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W.E.I.R.D. stands for Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic. As long as society confuses homo economicus with homo sapiens we are more than “a bit off course”.
The exploitative nature of our “civilised” cultures is top of mind for many neurodivergent people. In contrast, many neuronormative people seem to deal with the trauma via denial, resulting in profound levels of cognitive dissonance.
Earlier this year I attended an online course on collective trauma, and once the trauma inflicted by the structural constraints imposed by our civilisation was mentioned, many participants had the courage to acknowledge this source of trauma.
The evolution of W.E.I.R.D. cultures can be easily understood from an anthropological perspective or via the social model of disability.
The box of constraints that W.E.I.R.D. monocultures impose on neurodivergent people is reflected in rates of depression, PTSD, and suicides, and can be illustrated with very few words using the Japanese concept of Ikigai:
The box of constraints of W.E.I.R.D. monocultures (“profession”)
Certain skills and certain tasks clash with the unique cognitive lens and sensory profile of a neurodivergent person. Non-typical learning profiles are disabling within W.E.I.R.D. monocultures:
Disabled non-typical learning profiles (“vocation”)
Disabled neurodivergent people that refuse to permanently confine themselves to the box of W.E.I.R.D. constraints tend to be pushed into completely meaningless work that harms them and others:
Exploiting others (“what you can be paid for”)
Neurodivergent people have to spend enormous time doing what they are good at rather than what they love, to get to the point where they can be paid for some things. Neuronormative people don’t see and far less understand why this work is necessary:
Trying to make sense of the world (“what you are good at”)
Creating companies around the talents and interests of people and around trusted relationships makes a huge difference, especially for neurodivergent people:
Valuable work that you love and are good at (“ikigai”)
Healthy relationships are based on mutual trust, an explicit set of shared values (at least one) that both parties are committed to, and a genuine appreciation of the individual differences in knowledge, perspectives, and experiences. Mutual appreciation is the joy of helping each other and learning from each other. You can call that the “purpose” of good company. It does not involve any social power games.
- A company C of N people is the set of N*(N-1)/2 relationships between N people. Its purpose is the dynamically evolving purpose of all these relationships.
- You are in good company when all N*(N-1)/2 relationships are in good health. The evidence supporting Dunbar’s law/constraint tells us that in a good company N < 150. Larger companies are sources of misunderstandings, lack of contextual awareness, and conflicts.
- A collaboration between C1 and C2 is the set R12 of all the relationships between N1 and N2, which contains between 1 and N1*N2 elements. Its purpose is the dynamically evolving purpose of all these relationships.
- Your company C is in optimal health if all collaborations (relationships) with other companies are in good health. This is only possible if N << 150, so that there is adequate cognitive capacity for healthy external collaborations.
Often neurodivergent people get penalised for attempting to do any of the cool things that they love and would like to learn more about. W.E.I.R.D. cultures kill curiosity & intrinsic motivation, and they do so systematically, resulting in a dangerous collective learning disability:
Important things you are curious about (“mission”)
Doing what they love, without any constraints, is the forbidden zone for neurodivergent people, even if these often solitary activities don’t harm anyone else:
Doing what you love (“what you love / passion”)
Social power is a highly addictive drug for typical humans. Primate dominance hierarchies induce a collective learning disability. There are very good reasons why “pre-civilised” societies enforced strong norms to prevent individuals from wielding power over others. To develop institutions that better serve people and the planet we need to throw out simplistic and deeply flawed assumptions about “human nature”. Without a shift in fundamental values a healthier society will remain out of reach.
To move forward, we need to align our social operating systems with a more optimistic – and less ideologically constrained – perspective on human potential.
As human interactions are increasingly mediated by digital technologies, this entails acknowledging the ideological inertia of our current technologies. The bias that is baked into many of our technologies transforms all human interactions into a bizarre competitive game of likes, followers, and views.
W.E.I.R.D. societies face a choice between:
- (A) Co-designing and embracing a less W.E.I.R.D. digital technosphere that catalyses new forms of collaboration and that actively discourages toxic competitive games.
- (B) Officially renaming our species to homo economicus, and relying on W.E.I.R.D. technologies to squash any ideologically inconvenient collaborative or altruistic human tendencies.
In terms of developing a more collaborative social operating system it turns out we don’t have to start from scratch. Here is an example of the kind of economic framework that might actually work for the planet and people:
W.E.I.R.D. societies can learn a lot from indigenous cultures and from other minority cultures, such as autistic culture. Pathologisation of autism and other dimensions of neurodiversity is a social power game that removes agency from neurodivergent people. Social progress is overdue.
2 thoughts on “Pathologisation of life and neurodiversity in W.E.I.R.D. monocultures”
Hi Jorn: Thank you for this double distilled reality served on a Mobius that is true yesterday, today and tomorrow. Here’s to the day when enough people have made the journey which allows then to see it. Imagine what we can and will do. I have always maintained that the linear history of civilization as per Toynbee and Quigley can more properly be seen as a tailor’s tape measure and bent into a circle. In this way, we may begin to allow our selves to accept that some of the “aboriginal” “hunter-gatherer” “tribal” styles of living might have been the pinnacle reached thus far and not the rude beginnings as the structure in place now would have us believe in order to perpetuate itself. (your kindred in Lillooet)
[…] suicide apply across the entire Autistic population. These co-morbid conditions are a reflection of experiences made in the social environment rather than a reflection of Autistic neurology. The exploitative nature of our “civilised” […]