Autism and Group Selection

There is a theory of evolution out there that applies to social groups called group selection. It’s an idea that arose, been discredited, and re-arose. The economist F.A. Hayek supported it in his theory of spontaneous orders, arguing that large social groups would undergo selection for the best social orders if let free to do so (the benefit, as he understood is, is that people were both free to leave and to change society so that only the society “died off” rather than the individuals–thus could we experiment in ways of living), and E.O. Wilson is now an advocate.

There was an article that came out last year that argued that the presence of autism could be important for the health of groups and thus would arise through group selection. This argument is not dissimilar to observations I have made here and here. The bottom line is that neurodiversity is vital for the health of any society. There have to be a large majority (around 80%) who act to stabilize the system, and there have to be a small group (around 20%) who destabilize the system through creativity and innovation.

The article makes this point as well. Those groups that tolerated autistics seem to be those better able to survive. Of course, creative innovators, those who challenged the status quo in technology or culture, have always been at best “tolerated.” But the more tolerant a culture has been to such people, the more innovative and wealthier that culture has been.

Which should worry you, because our culture does not much tolerate such people outside of programming. Indeed, we are finding continued wealth in the IT sector of our economy, while the rest of the economy seems stagnant at best.

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