Coming back to life

This article reflects the foundation of Autistic collaboration between Jax Bayne, Jorn Bettin, Sam Davis, Star Ford, Svanhildur Kristjansson, and a growing human scale neurodivergent team.

We are all travelling through life at human scale, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.

Whether we like it or not, we are all subject to human cognitive and emotional limts. This means we all have the capacity to live in a household with up to around 5 people that constitute our most intimate relationships, to collaborate with around 15 close lifetime friends on a weekly basis, and to maintain up to 50 further friendships. All these genuine relationships that we maintain, if they are in a healthy state, are based on a foundation of mutual trust, compassion, and mutual aid – and not on the transactional logic of the invisible hand of the market.

The bus on which we travel through life

For the purpose of understanding the purpose of our life, the trustworthy relationships we maintain constitute that bus on which we are travelling through life. In our time of multiple collective existential risks, our wellbeing depends significantly on whether we feel we are on the right bus, whether all the people on our bus have a shared understanding of the general direction that the bus is heading towards, or whether we feel increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of travel.

The following questions can help to reflect on your overall sense of wellbeing:

  1. Which bus are you currently on?
  2. Which bus would you like to board?
  3. Where and how do you find the bus you would like to board?
  4. What stands in the way of boarding your preferred bus?

The bus routes listed below describe five distinct broad directions of travel. If you are not entirely clear how these routes differ, watching one or more of the embedded videos may help clarify the differences in perceptions and lived experiences.

Busyness as usual

Pedal to the metal

No system is perfect, and what we’ve got is the least possible evil. No matter what lies ahead, capitalism is the best religion that has ever been invented. The Koyaanisqatsi documentary from 1982 (crazy life; life in turmoil; life out of balance, life disintegrating; a state of life that calls for another way of living) visually captures the essence of industrialised busyness as usual without any spoken or written words. In this case a picture is worth a thousand words, and thousands of pictures explain more than a million words.

We’re driving over the cliff in the belief that the invisible hand will carry our bus far beyond the cliff on a trajectory of infinite growth.

Apparently normality remains perfectly fine, even in 2019, and our main challenges are our individual inadequacies in being able to cope with life. The top comment on this more recent documentary hints at the possibility of a different truth:

If everyone needs to be on psychiatric meds, the problem is with the way we live, not with our brains.

Net zero carbon

Pretending to softly hit the brakes

Being confident in belief in the religion of the invisible hand and in effective regulation, …

driving over the cliff of planetary boundaries at slower speed with enlightened capitalism, carbon trading, and green growth.

Decarbonated optimism

Powered by electricity

The arrow of technological progress has brought us this far, we already have most of the technology needed for a transition to clean energy. There is no reason to believe that we can’t engineer ourselves out of the mess that we now realise we have created. We need more engineers and fewer politicians. We’ll be just fine, …

driving over the cliff of resource constraints and ecosystem collapse, with the latest technologies.

The potential of collective Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent creativity should not be underestimated, but neither can the material resource constraints of a finite planet be dismissed or magically reframed into a challenge that can be overcome by applying our creativity in combination with wishful thinking.

The exit

Destination Mars

Humans are destined to conquer the stars. There is nothing to stop us. It’s time to clip on wings and rocket engines to our bus. We’ll take off over the cliff, …

plunging into the ocean beyond the horizon due to unforeseen externalities.

De-powered life

Coming back to life

Sitting in a bus and the delusion of having a driver who is “in control” are dangerous distractions. The arrow of progress is broken beyond repair. Instead of rearranging the seating order in a powered-up bus, it is time to board a de-powered bus or lifeboat. The chances of survival in a bus driving over a cliff are slim, and the chances of having fun along the way are zero. It is time to slam on the brakes, stop at the cliff, and get out the climbing gear, and to have some fun along the way.

The lifeboat is found at the bottom of the cliff.

With human ingenuity at human scale, mutual aid, and true and tried de-powered technologies, we look for creative ways of climbing down the cliff, towards a simpler and much less energy intensive life.

Being on the wrong bus

Sitting in the wrong bus feels wrong, often deeply wrong, to the point where you just want to get off the bus. I’ve written many articles about how this feels, but often others probably do a better job at communicating key points to a broader audience beyond Autistic communities.

Ecosystem collapse

What are the impacts of overfishing? What if the world’s garbage, sewage and toxic waste had been piled up on land instead of dumped in the ocean? Global Warming: Are the penguins and polar bears doomed? How much will the sea level rise in the 21st Century? Can we avoid Ocean Apocalypse?

Life beyond economics

There is much more to life than accumulation of material “wealth”. Sam Bowles points to examples of cultures with limited tolerance for social inequalities, and to examples of how the undoing of emerging social inequalities can be an integral part of healthy social operating systems.


What is and is NOT for sale? What have we already “sold” to feed an insatiable appetite for more energy and more materials? And where will we draw the line between what humanity is willing to “sell” and what we decide is sacred and non-negotiable? Have we thought about what might be ‘for sale’ in our own lives in the future – and what will not be?

The wonder of life prevails

‘Somehow the wonder of life prevails’ by Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle.

Boarding the lifeboat of Autistic collaboration

Below is an example of an Autistic life story about making the seemingly impossible possible at human scale with Autistic perseverance.


Autistic people support each other, love each other, and care for each other in ways that go far beyond the culturally impaired neuronormative imagination. 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.

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 an ecology of care, we can thrive and share the pain and the joy of life.

In terms of co-creating sustainable, more self-sufficient communities, the following links point to valuable resources:

Meaningful life at human scale

It is great to hear Tyson Yunkaporta talk about a 500 year time horizon. We prefer the down to earth approach over the intellectual shortcuts that technological optimists engage in, in their attempts to circumvent the limitations of human scale. As so often, Indrajit Samarajiva captures the essence of human limitations with very few words:

“Evolutionarily speaking, we’re just a carbonic fart in the wind… Philosophically speaking, ‘human’ and ‘self’ are very recent and not even especially interesting identities. Whatever humans are is just one form of life, and however modern humans understand themselves is only one form of understanding.”

“The first point about understanding, of course, is that you can’t understand. That some things just do not fit into monkey brain. You can feel them but you can’t understand them. Understanding has to start with the humility that some things cannot be understood.”

Making sense of the current state of humanity as a whole

Circling back to the observation that we’re all travelling through life at human scale, humanity as whole can be understood as millions of buses driving over the cliff of planetary boundaries. Most of these buses are travelling on the Busyness as Usual or the Net Zero Carbon route. The chances are high that you find yourself on one of these buses. If so, it is likely that your sense of wellbeing is being compromised. If that is the case, please know that whilst the vast majority of buses are not worthwhile boarding, there are many thousands of buses that are travelling on the kind of route you would like to travel.

The buses on uncommonly travelled routes tend to be easy to identify. It’s worthwhile looking around to locate the bus stops that are frequented by these buses, which tend to differ from the stops operated by big corporations and big government departments that serve mainstream routes.

Look for good company at the level of your local community or in the form of human scale, mission driven online groups beyond the reach of big social media platforms.

The AutCollab way – Collaborative niche construction

So far AutCollab has catalysed a growing number of online collaborations and online peer support initiatives, and we have been equipping Autistic people with conceptual tools and essential knowledge for co-creating Autistic livelihoods and healthier neurodivergent life paths. To understand how the Autistic Collaboration Trust frames Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent ways of being the following links are relevant:

  1. The communal definition of Autistic ways of being
  2. Autistic people – the cultural immune system of human societies
  3. Co-creating ecologies of caring and sharing
  4. Nurturing healthy Autistic relationships
  5. Collaborative niche construction

A few weeks ago the authors of this article had the wonderful opportunity to hear from and to learn from a neurodivergent community in Iceland. We agreed to learn more about each other and to look for ways of ongoing collaboration. We are all excited about learning from each other, sharing our lived experiences from different parts of the world and from a diversity of different Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent life paths.

One of our goals for 2023 is to all meet on-site in Iceland to develop closer relationships and to focus ongoing collaboration on the overarching objective of catalysing the development of further neurodivergent communities, including the development of NeurodiVentures to minimise and distribute the burden of interfacing with the hyper-normative cultures around us.

All of our work so far has been self-funded by taking a creative entrepreneurial approach towards co-creating Autistic livelihoods and communities. This presentation is a good introduction to the way in which AutCollab is integrated with S23M and other NeurodiVentures that offer valuable services to the wider world and create neurodivergent livelihoods at the same time. S23M acts as an interface to the toxic hypernormative world around us, via services that benefit neurodivergent people and communities:

  1. Professional education for medical doctors and allied healthcare professionals
  2. Intersectional community powered independent oversight of employee wellbeing
  3. Creative Collaboration, a subscription service that unlocks creativity and maintains psychological safety
  4. Best-of-breed Software as a Service (Saas) solutions for healthcare providers

We are not accepting the status quo of the society around us as adequate for meeting the needs of Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people. We actively encourage and support Autistic research. We engage in free public education at the local level, and co-ordinate global campaigns to ensure that the human rights of Autistic people are protected and not systematically violated. On our website you’ll find links to our allies, other amazing grass roots level organisations that we collaborate with, which complement our capacity and ability to provide expertise in specific domains.

What we want to learn when visiting the unique Sólheimar community in Iceland in 2023:

  1. How Sólheimar got started 
    (intention, people, land, other resources, funding)
  2. How has Sólheimar evolved over time 
    (lessons learnt, adaptations to the evolving mainstream culture, pain points, etc.)
  3. Learning about the current operating model and integration into society 
    (hands-on participation, learning by doing)
  4. Identification of commonalities and variabilities with the NeurodiVenture model 
    (based on our lived experience)
  5. How would we go about creating self-sustaining communities today? 
    (In Iceland, in the EU, in countries further afield, with very different cultures)
  6. Deciding in which location we start with replicating
    (US, Mexico, Aotearoa, etc.)
  7. What essential skills we need to have in a local bootstrapping team
    (based on our collective lived experience, taking into account contextual cultural and jurisdictional differences, especially in terms of mandated interactions with local institutions, i.e. “compliance”)
  8. What skills/advice can be added remotely
    (from Sólheimar and/or our distributed AutCollab community)

Envisaged results and ongoing collaboration:

  1. Making further valuable knowledge and wisdom available to Autistic / ND communities worldwide
  2. Documentation of an ND and Autistic community bootstrapping and replication process
  3. Documenting a second and third replication in different contexts
  4. Distilling commonalities and variabilities
  5. Co-creating a ‘toolkit’ (documentation plus supporting resources and services) for reliable yet culturally adaptive replication

We are all excited about the next steps.

How you can contribute and assist

The trustees of AutCollab are formally committed to never charge Autistic individuals and their families for any services delivered. Our board of trustees and also our advisory board consists exclusively of people who openly identify as Autistic.

We engage in three broad categories of activities (a) education (b) peer support (c) Autistic research as illustrated below.

The AutCollab team overlaps with the S23M NeurodiVenture, which is a commercial entity that engages with organisations rather than people and families. S23M currently sponsors nearly everything that AutCollab does. Nearly all funding for AutCollab is generated in collaboration with S23M, and it all comes from organisations that have money, rather than from Autistic people, who often hardly have any money to spare.

Autists who have shed their internalised ableism are on exactly the same page as indigenous people. The intersectional solidarity that we experience on a regular basis in our work in Aotearoa is an important part of our lives. We recommend collaborating with indigenous people.

We currently need additional funding for visiting the neurodivergent Sólheimar community in Iceland, and for related investments to provide support and establish livelihoods for Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people. In 2023 and in the coming years we envisage bootstrapping a number of self-sustaining ND / Autistic communities / lifeboats in other parts of the world.

If you benefit from the peer support and the Autistic knowledge and wisdom that the AutCollab team curates, you can help us grow our capacity to assist Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people in the following ways:

  1. Help us sell the services mentioned above to your employer and to other organisations that you are able to influence. You don’t need to do all the work on your own – we can help you introduce and explain these services to your colleagues and acquaintances. This is one of the most effective ways in which you can contribute to improving the lives of many Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people.
  2. You can encourage your employer and organisations that are your customers to support our work through regular donations.
  3. You can support our work through donations. These are much appreciated, but we don’t want to take any money away from those who need it most. Instead we see much greater potential in encouraging healthcare organisations and medical colleges to purchase our eduction courses, and in encouraging employers to subscribe to our intersectional community powered employee wellbeing service.
  4. If you currently offer services to Autistic people as a therapist or coach, consider the impact of any fees on your clients, and consider supporting the AutCollab peer support network and our capabilities, perhaps via regular donations to AutCollab.

As long as life is framed as a competitive social game failure is guaranteed – because then the suffering of others is simply another great busyness opportunity. The book The beauty of collaboration at human scale offers thinking tools 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. The book highlights the invaluable role that marginalised minorities and neurodivergent people have always played in human cultural evolution, in particular in times of crisis.