Perception And Temperament Are Not Protected Classes

Recently as I was migrating more posts into here from The Mediocre Autistic, I was reminded of this post about Divergent Minds by Jenara Nerenberg about the attempt to coin the term “temperament rights”, and briefly need to get into this again.

Here’s the paragraph from the book that originally set me off back in December 2020.

The idea of “temperament rights” brings into the equation a
consideration of our inner constitutions in every sphere of life-work, family, school, education, sports, religion, and more. The unique individual makeup of each person deserves its own articulation, respect, and corresponding accommodation. Note that this is not the same as every person getting exactly what they want all the time. But it does mean, for example, that when a person starts a new job, it is carefully noted in their personnel file whether they identify as neurodivergent, and if so, which neurodivergence, as well as their workplace preferences and needs. That person’s particular sensitivities need to be acknowledged. They will then know that their internal reality is acknowledged at work and they can thus resort to the language of temperament rights and neurodiversity to sort out any issues as they arise, as well as advocate for themselves.

There’s another paragraph I’d forgotten about but came up in a book preview when I searched for “temperament rights”.

One day on a flight from South Korea to Nepal, I started imagining that there may be more people out there like me—and what if there were other ways of “being” in the world that didn’t have names or labels yet, especially for women? I created the phrase temperament rights to capture this idea of one’s temperament or neurological makeup being respected in the same way that we respect other core aspects of people, such as gender, sexuality, or ethnic identity. I started to imagine a world in which the richness of the human interior—what we call one’s “inner life”—is acknowledged and respected with the same awareness of diversity that we see in terms of outer categories of identification such as race, culture, sexuality expression, and gender.

I’m revisiting all of this now because as I reencountered and reread my original post, it made me think of a more recent one about neuroscientist Anil Seth appropriating neurodiversity. to promote his research on perception in a way that echoes Nerenberg’s suggestion, in that in expanding discrete concepts we render them increasingly useless as political tools for those who truly need those tools.

(I won’t even get into the other post I just found where I took issue with the idea of intentionally misidentifying your weirdness as autism.)

To be clear: I’ve never said we shouldn’t be more respectful of sub-clinical or sub-political differences, but it if we’re talking about respect, we need to respect the necessary boundaries between “respected” and “protected by social policy”.

This superficially seems to run contrary to my support for building both solidarity and capacity, but not all solidarity is overtly a political solidarity. Neither having a different “temperament” nor not having a “mind’s eye” quite qualify for the latter.