Until today, I’d never heard of Tao Lin. I only know of Tao Lin today because someone sent me this gargantuan essay described by him on Twitter as including “a narrative on how I cured myself of autism”.
As ripe as it is for generating controversy, I’m not going to belabor this essay at length; his 7,429 words is reading enough without me declaring an autistic play-by-play rebuttal.
Spoiler alert: there was no cure. There’s only a very, very autistic essay in part describing a personal journey toward certain measures of accommodation and mitigation that to whatever degree (and even he describes this degree as varying, which is typical for autistics) he feels has inhibited his impairments from becoming disabilities.
There’s also an entire concluding section that blames nearly any environmental toxin you possibly could think of, from vaccine ingredients to Wi-Fi and 5G. I’ve talked before about how I think the human compulsion to storytell has drawbacks, and one of them is that our pattern recognition can go completely awry. A common although not universal facet of autism can be a ramped up pattern recognition—which inherently ramps up the possibility of declaring patterns where there are none.
Near the end of a lengthy historical digression into how earlier societies might or might not have treated impairment and difference, he declares that “it is modern civilization that is self-destructive”. In this, and mostly this alone, we agree.
The modern environment of neoliberal capitalist civilization is an inherently disabling environment. Not because of vaccines or wireless communication, but because of its extractive insistence that people must conform themselves to a vary narrow conception of productive value and worth. This says nothing about what creates autistic people, but it says a great deal about how autistic people’s impairments become disabilities.
One other thing also is destructive: marshaling an autistic obsessiveness and attention to detail to suggest at length to parents already under the ugly and damaging thrall of stigma that a cure awaits their children.