Nancy MacLean Update

The student newspaper at Duke University, The Chronicle, has taken up the issue of Duke historian Nancy MacLean’s anti-autism comments I first raised. To date they have run three articles on it:

Professor Nancy MacLean claims founders of libertarianism seem to be on the ‘autism spectrum

Shame on Nancy MacLean

Duke Hypocrisy

The first and last do have a political bent to them, but the middle one is by the editorial board of The Chronicle.

None of the posts mention this blog which, to the best of my knowledge, originated the story. Certainly the first mainstream media outlet to discuss her comments, Reason, cites my blog. While the big blowup occurred among conservative and libertarian outlets, a leftist response at Merion West did pop up several days later. While they seem more interested in pointing out conservative hypocrisy on the issue, they do condemn MacLean’s statement.

While I previously discussed the degree to which she was incorrect about autistics having low empathy, I haven’t discussed at length her claim that we do not feel solidarity.

I am sure that what MacLean means by “solidarity” is something along the lines of fellow-feeling for some sort of group. If that’s what she means, then she’s right: we probably don’t feel that very strongly. As a result, we have a tendency not to be racists, sexists, homophobes, nationalists, etc. (Which doesn’t mean an autistic person raised in a racist environment won’t turn out racist–but I would argue they would be less likely to do so and be more prone to becoming less racist over time precisely because we have a more egalitarian outlook on the world and thus feel less solidarity.)

On the other hand, we autistics also tend to be very loyal. We are loyal to our spouses, to our friends, and to the places where we work. Personally, I would rather be loyal than to feel the kind of solidarity that underlies racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and other kinds of groupthink. If Nancy MacLean wishes to condemn that as a weakness, that says more about her character than it does about those she criticizes and denigrates.

And, no, she still hasn’t make a public apology for what she said.


Update: The Wall Street Journal has a piece on Nancy MacLean’s anti-autism comments.

Also, Pacific Standard has a piece on it that cites me. She apparently made an apology to the author of the piece in a private email to him.

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