genuine concerns about big junk data.

In much of the W.E.I.R.D. world BS is the only thing that still “sells”. The entire economy is a game of perception management, there is no substance left underneath. The evidence is now everywhere. If you attempt to sell anything that is not largely BS, something that actually delivers or contributes towards valuable services to people at the grassroots level, by definition you are not advancing the perception management game, and hence none of those who attempt to secure their position within the established system will buy from you.

Life is too short for BS. The competitive corporate way of life is not healthy for anyone. Most people are trapped by the culture that surrounds them, they are prisoners. In contrast, the few Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people who focus entirely on what they consider ethical and genuinely valuable, who grow their competency network this way, co-create initiatives with the people they deeply appreciate and genuinely trust, and ultimately that’s what matters.

The institutional crisis, especially in W.E.I.R.D. countries, is very real. The disease is terminal. In the Autistic community we are open about this and about the harm this causes in terms of mental and physical health. More “culturally well adjusted” people are likely having similar experiences, only they don’t talk about it nearly as openly and honestly in a society that is built entirely around “success” and “growth”.

In this interview Nate Hagans is chatting with Berry Liberman in Australia, who is beginning to get her head around the extent to which “investment” is broken. Money as we know it is a legacy technology. Less “developed” countries are a big step ahead. Their populations are used to not being able to rely on institutions, and this gives them a much better grasp on reality. I agree with Indrajit Samarajiva, science will not “save” us. To feel alive, we need healthy lifetime relationships with a few trustworthy people, to feel comfortable in our skin, stop betraying ourselves, and we need to engage with the physical and biological world on a daily basis.

High fidelity conceptual models of our rich internal worlds

The atoms of thought

Human mental models have been around for much longer than human language. To understand the core mechanisms of human reasoning and thinking, and to appreciate the dangerous limitations of human language, we need to step back in time and look at how language evolved from a biological perspective.

Here is a synopsis of thinking tools that predate human language:

  1. Humans and a some other animals are capable of shared attention. I can look at something and detect that another animal is looking at the same thing, and I understand that we are both seeing the same thing, whilst realising that we may have wildly different perspectives on the thing (associations with past experiences) that we see. Someone who has never seen or heard of a gun may not know that it can kill. I can also observe two people who are looking at some object, and I understand that their minds are focused on that object.
  2. Beyond awareness of shared attention humans have evolved limbs that allow us to point to things, to further disambiguate and make it more obvious what we are focusing on.
  3. Humans and other animals create mental representations (= models) of the things we interact with.
  4. Furthermore humans and some animals can identify commonalities between things (abstract/generalise) and create mental models of groups of similar things (= categories).
    • … and can identify spatial relationships between things (containment and connectors) and create mental models of these relationships (= graphs).
    • … and can identify changes over time (movement of things) and create mental models of patterns of movements (= operations).
  5. Humans and perhaps also some animals can apply their pattern recognition and abstraction abilities to operations, leading to mental representations that contain abstract operations.
  6. Humans and perhaps also some animals rely on their mental models to conduct extensive simulations to predict events and arrive at decisions. In some domains this happens subconsciously and very fast, and in other domains we are capable of slower and deliberate conscious simulations.

We and other animals can do all of these things without talking. No spoken or written language is required. Mental models and reasoning clearly came first. Human language came second.

I have gained extensive experience simply by living with fairly severe autism for my lifetime. Difference can be wonderful, and autism shouldn’t be tampered with, or altered. Autistic people shouldn’t be changed…

The autistic individual certainly has a right to this special home within. It is not a dream world as some dictionaries imply. It’s not a spot in the mind filled with hallucinations. Rather the person sees what is around him with extra-acute sight…

An autistic experiencing the outside world experiences it as surreal, not as a made-up work of art in the mind. You can’t judge the world of another as inferior, because you don’t live in that world…

The autistic world is comfortable. It is a safe place to ground oneself in. Autistic children can keep their inner sanctuaries, as well as grow and learn, and become educated…

It is a very bad idea to force one’s way into an autistic’s world. That is a grave threat to the autistic person. … All things coming from the outside must be gentle, sometimes devoid of emotion, so as to not overwhelm…

Jasmine Lee O’Neill. Through the Eyes of Aliens – A Book About Autistic People. 1999.

Autistic artistic expression

The arts, and music, and mathematics are human scale tools for communicating the essence of complex patterns of mental states (knowledge, feelings, and awareness of agency and motivations) that don’t survive simplistic attempts of serialisation and de-serialisation via stories. The outputs of the arts, music, and mathematics are highly generative, they can’t be described in any simple story. Instead they open up and invite a multitude of complementary interpretations.

The arts and music are essential communication and exploration tools for feelings, agency, and motivations, and the application of mathematical theories has become a critical part of a growing number of knowledge intensive disciplines. The essence of the scientific method is the combination of the atoms of thought with the technique of validation via instantiation.

The art of explanation

Paul Lockhart (2002) describes mathematics as the art of explanation. He is correct. Mathematical proofs are the one type of storytelling that is committed to being entirely open regarding all assumptions and to the systematically exploring all the possible implications of specific sets of assumptions. Foundational mathematical assumptions are usually referred to as axioms.

Formal proofs are parametrised formal stories (sequences of reasoning steps) that explore the possibilities of entire families of stories and their implications. Mathematical beauty is achieved when a complex family of stories can be described by a small elegant formal statement. Complexity does not melt away accidentally. It is distilled down to the its essence by finding a natural language (or model) for the problem space represented by a family of formal stories.

A useful model encapsulates all relevant commonalities of the problem space – it provides an explanation that is understandable for anyone who is able to follow the reasoning steps leading to the model.

Explaining the language of symbolic thought

As humans we are familiar with spoken human language, and with written human language, encoded in one of the established symbol systems (or alphabets) that predate the invention of modern computers. Additionally, humans have developed specialised symbol systems for recording definitions of music, for expressing mathematics, for traffic signs and signals, electronic circuit designs, etc. – all these symbol systems are considered as languages in the mathematical discipline of model theory. In fact, symbol systems predate humans by billions of years; the genetic code is clearly a language in the model theoretic sense – and even pheromones constitute a language.

Without delving into the formal mathematical details, the significance of model theory is best appreciated intuitively by considering the following observations:

  1. Linguistics as pioneered by Noam Chomsky in the 1950s and 1960s as well as the work on generative semantics and metaphors by George Lakoff can be formalised via model theory.
  2. The work of model theorists goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, and was motivated by mathematicians who were concerned about potential logical inconsistencies in the mathematical symbol system and the conventions governing its use.
  3. The resulting introspective research into symbol systems has led to a mathematical theory that can be used to formalise any symbol system, not limited to the languages invented by humans, and including the genetic code.
  4. All non-linear symbolic diagramming notations can easily be formalised mathematically.

The desire to understand and be understood

Human minds are the tools that connect the physical dimension of our existence to other living creatures, and to a rich internal world, which integrates our own perceptions into a seemingly coherent representation of the external world around us. Human minds can develop amazing capabilities, but at the same time, our cognitive capacities are limited. To ensure we understand each other, we must know our limits, and we must co-create safe spaces for engaging in de-powered dialogue.

As soon as spoken language entered our world, initially as a serialisation format for communicating simple references to things within our local context, things started to get messy. We started to reference abstract things, references to references, and experiences that occurred many years ago. From that time onwards I suspect the number of misunderstandings in communication grew exponentially.

Language allows us to create rough and speculative models of what might go on in another mind. But since people can not visit the past of other people, this lead us down the path of extensive social delusion, where we started to assume that we understand each other much better than we actually do.

Validation of shared understanding by instantiation of abstractions with concrete examples usually only comes into play when harsh reality points people to concrete misunderstandings. In many contexts something like the 80 / 20 rule is good enough for language to be a useful and viable tool. Making correct assumptions 80% of the time is good enough for many day to day life scenarios for the majority of people.

With the evolution of the human capacity for language, the seeds for storytelling had been sowed. The first human hive minds emerged. Written language made things even worse in terms of the scope of the social delusion, it gave people opportunities to “read” large volumes of information out of context in space and time. Many of the written words of old and distant texts seem familiar – as needed with the help of a translator (another source of potential misunderstandings), and people end up importing many thousands of references to very unfamiliar abstractions into their mental models on top of their first hand experiences.

We all know that human imagination knows few limits, but at the same time we like to believe that we “understand” what others have written, without necessarily realising the contradiction. The human tendency to believe in the validity of our imagination after hearing or reading a story allowed storytelling and belief systems to rise to new heights.

With language, human culture increasingly became defined by myths residing within hive minds. At that stage a few people started scratching their heads about weird human social behaviours and associated rituals and beliefs. In today’s society, within the pathology paradigm of Western medicine, such people would be labelled Autistic.

Being hypersensitive in a hyper-normative world

Autistic people easily get depressed and develop physical health conditions when having to survive in social environments that deny Autistic authenticity and that continuously expect Autistic people to conform to neuronormative cultural rituals. Sooner or later, unless the Autist is able to shift or change the environmental context, recurring traumatic experiences result in chronic depression and Autistic burnout.

Autistic and other hypersensitive people are traumatised by being punished for being authentic, for example by asking clarifying questions or for being honest about our feelings or our knowledge, or alternatively, by the cognitive dissonance of attempting to conform to toxic social expectations.

Autistic people are mostly made to suffer for being authentic. If we attempt to conform, due to our limited capacity for cognitive dissonance, we experience existential depression at a very young age, often as children, and without any agency to construct or retreat to a safe environment, without access to Autistic community. We grow our compassion and mutual understanding by de-powering all our Autistic dialogues, which is the only path for healing in a hyper-competitive deceptive world.

In the industrial era human scale ecologies of care have been systematically replaced by atomised families and super human scale abstract group identities (brands, nationalities, parties, sports teams, professional identities, etc.), thereby crippling people’s ecological understanding, their basic understanding of what it means to be alive, including their ability to trust themselves and each other at human scale.

The ability to extend trust to oneself and others depends on, and can only be (re)learned through the lived experience of being embedded in an ecology of care over an extended period. Prolonged absence of a healthy ecology of care can lead to self-hatred and related chronic health problems.

The relational understanding of groups

In order to feel safe, Autistic people need access to authentic Autistic culture and opportunities to develop Autistic relationships.

We can reframe the notion of social group, to highlight the relational aspect of social groups as the main characteristic of culture.

A cultural organism : the set of all the relationships of a core set of people, including all the relationships that these people have with people beyond the core set, i.e. a cultural organism always includes a boundary layer that connects the organism to the outside world.

This reflects the complexity and diversity of the world we live in, and it also reflects on the fact that within a group everyone is surrounded by a unique ecology of care – the relationships that each individual maintains. Our ecology of care should be a safe place for Autistic dialogues, where Autistic openness, honesty, and curiosity is appreciated, and where our strong aversion to coercive pressures and all forms of social hierarchies is respected. Autistic culture evolves via Autistic dialogues within a human scale cultural organism:

  • We discover semantic equivalences between shared mental models
  • We discover differences in mental models and lived experiences
  • We consciously agree on the level of shared understanding
  • We consciously acknowledge differences in lived experiences
  • We feel seen and understood
  • We (re)learn to extend trust and be trusted
  • We develop unique and deep Autistic relationships
  • We co-create and collaborate as part of unique neurodivergent competency networks

Numerical scientific models that are fitted to observable data

The scientific revolution and the application of numerical mathematical techniques undoubtedly led to a better understanding of some aspects of the world we live in, enabling humans to create more and more complex technologies. But it also created new levels of ignorance about externalities that went hand in hand with the development of new technologies, fuelled by specific economic beliefs about efficiency and abstractions such as money and markets.

In the early days of the industrial revolution modelling was concerned with understanding and mastering the physical world, resulting in progress in engineering and manufacturing. Over the last century formal model building was found to be useful in more and more disciplines, across all the natural sciences, and increasingly as well in medicine and the social sciences, especially in economics.

With 20/20 hindsight it becomes clear that there is a significant lag between model building and the identification of externalities that are created by systematically applying models to accelerate the development and roll-out of new technologies.

Humans are biased to thinking they understand more than they actually do, and this effect is further amplified by technologies such as the Internet, which connects us to an exponentially growing pool of information. New knowledge is being produced faster than ever whilst the time available to independently validate each new nugget of “knowledge” is shrinking, and whilst the human ability to learn new knowledge at best remains unchanged – if it is not compromised by information overload.

Those who engage in model building face the challenge of either diving deep into a narrow silo, to ensure and adequate level of understanding of a particular niche domain, or to restrict their activity to an attempt of modelling the dependencies between subdomains, and to coordinating the model building of domain experts across a number of silos. As a result:

  • Many models are only understandable for their creators and a very small circle of collaborators.
  • Each model integrator can only be effective at bridging a very limited number of silos.
  • The assumptions associated with each model are only known understood locally, some of the assumptions remain tacit knowledge, and assumptions may vary significantly between the models produced by different teams.
  • Many externalities escape early detection, as there is hardly anyone or any technology continuously looking for unexpected results and correlations across deep chains of dependencies between subdomains.

When the translation of new models into new applications and technologies is not adequately constrained by the level to which models can be independently validated and by application of the precautionary principle, potentially catastrophic surprises are inevitable.

Numerical models in the natural sciences

The usefulness of numerical, statistical, and probabilistic models rests on the assumption that there is an objective reality out there that can be approximated by a set of abstract numerical parameters and formal relationships between these parameters in a way that provides us some level of predictive capability and thereby a deeper understanding of a particular aspect of reality.

This approach has led to impressive results in the natural sciences, in particular in physics, physical chemistry, and computational biology, including techniques for modelling and better understanding some aspects of complex and chaotic systems.

The more parameters and relationships between parameters come into play, the more difficult it typically is to uncover cognitively simple models that shed new light onto a particular problem space and the underlying assumptions. If a particular set of formal assumptions is found to have a correspondence in the physical or living world, the potential for positive and negative technological innovation can be profound. Whether the positive or negative potential prevails is determined by the motivations, political moves, and stories told by those who claim credit for innovation.

Statistical models in the social sciences

Psychology and other social sciences differ from the natural sciences in that they are dealing with humans, i.e. with conscious agents that have rich internal worlds and unique lived experiences on the one hand, and that are heavily influenced by the culture they are embedded in on the other hand.

The application of numerical techniques in this context inevitably involves over-simplifying assumptions about human individual and collective behaviour. Often specific ideological assumptions are deliberately introduced to allow specific people and institutions to benefit economically from the output of specific predictive models and algorithms.

In the ideology of the invisible hand that applies the industrial factory metaphor to society, the only things that count in are things that can be measured. It is no coincidence that scientific management (Taylorism) was conceived in the wake of the invention of the steam engine and machine assisted manufacturing, to complement the the laws of physics that governed the mechanics and the productivity of the machines on the factory floor. The discipline of economics allowed the scientific approach to managing humans to be extended to the scale of nation states – as a conceptual building block for organising human activities in industrialised societies.

There are a number of parallels between the impact of the development of economic theories on human society and the social impact of the development of the Internet. Neither the Internet nor economics draw directly on an evidence based understanding of physics, biology, and human cognitive diversity.

Both the Internet and economic theories are best understood as prescriptive rather than observational tools – as language systems that are based on specific European/North American cultural conventions that are assumed to be “sensible” (common sense) or “obvious” (self-evident).

With these language systems in place you can measure data flows and economic performance, but only in terms of the scope and the preconceived categories afforded by the formal protocols and languages. The introduction of a formal economic language system and the introduction of formal protocols for digital communication have shaped human culture around the social ideologies espoused by early industrialists and early information technology entrepreneurs.

Over course of the last two centuries governments have become increasingly dependent on economists and information technology entrepreneurs in order to understand and engage with society, and also to understand what what technological possibilities are appearing on the horizon. In this process anything that lies beyond the scope of economic doctrine is discounted as non-essential or unproductive.

The ideological bias in the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry is no less concerning. Psychologists are only starting to acknowledge the scale of the immense harm and the many deaths caused by dehumanising cultural bias and inappropriate use of over-simplified statistical models.

The interview below is a good example of the depth of the ideological bias that has shaped the field over the course of the last 150 years. From an Autistic perspective the persistent behaviourist attempts to impose cultural expectations from the outside, and the level of ignorance about the relevance of rich inner worlds and individually unique mental models remains disturbing.

Many Autistic people have suffered some form of abuse throughout their childhood from their caregivers. Broken trust is at the core of Autistic trauma. We are not equipped for life in industrialised societies that are all about perception management, where even “education” of small children in primary school is focused on topics such as persuasive writing. What is completely lacking in the neuronormative world around us is a culture that appreciates the open dialogues necessary to nurture and deepen shared understanding, and to discover and openly acknowledge the boundaries of shared understanding at each stage of the journey.

Conceptual models vs narratives

Whenever storytelling and related tools of persuasion are used to transmit and replicate beliefs, as is usually the case in politics and marketing, critical validation becomes essential to minimise misunderstandings and attempts at deception. If we value the creation of cultures of thinking, then the risks of deceptive storytelling need to be acknowledged, and exploration and critical validation of knowledge, feelings, agency, and motivations must be encouraged.

The art of storytelling is linked to the rise of marketing and persuasive writing. Edward Bernays was one of the original shapers of the logic of marketing:

Bernays’ vision was of a utopian society in which individuals’ dangerous libidinal energies, the psychic and emotional energy associated with instinctual biological drives that Bernays viewed as inherently dangerous given his observation of societies like the Germans under Hitler, could be harnessed and channelled by a corporate elite for economic benefit. Through the use of mass production, big business could fulfil the cravings of what Bernays saw as the inherently irrational and desire-driven masses, simultaneously securing the niche of a mass production economy (even in peacetime), as well as sating what he considered to be dangerous animal urges that threatened to tear society apart if left unquelled.

Bernays touted the idea that the “masses” are driven by factors outside their conscious understanding, and therefore that their minds can and should be manipulated by the capable few. “Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.”

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

Propaganda was portrayed as the only alternative to chaos.

The purpose of storytelling is the propagation of beliefs and emotions. Stories are appealing and hold persuasive potential because of their role in cultural transmission is the result of gene-culture co-evolution in tandem with the human capability for symbolic thought and spoken language. In human culture stories are involved in two functions:

  1. Transmission of beliefs that are useful for the members of a group. Shared beliefs are the catalyst for improved collaboration.
  2. Deception in order to protect or gain social status within a group or between groups. In the framework of contemporary competitive economic ideology deception is often referred to as marketing.

Storytelling thus is a key element of cultural evolution. Unfortunately cultural evolution fuelled by storytelling is a terribly slow form of learning for societies, even though storytelling is an impressively fast way for transmitting beliefs to other individuals. Not entirely surprisingly some studies find the prevalence of psychopathic traits in the upper echelons of the corporate world to be between 3% and 21%, much higher than the 1% prevalence in the general population.

Storytelling with the intent of deception enables individuals to reap short-term benefits for themselves to the longer-term detriment of society. The extent to which deceptive storytelling is tolerated is influenced by cultural norms, by the effectiveness of institutions and technologies entrusted with the enforcement of cultural norms, and the level of social inequality within a society. The work of the disciples of Edward Bernays ensured that deceptive storytelling has become a highly respected and valued skill.

However, simply focusing on minimising deception is no fix for all the weaknesses of storytelling. When a society with highly effective norm enforcement insists on rules and behavioural patterns that create environmental or social externalities, some of which may be invisible from within the cultural framework, deception can become a vital tool for those who suffer as a result of the externalities.

Furthermore, even in the absence of intentional deception, the maintenance, transmission, and uncritical adoption of beliefs via storytelling can easily become problematic if beliefs held in relation to the physical and living world are simply wrong. For example some people continue to hold scientifically untenable beliefs about the causes of specific diseases.

Attempts of global narrative development are fraught with difficulties, misunderstandings, and perceived and genuine social power dynamics. Our civilisation needs palliative care for its dying institutions and compassionate exit paths for the inmates, including guidance on locally relevant wisdom and systems of knowing.

All scientists, engineers, and technologists are familiar with a language that is more expressive and less ambiguous than spoken and written language. The language of concept graphs with highly domain and context-specific iconography regularly appears on white boards whenever two or more people from different disciplines engage in collaborative problem solving. Such languages can easily be formalised mathematically and can be used in conjunction with rigorous validation by example / experiments.

Collaborative niche construction

Psychiatry is slowly catching up with the concept of neurodiversity amongst animals, including humans, taking clues from animal biology/psychology and from the neurodiversity movement. The language used is still compliant with the language of the pathology paradigm, but if you are unfamiliar with the emerging discipline of evolutionary psychiatry, the presentation by Adam Hunt will provide you with a good foundation. The core observations are piggybacking on what Autistic communities have been discussing for a number of years, and what has more recently also found its way into anthropological narratives.

We can use the language of evolutionary design (specifically the semantic lens and the evolutionary lens) to broadly categorise the intentions of the social niches that existed in the hunter gatherer societies that preceded super human scale empire and civilisation building endeavours:

Neuronormative cultural practices

Sustaining and replicating a culture

Cultural practices that are focused on the here and now, performing neuronormative cultural practices and transmission of such practices across generations:

  • Social: Participating in practices related to warfare, punishment, or generosity
  • Design: Performing specific crafts that deliver the material basis for sustaining the local community and the local culture

Neuronormative cultural practices assisted in maintaining networks of domain specific competencies and ecologies of care over many hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Social cohesion was reinforced by egalitarian resource sharing, collaboration within groups and between locally connected groups, and constraining the scope of punishment and war to clamp down on violators of egalitarian principles.

In contrast, in industrialised societies, neuronormative practices have been hijacked to support super human scale empire building endeavours: Preoccupation with symbols of social status (wealth), accumulation and uneven distribution of food and material goods (meritocracy), head to head competition (the religion of the invisible hand of the market), and unconstrained use of punishment and war via socially sanctioned forms of bullying (hierarchical management) and large scale war (especially economic wars that condemn millions to poverty, inhuman living conditions, and premature death) that are sanctioned by the invisible hand.

Neurodivergent cultural practices

Understanding environmental conditions, conducting experiments, and selecting adaptive strategies

Cultural practices that reflect on the past through a critical lens, with a view of shaping and influencing the future, engaging in neurodivergent practices and exploration:

  • Critical: Responding to unusual environmental changes and social challenges
  • Organic: Acquiring domain specific knowledge about the ecological context / niche of the group through direct observation and pattern recognition
  • Symbolic: Integrating new experiences and knowledge into the local culture via performance or art (storytelling, singing, composition, dance)

Neurodivergent cultural practices and Autistic ways of being are best understood as essential elements of the cultural immune system of human societies. In societies with severely disabled cultural immune systems that are facing existential threats we have to urgently think about how to repair the cultural immune system.

Autistic people and other traumatised people should be free to imagine and realise a world where we don’t have to leave behind everything we value in life to go to “work”, only to perpetuate the sanctified institutional bullshit that is killing the entire living planet.

Cultural adaptations over evolutionary time scales

If we want to find our way back to human scale and to the level of collective intelligence and cultural adaptive capability that is needed to navigate existential threats, we need to develop a language that enables us to imagine potential paths into a future that looks very different from the industrialised world that we were born into.

Keeping in mind the interplay between neuronormative and neurodivergent cultural practices, and mapping the social dynamics onto human evolutionary history, we can distinguish four basic categories of human societies:

Egalitarian

Egalitarian societies are focused on group survival and collaborative niche construction, and they are underpinned by consciously designed collaborative social norms. The dynamics of local environmental conditions allow everyone to viscerally understand the group as the smallest unit of survival. Mutual aid and an appreciation of unique individual talents, strengths, and limitations is baked into foundational social norms and daily routines. Human collective compassion and intelligence ensures that life is enjoyable for all. Hence it makes sense to think about the adaptation of egalitarian societies to changing environment conditions in terms of collaborative niche construction, and to conceptualise the resulting social structure as an ecology of care.

The following characteristics clearly distinguish egalitarian societies from other societies:

  • Competition is a secondary effect that operates over multiple generations (hundreds of years) between groups.
  • Everyone intuitively understands human scale – super human scale is recognised as a dangerous collective learning disability to be avoided. Explicit social norms prompt large (super human scale) social groups to split into two collaborating groups.

Success oriented

Success oriented societies are still focused on group survival and collaborative niche construction, but they no longer have effective social norms against competitive niche construction.

Such shifts in social norms can occur when local environmental conditions are stable and offer an over-abundance of food and material resources. As consciously designed collaborative social norms for punishing individually competitive behaviour become weakened, social norms eventually – over generations – gravitate towards a mix of collaborative and competitive social norms. Human collective compassion and intelligence is weakened.

The following characteristics distinguish success oriented societies from other societies:

  • A mix of collaborative and competitive niche construction. Collaboration and competition are primary effects that operate between individuals within a single generation.
  • Social norms don’t systematically clamp down on attempts of wielding power over others, social power gradients are acceptable. Individuals with a psychopathic lack of compassion are given opportunities to benefit from competitive behaviour – paving the path for eventually undermining the intuitive understanding of super human scale as a dangerous collective learning disability.

Growth oriented

Growth oriented societies are focused on empire building, prioritising competitive niche construction and aggressive head to head competition over collaborative niche construction. Human collective compassion and intelligence is seriously undermined, and society is now primed for eventual self destruction.

The following characteristics distinguish growth oriented societies from other societies:

  • Achieving super human scale and further expansion has become an explicit goal.
  • Collaboration is a secondary effect that operates mainly because of the innate social / helpful disposition of humans – in spite of largely competitive social norms.
  • Social norms celebrate those who successfully wield power over others, social power gradients are understood as a law of nature. Individuals with a psychopathic lack of compassion have gravitated to most positions of power. All of society has been co-opted into a super human scale empire building scheme, culture is deteriorating into a cult.

“Pay for merit, pay for what you get, reward performance. Sounds great, can’t be done. Unfortunately it can not be done, on short range. After 10 years perhaps, 20 years, yes. The effect is devastating. People must have something to show, something to count. In other words, the merit system nourishes short-term performance. It annihilates long-term planning. It annihilates teamwork. People can not work together. To get promotion you’ve got to get ahead. By working with a team, you help other people. You may help yourself equally, but you don’t get ahead by being equal, you get ahead by being ahead. Produce something more, have more to show, more to count. Teamwork means work together, hear everybody’s ideas, fill in for other people’s weaknesses, acknowledge their strengths. Work together. This is impossible under the merit rating / review of performance system. People are afraid. They are in fear. They work in fear. They can not contribute to the company as they would wish to contribute. This holds at all levels. But there is something worse than all of that. When the annual ratings are given out, people are bitter. They can not understand why they are not rated high. And there is a good reason not to understand. Because I could show you with a bit of time that it is purely a lottery.

– W Edwards Deming (1984)

Terminally learning disabled

Terminally learning disabled societies are late stage empires, focused entirely on maintaining a façade of growth and success, right through to the final stages of collapse.

The following characteristics distinguishes terminally learning disabled societies from other societies:

  • Once the cult of empire and growth has become hyper-normative, sizeable parts of the population are dehumanised.
  • Ultimately the neurodiversity within the human species triggers the process of schismogenesis. Small groups split off to consciously co-create egalitarian societies. Some members of the collapsing empire may find the courage to migrate to one of the emergent egalitarian societies, and others may die as part of the empire, due to forces far beyond human control.

Successful bullshitting enhances the image of bullshitters. This happens when bullshitters are able to more or less convincingly present themselves as more grandiose than they actually are. External audiences are more likely to make positive judgements about them and be more willing to invest resources in them. Organizations often use trendy but misleading names to attract resources (particularly from the uninformed). In recent years, firms have gained a boost in valuation by adopting a name invoking blockchain technology.

As well as enhancing one’s image, bullshitting can also help to enhance self-identity. This is because bullshit can enable bullshitters to conjure a kind of ‘self-confidence trick’. This happens when bullshitters mislead themselves into believing their own bullshit. Self-deception enables individuals to present themselves as much more self-confident than they would otherwise seem if they had to engage in cognitively taxing processes of dual processing (holding in one’s mind both the deceptive statement as well as the truth). The self-confidence which comes from self-deception can aid resource acquisition. For instance, entrepreneurs are encouraged to ignore their objective chances of failure so they can appear self-confident in their search for resources to support their venture.

When bullshit has become part of the formal organization for some time, it can slowly start to seem valuable in and of itself. When this happens, bullshit can be treated as sacred. Sanctification happens when an element of secular life (such as bullshitting) is elevated, a sense of higher meaning is projected into it, and deep existential significance is invested in it.

André Spicer (2020)

The current social operating system amplifies the influence of the opinions and whims of a few people (including algorithms that are designed to act as extensions of these people) by several orders of magnitude. At the same time these people are subject to the same cognitive limits as all humans – if anything they may lack sensitivity and self reflective capacities, not understanding that their influence, amplified to the scale of millions and billions of people invariably causes great harm to large numbers of human and non-human living creatures.

There is only one conclusion: it is a form of collective insanity to allow such concentrations of social power, and within this system, the only people who are in a position to do something about this state of affairs are those few who currently hold positions of highly concentrated social power – but these people are in these positions because they are hopelessly addicted to the most dangerous drug for humans, namely social power.

“Let’s not look to the people in power to change things, because the people in power, I’m afraid to say, are very often some of the emptiest people in the world, and they are not going to change things for us.”

– Dr. Gabor Maté

We have to recognise that these people are addicts, and we need to start treating them as such. Humans have severe cognitive limitations, but once we start acknowledging our limitations, we can at least organise for optimal collective intelligence – a small positive number, not quite zero.

It is delusional to think that any of the addicts in positions of social power will ever voluntarily give up their drug, just as it is delusional to think that any other system of large scale social organisation based on some different form of coercive control or influence would be any better or less corruptible. I have spent over 30 years of my working life getting paid for surfacing tacit knowledge, ensuring psychological safety, and establishing shared understanding across disciplines and cultures. I am also acutely aware how often misunderstandings accumulate, even between people with the best intentions, and how people quickly become judgemental, and thereby invoke social power dynamics that can get in the way of establishing a basis for de-powered dialogue and shared understanding.

All human attempts of control at large scale are futile. We can build on this insight, co-creating optimal environments for nurturing collective human intelligence. We know how to do this. It is not rocket science. It involves what I refer to as “de-powering” everything we do, ultimately including nuclear disarmament.

This involves reducing energy consumption, as well as reducing social power gradients by orders of magnitude, and nurturing the evolution of small, human scale ecologies of mutual care. The latter can occur in parallel with offering palliative care to established powered-up super human scale organisations, including compassionate exit paths for the inmates.

De-powering is occurring in two basic ways:

  1. Voluntarily and consciously, by realising that emergent human scale ecologies of mutual care provide an avenue for incrementally phasing out super human scale institutions of power, without needing to come up with an overall grandiose master plan that pretends to offer “the” solution. Human scale is small, it is local, it is beautiful, and by definition is compatible with human cognitive limits – it protects us from the grandiose delusions of control that have culminated in the predicament of powered-up industrialised civilisation.
  2. Involuntarily, by forces beyond human control, such as increasingly severe extreme weather events, ecological collapse, and breakdown of brittle energy intensive and under-resourced systems that implode under their own bureaucratic weight.

Given the addictive nature of social power, the second path will play a prominent role. This is the sad reality that has unfolded. We have to face it.

All that we can do is to offer support to the few who are consciously working on the first path, in many different localities, surfacing and distilling locally relevant knowledge, including indigenous ways of knowing that are still accessible.

The marginalised people who are working on this path constitute the cultural immune system of human societies. Some of us have been on this path for many decades, and increasingly we are collaborating, both globally and locally. In contrast to culturally well adjusted neuronormative people, Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people are “not culturally well adjusted” from their first day of life onwards. We are anthropologists by birth, and for many of us, attempting to become “culturally well adjusted” to our sick society was never really a survivable option.

Collaborative niche construction at human scale

The four categories of human societies are compatible with the evidence examined by historian Joseph Tainter and by what anthropologists and archaeologists are discovering about human cultural evolution. The main difference between modern emergent human scale cultural species and prehistoric human scale cultural species lies in the language systems and communication technologies that are being used to coordinate activities and to record and transmit knowledge within cultural organisms, between cultural organisms, and between cultural species.

Humans all over the world need to address multiple existential threats, without any delay, within a time frame of a few years and decades, which is only possible by transitioning to egalitarian cultural practices at human scale, and by recognising the role of neurodivergent niche construction within this context.

Neurodivergent niche construction at human scale primarily relies on a critical lens and on environmental (re)engineering practices that result in new adaptive paradigmatic frameworks that are tailored around the unique needs of the members of a specific ecology of care and that are embedded in the local non-human ecology. In contrast, neuronormative niche construction primarily relies on social learning by imitation, within an established paradigmatic framework.

Autistic people have a life time of experience of surviving by learning to trust their own senses and environmental observations. For Autistic people learning by imitation is neither desirable nor intuitively accessible. In the current context of civilisational collapse, paying attention to the non-human environment and paying attention to the cognitive limitations and unique cognitive abilities and talents of each individual is the only viable survival strategy.

What has been obvious to many Autists for decades, is far from obvious to the culturally well adjusted and increasingly confused neuronormative majority. We don’t need yet another complex template for organisational structure and not yet another complex or rigid process to follow within the established social order.

The path to escape the box of a sick society involves rediscovering timeless and minimalistic principles for coordinating creative collaboration in the absence of capital and hierarchical structures:

  1. Visibly extend trust to people, to release the handbrake to collaboration.
  2. Unlock valuable tacit knowledge within a group.
  3. Provide a space for creative freedom.
  4. Help repair frayed relationships.
  5. Replace fear with courage.

People have known about these principles for millennia. Some of the principles have been rediscovered many times, by different groups of people in various geographies and in different cultural contexts. In particular, neurodivergent people are acutely aware that culture is constructed one trusted relationship at a time – this is the essence of fully appreciating diversity.

“Study after study confirms that most people have about five intimate friends, 15 close friends, 50 general friends and 150 acquaintances. This threshold is imposed by brain size and chemistry, as well as the time it takes to maintain meaningful relationships”

– Robin Dunbar (2018)

Within good company (smaller than 50 people), everyone is acutely aware of the competencies of all the others, and transparency and mutual trust enables wisdom and meta knowledge (who has which knowledge and who entrusts whom with questions or needs in relation to specific domains of knowledge) to flow freely. This allows the group to rapidly respond intelligently, creatively, and with courage to all kinds of external events.

As events beyond human control force us to pay attention to the much richer metaphors of living systems, Autistic people are rediscovering the beauty of collaborating at human scale, and co-creating beautiful works of art as an antidote against the emergence of social power dynamics and the competitive logic of hate and violence.

Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. 1902.

Nurturing healthy Autistic relationships

Illustration from Aarambh India

Relationships between Autistic people are often more intense than relationships between culturally well adjusted neuronormative people. Healthy Autistic relationships include intensive collaboration on shared interests, overlapping areas of deep domain expertise, and joint exploration of unfamiliar terrain. The intensity of Autistic relationships is based on our ability to hyperfocus and our unbounded curiosity and desire to learn.

In the above illustration the relative surface areas of the different rectangles represent the usage profile of a neuronormative brain, and the sum of the surface areas represent the total brain volume.

An Autistic brain has the same volume but a distinctly different usage profile. The range of domains that are of interest is much narrower and deeper, with the exception of intuitive (subconscious) social skills, which are much less deep than in a neuronormative “reference” brain. Also note that a significant part of the Autistic brain is devoted to the development of exceptionally deep knowledge and skills in specific domains of interest. The illustrated example reflects my specific interests. Each Autistic person has a unique profile of core interests.

Building blocks of cultural organisms

Human minds are the tools that connect the physical dimension of our existence to other living creatures, and to a rich internal world, which integrates our own perceptions into a seemingly coherent representation of the external world around us. Human minds can develop amazing capabilities, but at the same time, our cognitive capacities are limited.

Understanding the limits of human cognitive capacity provides us with important guidance for the co-creation of healthy social environments that are aligned with human biological needs. The health of human minds can only be understood in the context of the multi-dimensional state of health of the ecology of care that we are embedded in.

Physical presence and activity

Recharging our creative and social batteries by exhausting our physical batteries

We need to keep our bodies healthy and anchor ourselves within the local physical environment to discover and co-create our niche in the local ecology. Our physical presence includes a balance of playing in our physical environment and activities that sustain our physical existence.

Examples:

  • My love of the ocean and the sensory experience of being immersed in water, playing with the physical power of wind and waves, experiencing the colours of the underwater world, and experiencing the reduced levels of contrast between light and dark.
  • Growing food, maintaining our homes, actively exploring our local environment.

We now understand that access to natural environments that include trees and other nonhuman life forms is essential for human well-being, but for the most part we have yet to fully uncover the extent to which many characteristics of industrialised urban environments are incompatible with human biological needs.

Relational presence and activity

Recharging our creative and physical batteries by exhausting our social batteries

We need to nurture our human and nonhuman relationships to anchor ourselves within the ecology of care of our whanau and to feel safe in the world. Our relational presence includes creative and collaborative niche construction as part of the cycle of life.

Examples:

  • Collaborating on long-term projects and initiatives in small de-powered teams of self-selected Autistic peers with overlapping domains of interests and lived experience, who are consciously pushing back against the internalised ableism that is continuously promoted by industrialised society.
  • Connecting and engaging with nonhuman contemporaries, including pets and also wild animals in their natural habitat.

Unfortunately the industrialised world has significantly reduced the opportunities for the latter experience, and this is contributing in a major way to the level of disconnect between industrialised human societies and the ecosystems that these societies are part of.

Many people are trapped in the anthropocentric perspective of believing that human societies depend on ecosystems but not integral part of these ecosystems – and this fuels techno-optimistic delusions of incrementally reducing our dependence on biological ecosystems by replacing their “function” in service to homo economicus with human designed “artificially intelligent” technologies that provide “equivalent utility”.

Internal presence and creativity

Recharging our social and physical batteries by exhausting our creative batteries

We need to integrate our lived experiences and anchor them within our bodies to make sense of our feelings. Our internal presence includes self-reflective and meditative practices as part of navigating the complexity of life with the help of our innate moral compass as well as artistic expressions of our internal experience.

Examples:

  • Regularly engaging in meditative practice, integrating conscious breathing exercises into our daily activities, and engaging in deep thought, internalising, combining / integrating, and externalising our lived experiences.
  • Engaging in art practices that help us to process and articulate our lived experiences in rich non-linear modalities that transcend the limitations of linear language.

These activities can only take place suitably safe spaces, in the natural environment, in our homes, and in de-powered social environments.

Dialogue

The physical, relational, and internal dimensions of our existence are not disconnected, they exist within the context of the ecology that we are part of. De-powered dialogue with other living creatures connects our relational and internal presence, it allows for the unfiltered flows of lived experiences, thoughts, and feelings; it constitutes the foundation for lifetime relationships.

In Autistic dialogues we also need each other as co-pilots, to remind each other of the need to attend to essential routines and potential sensory overload.

Routines

Routines connect our physical and internal presence. Autistic people heavily rely on routines for reducing the cognitive load of chores, and for freeing up time for the things we deeply care about.

Development and fine tuning of Autistic routines is essential to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Open Space

Open Space connects our physical presence and relational presence in a safe social environment. Spending time in Open Space nurtures shared understanding and catalyses collaborative niche construction within a cultural organism.

Open Space lays the foundation for nurturing de-powered ecologies of care that are safe for Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people.

Autistic relationships

Co-pilots and braking assistants

We regularly need to remind each other not to be to hard on ourselves, because being highly sensitive to the needs of others, combined with our capacity for hyperfocus and perseverance, it is easy for us to neglect essential self-care such as eating, sleeping, exercise, meditation, etc. for too long.

As mutual co-pilots and braking assistants we help each other implement and stick to the routines that we need to not become overwhelmed. Assisting each other with routines especially applies to all the things that we consider to be chores, the things we struggle with, and which we perceive as distractions from the things we care about most.

What is a difficult chore for one Autist is often an easy chore for another Autist, and in some cases even a domain of core expertise. We may never become good at some life skills, but we often become the ultimate experts in other life skills.

The fine art of Autistic co-piloting consists of complementing each other in optimal ways, and this may sometimes look very different from the standardised cookie cutter relationship templates prescribed by our society for being good parents, partners, siblings, friends, children etc.

Developing relationships

Relationships between Autistic people are often more intense than relationships between culturally well adjusted neuronormative people. Healthy Autistic relationships include intensive collaboration on shared interests, overlapping areas of deep domain expertise, and joint exploration of unfamiliar terrain. The intensity of Autistic relationships is based on our ability to hyperfocus and our unbounded curiosity and desire to learn.

As Autists we can spend days and weeks in our favourite safe place without much human contact, focused on completing a project that we deeply care about, often forgetting to eat and sleep regularly and neglecting other aspects of basic self care. In the same way, two Autistic people can collaborate intensively on any topic that they care deeply about. The intensity feels like running an ultra-marathon, in a healthy way, helping each other to slow down to a sustainable pace as needed. Learning to become good mutual co-pilots and braking assistants is an essential part of the process.

Autistic people choose Autistic life partners at rates that are ten times higher than by random chance. This is no accident.

In mainstream society people don’t understand how Autistic people support each other, love each other, and care for each other in ways that go far beyond the culturally impaired neuronormative imagination.

Similar observations apply in work environments that require deep domain specific expertise. We tend to quickly gravitate to other Autistic people, and if given the opportunity, form small tight knit teams of Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people, de-powered competency networks that often are able to achieve the seemingly impossible.

De-powered collaboration and mutual trust is the not-so-secret recipe for collective intelligence and genuinely creative problem solving ability.

Sequence matters. Healthy Autistic relationships do not emerge in a vacuum. It is advisable to first focus on jointly co-creating a safe ecology of care, ideally a group of four to seven Autists, who are committed to de-powered collaboration. This allows all participants to incrementally develop a baseline level of mutual trust, and learn how to operate the advice process as described in this earlier article.

Over time, as more and more mutual trust is extended, unique healthy lifetime relationships emerge, including healthy Autistic and neurodivergent relationships that include tailored forms of mutual co-piloting and braking assistance.

Co-piloting vs co-dependency

Unhealthy codependency in a relationship always involves a mismatch of expectations, including a lack of de-powered dialogue, which allows a gap in shared understanding to persist and grow over time.

In contrast, healthy co-piloting is based on in-depth mutual understanding and de-powered dialogue, to jointly navigate the challenges of life. Furthermore, co-piloting is always embedded in a wider ecology of mutual care that includes further people, either in the same household or in other households.

Codependency easily arises in hypernormative industrialised societies that no longer emphasise healthy extended biological and chosen families, i.e. healthy ecologies of care, as the primary economic building blocks of society. Modern nuclear families are far too small to facilitate healthy co-piloting and mutual support within a family unit.

Nuclear families are based on the myth of a single hypernormative cookie cutter template for family relationships, including the toxic myth of independence that is a major cause of the mental health crisis, which is a logical consequence of dysfunctional and traumatising institutions.

Essential knowledge about nurturing and developing co-piloting practices that are fine tuned for the context of a specific whānau (extended family) is not part of modern education systems, and it is also not part of atomised nuclear families. This urgently required knowledge can be co-created and re-discovered in safe (i.e. de-powered) Autistic, otherwise neurodivergent, and indigenous Open Spaces.

Repairing relationships

Autistic relationships involve unusual dependencies between two people with Autistic levels of honesty. Often one or both parties in the relationship have a history of being abused, exploited, and mistreated by caregivers, employers, and healthcare professionals in the toxic hypercompetitive culture that surrounds us.

Vulnerable Autistic people have a tendency to become codependent on their abusers, and traumatised Autistic people who lack positive lived experience with healthy Autistic relationships and adequate support within a de-powered ecology of care can end up misreading each other. By failing to nuture mutual trust, openness is compromised, misunderstandings can accumulate, and the advice process breaks down. The relationship can start to be perceived as abusive, sometimes from both sides, depending on whether one or both parties lack experience with healthy Autistic relationships.

Unless the situation is recognised, the relationship can eventually become genuinely abusive, sometimes with two codependent parties simultaneously in the role of abuser and abused. In contrast to an abusive relationship between non-Autistic people, in quite a number of cases neither of the Autists engages in lying or conscious manipulation. Instead the dynamic is powered entirely by increasing levels of mutual distrust, and incorrect assumptions about the motivations and intentions of the other party, fuelled by powered-up trauma responses, which over time can amount to abuse.

The good news is that such deterioration of Autistic relationships is both preventable and repairable if the two parties are committed to developing a healthy relationship. The caveat is that prevention and repair is only possible when both parties are embedded in a shared de-powered ecology of care, and if both parties are committed to learning how to engage in the advice process within the ecology of care that surrounds them.

The concept of safety needs to be experienced to be understood. This takes time. It is only from a position of lived experience that we can learn to distinguish genuinely safe environments from unsafe environments. When we come from a history of abuse, unsafe environments can initially be perceived as safe, and safe environments can initially be perceived as unsafe.

Childhood trauma and lack of experience with the advice process are the two topics that require the full attention of both parties.

The guidance around the advice process is designed to act as a guard rail, allowing the advice process to work as intended, as a catalyst for mutual trust. Gaining experience with the advice process typically requires engaging in the process in terms of learning when and how to ask for advice, learning how and when to give advice, and incremental learning by doing in the context of a small and safe ecology of care rather than within the microcosm of a strained relationship.

Similarly addressing unhealed childhood trauma takes time, as well as adequate level or peer support within a safe environment, as needed including support from an Autistic therapist.

In practice we can distinguish three possible intentions that drive the evolution of relationships based on the situation at hand:

  1. nurturing – learning from each other, deepening of shared understanding of commonalities and differences
  2. repairing – re-establishing joint intentions and expectations
  3. reconfiguring – adjusting the scope of joint intentions and expectations

An analogy

Context: Travelling in a unique sail boat that is co-designed and operated by a specific team of sailors with unique physical capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, for use in a specific environmental context, say for example in the cold and rough conditions in the Southern Ocean that these sailors have grown up with.

The following observations apply:

The specific crew are the ultimate experts with the lived experience needed to design the boat. They may need to source materials from various suppliers who are not part of the crew, but they know themselves, are intimately familiar with each other, and are intimately familiar with the operational environment. The sail boat design and the operational routines for the specific design are the part of the environment that is under the control of the sailors – the climate, the weather patterns, and the currents in the Southern Ocean are the part of the environment that is beyond the control of the sailors.

Now imagine a company specialising in the design and production of standardised competitive rowing boats to come along and offer advice to the sailors. The sales person of the company explains that rowing boats also require a team to operate, are also designed for use in water, and that the company knows everything about boat building and boat operations, and would be an ideal supplier for many parts and overall advice on boat design. You can imagine how well such unsolicited advice would be received by the sailors. This is a good illustration of how much Autistic people need advice from the Autism industry.

Back to the sailors. What may have brought the sailors together to consider the boat building project in the first place? After years of having to sail in boats that were not designed for sailors with unique disabilities, the sailors might have met and learned about each other and their unique capabilities and disabilities. It may have taken a little while for a core group of three or more sailors to know enough about each other to consider a joint boat building project.

  1. Sharing lived experience is the first step in developing mutual trust. Committing to a joint boat building project is a solid indicator for a substantial level of mutual trust, especially when the project goes beyond the ideation phase, and requires substantial time and resource commitments from all participants.
  2. During the design phase of the project this particular group of sailors will have to learn much more about each other, to come up with an optimal boat design, which not only needs to consider individual disabilities but also the optimal collaboration patterns for the crew given all the individual capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. The design phase and the resulting design will deepen the relationships between the sailors, will test the conflict resolution capabilities of the team, and will lead to unique friendships.
  3. When the design needs to be translated into a seaworthy boat, this may involve many iterations of improvements, and potentially complete redesigns of some aspects of the boat. Honest communication and feedback between all participants, and a shared understanding that learning from mistakes is an inevitable part of the process, will be essential for arriving at an optimal design that not only truly accommodates the needs of all the sailors, but also nurtures a culturally and psychologically safe environment for everyone. In fact, it is obvious that focusing on a culturally and psychologically safe environment for everyone is enormously beneficial throughout the entire project, and should be a top priority from the ideation phase onwards.
  4. If safety is recognised as a top priority from the start by all participants, then the chance of major disappointments and interpersonal conflicts throughout the project rapidly decreases over time. In contrast, if safety is neglected at the start, then the chance of major disappointments and interpersonal conflicts throughout the project – including the risk of overall project failure – increases over time.
  5. The ultimate quality of the design will only be revealed over time, as part of operating the boat over an extended period, in various weather conditions throughout the year. As long as cultural and psychological safety remains in focus, any further changes to the design and operational routines can easily be integrated into a team that by then has evolved into a de-powered ecology of mutual care.

De-powered self-assurance vs the powered-up cult of the self

Our current globalised industrialised society is best understood as a cult.

The exploitative nature of our “civilised” cultures is top of mind for many Autistic people. In contrast, many neuronormative people seem to deal with the trauma via denial, prone to the influence of narcissistic “leaders”, resulting in profound levels of cognitive dissonance.

It is easy to see that honest people, and especially Autistic people, are systematically disabled in modern society, economically as well as socially, as many social norms are adaptations to the dominant economic paradigm, which cult–ivates distrust at all levels of scale.

The toxic myth of individual meritocracy is so deeply embedded in industrialised societies that even some Autistic people can become entitled bullies, internalising the ableism inherent in the belief in meritocracy. Pushing back against the internalised ableism peddled by the Autism Industrial Complex is one of the biggest challenges in Autistic communities.

Selfishness vs altruism

Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.

– David Sloan Wilson and Edward O Wilson (2007)

This insight from evolutionary biology, which applies even beyond the human species, can even be illustrated with the help of agent based simulations. Furthermore, a range of simple experiments show that in contrast to chimpanzees, human babies and young human children are highly collaborative, which may come as a surprise to many economists.

The evolution of symbolic spoken language and cultural transmission based on language can be understood as an energy and resource saving tool. Humans out-collaborated rather than out-competed other primates. The primary purpose of human culture is related to collaboration within groups and between groups.

Extract from ‘Why We Cooperate’ (Tomasello 2009):

…helping [unrelated] others with simple physical problems is a naturally emerging human behaviour …at fourteen to eighteen months of age, before most parents have seriously started to expect their children, much less train them, to behave pro-socially.

…parental rewards and encouragement do not seem to increase infants’ helping behaviour. Parents take heed: the parental encouragement did not affect the infant’s behaviour at all; they helped the same amount with or without it.

…the infants were so inclined to help in general that to keep the overall level of helping down – so that we could potentially see differences between conditions – we had to provide a distracter activity in which they were engaged when the opportunity to help arose. Nevertheless, in the vast majority of cases, they pulled themselves away from this fun activity – they paid a cost – in order to help the struggling adult.

From a recent interview (Tomasello 2021) on the foundations of human cultural capability:

When children produce sweets collaboratively they feel they should share them equally… So if you look at all the things you think are most amazing about humans – we’re building skyscrapers, we have social institutions like governments, we have linguistic symbols, we have math symbols, we have all these things – not one of them is the product of a single mind. These are things that were invented collaboratively…

To understand human creativity and collective intelligence beyond the most basic forms of collaboration, we must look beyond the experiments conducted by Michael Tomasello and his colleagues:

  • To appreciate the full range of human collaborative ability we need to integrate the influence of individual neurological variability on sensory processing and social motivations – think of the default Autistic state of mind that is captured so well in the Aut Sutra (Mirra 2020).
  • To appreciate potential constraints on human collaborative ability, we need to integrate the influence of cultural inertia and the specific cultural context at hand – which can override the innate human bias towards collaboration far beyond the naïve egalitarian social imagination of most Autists.

Bootstrapping trust

There is the saying that “It takes a village to raise a child.” The Autistic translation of this saying is “For an Autistic person it takes an extended Autistic family to feel loved and alive.” Most Autists are not born into healthy Autistic families. We have to co-create our families in our own space and time.

In many indigenous cultures children with unique qualities are recognised, are given adult mentors with similarly unique qualities, and grow up to fulfil unique roles in their local community, connected to others with unique knowledge and insights, perhaps even in other communities. If we are embedded in a safe ecology of care, we can thrive and share the pain and the joy of life.

The best environment for developing mutual trust without running the risk of psychologically damaging disappointments, and the fastest process for developing mutual trust is a commitment to de-powered collaboration in a small team context (7 +/-2 people) that is continuously monitored for cultural and psychological safety with the help of a transparent peer support process.

This approach also applies to larger groups consisting of multiple teams or households, up to human scale scale (50 to 150 people), by applying the rules for development of mutual trust to inter-team collaborations, provided that all teams internally have lived experience with de-powered collaboration.

Especially amongst traumatised people, similar results are impossible to achieve in the context of a attempting to establish mutual trust outside the context of a healthy ecology of care, focused on just one relationship and two people. A two person microcosm of traumatised people is a bit too small for the advice process to work reliably as a catalyst for the development of mutual trust.

A small team environment and a shared goal provides a context in which the advice process can act as a reliable catalyst for the emergence of mutual trust and de-powered forms of collaboration. Such an environment can be conceptualised as the atomic building block for the establishment of both peer support initiatives and self-sustaining Autistic / ND communities.

Once an adequate baseline level of mutual trust has been established across all relationships in a team, deeper levels of mutual trust tend to develop in the context of the cultural microcosm of individual relationships (two people). The self-organising process of converging towards optimal collaboration patterns towards a shared goal can be understood as a process of collaborative niche construction – over time it results in unique relationships of deep trust between people, and in unique cultural microcosms between pairs of people.

These basic insights about nurturing trustworthy de-powered relationships have increasingly been suppressed in competitive industrialised societies, and this has directly contributed to the mental health crisis that plagues industrialised societies.

A de-powered team or human scale whānau environment is the only environment in which traumatised Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people can incrementally (re)learn to extend trust to others and over time unlearn unhelpful and harmful trauma responses.

The proliferation of trauma in industrialised societies is a reflection of the scarcity of safe de-powered teams and households. The path back towards safe social environments is a bottom up approach, focused on small teams, households, and whānau – the exact opposite of the corporate controlled, competitive, and super human scale social media environments that have infiltrated human lives over the last 20 years. Small is beautiful.

Interfacing with the neuronormative world

In industrialised societies we have reached a point where Autistic survival depends on sharing the burden of the chores of interfacing with mainstream society, so that at least some of our time can be spent in genuinely safe and neurodivergence friendly physical and social environments. There is an urgent need to catalyse Autistic collaboration and co-create healthy Neurodivergent and Autistic whānau all over the world.

“Normal” busyness as usual is slowly killing all of us. The effects of deceptive forms of communication, including intentionally misleading use of facts, are increasingly being recognised as a problem.

The sooner we unplug from the collective delusion, the fewer people will die or suffer needlessly. The outlook is not entirely bleak. As I outlined in an earlier article, some societies in South East Asia, such as Taiwan, are using digital technology to re-imagine the foundations of participatory democracy and maintain trust and collaboration between the state and the people.

If Autistic people can’t always see the depth of the “bigger picture” of the office politics around us, it does not in any way mean that we don’t see the big picture. In fact we are aware of the big picture and often we zoom in from the biggest picture right down to our immediate context and then back out again, stopping at various levels in between that are potentially relevant to our context at hand. Office politics only distract from the genuinely bigger context. Accusing Autistic people of not seeing the bigger picture perhaps illustrates the social disease that afflicts our society better than anything else.

Neurodiversity friendly forms of collaboration hold the potential to transform pathologically competitive and toxic teams and cultures into highly collaborative teams and larger cultural units that work together more like an organism rather than like a group of fighters in an arena.

Evolution has mastered a number of similar phase shifts in the past. Consider the evolution of multi-celled life forms. Single-celled micro-organisms have not been replaced, but they have been complemented with a mind-boggling variety of more complex multi-celled life forms. We now know that our bodies harbour of more bacteria than human cells, and the vast majority of these bacteria are in a symbiotic relationship with our human cells. Consider this masterpiece of evolution for a moment. Many billions of collaborating cells and micro-organisms form what you experience as “you”. Statistically speaking our bodies are highly collaborative ecosystems of microscopic entities.

Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson observes that small groups are the primary organisms of human societies. This should provide all of us with food for thought, and it has major implications for the gene-culture co-evolution that characterises our species.

Healing from Autistic trauma

The ocean is my natural habitat. I feel more at home in salt water than on land. My mind does not rest until all new experiences have been consolidated into my current understanding of the world, which is facilitated by spending time in and on the water.

Extract from ‘Uncovering the Words of the Wordless Aut Sutra’ (Mirra 2020):

We consider the Aut Sutra as pre-dating 500 BCE (when the historical Buddha appeared) by at least a hundred million years. We consider active-receptive autist (or atmost) silence as an appearance of suññatā (emptiness). Further, the familiar uncorrupted qualities that we find in the Aut Sutra include:

– honesty
(lack of tact)
– a sense of self that is not boundaried, not limited

(lack of self-consciousness)
– reality as interdependence

(proto-panpsychism)
– senses experienced as not separate from each other

(synesthesia /lack of sensory discrimination)
– movement in stillness and stillness in movement

(lack of binary discrimination)
– embodied and with everything / spaciousness-in-placeness

(lack of mind-body split, lack of ego)
– pronoun fluidity

(lack of fixed positions for self and other)
– friendliness

(lack of distrust)
– equanimity

(lack of hierarchical reasoning)

Helen Mirra, A[u|r]tist

Human group dynamics

In 2021 I completely burned out emotionally. I learned a lot this year. Spending the last 12 years co-creating an ecology of care in our small company was a coping mechanism for deep wounds that go back all the way to my childhood. My childhood trauma ultimately led to valuable insights about de-powered collaboration. In that sense trauma can serve a purpose, sensitising us to the many injustices that are viewed as normal, acceptable, and often even desirable by the toxic culture around us.

To have any chance of healing from Autistic trauma, which to a very significant extent is a form or relational trauma, we need to start with an understanding of basic human group dynamics.

It is worthwhile to critically reflect on what a social group is, keeping in mind that the many abstract group identities that surround us today are not about people we are familiar with and interact with on a regular basis. We can reframe the notion of social group, to highlight the relational aspect of social groups as the main characteristic of culture.

A cultural organism : the set of all the relationships of a core set of people, including all the relationships that these people have with people beyond the core set, i.e. a cultural organism always includes a boundary layer that connects the organism to the outside world.

This reflects the complexity of reality, and it also reflects on the fact that within a group everyone is surrounded by a unique ecology of care – the relationships that each individual maintains.

Everyone lives in a unique relational microcosm, and ultimately each relationship becomes a microcosm of shared culture.

Human scale culture exists at different levels of scale:

  1. a relationship
  2. a household – the intimate circle of people who live under one roof
  3. a whānau / extended family – the primary cultural organism and the primary economic unit in Māori society
  4. an ecology of whãnau, also known as a hapū – the primary political unit in Māori societies

Beyond these scales, making decisions that may affect others in significant ways amounts to anthropocentric hubris. Instead of attempting to build powered-up empires, there is an opportunity for establishing de-powered contributions to a global knowledge commons that is accessible to all cultural organisms that are committed to de-powered collaboration. Evolutionary forces far beyond human control are preferable over attempts of human control, which always result in great harm to large numbers of people.

The root causes of Autistic trauma

Industrialised societies and and other forms of powered-up cultures are incompatible with Autistic ways of being. Consequently many Autistic people are heavily traumatised. If given the opportunity and the means, we are driven towards extensive environmental re-engineering, to co-create environments that provide a safe habitat for Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people.

Because of the inherent incompatibility of powered-up societies with Autistic ways of being, healing from Autistic trauma is not possible via the means offered by narrow disciplines such as Western psychology and psychiatry, both of which are steeped in cultural bias, and go to great lengths to refrain from re-imagining the fundamentals of human social operating systems. A few scholars and therapists are acknowledging the interplay between sociocultural, psychophysiological, and physical-biological factors in human wellbeing, but discipline boundaries prevent a deeper exploration of problems in the sociocultural dimension.

And more generally, the highly disciplined approach in academia, in the sense of creating increasingly narrow silos of knowledge, is preventing educated humans from asking important questions that transcend disciplinary boundaries. For example, hyper-specialisation and cultural paradigmatic inertia are preventing us from integrating new insights between disciplines in the medical sciences and other disciplines, and is getting in the way of improving the overall health outcomes of entire populations. And this is just one example of several wicked problems that plague industrialised societies, to the extent that we’re now observing a regression of the global human development index.

Over the last thirty years the dangerous trend of neglecting transdisciplinary dialogue, analysis, and synthesis has been amplified by increasing levels of reliance on complex networks of digital systems that have been cobbled together by the invisible hand of the market, by grandiose ambitions of technocratic world domination, and by political forces that are focused exclusively on deploying technologically powered-up tools of persuasion to “win” in the ritual of election cycles.

As a result the explicit and implicit social norms, including the education systems in industrialised societies, have drifted further and further from the kinds social environments that would provide a safe habit for Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people.

Identification of leverage points for healing

Many Autistic people understand the world in terms of evolving systems, and we are continuously and often consciously striving to integrate our lived experiences into a coherent mental model of the world around us. This is one of the characteristics that makes us stand out from culturally well adjusted people, who are more inclined to simply go with the social flow when it comes to forming opinions and following social norms.

To understand the leverage points that are available to us in our local contexts, including the connections of these leverage points to specific goals over different time horizons and social scales, we need to examine the fundamentals of biological systems of perception and communication, the nuts and bolts of human social operating systems over the course of evolutionary history, and everything in between.

Perception and communication systems

Systems of perception and communication have emerged and evolved over a period that stretches back several billion years.

Perception and communication within and between living systems involves, observations / detection of signs / signals, codes / flows of information across space and time, iconic (re)presentations / models, symbolic / abstract (re)presentations / models, and language systems that integrate all these components.

Autistic people perceive and communicate in ways that often differ from local cultural expectations, and often we are acutely aware of these differences. This conscious awareness of perception and communication equips us well for re-imagining systems of communication. The internet is an example of a complex ecosystem of communication systems with ingredients that have been shaped by Autistic people to a significant degree.

Autistic people are easily traumatised when the components of communication systems are integrated to perpetuate established social power gradients.

Philosophies and value systems

Human philosophies and value systems are as old as human symbolic language systems, i.e. their roots can be traced back over many thousands of years.

Human cognitive abilities have allowed us to develop universal thinking and reasoning tools, timeless design principles, mathematics, the scientific method, and have enabled us to preserve, pass on, and refine these abstract tools over many generations.

The uncommon sensitivities and cognitive profiles of Autistic people predispose us and sometimes compel us to develop new thinking tools and design principles to shape environments that meet our needs, and carve out a social niche that allows us to feel safe in our own space and time.

We are easily traumatised when hypernormative societies attempt to coerce us into complying with ready made cookie cutter thinking tools and designs that cause us physical and emotional pain.

Institutions and social operating models

Cultural norms and systems of cultural norms, i.e. institutions, continuously evolve, but for most of human history tend to remain relatively stable over the course of several generations, and sometimes over hundreds of years.

The culture in powered-up civilisations including industrialised societies is shaped by the available scientific knowledge, limits of scientific understanding, technological capabilities and limitations, and the social sciences and their limits, including the proliferation of specific ideologies and religions.

In a supportive learning environment, exploring and learning in our own space and time, Autistic people are socialised in ways that can differ substantially from the expectations of the dominant culture around us. There is no simplistic generalisable template for unique Autistic and artistic life paths.

If we are not embedded in a healthy ecology of care that appreciates the development of unique Autistic ways of being, we may be heavily traumatised by cultures that negate our humanity, to the extent that many of us develop chronic physical and mental health conditions, including rates of suicide that are several times above the rates within the average population. Industrialised societies that deem us to be dysfunctional may even subject us to socially sanctioned “normalisation” therapies, which violate our humanity.

Humanity is facing multiple existential crises. The journey ahead involves co-creating human scale institutions and social operating models that differ radically from “normality” in industrialised societies. This feels like a major undertaking because it is, and it is not something that comes naturally to culturally well adjusted people.

Living, loving, and healing

The time spans that matter in our human lives range from seconds up to 200 years.

“Life creates conditions conducive to life.”Janine Benyus

We make thousands of small decisions every day. Our lives are heavily influenced by the cultural developments over the last 200 years, and we can expect some of the collective choices we make today to have an impact over the next 200 years – not that we can predict the future, but we have a rough idea of what choices may be conducive to life in the future, and which choices may limit the options for life in the future.

Our lives are shaped by our local ecological, social, and technological context, by our beliefs and fears, our trauma responses, trans-generational trauma, by evolutionary forces that operate at human scale, and by our theories of change, healing, and transformation.

Autistic life in the 21st century is life in a globally networked world, in a technological context that has catalysed unique de-powered Autistic forms of collaboration and an Autistic culture that encourages collaborative niche construction at human scale, consciously rejecting social constructs that are incompatible with Autistic ways of being – and often not conducive to life.

In industrialised societies we have reached a point where Autistic survival depends on sharing the burden of the chores of interfacing with mainstream society, so that at least some of our time can be spent in genuinely safe and neurodivergence friendly physical and social environments.

The path towards healing

There are no shortage of leverage points for healing from Autistic trauma. Our main challenge consists in progressing the neurodiversity movement in the face of headwind from powered-up established cultural institutions and the paradigmatic inertia that these institutions impose on the culturally well-adapted neuronormative population. Overcoming this challenge is not impossible as long as we recognise that the path forward is not linear, and that there is no direct simplistic route to healing and Autistic liberation.

Collectively, at human scale, we can rely on Autistic creativity, perseverance, and de-powered collaboration to co-create safe ecologies of care for our whānau. Maybe I am attracted to activities such as windsurfing and gliding because these activities showcase the human (Autistic?) ability to co-create technologies that transform the force of headwind and the thermonuclear energy of the sun into non-linear forward movement in creative ways.

A caring society does not value the individual for their ability to return economic value, but simply for existing as their own imperfect self. We can’t choose to be cared for any more than we can choose to win the lottery. We can only hope to develop the quality in others by offering care ourselves. Trusting that care, once given is ordained to return to another in need.

– Pip Carroll (2020)

In good company we can attempt to celebrate life every day. This is only possible in the context of supportive Autistic ecologies of mutual care. Every Autistic person deserves a healthy ecology of care. We have a long way to go. A big thank you to everyone who has already embarked on this journey. Jointly we are capable of exploring new terrain.

A word of caution

De-powered dialogue and not narrative is the atomic unit of co-creating shared understanding and valuable knowledge of ourselves and our environment. Established institutions in industrialised societies neglect the entanglement between stories and mental models, and the role of thinking tools in this context.

It is good to see when writers acknowledge the dangers and limits of narratives, but few point out alternative ways of co-creating shared understanding that are available to us. This reflects that narratives are the first – and possibly the only – language for many writers.

Our society is all geared up for global capital fuelled competitions of narratives – in which the narrative backed by the most dollars “wins”. It is no coincidence that Yuval Harari’s philosophy is popular amongst those who play the capitalist game of winning. Narratives offer carefully curated plausible sequences of events, a thin slice through the quasi-infinite multi-dimensional space of complex and often frightening future possibilities. Co-creating cultures of thinking is no longer even available on the monocultural menu.

It is also worthwhile reflecting on the extent to which psychologists and their “therapies” rely on narratives. Amongst a heavily traumatised population there is a big audience – a market – for plausible narratives that offer hope and relief from suffering. Many therapies work for the same reason that the placebo effect works in medicine. The more you believe that a therapy works, the more likely it will actually work.

There is just one catch. The possible destinations are limited to places within the established cultural terrain, and as long as that terrain is poisonous, any relief from psychological and physical harm will be temporary – hypersensitive people will continue to sustain damage.

In the absence of dialogue and supporting forms of de-powered collaboration, narrative can be understood as a tool for social manipulation that should be viewed with great suspicion.

The entanglement between broken trust, trauma, and healing

Many Autistic people have suffered some form of abuse throughout their childhood from their caregivers. Broken trust is at the core of Autistic trauma. We are not equipped for life in industrialised societies that are all about perception management, where even “education” of small children in primary school is focused on topics such as persuasive writing. What is completely lacking in the neuronormative world around us is a culture that appreciates the open dialogues necessary to nurture and deepen shared understanding, and to discover and openly acknowledge the boundaries of shared understanding at each stage of the journey.

Most of what Autistic people struggle with can be traced to trauma. The way this is obscured and muddled up in the Devil’s Sadistic Manual and then packaged in pathologising labels that make people look for faults in themselves and others is only making things worse. In case you think otherwise, these Venn diagrams may be instructive. The use of labels and descriptions of symptoms that fail to mention the role of underlying trauma detract from the extent to which toxic institutions and toxic social practices routinely inflict harm on neurodivergent people. Pathologisation of neurodivergent ways of being is deeply entangled with the traumatising and trust destroying religion of the invisible hand, which in turn is the logical consequence of misguided anthropocentric perspectives that can be traced back to some of the beliefs found in the Abrahamic religions that have shaped industrialised civilisation.

Anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, intrusive thoughts, self-harm, extreme distress over interpersonal challenges, etc. and pretty much any “mental illness” as well as most chronic illnesses can be traced back to trauma.

One of the most common trauma networks that I see amongst Autists is a long-standing psychological wound that has developed from chronic invalidation, bullying, misunderstanding, shunning, gaslighting, rejection, abandonment, etc. When we grow up being told we’re wrong or weird or broken repeatedly, we start to internalise those narratives, and then anytime we have an interpersonal conflict or difficulty, that underlying invalidation/negative self-worth neural network gets activated or triggered.

What I’ve found to be the most effective de-escalation strategy after reflecting, validating, and simply holding non-judgmental space is gently asking questions so that the person in distress become aware that they’ve had a trauma network that’s gotten tripped, that they’re now having a trauma response, which means their higher cognitive functions are offline, and they’re in sympathetic activation of the nervous system.


– Jax Bayne

Attempts of global narrative development are fraught with difficulties, misunderstandings, and perceived and genuine social power dynamics. Our civilisation needs palliative care for its dying institutions and compassionate exit paths for the inmates, including guidance on locally relevant wisdom and systems of knowing.

There is an important distinction between arguing to “win” and dialogue to learn from each other. For nurturing the mutual trust needed for de-powered collaboration at human scale, it is helpful to distinguish five basic categories of beliefs:

  1. Beliefs based on scientific theories backed by empirical evidence that we are intimately familiar with. Only a small minority of our beliefs fall into this category.
  2. Beliefs based on scientific theories backed by empirical evidence that we are not intimately familiar with. If we are educated, a sizeable minority of our beliefs fall into this category.
  3. Beliefs based on personal experiences and observations. For those who identify as Autistic, a significant number of beliefs held fall into this category.
  4. Beliefs that represent explicit social agreements between specific people regarding communication and collaboration. For those who identify as Autistic, a significant number of beliefs held fall into this category, especially agreements with family, friends, and colleagues.
  5. Beliefs based on what we have been encouraged to believe by parents, teachers, and friends, … and politicians and advertisers, etc. For those who do not identify as Autistic, the majority of beliefs held fall into this category.

All categories of beliefs are associated with some level of uncertainty regarding the validity and applicability to a specific context at hand. When people argue to “win”, they mostly rely on beliefs in category 5 (opinions). Such arguments are about dominance, they are not open and honest dialogues.

The trust of hypersensitive Autistic people routinely gets broken in “normal” social interactions on neuronormative terms. In societies where one or more of the following scenarios play out on a regular basis as part of daily life, Autistic people end up severely traumatised:

  1. When people argue to win in the face of empirical evidence that we are intimately familiar with.
  2. When people dismiss our personal experiences and observations, which have been shaped by our unique sensory profiles and sensitivities, assuming that we are exaggerating, and that this is somehow part of our way of playing the toxic social game of arguing to win.
  3. When people ignore and possibly consciously violate explicit social agreements with us as part of playing the W.E.I.R.D. and socially sanctioned competitive social game.
  4. When people regurgitate popular opinions in an effort to persuade and coerce us to behave and act in a more socially “acceptable” way.

Such social experiences are familiar to all Autistic people, and they actively shape the evolution of Autistic culture in a direction of explicit social agreements that consciously push back against all forms of competitive social games, and towards the formation of chosen Autistic whānau and self sustaining Autistic / ND communities, allowing us to minimise and share the burden of interfacing with the mainstream culture that surrounds us.

One thing that the Devil’s Sadistic Manual (DSM) does achieve is the delivery of a reminder of all the many ways in which trauma can play out, including the cruel ways in which humans sometimes treat each other. Things won’t get better by isolating ourselves, yet that seems to be a common pattern in our toxic society.

Languages, social agreements, and shared understanding of lived experiences evolve at all the levels of human scale mentioned above, resulting in shared mental models that are far richer than simplistic misleading narratives, and in local jargons that disambiguate domain specific communications and that nurture mutual trust.

We can move much faster in the small, at human scale, based on mutual trust, with self selected groups of people who are committed to de-powered collaboration, and able to comprehend that all super human scale group identities are legacy technologies that we need to phase out.

We all desperately need a trustworthy ecology of care, allowing us to extend trust and assistance, including the support of our entire network of care, to those closest to us, who may have been led to believe – often by themselves and by others, fuelled by the preconceptions and biases encoded in the DSM – that they are incapable of maintaining trustworthy, loving, caring long term relationships and lifetime partnerships.

Mutual trust and Autistic levels of honesty, perseverance, and commitment to de-powered collaboration go a long way to healing Autistic trauma. This simple truth about human potential has benefits far beyond Autistic communities.

Convergent and divergent cultural evolution

With the concepts of ND / Autistic whānau and ND / Autistic communities we are exploring new terrain, in which the artificial and toxic distinction between the industrialised concepts of “work” and “family life” is completely dissolved, and is fully replaced by the concepts of human scale ecologies of authentic, non-competitive mutual care that extends beyond humans, and that includes all living creatures. This is a long-term Autistic collaboration initiative.

The supportive reactions from the Autistic community have been amazing and continue to amaze me. The distinction between the concepts of ‘friends’ and ‘colleagues’ has always been nonsensical to me, it is one and the same category for me. This is what pushed me away from the toxic competitive corporate world over twenty years ago, and into co-creating an employee owned company with my closest friends and co-workers.

Mental health can only be understood in a way that is meaningful for humans at the level of a biocultural organism at human scale, via the health of human relationships within and between biocultural organisms. The harm created by a toxic society and possible avenues for healing can only be fully understood if the analysis is not limited to the harm inflicted on individuals, but also focuses on the harm on the relationships between people and the relationships between biocultural organisms.

NeurodiVentures are based on the notion of lifetime friendships and long-term collaboration on initiatives that are close to the hearts of the people involved. Our small company has taught me how to co-create safe de-powered environments of mutual trust and interdependence, as opposed to toxic environments of social power games and co-dependence. By the way, this recent article by Terra Vance includes a really good explanation of the important difference between interdependence and co-dependence. 

Through an evolutionary lens we can understand the formation of neurodivergent whānau not only as the formation of biocultural organisms, but also as the emergence of a new cultural species. From the vantage point of a NeurodiVenture it is an order of magnitude easier to establish trusted collaborations with other NeurodiVentures than establishing collaborations with institutions with operating models that are steeped in the religion of the invisible hand of the market. The root cause of Autistic trauma in modern industrialised societies can be summed up in one sentence:

“Nature wants you to be yourself, more than it wants you to survive”.

– Dr. Gabor Maté

Autistic people are acutely aware of the basic human need to be authentic. For many of us this need is top of mind, at least from the point onwards when we realised that we feel much safer amongst Autistic people than with culturally well adjusted, i.e. neuronormative people. When we have to suppress our authenticity, i.e. when we mask, just to be perceived as “acceptable” and to avoid being discriminated against, we suffer, and over time this suffering impacts on our mental, physical, and relational health, and eventually becomes greater than the significant bullying and discrimination we face when being authentic. There is no escape route from this predicament within the confines of industrialised “civilisation”. For traumatised Autistic people joining the neurodiversity movement and finding a safe place within an Autistic / ND whānau is an imperative on the road to healing.

I am highly concerned about the toxic impact of the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM) and therapies that are based on the toxic assumptions encoded in the DSM, most of which are based on the European conception of ego in the industrialised world. Many Autistic people are diagnosed with additional pathologising labels that undermine the authentic Autistic sense of self.

The kind of education that is needed to enable human societies to overcome suicidal cultural inertia is not feel good edutainment – it is certainly not more pop psychology. Two examples of many: Our society allows entire careers to be built around the observation that our social operating system systematically generates and normalises narcissistic behaviours and is systematically traumatising a growing number of marginalised and disenfranchised people. Such ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approaches may be needed at this stage as survival tools to enable people to cope with trauma in the short term, but their focus is limited to individuals, and at best individual relationships. Especially commercial therapeutic services are on the slippery slope towards having an explicit interest not to address root causes, similar to what we see with the Medical Industrial Complex and the Autism Industrial Complex – i.e. an interest in continued supply of narcissistic abuse, and an interest in never addressing all aspects of complex PTSD and early childhood trauma. The entire discipline of psychology consistently fails to address the bigger picture of cultural diversity, of paradigmatic inertia, and toxic life destroying institutions.

Our capacity for culture

… This is a behavior we do which chimps could not possibly make any sense of. You’re in a foreign country you’re going to the airport you’re about to leave there, you are never going to set foot in that country again, no person you see there will ever see you again, and as you walk into the terminal you pause for a second and hold the door open for someone. Everything about the evolution of reciprocity and cooperation says there’s no way that could ever become commonplace, and that defines us, in other words evolution of behavior, until you look more closely.

Ok so what have we gotten to now. We’ve now officially seen one of our behaviors occur, and if you want to understand that behavior, you’ve got to incorporate everything, from one millisecond before, to millions of years of selection and evolutionary pressure. In other words, one can officially conclude at this point – it’s complicated. Let’s try to make that conclusion a little bit more useful. It’s complicated, so be real careful and real cautious, and real sure you really understand what’s going on if you decide you understand why some behaviors happens, especially if it’s a behavior that you’re judging harshly.

Now for my purposes the single most important thing about all of this is, all of these realms of factoids I’ve been downloading here, all of them have one thing in common, they change, they can change over time. They change in response to experience, they change in the most fundamental ways … Ecosystems change, cultures change. In the 18th century the most terrifying people in Europe were the Swedes. They spent the whole century rampaging through Europe and then something happened, something changed, … they haven’t had a war in more than a century. Cultures change, cultures change dramatically. Most importantly, brains change, new connections, lose old ones, expansion, contractions. Brains change, behaviors change, people change. Sometimes astounding magnitudes of change occur.


– Prof. Robert Sapolsky (2017)

Our biological roots

So what about humans? …

We’re the most confused primate species there is out there because we’re halfway in between by every measure you can come up with, and that’s why the majority of human cultures are polygamous, but the majority of men in polygamous cultures are monogamous, and in monogamous cultures there are an awful lot of the men who say they believe in monogamy who are actually polygamous. And that’s like half of what poetry is about, that we’re halfway in between these two categories. We’re this incredibly confused species. That’s how we can occupy so many different ecosystems and different forms of cultures and economic systems. You know, that accounts for half of human misery and half of human fiction, the fact that we’re not in either category. For any given individual one of us it’s a little bit more this way or a little bit or that way. Humans are halfway in between.

– Prof. Robert Sapolsky (2017)

It is so refreshing to see an honest acknowledgement of human diversity from a biological perspective.

There is no reason for pathologising hypersensitive and self-reflective Autistic people who completely reject the notion of life as a competitive game.

  • Autistic sensitivities and differences in sensory processing are part of the diversity of our species
  • The anthropological studies of Autistic children and teenagers and our observations about the culture we are embedded in are essential survival tools that catalyse Autistic creativity and that prompt us to carve out unique “atypical” artistic Autistic life paths
  • Autistic levels of critical thinking, and the amount of evidence needed before updating our core beliefs, shape Autistic culture
  • Acknowledging uncertainty, carrying around many open questions rather than strong opinions, corresponding levels of anxiety, as well as the strong Autistic sense of social justice are core ingredients of the cultural immune system of all human societies

The capacity for neurodivergent culture

If you add all the other many things we are discovering about human diversity as part of the neurodiversity movement, such the as Autistic level of discomfort with any form of social power imbalance, the Autistic inability to maintain hidden agendas, the entanglement of social construction and neurology in the context of gender identities, then it becomes obvious that the simplistic cookie cutter templates for social roles in society, in organisations, and in households offered by hypernormative industrialised are completely out of tune with the diversity of human biology.

The biggest difference between Autistic culture and neuronormative industrialised culture is the level to which human diversity is experienced as a genuine enrichment of human culture, and the level to which individuals are actively supported in collaborative niche construction within the context of human scale cultural organisms.

We can use this understanding to co-create de-powered ND whānau, to co-create cultural norms that enable households and whānau to consciously self organise around all the dimensions of variability amongst neurodivergent people. We can conceptualise this development as a form of conscious divergent cultural evolution or cultural schismogenesis.

This is nothing new. Humans have engaged in such practices throughout our evolutionary history over the last 300,000 years. In their book ‘The Dawn of Everything’ David Graeber and David Wengrow (2021) elaborate how schismogenesis has shaped cultural developments in many geographies:

“One important factor would seem to be the gradual division of human societies into what are sometimes referred to as ‘culture areas’; that is, the process by which neighbouring groups began defining themselves against each other and, typically, exaggerating their differences. Identity came to be seen as a value in itself, setting in motion processes of cultural schismogenesis. … such acts of cultural refusal could also be self-conscious acts of political contestation, marking the boundary between societies where inter-group warfare, competitive feasting and household bondage were rejected – as in those parts of Aboriginal California closest to the Northwest Coast – and where they were accepted, even celebrated, as quintessential features of social life. Archaeologists, taking a longer view, see a proliferation of such regional culture areas, especially from the end of the last Ice Age on, but are often at a loss to explain why they emerged or what constitutes a boundary between them.”

Divergent cultural evolution

I recently visited Taiwan, and this prompted me to reflect on my preference for collaborating with people and organisations in/from the Pacific and SE Asia. While capitalism also rules in this part of the world, I can always sense the strong communitarian ethics that is still part of SE Asian cultures with a history of rice farming. Sure, in SE Asia capitalism has also led to intense inter-group competition, but it seems many individuals in SE Asia still think in terms of human scale rather than in individualistic terms, in other words human scale is the smallest social unit rather than the individual ego.

Strong communitarian ethics do not eliminate all the problems with the super-human scale capitalist super structures that are now global, and they also does not eliminate individual pressure to „perform“ as part of the capitalist machine, but „performance“ in SE Asia seems to be less coupled to individual egos and more to the human scale network that individuals are embedded in. The problem that I observe in SE Asian cultures is a problem that I think we are familiar with in Autistic culture, that we tend to be too hard on ourselves, because under no circumstances do we want to let down the people closest to us. The Autistic sense of community seems to be compatible with SE Asian cultures.

However in Autistic culture we actively try to support and remind each other not to be too hard on ourselves, at least this is what I encourage and what I see around me. In neuronormative society in SE Asia the topic of talking about burnout and the bigger problems of capitalism and gender inequalities is perhaps much more of a taboo than amongst Autists. So here there is something people can learn from Autistic culture. Conversely Autistic people in European cultures can learn something from the long communitarian tradition in SE Asian cultures – as this is something that we also long for, but have only recently started to experiment with in the last ten years. I would love to compare notes on these evolving thoughts to see whether others share my perception and observations. What I recently saw in Taiwan was pretty unique, and it could inform our approach to interfacing with the neuronormative world. I saw a culture of distributed direct participation that seems to have evolved in explicit opposition to the highly centralised approach to governance and enterprise in China.

The talk and interviews with Robert Sapolsky and David Wengrow embedded above provide a good backdrop for understanding the neurodiversity paradigm. Learning takes place at different levels of social, spatial, and temporal scales. Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people with uncommon cognitive lenses depend on others in ways that differ from local cultural norms, and this has implications at all levels of scale.

Gaining a comprehensive understanding of human behaviour is not possible from within any single discipline. Not only is each discipline focused on specific aspects of human behaviour, but the different disciplines that examine human behaviour rest on mutually contradictory assumptions about human nature. Herbert Gintis, a transdisciplinary social scholar, outlines the limitations of established disciplines and provides the motivation for an interdisciplinary approach (Gintis 2014).

Those who cling the most to the use of specific models of human behaviour tend to be the ones who actually don’t have any understanding of the limitations of the models they are using. Especially when a model is non-trivial, most people confuse being able to “use” a model with understanding the model, all the underlying assumptions, and the limitations. Economists and psychologists work with implicit assumptions all the time without without worrying much about it.

The neurodiversity movement can not be understood within the confines of any single academic disciplines.

Insisting on sharp boundaries between disciplines is unhelpful and leads to weak models, but the established boundaries are not entirely arbitrary. This is easily seen when visualising the scope of the various disciplines in terms of spacial and temporal scale. Psychology for example focuses on the behaviour of individuals across a human lifetime, sociology focuses on the behaviour of groups at various levels of scale over the course of recent history and anthropology focuses on both individual and group behaviour over the entire course of human evolution.

For most of the last 300,000 years humans lived in small groups of between 20 and 100 people and human cultures served the needs of such groups. Life was focused on the well-being of the group, on the well-being of future generations, and on the maintenance of appropriate relationships with other groups. Group size and the number of relationships with members of other groups was bounded by human cognitive limits.

Today up to 80% of people globally are disengaged at work. Important insights about human behaviour, which only become apparent when studying human history and human evolution over the last 2 million years, are regularly ignored by policy makers and busyness decision makers.

We live in a time of exponential changes in communication technology. Just a few decades ago humans only needed to learn one or two languages and perhaps the jargon of a particular profession to be equipped for a successful life. Today thousands of new apps (little languages) become available every month, far more than anyone can ever learn to use, appreciate, and trust. More and more people are realising that quantity does not equal quality when it comes to digital technologies.

The disciplines of design and engineering play an increasingly important role in a world where communication between people and all forms of economic activity are by default being mediated via digital technologies.

To understand the full implications of the new technologies that we are churning out every month, is it enough for designers to be familiar with the latest in pop-psychology and for engineers to be familiar with the latest economic fads and monetisation models? What if some important considerations about human nature have fallen between the cracks, and if the rate of technological change has outpaced the rate at which human cultures can evolve?

Being able to design, build, and use technology does not equate to understanding all the implications.

Feedback loops of information flows between people are the atoms of collective learning. The SECI (socialisation, externalisation, combination, internalisation) model (Takeuchi and Nonaka 1986; Nonaka et al. 2008) is a useful conceptual tool for understanding learning and creative collaboration amongst humans.

A new observation about the world, the perception of a particular problem, or an idea for designing a tool or for simplifying a task always starts in one person’s head, as tacit knowledge. In order to be turned into something of value for society, the new knowledge needs to be made explicit, it needs to be described by communication in a suitable medium such as spoken or written language or in a suitable visual representation, such as the human lens. Explicit knowledge is easily combined with other pre-existing explicit knowledge, and in this form knowledge can easily be reasoned about by individuals and groups.

A simple tool like a whiteboard can act as a catalyst for combining and validating multiple elements of explicit knowledge. Once the resulting new insights about the world, a particular problem, or a design idea are internalised, they are available in the form of tacit knowledge that can be applied in daily life. In order for new experiences to become available to a group, they must be socialised with other people, and this always involves making tacit knowledge explicit via acts of communication.

The SECI activities result in a knowledge spiral that incrementally allows the collective intelligence of a group to grow. The learning potential of particular group is defined by:

  1. the tacit knowledge of the people that are part of the group,
  2. the understandability and adaptability of the means of communication and collaboration (language, social norms, and available technologies),
  3. the extent to which the emergence of social power gradients is effectively suppressed by suitable social norms,
  4. external constraints that are imposed by the environment (in particular access to resources).

The SECI model was conceived in Japan, in a communitarian culture that emphasises the connection between the individual and the community, where a person’s social identity is shaped by community relationships. Communitarian cultures put the spotlight on the effect of social power gradients on collective learning. The extent to which a community is capable of learning depends on the level of social friction induced by social power hierarchies.

Unsurprisingly all effective approaches for continuous improvement (Deming 1982) such as Kaizen (Imai 1997), the Toyota Production System, Waigaya, etc. and approaches for innovation such as Open Space (Owen 2008), the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, collaborative design, etc. share one noteworthy common principle:

The belief in the existence and relevance of social hierarchies must be suspended.

This observation is backed up by evidence from thousands of organisations that strive to improve or establish a culture of innovation. By definition, hierarchies confer power on specific groups and individuals, with immediate effects on the ability of a group to learn and adapt to a changing environment (Deming 1984a & 1984b). Any form of hierarchy or power indicates dampened feedback loops.

Regardless of the social norms in wider society, a group or team can always agree on non-conventional social norms that penalise all attempts of individuals wielding power over others.

Collaborative groups share knowledge, resources, opportunities and success. Removing all forms of in-group competition and hierarchical structures shift the odds for an entire group of people. Given the level of unproductive in-group competition in hierarchical teams (Graeber 2018), non-hierarchical teams have a clear collaborative edge and are well positioned to thrive (Laloux 2014).

In recent years even the mainstream “management” literature has been catching up with the fact that teams benefit not only from psychological safety but also from cognitive diversity.

Diversity is inclusion. Up to 1 in 5 people are considered neurodivergent from the hypernormative perspective of our industrialised society! Neurodivergent people:

  1. Adhere to innate moral value systems rather than social norms
  2. Are okay with exploring ideas that upset the “social order”
  3. Spend much more time experimenting and implementing ideas that others would consider crazy or a waste of time
  4. Have untypical life goals: new forms of understanding, making a positive impact, translating ideas into artistic expression
  5. Autists in particular have unusually developed pattern recognition abilities and an unusual ability to persevere

Neurodiverse teams are capable of achieving things that seem out of reach for others.

Given that human children learn to use spoken language to attach labels to mental representations very early on, and given that much of human communication is based on spoken and written language, it is tempting to perceive human language as our main thinking and reasoning tool.

The more we learn about the reasoning abilities of non-human animals, the more doubt is cast on the position of human language as the ultimate thinking tool. Mental models have been around for much longer than human language (Savage-Rumbaugh and Dubreul 2019; Slobodochikoff 2012).

Our education system teaches us very little about the role of metaphors in human societies (Fauconnier and Turner 2002). Instead the education systems that produce neuronormative human resources emphasise the importance of narratives – linear stories. “Civilised” humans have developed a preference for communication in linear language (Bettin 2017), especially since the invention of “modern” (linear) written languages, roughly 6,000 years ago, but humans have been using symbolic thought and symbol systems for much longer.

Collective learning is contingent on a cultural environment that appreciates honest communication, critical reflection on the limits of the achievable level of shared understanding, and the value of a diversity of perspectives and experiences.

In the same way that biodiversity is essential for ecosystem health, appreciation of the value of neurodiversity results in a healthy cultural environment that nurtures a diversity of life paths and creative forms of collaboration, which in turn are fine tuned to the many unique combinations of cognitive lenses and experiences within a group.

The suicidal inertia of convergent cultural evolution

The education people in industrialised societies desperately need involves unlearning deeply entrenched beliefs, unlearning many of the “obvious truths” that that are promoted by our hypernormative “education” systems, and it must involve development of a basic understanding of ecological context, individual cognitive biases, sensitivities, limits and strengths, and the limits of human scale.

Ali Alkhatib has written an interesting paper that elaborates how digital algorithms are acting as amplifiers for the sanctified institutional bullshit that increasingly shapes life in digitally networked industrialised societies.

The implications are no joke, they are increasingly dead serious, manifesting in terms of existential risks and in the self-fulfilling dystopian vision of liquidating the living planet in the name of technological “progress” and the delusion of economic “growth”.

Simon Michaux’s work offers an in-depth perspective on the current reality of material constraints. The following interview is an excellent introduction for those who have not yet had the opportunity to think deeply about material constraints.

I am even less optimistic than Simon Michaux regarding our ability to maintain industrialised systems going forward. My perspective is closer to the vision of agroecology outlined by Vandana Shiva. The only viable future is one of extensive de-industrialisation, including order of magnitude reductions in energy and resource consumption. It is impossible to co-create largely self-sustaining communities based on unrealistic Eurocentric / American techno-optimism.

For our journey into the future we need appropriate tools for addressing challenges and needs over different time horizons. Supporting the neurodiversity movement and repairing the human cultural immune system is no longer a luxury, it has become a matter of survival, not only for neurodivergent people, but for everyone who is alive today and for all future generations.

Co-creating ecologies of caring and sharing

Instead of the individualistic perspective, mental health can only be understood in a way that is meaningful for humans at the level of a biocultural organism at human scale. People are connected via all the many ways in which we communicate, enjoy doing things together, help each other, and share food and other resources.

The interactions between us have a direct impact on our nervous systems, cardiovascular systems, and digestive systems. The more hypersensitive and emotionally connected we are, the more pronounced the effect, and the more we notice these connections between us. There is a bidirectional feedback loop between the interactions between us and the states of our internal systems. The more experiences and stories we have shared, the more we understand our respective contexts, and the more our internal systems react when we interact.

Beauty

The pleasure of pattern recognition is an important part of the Autistic sensory experience that transcends all aspects of life.

It is not an accident that many artists are Autists. Sensing beauty and the ability to make it explicit via artistic expression and creative play is at the core of Autistic experience.

Beauty is of course also part of the human capacity for love and compassion, even towards complete strangers, including members of other biological and cultural species.

Picture by Morgan Constance

If access to beauty is taken away from us, for example in industrialised mono-cultures, in degraded ecosystems, when the only recognisable patterns are life denying and creativity destroying coercive forces, then Autistic life is reduced to coping mechanisms in survival mode, which often includes obsessive and compulsive patterns. A fulfilled healthy Autistic life is incompatible with the factory model of society, which only allows for “normal” standardised functional human cogs in the industrialised machine.

Collaboration

The stereotype that Autists have difficulty with collaboration is the result of a fundamentally different perspective on the purpose of social interaction. The purpose of Autistic social interaction:

to learn from each other, to collaborate with others towards a shared goal.

The purpose of neuronormative social interaction in industrialised societies:

to negotiate social status and power gradients, to compete against each other using culturally defined rules.

Autistic creative collaboration can be described in terms of a Socialisation, Externalisation, Combination, Internalisation (SECI) knowledge creation spiral within Open Space, i.e. in terms of the free flows of knowledge and the collaborative niche construction that emerges in the absence of social power dynamics.

Sensory profiles and cognitive lenses, especially of people who are hypersensitive, are unique and vary along many dimensions. The interaction patterns between any two Autistic people who spend time together develop into a unique protocol and a unique language system. Taking the time to learn about and understand each other’s sensory profiles and cognitive lenses is essential for feeling safe with each other, and is a prerequisite for establishing de-powered relationships and ecologies of care.

NeurodiVenture : an inclusive non-hierarchical organisation operated by neurodivergent people that provides a safe and nurturing environment for divergent thinking, creativity, exploration, and collaborative niche construction.

The intuitive Autistic rejection of all forms of social power gradients is simply a reflection of the innate collaborative inclinations that are the result of 2 million years of gene culture co-evolution. As Riane Eisler points out in her book Nurturing our Humanity, and as any hypersensitive Autistic person can attest, humans get stronger neurochemical rewards from caring and sharing than from winning and dominating. This applies at all levels of scale, and this basic biological fact shows the limitations and the extreme dangers associated with game theoretic approaches, including all attempts to understand and guide human decision making via such approaches.

In Te Reo Māori the NeurodiVenture concept translates to Neurodivergent whānau. Indigenous languages like Te Reo Māori have important words for concepts that have been suppressed by colonialism.

Whānau : extended family, family group, a familiar term of address to a number of people – the primary economic unit of traditional Māori society. In the modern context the term is sometimes used to include friends who may not have any kinship ties to other members.

There is an urgent need to catalyse Autistic collaboration and co-create healthy Neurodivergent and Autistic whānau all over the world.

Autists depend on assistance from others in ways that differ from the cultural norm – and that is pathologised in hypernormative societies. However, the many ways in which non-autistic people depend on others is considered “normal”. The endless chains of trauma must be broken. In mainstream society people don’t understand how Autistic people support each other, love each other, and care for each other in ways that go far beyond the culturally impaired neuronormative imagination.

There is the saying that “It takes a village to raise a child.” The Autistic translation of this saying is “For an Autistic person it takes an extended Autistic family to feel loved and alive.”

Most Autists are not born into healthy Autistic families. We have to co-create our families in our own space and time. In a healthy culture Autistic children are assisted in co-creating their unique Autistic families, but in our “civilisation” this cultural knowledge has been lost and is suppressed.

Human scale

Small is beautiful, understandable, and allows mutual trust and mutual aid to flourish.

“Study after study confirms that most people have about five intimate friends, 15 close friends, 50 general friends and 150 acquaintances. This threshold is imposed by brain size and chemistry, as well as the time it takes to maintain meaningful relationships” – Robin Dunbar, 2018

Within good company (smaller than 50 people), everyone is acutely aware of the competencies of all the other members, and transparency and mutual trust enables knowledge and meta knowledge (who has which knowledge and who entrusts whom with questions or needs in relation to specific domains of knowledge) to flow freely. This allows the group to rapidly respond intelligently and with courage to all kinds of external events.

NeurodiVerse : human scale cultures created by neurodiversity within the human species, i.e. the universe of Neurodivergent and Autistic whānau

Autistic cognitive limits and sensitivities re-sensitise human societies to the limits of human scale, because Autistic bodyminds react viscerally when overwhelmed by super human scale expectations and delusions.

So called “civilisation” and empire building needs to be recognised as the most life denying and ultimately self-destructive social disease that can afflict human societies.

Timeless patterns

The path to escape the box of a sick society involves rediscovering timeless and minimalistic principles for coordinating creative collaboration in the absence of capital and hierarchical structures:

  1. Visibly extend trust to people, to release the handbrake to collaboration.
  2. Unlock valuable tacit knowledge within a group.
  3. Provide a space for creative freedom.
  4. Help repair frayed relationships.
  5. Replace fear with courage.

People have known about these principles for millennia. Some of the principles have been rediscovered many times, by different groups of people in various geographies and in different cultural contexts. In particular, neurodivergent people are acutely aware that culture is constructed one trusted relationship at a time – this is the essence of fully appreciating diversity. Many timeless observations on cultural and psychological safety don’t neatly fit with the siloed W.E.I.R.D. ways of knowing.

All life on this planet is constrained by the energy that is available to power the activities of life, which are all based on the assembly of complex biochemical molecules. Additionally human life is constrained by our cognitive limits, i.e. the limits to which we can truly comprehend the world that we are embedded in.

Human limitations

Paying attention to timeless patterns, and never forgetting them, helps anchor us firmly in what Riane Eisler calls the partnership model rather than the domination model. We are well advised to remember that the linear language of human speech and writing is not the most appropriate technology for nurturing and sustaining collective intelligence. All attempts of powered-up human empire building have a perfect track record of failure. In contrast, we know that rock paintings and non-linear diagrammatic representations allowed high fidelity knowledge preservation and transmission within de-powered societies across many millennia.

In his book ‘How Forests Think – Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human‘ Eduardo Kohn elaborates how humans are not only part of an ecology of care, and capable of nurturing relationships that extend far beyond humans, but he also reveals the fundamental patterns of semiosis and thought that are inherent to all forms of life, at all levels of scale.

The European conceptualisation of the individual human ego is a product of the misguided metaphor of society as a profit generating machine. A shift to ecosystems of human scale groups reduces the spurious complexity needed to support a monoculture, and it retains and even grows adaptive cultural complexity, i.e. the diversity that emerges when the human ecological footprint is aligned with bioregional ecosystem functions. Adaptive complexity saves energy – it is the result of humans engaging in collaborative niche construction as a part of biological ecosystems.

Once events beyond human control force us to pay attention to the much richer metaphors of living systems, humans will rediscover the beauty of collaborating at human scale, and that co-creating beautiful works of art is the ultimate antidote against the emergence of social power dynamics and the competitive logic of hate and violence.

Picture by Ülkü Mazlum

Cultural evolution towards human scale

Genuine non-superficial change is never easy. It takes effort. It takes time. There are no short cuts. Naive incrementalism can easily make things worse. This is why so many people have completely given up any hope of genuine change.

The neurodiversity movement is a human rights movement. No one and no organisation can genuinely claim to be supportive of the neurodiversity paradigm without committing to the political goals of the neurodiversity movement. Working towards the political goal of protecting the human rights of all disabled people, including the human rights of neurodivergent people amongst other things, requires confronting routine human rights violations carried out by institutions in the healthcare and education sectors in countries that pride themselves on their human rights track record.

Humanity’s biggest crisis is not climate chaos. It is not ecological collapse. And it is not economic collapse. Our biggest crisis we are facing is a crisis of a lack of imagination which at scale manifests as a crisis of institutions.

What is wrong with super-human scale social systems?

There are a number of parallels between the impact of the development of economic theories on human society and the social impact of the development of the Internet. Neither the Internet nor economics draw directly on an evidence based understanding of physics, biology, and human behaviour.

Both the Internet and economic theories are best understood as prescriptive rather than as observational tools – as language systems that are based on specific European/North American cultural conventions that are assumed as “sensible” (common sense) or “obvious” (self-evident).

The anthropocentric “civilised” desire to use technology as well as medication at scale, to control and predict the future of complex social systems, and thereby perpetuate and strengthen social power gradients has a long history. The following segment from Adam Curtis’ documentary HyperNormalisation (2016) is a good starting point.

For those who are unfamiliar with the history of “artificial intelligence”, this segment offers a good introduction. At the same time, it implicitly provides an explanation for the growth in disorders described in the Devil’s Sadistic Manual (the DSM).

In this time of existential planetary crises it is irresponsible and suicidal to get sucked into the vortex of the distorted logic of the invisible hand of the market. Hypersensitive Autistic people have been worried about the suicidal path of “civilisation” for decades, but so far this has not prevented magical beliefs in green growth, sustainable capitalism, and other “solutions” that all involve “out-smarting” the planetary ecosystem with human “intelligence”.

Letting go of the desire of super-human scale control

Human and non-human suffering on this planet can only be minimised by fully acknowledging human cognitive limits, i.e. the limits of our ability to understand the world, make sense of all the events around us, and our inability to predict the future.

This timeless wisdom is is a lesson that neurodivergent thinkers have always understood, going right back to the earliest days of our species; it is reflected in many older ways of knowing that have left traces in Buddhist philosophy and other spiritual traditions.

The problem with spiritual traditions is that they easily become corrupted and co-opted as soon as the limits of human scale are surpassed. The only way of preventing the perpetuation of endless cycles of co-opting and delusional super-human scale “civilisation building” initiatives is to reject all forms of super-human scale ambitions of “control”, and to (re)learn to trust the imaginative potential that can be unlocked in de-powered human scale groups.

A transition towards de-powered human scale social operating systems is possible even under the most oppressive circumstances, because de-powered ways of collaboration and mutual aid are very difficult to detect and comprehend by those who are only able to view the world through a lens of social power dynamics. Culturally well adjusted humans in a powered-up world fail to perceive genuine changes that are not reified in hierarchical structures of control.

New social operating systems can proliferate via self organisation at human scale as long as they remain immune to attempts by:

(a) groups to grow beyond human scale limits and

(b) individuals / small groups to establish permanent social power gradients.

Autistic people play a unique social role in this context. An Autistic presence is an essential ingredient of any healthy human scale de-powered group. Last week I had a wonderful conversation with Anne Borden King from Noncompliant on The power of international neurodivergent collaborations. Autistic people are not asking for power, they are simply asking to be taken seriously when pointing out toxic social power dynamics.

How to transition to human scale?

For our journey into the future we need appropriate tools for addressing challenges and needs over different time horizons.

To think and collaborate creatively around transitioning to human scale, requires a combination of

  1. short-range tools for survival (here and now),
  2. mid-range tools for healthier lives (during the transition), and
  3. long range tools for multi-generational de-powered cultural evolution.

Some people refer to this approach to intentional paradigmatic change as the three horizons model, only that in the classical context of industrialised busyness “long range” usually refers to a few years at best, symptomatic of the disabling short attention span within industrialised societies. The three horizons model also has limits, it does not equate to a simple recipe for “success”. Often you only gain a clearer picture of the long-range target someway along the way as new designs and insights emerge and evolve.

In the book “The beauty of collaboration at human scale” I highlight the invaluable role that marginalised minorities and neurodivergent people have always played in human cultural evolution, in particular in times of crisis. Below is an overview of regional, local, and online community-oriented work that may assist us to unW.E.I.R.D. some of the perverse institutions of Western culture and to develop new institutions that are attuned to human scale. Please get in touch in case you would like to contribute to any of these initiatives or if you have related questions.

Short-range tools for survival

  1. Communal definition of Autistic ways of being
  2. Education in the ND paradigm, the ND movement, and autistic culture
  3. Autistic trauma peer support
  4. Employer psychological safety rating service
  5. Bullying alert service for employees

Mid-range tools for healthier lives

  1. Intersectional cultural and psychological safety across all aspects of life
  2. Ban of conversion therapies
  3. Creative Collaboration
  4. Appreciation of neurodiversity in the education sector
  5. Appreciation of neurodiversity in the healthcare sector
  6. Autistic communities in public libraries
  7. Global Autistic Task Force on Autism Research
  8. The Design Justice Network
  9. Co-creating a Centre of Autistic Culture in Auckland, Aotearoa
  10. Translation of AutCollab.org content

Long-range tools for multi-generational cultural evolution

  1. The NeurodiVenture operating model for worker cooperatives
  2. Filtering, collaboration, thinking, and learning tools for the next 200 years
  3. Co-creating Autistic / ND communities

Reducing toxic cultural complexity

Powered-up societies are characterised by a continuous tendency to add more and more mechanisms of control to perpetuate established social power gradients. Any transition towards a genuinely de-powered social operating model includes phasing out the spurious cultural complexity of super-human scale institutions of control that exert coercive powers.

Such a great simplification of social operating systems can occur in two basic ways:

  1. Voluntarily and consciously, by realising that emergent human scale collaborations have made some institutions of power obsolete, and by providing viable exit paths for the inmates of these institutions.
  2. Involuntarily, by forces beyond human control, such as increasingly severe extreme weather events, ecological collapse, and breakdown of brittle energy intensive and under resourced systems that implode under their own bureaucratic weight.

As Joseph Tainter’s analysis of complex societies shows, collapse of hierarchical complexity “is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity”. Declining marginal returns on investments in established administrative structures ultimately result in an imperative to establish less energy intensive forms of collaborations that are more inclusive in terms of the diversity of stakeholders involved in shaping the path forward.

A shift from a W.E.I.R.D. monoculture to ecosystems of human scale groups reduces the spurious complexity needed to support a monoculture, and it retains and even grows adaptive cultural complexity, i.e. the diversity that emerges when the human ecological footprint is aligned with bioregional ecosystem functions. Spurious complexity wastes energy – is the result of humans working against biological evolution, whereas adaptive complexity saves energy – it is the result of humans engaging in collaborative niche construction as a part of biological ecosystems.

In this context the non-human ecological environment is the greatest ally of Autistic people and all others who appreciate the beauty of what biological life and de-powered ecologies of care have to offer.

Evolutionary design allows organisations and people to participate in the evolution of a living system and to integrate their knowledge into a living system that includes humans, non-humans, and human designed systems.

Phasing out the Devil’s Sadistic Manual

An obvious mid-range goal of de-powering involves phasing out the Devil’s Sadistic Manual (DSM).

A few days a go Dr Robert Chapman, an Autistic philosopher, pointed me to the Power Threat and Meaning (PTM) framework that has been developed by the British Psychological Association. The PTM framework is a potentially interesting tool for incrementally moving away from the DSM to a more holistic and less pathologising approach to human well being.

The framework stops short of being pro-active, and still assumes an ambulance at bottom of the cliff approach. It also assumes that social power dynamics are the main source of problems people encounter, which is true in powered-up societies, but not necessarily in healthy de-powered societies and groups, where amongst other things peer support may replace the need for professional therapists. By not demanding any changes to social norms that would make society less toxic, the focus remains on individuals and problems related to individual relationships. Hence I see the PRM framework as pertaining to a mid-range time horizon on the path towards de-powered social operating systems.

Extracts of interesting parts of the PTM

So far I have only skimmed over the 400 page text, and and have tucked into sections that seemed interesting from the perspective of undoing some of the damage caused by the pathologising language found in the DSM. If you are familiar with this framework and have seen it in use, I would be love to learn more and hear about your experiences.

… This is despite the fact that national (Read et al., 2013) and international (Lasalvia et al., 2015; Seeman et al., 2016) research confirms that ‘the notion that mental disorders are simply “brain diseases”…that exist as such in nature… is responsible for unwanted and destructive pessimism about recovery…(It) results in stigmatisation and rejection from the outside, and self-attribution and self-blame from the inside’ (Lasalvia et al., 2015, p.512).

We literally embody things people fear at a profound level – unreason, challenge to social contract, highlighting issues people can’t tolerate such as the futility of living, familial abuse, vulnerability to violence and mortality. What better way to wipe away these fears than by locating them in a “broken” person rather than by acknowledging them as consistent, frightening features of society?’ (service user quoted in Beresford et al., 2016, p.19).

we are active agents in our lives at the same time as facing many very real limits and barriers to the changes we can bring about. Those limitations may be material (money, food, transport) biological (physical disability) psychological (fear, anxiety, self-doubt) and/or social (gender expectations, isolation, discrimination.) More subtly but perhaps most damagingly, they may take the form of the meanings, beliefs, expectations, norms and values that we absorb, often unconsciously, from wider society.

Our framework offers a way of constructing a non-diagnostic, non-blaming, de-mystifying story about strength and survival, with the potential to re-integrate many behaviours and experiences which would currently be diagnosed as symptoms of mental disorder back into the range of universal human experience. The overall message is: ‘You are experiencing a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances. Anyone else who had been through the same events might well have ended up reacting in the same way. However, these survival strategies may no longer be needed or useful. With the right kind of support, you may be able to leave them behind.’ This position offers a way out of the conceptual trap by recognising and making sense of the very real struggles people have faced and continue to face, while also conveying the message that within some unavoidable limitations, they can be supported to reclaim a greater degree of responsibility and control over their lives.

In the short and medium term, psychiatric diagnoses will still be required for people to access services, benefits and so on. These rights must be protected. Equally, we all have a right to describe our experiences in the way that makes most sense to us. This right has not always been accorded to service users, who may be seen as ‘lacking in insight’ if they query their diagnosis. However, it is our hope that the framework offered here will, in the longer term, encourage and allow all of us to let go of diagnostic thinking.

The idea of backward causal chains, though often very useful, may also be inadequate where there are complex interacting processes. All clusters, however, are provisional, and developments in theory and technology over the next decades are likely to result in new clusters being proposed and existing ones rearranged or abandoned although this does not detract from the fact that many existing medical clusters may have very good evidence for their validity. But this constant process of change can be hidden not just because unsuccessful clusters may be remembered only by historians, but because everyday language tends to reify the abstract names given to the clusters (or, more correctly, the concepts inferred from them), that is, we talk as if these abstract names were descriptions of things, for example ‘He has cystic fibrosis’. This can give diagnostic concepts – both medical and psychiatric – an impression of solidity and permanence quite inappropriate to their abstract status.


clinicians have to rely almost entirely on subjective judgements and social norms both in devising diagnostic criteria and in trying to match people’s feelings and behaviour to them. For example, assessments of criteria such as ‘excessive guilt’, ‘irritable mood’, ‘deficient sexual fantasies’, ‘inappropriate affect’, ‘unusual perceptual experiences’ or ‘marked impairment in role functioning’ are not only very subjective, they also depend on social judgements about how people ought to feel or behave in certain circumstances. In fact, nearly every DSM/ICD criterion is ultimately based on this kind of subjective judgement.

Emphasising its reliance on social judgement, the DSM requires that people’s feelings
or actions should not be counted as symptoms of a mental disorder if they are normal, expected and culturally sanctioned responses to a particular event, hence the frequent use in manuals of terms such as usual, appropriate or excessive. In other words, to count as a symptom, what people feel or do should not be intelligible or understandable in their particular personal, social and cultural context; their feelings or behaviour might instead be described by those around them as extreme, irrational or bizarre. It is this claimed lack of intelligibility which is said to justify treating these feelings or behaviour as qualitatively different from ‘normal’ actions or feelings and to justify applying a medical framework.

statistical studies which apply various clustering techniques to the problems people present to psychiatric services, have found that the resulting clusters do not match DSM categories. In other words, people’s own reports of their problems do not follow the kinds of ‘patterns’ set out in the DSM.

there is also little evidence that DSM diagnoses predict which treatments will work in spite of the use of disorder-specific names such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers or anxiolytics (Bentall, 2003, 2010; Deacon, 2013; Kirk et al., 2013; Moncrieff, 2008).


By presenting emotional and behavioural problems as symptoms of mental disorder, by locating problems primarily in people’s brains and bodies, medicalisation and diagnosis help obscure the well-evidenced causal role of social and interpersonal factors in distress and make it much more difficult to understand people’s problems in the context of their lives and relationships.

Psychiatric diagnosis inevitably involves subjective social judgements, influenced by dominant cultural norms and values – in this case often those held by higher class white Western men – about how people ought to think, feel and behave.

The fact that Western society is highly individualised can also make it seem natural to turn to a medical and biological discourse which locates explanations for problematic feelings or behaviour in the individual’s brain or mind. All of this creates powerful obstacles to understanding the problems these explanations present.

Those who fall outside the dominant discourses are most likely to be seen as, and to experience themselves as, ‘bad’ or ‘mad’. All of this is reflected in psychiatric diagnosis’ inevitable dependence on social judgements, as we discussed in Chapter 1, and many critics have traced particular diagnoses back to the social norms they challenge: ‘borderline personality disorder’ for women who are too angry; ‘depression’ for women who are exhausted by domestic demands; ‘anorexia nervosa’ as a reaction to the unrealistic role and appearance standards faced by modern women; alcohol misuse and suicide for men whose socialisation does not permit the expression of despair in other ways; ‘ADHD’ for children who are not suited to educational regimentation, and so on (Bordo, 1996; Lafrance, 2009; Proctor, 2007; Timimi, 2010 and see Chapter 4, on gender). These rule transgressions can involve over-adaption to the ideal image, as well as failing to live up to it; thus Paul Verhaeghe (2012/2014) sees ‘psychopathy’, ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ and ‘sex addiction’ as extreme examples of taking cultural messages on board.

Similarly, it has been suggested that the enormous rise in diagnoses of ‘autism spectrum disorders’ and ‘Asperger’s’ may partly reflect demands made by highly industrialised and service-oriented economies for successful employees to display emotional behaviours such as (faked) sociability, warmth, gratitude, passion and so on – skills which do not come easily to everyone (Roberts, 2015).

Autistic people are not for sale

The actual effect of the myth of meritocracy, which is used to normalise and rationalise head to head competition, is a consistent bias to over-represent capabilities, and to actively avoid thinking about externalities. This is familiar to anyone who has ever been exposed to advertising. The cult of busyness undermines attempts at creating a shared understanding at a very basic level. The collective effects at scale and over decades are disastrous.

Collective behaviour in powered-up societies

Powered-up societies that tolerate social power gradients within a group and between groups are characterised by social norms that promote self interest over compassion. The more entrenched and effective these social norms are enforced within a society, the greater the normalisation of competitive social games.

The most extreme form of powered-up societies are societies that are dominated by the belief in the religion of the invisible hand of the market, in which most institutions have been designed on the assumption that the invisible hand of the market has a beneficial effect on human society. Of course, even a cursory honest look at global indicators of human well-being shows that nothing could be further from the truth of lived experience.

The trouble is that even when large numbers of individuals start to lose faith in the religion of the invisible hand, as is happening right now in many countries, atomised individuals and small nuclear families feel completely powerless in the face of the many powered-up institutions that effectively dictate the terms of life for all living creatures on this planet.

Self-preservation is the primary purpose of all powered-up institutions, far ahead of serving the needs of local ecosystems and communities. Even if the powerless human cogs in the institutionalised machine are fully aware of this fact, their dependence on the industrialised machine for basic survival and their lack of the essential life skills needed to survive outside of the industrialised machine, has resulted in a level of paradigmatic inertia that is best understood as complete paralysis – and this level of paralysis is rationalised, i.e. is perceived as “normal”.

Awareness of the paralysed state of normality is experienced as hyper-normality, an extreme state of cognitive dissonance, where all of human life has morphed into a competitive social game of pretend play, where the pretence of technological and social progress has become the main objective of the game.

The impact of hyper-normality on human and non-human lives is devastating and self-destructive, as all forms of mutual trust and mutual aid are systematically undermined by sanctified institutionalised bullshit, all in the name of technological progress, meticulously quantified and aggregated in abstract financial metrics of busyness. In a digitally networked world that serves as an omni-present temple for worshipping the invisible hand, abstract institutions and their powers are experienced as more “real” than living ecosystems and biological entities.

When the human dependence on hyper-normal institutions is stronger than the level of mutual trust and compassion between humans, culture has become divorced from its biological substrate, and biological life has been sidelined, and is treated as an abstract economic “externality”, i.e. a lower order effect that can be safely ignored within the realm of the hyper-normal social game. There is no escape path from within the game. The paradigmatic inertia of the culture locks all participants into a “stable” state on the suicidal path of cancerous growth in busyness.

Hyper-normalised humans are highly traumatised and hyper-vigilant humans who, in service to the social game, have become unable to extend trust to the people around them without relying on hyper-normalised institutions and their technologies as intermediaries. Some critical observers refer to this state of affairs as the Capitalocene; where abstract capital serves the needs of capital, i.e. the growth and aggregation of capital via liquidation of the entire planet, and ultimately the entire universe.

Within the Capitalocene the identification, labelling, and pathologisation of neurodivergent non-compliant humans is not only “normalised”, it is also immediately recognised as a new market that creates plenty of busyness opportunities. Celebration of neurodiversity is easily co-opted into the social game, within which neurodivergent people are the fuel from which economic “utility” in the form of abstract captial growth can be extracted. The Autism Industrial Complex is a prime example of the way in which cruel dehumanising and traumatising behaviourist techniques of coercion are hyper-normalised into a busyness opportunity.

The systemic suppression of human imagination within the Capitalocene means that it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capital. However, no matter how much energy is harnessed in service to capital, the “externalities” in the economic game, from climate chaos to ecosystem destruction, are starting to overwhelm and disrupt the logic of capital with increasing frequency.

Over the next few decades, as the Capitalocene is eroded and replaced by forces much larger than capital and also much larger than any form of human agency, it is worthwhile to step back and reflect about the ways in which we humans can not only rediscover the biological foundations of humanity, but also healthy limits of human scale in terms of social organisation, as well as healthy way of re-integrating ourselves into the local biological web of life and into ecologies of mutual care beyond species boundaries.

For Autistic people it is a waste of time engaging in conversation with neuronormative people who are unfamiliar with the pseudo-scientific foundations and the ideological bias of the W.E.I.R.D. social game.

There is a very important distinction between arguing to “win” and bi-directional sharing of knowledge and experiences to learn from each other.

It is helpful to distinguish five basic categories of beliefs and related knowledge:

  1. Beliefs based on scientific theories backed by empirical evidence that we are intimately familiar with. Only a small minority of our beliefs fall into this category.
  2. Beliefs based on scientific theories backed by empirical evidence that we are not intimately familiar with. If we are “educated”, a sizeable minority of our beliefs fall into this category.
  3. Beliefs based on personal experiences and observations. For those who identify as autistic, a significant number of beliefs held fall into this category.
  4. Beliefs that represent explicit social agreements between specific people regarding communication and collaboration. For those who identify as autistic, a significant number of beliefs held fall into this category, especially agreements with family, friends, and colleagues.
  5. Beliefs based on what others have told us and what we have been encouraged to believe by parents, teachers, and friends, … and politicians and advertisers, etc. For those who do not identify as autistic, the majority of beliefs held fall into this category.

All categories of human beliefs are associated with some level of uncertainty regarding the validity and applicability to a specific context at hand.

When people argue to “win”, they mostly rely on beliefs in category 5 (opinions). Such arguments are about dominance, not facts.

W.E.I.R.D. societies systematically pathologise all those who are not fully “functional” and “culturally well adjusted” machines within the factory model of society. The pathology paradigm ensures that all defective machines are identified and to the greatest possible extent are corrected by suitable therapies and medical interventions, to get as close to normal “functioning” as possible.

These graphs from Google’s Books Ngram Viewer (word usages in published books) reflect the rising levels of significant trauma in our society, i.e. the “autism epidemic” and the concern about a [lack of] externally visible displays of empathy, and the rising levels of addiction to the various forms of social status that are cult-ivated by the busyness of abstract economic growth. These trends coincide with the prominence of the internet in human lives, and thinking about the W.E.I.R.D. cultural bias that is baked into the very foundations of profit driven social media platforms and other internet technologies, this is not surprising.

People who are able and willing to play social games, very easily get pulled into addictions related to social status. These effects have been amplified with the global rise of neoliberal ideology, facilitated by internet based social technologies. They are visible in the rise of corresponding pop psychology terminology around narcissistic behaviours.

The many invisible hands of capital that shape the algorithms of that mediate digital human interactions are keeping billions of people firmly anchored within the W.E.I.R.D. ideological prison. On the one hand Autistic whistle-blowers are pathologised and demonised, and on the other hand our culture actively encourages narcissistic behaviours. The outcome is predictable.

Collective behaviour in de-powered societies

I have written extensively about this topic, and for anyone who is seriously interested, there is no shortage of excellent books on what we know from studying cultural evolution over the course of the last 300,000 years, and there is a growing body of knowledge that is being generated, shared, and curated by neurodivergent people who are engaged in collaborative niche construction outside – or at least partially outside – of the Capitalocene.

Additionally, we also know that human babies who have not yet been exposed to competitive ideology are consistently prepared to help others who seem to struggle with achieving a goal, for example with opening a door etc. This innately cooperative tendency is not limited to familiar family members and friends, but also applies to strangers.

In this article I just want to draw attention to the profound shift in human collective behaviour that is triggered as soon as a small group of humans rejects the religion of the invisible hand, and starts to systematically re-prioritise compassion over self interest.

De-powered groups represent an alternative and genuinely stable state of social organisation and cultural evolution at human scale. Human scale groups of hunter gatherers in Australia survived and thrived in small groups for over 70,000 years, without completely destroying local ecosystems, and without triggering a mass extinction event. We are well advised to take the time to study and understand the cultural foundations that differentiate de-powered human scale cultures from the increasingly short and destructive boom and bust cycles of so-called “civilisations” that have become the dominant form of social organisation over the last 10,000 years.

Within a human scale group, a shift towards social norms that no longer tolerate social power gradients over time results in a rise in altruistic brehaviour, in mutual trust, and in individual behaviour that assumes the absence of purely self interested motives as a default. Ten years of lived experience with the NeurodiVenture model have taught us that it can take newcomers several years to un-learn entrenched old habits and to adapt to life in a culturally and psychologically safe environment.

There are many ways of failing on the path towards de-powering the relationships within a group. De-powered life does not equate to a life without disagreements and to a life without a multitude of different perspectives. Quite the opposite is the case. The main difference to powered-up life is the level of conscious awareness about individual differences in needs, and the celebration of these differences, by encouraging people to explore new creative forms of collaboration, which become possible within a compassionate ecology of mutual care, in which prosocial norms protect against the emergence of permanent social power gradients.

Creative collaboration vs the invisible hand

It is important to understand how creative collaboration within a de-powered environment differs from the competition encouraged by the invisible hand in powered-up environments.

The actual effect of the myth of meritocracy, which is used to normalise and rationalise head to head competition, is a consistent bias of all participating agents to over-represent their capabilities, and to actively avoid thinking about any potential externalities. This is familiar to anyone who has ever been exposed to advertising.

In other words, the elevation of competition to a virtue results in an environment that actively encourages corner cutting and deception.

In such an environment, no one is actually sticking to the agreed rules of competition for a particular market. Instead, everyone has strong incentives to be perceived as sticking to the rules, by taking the most creative interpretation of the rules that is possible without triggering negative consequences. This tendency can be observed in all sectors of the economy in industrialised societies. The limited liability of corporations and the very limited powers of regulators means that any punishments for rule violations equate to symbolic slaps on the wrist, without any tangible impact on future operations.

At an individual level the invisible hand consistently rewards psychopathic lack of compassion. It does not take a genius to understand that this ultimately results in psychopathic hyper-normalised institutions. Attempting to counteract this tendency via improved regulation is futile once a critical mass of individuals with psychopathic tendencies have occupied key positions in established institutions.

Improvements in regulation are either conceived as perception management initiatives from the start, or they encourage the most powerful agents to identify and actively engineer new loopholes that allow corner cutting in areas that evade the scrutiny of regulators. The most powerful agents also have the deepest pockets to easily cope with heavy handed bureaucratic perception management demands. In contrast, the least powerful agents, who may offer genuinely useful services, with fewer toxic externalities, may not be able to afford to submit to expensive compliance rituals. They stand a high chance of being perceived as too small, and therefore as too “risky” to engage with in a world where bigger is always better by definition, and where being smaller is always interpreted as a sign of weakness.

The primary framing of evolution as competition – as if there are no people who reject the concept of competition as inherently cruel – is a traumatising and nauseating waste of time that only achieves one thing: the destruction of the fabric of trust that is the foundation of all healthy (de-powered) human scale societies.

The continuously evolving creative collaboration of cells and microbes within a complex organism is de-powered; there is no social power hierarchy of cells, and there is no social power hierarchy of microbes. Complex organisms have evolved non-trivial immune systems to detect aberrant competitive and exploitative mutants or invaders. Hierarchical power structures are abstractions that only exist in the minds of animals with complex brains. In the bigger scheme of evolution, hierarchical power structures are unusual.

More and more people, including neuronormative people who grew up with supportive parents, are openly questioning the fundamentals of industrialised “civilisation”, and are confronting the timeless patterns of human limitations.

The ethical issues raised by stewardship of social systems and ecological systems require input from philosophy, public policy, and disciplines across the humanities. There is no viable hands-off approach. Inaction on the part of scientists and regulators only hands the reins of collective behaviour over to a small number of individuals at for-profit companies.

In this context it is misguided and dangerous to entertain magical beliefs about the capabilities of so-called artificially intelligent systems designed by mere humans, which are only capable of emulating learning by imitation, and which run on highly resource and energy intensive and often unreliable technological infrastructure.

It is easy to gloss over all the implications of the limits of human cognition and the limits of human agency, and it is also easy to underestimate the immense diversity in cultures and human collective behaviour that our species is capable of. From an Autistic perspective, we are well advised to stay clear of all attempts of actively shaping cultures beyond the limits of human scale – because by definition, beyond these limits we are genuinely incapable of understanding the implications of our decisions and actions.

Competing against each other using culturally defined rules

Culturally well adjusted neuronormative people understand collaboration to mean working against each other according to culturally defined rules.

Think about that for moment. A few years ago I explicitly suggested this “definition” to several culturally well adjusted people, and they confirmed that this is effectively how they perceive their corporate or academic work environment. I’ve also been told the same thing in different words by a small company owner, who explained that in business there is no such thing as an eye level partnership.

People with elevated baseline sensitivities that leave them more vulnerable to being severely traumatised, who cope with trauma via social withdrawl, mutism, shutdowns and meltdowns, are systematically disadvantaged in all societies that tolerate persistent social power gradients within relationships. Since the entire industrialised world has been built on the myth of meritocracy and on the belief in the sacred invisible hand of competitive markets, it is not surprising that hypersensitive Autistic people are systematically marginalised and exploited – not because they are any less competent, but because a neurologically hard wired innate sense of fairness and social justice prevents most Autistic people from playing competitive games to “succeed”, i.e. to personally benefit from “out-competing” others.

In a hyper-competive world unexpected non-compliant behaviour of Autistic people is often misunderstood, experienced as confusing, and sometimes this means that Autistic people are perceived as “manipulative and untrustworthy”.

A very effective technique for reducing misunderstanding is the technique of asking clarifying questions, especially asking for concrete examples (validation by instantiation) to illustrate the intended semantics of a specific word or statement. Again, in a hyper-competitive world, asking for concrete examples is easily perceived as rude, and similarly, offering examples of similar experiences – to convey shared understanding and compassion, can also easily be misunderstood.

The competitive mindset in our society undermines collaboration and attempts at creating a shared understanding at a very basic level. The collective effects of paradigmatic inertia at scale and over years and decades are disastrous.

The notion of life as a competitive game found its way into the science of biology by interpreting Darwin’s theory of evolution through the cultural lens of capitalism. The complementary perspective of life and evolution as a cooperative game as described by Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902) was largely ignored in “developed” capitalist societies throughout most of the 20th century.

The timeless and universal architecture of safety

Picture by Ulku Mazlum

It is wise to ignore discipline boundaries when engaging in knowledge archaeology. Many of the observations resulting from a transdisciplinary or anti-disciplinary approach don’t neatly fit with the siloed W.E.I.R.D. ways of knowing.

Old rock paintings and diagrammatic representations illustrate how important knowledge can be transmitted reliably in otherwise largely oral human scale cultures over tens of thousands of years. The diverse cultures that evolved in Australia illustrate not only human adaptability but also how the seemingly impossible survival in extreme ecosystems becomes possible at human scale. Through the self-serving distorted lens of European cultures of course, written language is a fairly recent “invention”, and the only “proper” written language is one with a linear syntax.

Human primates

In some ways, from a biological perspective, specifically how we cope with stress, it is helpful to think of humans as primates, but in other ways, related to the extent of the human capacity for culture, this is only one small aspect of what makes us human.

This interview with biologist Robert Sapolsky on the commonalities and differences between other primates and humans contains three valuable insights:

  1. Our internal experience and external behaviour is shaped by a mind-boggling number of factors.
  2. A large number of biological and neurological factors interact in complex ways that are impossible to disentangle.
  3. Free will is likely an illusion created by our brains and minds, i.e. it is a learning tool that motivates us to make good use of all our experiences when making important decisions.

Please note that I find the the biological machine metaphor invoked by Robert Sapolsky to be unhelpful. A complex biological or ecological system metaphor would be much more appropriate. Complex environments are inherently unpredictable, and the illusion of predictability and determinism associated with the machine metaphor is rather dangerous. Neither neuronormative people nor Autistic people are mechanical robots.

Perhaps the notion of a lack of free will in the absence of determinism – because biological and ecological systems are complex, is even less palatable and even more scary for “civilised” people, whose entire identity and self-worth is built around the idea of “being in control” and “wielding power” over others and the environment.

Humans

The three observations above invalidate many assumptions that are baked into industrialised “civilisation”, and they point us to important truths about humans:

  • We can acknowledge that most of the time most people are probably trying their very best under the given circumstances.
  • We can acknowledge the huge role that culture plays in shaping neuronormative human collective and individual behaviour.
  • We can acknowledge the unavoidable, insane, and ultimately existential risks that come with all super-human scale cultures, the complexity of which far exceeds our ability to comprehend.
  • We can acknowledge the inevitable struggles that emerge along the path of rediscovering collaborative niche construction at human scale, i.e. we need to (re)learn to focus on human scale, and learn to ignore the many super-human scale distractions created by industrialised “civilisation”.
  • We also can also acknowledge the huge role that differences in sensory experiences and sensory overload play in shaping Autistic human individual behaviour.
  • We can focus on compassion and mutual aid instead of perceiving the people around us as competitors.
  • We can start celebrating diversity within groups and between groups as essential ingredients for maintaining peaceful de-powered relationships between people and between groups.
  • We can refrain from hating other cultures simply because they are unfamiliar or seem scary from the outside.

Given the lack of free will, and recognising the complexity of human life, blaming people for “their” behaviour is pointless. In particular labelling a person and attributing blame to one party in a strained relationship is counter-productive.

Furthermore, issuing pathologising labels to both parties in a strained relationship is also counter-productive. It detracts from all the factors that may make a particular situation unique, which hold the key for leaving behind old patterns; and pathologising labelling risks people getting stuck in a preconceived pattern and in hopelessness, i.e. that things can’t and will never change.

Labels can be helpful only insofar as they are framed in a non pathologising way, to assist with pattern recognition, with learning from and with each other, and with stepping out of unhelpful patterns onto new terrain, which can be explored as needed with the help of appropriate peer support.

Cultural evolution at human scale

Humans have a biological need for the kind of long-term trustworthy and dynamically evolving relationships that are only possible within a stable ecology of collaborating human scale groups, i.e. each group may be collaborating with between two and five other groups, with each group consisting of between 20 and 150 people who live together in several smaller household units.

In atomised and hypernormative industrialised societies, beyond the toxic social power dynamics that plague all “civilisations” with powered-up structures of control, the human scale social safety nets of neurodivergent people have been systematically destroyed.

We can take comfort in what we can glean from pre-civilised small scale societies in terms of anthropological and archaeological evidence. At human scale, in de-powered social environments, individuals can rely on long-term trustworthy relationships at three levels: within a household, within a group, and via kinship and friend relationships with people from other small groups. Thus, in case a particular relationship turns ugly and becomes traumatic beyond repair-ability, as a result of any number of potential reasons, there is always the ability to create safe boundaries by retreating to a place of safety in another household or group.

Elinor Ostrom’s pioneering field research frames universally observable patterns for coordinating life at human scale in terms of 8 prosocial design principles.

If we combine lessons about cultural evolution and lessons about human stress responses, we can harness the ability for culture to override latent primate behaviours.

Humans excel at collaborative niche construction as long as we stay within the safe limits of human scale, and as long as we prioritise cultural norms that de-power our relationships, and norms that prevent us from attempting to influence social environments beyond the limits of human scale.

In healthy de-powered human scale societies humans feel safe, they know each other, they trust each other, and they are equipped with social norms that clamp down on in-group competition.

Fears of inherently unpredictable environments can only escalate in unsafe social environments, i.e. environments that are devoid of mutual trust.

Risks of (a) suicidal collective delusions – magical thinking amplified by unwarranted trust in people or human technologies and (b) deadly wars – triggered by myths of cultural superiority and by “normalised” social power gradients, can only escalate in the presence of super-human scale institutions of coercive power and control. Powered-up institutions of control prevent the free flow of knowledge and the dynamic reconfiguration of the social safety net between people.

Feeling safe

The timeless universal architecture of cultural and psychological safety boils down to awareness of the limits of human scale, and to de-powering all our relationships. In a de-powered human scale environment:

  • We can be optimistic about our ability to learn and heal from trauma.
  • The essential role that safety and mutual trust plays in collaborative niche construction becomes obvious.
  • The level of collective intelligence and adaptive behaviour is optimised, there is no impedance mismatch between group size and our cognitive limits.
  • The local complexity that emerges and that we can comfortably deal with keeps our minds stimulated and makes us feel fully alive.
  • Our social environment consists of multiple autonomous household units with strict boundaries.
  • As needed, reconfiguration of relationships within and between households allows us to maintain an environment that offers safety and protection from harm for all members of a group.
  • We regularly collaborate with a small number of people from other human scale groups, some of which may have significantly different cultures.
  • We cultivate non-violent conflict resolution protocols for group members, and everyone is familiar with these protocols.
  • We cultivate non-violent conflict resolution protocols for engagements with people from other groups / cultures.
  • We cultivate protocols for incrementally developing trust and appropriate boundaries when encountering unfamiliar groups / cultures.

Furthermore, in such comprehensible (human scale) social environments, de-powered communication and collaboration is the norm, and it becomes very easy to identify significant deviations from these norms, i.e. persistent attempts of one person or a small group of attempting to wield power over others. In such environments the essential cultural role of hypersensitive Autistic people becomes obvious for everyone, and the industrialised separation between “work” and “life” can be seen for what it is: a divide and conquer strategy that is designed to perpetuate our dependence on toxic institutions of oppression.

Autistic people and other traumatised people should be free to imagine and realise a world where we don’t have to leave behind everything we value in life to go to “work”, only to perpetuate the sanctified institutional bullshit that is killing the entire living planet.

Onwards!

How safe do you feel?

The voice of Autistic data is loud and clear. The neuronormative society that surrounds us does not allow us to feel safe. Our research aggregates data from Autistic people from all over the world.

Frequency of negative feelings

The biggest sources of Autistic fears

You can contribute to ➜ this entirely anonymous survey to help us better understand the experienced level of cultural and psychological safety of people all around the world, including the experiential differences between neurodivergent and neuronormative people. Your contribution is much appreciated.

As always, this survey is a collaborative Autistic community initiative, and all suggestions for improving the survey are welcome.

Some of the answers we are getting from Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people regarding the level of safety experienced in healthcare settings:

What are the most important things you wish healthcare professionals to know, respect, and do, when engaging with you?

  1. To be heard and heeded. To no longer be dismissed. To open their eyes and brains about pathologization and dehumanizaton of neurodivergent/others. Stop assuming all humans are identical, stop assuming they are the expert when they are totally ignorant. Stop talking down to me, stop infantilizing me. Stop telling me they couldnt tell I was Autistic, I dont look Autistic as if that is a compliment.
  2. Just treat me with respect and know my boundaries. I hope they take me seriously and hope that they don’t think that I’m disrespecting them with my behaviours.
  3. If I tell you it hurts, it hurts… You are the doctor, maybe figure out why it’s hurting, and figure something out to help it hurt less instead of blaming me for feeling pain. Quit treating me like I’m an inconvenience to YOU because I have chronic health/pain issues that no one is willing to treat beyond “take a tylenol” to deal with chronic pain, or “that’s just in your head” like there is no connection between my brain and my body that would cause acute discomfort when unable to function due to acute stress. Body doctors tend to forget the brain is responsible for controlling everything they’re trying to analyze and fix, which means if the brain isn’t okay, there’s likely to be other physical symptoms and issues that will present themselves concurrently, and it’s not all fabricated in my “delusional” mind.
  4. I’m at least as smart as they are. I know myself extremely well. I also understand their jargon.
  5. That I am telling the truth about the gravity of my difficulties and that these difficulties do not make me lesser. That I am their equal as a human being.
  6. I wish they would listen without judgement. I wish they would take on what we say we believe about our bodies and ourselves. I wish that they would have more education and information on how Autism and ADHD present in women.
  7. I like to ask lots of questions but it’s just so I can understand the rules they are setting for me and my care. Once I understand, I am a good rule follower; I’m not being difficult or oppositional.
  8. Understand that when I offer a large amount of information on what I’ve come to discuss, it isn’t an obsession, it’s that I like to be informed and prepared. When I ask about a specific diagnosis, it’s because I have spent a good amount of time researching the possibilities before I even dared bring it up.
  9. Support includes flexibility, inclusivity, accommodations, and knowledge. It’s not enough to go “ok, cool” or “I support you” and go on as if nothing’s changed after a client or patient has told the provider that they’re queer, neurodivergent, or belong to another marginalized group that may require cultural understanding or accommodations in order for them to receive compassionate, effective treatment. Being an ally isn’t just about not being a jerk, it’s also about being active in creating inclusive and safe spaces for marginalized people.
  10. My experiences are different than neurotypicals. Take me seriously. Learn about Autistics from Autistics Throw away your DSM understandings as they are steeped in outdated understandings of Autistic Ways of Being.
  11. Recognising my own diagnosis, confirmed in part by their peers.
  12. Being aware of the support that doesn’t usually work with autistic people, such as psychotherapy, behavioural therapy – including ABA, conversion therapy, electric shock therapy.
  13. Not dismissing my ongoing need for antidepressants to live. Not having lost ten years in the system because of a wrong diagnosis. Supporting me as a child, it was obvious I was different. Supporting me as a child, even if my parents don’t have a A-level. Having supported me as a child, and tried to understand what was going on, when I had to pass again three years of school. Not judging me unfit like eugenicists. Because this is mainstream in the healthcare system.

Have you had any traumatising experiences in healthcare settings that no one should ever experience? Please outline.

  1. I was abused and traumatised by the psychologist who diagnosed my autism. He not only gained the narrative of my abusers, but he preferences their narrative and acted on it. he was manipulated by them because he wanted to be manipulated by them. It seems he may believe that he believed he was ethical abusing me because autists can’t feel trauma. It seems he deliberately provoked a trauma response because he didn’t know the difference between trauma dissociation and autistic sensory overload. Didn’t even know there was a difference. The next psychologist I saw, dismissed my experience with the words he didn’t mean it. She also told me I was lucky I wasn’t confined to a wheelchair, miming lolling in the chair hanging a noose around my neck, the third, social worker, told me she didn’t need to know anything about autism to provide me with counselling. ho hum!
  2. I don’t know. I think I am way too nervous in the healthcare environment for it to be normal, but I don’t know if that is because of an experience I am repressing or if it’s just me.
  3. Blamed for most everything that happens to me physically and mentally, even if I can’t possibly be at fault (i.e. ER doc blamed me for nearly stopping breathing under general anaesthesia because I allowed the nurse to give me Dilaudid for the pain, even though it was the doctor’s suggestion in the first place because I kept refusing Morphine). Doctors seemingly don’t listen, don’t comprehend the details provided, and make incorrect snap judgements just to get you out of their office because there’s “too much going on” and “too many symptoms”. Apparently it’s “unreasonable” to have this many things happening concurrently to worry about between my mental and physical health, because “that can’t all happen to one person”. They pretty much constantly require me to know more than they do about relevant treatment options for my health issues, even though they’re supposed to be the experts telling me how to do this stuff. They tune out when I list what’s happening. (i.e. “there’s no way you can have ADHD, you’re a girl” with ALL the symptoms of ADHD, “if you were actually Autistic they would have caught it when you were a kid” with ALL the symptoms of ASD in girls, “if you make it to adulthood, you’ve got autism all figured out” with ALL the issues I’ve been fighting for 40+years while undiagnosed and am still fighting while trying to get diagnosed). I stopped trying to get assistance with pain mitigation years ago because I always get met with suspicion, like I’m trying to score narcotics illicitly, or I get told that the pain isn’t bad enough and Tylenol is sufficient, or they only offer medications that cause side effects that are worse than the pain and last longer than the meds do. I’ve had to quite literally beg to get tests run because the symptoms are pointing to something specific, they don’t believe that may be the cause because they’ve never seen it, but will begrudgingly agree to the request. Then they request the wrong blood work, but refuse to correct it or do up another test form to get the proper one done. Or they add things to the blood work sheet I very clearly didn’t need (prostate levels don’t test well when you’re lacking a prostate, and I don’t need a faecal test meant for over 50 males as a mid-40s female). My clinic is teaching, so I will occasionally see Resident Doctors on their last rotations, and I consistently get asked how my periods are, even though there is a all-caps “HYSTERECTOMY 2010” at the top of my chart intended to prevent that topic from coming up. Seems they don’t even look at the charts before they walk in the room. When I mention that note and my lack of periods to be concerned about, I usually get taken to task because they’re “just trying to help, you know” and “It’s my job to ask”, but it’s not mine to expect them to at least skim my chart before wasting my time answering useless questions when there’s already “too much going on with you” for them in the first place. They try to be arm-chair therapists when I’m updating them on current treatment status from my psychologists, and in many instances make absurd suggestions (i.e. “Just don’t work as hard at work”, “quit worrying so much about deadlines”, “have you tried meditation and yoga”). Self-diagnosis is proving to be more effective and efficient way of self-treatment since no one else in the body health realm seems to be willing to figure anything out to help beyond blaming my brain for being broken, and my body for being “too fat” and “too old”, as the cause for everything that is wrong with me. Yeah, sure that ADHD/ASD/PTSD/GAD/MDD/PD/ED mental health line-up with the multiple chronic injuries accented with chronic nerve pain and skeletal/muscular pain situation of mine is just way too much for you to listen about and think on for a few minutes because… doctor reasons?
  4. Yes, locked up in a psych ward and isolation room when I was 19. I’m 38 now. I avoid thinking about it most of the time.
  5. I was in a car crash and got 5 staples in my scalp for a wound. The scar has healed badly, I suffer pain with it and it’s swollen. I can feel my heart beat through it and its sensitive. It is visible when you look for it. One doctor reported that there is no evidence of any scar. I lost my father in the crash I mentioned. I was in public health system in Ireland for psychiatric and psychology out patient care and they told me that 9 months is the grieving period and that he lost his father and was over it in a matter of weeks.
  6. I told a Dr I was diagnosed Autistic and suspected ADHD and she told me I couldn’t be Autistic because I had good empathy and made good eye contact.
  7. Discrimination due to being transgender. After weeks of looking for a specialist, finding one, and booking in an appointment, that appointment was cancelled the moment the specialist learnt that I was transgender.
  8. I had a pediatrician growing up who did a pelvic exam on me every time she saw me and was never willing to explain why. One of my PCPs (as an adult) waited until I was in the middle of a endometrial biopsy (already very triggering from previous trauma, and painful, too) to apologize for misgendering me throughout the entire procedure. Other PCPs have tried to force speculums in me that were too large and one MA warned them that they might not have another option because “we don’t normally stock the smaller ones”. A nurse practitioner intentionally misdiagnosed me with bipolar disorder to coerce me into taking meds she knew I would refuse without a diagnosis. A therapist I saw temporarily started ranting about how modern feminism is tricking girls into believing they’re men after I (a trans man) asked her to use my proper pronouns.
  9. – Concerns being dismissed
    – Rushed through appointments
    – Not receiving accommodation letter to work from home despite being in burnout
  10. I was having a cardiac cauterisation, i.e. without anaesthetic or painkillers, and the radiologist came to yell at me because it had been reported that I didn’t agree with the way he presented the imaging method.

Repairing the human cultural immune system

Do you want real change?

Becoming conscious of human cognitive limits and recognising that these limits are just as real, immutable, and relevant for our survival as the laws of physics is essential for neurodivergent people to navigate sensory and emotional overload, and for (re)creating safe environments for ourselves and our peers.

Given that human children learn to use spoken language to attach labels to mental representations very early on, and given that much of human communication is based on spoken and written language, it is tempting to perceive human language as our main thinking and reasoning tool. But the more we learn about the reasoning abilities of non-human animals, the more doubt is cast on the position of human language as the ultimate cognitive tool. Human mental models have been around for much longer than human language.

Mathematics, the arts, and music are all human scale tools for communicating the essence of complex patterns of mental states (knowledge, feelings, and awareness of agency and motivations) that don’t survive simplistic attempts of serialisation and de-serialisation via stories. If we value the creation of cultures of thinking, then the risks of deceptive storytelling need to be acknowledged, and exploration and critical validation of knowledge, feelings, agency, and motivations must be encouraged.

CW: mentions suicide.

Limits of shared understanding

When I read the following Tweet from Ted Nelson a few years ago, it occurred to me that he has articulated the fundamental axiom of autistic social experience.

A whole number of factors shape the human limits of shared understanding:

  • Differences in traumatic experiences
  • Differences in levels of baseline sensitivities
  • Differences in cultural indoctrination
  • Duration, frequency, and most recent exposure to powered up social environments
  • Duration, frequency, and most recent exposure to de-powered social environments
  • Differences in time horizons when making decisions and prioritising actions

In a given situation, beyond these factors, misunderstandings are also triggered by differences in coping mechanisms when feeling:

  • Unsafe
  • Overwhelmed
  • Insecure
  • Misunderstood
  • Disrespected / invalidated
  • Bullied / coerced / manipulated / abused
  • Betrayed
  • Abandoned

The effects of living in powered-up social environments

Within human societies Autistic people tend to be the amongst the first who point out toxic competitive behaviours. We live in a world where the cultural immune system of human society, i.e. Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people are being systematically weakened, marginalised, and disabled.

Autistic children are frequently traumatised by experiences with culturally “well adjusted” parents, peers, and the education system. Depending on the extent to which Autistic people are prevented from developing their unique intrinsic motivations and are forced to comply with externally imposed social expectations, their trauma may lead them into extreme levels of social isolation.

So-called “civilisations” are constructed such that certain forms of bullying are deemed acceptable / legal / necessary and such that other forms of bullying are deemed as unacceptable and illegal. Upon closer examination the boundary, which is inevitably fuzzy, is an arbitrary one.

Our industrialised education system has a big gaping hole when it comes to teaching people how to coordinate complex activities without resorting to so-called leadership and management skills, which are effectively refined variants of the same bullying skills that other primates (baboons, chimpanzees, etc.) use to establish and maintain dominance hierarchies. Humans would not have become so successful on this planet just by focusing on these skills.

Growing levels of social inequality correlate with a rise in mental health issues throughout the population. The root cause may well relate to the formation of increasingly absurd group identities and associated signals of social status that make it acceptable to exclude the less fortunate.

From evolutionary biology we know that in-group competition has negative group survival value. There are always a few people who don’t play the social game and who don’t care about social status. There is a lot that society could learn from these people.

Humans are using a diverse range of external and visible coping mechanisms for dealing with perceived, anticipated, or experienced lack of safety. The combination of early childhood experiences and individual neurology determines which coping mechanisms come into play in specific situations:

  • Seeking clarification
  • Distrust
  • Anger
  • Selective mutism
  • Detachment
  • Meltdown
  • Shutdown

The first three coping mechanisms in this list are familiar to everyone, and one or more of the last four are familiar to any Autistic person.

Further internal, involuntary, and only partially visible coping mechanisms and responses for dealing with perceived, anticipated, or experienced lack of safety and related symptoms include:

  • Chronic anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Various health problems, including eating disorders, GI problems, migraines, autoimmune diseases
  • Burnout
  • Suicidal ideation

Suicide statistics for Autistic people in our powered-up society are alarming. Notably, the high Autistic suicide risk is not limited to those who are most obviously disabled in our society.

Punched out

Assuming I did not botch the task, by the time this posts I will have been dead via suicide for several hours. Nope, that’s not a setup to a joke.

Why would someone who is healthy, employed, has every outside appearance of success, and so on, take their own life?

In my case the answer is simple enough: I was done, but my body wasn’t.

… In closing, I want to thank each and everyone one of you who interacted with me, in person and/or virtually, and especially those who I interacted with frequently and came to know.  I was fortunate to live a very rich life, and despite my challenges and frustrations, y’all were the reason for it.  Though I chose to exit rather than persist, I have been very privileged, and I thank you for being a part of my life.

Will H. Moore

Hypersensitive Autistic people are like a high performance racing car without a well functioning braking system. We have a tendency to be too hard on ourselves for far too long, persisting in unsafe environments, until either our bodies or our minds – or both – crash and burn.

In order to take all the bends in the road without emotional and physical burnout, we need trustworthy Autistic peers as co-pilots who act as braking assistants and protect us from serious harm. Frequent meltdowns and shutdowns, and the various health problems we develop are our emergency braking systems. Selective mutism and detachment are energy consuming techniques for keeping emotional pain within survivable limits.

Specific misunderstandings induced by a lack of safety

Environments dominated by mistrust and social power dynamics generate misunderstandings, uncertainties, and related fears, resulting in confusion and doubts:

  • Misunderstanding or attempt of deception / manipulation
  • Desire to explain and be understood or defensiveness and refusal to admit mistakes
  • Being overwhelmed / need for processing time / inability to speak or respond on the spot or lack of understanding or empathy or courage
  • Being honest and open or being insensitive and potentially having bad intentions and being manipulative
  • Extending trust / being naive or possibly having some hidden agenda
  • Fear or reality
  • Experiencing signs of long term commitment or too good to be true
  • Commitments to other people / groups or abandonment

We all have some experience with such uncertainties, and we have erred on both sides of the fence. Individuals act upon these potential misunderstandings, uncertainties, and related fears with their own unique combination of visible and invisible coping mechanisms, which are shaped by prior experiences, by current feelings, and by all the factors that can limit shared understanding, i.e. differences in specific sensitivities, culture, exposures to social power dynamics, and differences in the priorities attached to different time horizons.

Traumatised people are sensitised to triggers relating to earlier traumatic experiences, i.e. if any sequence of events occurs that seems to contain familiar elements that resulted in trauma, then the experienced reality of the situation is coloured by feelings associated with trauma, and these in turn easily trigger associated trauma coping mechanisms – essential cognitive tools and responses that we have developed and internalised to protect us in dangerous and unsafe situations.

However, since our embodied feelings, which are beyond our conscious control, shape our sense of truth and our experience of safety and trustworthiness, trauma coping mechanisms can also easily get in the way of deepening trust and shared understanding, and doubly so in the context of people who we think of as being kind and trustworthy.

When we are sensitised by trauma, when someone triggers us, trust is easily undermined by doubts, fears, feeling disrespected, and even feelings of abandonment. Our learned trauma coping mechanisms kick in, and these in turn (such as asking questions, anger, mutism, detachment) can trigger internalised trauma responses of the other person (which may be less familiar and relatable to the first person), resulting in a spiral that prevents learning from each other, and that eventually reduces the level of mutual trust.

Differences in learned trauma coping mechanisms can get in the way of developing a closer relationship between two people with similar traumatic experiences (such as abandonment). We need to take extensive time to understand the nuances of our individually unique coping mechanisms, and we need to stay within safe speed limits to help each other re-learn to feel safe and avoid severely hurting each other.

The toxicity of powered-up environments in terms of mistrust and misunderstandings can hardly be overstated, resulting in a highly unpredictable social environment that is capable of inflicting pain at any moment. The effects for individuals can be devastating:

  • Self-fulfilling prophecies of rejection
  • Rejection of offers of assistance
  • Paralysing insecurities or possessiveness
  • Fear of entering or inability to maintain committed relationships
  • Inability to trust anyone, loneliness, isolation
  • Recurring disappointments, depression, suicidal ideation
  • Paranoia, believing “the world is out to get me”

Individual trauma

A lack of safety experienced over extended periods is traumatising and paralysing:

  • Extreme dependence on less than five relationships, even when these relationships are not experienced as safe.
  • Escalation of misunderstandings to the point where the ability to trust others in a small group (family or company) is corroded.
  • Complete lack of any relationships that are experienced as entirely safe.

However, trauma also acts as a catalyst for reconnecting with the non-human environment:

  • Detachment from human relationships.
  • Focus on non-human relationships.

Collective trauma

When high levels of trauma are commonplace, the collective effect is a toxic combination of cultural inertia and in-group competition:

  • Reduced ability for healthy de-powered conflict and conflict resolution, i.e. the conflicts needed to reach shared understanding within a small group that become possible in safe Open Spaces via an advice process.
  • Reduced ability to focus on the needs of the collective, i.e. on the totality of all needs across all the relationships within a small group and with other small groups.
  • Reduced ability to cope with uncertainty, resulting in a combination of wishful thinking and complete hopelessness.

However, collective trauma also catalyses the potential for cultural change, which over many years builds up in terms of cognitive dissonance, before becoming tangible in a phase changing event:

  1. Heightened sensitivity to social injustices
  2. Growing numbers of marginalised people
  3. Social collapse

The current level of cultural inertia in neuronormative society can be understood as a profound crisis of imagination. On the surface, so far very little has changed since this interview with film-maker Adam Curtis in 2016. The following segment on ‘real change‘ offers a synopsis.

The Devil’s Sadistic Manual

The W.E.I.R.D. cultural bias encoded in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) encourages diagnosticians, therapists, and their clients to:

  • Buy the myth of independence and a yardstick for “normal” competitive behaviour within a market driven society
  • Focus on the individual and on short term treatments of symptoms
  • Offload relational responsibility to the party with a disorder
  • Adopt stereotypes that assist with othering those who are in distress
  • Believe the illusion that motivations can be reliably inferred from external behaviour

This cultural bias becomes very obvious to people at the receiving end of labels such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and various personality disorders, which are much better understood as trauma coping mechanisms for dealing with the experienced reality of living in an unsafe social environment that is being presented as “normality” and assumed to a desirable or the only available target state.

It is not a coincidence that in our industrialised “civilisation” quotes such as “Life is not fair; get used to it” are commonplace, and that the Autism Industrial Complex is a rapidly growing multi billion dollar industry.

The DSM is so successful that even many of those who are oppressed by it refer to its terminology, using it to label and cope with those with whom maintaining relationships is impossible, painful, or difficult. The DSM offers the illusion of cookie cutter predictability of human behaviour in an inherently unpredictable and traumatising environment, supporting:

  • an entire industry of pathologising diagnosticians,
  • therapists with standardised treatments (hint: “best practices”) rather than nuanced and holistic approaches to well-being that are adapted to and integrated into local social environments (hint: design justice),
  • as well as a global pharmaceutical industry that maximises profits by creating life long customers.

Perhaps the biggest damage caused by the cultural bias in the DSM is the implicit assumption that deep down most humans are competitive rather than collaborative.

This assumption, when internalised as the truth about human nature, pours fuel on the fears and triggers of traumatised neurodivergent people, and it significantly raises the barrier that needs to be overcome to replace fear with the courage to reach out again, and to explore new connections in potentially safe social environments.

As long as we rely on the DSM for assessing who is “normal” and what behaviour is acceptable in our society, we are legitimising W.E.I.R.D. tools of oppression and creating a rod for our own backs.

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. To work within a system, to play by its rules, inevitably reinforces that system, whether or not that’s what you intend. Not only do the master’s tools never serve to dismantle the master’s house, but any time you try to use the master’s tools for anything, you somehow end up building another extension of that darned house.

– Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian from a working-class immigrant family (1979)

The effects of living in de-powered social environments

De-powered environments in which social power dynamics are not allowed to emerge and escalate reduce uncertainties and related fears, confusion, and doubts:

  • A misunderstanding is less likely to be confused with an attempt of deception / manipulation
  • A desire to explain and be understood is less likely to be confused with defensiveness and refusal to admit mistakes
  • Being overwhelmed / need for processing time / inability to speak or respond on the spot is less likely to be confused with lack of understanding or empathy or courage
  • Being honest and open is less likely to be confused with being insensitive and potentially having bad intentions and being manipulative
  • Extending trust / being naive is less likely to be confused with possibly having some hidden agenda
  • Fear is less likely to be confused with reality

De-powered environments create an egalitarian atmosphere of mutual trust where direct communication is appreciated, and where it is safe to make mistakes, ask for help, ask clarifying questions, and challenge the status quo, all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalised, or punished in some way. In a healthy culture Autistic children are assisted in co-creating their unique Autistic whānau, but this cultural knowledge has been lost and is suppressed. Genuinely safe environments for Autistic people are still rare.

Newcomers from the “civilised” world take substantial time (years) to fully grasp the possibilities of de-powered collaboration and the significance of frowning on all forms of social status within a de-powered environment. Unfortunately there is no shortcut to the learning curve. Autistic people support each other, love each other, and care for each other in ways that go far beyond the culturally impaired neuronormative imagination.

Collaboration is a ubiquitous evolutionary force

The networked intelligence and collaborative abilities of fungi are at the core of land based life. Consider the evolution of multi-celled life forms. Single-celled micro-organisms have not been replaced, but they have been complemented with a mind-boggling variety of more complex multi-celled life forms.

Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson observes that small groups rather than individuals are the organisms of human societies. This should provide all of us with food for thought and it has massive implications for the gene-culture co-evolution that characterises our species.

Humans are not the first hyper-social species on this planet. Insects such as ants offer great examples of successful collaboration at immense scale over millions of years. The problems that Autistic people face in toxic cultures as well as the evolutionary potential of de-powered forms of collaboration can be summed up by a simple biological truth:

Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.
– David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson

Charles Darwin and other early proponents of evolutionary theory appreciated the role of collaboration within species and between species, but many of these early insights including related empirical observations have been suppressed within the hyper-competitive narrative that has come to dominate industrialised civilisation.

Giving and taking advice

A simple advice process assists a group to shift away from unhealthy social power dynamics towards healthy de-powered relationships at human scale.

An advice process catalyses agency at human scale (think less than 150 people), as all group members start to nurture trusted relationships at eye level, as needed including relationships across the group boundary, resulting in a highly adaptive competency network that are not paralysed by fear.

An advice process turns the toxic notion of performance reviews described by W E Deming over 40 years ago on its head. It replaces the “push-back” model of traditional forms of “reactive feedback” with a “proactive pull-in” model that becomes possible once the members of an organisation or team are not punished for:

  • exploring new avenues and making mistakes
  • disagreeing with conventional wisdom as needed when asked for advice
  • seeking help, and not pretending to know everything
  • openly talking about risks

Before making a major decision that affects others in the group:

  1. A person has to seek advice from at least one trusted peer with potentially relevant or complementary knowledge or expertise.
  2. Giving advice is optional. It is okay to admit lack of expertise. This enables the requestor to proceed on the basis of the available evidence.
  3. Following advice is optional. The requestor may ignore advice if she/he believes that all things considered there is a better approach or solution. Not receiving advice in a timely manner is deemed equivalent to no relevant advice being available within the group. This allows everyone to balance available wisdom with first hand learning and risk taking.
  4. A few simple prosocial design principles provide guidance for dealing with people who regularly ignore relevant advice (or consistently refuse to seek or give advice) and therefore regularly cause downstream problems for others as a result. Such situations are obvious for all involved. A persistent breakdown of collaboration either results in a significant change in behaviour once the downstream problems are recognised, or in the non-cooperative person leaving the group.

De-powered family life

The following observations apply not only within companies, but they also constitute useful tips for de-powered family life with those who are closest to us.

Many companies, groups of all kinds, and especially Autistic whānau can benefit from shifting from reactive feedback to the proactive pull-in model enabled via an advice process. Autistic children and adults deeply appreciate autonomy. The following tips for giving and taking advice maximise autonomy, without ignoring the needs of others. For decisions that require input from everyone, the advice process can consist of deliberation in Open Space.

The recipe for the advice process needs to be applied in a very literal sense, i.e. the advice process is always initiated by the person who is facing a decision that affects others in significant ways. An advice process is in no way an invitation for giving unsolicited advice. Remembering this goes a long way towards nurturing trusted relationships and well functioning competency networks.

No one should ever be ignored or dismissed when seeking advice. In our society asking for help or acknowledging unknowns is often frowned upon. This is highly counter-productive. Committing to an advice process is an important tool for transforming fear into courage. As people gain experience with asking for and giving advice in Open Space and in their daily work, the level of psychological safety goes up, and over time the amount of courage needed to ask for advice decreases.

Everyone should be free to use their preferred communication tool for seeking advice. For some this may be an email, and for others it may be chat, the phone, or an online meeting.

No one should ever be pressured into giving advice. An advice process is not a potential blame deflecting tool. An advice process is intended to surface relevant tacit knowledge within a competency network, and to encourage people to apply their critical thinking skills before making decisions that may affect others in major ways.

Most people work very hard to work towards the best possible outcomes in an uncertain world. No one should be blamed for not following advice or for putting advice to use in creative ways that deviate from established practices.

Extend trust when people have sought advice and make a decision, they may know things or consider factors that you are not aware of. Don’t assume ill intent when things don’t quite go according to plan, or when it seems that mistakes have been made. No one has a crystal ball, and we often need to try things out to understand what works and what doesn’t.

As needed ask several people for advice, but don’t feel paralysed if no relevant experience seems to be available within your competency network. If you are asked for advice, and if you think there is someone with more relevant knowledge and understanding, share your competency network with the requestor. If you notice you are stepping into new terrain, as needed communicate the unknowns and then proceed with confidence. Experimentation is the only way for reducing the unknowns.

The benefits of mutual trust and shared understanding in de-powered environments can hardly be overstated:

  • Open to assistance from peers
  • Reduced fear of rejection
  • Reduced insecurity and possessiveness
  • Ability to enter and maintain committed relationships
  • Deep trust in peers and having the ability to extend trust to strangers
  • Inoculation against paranoia

Healing from collective trauma

Cultural adaptability:

  • Healthy de-powered conflict and conflict resolution, i.e. the conflicts needed to reach shared understanding within a small group that become possible via an advice process.
  • Ability to focus on the needs of the collective, i.e. on the totality of all needs across all the relationships within a small group and with other small groups.
  • Ability to cope with uncertainty via a combination of collective intelligence and collective agency.

Catalysing egalitarian prosocial norms:

  • Sensitivity to social injustices
  • Lower numbers of marginalised people
  • Social stability

Healing from individual trauma

All of the following coping mechanisms have their place in a relatively safe environment:

  • Seeking clarification (helps to deepen shared understanding and trust)
  • Distrust (helps when used selectively in potentially unsafe environments)
  • Anger (helps when used as a short signal rather than over longer periods)
  • Selective mutism (helps cope when encountering an unsafe environment)
  • Detachment (helps to prevent meltdown or shutdown in an unsafe environment)
  • Meltdown (helps to cope with overwhelming situations)
  • Shutdown (helps to cope with overwhelming situations)

All these coping mechanisms and overload responses are essential survival tools for Autistic people in powered-up environments. Don’t let anyone ever blame you for using one of these tools in unsafe environments. Without appropriate use of these tools many more of us would not be able to cope with life on this planet under current conditions.

However in predominantly unsafe environments, i.e. in society at large, these coping mechanisms and responses may be inadequate, and may need to be used far too often, resulting in chronic stress and related chronic health conditions.

Note: Guidelines for healthy emotional regulation for neuronormative people are not necessarily transferable to Autistic people. We are all experts in the living the experience of our own feelings. When we don’t have words for these feelings that is no deficit, and when people push us to name our feelings, the words we use may be far from adequate.

The Te Reo Māori word for ADHD is Aroreretini, which literally means ‘attention goes to many things’, and the Te Reo Māori word for Autistic is Takiwātanga, which literally means in ‘their own time and space’, and both are non-pathologising terms. However, the connection to the chunking of concepts in the DSM means that Takiwātanga only captures one half of the core Autistic experience.

Maybe Takiwātanga, i.e. the description of Autistic ways of being, should be elaborated into ‘in their own time and space, with many feelings at the same time’.

This would once and for all do away with the myth that Autistic people don’t have feelings or need to learn to “properly express” their emotions on neuronormative terms. After all, not all of us use mouthspeak, and some of us are unreliable speakers, but that does not mean we can’t communicate. In the same way, not using common neuronormative words to describe feelings does not mean that we don’t feel or lack the ability to express feelings – often words simply don’t cut it for us.

Well-being in a de-powered social environment entails:

  • Everyone routinely and intuitively making use of and actively contributing to an advice process before making decisions that impact others
  • The ability to feel safe within a household or company, even during occasional temporary conflicts
  • The ability to have safe relationships with and establish healthy boundaries with other households or companies
  • Relationships that are experienced as unsafe are exceptions and are addressed via agreed implementations of prosocial norms

Initiatives for co-creating safe environments for neurodivergent people

Neurodiversity friendly forms of collaboration hold the potential to transform pathologically competitive and toxic teams and cultures into highly collaborative teams and larger cultural units that work together more like an organism rather than like a group of fighters in an arena.

Co-creating Autistic / ND communities

What we are aiming at with the ND communities initiative, and what we already have in embryonic form in terms of experience with ND whānau, has so far been beyond reach.

But if we look carefully, we see every day how ND people are supporting each other, loving each other, and caring for each other in ways that go far beyond the culturally impaired neuronormative imagination.

Co-creating a Centre of Autistic Culture in Auckland, Aotearoa

The Autistic / ND whānau concept and Autistic / ND communities are important and essential building blocks of a new emerging reality. The social model of disability applies. We need to actively encourage environmental engineering, and we need to push back against toxic social expectations, and equip future generations of Autistic people with the tools and Autistic peer support that allow them to co-create healthy ecologies of care around them.

We centre the lived experience of Autistic people in the education of healthcare professionals about Autistic ways of being and Autistic culture, and we now need to co-create safe spaces that allow us to catalyse collaboration, mutual aid, safe relationships, and Autistic whānau beyond the abstract online realm:

Centres of Autistic culture need to be designed by and with local Autistic people, taking into account specific local needs, and once implemented, they need to be operated by local Autistic people.

If you are Autistic and live in Aotearoa, and especially if you live in the Auckland region, we invite you to join us in the co-creation process, and to submit your ideas and feedback in relation to the draft scope of a local Autistic centre of culture outlined below. Even if you don’t live in Aotearoa, you can add your name in support of this initiative to underscore the relevance of the proposed concept to Autistic communities worldwide.

NeurodiVentures

NeurodiVenture : an inclusive non-hierarchical organisation operated by neurodivergent people that provides a safe and nurturing environment for divergent thinking, creativity, exploration, and collaborative niche construction.

NeurodiVerse : human scale cultures created by neurodiversity within the human species

  • (a) the universe of NeurodiVentures
  • (b) the set of all neurodivergent people

Autistic Trauma Peer Support

the Autistic Collaboration community is in the process of co-creating and operationalising peer support services for Autistic Trauma based on the lived experiences of Autistic people all over the world.

It is impossible to express everything that is going on inside us, because linear language is a poor tool, and also because the capacity of our own understanding is limited. We can’t know everything. We can only discover some things about ourselves, about each other, and the world. It’s a dynamic process that never ends. And it only works in a world of mutual trust.

Connect

If you are aware of further peer support initiatives towards safer de-powered environments for Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people that should be included in this overview, please use the form below to submit relevant details. You can also use the form to inquire about contributing to any of the initiatives listed above.