Nancy MacLean: It’s a Libertarian Conspiracy!

About a month ago, I wrote a piece in which I discussed comments made by Nancy MacLean about autistics lacking empathy. To say that post blew up is an understatement. It was picked up by Reason Magazine and spread across the internet, through Reason‘s link to my post was dropped by most other outlets. I further discussed  the fact that intellectuals like her tend to be anti-autistic, and I discussed some further discussions of MacLean’s comments. But although I had read that she had apologized via email to a few people, I had not heard anything from MacLean herself about the controversy. Until now.

C-SPAN did an interview with Nancy MacLean March 11 in which the interviewer asks her about the autism controversy. The question occurs at the 20:26 mark.

INTERVIEWER: NOW, LAST MONTH THE HEADLINE CAME OUT THAT SAYS “DUKE PROFESSOR SAYS ARCHITECTS OF MODERN LIBERTARIANISM SEEM TO BE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM.” IS THAT A…IS THAT A FAIR QUOTE

MACLEAN: THAT QUOTE WAS … AND I REGRET THAT I SAID THAT. IT WAS ASKED AT THE END OF A LONG EVENING. IT WAS AT THE 100 MINUTE MARK OF A SPEECH THAT I GAVE AT A LIBERTARIAN CHURCH, AN INVITED SPEECH. AND IT WAS A YOUNG MAN WHO  HAD LISTENED TO MY WHOLE TALK. HE UNDERSTOOD THE POLITICS, HE UNDERSTOOD THE IDEOLOGY, BUT HE COULDN’T UNDERSTAND HOW PEOPLE, THESE TWO INDIVIDUALS IN PARTICULAR, JAMES BUCHANAN AND CHARLES KOCH, WOULD DO WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO THEIR FELLOW CITIZENS. HOW THEY COULD BE SO UNFEELING AND HOW THEY COULD NOT SEE THAT THESE MEN ARE BRINGING INTO BEING A SOCIETY THAT’S UTTERLY UNSUSTAINABLE. SO, IN TRYING TO GET TO THE DEPTH OF THE QUESTION HE ASKED — I MENTIONED, AND ACTUALLY THERE WERE THREE FIGURES, ONE WHO IS AT GEORGE MASON, TYLER COWAN, HAS SAID HE WAS ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, CHARLES KOCH AND JAMES BUCHANAN, ONE COULD HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT, BUT I SAID IT’S PURE SPECULATION. BUT NOW HERE IS A POINT WHERE YOU SEE HOW THIS NETWORK WORKS. BECAUSE TWO GEORGE MASON PROFESSORS, EITHER THEY WATCH EVERY APPEARANCE I DO OR THEY HAVE UNDERLINGS WHO DO, SO THEY WATCHED TO MINUTE 100 AND THEN THEY STARTED TWEETING THIS OUT TO PEOPLE WHO HAD AUTISM ORGANIZATIONS, TRYING TO WEAPONIZE THEIR PAIN, AND TURN THE PAIN OF THOSE PEOPLE AGAINST ME AS AUTHOR. AND I ACTUALLY, ON PAGE 232 OF MY BOOK, TALK ABOUT HOW THEY GLOAT, THEY TALK ABOUT UPPING THE TRANSACTION COSTS OF DISSENT FOR THE OTHER SIDE, UPPING THE TRANSACTIONS COSTS FOR THE OTHER SIDE. SO THEY WEAPONIZE THE PAIN OF AUTISM SUFFERS AGAINST ME. AND I APOLOGIZE. I HAVE SINCE LEARNED ABOUT AUTISM. AUTISM SUFFERS I HAVE LEARNED DO HAVE EMPATHY, DO FEEL COMPASSION, MAY NOT BE ABLE TO EXPRESS IT AS WELL. I STAND BY WHAT I SAID ABOUT THESE LIBERTARIAN ARCHITECTS OF THE STEALTH CAUSE. BUT WHAT WAS SO GROTESQUE IS THAT WITHIN 48 HOURS, AGITATED FOLKS WITH AUTISM, SENT THEIR GROUP CAMPUS REFORM AGAINST ME. AGITATED OTHER PEOPLE, TRIED TO GET ME FIRED, TRIED TO GET ME PUNISHED. THIS IS THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE GALL TO TALK ABOUT FREE SPEECH IN OUR SOCIETY. THEY ARE GIVING OUT CAMERAS TO YOUNG PEOPLE ON CAMPUSES TO TAPE THEIR PROFESSORS. AND THOSE STUDENTS ARE BEING TRAINED BY JAMES O’KEEFE WHO IS THE PERSON WHO TRIED TO ATTRACT THE WASHINGTON POST, DESTROYED THE CAREER OF A WONDERFUL CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS NAMED SHIRLEY SHERROD WHO WORKED FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, WITH UTTERLY DISHONEST EDITING. AND CHARLES KOCH-FUNDED ORGANIZATIONS ARE BRINGING SOMEONE LIKE THAT TO TRAIN OUR YOUNG PEOPLE ON CAMPUSES ON HOW TO ATTACK THEIR FACULTY. I WAS JUST SPEAKING IN FLAGSTAFF, AT NORTHERN ARIZONA UNIVERSITY WHERE STUDENTS FROM THAT ORGANIZATION, CAMPUS REFORM, TRAINED BY A KOCH-FUNDED ORGANIZATIONS HAD CREATED THROUGH THEIR DISHONESTY AND MISREPRESENTATION OF THE SITUATION, A DEPARTMENT CHAIR OF THAT UNIVERSITY RECEIVED MULTIPLE DEATH THREATS. IT ALL CAN BE DOCUMENTED. IT’S…FRANKLY IT’S DISCUSSING WHAT THE CHARLES KOCH FOUNDATION AND THE OTHER ORGANIZATION THAT THAT MAN FUNDS IS DOING TO OUR HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THEIR, AGAIN I WILL SAY IT, BECAUSE I BELIEVE IT, THE MESSIANIC DETERMINATION TO TRANSFORM OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM WITHOUT BEING HONEST WITH THE PEOPLE OF WHAT THE TRUE SOCIETY IS THAT THEY AIM TO GET TO. SORRY, THAT PUSHED A BUTTON, BECAUSE I HAD TO SPEND MANY, MANY, MANY HOURS ANSWERING HATE MAIL AND ANSWERING MAIL FROM PEOPLE WHO WERE UPSET. AND WHEN I APOLOGIZED TO THE AUTISM SUFFERERS, I RECEIVED BEAUTIFUL MAIL BACK. ALL THEY WANTED WAS THAT RECOGNITION. BUT THOSE PEOPLE ON THE PAYROLL OF THE KOCH NETWORK UNDERSTOOD THAT THEY WERE ACTIVELY WEAPONIZING OTHER PEOPLE’S PAIN IN ORDER TO HARASS SOMEONE WHO IS A PROBLEM FOR THEIR CAUSE. IF WERE ONLY ME, I WOULDN’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT, BUT IT’S A CONSCIOUS STRATEGY THEY’RE DOING TO PEOPLE ACROSS THE COUNTRY. AND IT IS BENEATH CONTEMPT.

To keep things in context, she gave her talk in which she made the anti-autism comments on Feb. 7, and I posted about it Feb. 10. Now, I cannot speak as to what may or may not have happened on Twitter prior to my post, but I only learned about the talk Feb. 9, when it was posted on Facebook by a Facebook friend. After watching it, I made my post. And yes, I did then engage in a Twitter campaign that did include many autism organizations, because I believe that as many people as possible needed to know such a high-profile person as Nancy MacLean was saying what she was saying about autism. But my Twitter campaign doesn’t at all resemble what she claims happened.

The first mention of Nancy MacLean’s talk in the libertarian mainstream media was, as far as I have been able to discover, the piece in Reason Magazine that cited my blog post. The same day the Reason post came up, I received an email asking for an interview, which I was happy to grant. That interview came out in PJMedia several days later. The majority of outlets criticizing what MacLean said seem to be primarily based on the Reason piece, but fail to cite my blog.

The bottom line, though, is this: Nancy MacLean says she apologizes to the autistic community, but she buries that apology in a strange conspiracy theory in which she blames the Koch Foundation, or some sort of Koch network, for having the audacity to point out that she was being an ableist bigot! Don’t get me wrong, there’s no question they pointed out her bigotry precisely because it benefited them to do so. Of course they did. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t say what she said, and it doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have been roundly criticized for what she said. And whatever others’ motives may have been in pointing it out, she was still wrong in what she said–both factually and morally.

Further, while MacLean doesn’t mention me at all, since it seems that I was Reason‘s primary source it would then follow that it would seem she would think I’m part of this Koch-funded network. This would be a great surprise to both me and my bank account! For her, it seems to be outside the realm of possibility for an informal, decentralized network without anyone funding anything to discover her talk and for me to randomly see someone’s sharing of the talk, watch it myself, come to my own conclusions, and decide entirely on my own to write about it on my autism blog as an example of the kind of ignorant bigotry we on the spectrum have to face.

As far as I’m concerned, if she did learn anything about autism–she says she has since learned we do have empathy, and I’ll take her word that she now understands that–she did not learn quite enough about us. We are not “sufferers” of autism–other than suffering from having to live in a society controlled primarily by people exactly like her. In that respect, we do suffer quite a bit–we suffer discrimination, we suffer unemployment, we suffer from the spread of misinformation and ignorance about us. We aren’t in pain, we are not suffering. We simply want to be accepted for who we are–and the language MacLean continues to use against us is the language of rejection, the language of mere pity, the language of a refusal to truly accept our humanity.

MacLean doesn’t actually take responsibility for what she says in this interview. She says she apologizes, but she spends most of her time blaming some “Koch Network” that would have to include me in order to exist and which, therefore, does not exist. The problem, according to what she says in this interview, isn’t with what she said, but with the fact that the villains of her book have had the audacity to point out that what she said was wrong. I have to wonder if she would think that those on the Left who accuse anyone and everyone they disagree with of being racists, sexists, and homophobes are weaponizing other people’s pain and therefore are beneath contempt. I somehow doubt she would be willing to extend those principles to those she supports.

Finally, although she says she reads Reason, and although if she read Reason she would know I played a significant part in outing her for her comments, she makes no mention of me. Why? It’s simple: I don’t fit in with her theory.

Oh, and while she did email an apology to the Duke Chronicle, that apology completely misses the point of my complaint. So, I’m still waiting for a proper apology from her. You know, one where she doesn’t blame others–or the lateness of the hour–for a comment that she had very obviously thought through (because if, as she said in the initial comments, she had chosen, for some reason, NOT to put it in the book, that means she had thought about putting it in the book).

I’m still waiting, Nancy MacLean. I’m still waiting.

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The Imitation Game: Alan Turing’s Autism

If The Imitation Game is an accurate portrayal of Alan Turing, there is little question that Turing was autistic. It is difficult to lay out all of the evidence from the film, because practically everything Turing does in the film screams to the audience, “I have autism!” But I will note a few specifics.

Consider Turing and language. He uses language in a very direct, un-nuanced, literal fashion. And he takes what everyone says as though they were using language the same way. Thus, when the announcement that “We’re going to go get lunch” is made, he takes it as an announcement that everyone else is going to go get lunch; what he fails to recognize is that the announcement is an invitation. And he fails at such recognition of the kinds of language games people play throughout the film.

Turing also had a tendency to appear to people to be incredibly arrogant. This is a common complaint against people on the spectrum. But as you watch the film, you come to realize that Turing is anything but arrogant. He is certain, but that certainty is well earned. He is direct in his speech, but that is a combination of the way he uses language and his lack of understanding that such directness comes across as rude. In his experience, people don’t understand what he’s talking about, so he doesn’t see any point in wasting his and their time explaining himself. To someone on the spectrum, that’s courtesy. He doesn’t understand that people won’t just take his word, though, and need the explanation even if they don’t understand it, if they are to provide him with the support he needs.

Turing’s simultaneous desire to work alone and to not be alone is something people with autism experience. It is a strange tension that most cannot understand. I want to be left alone to do my work, except when I don’t want to be left alone. Interruptions upset me (but not as much as they used to), so I tended to drive people away when I was working. But then they tended to stay away, which is not necessarily what I wanted. The same was true of Turing.

Finally, there was Turing’s rational calculation of allowing people to die so the Germans wouldn’t know Enigma had been cracked, and his argument for the development of statistics to determine when to use the information they had, to prevent the Germans from ever learning the English had cracked the code. Everyone in the room was ready to send in the cavalry to save the people who were going to be killed. That’s the most human reaction of all. But if they had done that, they would have lost all the work they did, the Germans would have known Enigma was cracked, and the English couldn’t have used it to shorten the war and win it. Turing could see all of that because the way his mind worked allowed him to bypass those emotions and reach the most rational conclusion. People on the spectrum are (in)famous for making such calculations.

There are plenty of other little things in his behaviors that make it clear Turing was on the spectrum. But I will also note that one of the most intelligent people in the world, the man who invented the computer, who theorized on artificial intelligence and came up with the Turing Test, who was a brilliant mathematician, was clearly on the spectrum. The man who may have won World War II for the Allies and saved the lives of millions of people was someone most of those he saved would have shunned as “weird.”

One would probably be amazed at the number of such “weird” people have revolutionized the world. And the primary beneficiaries would (and perhaps have) treated those people as Turing was typically treated throughout his life. People need to see The Imitation Game precisely for this reason. They need to experience the world through an Alan Turing, so they can empathize with those of us who are “weird” and unappreciated and shunned for it. We just want to do our work. And we don’t want to have to justify ourselves and our work to everyone in the process. The latter may be impossible, but can we at least, at last, get some understanding regarding who we are?