Naturalistic Neurodiversity

Exploring our differences through science.

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The Humanist Network News recently released an article explaining how “idiot” is name-calling. While it doesn’t actually address the interplay of neurotypical privilege and mental disability, it offers a few good points to humanists:

1.  Despite your frustration, don’t call religious people idiots. Be accurate, specific and polite.  Antagonism might sell airtime, but it doesn’t convince people, especially when it is inaccurate.

Truth. As soon as the I-word is tossed around casually, people’s ability to listen to the message starts shutting down. Maybe you’ve gotten your jab in, but you’ve completely overshadowed your message.

2.  The way we compartmentalize our beliefs and habits implies, to me at least, that changing other people is harder than we imagine, and efforts are likely to be fruitless. If people simply aren’t using the same set of rules to consider one matter versus another, you will never convince them.

It’s the golden rule: how would I feel if Christians called me an “idiot” simply because of the fact that I don’t believe there are any gods? If I claim humanist values are more reality-based than religious values, then I ought to live like it.

3.  The way in which beliefs and habits of mind from one part of our lives seem not to spill over into others has interesting implications for why people do the things they do, or specifically, why religious people make the decisions they make. Simple observation shows that members of the same faith, the same denomination, even of the same congregation, still behave differently from each other. Consider the possibility that religion doesn’t actually cause anyone to do anything—it simply justifies whatever they choose to do post hoc. If that is true, then someone with an irrational hatred of one particular group of people won’t abandon their irrational hatred simply because they abandon their irrational metaphysics; conversely, some life-changing event might erase the hatred without ever disturbing their belief in miracles.

Turn this around and apply it to the justification for calling someone an “idiot” for their beliefs. People will present all sorts of ad hoc moralizations on why it’s totally okay for them to use that word as a slur. But we who don’t use that word never need to make those sorts of justifications, and thus find ourselves in a better position to see just how irrational some of the common self-justifications really are.

So next time you want to call someone an “idiot”, stop for a second and ask yourself “does this really help strengthen my message, or is it merely to satisfy some emotional resentment I hold against this person?”

Casual Ableism from Atheists

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Atheists generally claim to be interested in creating an inclusive space where nonbelievers of every background can feel welcome. Just do a web search for “diversity in atheism” and you see posts from Daylight Atheism, American Atheists, and Friendly Atheist, among others, all about how to open up atheism to a more diverse crowd. Women, blacks, parents, the poor – these people are traditionally left out of atheist conversations, and there’s a growing push to include them. But there’s one crucial area which still is overlooked to an alarming degree: neurodiversity.

Not all people have the “standard model” brain, and a lot of those people are proud atheists and need the support of a freethinking community. But many atheists pride themselves on being “more intelligent” than religious people, and are quick to call fundamentalists “crazy”.

Here are a few comments I’ve read recently in atheist spaces:

“You are so literal as to be autistic. Are you really that stupid?”

“PETA is creating the next wave of young adults with scary personality disorders.”

“Instead of writing a new generation of software to circumvent our filters, maybe they should recruit social misfits with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and write software that amplifies their efforts.”

That last one was from none other than PZ Myers himself.   The message is constantly being sent out by atheists everywhere: if your mind is configured differently than mine, you’re not welcome here. Which is a shame, because I can count many atheists with ADHD, autism, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, etc, some of them as good friends and terrific contributors to the community.

If we really want atheism without barriers, we have to cut out the ableist language, now. This includes ending the crazy-bashing of Christians, because if an atheist with a mental disorder walks into a room where people are casually tossing around the words “crazy”, “retarded”, “idiotic”, etc, ze’s going to feel under attack.

Discussions which center around attacks or slander of people’s mental states aren’t only harmful, they’re lazy. The fact is, arguments from the supernatural aren’t wrong because they’re crazy, they’re wrong because they’re not supported by evidence. Dangerous people aren’t dangerous because they’re crazy, they’re dangerous because they’re threatening violence. It’s time we started taking pushing the bar higher in atheism. Let’s take ableism seriously.

Written by The Nerd

August 24, 2011 at 8:18 am