Life without the false God of Normality

If you are culturally well adjusted to modern society, your sense of “normality” is shaped by the things you don’t notice and by the things that you take for granted. “Normality” is like the air you breathe as a mammal, or the water that you’d be swimming in if you were a fish. The hump of the bell curve is the God of Normality.

Life under the hump of the bell curve

Culturally well adjusted people live their entire life under the bell curve, without noticing the complex constellation of data points that must be aligned to qualify for “normality”. If you live under the hump of the bell curve, the God of Normality has granted you:

  1. A relatively happy childhood that you possibly look back to with fond memories
  2. The ability to easily make friends within the culture you grew up in
  3. Relationships that conform to the powered-up social templates prescribed by the God of Normality
  4. The desire to seek, and the ability to find and maintain employment in a system that worships the religion of the bell curve
  5. The desire to be managed by a good “leader”
  6. The latent capacity to become addicted to the experience of wielding social power over others

The neurodiversity movement is a human rights struggle

The complex constellation of lived experiences of neurodivergent people does not conform to the God of Normality. If you are neurodivergent, your sense of “normality” is shaped by the things you can’t help notice on a daily basis, and by the many things that you can’t take for granted. “Normality” is experienced as a continuous energy drain, as all the many things that demand conscious attention, which actively need to be pushed and held in place to fit under the bell curve – ultimately a futile endeavour. Rather sooner than later, you crash and burn, under circumstances that are considered “normal” within the religion of the bell curve.

For of hypersensitive Autistic people, even for those who seem to be able to “hold it together” on the surface, with minimal externally visible support needs, having access to a safe space to retreat, and access to a community that does not believe in or pretend to believe in the God of Normality is a foundational prerequisite for human wellbeing. There are many ways of being human that do not fit under the bell curve, and many ways of collaborative niche construction that don’t require “leaders” or routine use of coercive techniques.

Our best chance of being heard is if we are recognised as a community and as a culture. Our struggle for human rights is made difficult in a healthcare system that only looks for sickness and disease at the level of individuals, and not within the institutions of our society. We need systemic change. We are all in this together. Our “civilisation” is not providing anyone with a healthy and nurturing environment. The institutionalised (“normal”) avenues for effecting change are fundamentally broken.

All powered-up “civilisations” have characteristics of a cult. This realisation is frightening for culturally well adjusted people. But neurodivergent, culturally maladapted people are in good company. The cultural incoherences, paradoxes, cognitive dissonance, and collective traumas of powered-up “civilisations” have been understood for over at least 2,000 years:

“The way most people nowadays go about governing their bodies and ordering their hearts and minds is like what the Border-guard described: they hide from what is Heavenly in them, separate themselves from their inborn natures, destroy their true dispositions, kill their own imponderable spirits. Because it is what everybody else does, they leave the clumps of their inborn natures unsmoothed, so that their desires and hatreds, those bastard children of the inborn nature, become its overgrowth of reeds and bushes. At their first sproutings these do provide support for our bodies, but eventually they tug at and finally uproot the inborn nature itself, until it leaks and oozes and spurts, its juices flowing indiscriminately out, erupting with scabs and sores and tumors, burning with fever and pissing out grease.”

– Zhuangzi – The Complete Writings

Normality is a socially constructed illusion. Autistic people are biologically incapable of maintaining the cognitive dissonance associated with culturally prescribed powered-up “normality”. Not only do powered-up “civilisations” suffer from the learning disabling characteristics of a cult, they also routinely spawn smaller cults and gangs that seem to defy and oppose the dominant cult[ure], which actually manifest equally or even more oppressive pyramidal social power structures, offering new recruits an “escape route” out of the frying pan into the fire.

The emergence of neurodivergent cultures

Understanding the emergence of Autistic and neurodivergent cultures requires leaving behind the God of Normality, and imagining the possibility of de-powered forms of creative collaboration.

The de-powered Open Space format was first explicitly described by Harrison Owen. He started to make use of Open Space in the mid 1970s in the healthcare sector, and observes that Open Space regularly catalyses paradigm shifting collective learning outcomes that are not achievable with other formats. If we replace the toxic language of busyness, think long-term, enjoy interdependence, clamp down on meritocracy, avoid distractions, and share knowledge, we can relax. No one is in control. Mistakes happen on this planet all the time.

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, and the corresponding illusion of control to a far greater extent than most people realise.

Life denying industrialised monocultures are hell bent on replacing the beautiful diversity of life with the machine metaphor. In a recent interview on “The Brain, Determinism, and Cultural Implications” Robert Sapolsky takes aim at the illusion of “normality”, and comments on human biological diversity towards the end. A timely interview on one level, but in terms of framing, I just wish Robert Sapolsky would not use the anthropocentric metaphor of “biological machines”. Instead he could simply talk about biological organisms, to acknowledge the orders of magnitude in complexity differences that lie between biological entities and human constructed machines, and the corresponding complexity of emergent phenomena that lie far beyond human comprehensibility. This would steer away from the incorrect conclusion that lack of free will equates to complete predictability of human behaviour.

Lack of free will does not imply lack of imagination. In fact, in the absence of free will, the capacity for imagination is continuously put to use – this is cultural evolution – continuously working around attempts of control – continuously spawning diversity at the margins.

Once events obviously beyond human control force us to pay attention to the much richer metaphors of living systems, humans will rediscover that co-creating beautiful works of art is the ultimate antidote against the emergence of social power dynamics and the competitive logic of hate and violence. On this note, here is a good interview with Pat Kane, a writer, musician, activist, and futurist.

The machine metaphor is no match for the big cycle of life, for the love of life that resides in all living beings. The machine metaphor will fade away as the world de-powers, and as the era of fossil fuels comes to an end.

We are documenting Autistic culture in our articles, and we are centring Autistic lived experiences via participatory Autistic research, by actively supporting Autistic research projects, by coordinating Autistic peer support, by catalysing the co-creation of NeurodiVentures, and by curating useful tools developed by neurodivergent people for neurodivergent people.

Coherent theories of human ways of being

Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people have been comparing notes on the diversity of human ways of being via the internet for over twenty years. Lessons from the social model of disability and the disability rights movement apply. Neurodivergent people have come to realise that we live in hypernormative societies.


Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and embodied minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species. Members of the neurodiversity movement adopt a position of diversity that encompasses a kaleidoscope of identities that intersects with the LGBTQIA+ kaleidoscope by recognising neurodivergent traits as natural variations of cognition, motivations, and patterns of behaviour within the human species.

Pathologising growing numbers of human ways of being is a social power game that removes agency from neurodivergent people. Social progress is overdue.

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 concept of neurodiversity can be traced to the discussions Autistic people were having in online forums in the 1990’s. It was elaborated into an inclusive paradigm in the early 2000’s by Kassiane Asasumasu, a multiply neurodivergent neurodiversity activist, who coined the terms neurodivergence and neurodivergent, to push back against the dehumanising aspects of hypernormative societies. Design justice rethinks design processes, centers people who are normally marginalized by design, and uses collaborative, creative practices to address the deepest challenges our communities face.

Principle 1 : We use design to sustain, heal, and empower our communities, as well as to seek liberation from exploitative and oppressive systems.

Principle 6 : We believe that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience, and that we all have unique and brilliant contributions to bring to a design process.

Principle 9 : We work towards non-exploitative solutions that reconnect us to the earth and to each other.

Design Justice Network, 2018

Discrimination against Autistic people in particular 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 Autistic ways of being has led to what some critical researchers refer to as the Autism Industrial Complex.

The notion of disability in our society is underscored by a bizarre conception of “independence”. Autists depend on assistance from others in ways that differ from the cultural norm – and that is pathologised. However, the many ways in which non-autistic people depend on others is considered “normal”.

The cultural bias and stigmatising language in the DSM has long been identified as problematic far beyond the Autistic community. The inherently exploitative nature of our “civilised” cultures is top of mind for many neurodivergent people. Sadly, and from an Autistic perspective alarming, many culturally well adjusted people seem to deal with the trauma via denial, resulting in profound levels of cognitive dissonance.

Re-humanising theories of ways of being

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

It is time to remind the so-called “civilised” world about non-pathologising and coherent theories of human ways of being that are integrated into ecologies of care and the evolutionary flows of life in-formation that have been jointly developed within communities of Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people:


Monotropism offers an alternative to both medical and social models of disability, as it assumes that autistic differences have an embodied material basis that relates to resource allocation, and that those differences are not usually a medical matter. Like the social model, it sees the environment as often disabling. It locates both strengths and issues within an interest model of mind (and society) that amplifies the narrative about intense interests which threads through every set of diagnostic criteria that has ever been proposed.  It proposes that flow, force, direction and distribution of energy are essential features and that this directed force can be thought of as emotional.

Dr Dinah Murray, 2020

Related current research and introduction.


We’ve found monotropic theory to be a very helpful paradigm for a major swath of autistic experience, and the theory is supported by considering its own wellspring. Synthesising monotropic theory with deep ecology and holistic anatomy, we feel we have found a multi-dimensional, spacious, edgeless terrain under the monotropism map. We are calling it holotropism. This perspective may elucidate the high co-occurrences of synaesthesia, mirror-touch, dyspraxia, and hypermobility among us autistic people.

To be holotropic is to have wide open sensory gates. To participate in/as the immense world without becoming overwhelmed, we holotropes have two central methods: in, by hyperfocusing our attention on one sensory or cognitive path, and as, through synthesising our experience into coherence. A sense of wholeness occurs through both of these processes — less consciously in hyperfocus, more consciously in coherence.

Hendl Mirra, 2023

Related work and thoughts on the integration of holotropic minds into synthropic cultural organisms.

Macro Level Cultural Evolution

All human attempts of control at large scale are futile. We can build on this insight, co-creating small scale environments for nurturing collective human intelligence. We know how to let go of the illusion of control

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

Collaborative niche construction, 2023

Cultural Immune Systems

The following quote nicely sums up the our globalised civilisation:

We do not deal properly with the issue of climate change. We do not deal properly with the issues of peace, war, immigration, food resources, water resources, public health, and all these important issues. We became incompetent because society as a whole began to focus on how to deceive and trick people.

– Jaron Lanier, 2019

Autistic people are best understood as the agents of a well functioning cultural immune system within human society:

The benefits of Autistic traits such as Autistic levels of hypersensitivity, hyperfocus, perseverance, lack of interest in social status, and inability to maintain hidden agendas mostly do not materialise at an individual level but at the level of the local social environment that an Autistic person is embedded in.

Within “civilisation” Autistic people tend to be highly concerned about social justice and tend to be the ones who point out toxic in-group competitive behaviours.

Autistic people – the cultural immune system of human societies, 2020

Micro Level Cultural Evolution

Collaborative niche construction at human scale:

We all thrive when being given the opportunity to live and work with our most trusted peers. In good company everyone is acutely aware of all the collective intelligence and capability that is available in the form of trusted colleagues, friends, and family.

Evolutionary design allows organisations and people to participate in the evolution of a living system and to integrate their knowledge into a living system that includes humans, non-humans, and human designed systems. In evolutionary design the moniker of design is replaced by the concept of evolution. Cultural evolution entails not only the evolution of collaborative relationships and supporting tools within a group, but also the evolution of collaborative relationships between groups with many cultural commonalities and also between groups with few cultural commonalities.

Evolutionary Design, 2021


  1. The current collective human predicament
  2. Muddling through, from a synthropic perspective
  3. The entanglement between broken trust, trauma, and healing
  4. Co-creating centres of Autistic culture

None of this is new

  1. Daoist philosophy
  2. The life and ideas of David Bohm
  3. Towards replacing the DSM with a life affirming paradigm 

Weaving it all together

Hendl Mirra writes:

“The holotropic mind, when acting syntropically, tends to expect one thing to follow from another like fractals, or a jacob’s ladder toy: each thing is experienced like a step, whether forwards or backwards from, or sideways to, the last thing. Close, and shifting. This expectation rests on a somatic understanding that consciousness is cellular. When we are fully at ease, we can feel the synapses of our thoughts. When we experience cognitive-sensory dissonance it can feel like the whole infinite pattern, that we are a part of, gets erased.”

This gets to the core of lived Autistic experience. 

We live in an era of prescribed cognitive dissonance. This explains the link between holotropic ways of being and being traumatised, especially by what we observe and experience in the human social world. Our sensory experience of consciousness at all levels of scale and awareness of the interconnectedness of all life significantly reduce our capacity for maintaining cognitive dissonance.

Cultures in which it is a taboo to draw attention to culturally prescribed cognitive dissonance, or to withdraw from situations that contribute to cognitive dissonance, are life denying cultures. Literally sick cultures. In healthy cultures our capacity to detect cognitive dissonance catalyses collaborative niche construction, and contributes to the co-creation of ecologies of care.

When we attempt to express all the interconnections that we feel, see, and experience, we quickly notice that linear language is a poor medium. Metaphors are one way of expanding the sphere of discourse, but like all technology, in a powered-up society, i.e. a society that is learning disabled by institutionalised social and physical power gradients, metaphors can be weaponised. 

Collaborative niche construction is the evolutionary process of reducing cognitive dissonance, a process of omni-directional sensing and learning, which can only emerge in an adequately de-powered, non-overwhelming, and life affirming, i.e. holotropic and syntropic environment.

Cultural norms can either actively encourage collaborative niche construction – these would be syntropic cultural norms, or they can actively discourage collaborative niche construction by weaponising monotropism – the parasitic anthropocentric cultural norms that underpin the life denying monocultures known as “civilisations”. 

Institutionalised social power gradients between people are best understood as a form of parasitism. They emerge and thrive in environments where the cultural immune system is compromised. Norms can either actively power-up relationships or they can actively de-power relationships. A healthy culture is omni-directionally sensitive, not anthropocentric, it is adaptive, not hyper-normative, it is aware of human scale and limits, not scale blind.

To make ‘The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale’ widely available to members of the Autistic community, you can download a copy of the book free of charge. All our allies who visibly and openly support banning all forms of conversion therapies are also welcome to download a copy of the book free of charge.

Autistic mutual aid – a factor of cultural evolution

The diagnostic criteria for autism cover a broad and diverse umbrella of people, and they obscure the Autistic lived experience of toxic cultural norms that are ultimately detrimental for all people. The inappropriate pathologisation that results from the hypernormative medical lens gets in the way of providing Autistic people with optimal support throughout the lifespan.

In my experience Autistic people of all stripes seem to share two broad characteristics:

  1. Divergent sensory profiles – unique profiles of hyper- and hypo-sensitivity across various senses, and corresponding differences in cognitive processing.
  2. A reduced capacity for cognitive dissonance, resulting in an inability to successfully maintain hidden agendas in the social domain over any significant periods. In a competitive environment some may try, but this is not an Autistic strength. When an Autistic person disagrees with you or is angry with you, you will either be told so immediately or soon find out one way or another.

These neurological characteristics describe the set of Autistic people, many of whom identify with the communal definition of Autistic ways of being and with being socially disabled by our hypernormative society. It does not make any sense to pathologise or medicalise these highly variable characteristics. Attempting to trace these characteristics to specific genes is also futile.

There are dedicated medical labels for speech and language disabilities that make speech difficult and unreliable (apraxia), which are studied by neurologists who specialise such disabilities, and these can be used independently or alongside the label Autistic. This leads to the set of people with speech and language disabilities.

Non-speaking Autistic people are a subset within the set of people with speech and language disabilities. Non-speakers can be understood as having further difficulties with motor control, to the extent that speech becomes impossible – attempting to teach non-speakers to speak is at best a waste of time, and experienced as highly frustrating and nonsensical by non-speakers.

Autistic communities include speaking and non-speaking Autists with varying communication preferences. For some the ability to speak varies from day to day. Mutual aid and respect for individual communication preferences are essential aspects of Autistic culture and multi-generational Autistic whānau.

Finally there are Autistic people who are considered intellectually disabled, based on W.E.I.R.D. definitions of intelligence and bizarre expectations of independence. This set of people is simply the intersection of Autistic people and intellectually disabled people.

We do not deal properly with the issue of climate change. We do not deal properly with the issues of peace, war, immigration, food resources, water resources, public health, and all these important issues. We became incompetent because society as a whole began to focus on how to deceive and trick people.Jaron Lanier, VR technology pioneer, 2019

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

The diagnostic process often assumes that speech disabled and non-speaking Autistic people are also intellectually disabled, and in many cases this assumption is invalid, in exactly the same way that Deaf people are not necessarily intellectually disabled, resulting in a failure to provide appropriate communication support.

In summary, the majority of Autistic people identify as disabled, and all Autistic people have divergent sensory profiles and a reduced capacity for cognitive dissonance. For the most part, the social model of disability offers an appropriate frame for understanding the way in which Autistic people are disabled by society. Like wheelchair users need access to ramps, Autistic people need access to means of communication and non-discriminatory social environments.

Since the vast majority of Autistic people experience their neurological characteristics as part of their core identity, and would never wish to be cured of their Autistic way of being, the pathologisation of Autistic people is entirely inappropriate. Instead, the social model of disability and the strong sense of solidarity, shared lived experiences, and shared cultural practices in terms of appreciation of individually unique sensory profiles and diversity of communication preferences, point to human rights based and design justice based approaches as the most promising avenues for improving the lives of all Autistic people.

Depathologisation of Autistic people as demanded by Autistic rights activists does not negate being socially disabled, and need not prevent anyone from gaining access to appropriate means of communication and other forms of social support. On the contrary, such support would be much more straightforward to provide via established disability and need specific diagnostic labels that exist independently of Autistic ways of being.

Finally, given the extent to which most Autistic people are systematically disabled by social norms and expectations, as well as by the sensory overload in contemporary social environments, Autistic people have an elevated risk of being traumatised, often from a very young age, within their families, within educational settings, within healthcare settings, and later within workplace settings.

The extent to which most Autistic people are traumatised is reflected in the overlap in the diagnostic criteria for autism, ADHD, BPD, and autism, PTSD, and trauma related mental illnesses within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM).

Untold harm is being caused by not identifying sensitive Autistic children before they are heavily traumatised by their social environments, and later, by not identifying trauma as the root cause of mental distress and mental illness that requires therapy and appropriate treatment. The most alarming aspect in the way our society mistreats Autistic people is the Autism Industrial Complex, which actively traumatises Autistic children by subjecting them to conversion / normalisation “therapies”.

Because in our society it is so difficult to find non-traumatised Autistic people, it is difficult to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the role that Autistic people have always and will always play in human societies, which can only be properly understood by applying an evolutionary lens to the development of human societies and human cultures over the last 300,000 years.

The current human predicament is a result of the cultural disease of super-human scale powered-up civilisation building endeavours, the origins of which can be traced back to the beginnings of “modern” human history and the social power dynamics resulting from the invention of interest bearing debt around 5,000 years ago.

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

The biosphere of this planet is our only home. A shift from a brittle W.E.I.R.D. monoculture to ecosystems of resilient human scale ecologies of care eliminates the spurious technological complexity needed to support a monoculture, and it retains and even grows adaptive cultural complexity, i.e. the diversity and the mutual aid that emerges when we reduce cognitive dissonance by (re)aligning the human ecological footprint with bioregional ecosystem functions.

We know from indigenous cultures that humans have the capacity to think up seven generations ahead when making decisions. Alarmingly, in the cult of busyness of industrialised societies, we have lost this collective capacity.

Spurious technological complexity wastes energy – it is the result of humans working against biological evolution, whereas adaptive cultural complexity saves energy – it is the result of humans engaging in collaborative niche construction as a part of biological ecosystems.

The embedded links and videos in this article provide more in-depth explanations and refer to relevant transdisciplinary research.

Nurturing healthy Autistic relationships

Illustration from Aarambh India

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

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

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

Building blocks of cultural organisms

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

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

Physical presence and activity

Recharging our creative and social batteries by exhausting our physical batteries

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


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

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

Relational presence and activity

Recharging our creative and physical batteries by exhausting our social batteries

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


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

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

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

Internal presence and creativity

Recharging our social and physical batteries by exhausting our creative batteries

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Open Space

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

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

Autistic relationships

Co-pilots and braking assistants

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

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

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

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

Developing relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co-piloting vs co-dependency

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

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

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

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

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

Repairing relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An analogy

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

The following observations apply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selfishness vs altruism

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

– David Sloan Wilson and Edward O Wilson (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bootstrapping trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interfacing with the neuronormative world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co-creating ecologies of caring and sharing

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

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


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

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

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

Picture by Morgan Constance

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


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

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

The purpose of neuronormative social interaction in industrialised societies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human scale

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeless patterns

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

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

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

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

Human limitations

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

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

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

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

Picture by Ülkü Mazlum

Rediscovering the language of life

As I have been pointing out for the last few years, the commodification of neurodiversity and the exploitation of autistic people is in full swing.

Corporate “Neurodiversity @ Work” and “Autism @ Work” initiatives are largely scams to procure domesticated corporate workers that can’t afford to ask uncomfortable questions about the purpose of the organisation.

Most autistic people remain undercover, especially the many autists that work in the healthcare sector and in the caring professions – to avoid being bullied and harassed. Even most of those who work in technology companies prefer not to disclose their cognitive identity – to avoid being confined to roles that fit the stereotypical picture of the autistic male engineer.

As long as society confuses homo economicus with homo sapiens we are more than a bit off course. The idea that all humans must commodify their bodies and their labour is a deeply concerning symptom of the social disease that afflicts our societies.

The formation of worker owned cooperatives offers an alternative life path for autistic people that is not yet much talked about beyond the autistic community, because it counteracts commodification and it limits the systematic exploitation of autistic people.

The open source NeurodiVenture operating model for employee owned companies primarily consists of a set of first principles that can be adapted to the unique needs of a specific team of neurodivergent people. There is no need to be prescriptive about how to go about forming and operating a NeurodiVenture, because there is no right way or best way.

Here are a few thoughts on why it makes sense for autistic people and otherwise neurodivergent people to consider the formation of a NeurodiVenture instead of attempting to participate in the social world of “employment”. The latter is simply the modern term for wage slavery, especially for neurodivergent people who don’t conform to the cognitive standards deemed “normal” and “acceptable” in our society.

The NeurodiVenture model is designed not only to offer an alternative to traditional employment but also to offer an alternative to modern forms of entrepreneurship, most of which are steeped in neoliberal economic doctrine and expect the entrepreneur to act as a profit maximising employer. The modern entrepreneur simply is a second level slave that is entirely dependent on the goodwill of financial investors.

Autistic people with complementary talents and skills are ideally positioned to jointly design, develop, and offer highly unique products and services, without any need for external capital, and without any need for an employer or manager.

Whilst a NeurodiVenture might commodify and sell specific products and services, communal ownership and egalitarian principles prevent the individual autistic or otherwise neurodivergent person from being commoditised.

The inside of a NeurodiVenture can offer an island of sanity for neurodivergent people. The burden of interfacing with the outside social world can be shared amongst those who are capable of doing so for limited amounts of time, not unlike the way in which emperor penguins keep warm in winter by rotating positions and limiting their individual exposure to the elements.

Whilst setting up and successfully operating a NeurodiVenture is a challenging undertaking that can take many years until it bears fruit, from an autistic perspective, the advantages far outweigh the immense effort that may need to be invested:

  1. A NeurodiVenture offers the freedom to create products and services that do not necessitate continuous interaction with the neuronormative human social world.
  2. By definition, the main purpose of existence of a NeurodiVenture is the creation of a psychologically safe and egalitarian communal space for neurodivergent people. Whilst perseverance is needed to develop the practical operating experience to minimise disappointments, unlike traditional employees, members of a NeurodiVenture can bring their values and unique talents and interests to work.
  3. My recommendation is to design the purpose of a NeurodiVenture entirely around the unique needs, talents, and expertise of its members rather than around the fixed idea of one entrepreneur or founder.
  4. Communal company ownership, egalitarian revenue sharing, and a long-term time horizon (I recommend at least 100 years, with a preference for longer time horizons) creates a collaborative company culture that can not be achieved in any other way.
  5. The creative potential of a well-oiled team of neurodivergent people is not to be underestimated. Collectively the team has a much better chance of combining their talents and expertise into services that are valued by the outside world than an individual entrepreneur on their own.

More and more autists are discovering that employee owned companies operated by neurodivergent people offer one of the best avenues for surviving and thriving whilst defying the zero sum bullshit logic of capital and markets.

The world could have benefited more from anthropologist David Graeber’s line of inquiry into industrialised bureaucracy. Sadly David Graeber died a few weeks ago, but his analysis of bullshit jobs, and his insights into the healthcare and construction sectors remain highly relevant, mirroring many of the conclusions that autistic people draw about the state of contemporary society.

On the one hand, fully appreciating the neurodiversity of our species requires a reimagination of human potential beyond what is conceivable for “culturally well-adjusted” neuronormative minds in our current societies, and on the other hand, it entails a deep understanding of the dangers of the human herd instinct.

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.

A language that is conducive to life

“Life creates conditions conducive to life.”Janine Benyus

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 construction and 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.

Putting the language of life to good use

Our little friend, the Corona virus is showing us the way in terms of cultural change. The planetary ecosystem has further agents and tools at its disposal that will assist in progressing human cultural evolution to the point where life and biodiversity again thrives on this planet. Human culture evolves and adapts much faster than human biology, and this is largely due to the level of neurodiversity within our species.

It is somewhat ironic that in this context autistic people are the most sensitive, adaptive, and creative – developing idiosyncratic coping mechanisms and idiosyncratic ways of living that allow us to survive – and thrive, when in a supportive social environment, without asking cultural authorities for permission.

It is even more ironic that in our society the so-called “normal” people are largely incapable of noticing and responding in adaptive ways to the mismatch between human biological needs and the cultures we have co-created.

Neuronormative people primarily learn socially, by imitating others in their social environment. They seek comfort in human herd behaviour and are lost without culturally less “well-adjusted” others who act as navigators and way-finders. In times of rapid environmental change social learning becomes a bottleneck in human cultural evolution, specifically in W.E.I.R.D. cultures that have come to marginalise and pathologise 1 out of 6 people based on neurological disposition and sensory profile.

Simply reflecting on the numbers for a minute should tell us that it is absurd to focus on assisting people to adapt to the W.E.I.R.D. cultural paradigm of “normality”. Instead we urgently need to better understand the severity of the social diseases that afflict our cultures.

Autistic people have no desire to turn the table and to pathologise neuronormative people, but we have every right to describe and diagnose the social diseases we encounter in our local contexts from the vantage point of our unusual cognitive profiles and life paths.

We also have the right to opt out of toxic normalisation therapies and perverse diversity and inclusion initiatives that are designed to perpetuate the toxic social power gradients that are causing widespread physical, mental, and moral injury – far beyond the autistic community.

Autistic people – The cultural immune system of human societies

If neurodiversity is the natural variation of cognition, motivations, and patterns of behaviour within the human species, then what role do Autistic traits in particular play within human cultures and what cultural evolutionary pressures have allowed Autistic traits to persist over hundreds of thousands of years?

The benefits of Autistic traits such as Autistic levels of hypersensitivity, hyperfocus, perseverance, lack of interest in social status, and inability to maintain hidden agendas mostly do not materialise at an individual level but at the level of the local social environment that an Autistic person is embedded in.

  1. Hypersensitivity allows Autistic people to perceive details and to recognise patterns that escape non-autistic people, but at the cost of behaviour that often clashes with established cultural norms.
  2. Hyperfocus and perseverance allow Autistic people to develop levels of understanding and domain specific skills that surpass the abilities of non-autistic people, but at the cost of disregarding other skills that are regarded as basic life skills by the local culture.
  3. Lack of interest in social status and lack of inclination and ability to self promote greatly reduces social distractions and further amplifies the ability to hyperfocus and persevere, but at the cost of being perceived as non-cooperative, problematic and disrespectful.
  4. The inability to maintain hidden agendas enables Autistic people to develop and maintain trusted relationships and very effective long term collaborations, but this ability is crippled in psychologically unsafe environments, and it makes Autistic people dangerous from the perspective of anyone who is seeking to maintain and enhance their social status, resulting in the systematic side-lining of Autistic people in competitive social environments.

Within the bigger picture of cultural evolution Autistic traits have obvious mid and long-term benefits to society, but these benefits are associated with short-term costs for social status seeking individuals within the local social environments of Autistic people.

The neurochemistry of Autistic ways of being

Regardless of whether specific Autistic traits have a genetic basis or are the result of early learning experiences made by Autistic children in their local social environment (we don’t play “the right way”, we are absorbed in “our own world”, we ignore social status, we show little or no interest in participating in competitive games, etc.), the hypersensitivity and pattern recognition abilities of Autistic people shape the specific experiences and situations that trigger neurochemical rewards in ways that differ significantly from cultural norms.

Many Autistic people intuitively avoid copying the behaviours of non-autistic people. Life teaches Autistic people that culturally expected behaviour often leads to sensory overload, and furthermore, that cultural practices often contain spurious complexity that have nothing to do with the stated goal of the various practices, such that a little independent exploration and experimentation usually reveals a simpler, faster, or less energy intensive way of achieving comparable results.

In contrast, non-autistic people receive significant neurochemical rewards from conforming to cultural expectations, such that they are often incapable of recognising spurious cultural complexity when they encounter it in established “best practices”.

Pre-civilised societies

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 will 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 pre-civilised societies adversarial encounters with other groups would have been the only situations where the non-autistic human capability to deceive others would have been advantageous for the group. But such situations and costly conflict could easily be minimised by migrating and carving out a new niche in a different ecosystem.

The unique human ability to adapt to new contexts, powered by neurodivergent creativity and the development of new tools, 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.

“Civilised” societies

“Civilised” societies are the result of increased human population densities and increased levels of inter-group conflicts. As the number of small scale human groups increased and as local resources became scarce, the ability and inclination to “out-compete” other groups became valuable, but this capability came at a cost – an appreciation of the ability to deceive other groups.

The people who are successful in maintaining hidden agendas to out-compete other groups are the same people who are capable of maintaining hidden agendas within their own social group.

Whilst cultural norms can successfully minimise the immediate or short-term collective cost that comes with granting social powers to competitive and deceptive individuals in the context of inter-group conflict, over the longer term hierarchical social structures dampen feedback loops, and thereby induce a collective learning disability – replacing cultural adaptability with cultural inertia.

Social power gradients became a permanent feature once the frequency of external conflicts increased to the point that such conflicts were considered a “normal” part of the human experience.

It is easy to see that Autistic people are continuously at risk of being marginalised within “civilised” societies in which “collaboration” mainly refers to “negotiating social status & power gradients, and competing against each other using culturally defined rules”.

The creative capacity of Autistic people continues to be relevant in “civilisation”, but the resulting capabilities and tools tend to be exploited for the purpose of maintaining and strengthening social power gradients.

Cultural immune systems

The competitive social environments that characterise “civilised” cultures systematically disable Autistic people. However, whilst autistic people are usually not interested in social status and are therefore considered “socially naive”, they are very astute observers, and learn to decode competitive social motivations – not intuitively, but intellectually, via careful analysis of social interactions and behavioural patterns observed over longer periods of time.

Often Autistic children are traumatised by their experiences with culturally “well adjusted” parents, peers, and the education system.

Depending on the extent to which Autistic children are prevented from developing their unique interests and are forced to comply with social expectations, their trauma may lead them into extreme levels of social isolation or prompt them to seek out a low visibility role within society that minimises their need to participate in the “civilised” social game.

Those who have grown up in relatively safe environments with at least one Autistic parent, and have been encouraged to let their unique Autistic cognitive lens shape their interests and activities, initially retain the courage to explore the world on their own terms, but then often run into major challenges in the social environments at work.

Within “civilisation” Autistic people tend to be highly concerned about social justice and tend to be the ones who point out toxic in-group competitive behaviours.

Autistic people are best understood as the agents of a well functioning cultural immune system within human society.

This would have been obvious in pre-civilised societies, but it has become non-obvious in “civilised” societies. To retain their sanity, Autistic people consistently work against in-group competition, and they often suffer the consequences for doing so. Autistic people within human societies counteract what Steve Silberman has fittingly described as the “truth dysfunction” in non-autistic people.

Societies with disabled cultural immune systems

Michael Moore’s new documentary Planet of the Humans makes the claim that humans are losing the battle to stop climate change because so-called “leaders” have taken us down the wrong road. “Civilisation” seems to have reached a dead end:

  1. Without a radical reduction in our level of energy and resource consumption a transition to renewable energy sources will not lead to a sustainable human presence on this planet.
  2. Projects that shift energy production to large-scale wind and solar farms are easily co-opted by corporate interests. The drive for profit extraction creates strong incentives for corner-cutting and often overrides environmental concerns.
  3. The development of local micro-grids and new ways of living that involve much less consumption are paramount for scaling down the human ecological footprint to sustainable levels.

A viable future of transportation won’t include heavy 1.5 to 2 tone electric cars and large numbers of electric air planes, and will likely include much less travel, and many more electric bikes, velomobiles, and trains. Capitalism systematically favours capital intensive – and hence energy intensive – investments. The world is awash in ads for Tesla and lacks awareness of alternative technologies like the following.

This extensive interview with Daniel Schmachtenberger offers an excellent introduction to the root causes of social dysfunction within our “civilisation”. It is interesting that even without considering the cultural implications of neurodiversity Daniel Schmachtenberger arrives at the following conclusions:

  1. There have always been non-competitive societies and subcultures, but such subcultures are marginalised within civilisations.
  2. The disorders identified by Western psychology are a refection of cultural bias rather than a reflection of human potential.
  3. The level of competitiveness and collective delusion within our civilisation has led to existential risks.
  4. The scope of trusted relationships is constrained by human cognitive limits (according to Robin Dunbar’s research, a human can maintain a maximum of 150 relationships at any point in time) and the ability to scale trusted collaboration beyond these human scale limits depends on using and developing communication technologies that assist us in maintaining trusted relationships between groups.
  5. The survival of the human species now depends on evolving new collaborative social operating systems that are based on mutual support rather than on social power gradients and a myth of meritocracy.

Note that it takes Daniel Schmachtenberger 3.5 hours to explain the rationale for developing a new collaborative social operating system. He is explaining what is self-evident to most Autistic people who have spent three or four decades on this planet.

Eric Weinstein, the interviewer, offers good insights into the level of cultural indoctrination that underpins our “civilisation” – what I refer to as the collective learning disability of our society. It is fascinating how cultural bias has prevented an otherwise intelligent person from ever thinking about the full implications of the glaringly obvious truth dysfunction induced by competitive human behaviour.

Both Daniel and Eric seem to be unfamiliar with the concept of neurodiversity, and the one casual reference to Autistic traits via a mention of “spectrumy people” indicates a very limited of understanding of the cultural role of Autistic people.

The web of life

Agency at super-human scale (groups larger than 150 members) is an emergent phenomenon that can not be attributed to any specific individual. If we want to avoid repeating the mistakes of human “civilisations”, the emergent rules for coordinating at super-human scale will have to allow for and encourage a rich diversity of human scale organisations.

Human 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 is the genus that includes all cultural species.

NeurodiVentures are a concrete example of an emerging cultural species that provides safe and nurturing environments for divergent thinking, creativity, exploration, and collaborative niche construction.

NeurodiVentures are built on timeless and minimalistic principles for coordinating trusted collaboration that predate the emergence of civilisation. All members share a commitment to:

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

This short video is a great example of collaboration amongst Autistic people, and it blows many popular misconceptions about Autistic people that are still peddled by the autism industry out of the water:

Digital communication and collaboration technologies enable NeurodiVentures to act as a catalyst for trusted collaboration between groups. This is particularly relevant in a world of growing existential risks, where the energy and resource demands of competitive “civilised” social operating models, precisely for the reasons outlined by Daniel Schmachtenberger and documented in detail by historian Joseph Tainter, are exceeding the productive capacity of the biosphere.

The exciting aspect about the human capacity for culture is that we have created a global digital network for sharing knowledge and misinformation. It apparently takes a virus like SARS-CoV-2 to put this network to good use, and to shift cultural norms away from sharing misinformation and towards sharing knowledge.

Competitive Autists?

I have yet to meet an Autistic person who is capable of maintaining a hidden agenda. This means that Autistic people are ill equipped for the competitive social game of “civilisation”.

However, in all domains that require specialised skills and deep knowledge, some of the best professionals (in terms of their level of experience and problem solving abilities) have strong Autistic traits. It is very likely that these people will be misunderstood by their colleagues on a regular basis, and may be perceived as “competitive”, simply because they may not stick to all the social rules of politeness at all times.

A relevant extract from an earlier article on bullying:

In particular the questions that Autistic professionals ask may be very direct and their answers short and to the point, and they may praise outcomes achieved instead of the contributions of individuals, because they recognise that all good work takes a team and because they consider social status to be irrelevant. This easily gets Autistic people into trouble with “superiors” as well as with “subordinates” who they are expected to manage. These Autistic professionals are not bullies!

The key differences between an Autistic professional and a professional bully:

  1. The Autistic professional does not have a hidden agenda (may get angry in the moment but will never hold a grudge or follow a plot to “get ahead”)
  2. The Autistic professional is highly competent in her / his core areas of expertise (which can easily be interpreted as arrogance)
  3. The Autistic professional does not exaggerate (or brush inconvenient things under the carpet) and will openly talk about uncertainties, risks, and mistakes made (a good indicator to clear up any perception of arrogance)
  4. The Autistic professional is not interested in exerting power over other people (but will tend to use direct language which can be interpreted as authoritarian)
  5. The Autistic professional cares a lot about and goes to great lengths to achieve optimal work results (this again may involve asking for appropriate actions from others in direct language)

The future role of Autistic people

Hierarchical social structures stand in the way of collaboration across cultural and organisational boundaries at all levels of scale. In the face of existential risks, the cultural inertia of “civilisation” will either lead to the extinction of the human species, or humans will rediscover an interest in genuine collaboration (without hidden agendas) at human scale.

In the latter scenario Autists are uniquely equipped to act as catalysts and translators between different cultures and groups, because (a) they have to spend conscious effort on understanding each individual, and (b) they are trustworthy due to their inability to maintain hidden agendas.

My favourite example to illustrate the potential for Autistic people to act as catalysts for collaboration is Paul Erdős. In a psychologically safe environment, an Autist is enabled and not disabled:

  • Erdős utmostly believed mathematics to be a social activity, living an itinerant lifestyle with the sole purpose of writing mathematical papers with other mathematicians.
  • He was known both for his social practice of mathematics (he engaged more than 500 collaborators) and for his eccentric lifestyle.
  • He spent most of his life as a vagabond, travelling between scientific conferences, universities and the homes of colleagues all over the world.
  • He would typically show up at a colleague’s doorstep and announce “my brain is open”, staying long enough to collaborate on a few papers before moving on a few days later. In many cases, he would ask the current collaborator about whom to visit next.

Cultural immune system research

  1. Jorn Bettin, Autistic Collaboration Trust
    Intersectional cultural and psychological safety across all aspects of life
  2. Jorn Bettin, Pete Rive, Keith Duddy, Andrew Shewring, Xaver Wiesmann, S23M
    Filtering, collaboration, thinking, and learning tools for the next 200 years
  3. David Sloan Wilson, Prosocial World & Binghamton University
    Cultural Immune Systems as Parts of Cultural Superorganisms

Further reading

  1. Repairing the human cultural immune system
  2. Collaborative niche construction
  3. The evolution of cultural organisms
  4. The relational nervous system of open knowledge flows between human societies
  5. Nurturing healthy Autistic relationships
  6. Autistic mutual aid – a factor of cultural evolution
  7. Autistic people are not for sale
  8. Co-creating comprehensible ecologies of care beyond the human
  9. Co-creating ecologies of caring and sharing
  10. Hypernormative Culture Awareness Month
  11. Life is, at bottom, diversity
  12. Cultural evolution towards human scale
  13. The timeless and universal architecture of safety
  14. Autistic survival tools – Daoist philosophy
  15. The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale

Celebration of interdependence

The notion of disability in our society is underscored by a bizarre conception of “independence”.

Autists depend on assistance from others in ways that differ from the cultural norm – and that is pathologised. However, the many ways in which non-autistic people depend on others is considered “normal”, or rather it is brushed under the carpet.

Humans have evolved to live in highly collaborative groups, with strong interdependencies between individuals and in many cases between groups.

In our pre-civilised past all human groups were small, and interdependence and the need for mutual assistance was obvious to all members of a group.

The tools of civilisation, including money, have undermined our appreciation of interdependence, and within the Western world have culminated in a toxic cult of competitive individualism, which amongst the non-autistic population ironically leads to extreme levels of groupthink.

The myth of meritocracy

Wherever autistic people go, they expose social power games.

Pathologisation is the push back from a sick society. Autistic people should be recognised as the agents of a well functioning cultural immune system within human societies.

The concept of social status improvement for blacks. A miniature black man standing in a pile of coins.

Our society has been constructed such that certain forms of bullying are deemed acceptable / legal / necessary and such that other forms of bullying are deemed as unacceptable and illegal.

Upon closer examination the boundary is an arbitrary one.

Specifically, all societies that construct money as interest bearing debt and endow money with a quasi-ubiquitous fungibility to enable economic activity rely on the following four economic drivers or ways of “making money”:

1. Creation and lending of money for a return on investment

We use interest-bearing debt issued out of thin air by banks to prime the economic pump, and to provide professional bankers with a reliable source of significant income.

2. Speculation with land and real estate, and allowing people to inherit money

This enables people to “make” more money through lending for a return on investment, similar to banks, only that the means of individuals are more limited.

3. Hierarchical structures of organisations in various sectors that offer extreme monetary rewards at the top

This encourages people to systematically take credit for the work of others to get to the top.

4. Creation of pyramid schemes that allow people to “extract value” from the work of others.

This endorses and encourages harmful behaviours which benefit the individual over the group.

The common theme across these economic drivers is the willingness to exploit other people for personal gain, including the audacity to take personal credit for the results of others or for the results achieved as part of a team.

Such exploitative interdependencies between people are considered “normal”, and we consider anyone who is able to survive comfortably by extracting money from other people “independent”.

The four ways of making money are justified by a myth of meritocracy and circular reasoning – that people with a lot of money have “earned” the money and are entitled to a “fair” return on investment to cover their “risk” when lending some of it to others.

For someone without significant amounts of money, land or real estate to begin with, the economic options are limited:

1. Acting as an investor without significant money to start off with.

This path is a pure game of luck.

The very few who happen to be lucky tend to develop a sense of entitlement that allows them to feel at home amongst bankers and the money making class, and adopt corresponding behaviours and beliefs of superiority – supporting a system that only benefits a small minority.

2. Starting a charity organisation that taps into people’s social conscience to donate some of their money to those who are disadvantaged by the system.

On the one hand many charities provide valuable assistance to vulnerable people. On the other hand charities conveniently allow the people engaged in “making money” to feel better about themselves and the “externalities” that they create, further enhancing their sense of entitlement and commitment to the status quo.

The need for charity organisations is a symptom of a society that systematically produces economic “externalities”.

3. Collaborating with others to create knowledge, products, and services that are highly valued by others.

Without significant amounts of money, acquired via one the four means above, it is not possible to employ a team of people for more than a few months.

Alternatively, taking on external capital immediately hands over key levers to the money making class. And lastly, attempting self-employment without a supporting team, whatever you create will be heavily discounted by treating you like an employee or contractor – you only get paid the equivalent of a wage, and the money making class extracts the value.

Thus by virtue of the design of the economic system, the option of entrepreneurship is largely a dead end.

People with a compromised moral compass discard these three options as ways of contributing to society, and rather see them as sources of people that can easily be exploited.

Realistic paths to “success” involve career climbing in hierarchical organisations or the related option of the creating and running a more or less legal pyramid scheme.

Organisations within a poorly regulated financial sector provide ideal training grounds for pyramid scheme builders, and along the way, provide on the job training in the busyness of money creation and in riding the waves of economic bubbles.

“There’s huge political pressure to create jobs coming from all directions. We accept the idea that rich people are job creators, and the more jobs we have, the better. It doesn’t matter if those jobs do something useful; we just assume that more jobs is better no matter what. We’ve created a whole class of flunkies that essentially exist to improve the lives of actual rich people. Rich people throw money at people who are paid to sit around, add to their glory, and learn to see the world from the perspective of the executive class.”

“A lot of bullshit jobs are just manufactured middle-management positions with no real utility in the world, but they exist anyway in order to justify the careers of the people performing them. But if they went away tomorrow, it would make no difference at all.And that’s how you know a job is bullshit: If we suddenly eliminated teachers or garbage collectors or construction workers or law enforcement or whatever, it would really matter. We’d notice the absence. But if bullshit jobs go away, we’re no worse off.”David Graeber

People with an intact moral compass tend to learn the hard way that all their attempts of investment, running charities or entrepreneurship only strengthen the status quo and amplify the economic inequalities.

It is easy to see that honest people, and especially autistic people, are systematically disabled in modern society, economically as well as socially, as many social norms are adaptations to the dominant economic paradigm.

Autistic people continuously work at the edge of their performance limit, which is often much higher than what non-autistic people are capable of sustaining, whilst not making a fuss about it. This invites exploitation.


The social model of disability explains two of the most disabling aspects of autism. To a significant extent autistic experience can be described in terms of the downstream effects of:

  1. the inability to maintain hidden agendas, and
  2. hypersensitivities, including in the social realm, rejection of all forms of social status.

We know how to create egalitarian and inclusive societies, but we must leave behind the ideological shackles of civilisation. The indoctrination of our society is deep.

The conception of “intelligence” baked into Western culture and orthodox economic ideology is anaemic.

“I do believe we have to start thinking imaginatively about systems that are fundamentally differently organized. Shifts do happen in history. We’ve been taught for the last 30 to 40 years that imagination has no place in politics or economics, but that, too, is bullshit.”

“I think we need a rebellion of what I call the “caring class,” people who care about others and justice. We need to think about how to create a new social movement and change what we value in our work and lives.”

“People have a sense of what makes a job worthwhile; otherwise, they wouldn’t realize that what they’re doing now is bullshit. So we need to give this more articulation, and we need to unite with other people who want the same things. That’s a political project we can all get behind.” – David Graeber

Warning: Collaboration is contagious, even beyond the autistic community. There are some good segments in this documentary.

“Extreme inequality, as it turns out, is not an economic law or necessity: it is a design failure. Twenty-first century economists recognize that there are many ways to design economies to be far more distributive of value among those who help to generate it. And that means going beyond redistributing income to pre-distributing wealth, such as the wealth that lies in controlling land, enterprise, and the power to create money.”Kate Raworth

Building a new model, the autistic way

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― Buckminster Fuller


Magic happens when you combine collaboration and neurodiversity, because then the result is diversity and creativity rather than groupthink.

We don’t need yet another complex template for organisational structure and not yet another complex or rigid process to follow within the established social order.

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

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

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

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

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

“It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence.” – E. F. Schumacher, 1966

The observations made by E. F. Schumacher are very closely aligned with the intent of the NeurodiVenture model. Consider the following extract from his timeless essay on Buddhist economics:

“It is clear, therefore, that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilization not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.”

“Thus, if the purpose of clothing is a certain amount of temperature comfort and an attractive appearance, the task is to attain this purpose with the smallest possible annual destruction of cloth and with the help of designs that involve the smallest possible input of toil.”

“The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. It would be highly uneconomic, for instance, to go in for complicated tailoring, like the modern West, when a much more beautiful effect can be achieved by the skillful draping of uncut material.”

“It would be the height of folly to make material so that it should wear out quickly and the height of barbarity to make anything ugly, shabby, or mean. What has just been said about clothing applies equally to all other human requirements.”

“As physical resources are everywhere limited, people satisfying their needs by means of a modest use of resources are obviously less likely to be at each other’s throats than people depending upon a high rate of use.”

“Equally, people who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade.”

It is important to understand that an emphasis on local-self sufficiency in terms of physical resource use is simply an effective way of minimising energy use and conflicts arising out of spurious cultural complexity, and does not preclude extensive global collaboration and prolific knowledge sharing.

Call for action and mutual support

Autistic people suffer at the hands of a sick society, and often this culminates in severe mental health problems. The pathway forward for the individual autistic person depends on the concrete context.

It is time to celebrate our interdependence!

Collaboration allows us to create genuinely safe spaces for autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people.

If you are interested in learning more about the NeurodiVenture approach, please get in touch. I am happy to share our experience with other teams.

We should expect society to support us in establishing autistic collaborations, and we should not be forced individually to be “included” in toxic exploitative environments.