A common trait among autistics is pattern recognition. But there’s a pattern I see time and again that I wish I didn’t recognise.
At school I did things that my peers judged were wrong. They were the self-appointed judges of what was deemed acceptable, and I was found wanting. I got attacked for it, bullied.
This is such a relatable experience for autistics, which is why I look at our so-called community with dismay. We really are every bit as human as neurotypicals, and that includes exhibiting the same patterns of toxic behaviour.
I’m in the process of disengaging from social media because the cost of participating is becoming too high. Others have already left or are contemplating the decision. It’s a landscape populated by roving vigilante mobs, eager to dispense their own brand of summary “justice” for anything they decide contravenes their own set of rules.
In the past, social media was a safe(ish) space for autistics to find each other and interact. When I came onto the scene–and I’m by no means an old hand at this–I found an atmosphere that was largely welcoming and inclusive. The emphasis was on nurturing and educating.
But now it’s a microcosm of the wider world, split along partisan lines, virtual nations each speaking their own ideology-first language. Thought Police patrol the timelines, eager to administer swift “corrective” beatings to any who step out of line.
The old inclusive world is pretty much gone. Now exclusion is the name of the game: drive out the non-compliant, the ones who don’t tick all the boxes in their ideal standard of ideological purity. There is no discussion, no discourse. There are only attacks.
I’ve seen it in action. I know people who’ve been attacked. I’ve seen the damage that was done. I’ve had enough of it. No bully speaks for me, no bully represents me: that is anathema to me.
In one of the technical fields I work in–communication protocols–there is a principle known as Postel’s Law which states, “Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.” It promotes robustness and stability, helps different entities interact even if there might be some differences in how they communicate.
It recognises that perfection is not achieved in practice: it encourages leniency and flexibility. And that’s a good principle to carry through into human communication as well. Insisting on perfection, insisting that your own interpretation is the only possible correct one–this all leads to conflict. And with conflict you get casualties, both directly targeted and bystanders. “Collateral damage” in the humanity-erasing idiom.
And humanity-erasing is something that social media is good at: keyboard warriors sending their avatar into battle while they sit safe behind the lines. And who are they battling? Avatars, at a remove from any person. Except that they aren’t. They really aren’t. These aren’t the bad guys in some video game: these are living, breathing, feeling humans that they are attacking. That they are bullying and abusing. That they are harming.
I mostly avoid the term autism community now. There isn’t one. What we have is a Balkanised mess of competing, mutually-antagonistic factions. And too many who put the supremacy of their own group ahead of the good of autistics as a whole. And while they compete, the butcher’s bill mounts up.
Never mind what the neurotypical world is doing to us: we keep showing we can inflict at least as much damage on each other. We really are our own worst enemies.