May 2019

Poor adaptive skills without adequate supports may explain the dismal higher-education and employment rates among autistic adults. This is particularly true for those without intellectual disabilities, who may be presumed capable of attending college or pursuing competitive employment without a need for significant supports. In fact, however, these individuals often have significant impairments in basic day-to-day functions.

From Why intelligence scores do not predict success for autistic adults by Gregory Wallace

“Objective” news reporting is defined not by a lack of assumptions or biases, but by a refusal to acknowledge those assumptions & biases. The kind of reporting Haberman & other US political journos do rests on a giant superstructure of unexamined presumptions.
Digging those presumptions up, examining & interrogating them, FEELS like “opinion journalism” to people trained in that milieu. But it’s a meaningless dividing line. Why is an unexamined presumption any more “objective” or “neutral” than one consciously chosen?

From “Objective” news reporting is defined not by a lack of assumptions or biases by David Roberts

As part of preparing for the eventual public, if invite-only, launch of Write House, I’ve been working on the matter of the necessary Code of Conduct for administrators, writers, and commenters, focusing on a couple of resources I found back when I was considering starting up a Mastodon instance.

For awhile, I’ve been looking at the XOXO Code of Conduct, itself modeled after material from Geek Feminism and other sources, as it’s pretty clear and succinct. I also appreciate the section specifically discounting any complaints of “‘reverse’ -isms”.

XOXO prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort. XOXO reserves the right not to act on complaints regarding:

  • ‘Reverse’ -isms, including ‘reverse racism,’ ‘reverse sexism,’ and ‘cisphobia’
  • Reasonable communication of boundaries, such as “leave me alone,” “go away,” or “I’m not discussing this with you.”
  • Communicating in a ‘tone’ you don’t find congenial
  • Criticizing racist, sexist, cissexist, or otherwise oppressive behavior or assumptions

More recently, I came across the Community Covenant, which is slightly more extensive, and specifically designed for online communities of one sort or another, but mostly, I think, consistent with XOXO’s.

I’ve considered primarily using the latter but incorporating the former’s discounting of “reverse -isms” complaints. Lately, I’ve been thinking of just using XOXO’s.

One tricky thing I’m encountering while working through what to draw from for Write House’s code of conduct is that best practices dictate a sensible provision under which any staff member accused of harassment automatically is recused from investigating or policing that accusation.

At the time of this current pre-launch state, I am the only administrator and the sole “staff” person, which got me musing about having some sort of outside reviewer on retainer–although not on an actual paid retainer, as payment itself would create a conflict of interest for the outside reviewer.

I don’t yet know how that would even work, or who I’d turn to for such a thing, but it did spark another idea.

What if there were a nonprofit outfit consisting of outside ombuds who would contract with community websites on a volunteer basis to enforce their codes of conduct. These ombuds would be paid by the nonprofit, which itself would be prohibited from accepting contributions from its clients, making them entirely independent. I suppose for this to work, any given ombud cannot be the contractor for a community in which they already are involved.

I still need to solve the issue when it comes to Write House. While I don’t expect to be accused of violating the eventual code of conduct here, this recusal provision needs to be included.

In the meantime, I am giving away the above nonprofit “Community Code of Conduct Ombuds Agency” idea to whoever wants to run with it.

Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter, recently presented two theories of the internet (it’s also on Medium), one of which is based upon Liu Cixin’s theory of the universe in The Dark Forest, the second book of his Three-Body trilogy (which gave me a serious, late-night existential dread).

Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet, because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay quiet.

Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? If it’s a dark forest, then only Earth is foolish enough to ping the heavens and announce its presence. The rest of the universe already knows the real reason why the forest stays dark. It’s only a matter of time before the Earth learns as well.

This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.

In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.

Is this a true representation of the theory as applied to the internet? Liu’s description (via WIkipedia) of how “the dark forest” operates is a little more specific than Strickler’s.

Luo Ji explains to Da Shi the implications he derived from Ye Wenjie’s two axioms of cosmic civilization: 1. Each civilization’s goal is survival, and 2. Resources are finite. Like hunters in a “dark forest”, a civilization can never be certain of an alien civilization’s true intentions. The extreme distance between stars creates an insurmountable “chain of suspicion” where any two civilizations cannot communicate well enough to relieve mistrust, making conflict inevitable. Therefore, it is in every civilization’s best interest to preemptively strike and destroy any developing civilization before it can become a threat, but without revealing their own location, thus explaining the Fermi paradox.

Critical to the Liu formulation are those first two premises: survival and resources. These are absent from Strickler’s appropriation.

Strickler seems to be talking about a kind of retreat into information silos, in this case not the result of myopic (mis)management but instead that of an instinct of self-preservation in the face of too much bad information, and bad faith, on the existing mass platforms.

Arguably, the retreat into self-protective silos itself is what could create a kind of dark forest of the internet. (Although I don’t believe it.)

Liu’s posit is that the immense distances between stars make it impossible to communicate and learn each other’s motives. An alien civilization could represent itself in a manner designed solely to hide a malevolent intent and we’d have no way of knowing. This isn’t really true of the internet.

In fact, on the internet malevolent intent—or, as I said above, bad information and bad faith—is readily identifiable. It’s everywhere, all mixed together with the good information and good faith. It’s just that the mass platforms are not doing enough to protect you, me, or anyone else from the bad.

That’s what driving people into silos.

On the internet, the axioms in play aren’t a civilization’s need for survival and the finity of resources. Instead, we might look at it from the standpoint of two other premises.

  1. Each person’s goal is connection.
  2. Attention is finite.

If we take these as the axioms, we aren’t looking at a “dark forest” and the dangers of a preemptive war between civilizations due to finite resources and impossible communication.

Instead, we’re looking at the dangers of mass platforms monopolizing connection in order to monopolize attention.

The “chain of suspicion”, then, doesn’t flow laterally between or among civilizations who are more or less equal as in Liu’s theory, but rather vertically between the users of mass platforms, below, and the owners of mass platforms, above. Silos, in this case, then, aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of them instead as safe spaces, chosen communities of relation or affinity.

What’s more, I suspect that most people will not simply wall themselves off exclusively into various silos, but continue also making use of such mass channels as continue to exist. It’s just that as more opportunities for safe, chosen communities arise or are made we will use each space for its own, unique purposes. Some of these communities will be self-contained, while others will interact with each other.

What we’re looking at here isn’t a dark forest. What we’re looking at here is an interconnected network.

There should be a name for that.

This morning while reading an article on civilians trying to find support for their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (I don’t have PTSD, but have an interest in how trauma gets laid down in the brain), I followed a link to “Where is the Evidence for ‘Evidence-Based’ Therapy?” by Jonathan Shedler, adapted from remarks he gave at a conference several years ago.

“Evidence-based therapy” has become quite the catchphrase. The term “evidence-based” comes from medicine. It gained attention in the 1990s and was, at the time, a call for critical thinking. It reflected the recognition that “we’ve always done it this way” is not a good enough reason to keep doing something. Medical decisions should reflect clinical judgment, patients’ values and preferences, and relevant scientific research.

But “evidence-based” has come to mean something very different in the psychotherapy world. The term has been appropriated to promote a particular ideology and agenda. It has become a code word for manualised treatment—most often, brief, highly-structured cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). “Manualised” means the therapy is literally conducted by following an instruction manual. The treatment may be pre-scripted in a way that leaves little room for understanding patients as individuals.

Shedler’s goal here is to debunk just what “evidence-based” means in the realm of mental health, and it mostly seems to be something of a deceptive a marketing phrase, propped up by carefully choosing the question you’re answering and by limiting one’s definition of success to the short-term.

My interest here, of course, is that Applied Behavioral Analysis, too, is referred to as “evidence-based” treatment when it comes to autism, despite the anecdotal reports from older autistics who relate their childhood experiences of ABA as being somewhat torturous.

What’s clear to me from those anecdotes, especially in the context of Shedler’s look at the evidence for “evidence-based” treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in other contexts, is that what’s really needed are long-term, long-range studies of children who underwent ABA to determine its lasting effects, both inward and outward.

(I did not undergo ABA, as I was not diagnosed until midlife. I pay attention to the ABA discussion only tangentially, because of my own interest as an autistic adult in the matter of autistics and psychotherapy, since I question the degree to which traditional socially-performative approaches themselves can just be additional, problematic stressors which interfere with the therapeutic benefits.)

Older autistics tend to describe ABA less as any kind of treatment for autism than as a kind of treatment for the people around the autistic person. In effect, the argument goes, it simply forces the autistic person to suppress the outward-facing behaviors of being autistic. Left seemingly unaddressed (in large part, I suspect, because most of the evaluations are made by people outside the child, and not by the child themselves) is the degree to which this has a real beneficial inward effect upon the actually autistic individual. It does, however, make the people around the autistic more comfortable being around the autistic.

One thing I found interesting in Shedler’s analysis of things like CBT for cases like depression is this notion of how these treatments are “manualized”, scripted approaches. My limited understanding of ABA suggests it is similar in that regard, and so in this context partakes a little too much of the idea of the autistic as a kind of soulless automata. ABA, then, becomes just a kind of reprogramming.

(I don’t think my last therapist viewed me as an automaton, but as a proponent of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, an offshoot of CBT, she did come across to me as if she simply had this checklist in her head that she was trying to plug me into, as quickly as she could. It’s why I only lasted three sessions, and am still trying to find a replacement.)

Is anyone monitoring the long-term impact of childhood ABA treatment upon autistics as they grow older and more self-aware? Do these studies already exist? If so, what questions are they asking about how to define success, and what are they showing? If such studies don’t exist, why don’t they?

While finishing up this post, I ran into CJ Eller’s “Metaphor Debt”, which gave me another way to think about this.

There is the common concept in software called technical debt. It is the implied debt of additional work caused by choosing the easier solution rather than the better one that would take more time and resources to complete.

The open questions, I guess, are whether or not ABA is just “the easier solution”, and, if so, what debts we—or, rather, the autistic kids—are incurring because the people around them didn’t instead choose what might be the better path.

To make commenting more human, it needs to become conversation rather than commentary. Someone talking at you through a television or lonely comment on a blog isn’t natural and human; a conversation is. If you want to talk to an author, you should be able to do that directly — no public side is needed. Then, if your conversation turns out to be of interest or use to more people, you should be able to make it public, where it can stand as a work in itself.

From Commentary and Communication by Matt Baer

Astonishingly, the advice in “How a Sensory Diet Can Help Your Child” is to hire a professional occupational therapist to program a rigid “sensory diet” schedule for your child.

So, culturally, the advice is to pay good money to torture the autistic behavior out of your child and then later pay good money to artificially recreate it?

(This isn’t to suggest the author supports Applied Behavioral Analysis; I’m speaking above about the wider conventional wisdom.)

Note that the article never once even mentions that stimming already is a natural thing that we culturally disdain and try to prevent.

They don’t even use the word.

This clever knowledge drop from Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men is about kinesiology and motion sickness, but I’m going to be stealing this idea of “anticipatory” vs. “compensatory” adjustments and control for future discussions about being autistic.

One of the most convincing aspects of Stoffregen’s theory is how it finally explains why I get car sick in every seat other than the driving seat: it’s all about control. When you’re walking, you are in control of your movements. You know what’s coming. On a ship, or in a car, someone else is in control—unless you’re the driver. “The driver knows what the motion of the car is going to be and so the driver is able to stabilise his or herself in what we call an anticipatory fashion,” explains Stoffregen, “whereas the passenger cannot know in quantitative detail what the car is going to be doing. And so their control of their own body must be compensatory. And anticipatory control is just better than compensatory control. You know, that ain’t no rocket science.”

Emphasis added. I’m thinking that the distinction should hold up pretty well when discussing anything from anxiety issues to socially performative communication to the usefulness of routines and scripts.