Autists are acutely aware that culture is constructed one trusted relationship at a time – this is the essence of fully appreciating diversity. Autistic people relate to specific people, and primarily to other autistic people, and not to group identities.
In contrast, contemporary human societies are characterised by abstract group identities, from local communities, to favourite sports teams, employers, professions, social class, languages, dialects, tribes, countries, online groups, brand loyalty, etc. Every identifiable group identity is characterised by specific behavioural cultural norms, only some of which are explicitly stated and acknowledged. People who identify with a group are expected to conform with the explicit and implicit behavioural code.
This difference in constructing social relationships has profound implications. Autists understand a group of people to consist of the set of pairwise relationships between individuals – autistic people don’t “belong” to any groups, but the idiosyncratic relationship between two autistic people, including their idiosyncratic ways of interacting, may belong to one or more groups.
If all relationships in a group are based on mutual trust and respect, then the group can be considered to be good company. If some of the relationships lack mutual trust or respect, then the group is in an unhealthy state.
Mutual trust and respect can also mean a mutual recognition and acceptance of significant differences in needs and preferences – simply allowing the other person to be themselves, without undertaking any attempts to coerce the other person to do certain things in certain ways, or to respond to a question or situation immediately, without any time allowed for reflection and unique ways of information processing.
Psychological safety means being surrounded by (familiar) trusted peers, not by “being part of” an amorphous abstract group like being “human”, being “male” or “female”, being “part of organisation xyz”, or being an “Antarctican” – national identities are amongst the silliest inventions, and one learns to be careful not to offend the millions of (insane?) non-autistic believers in the various cults of nationality. Organisation xyz only needs one unsafe relationship for an autistic person for the entire group to become an unsafe environment. This is a practical working definition of psychological safety for autistic people.
All groups that are genuinely inclusive of relationships with autistic people are small in size – they are human scale.
I define autistic community as follows:
If you are wondering whether you identify as autistic, spend time amongst autistic people, online and offline. If you notice you relate to most of these people much better than to others, if they make you feel safe, and if they understand you, you have arrived.
- digital communication technologies,
- autistic information exchanges like The Aspergian,
- and the Open Source operating model template for forming and operating NeurodiVentures via the Aut Collab mutual support hub
autistic people are finally connecting and establishing a social habitat on this planet that limits our exposure to insane super-human scale societies.
An autistic model of the living planet
What is only rarely talked about in mainstream society is the effort that it takes non-autistic individuals to conform to a multitude of abstract group identities, especially if the social norms associated with different identities are incompatible, and to some extent contradict each other. One could say that non-autistic people have a pathological capacity for cognitive dissonance and self-deception, and unfortunately there is no cure for that.
As a result, the social experience of a given culture by non-autistic people differs significantly from the social experience of the same culture by autistic people. The differences can be described in terms of differences in the construction of social identities and relationships at various levels of scale as illustrated in figure 1.
Organisations are best thought of as cultural organisms. Groups of organisations with compatible operating models can be thought of as a cultural species. The human genus (homo) is the genus that includes all cultural species. The semantics of the colour coding in the diagram are as follows:
- Green: healthy relationships and group identities and human scale organisations
- Orange: challenging relationships and group identities with potential for conflict
- Red: adversarial relationships and group identities that consume significant energy and super-human scale organisations that negatively affect their members and their social and ecological context
The numbers in the diagram illustrate different kinds of relationships and group identities:
- Healthy relationships between specific individuals that are based on mutual trust
- Healthy group identity between a neurotypical person and a human scale organisation; note that neurotypical people are capable of maintaining several group identities in parallel
- Adversarial group identity between a neurotypical person and a super-human scale organisation; the extent to which such group identities have a negative impact on mental health can be deduced from the empirical evidence compiled by David Graeber in his book Bullshit Jobs
- Adversarial relationship between a culturally “well-adjusted” neurotypical person and an autistic person, as illustrated by the rates bullying and suicide of autistic people
- Healthy set of relationships between neurodivergent people that have agreed to long-term collaboration based on (a) a small set of shared values, in particular an appreciation of neurodiversity and (b) a shared inability to maintain hidden agendas – and therefore an inability to play competitive social games
- Adversarial relationship between a small, human scale group or enterprise and a super-human scale organisation, or between members of different genera, characterised by a significant imbalance in power and a resulting lack of mutual trust
- Challenging relationship between an organisation constructed via an abstract social identity and a NeurodiVenture constructed as a set of trusted relationships between individuals; the members of the NeurodiVenture need to continuously watch out for social games and hidden agendas when engaging in external relationships
- Healthy set of relationships between two NeurodiVentures that have agreed to long-term collaboration based on complementary capabilities and capacity
- Healthy cultural context of a human scale organisation, based on shared beliefs and rituals, commonly underscored by a shared language
- Interdependencies between levels of scale; interdependencies between a large-scale network of living entities and either smaller-scale networks or relationships between individual living entities
- Adversarial group identity between a smaller super-human scale structure within a larger super-human scale cultural context that is characterised by explicit competition rather than collaboration
- Challenging cultural context of a NeurodiVenture that is characterised by many challenging relationships with organisations that are constructed via abstract social identities
- Adversarial group identity generated by a conformist culture that is ignorant of the existence and the value of NeurodiVentures, resulting in social pressure to conform with cultural norms imposed by the dominant cultural species (think corporations)
- Adversarial interdependency between levels of scale; humans vs the web of life rather than humans as part of the web of life – in short: Anthropocentrism
The consequences of the social dysfunctions outlined in the list above can no longer be overlooked. Today everyone:
- is able to observe ecological destruction first hand,
- is experiencing the effects of climate breakdown to some degree,
- is confronted with the disconnect between economic dogma and the reality of severe social inequality,
- is noticing the inability of institutions to meet human needs,
- is affected by mental health problems, either personally or within their immediate social environment.
The potentially transformational role of neurodivergent collaboration is illustrated below, using the purpose of S23M within the context of the living planet as an example.
The semantics of the colour coding in the diagram:
- Green: living agents
- Orange: valuable knowledge resources produced
- Red: purpose
The NeurodiVenture operating model is the social DNA of an emergent cultural species that has developed an immune system that enables it to survive and even thrive in three complementary contexts:
- within super-human scale societies afflicted by terminal cancer
- within social environments that contain a growing number of NeurodiVentures
- within social environments that contain other human scale cultural species within the human genus
The purposes at different levels of scale in the diagram above map to concrete activities and related triggers and results as follows:
- Activity: analysing and understanding the web of life via the ecological lens
- Trigger: new information
- Result: new knowledge about the web of life in the public domain
Enabling knowledge to flow to all the places where it can be put to good use
- Activity: providing Creativity as a Service and SaaS for service organisations (commercial services)
- Trigger: Open Space workshops
- Result: knowledge flows between organisations / silos
Equipping autistic people for collaboration for life
- Activity: assisting autistic people to create NeurodiVentures and connect NeurodiVentures (non-commercial services)
- Trigger: new autistic community need
- Result: a network of long-term collaborations between NeurodiVentures
Creating good company and maintaining healthy relationships at human scale
- Activity: organically expanding the capability and capacity of the S23M team (my inward facing role/work within S23M)
- Trigger: new team member
- Result: good company created via trusted relationships
Creating systems that are understandable by future generations of humans & software
- Activity: applying MODA + MODE, the human lens, and the living agent lens (my outward facing role/work within S23M)
- Trigger: new customer need
- Result: better visual and unambiguous domain specific languages
My collaboration for life at S23M can be summarised and visualised in the logistic lens:
The future web of life
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 have to ask themselves whether they want to continue to be useful parts of the ecosystem of the planet or whether they prefer to take on the role of a genetic experiment that the planet switched on and off for a brief period in its development. The big human battle of this century is going to be the democratisation of data and all forms of knowledge. If we succeed, the resulting web of life may look something like the following picture:
The numbers in the list below map to the numbers in figure 1 and figure 4:
- Healthy relationships between specific individuals that are based on mutual trust
- Healthy group identity between a neurotypical person and a human scale organisation
- No longer applicable: Adversarial group identity between a neurotypical person and a super-human scale organisation
- Challenging relationship between a culturally “well-adjusted” neurotypical person and an autistic person, characterised by a risk of misunderstandings
- Healthy set of relationships between autistic people
- Challenging relationship between between members of different genera, characterised by a limited level of mutual understanding
- Healthy relationship between an organisation constructed via an abstract social identity and a NeurodiVenture constructed as a set of trusted relationships between individuals; NeurodiVentures are appreciated for their creative potential and for their role in facilitating knowledge flows across cultural barriers
- Healthy set of relationships between two NeurodiVentures
- Healthy cultural context of a human scale organisation
- Interdependencies between levels of scale
- No longer applicable: Adversarial group identity between a smaller super-human scale structure within a larger super-human scale cultural context
- Healthy cultural context of a NeurodiVenture that is characterised by many relationships with organisations that appreciate neurodivergent collaboration
- No longer applicable: Adversarial group identity generated by a conformist culture that is ignorant of the existence and the value of NeurodiVentures
- Healthy interdependency between levels of scale; humans as part of the web of life
In a collaborative context the remaining challenges can be framed as healthy opportunities for learning rather than as sources of conflict that ought to be eliminated.