Simon Baron-Cohen on treating others as objects:
The challenge is to explain, without resorting to the all-too-easy concept of evil, how people are capable of causing extreme hurt to one another. So let’s substitute the term “evil” with the term “empathy erosion.” Empathy erosion can arise because of corrosive emotions, such as bitter resentment, or desire for revenge, or blind hatred, or a desire to protect. In theory these are transient emotions, the empathy erosion reversible. But empathy erosion can be the result of more permanent psychological characteristics.
The insight that empathy erosion arises from people turning other people into objects goes back at least to Martin Buber, an Austrian philosopher who resigned his professorship at the University of Frankfurt in 1933 when Adolf Hitler came to power. The title of Buber’s famous book is Ich und Du (I and Thou).5 He contrasted the Ich-Du (I-you) mode of being (where you are connecting with another person as an end in itself) with the Ich-Es (I-it) mode of being (where you are connecting with a person or object, so as to use them for some purpose). He argued that the latter mode of treating a person was devaluing.
When our empathy is switched off, we are solely in the “I” mode. In such a state we relate only to things or to people as if they were just things. Most of us are capable of doing this occasionally. We might be quite capable of focusing on our work without sparing a thought for the homeless person on the street outside our office. But whether we are in this state transiently or permanently, there is no “thou” visible—at least, not a thou with different thoughts and feelings. Treating other people as if they were just objects is one of the worst things you can do to another human being, to ignore their subjectivity, their thoughts and feelings.
The purpose of thAutcast is to stop treating autistic people as objects.
Talking about autistic people without including us in the conversation is treating us as objects.
This #autismchat, which USA Today said would feature "the USA's top experts," and included parents like Lisa Goring from Autism Speaks and Alison Singer from the Autism Science Foundation, but not a single autistic person. That's treating us as objects.
Report Liz Szabo, who organized the chat, wrote in response to Alyssa's objections:
I can't assume that some stem-cell researcher is going to just show up to a Twitter chat (most doctors aren't on Twitter yet and I have to teach them before the chat!), so I try to reserve them in advance. On the other hand, I was pretty sure that a good number of families affected by autism would drop in. But you know what? Now, I have met lots of great autistic self-advocate, even more parents of autisic kids, and I can be sure to "book" them as experts if we ever do this again, and even interview them for future stories.
And then she published this article that treats autistic people as a scary problem that needs to go away. As not only objects, but undesirable ones.
This recent episode of Charlie Rose featured a panel of scientists and Alison Singer, previously of Autism Speaks, now of the Autism Science Foundation. And not a single autistic person. They talk about us for an hour. They have an extended conversation about how autistic people think. And think that it is possible to do that ethically or accurately without including us. That is treating autistic people as objects.
The fact that some autistic people are nonverbal is often used as an excuse to exclude those of us who can talk in favor of the parents of people who can't. That is treating autistic people as objects.
Despite what Shannon des Roches Rosa says, the problem with this petition is not the title. It is the belief that autism can be adequately represented in the press by parents, so long as the parents talking have the right opinions. Saying "don't talk to Jenny McCarthy-- talk to parents who think the same things I do" is treating autistic people as objects.
If you care about autistic people, you listen to autistic people.
You don't keep giving attention and money to people who insist on excluding autistic people from the conversation.
USA Today is having a live chat today with the neurotypical people they consider the USA's top autism experts. Please help disrupt it by asking the reporter why no autistic people were included and the experts why they think it is okay to participate in all-NT panels like this.
The USA's top experts will weigh in, including: Dr. David Amaral of the University of California-Davis MIND Institute; Dr. Sarah Paterson of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Dr. Sarah Spence of Children's Hospital Boston; Alison Singer of the Autism Science Foundation, Dr. Alycia Halladay, Autism Speaks' Director for Environmental Research, and Lisa Goring, Autism Speaks' vice president of family services.
The chat is at 1:00 pm Eastern time today and is happening on Twitter.
The hashtag is #autismchat
The reporter running it is Liz Szabo (@lizszabo)
Please start contacting her and asking now why no autistic people were included.
Please ask everyone who tweets a suggestion that people join #autismchat why they think it is okay to have discussions about autism that include no autistic people.
On last night night's episode of ABC's "What Would You Do?" patrons in a restaurant consistently stood up for actors playing an autistic 14-year-old and his family. Not a single one was critical of them the entire time the producers were filming.
People noticed, but were tolerant of the boy speaking loudly and pacing around the restaurant. When another actor playing an irritated customer made a scene, they objected to him. When the family rose to leave in response to his rudeness to them, two women comforted the mother and insisted they stay. And when he rose to leave, the restaurant erupted into applause.
After producers revealed themselves, one crying woman said, "My heart went out to the kid." And, yes, my favorite was the sweet, sexy cop who said,
If we had children, and one of them was like that, never in a million years would I want anybody to do what he did. . . You can't put anybody in a bubble and just leave them there.
I could only watch the whole segment online by going to the entire episode player and sitting through a lot of commercials. It's the third part.
I had mixed feelings when they played Michael Savage's ignorant rant to prove that people do indeed blame autistic kids and their families for behavior that is part of the disorder. It's a good example of hate, but why give him the free publicity? And I was scared that they were going to interview him on the show (they didn't).
I liked that they started with Andrew Goring's point of view, rather than that of his mother Lisa, who is Vice President of Family Services at Autism Speaks, although I didn't not enjoy the slightly ominous way the narrator intoned, "He has autism." I want to admit that this may be my bias against that organization showing itself, but it seemed to me that Lisa wanted to keep the focus more on parents, in the way Autism Speaks traditionally has in the past, and how bad it feels for them when people are mean to them because their kids are behaving oddly. In her example, she talks about the pain being called bad parents and (as edited at least) does not really address the pain of not being wanted somewhere because of your disability.
I was not too impressed with the performance of the actor, but I guess he was okay-- it did seem more like they had him look at a list of "symptoms" of autism rather than talking and observing autistic kids. I think if Lisa Goring was really responsible for "keeping it real," she could have done a better job there, too. Apparently, one of the "autism experts" he consulted with was OWL's Easter cartoon ("Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!")- or maybe somebody was thinking about Pink Flamingos?
And, one of the reasons I liked the stuttering segment I linked to yesterday more is that they used an actress who stutters. Not that they had to find an autistic actor, but they could have, and it sure would have been cool.
I think it's important to acknowledge that without the work of Autism Speaks and all the "Autism Awareness" stuff that I find sort of obnoxious, I don't think patrons would have have had the knowledge to show this level of compassion, but I think their ability to rise to the occasion also provides evidence that maybe it's time to be "All Done Autism Awareness."
It did a lot of good.
Now it's time for more.