Neurodiversity, Colonialism, and the Cult of Compliance

Neurodiversity is a powerful concept, taking the ideas of intellectual and psychiatric disability and wrestling them into the diversity narratives. In the diversity narratives, we don’t try to cure or fix, but to accept, understand, accommodate, assist, and hopefully eventually move to a place where we recognize same-ness in our differences. Bringing disability into the diversity conversation is good for disability rights movement, but it’s better for the diversity movement, as disability is a universal aspect of the human condition. As my friend K. says – disability isn’t a niche group; it’s us.

Which brings me to this essay by Sean Donohue on neurodiversity (and pagan thought).

My senses take in torrents of information that sometimes overwhelm my capacity to process them, making me miss things that would seem obvious to most, but at other times (and sometimes simultaneously) make me aware of subtle presences in the world that elude others’ attention. My brain process processes information in non-linear ways that make it easy for me to perceive patterns and connections in the world but difficult to complete a step-by-step process like paying the electrical bill. I have a complex relationship with language — sometimes loquacious and poetic, other times completely non-verbal. When I speak in metaphor, people tend to take me literally, and when I speak literally people often assume that I am speaking metaphorically, because my baseline assumptions about the world differ from those of the vast majority of people around me, and they always have.

What this essay then does is explore the ways that colonialism attacks neurodiversity, what’s threatening about autistic thought to the colonial mindset, and how to work against it. I think the writing is excellent and it’s a very different approach to what I’ve been calling the cult of compliance.

Compliance is an important word in autistic discourse, because of a huge, and controversial, therapeutic emphasis on compliance training (finding ways to force autistic people into certain kinds of typical behavior). More on that another day. For now, it’s focus on colonialism (I think you could write similarly about neoliberalism).

It follows that the remaking of the world requires a remaking of language — something the colonizers understood. Capitalism depends on commodification, the process of turning parts of the world into objects which can be traded in the marketplace. But you can’t commodify a forest or a mountain if people call it by a name which recognizes it as alive. Patriarchy depends on the enforcement of gender roles. But you can’t enforce patriarchal gender roles within a culture that has no words that denote gender, such as the Tlingit, unless you rob people of their language.
So the process of colonization requires either a process of forced conversion and inculturation — the liberal alternative — or a process of eradication. In both Ireland and North America, British capitalism, engaged in both. But forced inculturation was more cost efficient than mass slaughter and also left the colonizers with a labor force to extract value from stolen land.

 Worth reading, I think.

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