Autism as the defining symptom of the internet-age and/or the internet as a bridge through which the space of society is widened to include individuals who aren’t neurotypical: read “Autism & The Internet” or “It’s The Wiring, Stupid” by Harvey Blume.

Bruce Mazlish is…..in The Fourth Discontinuity: the Co-evolution of Humans and Machines (1993)… argues that human history has been marked by four discontinuities, each considered unbridgeable while it prevailed. The first discontinuity was between humanity and cosmos. This was overcome by Copernican astronomy, which located earth within a universe of stars, planets, and other galactic phenomenon. The second discontinuity was between human and beast. This, in turn, was bridged by Darwin. The third discontinuity pertains to the distinction between ego and instinct, the presumably autonomous individual and the unconscious. Freud showed this to be a permeable membrane at best.

The last discontinuity is between human and machine. What with smart machines, and cybernetic models of the human mind, Mazlish sees that discontinuity as giving way in our own time. The computer opens a Northwest Passage between natural and artificial intelligence, the organism and the mechanism. The last of the discontinuities that make humanity special, a creation unto itself, is being scaled.

Except, of course, that the true discontinuity is not between human and machine but between life and non-life. Blume’s point is still true at heart – that a neurological view is a neurofunctional view, which is a type of mechanism. But

With neurology comes neurobabble. As Americans we will certainly not refuse the chance to simplify and babble-ize any paradigm that comes our way.

If only it was just Americans!

I find the use of the label ‘autistic’ to include everyone on the autistic spectrum disturbing. Most clinically defined autistics probably don’t even use language, let alone the internet. Grouping clinical and sub-clinical populations is a linguistic dilution which confuses the issue and marginalises clinical cases. It confuses because it continues the zeitgeist for medicalising and/or pathologising everything.

High functioning ‘autistics’ are able to talk about the patterns of ability/disability. The average person is able to emphasise with the way the profile is presented and the average parent is able to spend money on ‘curing’, treating or preventing autism in their child. We start to think of autism as a quirk of personality or to expect savantism in every autistic – something that is unfair to autistics who won’t conform to our misled prejudices and hence disappoint or be cast in roles that don’t suit them

Linguistic reservations aside, Blume’s essay has lots of truth in it and is engaging and thought-provoking.