Replacing control with ecologies of care

The focus on economic performance and the subordination of all other dimensions of life in industrialised societies has profound effects on human behaviour.

Different cultures focus on different primary time horizons, and often this is the biggest source of challenges in being able to understand each other. On a related note, linguist and cognitive scientist Daniel Everett observes that big differences in observed social behaviour between cultures can often be traced back not to differences in values, but to differences in the relative ranking of values.

My primary time horizon is greater than 200 years, and while I am not blind to goals that relate to shorter time horizons, the simple fact that I make an effort to consider the 200 year implications of the choices I make, often leads to conclusions and priorities that can remain inaccessible to those whose time horizon is limited to their own life or the lives of their children.

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)

Behaviourism

In industrialised societies the concept of collaboration is widely understood as “competing against each other according to culturally defined ruled” and is directly related to the fiction of homo economicus.

In our work we’ve tried to test some of the basic predictions made by the Homo economics model using some simple tools from behavioral economics applied across a diverse swath of human societies. Not only do we find that the Homo economicus predictions fail in every society (24 societies, multiple communities per society), but instructively, we find that it fails in different ways in different societies. Nevertheless, after our paper “In search of Homo economicus” in 2001 in the American Economic Review, we continued to search for him. Eventually, we did find him. He turned out to be a chimpanzee. The canonical predictions of the Homo economicus model have proved remarkably successful in predicting chimpanzee behavior in simple experiments. So, all theoretical work was not wasted, it was just applied to the wrong species.
– Joseph Henrich

What Economists Haven’t Found: Humans

In our society the fiction of homo economicus manifests itself in the beliefs associated with the language of behaviourism, which exists in multiple dialects, and which has come to permeate and pollute many disciplines in the social sciences:

  • Leaders, authorities, managers, superiors, social power gradients
  • Leadership, demands, commands
  • Management, measurement, control
  • Incentives, aversives, punishments
  • Business, tasks, busyness
  • Standards, norms, benchmarks, unwritten rules
  • Conformance, compliance, obedience

Some level of standardisation and conformance is useful for collaboration at human scale (i.e. small/local scale), but the more the purpose of conformance relates to maintaining social power gradients, the greater damage in terms of loss of diversity and locally relevant knowledge.

The sections below are extracts from articles that discuss the effects of behaviourist pseudoscience in parenting, education, in the workplace, in economics, and in science. The featured interview with Alfie Kohn offers an excellent introduction to behaviourism.

Parenting

Ivar Lovaas is the originator of “gay conversion therapy” and “autistic conversion therapy”. The techniques he developed and applied are today known as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). ABA is still used for the “treatment of autism” in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. This explains why autistic rights activism and neurodiversity rights activism are so important. ABA techniques are sometimes applied under different brands to obscure the connection to “gay conversion therapy”.

This series of panel discussions is part of the global Ban Conversion Therapies project, which keeps track of all the bans of conversion therapies that are already in place and of all initiatives towards bans.

Panel discussions towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapies

Education

Not only does a strong reliance on formal education by government authorities (reinforcement of national and regional best practices) and global corporations (reinforcement of commercial interests and technological bias) detract from the locally relevant context, it also squashes human creativity and curiosity. The more an education system myopically relies on formal evaluation and comparative ranking systems, the more it instils a hyper-competitive mindset that actively steers people away from appreciating diversity, from learning how to collaborate, and from nurturing and maintaining lifelong trusted relationships.

These characteristics of modern formal education systems are not accidental, they have been designed to operate this way. After several hundred years of formalised education, entire populations have become oblivious to the monocultural bias and damaging effects.

Rediscovering the purpose of learning

The workplace

It is interesting that the mainstream media occasionally does get concerned about manipulation techniques used in people management, and is much less concerned about the common use of bullying and manipulation techniques such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) as “therapies” for autistic children. Many autistic people who have been subjected to ABA and similar “treatments” end up with PTSD:

The following extract is from a current article about sales techniques / training / management at the Commonwealth Bank Australia. The techniques are similar to ABA techniques – only that small children are subjected to ABA for up to 40 hours per week!

Bank staff had to attend meetings each morning and give a commitment to the group to achieve their targets. A “debrief” meeting was held each afternoon. Some former CBA employees later reported that when staff didn’t achieve their targets they were belittled in front of colleagues.

One bank employee says managers patrolled the work area like stormtroopers to make sure staff were pushing products to customers at every opportunity. Some bank staff felt the training was a form of brainwashing…

The question “I don’t feel pressured to make inappropriate sales to try and meet my targets” produced a result of 33 per cent disagreeing and 32 per cent strongly disagreeing, which was higher than the average across all banks. Even more worrying was the response to a question about whether ‘targets bring out the best in me’ – 83 per cent of respondents disagreed. Furthermore, 26 per cent of those surveyed admitted they were aware of inappropriate lending practices being undertaken to achieve targets.

I first came across the impact of Cohen Brown in 2013 when I wrote a series of articles about the aggressive sales at CBA. The series triggered hundreds of responses from CBA staff. Many described it as a cult-like sales technique that placed staff under intolerable pressure and resulted in serious mistakes

Some CBA staff suffered nervous breakdowns and some started taking anti-depressant medication. The Cohen Brown method featured so heavily in CBA’s strategy during Norris’s reign that I decided to contact the company’s co-founder and CEO, Marty Cohen, in late 2018.

I wanted to talk to him about the Cohen Brown method, including a patent filed in 2006 titled, “Systems and methods for computerised interactive training”, which contains an example of a telephone script that physiologically conditions staff to respond in a certain way.

The patent talks about supplying a positive tone and visualisation when the right answer is achieved and a negative tone and visualisation when the answer is wrong. “A positive tone is generated and/or a text acknowledgement appears, indicating that the correct phrase was identified by the trainee,” the patent says. “Then a ‘negative tone’ is played, and a graphic and/or text message is provided, indicating that the answer was incorrect.”

The user is scored “based in part on the number of errors and/or opportunities that the user identified and optionally on the user’s response to the question”. In an email exchange, Cohen told me he is no longer using this type of “methodology”, but he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with the practice of “negative reinforcement”.

People management and bullying

Economics

In the world of software standards development, Bruce Perens describes the (not so) invisible hand of the market as follows: “In the consortium projects, there’s always the handshake with one hand and a dagger in the other.”

News for culturally well-adjusted neuronormative people: physical and mental health suffers, and serious harm is done, when everyone runs around with a dagger in their “invisible” hand in their pocket, and when those who use the dagger are celebrated as social role models.

Since the Cold War empires have increasingly shifted their focus from overt conventional war to economic warfare and psychological warfare. The growing economic power imbalance between the empires of the “developed” world and “less developed” nation states has significantly reduced the need for large scale direct military interventions to maintain imperial power structures. “Civilised” warfare in the 21st century consists of the following components:

1. Global economic institutions are equipped with the ability to dictate the terms on which nation states with limited financial power are able to engage with the rest of the world (economic warfare).

2. The reserve banks of states with significant financial power use the dial of interest rates and their ability to issue credit to shape the global economic “climate” (economic warfare).

3. The financial power of largest transnational corporations exceeds the financial powers of the majority of nation states, and incrementally, the balance of power shifts further from governments towards transnational corporations (economic warfare).

4. Individuals with significant financial wealth are empowered to wield significant influence over the transnational corporations that they have invested in, and as a result they also wield significant influence over the economic “climate” in many nation states (economic warfare).

5. Transnational corporations use their financial power (often in combination with local or domain specific monopolistic powers) to bathe entire populations in a never ending stream of PR and marketing messages, assisted by profit oriented media organisations that depend on corporate advertising revenue (economic warfare and psychological warfare).

6. Whilst the governments of financially powerful nation states are strongly influenced by the financial powers of transnational corporations, they remain the official operators of military power, and use these powers for “surgical” strikes as needed to prevent smaller nation states from ever ignoring the established imperial “rules of the game” (conventional warfare and psychological warfare).

The effects of economic warfare are conveniently indirect but very effective and brutal.

A language for catalysing cultural evolution

Science

The scientific revolution undoubtedly led to a better understanding of some aspects of the world we live in by 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.

All human artefacts are technology. But beware of anybody who uses this term. Like “maturity” and “reality” and “progress”, the word “technology” has an agenda for your behaviour: usually what is being referred to as “technology” is something that somebody wants you to submit to.

“Technology” often implicitly refers to something you are expected to turn over to “the guys who understand it.” This is actually almost always a political move. Somebody wants you to give certain things to them to design and decide. Perhaps you should, but perhaps not.
– Ted Nelson, a pioneer of information technology, philosopher, and sociologist who coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia in 1963.

Students of software engineering and computer science are often attracted by the idea of “innovation” and by the prospect of exciting creative work, contributing to the development of new services and products. The typical reality of software development has very little if anything to do with innovation and much more with building tools that support David Graeber’s “bullshit jobs” and Edward Bernays’ elitist “utopia” of conscious manipulation of the habits and opinions of the masses by a small number of “leaders” suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.

The culture within the software development community is shaped much less by mathematics and scientific knowledge about the physical world than by the psychology of persuasion – and an anaemic conception of innovation based on social popularity and design principles that encourage planned obsolescence. A few years ago Alan Kay, a pioneer of object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface design observed:

It used to be the case that people were admonished to “not re-invent the wheel”. We now live in an age that spends a lot of time “reinventing the flat tire!”

The flat tires come from the reinventors often not being in the same league as the original inventors. This is a symptom of a “pop culture” where identity and participation are much more important than progress. … In the US we are now embedded in a pop culture that has progressed far enough to seriously hurt places that hold “developed cultures”. This pervasiveness makes it hard to see anything else, and certainly makes it difficult for those who care what others think to put much value on anything but pop culture norms.

Are you a model builder or a story teller?

Humans – The journey of cultural evolution

“Life creates conditions conducive to life.”Janine Benyus

The book The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale  is now in the peer review stage. In many ways the book is an autistic collaboration project. The book offers tools for finding viable paths into a more neurodiversity friendly future.

The journey of exponentially accelerating cultural evolution presented in this book covers several hundred thousand years, from the origins of humans right up to the latest significant developments in the early 21st century. I would like to equip communities and individuals with conceptual tools to create good companies that are capable of pumping value from a dying ideological system into an emerging world. Regardless of what route we choose, on this planet no one is in control. The force of life is distributed and decentralised, and it might be a good idea to organise and collaborate accordingly.

Much of the content in the book has been published in earlier articles on this website, on Neuroclastic.com, or on my personal blog, but the book offers a unique chronological perspective on human cultural evolution, and it adds the glue needed to establish important semantic connections across discipline boundaries.

The book concludes with a wonderful quote from an article written by Pip Carroll, in the lead up to the prolonged but ultimately very successful lock-down in Melbourne:

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.

The book on collaboration at human scale is available for peer review

Ecologies of care

The journey towards a healthier relationship with the ecosystems which we are part of starts with the most powerful tool at our disposal, the introduction and consistent use of new language and new semantics:

New languageOld languageMotivation for change
carecommodificationCo-create ecologies of care instead of economies of commodified goods and services – to create environments that are conducive to life
catalystleaderGrow competency networks and catalysts rather than leadership and leaders – to get things done and distribute decision making to where the knowledge resides
competency networkleadershipGrow competency networks and catalysts rather than leadership and leaders – to get things done and distribute decision making to where the knowledge resides
coordinationmanagementCoordinate rather than manage – to address all the cognitive load that can increasingly be automated and to avoid the perpetuation of social power gradients
couragefearReplace fear with courage – to explore new paths when old roads are crumbling
creative collaborationbest practicesProvide a space for creative collaboration and divergent thinking rather than insist on best practices – to be able to adapt to rapid environmental change
currencyliquidityValue the currency of knowledge and transparency of information rather than the liquidity of money and the protection of national interests – to be able to think and act outside the paradigm of industrialised imperialism 
ecologieseconomiesCo-create ecologies of care instead of economies of commodified goods and services – to create environments that are conducive to life
giftsrentOffer your gifts to the world instead of charging rent for economic utility – to make the seemingly impossible possible
good companyprofitable busynessCo-create good company rather than business – to focus on the people and things we care about rather than what is simply keeping us busy
human scalelarge scaleAppreciate human scale and individual agency rather than large scale and growth – to create structures and systems that are understandable and relatable
individual agencygrowthAppreciate human scale and individual agency rather than large scale and growth – to create structures and systems that are understandable and relatable
learningnormalityLearning about each other instead of assuming and perpetuating a fictional notion of normality – to increase shared understanding
niche constructioncompetitionNiche construction and symbiosis rather than competition and exploitation – to create organisations and services that are fit for purpose and valued by the wider community
open source communityintellectual property rightsCreate open source communities instead of walled gardens of intellectual property rights – to create a global knowledge commons and to maximise collective intelligence
physical wastewealthPay attention to physical waste rather than wealth – to focus us on the metrics that do matter
repairprofitHelp repair frayed relationships instead of profiting from the misery of others – to counteract the escalation of conflicts 
symbiosisexploitationNiche constructionand symbiosis rather than competition and exploitation – to create organisations and services that are fit for purpose and valued by the wider community
tacit knowledgemeritocracyShare valuable tacit knowledge in good company instead of hoarding information and perpetuating the myth of meritocracy – to raise collective intelligence.
transparencyprotection of national interestsValue the currency of knowledge and transparency of information rather than the liquidity of money and the protection of national interests – to be able to think and act outside the paradigm of industrialised imperialism 
trustweaponised contractsVisibly extending trust to people instead of drafting weaponised contracts – to release the handbrake to collaboration
trusted relationshipsanonymous transactionsNurture trusted relationships instead of engaging in anonymous transactions – to minimise rather than encourage the creation of externalities 
valuesvalueThink in terms of values rather than value – to avoid continuously discounting what is priceless

Our destination is beyond human comprehension, but ways of life that are in tune with our biological needs and cognitive limits are always within reach, even when we find ourselves in a self-created life destroying environment. All it takes is a shift in perspective, and corresponding shifts in the aspects of our lives that we value.

Rediscovering the language of life

The sections below are extracts from articles that present life affirming approaches to parenting, education, the workplace, economics, and science that celebrate the diversity of our species. Further details on all these approaches are described in Part III of the book “The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale” mentioned above.

Parenting

All children thrive when parenting nurtures and supports the children’s intrinsic motivations and sensory needs rather than focuses on obedience.

For an autistic person the pathway towards good company is distinctly different from the life trajectory mapped out by the expectations of mainstream culture.

The most appropriate pathway for an autistic person depends significantly on the surrounding social environment and the stage of life.

Pathways to good company

Education

The unwillingness to “go with the flow” is possibly one of the key reasons why autistic people are pathologised in W.E.I.R.D. societies. From the outside all that is visible is that we don’t “comply”. No one sees the mental energy that it takes to hold back from providing an extensive explanation of our concerns. In those cases where we can’t hold back and openly raise inconvenient questions or concerns, our contributions are dismissed as irrelevant and our behaviour is interpreted as disruptive.

All social power gradients systematically dampen feedback loops, they constitute a collective learning disability. Economists Arjun Jayadev and Samuel Bowles describe the effort needed to maintain social power structures as guard labour.

Guard labour is wage labour and other activities that are said to maintain (hence “guard”) a system. Things that are generally characterised as guard labour include: management, guards, military personnel, and prisoners. Guard labour is noteworthy because it captures expenditures based on mistrust and does not produce future value.

Many autists reject all forms of social power. Unless we have autistic people in our environment that nurture our sense of agency and intrinsic motivations, trauma may prevent us from learning how to trust others and build eye level relationships.

The social architecture of collective intelligence

An excellent webinar on this topic by Gareth Morewood: Using Low Arousal Approaches in Learning Environments.

The workplace

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.

Organising for neurodivergent collaboration, for examples see
NeurodiVentures

Economics

The documentary on “The Economics of Happiness” (2011) from Local Futures on the toxic role of globalisation was made shortly after the Global Financial Crisis, and is still valid today.

Like bees and ants, humans are eusocial animals. Through the lenses of evolutionary biology and cultural evolution, local communities – and especially small groups of 20 to 100 people – are the primary organisms within human society, in contrast to individuals, corporations, and nation states. The implications for our civilisation are profound.

Community-oriented life at human scale

Science

Science needs to overcome paradigmatic inertia and become much more transdisciplinary:

Paradigmatic inertia : The tendency within a “civilised” society to maintain established institutional structures, i.e. complex social groups with specific social roles, even in the face of long-term shifts in environmental conditions away from earlier long-term averages.

Paradigmatic inertia is never beneficial. It constitutes a collective learning disability. Unless it is identified, understood and addressed by shifting to a more appropriate paradigm (or mix of paradigms) that acknowledges the shift in environmental factors (and potentially the inability to reverse the trend), it can result in existential risks for entire ecosystems including humans (think of biodiversity loss and climate change).

Once paradigmatic inertia has led to existential risks, it has to be considered a form of collective delusion.

“Climate change is not a war, it is genocide. It is domination. It is extinction. It is the most recent manifestation of how powerful men throughout history have sought to steal from the less powerful and dismiss them as merely inconvenient.”
Eric Holthaus, autistic meteorologist and climate journalist, from Climate change is about how we treat each other

From collective delusion to creative collaboration

Our future

Once the history of civilisation is understood as series of progress myths, where each civilisation looks towards earlier or competing civilisations with a yardstick that is tailored to prove that its own myths and achievements are clearly superior to anything that came before, it is possible to identify the loose ends and the work-arounds of civilisation that are usually presented as progress.

Panel discussions towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapies

This series of panel discussions is part of the global Ban Conversion Therapies project, which keeps track of all the bans of conversion therapies that are already in place and of all initiatives towards bans.

You are invited to join our series online panel discussions to progress towards a ban of all forms of autistic conversion therapies (including ABA) – in Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond.

Panel 5

Date and time: TBC

➜ convert to your time zone

➜ Access to Zoom meeting

Panellists:

  1. TBC
  2. TBC
  3. TBC
  4. TBC
  5. TBC

Facilitator:

TBC

Recordings

Overview of panel discussions to date and links to recordings:

  1. Alice Richardson, Jasper Poole, Naphaphol Suwanacheep
    11 June 2021
  2. A.W. Peet , Kim Crawley, Star Ford, Tania MeInyczuk
    9 June 2021
  3. Allison Hoffmann, Jake Pyne, Terra Vance, Sarah Selvaggi Hernandez
    27 May 2021
  4. Alice Richardson, Kim Crawley, Laura Dilley, Pip Carroll, Rory
    20 May 2021

Registration

Please use the form below to register your interest in participating in the panel discussion and to submit any specific questions or topics you would like to see discussed. Any questions that we don’t not manage to cover in the panels will be used as fuel for further sessions and will inform our online advocacy work on blogs, social media, etc.

In case you have not already done so, please also sign the current petition to ask the New Zealand government to investigate the consequences of all forms of conversion therapy, including conversion therapies that target autistic children, which are often branded as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) or Positive Behaviour Support (PBS).

Note: all international support is welcome as well. Those who don’t reside in New Zealand can sign the petition with postcode “0000”. This allows us to easily distinguish the level of local support from international supporters.

Topics and questions to explore

  1. What synergies might we find between our push to stop autistic conversion therapy and other pushes to stop trans and queer conversion therapy? As someone who is autistic and trans and queer, I think many of our concerns overlap strongly! How can we support each other’s struggles more, learn from each other’s experiences more?
  2. Who are our allies and potential allies?
  3. Who does the monitoring and where does one report violations once this is law?
  4. Engaging parents, and the reluctance to report abuse (even when removing children from the situation).
  5. How does ABA cause long-term harm to the child? In what ways is it abusive?
  6. Does ABA disturb the relationship between the child and the parents?
  7. What are the views of psychologists specialising in trauma and early childhood development on this topic? How important is unconditional love?
  8. How important is free play for the young child, as well as developing a trusting relationship with the primary caretaker? How does the ABA technician interfere with the ability of the mother or other main caretaker to forge a trusting and nurturing relationship with the child and to explore ways of communicating with each other?
  9. How much independence do research centres in New Zealand have, considering that many/most autism studies come out of the USA and the UK? Is this a factor that influences local research agendas?
  10. How can we further autistic-led research so that we can get data about the trauma being forced to act like neurotypicals does to us long term, so that we can both support the adults in our community and save the children in our community from the same experience?
  11. How can we fund more autists being able to become researchers themselves?
  12. Any further questions that registered viewers submit, including any questions that viewers may have after watching earlier panel discussion in this series.
  13. I got in contact with an ABA organization that has pledged to listen to autistic people and reform ABA. Questions that arise from that are: is this even possible? How would we have enough standing (clout) on our side to engage in communication without risking selling out to or being used by the huge power imbalance that exists between the ABA industry and autistic people?
  14. Could ‘consensual ABA’ be a thing, following a kink model of consent? (Must be over 18, parents can’t request it for you.)

Autistic Life, Trauma, and Disability

Photo by Hasin Farhan on Unsplash

Autistic people are anthropologists by birth in a very literal sense. The “feedback” that we get as small children, for example a brick being thrown at me from behind in the playground, being regularly ignored, labelled as weird, too quiet, withdrawn, rude, scary, hypersensitive etc. leaves us no choice but to spend a lot of of time trying to make sense of humans.

Experiences from sensitive autistic children include questioning the purpose of our existence. One autist within my extended family told me that as a 4-year-old he was often asking himself:

“What am I doing on this planet? Why am I here, amongst these people?”

As a small child I never understood the social games that other children were playing. Conversely they did not want to play with someone who played differently. Materially I grew up with many privileges, but I felt like an alien long before my parents moved to Nigeria when I was 4 years old.

In this article I point to a few initiatives and services that I have been involved in developing over the last 30 years, with the objective of reducing autistic trauma, assisting society with critical thinking tools, pushing back against the disabling forces within industrialised society, and helping us to rediscover the language of life. All of these initiatives and services target the social environments that neurodivergent people are exposed to, and they are designed to increase rather than decrease the level of agency and mutual support amongst neurodivergent people.

Trauma

Trauma and autistic lived experience in Western industrialised societies are very hard to separate. Through careful observations autistic children start to understand common human social motivations – and it can be quite devastating and depressing.

Autistic children deal with the trauma in different ways.

I actively avoided most interaction with others my age, because it was obvious that my world had nothing in common with the world of those around me. I considered myself lucky if others left me alone, and I learned to make myself invisible to others in plain sight. I still remember with horror the occasions when my parents met other families with children and enthusiastically prodded me to “play” with the other children. They had no idea of the kind of environment I needed to feel safe. I could not even trust my parents. Too often they surprised me with their absence when I needed support, or with overwhelming social situations, expecting me to conform to bizarre cultural rituals that made no sense to me.

Unless autistic children are able to convey what constitutes a safe environment for them and are given adequate time to spend in safe environments, they are continuously overwhelmed by the expectations of those around them, and they will develop coping mechanisms for their trauma. For those who are able to meet the academic expectations at school, a focus on academic success is a common coping mechanism, and it can be a good tool for avoiding or minimising dehumanising experiences in social contexts.

Unless we learn to give autistic children access to other autistic children and adults as early as possible in their life, and unless we start to unW.E.I.R.D. industrialised society, autistic children will continue to be severely traumatised.

Looking back over more than 50 years of lived experience, I have to conclude that industrialised society has become increasingly normative in many ways. The term “hypernormalisation”, coined in the Soviet era, and transposed into the Western context in an extended documentary by Adam Curtis (2016), is quite appropriate.

I can not imagine the horrors that some autistic children must go through today, when exposed to intensive “early intervention” autistic “conversion therapy”, i.e. 20 to 40 hours of what is known as Applied Behaviour Analysis or Positive Behaviour Support. Autistic children are systematically taught that their needs and feelings don’t matter at all. All that matters are the demands of “therapists” (maybe better “the rapists”), and ambitious parents and teachers who are concerned about “functioning levels” according to a fictitious and irresponsibly simplistic model of “human development” that simply ignores the diversity of human neurocognitive functioning and lived experience.

Please sign the current petition to ask the New Zealand government to investigate the consequences of all forms of conversion therapy, including conversion therapies that target autistic children, which are often branded as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) or Positive Behaviour Support (PBS).

Note: all international support is welcome as well. Those who don’t reside in New Zealand can sign the petition with postcode “0000”. This allows us to easily distinguish the level of local support from international supporters.

You are also invited to attend our series of panel discussions towards a ban of all forms of autistic conversion therapies including ABA related to the petition below.

➜ Register and submit questions for upcoming panel discussions.

Learning

Learning is a two way street. Always. For autistic children the primary direction of social learning is reversed. New discoveries about the world are communicated from children to parents. Autistic children educate their parents about their sensory experiences and about the focus and boundaries of their innate curiosity about the world.

As a small child, in the early 1970s in Nigeria I saw the pollution, slums, and crime in Lagos, in stark contrast to the privileged lives of Western “expats”. In Nigeria “economic growth” and “progress” were fuelled by the interests of Big Oil. I also remember how Western adults at the time, including my parents, talked about what they saw as “uneducated” people. I also saw the way in which Western countries delivered “development aid” and “best practices” – establishing large cattle farms, drilling deeper water wells etc. When it all failed a few years later, it was much easier to blame the locals than to admit to cultural bias, corporate greed, and lack of appreciation of local knowledge and wisdom.

One of the most hilarious anecdotes from my childhood occurred in Islamabad, in 1978, at the height of the Cold War, when I was around 12 years old. I remember the social science teacher of our class, in an International / American school, squirming in his seat, trying to explain to the class, which included two Yugoslav students amongst an international mix and perhaps 10 children of American marines, that “communism is not always bad”.

On another occasion I overheard one of the Yugoslav students complaining to a teacher about being mocked by his Yugoslav peer, who apparently was the son of the ambassador.

I also remember my dad instructing me in the bizarre social protocols to observe when interacting with his colleagues at the West German embassy. At the time I thought that hierarchical forms of organisation must be a peculiar pathology that affects governments and public sector organisations. It was also comical how Western diplomats were being extremely careful never to accidentally interact with diplomats from the other side of the Iron Curtain, because obviously they all had to visit the same local markets and shops.

Much later, in high school in a different country, after three years, I connected with two other neurodivergent students. I was lucky. I am married to one of them.

Autists with several decades of lived experience understand the human species better than most social scientists – especially since the Internet has allowed us to compare notes.

Our society trains children for their role in the competitive arena of “civilised” life. Those who don’t readily submit to the indoctrination programme are deemed dysfunctional. The purpose of many so-called diversity and inclusion initiatives is best described as the desire to assist those who are considered dysfunctional by subjecting them to intensive remedial training and by equipping them with better tools for the competing against the other players in the arena.

If this description sounds like a dystopian society that has perverted evolutionary theory into a life-destroying form of Social Dawinism there is nothing wrong with you. Sarah Fathallah has written an excellent article on the role of ethics in design, which illustrates that design can be nauseating discipline when used as an uncritical tool to promote the interests of transnational corporations and abstract nation states.

S23M, in collaboration with the Design Justice Network and the Autistic Collaboration Trust develops creative thinking practices to address the biggest issues facing coming generations.

Disability

When autistic children become adults, some continue to rely on a laser focus on academic success as a trauma coping mechanism, and other may apply their academic knowledge and empirically won anthropological knowledge about humans in the world of entrepreneurship. The extent to which these coping mechanisms work well for the autist and their social environment depends on the social experiences that are made along the way.

Again, overall I was lucky. Beyond school I gravitated to education and work environments where I found many autistic peers – for the first time in my life. Nevertheless, in a world dominated by neuronormative people I was instinctively repelled by the social games needed to “succeed” in the corporate world, and even just surviving in that world took a toll on my health.

After 12 years of freelancing and employment I could take it no more. Together with a friend and colleague I co-founded an employee owned company, which allowed us to decide what services and products to offer, and which organisations to engage with – and which ones to stay clear of.

Accommodating the sensory needs and learning differences of neurodivergent people is not enough. For many autistic people employment in organisations with conventional structures (formal and informal social power structures that stifle organisational learning and over-power any ethical considerations) is not a viable / survivable option. Industrialised societies systematically disable neurodivergent people with an intact moral compass.

The journey towards creating good company was not an easy one. It was only possible with the mutual support and trust amongst neurodivergent colleagues, friends, and family members. In our case nurturing a NeurodiVenture into existence that allowed neurodivergent people to survive and at times thrive was a journey that took over 15 years.

The cult of the profit-oriented start-up with external financial investors who are keen to extract a profit and ignore social and environmental externalities (greed) is as much disabling for hypersensitive neurodivergent people as the institutionalised collective learning disability within hierarchical organisations (cultural inertia).

If you are ready to leave behind the exploitative social games of busyness as usual, and are interested in establishing a neurodiversity friendly employee owned company, the open source NeurodiVenture model may be a useful starting point. The number of NeurodiVentures is growing.

Life

Industrialised society is based on the metaphor of society as a factory and on the metaphor of people as machines. Our laws and social norms have been shaped by these metaphors to a far greater extent than most people realise.

The factory metaphor consistently brushes the diversity of life under the carpet. That is the whole purpose of the metaphor. To make life appear to conform to fictitious economic doctrines, and make human behaviour appear to be predictable with mathematical precision.

Anyone who studies life, instead of abstract economic theories that are biased towards those with access to the most imaginary abstract tokens (financial capital), comes to a very different conclusions about the purpose of life.

“Life creates conditions conducive to life.”Janine Benyus

To wake industrialised societies up from the collective delusion of life conceived as economic transactions, we need to rediscover and enact the language of life.

Towards this end the community powered Employer Psychological Safety and Cultural Safety Service coordinated by the Autistic Collaboration Trust and the Design Justice Network constitutes a tool for organisations to establish a baseline level of safety for all employees, and the Creative Collaboration service offered by S23M provides organisations with training wheels for incrementally extending the scope of psychological safety and putting it to good use (creating good company).

Rediscovering the purpose of learning

Micronesian navigational chart from the Marshall Islands

Complexification is the civilised© operating model for normal™ human primates®. I remain an uncertifiable life form in a perfect® world.

This stance sums up my experience with Western education systems, having been “educated” within such systems, having some experience teaching within such systems, having acted as a coach and mentor to students within such systems, having endured a few training courses delivered by technology vendors, and having been involved in the development and delivery of training courses for technology professionals.

Not only does a strong reliance on formal education by government authorities (reinforcement of national and regional best practices) and global corporations (reinforcement of commercial interests and technological bias) detract from the locally relevant context, it also squashes human creativity and curiosity. The more an education system myopically relies on formal evaluation and comparative ranking systems, the more it instils a hyper-competitive mindset that actively steers people away from appreciating diversity, from learning how to collaborate, and from nurturing and maintaining lifelong trusted relationships.

These characteristics of modern formal education systems are not accidental, they have been designed to operate this way. After several hundred years of formalised education, entire populations have become oblivious to the monocultural bias and damaging effects.

When educators and governments become concerned about escalating rates of depression, suicides, and “learning disabilities”, their knee jerk reaction is to focus on ways to better “assist” children to meet the desired standardised performance targets. The word “performance” points towards the outcomes the system achieves: cohorts of human cogs that act and function in highly predictable and uniform ways, to fit the needs of the entities that benefit from the education system. Increasingly education is shaped by the desires of transnational corporations.

The documentary Schooling the World (Carol Black, 2010) provides an excellent introduction to the history of modern formal education systems, and the webinar Education: Promises, Myths and Realities (Manish Jain and Helena Norberg-Hodge, 2016) looks into possible avenues for undoing the damage of misguided education.

We have created education factories that focus almost entirely on replication. However, humans have evolved as part of highly diverse ecosystems, i.e. we have evolved to survive and thrive in highly diverse contexts, rather than as part of super human scale monocultures, i.e. nation states, transnational corporations, and physical environments dominated by industrialised agri-monocultures.

Modern industrialised societies neglect the four other evolutionary functions that operate in healthy ecosystems that include humans: understanding of the local ecosystem and the roles of the various species within it, selection of variants that increase diversity and strengthen the ecosystem against external shocks, experimentation with new variants to uncover new possibilities, and sustaining collaborations within and between species that are adapted to the characteristics of the local environment.

In the industrialised neoliberal ideology, cultural evolution is reduced to a dangerously simplistic notion of innovation:

  1. The role of selection is reduced to a simplistic optimisation problem in a single dimension, i.e. growth in the abstract sphere of monetary metrics. In a suitably designed financial system this creates a consistent bias that benefits those who start out with above average financial resources.
  2. The role of experimentation is reduced to the superficial material variability that is easily achievable via mass customisation, and it excludes any variability that might undermine the self-preservation of established institutionalised power structures (national governments and transnational corporations). Amongst other things this is achieved by systematically pushing entrepreneurs down a path of “start-up” models that hand over control to speculators, and by co-opting the most compliant and unscrupulous entrepreneurs into the speculator class.
  3. The role of sustaining collaborative relationships within living ecosystems is reduced to the perpetuation of established institutionalised human power structures.
  4. The role of human understanding of the local ecosystem, and the well-being of marginalised groups and of all the non-human inhabitants are at best secondary concerns.

Manish Jain is a pioneer of unschooling. If you enjoyed the Schooling the World documentary above, you will likely also enjoy the podcast Manish Jain on unschooling, gift culture and deep localisation (2018), which is especially relevant for those who feel trapped in the corporate world of busyness, and for graduates who are wondering about potential alternatives to the corporate route to depression and self-hate.

The role of neurodiversity in human scale groups

Societies can thrive at human scale (bioregional networks of groups of 20 to 100 people) and can learn collectively at human scale only if education is not narrowly focused on replication, and if the local culture simultaneously appreciates:

  1. Cultural traditions that have served the local community and the local ecosystem for many hundred and sometimes for many thousand years.
  2. Observations from people with unusual sensory profiles and cognitive profiles, who process information from the local environment in ways that differ from the way in which information is processed by culturally well adjusted people.

The level of neurodiversity within the human species (and within other animal species) has evolved over millions of years, in tandem with rates of environmental change encountered in various ecosystems. Most humans are neurologically wired to be influenced to a very high degree by their local culture (neuronormative humans), and a smaller number of humans is less influenced by the cultural environment and more influenced by the non-human environment and by raw sensory input that has not been processed by cultural filters (neurodivergent humans).

Cultures that are attuned to the local non-human environment are by definition more accommodating to the needs of neurodivergent humans. The less a culture respects the constraints of the non-human environment, the more it is at risk of marginalising or pathologising hypersensitive neurodivergent people with unusual cognitive profiles.

At human scale neurodiversity results in a majority of generalists that replicate and sustain the local culture and in a minority of neurodivergent specialists that act as a valuable repository of scarce and often unique knowledge and skills that become useful in exceptional circumstances, or when interacting with groups that speak a different language and that operate different cultural practices.

Neurodivergent specialists are able to assist the population to adapt to new environmental circumstances by acting as teachers and guides with their unique perspectives and domain specific expertise. Over the course of one or more generations the resultant shift in cultural norms may normalise skills and techniques that previously had been considered irrelevant.

The following empirical observations are no coincidence:

  1. Autists often develop unique bonds with specific animals and sometimes with inanimate objects of personal significance.
  2. Autists often feel deeply connected to the natural environment and are distressed and consciously aware when their access to the natural environment is inadequate.
  3. Autists often develop deep areas of expertise in relation to topics or skills that may or may not be of immediate relevance to the surrounding culture. In one sense they are natural specialists, in another sense they often ignore all established discipline boundaries. Depending on the level of appreciation within the local culture they may take on unique roles as healers, navigators, tool makers, artists, musicians, explorers, and teachers.
  4. In healthy relationships between autistic children and adults the primary direction of social learning is reversed, i.e. the adults learn more from the children than the children learn from the adults.
  5. Autists and others who are identified as unusual / exceptional / neurodivergent within society are noticed because they depend on others in ways that differ from local cultural norms. Autists in particular lack the ability or willingness to self-promote that is expected within hyper-competitive W.E.I.R.D. societies.

The role of neurodiversity in Western cultures

Western industrialised societies and other societies that have adopted a neoliberal economic ideology force all its members to specialise in the skills needed for social competition, which predictably results in high rates of depression and high rates of suicides, especially amongst the autistic population that is incapable of playing the competitive social game. This raises an interesting question. How have W.E.I.R.D. cultural norms been able to spread and become established in many parts of the world?

  1. Over the course of the last 10,000 years, growing levels of inter-group conflict in densely populated areas have led to cultural norms that appreciate of the ability to deceive and out-compete other groups, and have resulted in empires with deep social hierarchies.
  2. Even though the emergence of language allowed humans to become increasingly successful by developing highly collaborative cultures, humans have retained the latent primate capacity for operating competitive social hierarchies. Within the hierarchical structures of “civilised” empires, the capacity for deep knowledge and technological skills of neurodivergent individuals have increasingly been co-opted to serve the benefits of small elites.
  3. The automation of manual labour with the help of fossil fuels and the automation of cognitive skills with the help of digital computers have reduced the reliance on human tacit knowledge about the natural environment and the technologies we depend on. Mass produced food and other basic necessities can increasingly be produced with minimal human input. Digital technology has greatly enhanced the reach of hierarchical structures and coercion.
  4. The competitive pressure within industrialised societies pushes the neuronormative population into roles that focus on self-promotion and so-called leadership skills, i.e. socially acceptable forms of bullying and deception that constitute the recipe for climbing the social hierarchy. At the bottom of the social pyramid, desperation and survival instinct compel individuals to engage in the competitive social game. The demands of social competition ensure that with very few exceptions only those with a severely compromised moral compass reach the upper echelons of the pyramid scheme.

The work that actually keeps the population in industrialised societies alive is performed by a limited number of poorly paid essential workers, and by a growing number of highly automated systems. Automation has led to deep hierarchical structures of bullshit jobs and to a growing precariat at the bottom of the social pyramid scheme.

Catalysing locally relevant collective intelligence

Humans are learning the hard way that a focus on competition and attempts of hierarchical control work against humans and the entire planetary ecosystem. The exciting aspect about the human capacity for culture is that via a series of accidental discoveries and inventions, we have created a global network for sharing valuable knowledge, as well as opinions and misinformation. It apparently takes a virus like SARS-CoV-2 to put this network to good use, and to shift “civilised” cultural norms away from profit maximisation and back towards sharing knowledge for collective benefit.

You may wonder what tools are available to us to shift from a state of collective delusion to collaborative social environments that catalyse creativity and mutual aid in ways that are adapted to local needs at human scale. The ecological lens provides us with a meta-language which is based on universal cognitive abilities of humans, and which allows knowledge to be shared, examined, and integrated into local knowledge systems in a very conscious and selective manner.

You may also wonder which aspects of Western industrialised knowledge are worthwhile to retain (and for how long), given that cultural evolution is a dynamic process that unfolds over multiple generations. The following sets of knowledge are good candidates for preserving and cultivating in a global knowledge commons:

  1. Locally successful collaborative social operating models and traditions, which can be documented in detail, including their known scope of applicability and known limitations, and can be made available for partial or complete adoption and refinement by communities in other parts of the world that are facing similar challenges and constraints
  2. Our scientific understanding of the natural world, which complements traditional forms of knowledge about local ecosystems
  3. The diagnostic tools, treatment regimes, and surgical knowledge of Western medicine, which can be made available for integration into holistic approaches to well-being that are adapted to the specific contexts of local cultures and physical environments
  4. The engineering knowledge that underpins our digital computation and communication technologies, which allows us to share, validate, and incrementally refine valuable knowledge globally
  5. The engineering knowledge needed for local generation of electricity from renewable sources, to power essential digital technologies and to compensate for local or temporary limitations of human labour
  6. The emerging de-engineering knowledge needed for creating zero-waste cycles of material resources, to reduce and ultimately eliminate our dependence on the mining of non-renewable resources

Any tools and sets of knowledge that are incompatible with a path of radical energy decent are likely to rapidly become legacy technologies that are only relevant from a historic perspective – to warn future generations about technological approaches that have lead to existential risks.

I will close with a wonderful quote from autistic meteorologist Eric Holthaus:

One of my most favorite parts of humanity is that time and time again, across all cultures in all parts of the world, friends and neighbors come together during times of crisis to help each other. No one needs to organize it. It just happens. For more than 100 years we’ve had scholarly evidence that this is true. When times are hard, we are altruistic by nature…

I firmly believe we are in one of those times right now, on a global scale.

For the first time in human history, we’re participating in a simultaneous recovery from a global tragedy in real time. After a year of Covid, decades of a climate emergency, and centuries of systematic exploitation of marginalized people we have reached The End.

This is The End of life as we know it, and The Beginning of what absolutely must be an era of empathy unlike any we’ve had the courage to create so far. We know we can’t stay on the path we’ve been going, and we don’t know where new paths will lead us. We’re in a liminal space — a new kind of trauma we don’t have a name for yet…

We can’t wait any longer.

Every day, every project, every revolution, is always imperfect. There will never be a “right” time. Ask for help. In this moment of transformation, someone will be there.

Eric Holthaus

Banning autistic “conversion therapy” in NZ

We ask the New Zealand government to investigate the consequences of all forms of conversion therapy, including conversion therapies that target autistic children, which are often branded as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) or Positive Behaviour Support (PBS).

Please sign the petition.

This initiative is part of the global Ban Conversion Therapies project, which keeps track of all the bans of conversion therapies that are already in place and of all initiatives towards bans.

You are also invited to attend our series of panel discussions towards a ban of all forms of autistic conversion therapies including ABA related to the petition below.

➜ Register and submit questions for upcoming panel discussions.

Why is this important?

We all celebrated to hear of the legislation being enacted that bans conversion therapy after years of campaigning by the LGTBQI+ community.

However the win does not go far enough. The same underlying techniques of torture and dehumanising coercion continue to be applied to autistic children.

Any legislation which is so selective as to ban only “conversion therapies” that target a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is in itself discriminatory. If a government moves to ban the mistreatment of one minority in a particular manner but neglects similar mistreatment of other minorities it is more than negligent, it is actively legitimising prejudice. If a ban were to go through with specific reference to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression alone, it would be much like an anti-racism bill that protected black people but left all other people of colour out in the cold.

Background

Ivar Lovaas is the originator of “gay conversion therapy” and “autistic conversion therapy”. The techniques he developed and applied are today known as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). ABA is still used for the “treatment of autism” in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. This explains why autistic rights activism and neurodiversity rights activism are so important. ABA techniques are sometimes applied under different brands to obscure the connection to “gay conversion therapy”. The quote below captures the essence of the underlying assumptions and motivations:

You see, you start pretty much from scratch when you work with an autistic child. You have a person in the physical sense — they have hair, a nose and a mouth — but they are not people in the psychological sense. One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is to see it as a matter of constructing a person. You have the raw materials, but l you have to build the person. Ivar Lovaas, originator of ABA

The NZ Autism Spectrum “Disorder” Guideline (2018)

Common behavioural problems include hyperactivity, attention difficulties, repetitive and ritualistic behaviours, self-injury, tics, and unusually strong interests. Problems with mood are common, as are social difficulties… All behavioural interventions are based on the science of applied behaviour analysis

No mention of the actual results that are achieved with ABA and “behavioural interventions”: depression, PTSD, suicidal ideation, social expectations that are toxic for autistic people, and toxic environments that create sensory overload. Instead anxiety and depression are presented as common “comorbidities” that are medicalised. The message to autistic people: suck it up and “behave” as society expects, and don’t disturb the established social order or else …

The “science” of ABA is nothing more than experimentation with tools of coercion and torture. And yes, you can apply “scientific rigour” to the process, but that in no way justifies coercion or torture.

The University of Auckland still teaches ABA (2021). In New Zealand certified ABA practitioners continue to advertise their services for children with “compliance” problems (2021).

Many autistic people who have been subjected to ABA and similar “treatments” end up with PTSD:

Nearly half (46 percent) of the ABA-exposed respondents met the diagnostic threshold for PTSD, and extreme levels of severity were recorded in 47 percent of the affected subgroup. Respondents of all ages who were exposed to ABA were 86 percent more likely to meet the PTSD criteria than respondents who were not exposed to ABA. Adults and children both had increased chances (41 and 130 percent, respectively) of meeting the PTSD criteria if they were exposed to ABA. Both adults and children without ABA exposure had a 72 percent chance of reporting no PTSD. At the time of the study, 41 percent of the caregivers reported using ABA-based interventions.

– Kupferstein, H. 2018, from “Evidence of increased PTSD symptoms in autistics exposed to applied behavior analysis.” Advances in Autism 4, 1 (2018): pp. 19-29. DOI 10.1108/AIA-08-2017-0016.

The autism industry has become a multi billion dollar global busyness opportunity. Torture and exploitation of autistic people is not only legal, it is sold as the ultimate money making machine.

Autism and gender identity

Members of the autistic civil rights movement adopt a position of neurodiversity that encompasses a kaleidoscope of identities that intersects with the LGBTQIA+ kaleidoscope by recognising neurodivergent traits – including but not limited to ADHD, Autism, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Synesthesia, Tourette’s Syndrome – as natural variations of cognition, motivations, and patterns of behaviour within the human species.

Discrimination against autistic people is comparable to the level of discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people 50 years ago. Within such a highly discriminatory cultural environment, many services from the autism industry must be considered unethical, and obtaining a “diagnosis” can be an invitation for potential abuse and exploitation. The pathologisation of autism has led to what some critical researchers refer to as the autism industrial complex.

Autistic people must take ownership of the label in the same way that other minorities describe their experience and define their identity.  Pathologisation of autism is a social power game that removes agency from autistic people. Our suicide and mental health statistics are the result of discrimination and not a “feature” of autism.

Major goals of the autistic rights movement include the following:

1. Liberation from the socially-constructed pathology paradigm
2. Acceptance of autistic patterns of behaviours
3. Education that teaches neurotypical individuals about autistic cognition and motivations, including communication skills for interacting with autistic peers; as well as education that teaches autistic individuals about typical cognition and motivations, including communication skills for interacting with neurotypical peers
4. Creation of social networks, events, and organisations that allow autistic people to collaborate and socialise on their own terms
5. Recognition of the autistic community as a minority group


– Autistic Collaboration Trust. “Communal definition of autism.” March 2019.

Multiple studies confirm that the suicide rates for autists are are more than twice (1.9 to 9.9 times) the rates found in the general population. Elevated rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide apply across the entire autism spectrum. These co-morbid conditions are a reflection of experiences made in the social environment rather than a reflection of autism specific neurology. The latest research confirms that bullying plays a major role.

– Autistic Collaboration Trust. “The dynamics resulting from the interplay of neurodiversity and culture.” July 2018.

The current study provides evidence that high levels of autistic traits may often be present in adults who have attempted suicide. Even when autistic adults and adults who suspected they were autistic were removed from the analysis, 40.6% of those who had attempted suicide scored above the threshold that indicates potential clinical concern.

– Gareth Richards et al. 2019. “Autistic traits in adults who have attempted suicide.” Molecular Autism 10, 26 (June 2019). DOI 10.1186/s13229-019-0274-4.

Making the world a safer place for everyone

Undercover autists as well as all other weird non-conformists are compromising their mental and physical health in toxic school and work environments on a daily basis. In W.E.I.R.D. (Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic) societies management by fear is the norm in most organisations, and groupthink is celebrated as a virtue.

Neurodivergence is at the core of creativity. Striving to be popular is incompatible with being creative. This is either the truth, or it is a case of autistic black and white thinking. Not wanting to be popular is what allows autistic and artistic people to act as agents of a healthy cultural immune system within human societies. Autism and other forms of neurodivergence are genetically-based human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.

In the broadest sense, the social model of disability is about nothing more complicated than a clear focus on the economic, environmental and cultural barriers encountered by people who are viewed by others as having some form of impairment – whether physical, sensory or intellectual.

– Mike Oliver. 2004. “The social model in action: If I had a hammer.” in Barnes, C. and Mercer, G. (eds.), Implementing the social model of disability: Theory and research. Leeds.

Often those who can not speak remain the most misunderstood and the most misrepresented.

The vast majority of adult autists have no formal diagnosis, and in sick W.E.I.R.D. societies they can’t afford to be open about their neurology. The autism medical industrial complex insists that only those who have fallen off the cliff, whose mental or physical health has been severely affected by isolation, discrimination, and bullying, are eligible for a “diagnosis” of autism.

Our society has been constructed such that the only assistance available to autistic adults consists of an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. If the severely injured autist is still alive, the assistance available addresses the acute symptoms of distress, without any thought being given to the toxic social environment that led to the acute crisis.

A disproportionate numbers of autists take their lives before receiving a “diagnosis”. This points to a violation of human rights, to institutionalised discrimination and bullying in our society, and not just to a lack of adequate crisis support services and healthcare services.

The journey towards a healthier and less W.E.I.R.D. society starts with the most powerful tool at our disposal – the introduction and consistent use of new language, and new ways of thinking about diversity and the human species.

To assist schools and universities in preparing for Neurodiversity Celebration Week from 15 to 21 March 2021 we have compiled a list of learning resources that allow people to familiarise themselves with the way in which neurodiversity and neurodivergence play out in people’s lives.

Banning ABA in New Zealand

The New Zealand government is already committed to banning gay conversion therapy.

Labour will ban conversion therapy, work with schools to provide gender neutral bathrooms and make sure healthcare is responsive to the needs of trans, intersex and gender diverse people if it is elected.

In addition, it will invest $4 million in existing Rainbow youth mental health services and review adoption and surrogacy policies with a view to removing discriminatory practices.

Labour Rainbow spokesperson Tāmati Coffey says the party is “relentlessly proud to support Rainbow communities” and has a plan to keep moving towards a more inclusive New Zealand.

“Labour has a proud track record on advancing equal rights; we led the charge on homosexual law reform, civil unions, and marriage equality. We’ve also made good progress this term by wiping historic homosexual convictions, providing additional funding for targeted mental health support and HIV research, and lifting the cap on gender confirmation surgeries.”

We have advanced a lot this term but there is more work to do to make sure all New Zealanders live free of discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We will pass a law to ban the harmful practice of conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is based on the misguided idea that people are wrong or broken because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is fundamentally wrong.


– Radio New Zealand. “Labour promises ban on conversion therapy, rainbow mental health funding.” October 2020.

So far action from the government is still lacking.

Takatāpui are still fighting to stop churches harming their people after colonisation aimed to strip Māori and Pacific gender and sexual identities.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi has committed to passing legislation to ban gay conversion “therapy”, which involves attempts to change a person’s sexual or gender orientation.

Takatāpui and other indigenous queer people say the practice has long been part of church efforts to colonise and reshape Māori and Pasifika sexuality and identity.


– Radio New Zealand. “Conversion therapy ban petition: Takatāpui ‘inherent to our culture’.” March 2021.

Autists and others who are disabled need your support

Now is the time for the New Zealand government to acknowledge that ABA is “conversion therapy” for autistic people and others who are disabled in our society. The time for change is now.

Beyond the formal petition, regardless of the country you live in, you can use the form below to add your statement of support for banning all forms of “conversion therapy” in New Zealand. The Autistic Collaboration Trust will keep you informed about progress of the petition, and the envisaged ban of all forms of conversion therapy.

The Autistic Collaboration Trust is incorporated as a charitable trust in New Zealand. The board of trustees consists exclusively of people who openly identify as autistic. The purpose of the trust includes development and delivery of training courses related to the goal of liberation from the pathology paradigm and the goal of acceptance of autistic cognition, motivations, and patterns of behaviour as natural variations within the human species.

Support for banning “conversion therapy” in NZ

As a Kiwi, I continue to voice my opposition to ABA and other forms of “conversion” therapy. In some ways I am grateful that I did not get an autism diagnosis until I was 60. I think the trauma from bullying and violence I received for being “different” would pale into insignificance compared the outcome from years of ABA. – Barry

I am a very late diagnosis at the age of 67; I am 70 this year. I am lesbian. I have a workplace history of working in women’s and youth services. I recommend reading Jess Hill’s book, “See What You Made Me Do” (2019) and see the high and startling similarities between domestic abuse and ABA. I am horrified we abuse children (and adults) this way and consider it legally acceptable. what kind of world is this? ABA is a form of barbarism as is/was Gay Conversion “Therapy”. Both are not therapeutic, they are abusive. The same behaviours have been banned in schools for neurotypical children. The same behaviours have been named as abusive in domestic abuse prevention legislation. Why is it considered ok to abuse children just because they are autistic? Using an outdated theory that has been successfully refuted by the LGBTIQA community, a theory written by an old white man? – Morgan King

I remember a time and a culture when conversion therapy in all its forms was considered with prejudice and suspicion. The Maori word for autistic means “someone needing their time and space”. When I saw the guidelines for 2018 I thought, “Um, no”. Applied behaviour analysis is not a science. It is a technology. And like all technology can be harmful and misused. When a technology converts “raw material” [like Lovaas said] … The person is building themselves, all the time. If you are going to talk about science, you talk about a way of looking at the world which brings on less fear, not more. Or doesn’t add to the fears that people already have about themselves and the world. Conversion therapy is big business. Torture with scientific rigor is still torture. There are many examples of this through recent and current history. – Anonymous

This abuse story about teenage psychiatry in 1980s Wales, where its own mania to control caused it to fail to save me from another place of harm, includes “the utter trauma, for any libertarian character, of the hard man nurse shouting in my face about ‘to get you in here and change you'”. That is what ABA’s concept is, a violation of having personal liberty. It is the entire difference between the free world and terrorist societies. Look how support defeats itself and turns into abuse as soon as it turns into force. – Maurice Frank

I am in full support of a ban on ABA and “conversion therapy”. In case it is helpful to anyone, here is a recent article I published regarding these two therapies.Jake Pyne, PhD

I am involved in healing cPTSD and other suffering caused ABA. Whether new or old ABA, it remains a coercive form of 20-40 hour a week drubbing seeking compliance, programming an individual using dog-training means that should never have been used on dogs either. Leave the programming/conditioning for robots I beg. – John Greally, Co-founder The Autistic Cooperative, Autistics Worldwide, Autistic Union

I fully support a complete ban of ABA. Living your life 24/7 with the external pressure to behave as someone you are not is causing immense and unnecessary harm. Autistic people need validation, not conversion. – Mia Jullig

It [ABA] clearly removes bodily autonomy and natural coping and learning mechanisms based on Neurology of an Autistic individual, replacing them with mechanisms that harm Neurology as it works against the natural state of the brain, causing PTSD and more in the long run. It can also appear to make them look happy as many fawn to please people since their natural actions keep them rejected. It also takes time for continuous use of incorrect natural coping and possible harsher conditions to set off a sudden burn out, crash, suicide, or depressive episode. It is also much unseen in children as they haven’t met the demands of adult life. Once an adult and these mechanisms continue to be used along with changing situation and additional pressures, the mental and physical injuries arw absolutely inevitable. This makes the therapy more dangerous as to parents they see it working, doing exactly what it is supposed to: train their Autistic child to pretend to be Neurotypical. This alone should be common sense that it is NOT a good idea and clear as day conversion type therapy, proven to be harmful to humans. – Jenan Skinner

Making the world a safer place for everyone

To assist schools, universities, and other organisations in preparing for Neurodiversity Celebration Week (15 to 21 March 2021) I have compiled a list of learning resources that allow people to familiarise themselves with the way in which neurodiversity and neurodivergence play out in people’s lives.

A great place to start is by celebrating Weird Pride Day on 4 March 2021 together with Oolong and Autistamatic:

Complexification is the civilised© operating model for normal™ human primates®. I remain an uncertifiable life form in a perfect® world.

Undercover autists as well as all other weird non-conformists are compromising their mental and physical health in toxic school and work environments on a daily basis. In W.E.I.R.D. societies management by fear is the norm in most organisations, and groupthink is celebrated as a virtue.

Neurodivergence is at the core of creativity. Striving to be popular is incompatible with being creative. This is either the truth, or it is a case of autistic black and white thinking. Not wanting to be popular is what allows autistic and artistic people to act as agents of a healthy cultural immune system within human societies. Autism and other forms of neurodivergence are genetically-based human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.

In the broadest sense, the social model of disability is about nothing more complicated than a clear focus on the economic, environmental and cultural barriers encountered by people who are viewed by others as having some form of impairment – whether physical, sensory or intellectual. – (Mike Oliver 2004).

Often those who can not speak remain the most misunderstood and the most misrepresented.

CommunicationFIRST, ASAN, and AASR have created a toolkit for people who want to learn more about nonspeaking autistic people, methods of communication other than speech, disability representation in media, autistic meltdowns, trauma-informed care for autistic people, restraint and seclusion and their alternatives, and how to best support nonspeaking autistic people and survivors of restraint and seclusion.

Autistic life in 2021

The vast majority of adult autists have no formal diagnosis, and in sick W.E.I.R.D. societies they can’t afford to be open about their neurology. The autism industrial complex insists that only those who have fallen off the cliff, whose mental or physical health has been severely affected by isolation, discrimination, and bullying, are eligible for a “diagnosis” of autism.

Our society has been constructed such that the only assistance available to autistic adults consists of an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. If the severely injured autist is still alive, the assistance available addresses the acute symptoms of distress, without any thought being given to the toxic social environment that led to the acute crisis. A disproportionate numbers of autists take their lives before receiving a “diagnosis”. This points to a violation of human rights, to institutionalised discrimination and bullying in our society, and not just to a lack of adequate crisis support services and healthcare services.

The list of negative stereotypes incorrectly associated with autistic people is not getting any shorter. So-called “Autism at Work” programmes for example are predominantly focused on specific industries and professions that reinforce the stereotype of the autistic engineer and the stereotype of the autistic savant. This contributes to the creation of corporate ghettos of officially diagnosed autists, who are confined to working in specific roles – often for very small salaries, who must at all times be appropriately “managed”. Autistic people are prevented from interfering with the bigger social picture, which “autists can’t possibly understand” – by virtue of the pathologising language that is imposed by the autism industrial complex, which in larger countries has become a multi billion dollar industry.

This social climate has two effects:

  1. Firstly, many undercover autists who are more or less successfully clinging to a job that provides them with a livelihood will strive to remain undercover at all costs – that is until they reach breaking point and fall off the cliff. Similarly, given all the incorrect negative stereotypes, only few autistic artists, musicians, and academics openly identify as autistic.
  2. Secondly, virtually all undercover autists who are working in non-stereotypical roles, for example as social workers, clinicians (often highly competent in their areas of specialisation), as carers, nurses, teachers, administrators, etc. will remain undercover until they fall off the cliff or exit the workforce. The size of this second group may well be as large as the first group, but it hardly ever gets mentioned because the stigma is so extreme, and because the bullying in the healthcare sector is pervasive, and not limited to autistic people.

Tools for surviving in a W.E.I.R.D. world

No large organisation can claim to have a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion if it does not subscribe to independent oversight by marginalised segments of the population.

Companies can subscribe to independent oversight via the Employer Rating Service coordinated by the Autistic Collaboration Trust. Individuals and companies can contribute to and engage with the Employer Rating Service via two anonymous surveys in conjunction with the related Bullying Alert Service:

  1. The psychological safety baseline databaseAdditional contextThe survey, which does not collect data on specific employers but does collect information on the location (country) and the economic function/sector of the employer.
  2. The employer rating serviceThe survey, which collects data on specific employers. Employers are encouraged to subscribe and to use the service for regular psychological safety audits. Please note that in order to maximise the protection of employees, the Autistic Collaboration Trust will never share information about who participated in the survey nor any of the anonymous individual responses with employers nor with any other party.

Thriving in a less W.E.I.R.D. world

Like bees and ants, humans are eusocial animals. Through the lenses of evolutionary biology and cultural evolution, small groups of 20 to 100 people are the primary organisms within human society – in contrast to individuals, corporations, and nation states. The implications for our civilisation are profound, a topic that I explore in detail in my new book The beauty of collaboration at human scale – Timeless patterns of human limitations, which is now in the peer review stage.

The following organisations, initiatives, and people are working towards a world in which all people can thrive:

  1. Autistic Collaboration Trust – a hub for mutual support, and encourages neurodivergent individuals and ventures to connect and establish long-term collaborations.
  2. Neuroclastic – A collective of neurodivergents cataloguing the experience, insights, knowledge, talents, and creative pursuits of autistics.
  3. Autistamatic – Here to help people understand more about the lives, challenges and above all potential of autistic people in society today.
  4. S23M – Collaboration for Life; enabling knowledge to flow to all the places where it can be put to good use.
  5. Democratizing Work – Working humans are so much more than “resources.” This is one of the central lessons of the current crisis
  6. Design Justice Network – An international community of people and organizations who are committed to rethinking design processes so that they center people who are too often marginalized by design.
  7. P2P Foundation – Researching, cataloging and advocating for the potential of P2P and Commons-based approaches to societal and consciousness change.

Celebrate neurodiversity to make the world safer for everyone

The journey towards a healthier relationship with the ecosystems which we are part of starts with the most powerful tool at our disposal, the introduction and consistent use of new language and new ways of thinking about diversity and the human species.

Neurodiversity Celebration Week is an invitation for your school, university, or organisation to ‘take the pledge’ and celebrate the intelligence, ability and employability of neurodivergent students and staff.

The book on collaboration at human scale is available for peer review

As the title suggests, this book is about collaboration, about scale, and about humans, about beauty, and about limits. It has been written from my perspective as an autistic anthropologist by birth and a knowledge archaeologist by autodidactic training. I attempt to address the challenges of ethics and collective intelligence in an era that 21st century geologists refer to as the Anthropocene.

Like bees and ants, humans are eusocial animals. Through the lenses of evolutionary biology and cultural evolution, small groups of 20 to 100 people are the primary organisms within human society – in contrast to individuals, corporations, and nation states. The implications for our civilisation are profound. Humanity is experiencing a phase transition that is catalysed by a combination of new communication technologies, toxic levels of social inequalities, and existential crises. It is time to put ubiquitous global digital connectivity to good use, to curate and share the lessons from marginalised perspectives, and to reflect critically on the human evolutionary journey and on the possibilities and limitations of human agency.

The journey of exponentially accelerating cultural evolution presented in this book covers several hundred thousand years, from the origins of humans right up to the latest significant developments in the early 21st century. I would like to equip communities and individuals with conceptual tools to create good companies that are capable of pumping value from a dying ideological system into an emerging world. Regardless of what route we choose, on this planet no one is in control. The force of life is distributed and decentralised, and it might be a good idea to organise and collaborate accordingly.

The observations offered in this book are the synthesis of my field research from living amongst humans, which has been shaped by hundreds of deep and enjoyable conversations with friends and family within the autistic community, and with my peers at S23M, the human scale NeurodiVenture that started my journey of discovery and creative collaboration back in 2002. Many thanks to all the many who have contributed to growing my understanding of the human species.

The book The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale  is now in the peer review stage. In many ways the book is an autistic collaboration project. The book offers tools for finding viable paths into a more neurodiversity friendly future.

Much of the content in the book has been published in earlier articles on this website, on Neuroclastic.com, or on my personal blog, but the book offers a unique chronological perspective on human cultural evolution, and it adds the glue needed to establish important semantic connections across discipline boundaries.

The book concludes with a wonderful quote from an article written by Pip Carroll, in the lead up to the prolonged but ultimately very successful lock-down in Melbourne:

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.

All feedback is welcome!

I am also very interested in contributions of short personal anecdotes from lived experience that relate to my observations. You can choose to submit anecdotes either in anonymous format or with your name. In all cases I will ask you to review the context of any text/segment that I intent to cite, to ensure that I don’t misrepresent your perspective.

The book is designed for a broad audience. So if it does not meet that objective, please let me know.

If you would like to review the book and provide constructive feedback, you can request access to the complete content using the simple form on this page. I will respond promptly and email you relevant access details.

The introduction is included below, to provide you with an outline of the scope.

Introduction

This book provides communities and organisations with a useful sense of direction, giving them the option to snap out of busyness as usual mode when they are ready. If or when this may happen will vary from case to case. It is not something that any individual has much control over. There is no shortage of optimistic books that celebrate human achievements and there is also no shortage of pessimistic books that proclaim the end of the human species. In contrast, I approach the Anthropocene from the fringe of human society, from the perspective of someone who does not relate to abstract human group identities.

Once the history of civilisation is understood as series of progress myths, where each civilisation looks towards earlier or competing civilisations with a yardstick that is tailored to prove that its own myths and achievements are clearly superior to anything that came before, it is possible to identify the loose ends and the work-arounds of civilisation that are usually presented as progress.

The result is a historical narrative that makes for slightly less depressing reading than 10,000 years of conflict and wars. Instead, human history can be understood as a series of learning experiences that present us with the option to break out of the tired, old, and increasingly destructive pattern of civilised conquest and domination. Whether our current global civilisation chooses to complete the familiar pattern of growth and collapse in the usual “civilised” manner is a question that is up to all of us.

Part I – Homo symbolicus

The first four chapters cover the period that predates written historic records, based on what can be deduced from the archaeological record and from the available knowledge about hunter gatherers and other human scale societies.

Chapter 1 examines the origins of human primates and outlines the collaborative traits that have enabled early humans to become established and to survive on all continents with the exception of Antarctica.

Chapter 2 identifies the patterns and cognitive limitations that define human scale, and it introduces the concept of neurodiversity as an aspect of biodiversity that has had a major influence on cultural evolution.

Chapter 3 introduces a small set of concepts that reflect the most fundamental cognitive architecture of human perception and thought, which provides us with a simple language to represent and reason about living systems.

Chapter 4 explores the topic of collective learning in small human scale groups, and offers a synopsis of thinking tools that predate the evolution of human language. The chapter concludes with an initial analysis of the ways in which cultures and social norms can either catalyse or compromise collective learning.

The period of human civilisations prior to the industrial era is condensed into two chapters, referring to the recurring patterns of civilisation building and collapse identified in the pioneering comparative work by historian Joseph Tainter.

Chapter 5 presents the three essential ingredients that have enabled the emergence of civilisations and complex societies consisting of many hundred, many thousand, and even many millions of people, and it provides working definitions of “cultural inertia” and “paradigmatic inertia” that are helpful for understanding the limits of collective intelligence.

Chapter 6 provides an introduction to the collapse of complex societies, with particular emphasis on the key elements that are applicable to our current global civilisation, including a useful working definition of “collapse of complexity”.

Part II – Homo economicus

The following nine chapters in Part II are devoted to an in-depth transdisciplinary analysis of cultural evolution since the industrial revolution, with an emphasis on the role of autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people in undermining the repeated attempts of reducing the human species to homo economicus. Readers who are less interested in an in-depth critique of the industrial era through autistic eyes can skip this part of the book, and as needed revisit specific chapters in Part II in case the arguments laid out in Part III for moving towards homo ecologus seem difficult to follow.

Chapter 7 covers the industrial revolution, the factory model of production, the emergence of the “scientific” management, and the W.E.I.R.D. (Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic) myth of progress and superiority in which capital plays the dominant role in structuring social power relationships.

Chapter 8 examines the myth of progress and superiority in more detail by articulating the unspoken neuronormative assumptions about human “functioning” in industrialised society. The chapter proceeds with concrete examples from all continents about how industrial society actively disables minorities and offers critical thinking tools that can assist in re-framing the myth of progress into a symptom of collective delusion.

Chapter 9 analyses the effects of the addiction to economic growth and warns against the dangers of attempting to replace the narrative of growth with a more appropriate and less toxic universal narrative of progress. The reader is alerted to the inherent limits of the tool of storytelling.

Chapter 10 explains how computers have been used to extend the mirage of exponential growth, and offers a planetary and less W.E.I.R.D. perspective on the future of cultural and technological evolution.

Chapter 11 takes a critical look at the achievements of societies that hoard information for comparative advantage over other societies, and it exposes the illusion of the idealised standard human, which has been cultivated of the last 250 years.

Chapter 12 investigates the dynamic feedback loops between culture and technology that have led to the W.E.I.R.D. technological monocultures and competitive social games, which are frequently framed as disruptive forms of innovation, and which increasingly define life in the digital Anthropocene.

Chapter 13 identifies collective cognitive blind spots. It explains how the cult of busyness has elevated storytelling to a silver bullet and has relegated model building to the dustbin of history, paving the way for a seemingly bright future of artificially intelligent systems.

Chapter 14 zeros in on the cognitive dissonance between the anthropocentric myths of meritocracy, technological progress, and growth on the one hand and the needs of all the people and other living creatures that we care about on the other hand. The discussion exposes the limits of the Western scientific worldview.

Chapter 15 summarises the current predicament of humanity. It exposes a social operating system that is afflicted by a suicidal collective learning disability and that is dominated by the life destroying logic of digitised capital.

Part III – Homo ecologus

The chapters in Part III offer critical thinking tools and first hand experiences from creating good company at human scale, and lead up to a short conclusion about the limits of social complexity that can be sustained on our path into the future. The tools provided may assist us in collectively creating ecologies of good companies, in nurturing a global knowledge commons, and in finding viable paths into a more neurodiversity friendly future.

Chapter 16 asks the question of how to paddle back from lethal forms of monoculture. The investigation points back to the cultural characteristics of early human scale knowledge based societies, which relied on knowledge sharing and trusted relationships rather than on the not-so-invisible hand of competitive markets.

Chapter 17 provides an emergency brake to slow us down to a speed that allows critical self reflection. It outlines neurodivergent forms of collaboration that are much less W.E.I.R.D. than the civilised myth of progress and offers a set of thinking tools that may allow us to progress from so-called wealth to good health.

Chapter 18 uses the visual languages of the human lens and the ecological lens to contrast life at human scale with life in the W.E.I.R.D. world of busyness. It offers proven tools for intentional bottom-up cultural innovation at human scale that can be deployed today.

Chapter 19 elaborates how collaboration can be understood as an evolutionary force based on a suitable working definition of “collective intelligence”, and it provides further guidance for transitioning to creative collaboration at human scale. The reader is encouraged to start by rediscovering the language of life.

Chapter 20 concludes with a reminder that collapse of hierarchical complexity is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity, and a return to more locally appropriate use of technology.

The social architecture of collective intelligence

Connections.jpg

Many autists reject all forms of social power. Unless we have autistic people in our environment that nurture our sense of agency and intrinsic motivations, trauma may prevent us from learning how to trust others and build eye level relationships.

Capacity for independent thought

The following observations describe the foundations of autistic culture:

I just can’t be a sycophant to anyone. I can’t be a follower / worshipper / fan / groupie to celebrities, political figures, artists, authors, academics. I think for myself. Always. This isn’t winning me friends, but…I can’t change this. It seems to be a combination of outside-the-box independent thinking, as well as trial by fire in which I’ve been burned too many times. I always tend to double and triple check myself before falling in behind anyone.

To expand on this, add groups to the list. I’ve been a member of many groups in my life. I’ve been in organizational positions, etc. But the shelf-life of these memberships seems to have an expiration date. I end up saying something unpopular that causes a falling out. It’s all well meaning, when I stray from conformity. I don’t want to stray from the pack. I’ll analyse, think of exceptions or say something that contradicts accepted views, and before long, I’m out.

There are people I immensely admire, whose writings, ideas, lives, I love and am profoundly influenced by. But no one has monopoly over my attention. & I evolve, change, I don’t just stay fixed in one place focused on personalities. I easily can disagree even when I admire them. There are ideas I have come to find consistently valid. But even with these, I find myself changing in nuanced ways over time. I question my most cherished perspectives. I just do. As if the ground under my feet is always shifting.

I’m probably the most loyal friend a person can have, once a bond is made. That’s what is paradoxical about this. But not everyone is aware of this. I defend underdogs, I stick up for people who lack power.

obrerxconsciente – the conscious cat

Autists are allergic to social power differentials and all forms of personality cult.

I’m like this too. Following any movement, ideology, person or an organization is totally beyond me. Sooner or later I always find an issue where they are blatantly incoherent and I give up.

Anna Weronika

Non-autists find this so hard to understand.

pippy joan veronica

The unwillingness to “go with the flow” is possibly one of the key reasons why autistic people are pathologised in W.E.I.R.D. societies. From the outside all that is visible is that we don’t “comply”. No one sees the mental energy that it takes to hold back from providing an extensive explanation of our concerns. In those cases where we can’t hold back and openly raise inconvenient questions or concerns, our contributions are dismissed as irrelevant and our behaviour is interpreted as disruptive.

All social power gradients systematically dampen feedback loops, they constitute a collective learning disability. Economists Arjun Jayadev and Samuel Bowles describe the effort needed to maintain social power structures as guard labour.

Guard labour is wage labour and other activities that are said to maintain (hence “guard”) a system. Things that are generally characterised as guard labour include: management, guards, military personnel, and prisoners. Guard labour is noteworthy because it captures expenditures based on mistrust and does not produce future value.

Because autists reject all forms of social power we end up traumatised. Unless we have autistic people in our environment that support and nurture our sense of agency and intrinsic motivations, trauma may prevent us from learning how to trust others and build eye level relationships.

Further background ➜ People management and bullying

Awareness of the limits of understanding

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

Extract from What would a healthy society look like?

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. For autistic people it is a waste of time engaging in conversation with neuronormative people who most of the time are more interested in winning than in learning.

Neuronormative people have a huge capacity for cognitive dissonance, and unfortunately there is no cure for that. A neuronormative colleague once described himself as very “pliable”.

Especially when social status points can be gained, beliefs are adapted as needed, to better fit into the social context at hand. Recently I mentioned to an acquaintance that most employees in larger organisations seem to be working on their individual careers rather than for the company that employs them, and the response was “of course, that’s what everyone does”.

Ability to nurture, maintain, and repair trusted relationships

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. We are well equipped at creating and maintaining long-term trusted relationships at eye level:

Trust is gained reciprocally, not through institutions or conventions. Takes one to know one, they say.

pippy joan veronica

I had to learn how to build and invest into relationships. I didn’t grow up with those tools. And then I had to learn the difference between boundaries and abuse.

Rie Sinclair

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.

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.

A group only needs one unsafe relationship for the entire group to become an unsafe environment. This is a practical working definition of psychological safety.

Many autists also have the capability to develop strong bonds with animals and even with inanimate objects. Because autistic people don’t spend time in the abstract world of social status symbols, many of us care deeply about the quality of our relationships with other people and with the natural world.

Abstract group identities are very broad umbrella terms, and in my experience autists are very aware of the limitations of such abstract descriptors. Group identities often involve sets of people far beyond the Dunbar limit of relationships that humans can maintain, and entail ideas, beliefs, and values that an autist may endorse or reject to varying degrees.

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 small 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.

Further background ➜ Autism – The cultural immune system of human societies

The courage to specialise

Extract from Beyond peak human standardisation

Unless society starts to appreciate and celebrate neurodiversity and neurodivergent collaboration the future of humans looks bleak. The following illustrations can assist in establishing trusted collaborations with autists and with neurodiverse teams.

Neurodiversity - the core of creativity.001

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

Neurodiversity - the core of creativity.002

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 neurotypical “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 example reflects my specific interests, each autistic person has a unique profile of core interests).

Successful and mutually enjoyable collaboration and focuses on shared or overlapping areas of deep knowledge and hinges on neurotypical adaptation to autistic levels of social skills.

Public competency networks

Extract from Organising for neurodivergent collaboration

Within a good company (smaller than 50 people) and especially within a team, everyone is acutely aware of the competencies of all the other members. The NeurodiVenture operating model is a minimalistic implementation of a non-hierarchical organisation.

Within traditional teams knowledge about the distribution of available competencies tends to be tacit – locked up in peoples’ heads, it is not available in explicit form. In a NeurodiVenture  all members expose (write down and share) these so-called individual competency networks for mutual benefit.

Beyond eliminating formal hierarchical structures the NeurodiVenture model removes all incentives for the emergence of informal “power-over” structures via transparency of all individual competency networks for the benefit of everyone within the company. This is perhaps the most radical idea within the NeurodiVenture model.

The result is an immensely valuable index of competencies consisting of up to 50 unique perspectives on the company. These perspectives are not merged into some absurd attempt to create a unique source of truth. All perspectives are considered equally valid. Collectively their presence allows the company to rapidly respond intelligently and with courage to all kinds of external events, by drawing on collective intelligence in a very literal sense.

To appreciate the significance, let’s assume that on average for each person in a company of 50 there are 10 to 20 externally or internally triggered categories of events (these events can be thought of as use cases) associated with a demand that relate to the person’s core competencies, and perhaps there are another 10 to 20 events that the person is also well equipped to deal with (beyond the core competencies). This leads to a collective set of 50 x 20 to 50 x 40 = 1,000 to 2,000 competency self assessments, and to a multitude of perspectives from others on a subset of these declared competencies. Having all this information available in explicit form within a company is an extremely valuable tool.

But of course hardly anyone in a traditional organisation with hierarchical power structures would openly share their individual competency network including their perspectives on the core competencies of other members of the organisation. Anyone who thinks about this obvious observation for a couple of minutes has to conclude that traditional organisations represent a form of collective stupidity – the result of inherent lack of mutual trust due to in-group competition.

Transparency of individual competency networks enables meta knowledge (who has which knowledge and who entrusts whom with questions or needs in relation to specific domains of knowledge) to flow freely within an organisation.

The conceptualisation of meta knowledge flows via individual competency networks assists the coordination of activities via regular Open Space workshops, and it acts as an effective dampener on the informal hierarchies that can easily come to plague hierarchical and “non-hierarchical” organisations.

Note that the concept of a “flat hierarchy” is a neuronormative oxymoron. Either you tolerate social power gradients or you don’t.

Beyond regular Open Space workshops, adopting a simple peer-to-peer advice process goes a long way towards nurturing collective intelligence, and as an added bonus, it minimises the risk of misunderstandings and potential for conflict. In case conflict does emerge between two individuals, transparent competency networks make it easy to agree on a suitable mediator who is trusted by both parties – without the need for any hierarchical power structures.

Further background ➜ Collaboration for dummies

Awareness of the limits of human scale

Extract from Nurturing ecologies of care

Available archaeological and anthropological evidence points towards highly egalitarian social norms within human scale (i.e. small) pre-civilised societies. In such societies social norms against wielding power over others would have allowed the unique talents and domain specific knowledge of autistic people be recognised as valuable contributions.

In a psychologically safe environment at human scale (up to Dunbar’s number of around 150 people) the inability to maintain hidden agendas becomes a genuine strength that creates a collaborative advantage for the entire group. In fact autistic honesty will also have made autistic people prime candidates for maintaining trusted collaborative relationships with other groups.

In a transactional industrialised world, collective intelligence literally goes down the drain. In my experience, organisations with several thousand staff tend to act less intelligent than a single individual, and as group size grows further, intelligence tends towards zero.

The graph above assumes that as group size increases, people attempt to maintain more and more relationships – which end up deteriorating into transactional contacts with very limited shared understanding. The decline in collective intelligence can be avoided by consciously limiting the number of relationships of individuals, and by investing in trusted relationships between groups.

The dampening of feedback loops within hierarchical social structures further reduces collective intelligence. Hierarchical forms of organisation are inherently incompatible with the construction of trusted relationships within and between groups. Anyone who attempts to establish trusted relationships outside the hierarchical tree structure implicitly questions the effectiveness of the hierarchy, and thereby undermines one or more authorities within the structure.

The NeurodiVenture operating model based on trusted relationships at eye level not only raises neurodiversity as a top level concern, but by imposing a hard limit on group size (50 in the case of S23M, enforced by our company constitution) it also ensures that every member of the team has spare cognitive capacity for building and maintaining trusted relationships with the outside world, whilst at the same time encouraging creative collaboration for life.

Further background ➜ Celebration of interdependence

A partnership model for collaboration between groups

In case you think non-hierarchical forms of organisations can’t possibly scale, take a look at Buurtzorg, an international nursing organisation that operates as a collaborative network of 950 autonomous nursing teams with a total of 15,000 employees.

When human-scale networks / NeurodiVentures grow beyond human scale, they split into collaborating sub-networks.

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 main difference between modern emergent human scale cultural species (NeurodiVentures etc.) 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.

The main commonality between prehistoric societies and modern human scale cultural species is the critical importance of knowledge for survival, and a cultural appreciation for the value of knowledge and the value of trust based collaboration at eye level both within cultural organisms and between cultural organisms.

The main difference between all human scale cultural species and super-human scale “civilised” societies lies in the devaluation of knowledge and reliance on anonymous transactions and abstract monetary metrics, and in a corresponding devaluation of trust based collaboration at eye level.

Time horizons shorter than 150 years encourage tribalism and counter-productive competition between groups. Recently I was delighted to read about a company here in Aotearoa that operates on a 500 year time horizon. S23M, our employee owned NeurodiVenture is 19 years old. Our measure of success is tied to a 200+ year time horizon, and it depends on maintaining long term eye level relationships with joint-venture partners, with customers, and with suppliers.

In an ecology of care the focus shifts from speculative investments for profit (where the people actively involved in a venture are viewed as tools towards a profitable “exit”) to investments in the health of ecosystems and people (where the people actively involved in a human scale venture are co-investing in each other, resulting in a network of trusted relationships that connects the venture into an ecosystem of multi-dimensional resource flows between suppliers, customers, and partners).

Symmetric contractual agreements between organisations, clear definition of deliverables, and an extension of a simple peer-to-peer advice process across the organisational boundary go a long way towards minimising the risk of misunderstandings and potential for conflict. Furthermore, transparent competency networks can be extended to include partner organisations.

Conflicts are minimised via intentionally de-weaponised contractual agreements, so that both parties to a partnership agreement have strong incentives for resolving any potential conflict by learning more about each other, and as needed, via mediation through a shared trusted party in wider network of partners, customers, and suppliers (over a period of 19 years I have never run into this scenario) – without the need for any hierarchical power structures.

Our society faces the unprecedented challenge of making a transition towards significantly different values within a single generation. This is the real challenge, rather than finding our way back to a state of “normal” that only ever worked for a very small minority.

Further background ➜ Life beyond economics

A language for reasoning about living systems

Our future depends on the adoption of new forms of creative collaboration. The kind of mathematics that can assist us in reasoning about dynamically evolving value systems and the coordination of non-trivial circular resource flows involve groups and graphs rather than numerical calculations.

The ecological lens is a modelling language for evolving ecosystems. It connects the human lens and the evolutionary lens via the activity of play and a critical perspective/motivation. The ecological lens catalyses diversity within the living world from an ecological perspective.

The journey towards a healthier relationship with the ecosystems which we are part of starts with the most powerful tool at our disposal, the introduction and consistent use of new language and new semantics.

The NeurodiVenture operating model steps outside the box of the established social and economic paradigm by adopting a life affirming working definition of collective intelligence that is not confined to the distorted characterisation of human potential that dominates in W.E.I.R.D cultures.

Collective intelligence : finding a niche and thriving in the living world by creating good company

In this context I also recommend drawing on the insights encapsulated in the 10 Design Justice Principles, which can assist both neuronormative and neurodivergent people in learning how to unW.E.I.R.D. our societies.

Further background ➜ Rediscovering the language of life

Conclusion

New understanding and the most valuable insights are generated by the tacit knowledge that flows freely between people (no/low social friction) and the critical questions that are being asked (high intellectual friction).

Beyond a network of trusted relationships at eye level (no social power gradients) there is no universal organisational structure that can compensate for lack of psychological safety and transparency.

This is bad news for those who sell management fads, silver bullet technologies, and simplistic diversity & inclusion recipes that pretend to offer “solutions”, and it should be good news for autistic people, who are natural catalysts for collective intelligence within their social environments. Autists contribute to trusted relationships and intellectual friction in ways that expand the sphere of discourse of what is possible.

The unique human ability to adapt to new contexts, powered by creative collaboration at eye level, enabled humans to minimise conflicts and establish a presence in virtually all ecosystems on the planet. This level of adaptability is the signature trait of the human species.

Active disablement of minorities

In a W.E.I.R.D. culture where autistic people are pathologised, it can be helpful to point to reflections on culture made by outsiders and members of minorities

  1. who are marginalised and often persecuted,
  2. whose educational diet was not limited to the W.E.I.R.D. education system,
  3. and those who have spent significant times of their lives outside their culture of origin.

The following selection of examples may give neuronormative, culturally “well adjusted” people an introduction to symptoms of the W.E.I.R.D. social disease.

An American perspective

The United States of Narcissism, by American Canary, directed by Amanda Zackem (2020):

A Japanese perspective

Excerpts from Future Design: Incorporating Preferences of Future Generations for Sustainability (2020):

While the market may be a place where desired short – term gains can be achieved extremely efficiently, it is not meant for allocating resources with an eye towards the welfare of future generations. Even in a democracy designed to compensate for market failures, a method of realizing profits for people at present, by its very nature, does not take into account the welfare of the future generations… The greatest concern of most democratically elected politicians is their own re – election, not the need to ensure that their actions consider future generations.

The market, democracy, and individual optimism lead to the “ If we all start logging this mountain, we could make a fortune ” perspective from the second half of the twentieth century to the present…

In neighborhoods, city councils, and national assemblies, which could be considered as similar mechanisms in our own societies, one never sees a scenario in which participants envision a generation, say, 100 years into the future, before they make decisions; in our society, the idea of present – day elected officials representing future generations is unthinkable.

We are realizing that the potential for a new field of science, one that bridges the gap between traditional science and the humanities, is hidden in the designs of future social systems.

Sociality was essential in order for people to work together and communicate for a single goal, so it must have evolved that way. The market is in fact a tool to erase sociality.

The market is good at balance of supply and demand on a short term in which there is no element of time, and this changes once time is factored in. Most investments do not take place over multiple generations and is focused on profit in the near future. As has just been described, markets are prone to fail with uncertain futures. This is reinforced by people’s shortsightedness. The market lacks any mechanism that distributes resources between current and future generations. Instead, markets exploit future resources without hesitation.

People naturally gravitate towards policies that give out benefits within one’s lifetime. Therefore, indirect representative democracies do not implement institutions that take future generations into account. Optimism bias is one reason why estimates for public works tend to exaggerate the benefits and understate costs. Another reason is strategic manipulation by politicians and contractors . the cost of climate change is minimal for the current generation but increases with the passing of time — for which future generations must pay dearly.

it is practical to use the human tendency to be able to think of how others think in their hearts and create a group of people who act as a person from the future world.  This group will be a sort of imaginary future generation , and make institutions to make it possible for them to bargain. We shall call this group the Ministry of the Future.

The Ministry needs only to come up with possible problems that people will face in the future, and create several alternatives from which current generations can choose the course of action. Then, we randomly select a number of individuals from society and through dialogue and debate with the Ministry of the Future, make them represent future generations. Then , we must also choose a group of people to serve as representatives of the current situation. The process will have the two sides and the ministry discusses and argues to decide upon a single course of action to solve problems to be faced by future generations.

Furthermore, by regulating the market from the perspective of future generations, myopic democracy will have to change as well. Perhaps constitutions will be amended and new legal systems will be built up on the basis of a “ basic law of the future ”.

As the example of climate change shows, various fields are incorporated into the IPCC but they do not have a clear future perspective , so their intention is not to design the future itself. Therefore a new research field is needed. We can call it future design. Perhaps in the future there will be future design research institutions and graduate programs. Think of a society in which one person in ten thousand only thinks about the future. Many universities will have a future department, complete with graduate schools and young people will learn how to design the future. From them, some may become researchers and others may become public servants in the ministry or department of the future. I hope for a society in which these kinds of people will be honored and respected.

Tatsuyoshi Saijo
Specially Appointed Professor (Program Director), Research Institute for Humanity and Nature
Professor, School of Management, Kochi University of Technology
Director, Research Institute for Future Design

A Native American perspective

The talk Looking Toward the Seventh Generation (2008) by Oren Lyons examines the origins of the obsession with growth and domination in Western ideology and law.

Onondaga Chief and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons discusses the increasingly urgent issues of global warming and climate change and points to Indigenous peoples, their core values, and their reciprocal relationships to the natural world as sources of instruction for human beings to heed in order to combat those issues.

Oren Lyons describes a collaboration between indigenous nations that has a history that predates European “discovery” by over thousand years, and that has survived until today. The culture he describes is one example of a number of indigenous societies that have traditionally operated with a 150 year or longer look-ahead time horizon. 

A Nigerian perspective

Excerpt from In Nigeria, colonial thinking affects everyone. It is time we found new heroes (2020):

We joke about “colo mentality” in Nigeria as a problem that affects only “the ignorant masses”, when, in reality, it is an affliction that excludes no one – equally responsible for the most obvious displays of self-alienation, as it is for the not-so-declaratory, corrosive transformations it makes to our ideas.

Is the solution to build powerful Black nations by imitating a history of European capitalist domination and aspiring to false notions of “rationality” as espoused by European philosophy and science? Is this not, also, the result of a “colonial mentality”? Shall we counteract the violence of European colonisation by showing that we, too, can be just as exploitative, as greedy, “rational”?

I do not ask these questions to be rhetorical. I am, also, searching for answers.

One of the many devastating consequences of colonialism, in its imposition of one mode of thought and way of life, attempting to destroy all others, is that it shallows our imaginations, too closely confining them to present, near-recent, experience.

It does not help that Europeans continue, in their recordings of a history of ideas, to persist in the belief of their unique mightiness. As Zophia Edwards, a sociology professor at Providence College in the United States, notes, western scholarship is replete with false notions that the most useful ideas come from the global north, only copied by the global south. Conveniently forgetting that such ideas as a universal human rights were first developed by Latin American countries.

Through wilful acts of forgetting and myth-making, and despite the evidence of our labour in the establishment of their metaphorical houses, it remains prominent in the minds of many Europeans that the current socioeconomic development of African countries is simply the result of our supposed lack of intellectual originality.

We are, in Nigeria, beginning to unmask the villains of our present predicament. They are not just the colonials – every one of them – but those, also, among our historical elite who aided and abetted colonialism. Some, like the slave trader Madam Tinubu, we have unsoundly memorialised, though by their wickedness we should have known they were not heroes. And our heroes?

It is not enough to reveal the lies and tear down the statues, though this we must. We have, also, to build things in their places. The political thought of the anti-apartheid activist and thinker Steve Biko contains an instructive conception of freedom that requires, first, the elevation of Black Consciousness, of Black cultures and communities, out of the false baseness they have been pushed into. Second, the thorough understanding that white people are just, well, people. That the space that they have collectively attempted to occupy in the last few hundred years is not simply one of superiority, but an attempt at being more than human. And to have done so by maintaining others in sub-human state.

For everyone to be brought back to being simply, fully, but not more than, a human being, white people will need to give up instrumental power, and more – a mental, religious, understanding of themselves as God-like.

If Black Consciousness, the emancipation of the Black mind, and the recovery of the true freedom of all human beings starts with correcting the obvious violences of colonisation, it is not completed until we have questioned every communal understanding we take for granted. Our real heroes cannot be left unscathed. It is daunting. We will be tired. But free.

Eniola Anuoluwapo Soyemi
Political theorist and a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute

Māori perspectives

Excerpts from the introduction of the report of Matike Mai Aotearoa – The Independent Working Group on Constitutional Change (2016):

“I respect that our people want to be at the table and that Parliament or the Council is where the table’s at right now but that doesn’t mean that’s where it should always be at or even where it’s meant to be at…I want my tamariki to know we can change that and reset the table because it’s the right thing to do”.

“I work for Council partly because I’ve got a mortgage but also because I think it can be better for some of our people to be in there but it’s a struggle, especially in a little place like this…I’d love it if there was a better way to do things…not just because it might be easier… and I only say might be easier because our people can be hard taskmasters, but because at least we would be responsible for ourselves and wouldn’t have to keep asking for permission for things”.

“We never talk about constitutions in our mahi but we know that the people we deal with have no say over the government decisions that affect their everyday lives. They have no say over the economic policies that make them poor or take away their jobs. I know that’s not what the treaty was about and it just seems important to get it right”.

“I was in court before this hui for my mahi and everyone up on a charge was a Māori. They don’t know what to do and even if they did they have no power to change it. That might seem a long way away from any kōrero about this kaupapa but it isn’t really”.

“I’ve been in this wheelchair for eighteen years and I know all about the frustration of all of this. It’s not just policy decisions that affect me and others like me but the other power and the system that talks about partnership yet here we are…just where the old people were when they were having hui like this fifty or a hundred years ago”.

“I know some people might say all this talk is unrealistic but the reality we have now isn’t working. Parliament isn’t about us or the treaty…it’s not even from us and unless things change we’re just going to keep on having protests or making submissions or forming new Parties and nothing will really change”.

“When we told a friend we were coming to this hui she said ‘dream on’ and I know none of this will be easy…lots of others will probably think it’s unrealistic as well but Te Tiriti was a bit of dream because it was generous to the Crown and it had a tikanga…we haven’t got that tikanga right yet but we have to keep trying”.

“We have always had the whatukura tangata whenua or cornerstones of a constitution that rest in our tikanga and our mana and tino rangatiratanga. They are part of our whakapapa and are what joins humans to everything in this world and the universe…mai te wenua ki te rangi…The key will be giving effect to them for the benefit of our mokopuna…and identifying the values that would make it unique and long-lasting…being true to what is tika rather than what is expedient”.

Not everyone agreed on every point at every hui of course, and there was often a very palpable fear that advocating any real constitutional transformation might provoke a Pākehā backlash. But the overwhelming consensus was that more needed to be done, and should be done. Like the rangatahi in Porirua, the people wanted to be “in”.

However we hope that the Report does justice to the views which people shared with us. We also hope that it helps point the way to the deliberative constitutional transformation which they sought.

A Taiwanese perspective

Excerpt from We see democracy itself as a technology (2020):

What are the central elements of your present COVID-19 strategy?

We have acted along three principles: fast, fair and fun. Fast: There is a toll-free number that anyone can call and report for example a shortage of masks. Fair: We are ensuring through the single payer national health insurance that more than 99,9% of not just citizens, but also residents can have access to rationed masks. And finally, fun, humor over rumor: We battle the infodemic of conspiracy theories by creating memes and cute figures like Shiba Inu that people shared much more on social media than conspiracy theories.

Corona is more than a health crisis: What was your role as the Digital Minister?

The most important technologies in the Corona crisis are soap, sanitizers and the physical vaccine, the mask. But we did use a lot of novel data applications to battle the pandemic – like an app developed by citizens, civic hackers as we call them here. This app visualizes the availability of masks at pharmacies, enabling people to make evidence-based interpolations and base their critique on real data.

Transparency creates trust.

One key factor is alignment: Everybody can see that pharmacists, to stay with this example, really share the goal of giving as many people as possible access to masks. The other factor is accountability: Not only can everybody check the app, everybody can suggest better distribution methods.

How do you guarantee privacy?

We call it participatory self-surveillance. In high risk places like bars we do require that people make it possible to be contacted in case of a local transmission. But all information is distributed and decentralized and preserves the anonymity valued at such places.

What makes the Taiwanese society so open to new technology, so quick to adapt?

One important factor is that in Taiwan democracy is really new. The first presidential election was in 1996, the world wide web already existed. We see democracy itself as a technology, an applied social technology. The constitution is something that you can tweak and change – we already did it five times and are now considering another change. In a way, democracy is not very different from semiconductor design – anyone can improve it.

What is the other factor?

It is connected to the first: People who are 40 years old and more remember the years of martial law. And any technology that threatens to take society back to a more authoritarian era is an automatic non-starter in Taiwan. We’ll just say: Do you want to go back to martial law? Do you want to go back to white hair?

What are non-authoritarian technologies for you?

We are very focused on democratizing technologies like free software, open-source or the distributed ledger of the blockchain. We also question historical rituals of democracy, like a vote every four years. Is that really a good idea? Do you get all the best input for the democratic institutions? We augmented the election process and introduced referenda, participatory budgeting, E-petitions, you name it.

Western democracies seem to be struggling in this pandemic with a very disparate reaction to the challenge of Corona. What is your take on this?

The great thing about democracy is the resilience. It relies on people actually having scientific understanding and renewing the institution. It will be better the next time around. Just as Taiwan in 2004 set up a new infrastructure and did yearly drills and augmented with the latest digital technologies. I’m sure that now that you have this societal exposure to a SARS 2.0, you too will do better when SARS 3.0 comes around.

How do you cooperate as a state institution with citizens and other societal actors?

We are building a norm around data that is social sector first – neither public sector first, which would mean state surveillance and authoritarian intelligence, nor private sector dominated, which would mean surveillance capitalism and the dependence on multinational companies. We always put people first in people, public, private partnerships.

Audrey Tang
Digital Minister of Taiwan

An Autistic perspective

Extract from Uncovering the Words of the Wordless Aut Sutra (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

Critical thinking tools

Minority perspectives and outsiders are the most valuable source of critical thinking tools and the main source of collective intelligence for any society.

The way Oren Lyons talks about collaboration between “peoples” fits very well with what I outline in this article:

…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… 

“Peoples” correspond to what I refer to as a “cultural species”. I came across Oren Lyons via the work of Tatsuyoshi Saijo on social and economic decision making in modern societies. Both scholars don’t hesitate to point out the sucidal short-terminism of W.E.I.R.D. economic logic.

I can also relate to the Nigerian perspective above. From my childhood I have memories of the European/British colonial attitude in the early 1970s in Nigeria, in the years after the country gained “independence”. The way the locals were viewed by European expats had many similarities to the way in which autistic people are treated – as backwards and incapable of measuring up to Western standards of “civilisation”.

Current Māori perspectives point to the role of wilful ignorance and deception in W.E.I.R.D. cultures.

The Taiwanese perspective on COVID-19 highlights the critical role of mutual trust within society, as well as the latent potential for collective intelligence that is at our fingertips when trust is combined with transparency and with digital communication and collaboration technologies to enact new forms of democracy.

Autists conceptualise the world in terms of trusted relationships with unique people rather than in terms of tribes and abstract group identities. They are best understood as the cultural immune system of human societies that is active in virtually all human groups that involve relationships between 50 or more people.

The presence of autistic people ensures that all groups of humans are equipped with some level of self-reflective capability that counteracts cultural bias. We are devastated when we learn that neuronormative people exploit relationships as a tool to advance their social status in a group, and that “normal W.E.I.R.D.” relationships are not about continuous collaboration and learning from each other in domains that we care deeply about. Furthermore, autistic people tend to act as catalysts for knowledge flows and shared understanding between groups. Pathologising autistic people is a really bad idea.

The 26 MODA + MODE backbone principles act as a baseline set of thinking tools, to avoid getting entrapped in a single paradigm. A specific culture may have further bones, but one or more missing vertebrae lead to a collective learning disability. The following subset of MODA + MODE thinking tools relate directly to the critical role of minority perspectives for the development of collective intelligence:

  1. Understand that minorities and outsiders are well positioned for uncovering attempts of deception
  2. Give minorities and outsiders access to private means of communication
  3. Recognise neurological differences as authentic and valuable sources of innovative potential
  4. Value local perspectives more than widely-held popular beliefs
  5. Understand that all information is dependent on perspective and viewpoint
  6. Understand that a multitude of perspectives generates new insights
  7. Understand that power gradients stand in the way of transformation
  8. Recognise paradoxes and disagreements as the essence of continuous improvement
  9. Engage in niche construction
  10. Use feedback loops to create learning systems

Only by pathologising and actively disabling autistic people is the autism medical industrial complex able to manipulate the exchange rate for trustworthy autistic knowledge and honest autistic advice in favour of maximum corporate profits.

Active disablement of autists at work

There are many reasons why autists often find it difficult to find employment and to stay employed. The following examples summarise experiences made by many autists. I relate to all of them:

  1. Being perceived as over-qualified or over-experienced, potentially embarrassing colleagues and superiors
  2. Being too honest to withhold the truth from customers or to tolerate social power politics within a team or between teams
  3. Working in ways that differ from established “best practices”, resulting in being perceived as unable to integrate into a team, even if the results achieved are objectively superior to established “best practice”
  4. Inability to perform small talk to the level considered “normal” according to the unspoken rules for social interaction, resulting in being perceived as unfriendly or uncooperative
  5. Refusal to partake in after-work social events in environments that represent sensory hell for an autistic person
  6. Requesting flexibility in terms of working hours or changes to office environments that are perceived as inappropriate and incompatible with established local norms
  7. Exhaustion and burn-out, often due to a combination of sensory overload and drowning in workload that others find too difficult or too much to handle

Many autists choose to stay undercover in order to avoid career suicide, but they pay an extreme price in terms of the effort of continuous masking, being bullied and misunderstood on a regular basis, continuous low level anxiety, periods of depression, and at times suicidal ideation.

Given the myths and misinformation peddled by the autism medical industrial complex, the chances for employment of openly autistic people are further compromised, playing into the hands of organisations that specialise in employing or brokering employment for autistic people, often for specific roles in quality assurance, data analysis, and software development. Many of these organisations systematically exploit available government funding for employing disabled people, whilst paying their autistic staff salaries close to the minimum wage – or at best – market rates for junior or mid-level roles.

The future of W.E.I.R.D. monocultures

Like earlier severe pandemics that are no longer part of living memory, the COVID-19 pandemic holds the potential to become a major catalyst for learning and cultural change.

“The moment we become arrogant, we´ll lose”. (March 2020)
– Prof Kim Woo-Ju, South Korea’s leading COVID-19 expert

Enablement of minorities and outsiders

Regarding the future, the following observations by Oren Lyons seem highly appropriate:

How is global warming impacting native indigenous people? 

It impacts poor people and indigenous peoples are almost always poor, they’re the first ones to suffer. In Africa and Haiti, people are already suffering from global warming  and the Arctic is really going down fast. I get reports from Alaska, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Mongolia, the polar caps, it is all the same, it is going down, going down fast. So fast that there’s no transition, no transition for the ice culture to adapt and the animals are caught in it the same way as the humans are. The Inuit of Greenland say that they only give the White Bear 20 more years and the White Bear is now mating with the Brown Bear, so they know. Things are changing quickly. I would expect that in the next two years we are going to be involved in some very serious fires, bigger ones than what was seen this year, and there are going to be bigger storms, maybe one or two Katrina scale storms and that’s going to wake the people up. And then from that point, we may have a chance, but the people have to be slammed hard on the side of the head to where they have to fear. It seems to be the only thing that they’re going to respond to now. They’re certainly not going to respond to common sense. It’s going to take their own personal survival fear kicking in, and if that’s what it takes. We had a string of 139 tornadoes up the center of the United States this past week. Nobody’s ever seen that before, that’s unprecedented. Doesn’t that tell you something? If that doesn’t tell you that we need to be changing from how you’re living your life I would say something’s wrong.

Last year my colleague Dr. Pete Rive published a book titled “Worldbending : a survivor’s guide” (introduction, video synopsis).

Our company, an employee owned neurodiventure that is the main sponsor of the AutCollab.org website, offers Creative Collaboration, a service that assists organisations to navigate an uncertain future by unlocking creativity and by establishing and maintaining psychological safety on an ongoing basis.

What would a healthy society look like?

It is easy to point out the flawed assumptions and circular reasoning that underpin the justification for the institutions and social norms in W.E.I.R.D. societies, especially from an autistic perspective. It is much harder for neuronormative people to fully take in the implications of overly simplistic assumptions about human nature and life on this planet, and to accept individual autistic experiences and observations at face value.

The definition of normality in the industrial era is based on the metaphor of society as a factory and on the metaphor of people as machines. Our laws and social norms have been shaped by these metaphors to a far greater extent than most people are able to comprehend without an in-depth explanation.

Neuronormative industrialised functioning

At the macro level of global, national, and regional politics, our society is shaped by the language of economics and by orthodox economic theories that make a number of assumptions about human nature and human social motivations that are simply incorrect, but which to a significant extent, can become self-fulfilling prophecies that are highly toxic for individuals, and socially corrosive for society. Those who have bought into the assumptions of orthodox economics are considered to be fully “functional” and “culturally well adjusted”. In this article I will refer to such people as neuronormative, as they have internalised the social norms that have arisen from the metaphor of society as a factory and from the metaphor of people as machines.

Our education system teaches us very little about the role of metaphors in human societies. Instead the education systems that produce neuronormative human resources emphasise the importance of narratives – linear stories. W.E.I.R.D. “civilised” humans have developed a preference for communication in linear language, especially since the invention of “modern” (linear) written languages, roughly 6,000 years ago. Humans have used symbol systems for much longer, but without access to living humans from earlier times, we are simply very ill equipped to make sense of older symbolic representations.

From birth civilised humans are indoctrinated in the use of linear language as the primary tool for mastering life, which translates to ladder climbing and “leadership” in the ultra-large human primate dominance hierarchies that in today’s language we refer to as organisations, corporations, and government institutions.

The tools of the trade for “success” at the “social game” are persuasive story telling, the strategic use of plausibly deniable lies – which by some is celebrated as the “valuable” capacity for flexible deception, and the art of bullying to the limits of what is deemed socially acceptable in specific contexts.

Extract from a review of Simon Baron-Cohen’s new book “The Pattern Seekers” in The Spectator:

It takes the specific kind of perverse neuronormative logic of an “autism researcher” to celebrate the ability to “dig a pit for others and cover it with leaves”, and to connect this ability with the presence of a so-called “empathy circuit” that is lacking in autistic people.

In this BBC discussion with Simon Baron-Cohen archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes and palaeoanthropologist Susana Carvalho point out examples of complex creative behaviour found in other species, which Simon Baron-Cohen promptly dismisses as “simple”, and as not really comparable to what humans are doing, without offering any solid reasoning or evidence of what makes human special. In the discussion Simon Baron-Cohen comes across as the one with the most speculative theories, and with the least amount of insight into other species or even primate / human evolution. He is an amateur in these fields, yet makes bold claims about human uniqueness and offers no evidence for the questionable claim that both creativity and empathy evolved exclusively in humans and round about at the same time. The other two panelists articulate their scepticism in very polite ways, probably to stay clear of publicly discrediting Simon Baron-Cohen.

An earlier similarly sensationalist book by Simon Baron-Cohen is titled “Zero Degrees of Empathy”, in which he refers to psychopaths and autistic people as having zero empathy, based on a convenient classification of different “types” of empathy and differences in the ways in which neuronormative and autistic people outwardly express emotions (or not). In that book he elaborates an “extremely male brain” theory of autism, for which there also was no solid evidence, and which has since been debunked.

The W.E.I.R.D. axioms

All people who are unable to or who hesitate to play the competitive social game are systematically disadvantaged in all civilised societies. But W.E.I.R.D. societies go one step further, they 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. The implicit assumptions of the pathology paradigm:

  1. The W.E.I.R.D. social game is the pinnacle of “civilisation” achieved so far.
  2. The arrow of “progress” is advanced by playing the social game.
  3. The “purpose” of society is to perpetuate the social game.
  4. Every human who knows how and is willing to play the W.E.I.R.D. social game is equipped for a happy and “successful” life.
  5. Addressing individual “functional deficits” in relation to W.E.I.R.D. norms are the key to a healthy society.
  6. Non-W.E.I.R.D.-compliant notions of a fulfilled life are irrelevant and represent a threat to the “normal functioning” of society.
  7. Individuals with “functional deficits” must be grateful for all services and assistance that is made available to improve their level of “functioning”.
  8. Individuals with “spiky skills profiles” must be grateful for all “opportunities” to contribute to the social game.
  9. Individuals with “functional deficits”, and especially those who question the value of the social game, clearly “don’t understand the bigger picture”, can’t possibly have anything of value to contribute to society.
  10. The W.E.I.R.D. social game reflects the axioms of human nature, and researchers can safely assume the W.E.I.R.D. axioms to be true when designing research experiments, when conducting experiments, when designing and running computer simulations of collective human social behaviour, and when interpreting research results.

There are many further implicit assumptions of the pathology paradigm, but most can be traced back to one or more of the above W.E.I.R.D. axioms about human societies. 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.

It is impossible to take most “autism research” seriously, because it brims with circular reasoning and cultural bias. The pseudo-science used to justify pathologisation is a reflection of the exploitative nature of “civilised” industrialised society.

What level of W.E.I.R.D.-ness have we reached?

Our societies are developing increasingly lethal autonomous weapons that have the potential to systematically take out “undesirable” segments of the population.

Observing the growth of the US national security state – what he deems the “predator empire” – the author Ian GR Shaw asks: “Do we not see the ascent of control over compassion, security over support, capital over care, and war over welfare?” Stopping that ascent should be the primary goal of contemporary AI and robotics policy.

from Machines set loose to slaughter’: the dangerous rise of military AI, The Guardian, 15 Oct 2020

At the same time the social pressure towards neuronormative conformance has reached bizarre levels.

The autism industry in particular has become a multi billion dollar global busyness opportunity. Torture and exploitation of autistic people is not only legal, it is sold as the ultimate money making machine.

There are strong parallels between the co-opting of neurodiversity for corporate profit and what has happened to other civil rights movements. This podcast offers a very good introduction to the way in which capitalism systematically co-opts social movements to protect and strengthen the status quo.

In an age of global disparity and inequity, billionaire philanthropists (dead and alive) are stepping up to the plate with powerful foundations and acts of charitable giving to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. But how much faith should we place in the hands of individuals with concentrated wealth and power? And if we take a step back to examine the broader system in which these individual philanthrocapitalists function, do we find any contradictions between wealth doled out and the process of accumulating it? Further, despite some of the good that we perceive directly stemming from philanthropic efforts, what are some of the hidden motivations behind these efforts that ultimately seek to deepen the same structures that produced the problems in the first place which philanthropy purports to solve?

The examples provided map alarmingly well onto what we are seeing in the two main arms of the autism medical industrial complex:

  1. Pathologise / indoctrinate / traumatise the children
  2. Exploit those who have been broken / traumatised / domesticated for profit

Along the way, philanthropy is used to fund the “research” that perpetuates the trauma and exploitation as outlined in this article.

The anthropocentric era of “human civilisation” only lasted around 10,000 years, and has led the living planet into the sixth mass extinction – an ecological and geological transformation that is currently on track to result in a planet without humans. People talk about a global ecological crisis, a climate crisis, an economic crisis, an institutional crisis, and a mental health crisis, and as of 2020, we can add a pandemic to the growing list. These crises are not isolated but highly interconnected.

Collective intelligence in biological ecosystems

To understand the genuine positive potential of human collective intelligence we have to look for examples that predate human “civilisations” and especially W.E.I.R.D. societies.

As I outline in this article, prior to the information age, for several hundred thousand years humans lived in much smaller groups without written language, money, and cities. The archaeological evidence available and also the evidence from “uncivilised” indigenous cultures that have survived until recently in a few remote places point towards an interesting commonality in the social norms of such societies:

The strongest social norms in pre-civilised societies were norms that prevented individuals from gaining power over others.

We can look even further into the past, to discover that collective intelligence in biological ecosystems neither relies on human brains nor on social dominance hierarchies.

Towards less-WEIRD and healthier societies

The picture is not entirely bleak. This podcast is a good introduction to the work of Michel Bauwens (➜ related book) on the role of the commons in the emerging knowledge age, and in this podcast in the “Team Human” series architect Julia Watson points to concrete examples that illustrate how we can respond to climate change by utilising millennia-old knowledge about how to live in symbiosis with nature through lo-tek radical design.

The way I see it, autistic people have their place in the emerging world, and in many cases that place will not be in large government organisations or in corporations, but in non-hierarchical organisations and networks of mutual aid formed by autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people, which can offer a level of psychological safety that can’t otherwise be achieved within W.E.I.R.D. societies.

Companies can demonstrate a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion by subscribing to independent oversight by marginalised segments of the population via the Employer Rating Service coordinated by the Autistic Collaboration Trust.

Individuals and companies can contribute to and engage with the Employer Rating Service via two anonymous surveys in conjunction with the related Bullying Alert Service:

  1. The psychological safety baseline database. ➜ Additional context, ➜ The survey. This survey does not collect data on specific employers but does collect information on the location (country) and the economic function/sector of the employer.
  2. The employer rating service. ➜ The survey. This survey collects data on specific employers. Employers are encouraged to subscribe and to use the service for regular psychological safety audits. Please note that in order to maximise the protection of employees, the Autistic Collaboration Trust will never share information about who participated in the survey nor any of the anonymous individual responses with employers nor with any other party.

I will conclude with a wonderful quote from an article written earlier this year by Pip Carroll in the lead up to the prolonged but ultimately very successful lock-down in Melbourne.

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.

Where to from here?

In this longer article on nurturing ecologies of care I explore the various shifts in values that are currently in progress. Greta Thunberg’s work is just one example.