I Am Not Your Metaphor

It’s theoretically possible, I suppose, to make for one thing or another an analogy out of autism. I’d imagine that it’d be ill-advised, and certainly tricky, but the very least prerequisite would be to get autism itself right.

In earlier posts I’ve subjected myself deliberately to some questionable media representations of autism (those of Bewilderment and Dr. Brain). I didn’t expect to be blindsided by Timefulness, a book on geology, in which Marcia Bjornerud drops a charmer right near the very end.

As members of a technological society that can keep Nature at arm’s length most of the time, we have an almost autistic relationship with the Earth. We are rigid in our ways, savants when it comes to certain narrow obsessions, but dysfunctional in other regards, because we wrongly view ourselves as separate from the rest of the natural world. Convinced that Nature is something outside us, a mute and immutable thing external to us, we are unable to empathize or
communicate with it.

I’ll grant her the rigidity, but not all of us are savants even when it comes to whatever our special interests might be, and although disabled, we are not generally “dysfunctional in other regards”—certainly not because we “wrongly view ourselves as separate”. Rather, we rightly view ourselves as being considered separate by the world around us. We don’t believe that the world around us is “mute and immutable” so much as (rightly) believe that it often doesn’t try to meet us halfway.

Bjornerud ends, because of course, with the biggest of all canards: the autistic’s lack of empathy. For actual autistics, it’s difficult not to make defeated hand gestures at this sort of thing.

Where, exactly, should we identify the empathy deficit—especially, if nothing else, given the mere existence of Greta Thunberg—when we are consigned to being someone’s awkward metaphor for humanity’s anthropocenic ruination of the planet?

Referring posts