Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Problem With Representationalism

   Last Sunday HuffPost columnist Talia Lavin wrote an eloquent statement that it is time for a woman to be president and that she will not apologize for wanting to be represented. It's precisely the air of inevitable social progress that was used to cast Hillary Clinton as the only possible candidate for president in 2016. It was time for a woman and it was Hillary Clinton's turn. This school of representational politics reduces each minority group to a set of "firsts", "pioneers" and "trailblazers." These include the first woman in space, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era (this narrative has a tendency to erase the story of the last African-American to play Major League Baseball but that's not the same stirring representational tale of progress), the youngest Latinx woman elected to the House of Representatives. I'm not saying these milestones are not important, and I believe that we need to be the kind of country that will elect a woman or a Latinx person president if their abilities and policies fit the job.

   But, speaking as a straight white man, I have not found the payoff of being represented by people who look like me to be worth the neoliberal policy they have given us. I understand this is a privileged viewpoint. My privilege, however, is relevant here. It gives me a perspective that someone who does not share it does not possess. Most of the people in authority have looked like me for my entire life. All but one president of my lifetime has been a straight, white man. What have any of them done for me?

   They've done nothing for the fictional "middle class" they want us all to think means us. They've done nothing for the people who don't look like them, whom they have deliberately shut out of the halls of power. They've done nothing for the "white working class" which, speaking as a high school graduate with a semi-skilled semi-white collar job in technical support with a manufacturing company, to which I definitely belong. I don't care what the next president looks like, I care about the next president's policies.

   I want a strongly, hotly fought primary in which all the politicians who want to be the Democratic candidate for president tell us what they will do for us. I want to hear about universal health care, not universal health insurance. I want to hear about free college and forgiving student debt tax free, not about student debt relief as a favor to tax accountants. I want to hear about income inequality, worker rights, workplace democracy, a Green New Deal and public housing. In the end, I will vote for the candidate I think offers us the best chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

   I'm not willing to settle for anything less.

Monday, January 7, 2019

How Democrats Can Save Social Democracy

   How do we save our Social Democracy between now and 2021? We know the Republicans can't do it. If a political party is going to emerge as a serious champion of the established liberal order it will have to be the Democrats. On Sunday, I wrote about what I think the GOP needs to do if they want to save their portion of our two party system. That doesn't get us out of the immediate trainwreck, however, it just gives them something to rebuild after. Today I'm going to tackle the real problem: an immediate stare-down with the obvious consequences of the Senate Majority Leader first nullifying a Democratic president and then kowtowing to a Republican president. A lot of leftists and liberals have ideas about how to win a general election. I think there's a clear and common sense strategy but most won't dare try it.

   I'm about as confident of the Democratic Party's desire to follow my advice as I am of the Never Trumpers but I'm going to post this anyway. The thing to remember is that portions of this list don't require leadership as much as they require pressure on our representatives. Direct and continual action is how you convince people to take "the mob" seriously.

1. Let's Talk About The Mob

   Both in his presidential election and in the mid-term congressional election Donald Trump played the law and order card very hard. Democrats in urban areas, suburbs and exurbs need to meet this head on rather than hide behind their own veteran status or record as a prosecutor to prop up their own law and order credentials. Instead of playing into the establishment idea of respectability, Democrats need to express solidarity with activists and pledge to support their activism with legislation. More importantly, they need to cast "the mob" in the role of the protesters at the Democratic Convention in 1968. They need to cast the military/industrial/law enforcement complex as the police who beat the shit out of those protesters.

   The GOP, with the tacit assistance of Big Media and Big Donors, is attempting to engage in a national police riot and tell us it's for our own good. Look at what's been happening on the border. It's on both sides now and the Tijuana police are doing our dirty work because we're dumping the issue on Mexico instead of being a responsible superpower. So let's talk about who "the mob" really are.

2. The Identity Thing

   There is no way to navigate American politics without dealing with identity politics. This is something that really should be easier for an outsider like Bernie Sanders, who straddles the historic link between left labor ideology and left racial justice ideology, but the mainstream Democrats chose to very deliberately play Trump's game and attempt to play race as a wedge issue to deflect from real issues. Rather than dividing voters by race with Trump's naked racism the Big Dems chose to cast Bernie's supporters as racists and Bernie himself as a potential cryptoracist. Between Bernie's understandable desire not to use his personal civil rights record for political gain, which he probably thinks would sound patronizing from a white politician and his unfortunate decision to fail both economic and social justice in a single "civil rights" argument.

   To do this you just use the Declaration of Independence. "The pursuit of happiness" refers to the freedom to support one's self economically as one chooses and to participate in the creative and social life of the community. This was a fundamental principle of Enlightenment Natural Rights theory.  It needs to be communicated to the public as an unambiguously left populist argument. Anytime you mention "the working class" you make it clear that black and Latinx people will benefit more from kitchen table legislation than anyone else. Democrats should make voting rights an election issue every election and an activism issue every year before an election. When Republicans talk about "law and order" and "all lives matter" you reply that a policeman's first duty is to the public safety and concerns for the safety of police offers are less important than the safety of the public they serve. Make it clear it is not acceptable that this does not include the black community.

   The problem with identity politics isn't that Democrats play it. It's that they play it so badly. Remind the white working class that every time the cops shoot a black person and get away with it they become that much more likely to use violence during a strike and get away with it. Make it about solidarity against the police state.

3. Don't Get Hung Up On Electability in 2020

   Dennis Kucinich once famously said, "I'm electable if people vote for me." What's that? Don't remember that? It's probably because you either never heard of Dennis Kucinich or dismissed him as a joke when he ran for president in 2004. In either case you were doing what the mainstream media wanted and paying attention to Howard Dean. The most genuinely leftist candidate for president at the time, Carol Mosley Braun, was pressured into folding her campaign for the benefit of a straight white man (Howard Dean) of squishy Third Way credentials and a very thin political record. The chosen "electable star" was soon dismissed as un-electable because people thought his Vermont war whoop at a rally was weird. The electable candidate, John Kerry, was nominated and chose the populist outside (John Edwards) as his running mate. Dems thought it was in the bag.

   We know how that turned out. Despite what pundits are saying on talking head shows, we don't want anyone to drop out before they think they should. It's less important that the presidential candidate actually win in 2020 that he turn out lots of people who might vote Democrat in places people don't usually vote Democrat. Imagine a presidential candidate who can accomplish a Stacey Abrams level shift in the political balance of the entire country, down ticket, whether he wins the electoral college or not.

   If you can only have one in 2020 would you rather have the White House or the Senate? Think about 2012 before you answer.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

How Never Trumpers Can Save Conservatism

   I have been thinking a lot about Never Trumpers lately. Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, Rick Wilson, Tom Nichols and others like to talk about how conservatives can rebuild in the post-Trump America. This may be overly optimistic. I'm not sure we can count on a post-Trump America being a pluralistic society in which there is room for any point of view but that of the ruling clique of corporate elites. For the purposes of this thought experiment, however, let's be more optimistic. The United States does not descend into Bonapartism. Some sort of Republican and Democratic parties, some form of conservative and progressive politics, still exist after Trump leaves office and we still conduct elections. What will the Never Trump Conservatives have to do in order to forge a conservative movement that can be relevant in 21st Century American politics?

   I doubt they will listen to a left winger like me, but I've been kind enough to make a list.

1. The Race Thing

   This may be the most difficult. American conservatives have never been willing to take a self-critical and unflinching look at race in this country. Trump's supporters are obvious racists and this gives Never Trumpers a lot of opportunity to virtue signal. The Republican Party has to do more than virtue signal if they want to attract the kind of voters they need to compete in the future. The National Review's David French is a good example of this. He showed us in August that he didn't grasp the difference between "racism" and "prejudice." In order to claim they are against white supremacy the conservatives in America need to demonstrate an understanding of what white supremacy is.

   So the first thing that a future, post-Trump Republican Party will need to do is learn to embrace the real and vibrant American culture all around them rather than sustain white supremacy and an illusion of White American Culture.

2. It's The Economy Stupid

   Look at the Bush tax cuts. Look at the Trump tax cuts. Look at the havoc corporations have wrought on American business with the twin neoliberal vices of supply-side economics and the belief that a corporation's primary duty is to maximize investor profits. If corporations are "people" as now Senator Mitt Romney ridiculously declared then they have the same social and legal responsibilities as any other "citizen." Since corporations are not people their executive officers need to be held civilly and criminally responsible for the crimes they commit.   

   The stock market is not the economy. We're not going to see real economic growth without a major redistribution of wealth. The "job-creators" you have been spoiling all this time have been sitting on their assets and let them earn capital gains. They have more incentive to raise rents than to increase payroll or start hiring new employees. Just look at GM.

3. Bipartisanship Starts At Home

   Lots of Never Trump Republicans are hoping conservative Democrats will adopt their ideals without meaningful change. The Problem Solvers Caucus and other neoliberal power centers press liberals and progressives for bipartisanship without cease. Yet not one Republican Senator voted with Democrats to prevent the disastrous tax cut. Even most Never Trumpers were in favor of the tax cut in principle. Conservatives who want to have a meaningful place in post-Trump America are going to need to understand that their first loyalty is to country and not party. The win at all costs mentality has got to fall by the wayside. 

   Those who don't compromise die.

   This is a short list but I'm not convinced any Never Trumper conservatives can manage it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thoughts on immigration

Upon reading this article on the Daily Kos, I found myself changing my mind about my next writing project. I had intended to write a piece for my blog on the admittedly esoteric philosophical question of whether a form of consensus secular ethics, "democratic ethics" if you will, could be established or whether moral/ethical questions really do become subjective in the absence of a uniform religion the way the religious right has begun to so frequently claim. I've now put a pin in that project to write on Know-Nothingism, scapegoating and the politics of immigration. Know-Nothingism has a long and rarefied tradition in American politics and it's important to understand the way Trump is tapping into this deep well of bitter political capital. It's something that everyone on the left needs to understand because it's one the issues on which a lot of Americans will really need to be educated.

The term "Know-Nothing" was originally a slur invented by political opponents of the so called "American Party", founded in various states in the 1840s. The term was used to attack them for the air of secrecy they cultivated. When asked about party activities, party candidates or party platforms before the actual campaigning started all party members were supposed to reply "I know nothing."

At various times known as "The Native American Party", "The American Republican Party" as well, their appeal was not at all secretive. Simply put, the Know-Nothings represented the deeply ingrained cultural and social prejudices of the wealthy WASP elite and the "Catholophobia" of the white protestant (not necessarily Anglo-Saxon) working class. Now Donald Trump isn't accusing illegal immigrants from Mexico of wanting to conquer the country for the Pope and convert the population by force the way the Irish were accused in their day. While most anti-Latino prejudice disguised as "immigration reform" appears to be focused on the fact that Hispanics "don't speak English" or are somehow "not white", it is an interesting coincidence that the modern Know-Nothings are also targeting a largely Catholic immigrant group in what appear to be the economic interests of the wealthy WASP elite. Donald Trump is absolutely the candidate of the wealthy WASP elite.

The economic side is simple: these people are a convenient source of cheap labor if the WASP elite is able to keep them subjugated and controlled. For Know-Nothings from the actual American Party in the 1840s-1860s to Nativist movements in the Republican (during and after WWI and WWII) and Democratic Parties (the southern, pro-KKK and lynching wing of the Democratic Party was also fiercely anti-Catholic) to the modern and sadly bipartisan "immigration reform" hokum of today the message has been clear. It's not that the elite really wants to keep Mexican immigrants out. It is that they want to keep their only access illegal access so they are easier to control and exploit. Immigration reform is today's Know-Nothing code for anti-Latino prejudice, often anti-Latino American prejudice rather than true concern about illegal immigration, in much the same way that many Nativist groups embraced Prohibition as code for anti-Irish and anti-German Catholic prejudice during the so-called "Progressive Era." Exploit them, but don't empower them.

The really important side is the cultural side. The wealthy WASP elite see themselves at the apex of a vast socioethnoeconomic pyramid. These days the "outsiders" are less outsiders because they are not themselves ethnically or racially acceptable but rather their lack of willingness to freely join and defer to the superior culture of the WASP elite. Having money and being willing to pretend to be a WASP is enough to get you in, in much the same way private clubs are no longer officially restricted but people who don't "fit the right image" still have a way of not getting in. It is this secure place of cultural hegemony that the champions of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Privilege are trying to protect. They want everyone to continue to defer to them as the moral arbiter of culture. This is why you have seen the break between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. The Tea-Party represents the increased working class Protestant discontent with the degree to which the importance of those racial and ethnic social barriers and keeping them closed to even "culturally acceptable" members of non-white or originally non-Protestant groups.

Trump's blustering everyman rhetoric bridges the gap between disaffected working class Protestant prejudices and the broader tolerance of the WASP elite for anyone willing to conform to their cultural values. The elite see this as an expansion of their power whereas the working class, whose interests are frequently quite synchronous with those of minorities and immigrants, see the outsiders as threats to their importance to the elite and to the "received truth" they accepted from their parents at the prompting of a previous generation of the elite. This allows the elite to play a dual role of cultural champion to protect their own power, and benevolent patron to protect the position of their chosen additions to the elite. This is what Trump is really selling.

Friday, August 14, 2015

In search of Spiritual Awakening...

I recently read something, meant meant with a simple and good natured sincerity, that convinced me spirit needs to wake up a bit. I find this a trifle ironic considering that my mother is a Master of Divinities and I have long identified myself as Christian and thought a lot about my deep moral convictions and some of their religious sources without really asking myself what I absolutely knew that I believed. In the hopes of finding that sense of spiritual awakening, I propose to examine exactly what I believe.

So where can one start? Let's go with what I cannot possibly bring myself to doubt. Of what am I one hundred percent certain? At the risk of being unoriginal, the first thing of which I believe I am absolutely sure is that I exist. I think. I feel. I experience. I perceive. In order to even have a sense of the word "I" then I have to exist. It's quantum physics: even if I don't exist I am created by belief in my existence.

So what deeper faith can be extracted from this beginning? For the next step is obvious. If I exist, the other people with whom I am interacting must exist too. I can't know this absolutely, the way I believe I can intellectually justify my own existence. However, it is the natural hypothesis to make based on my own experience. The people with whom I interact must also think, feel, experience, perceived and exist. If they don't, then my belief in their existence confirms their belief in their own existence and vice versa. I have faith that other people exist and have experiences to which I can somehow relate.

I have faith that I have free will. I don't know this for certain. I would love to discover empirical proof but I am afraid empirical disproof might someday be possible. That said, I perceive myself as having the free will to make decisions. The fact that my actions have consequences strikes me not as proof of determinism, but as confirmation that my choices have meaning. As an extension of this, I have faith that my fellow human beings have the same free will and meaningful choices that I enjoy. This strikes me as an inherent defining trait of humanity.

This leads me to a belief in some kind of general "good" possible for all humanity, as naive and idealistic as that sounds. I tend to define that good in religious terms and those terms tend to be those of Christian Socialism, but the core belief I cannot deny is my belief in some possible universal improvement of the general standard of living for mankind as a whole. The Christianity I chose to adopt is an expression of that optimistic universalism that says "Go thou and do likewise." It's why I still give money to beggars however naively idealistic that may be.

I don't know if I'm feeling that spiritual awakening yet. Care to help me dig deeper?

What does it mean to be "Radical"?

There is a reason I identify myself as a "Radical" instead of as a "Liberal", "Progressive", "Libertarian", "Independent" or even "Conservative" despite having used most of those labels (the one thing I can't remember ever calling myself is an "Independent") at some point during my intellectual "growing-up" period. Since I haven't written anything in awhile I wanted to start what I hope to be a sustained return to ongoing activity with an introduction to who I am, what I believe, and why I identify myself the way I do. So keep reading. Hopefully, understanding me will help you reconsider how you think about certain things. I'm honestly less interested in changing minds then making people take a basic assessment of what they already believe and take close consideration of their reasons for believing it. That constructive thought is what leads to true understanding. True understanding of one's principles leads to constructive debate. Constructive debate leads to both sides reassessing their ideas and growing as needed. So read on and then feel free to post something about your own intellectual "growing-up" if you like.

One thing that I consider important is "epistemology." I like big words. If you don't, don't worry. I'm going to follow this one with a simple definition. Epistemology is the study of the theory of knowledge, ideas and whether the thinking behind them holds up under the pressure of close inspection. Do our ideas make sense? Are we capable of offering empirical evidence to support our ideas or are we forced to appeal to some authority to support our ideas? How is a carefully researched and tested scientific or scholastic theory different from an unsupported belief? What is the difference between fact and opinion? Why do we choose the words we choose in making an argument? What do those words really mean?

This brings me back to labels. Many labels really have little practical difference. Let's take "Conservative" and "Liberal." The label "Conservative" gets used pretty broadly, but it traditionally means someone who advances a set of social and economics beliefs correctly defined as "classical Liberalism." The label "Liberal", on the other hand, believes that those social and economic beliefs need to change with the way scientific and social progress change society. This is correctly defined as "Progressivism." Confusing? That's because the thinking behind the labels was confused in the first place. Classical liberalism was very liberal when the mainstream position was a mercantile economy in which a government licensed monopolies to a select group of political insiders who ran these monopolies as private business partnerships with the government. It became conservative when the capitalists went from being a middle-class advocating for greater political, social and economic rights to the dominant political and economic class. Yet the original classical liberals in England still called themselves "The Liberal Party" when they were supporting the right of capitalists to pay their workers starvation wages in Victorian England and resisting labor agitation by those same workers.

"Radical" has a clear meaning. First, it clearly identifies me as outside of so-called "mainstream" or "establishment" political thinking. The American political establishment is profoundly right wing on economic issues. The employer/employee has never entirely advanced from its feudal past even when society and politics appear to have done so. The modern "free market" is really only free for those who make a living off providing capital (what we could politely call the "Investor Class" or "Capitalist Class" if we don't like the negative connotations of the term "Leisure Class") and those who administer and execute the means by which that capital is used. That second group can best be defined as "the Corporate Class." Together they form the American economic elite: the people with the money and the people who promise to make a profit for the people with the money.  I think that system is inherently flawed in the practical sense and "bad" in the moral sense.

I support what economists have called "radical democracy." It is not enough to provide equal civil rights regardless of race or gender if social and political rights are still determined by one's share of economic property. It is necessary to provide a basic framework of economic equality before the law. This includes reforming of the civil justice and penal system, reforming of our economic system to democratize wealth to a larger degree while still rewarding hard work, creative ideas and willingness to take educated risks with capital. Capitalists have a right to a fair profit, but labor has a right to a fair wage and while the wage may need to go up and down according the demand for a product or service the fair profit also goes up and down. Nor is their empirical justification that the massive disparity between the income of the corporate class and the income of the working class provides any practical utility to society or the economy. It is simply accepted as a matter of course by both sides of the mainstream political debate. This is why Hillary Clinton is being attacked from the left by Bernie Sanders; there really isn't a huge difference between a mainstream Democrat or a mainstream Republican on a slough of economic and regulatory issues. A certain kind of voter, a disenfranchised member of what used to be the middle class and is now the working class or what used to be the working class and is now the underclass, is starting to realize that the mainstream does not care about their real needs and interests.

There are two words for freedom in Russian. "Svoboda" is the social, economic and political well-being of a community. When using this word, no one person can be truly "free" unless everyone in the community enjoys the same freedoms. Taking your freedom reduces my freedom, because it means someone can take it from me next. Increasing your freedom increases mine as well, because we are entitled to the same basic rights as members of society. Either the community is free or it is not. This is the freedom our nation needs desperately to struggle toward.

"Volia", on the other hand, is the rapacious freedom from traditional social restraints without regard for the consequences to others. It is the freedom of the pirate, the bandit, the Cossack and the corporate executive. Individuals enjoy different levels of freedom from consequences. A 17th Century pirate or 21st Century gangster is only free for as long as they are not caught. A 15th Century French nobleman or 21st Century CEO, on the other hand, usually received preferential treatment and backhanded forgiveness even when caught red-handed committing the same crimes as the pirate or the gangster.

The political establishment supports volia for the leisure class and the corporate class.

If you support svoboda for the entire community, you may be more Radical than you know. If that's the case, please keep reading! I want to give you something to think about!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Developmental Disabilities of Developmental Scientists

I've generally been too burnt out by the simple fact that most people like the world the way it is to do much serious writing. My burn out has been increased by the fact that part of me is comfortable with the status quo and fears real change just like everyone else.I've tinkered with fiction and I've dabbled in some paying work (all in the area of boxing writing)but that's it. The little serious writing I've done has been about philosophy, theology, and morality in the hopes of shifting the focus of this blog from political symptoms to the underlying intellectual, spiritual, and moral condition.

My discovery of The Autism Crisis has compelled me to try to turn my hand to something semi-political, though my real concerns are the moral and intellectual motivations behind the politics. The blog's theme is the science of ethics of autism research in an environment where said science is solely driven by advocates of specific autism-related agendas not necessarily terribly concerned with autistic individuals. The degree to which the issue seamlessly fits into my view of modern sociopolitical philosophy got my fingertips itching.

My personal interest in autism science and advocacy started with an entirely selfish interest in ADD/ADHD science and advocacy. My childhood academic experience was about as pleasant as someone who has seen me characterize the US system of education as "sadomasochistic" might expect. Some of the problems came from my attitude toward school and teachers and some of them came from the attitude of schools and teachers toward me. The degree to which the US school system and I came to loathe each other eventually required my parents to try find a home schooling program that would be compatible with my desire to learn rather than to perform busywork for the justification of the system. Ultimately I was fortunate to live in a state (California) that gives a high school diploma to anyone able to pass a test that proves they learned what they were supposed to learn in high school.

The merits of the educational system and the value of a standardized test are issues for another time. Suffice it to say that I passed and it was the only way out of what I perceived to be a Hellish experience. My interest in ADD, ADHD, and Ritalin were driven by a desire to acquire a "normal" tolerance for the useless busywork that life too often demands we perform and to be willing to settle for doing a job as I was told to do it instead of doing it in such a manner that it was finished and finished correctly. I wanted to know if I was suffering from ADD or ADHD and I wanted to know if Ritalin would help me. To this day I do not know what my actual "diagnosis" would be, were I to seek one out, because my investigation led me to the conclusion that all of the science on the topic was fundamentally flawed.

The following is quoted from the ADHD entry on PubMed Health,a website for which ultimate responsibility lies with the National Institutes for Health. If the NIH espouses a different definition, it is not on their website, so I will take this quotation to define the condition as the NIH sees it:

ADHD is a problem with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for a child's age and development.

The words "the normal range for a child's age and development" are important. They imply an authoritative baseline to judge the presence of a developmental disability that requires treatment by means of a powerful mind-altering drug.

ADD/ADHD science is based on a pair of serious epistemological errors that Bertrand Russell or John Dewey would easily be able to point out to the scientists involved. The first of these errors, and perhaps the most severe, is the conclusion that the use of the word "normal" involves an objective intellectual judgment rather than a subjective intellectual judgment. The second of these errors, which would be a horrendous mistake even if the judgment process behind the word "normal" were properly understood, is to equate the process of judging what is "normal" by the mathematical study of averages. Thus "normal" is defined as "average."

The problem is that an "average" is not a discrete thing. It is an abstract mathematical construct. It does provide a baseline for comparison but it does not provide any sort of guidance in judging the validity of the comparison. The "average child" on whom ADD/ADHD science depends does not exist. They are merely an imaginary construct whose only purpose is comparison with the individual. The matter is complicated by the fact that any child psychologist not on mind-altering drugs themselves will tell you that "inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination" are in fact normal symptoms of a condition called "childhood." So we have a situation where evidence of normal childhood behavior is justification for a diagnosis of mental abnormality based on an arbitrary prejudice regarding "desirable" behavior combined with an imaginary baseline construct telling us how much "normal" is too "normal."

This flawed diagnostic system is broken entirely by the fact that behavior symptomatic of ADHD can also be a specific response to specific stimulus under specific conditions. The child who does not do his assigned homework because they believe the classroom exercises sufficient and who, instead, reads ahead in their textbook for the following day's lesson and then goes to basketball practice is making a rational decision. When such a child has prepared for the next day's lesson and expects to work on that lesson but instead finds the class bogged down in the review of the previous day's lesson in the form of homework analysis, it would be terribly abnormal if they were attentive. When said child also gets an "A" on all class tests it could further be considered normal for the child to receive a "D" in the subject they have clearly learned so well. All of this a natural consequence of a classroom environment created by valuing social promotion over the gradation of learned skills and the completion of assignments over actual learning.

None of us should be surprised that forced medication of students is preferable to school districts over the trouble and expense of giving individual children attention based on their individual educational needs and accomplishments. The parents' health insurance foots the bill rather than the school district. What should surprise us is that the majority of ADD/ADHD "science" is undertaken in support of educators with the purpose of controlling children they do not know how to teach. Many parents of kids diagnosed with ADD have been fighting this tooth and nail. They see the effects that mind-altering drugs have on their children outside the classroom. The "scientists" don't care.

My personal view, that ADD and ADHD do not exist at all but are merely convenient labels to allow school systems to drug students that resist sadomasochistic institutionalization, is not necessarily widely shared. However the parallels with icepick lobotomies in mental institutions in the 1950s and 1960s are worthy of consideration. Both "treatments" consist of the destruction of individuality to suit the needs of the institutionalizing system.

It is the issue of questioning the motivations behind the science that brings me back to Michelle Dawson's blog and this article. The subject of the article is a study advancing a specific thesis about autistic understanding of spatial relations. Their findings were not pleasant:

The press release starts by declaring that autistic children "lack visual skills required for independence" and does not exaggerate the claims in the paper, which merit a lot of scrutiny. So bear with me, this is not going to be short. First what they did (and didn't do), then what they found, then what it means.

The statement Ms. Dawson quotes from the press release encapsulates the high-minded science of the study quite succinctly. The study minimizes some of the real learning advantages studies have found autistic individuals to possess by dismissive their usefulness in "the real world." Rather than design a "real world" test of "visual skill", however, the actual study constructed an elaborate simulation that did not even directly test visual skills!

This attitude can best be described as a belief in the virtues of conformance, submission to authority, and the abdication of individual responsibility to expert opinion as recognized by the institutions that expert opinion serves. Teachers unduly burdened by students with ADD/ADHD are not able to properly teach the rest of the class, we are told. Parents burdened by autistic children are handicapped in every other area of life. In neither case is the individual diagnosed with a disability the victim of said disability: instead, through their disability, they are the means of someone else's victimization.

Something whose combination of symptoms we choose to label "autism" clearly exists. It is not so easy to argue that the symptoms of autism are as "normal" as the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Even if ADD/ADHD does exist, however, teachers aren't its victims. The kids are the ones suffering from the school system's INability, as well as their own DISability. They deserve better. How much more insidious and dangerous is the scientific attitude that autistics are not the victims of autism but, rather, society and government are the victims of autistics?

I've talked more about the specific issue of ADD than I intended and less about autism, but the real point in all this is not either specific issue. It is a culture of institutionalization in which elaborate systems are developed for every stage and facet of life and people are deemed worthy or unworthy based on their ability to fit into those institutions. Science must serve fact and not institutional values.