Is American conservatism a type of autism? No, but being an offensive lout apparently crosses all borders

Oh, good. Another op-ed with a "hypothesis" about autism. I'll just say, I've seen a lot in the last eight years about autism that's been deeply offensive. But this? This drills through the core of offensive and comes out on the side of calumny. I'd normally let something this burning stupid lie and avoid calling attention to it, but ... this is autism. Nothing is too outre to believe when it comes to autism, and if you don't think people will buy what this guy's selling -- I've got some industrial bleach enemas for you to purchase.

An Australian fellow by the name of Paul Wallis has penned an Op-Ed posted at Digital Journal and entitled, "Is American conservatism a type of autism?" in which he hypothesizes a "social autism" that now afflicts the poor United States of America by way of making conservatives act like autistic people. He proceeds to describe autism as something that it is not and to compare autistic people and their thinking to that of an extreme caricature of conservatism--racist, anti-environmentalist, anti-poor--and uses his hypothesized "social autism" to tell the USofA what a godawful place it is now that everyone acts like autistic people. 

Wallis was asked, apparently by some saint of a human being who mustered some courtesy in doing it, to take down this offensive post. His response?
There was and is no intent to vilify autistic people. If there's an explanation for the idea that there is, I'd like to hear it. I've since contacted L.E.A.N.onUS on Facebook to ask for clarification of their position, which was copied verbatim by Ms. Gammicchia. Until I see adequate information to explain how this article has been so utterly misconstrued, that's my final word on the subject.
I've got your adequate right here, Paul Wallis. First, your description of autism: 
Autism is described as a medical condition whereby people are self-centred, uncommunicative and at a remove from their social environment. There are many different types of autism and degrees of it. A type of “social autism” is also quite possible.
No, autism is not a "medical condition" whereby people are what you describe. Have you ever met an autistic person, even one? It is primarily a condition that involves impairments in social communication, although autistic people communicate all the time, you know, like people do. You think you're making up some kind of "social autism," but autism itself is an inherently social construct the very diagnosis of which is determined by social expectations of communication capacities. Not one thing in any diagnostic criteria I have ever seen for autism describes people who are autistic as being "self centered." I think you're thinking about psychopaths, actually, throughout your garbled screed, not that substituting that word would have made one single thing about your "Op-Ed" defensible. 
Autism ticks all the boxes for behaviour in relation to social issues by conservatives. It seems that there is no society except the one they choose to acknowledge. This is “social autism”, and it comes in many forms.
Your effort here to collect your perceived ideas about what autism is and then shoehorn that into a hypothesized "social autism" afflicting conservatives is an abject failure, in part because one reason conservatives (or liberals) identify as who they are is because of social ties and social biases imparted by their social circles. You see, autistic people tend to be comparatively impervious to this sort of thing. You've created a bizarre oxymoron that's gone meta in how utterly wildly off target it is for characterizing what you're trying to say.

Your post then provides a laundry list about anti-environmentalism, racism, callous dismissal of poverty, and other features you claim are part of US conservatism. Have you been to the United States? Do you know any people who identify as conservative in the United States? I'll grant you this: Like autistic people, they're not something you can just package into a neat little hate box by checking off a list of perceived characteristics they have. They come in all kinds of spectra relative to each of the bullet points you list, from zero to 100% for each point. I know a lot of conservatives, and not one single person fits the grotesquerie you sketch, even in part. My favorite part of your list? Ironically ... you say "social failure is not an issue" in terms of their compassion for others ... while trying to argue that somehow autism is a feature of people like this.

Then you go on, after your silly, inept list, and ask: 
Can this possibly be considered anything but an autistic viewpoint? Even the lying is based on the same mentality as a 2 year old who thinks they can get away with anything. Apparently anything which doesn’t directly benefit or relate to oneself isn’t on the conservative radar. That’s autism, incarnate. There’s 312 million people in America, and evidently most of them are just nuisances according to this mindset.
Wow. You say that this is an "autistic viewpoint," infantilize the population you discuss, call your insanely hyperbolic characterization of US conservatives "autism incarnate," and then you can't tell how you've vilified autisitic people. You list some of the most callous, unemotional attitudes human beings can have about other human beings and the world around them, call that an "autistic viewpoint," and then you--apparently clad in the thickest armor of density and callousness a human can don--can't tell how that vilifies or offends autistic people.

Not sufficient for you, you then go after my country and autistic people like my son, simultaneously:
America has lost something very valuable as a result of this social autism. It has lost its self-respect. No ideology can replace that. People know there will be screw-ups. They know, certainly, that their interests are at the back of the line, if anywhere at all. They know that their needs will not be met. Businesses know that they’re down the bottom of the pecking order and that no amount of “free enterprise” stacks up against insider networks. They can’t compete.
Do you live and vote in the USofA? What do you think we've lost? Our democratic process still exists. We still elect people at all levels of government, from the local to the executive of the land, in that democratic process. Anyone who knows anything about politics or history knows that waves of ideology ebb and flow, that democracies function over the long term, not the short, and that the president of the United States is one human being among the thousands that we, as a nation, elect each year from across ideological spectra. That's our process in action, and it continues to work for us. You blame "social autism" for what you perceive as the ills of this nation, yet you yourself are blind to your own ignorance about both autism and this country.

After insulting wholesale a country, autistic people, and people who identify as conservatives, you received a "very courteous request" from the father of an autistic child to please take down your vile, abusive, irrational, and offensive post. Your response? 
I explained to this gentleman that the entire purpose of this article was to hit the conservatives with their own standards, portraying them as afflicted with a disability. I am absolutely baffled that this piece, which is intended to be an attack on the mindset which appears determined to destroy millions of lives and make poverty, healthcare and social disadvantages worse, could possibly have been construed as any sort of vilification or attack on autistic people. I'm getting attacked by the people I'm trying to protect, and there's not one single word attacking autistic people in the entire 1200 words plus. There are no disparaging references to autistic people at all, anywhere in the text. All references refer to conservative policies and statements on record and proven incidents.
You think you're "hitting conservatives"? You're deluded. All this article does is hit autistic people, mischaracterize the condition, who they are, and how they think and behave, and class them in with a caricatured bogeyman of an American conservative that you constructed as representing all conservative Americans. You claim "you're getting attacked by the people you're trying to protect"? Who asked you for that protection? And where have you put your ears? Because instead of acting like a defensive ass over one of the most offensive articles about autism and my country that I've read in a long time, you need to shut up and listen. And learn. A lot. What you seem to know right now on the subjects on which you've chosen to write doesn't even come close to adequate.


  1. This is unbelievable. You have to wonder how Paul could have come up with such an ill-considered op-ed. And, how could he be so half-witted as to not understand how his article insults and mischaracterizes autism? So foolish.

  2. My favorite is the part where he shamelessly says he is trying to shame conservatives by comparing them to disabled people.

    People need to just fucking not talk.

  3. If it had been better written I almost would have guessed that the Op-Ed was parody. Thank you for taking it on Emily.

    1. You know, I've got to start checking for that--got taken in by a site a couple of weeks ago that I didn't recognize as a parody site. Of course, for a good parody to work, it's got to play off of what people really think and believe or are willing to believe. This one would've nailed that.

  4. This op-ed writer is an embarrassment. He used an entire group of disabled people to make a point about politics. He is sadly uneducated and misguided about the disability. He wields the disability as a weapon. And to top it all off, he denies any "intent to vilify." It doesn't matter what his intent was. Obviously, his intent was to vilify conservatives. He just used an entire group of disabled persons for collateral damage. *Because* of their disability. How much more shameful can he get?

  5. I wonder if Paul is not indeed Autistic and had a very difficult time growing up (as many of us did) but was never provided positive information about his diagnosis nor was he introduced to his community and thus has no awareness of his culture.

    I am very aware that I have made some substantial leaps in conclusions but I carefully read Paul's responses to many individuals and my Autdar was pinging.

    I am not suggesting that what he wrote about Autism is correct, although I did agree with his political points and I will admit my first response (and second, honestly) was one of anger but as I read through how he was defending himself, I sensed something bigger going on.

    Please read his comments again. If I am correct, I do understand and empathize with his self-hate. I have been there and, hell, I am still working on not hating my 'Autistic Self'.


  6. It's not even the worst or the only. "Post-Autistic Economics", how are ya.

  7. It is worth noting what type of site the Digital Journal is. Anyone in the general public can sign up as a member, and submit articles for publication in the online journal. It is an online social club of amateur creative journalists; these Op-Ed writers in the social club get social points for the merits of their work; they are not paid for their efforts.

    If one looks at the headlines they are in line with the headlines one might see on the cover of the "National Enquirer" required to reach the broadest of target audiences. This is what it takes in an environment like this social online club of writers to gain readership; providing topics no one has seen before.

    Whether or not the headlines are completely reasonable or not, it is the emotional response that brings in the readership. It wouldn't be nearly as interesting for those participating if their creative talents were stifled by politically correct policies, nor would it generate nearly as much advertising revenue for the site owner, that is not bound by the same politically correct standards as a New York Times or Washington Post online publisher.

    These type of sites welcome a controversial topic, as it generates more traffic and advertising revenue, not unlike bloggers that focus on controversial topics to fill up pay pal tip jars. It is the American Way, per the online Capitalist, but not always kind. Mr. Wallis was provided an avenue for a public opinion and the opportunity to gain points for readership response.

    1. Yes, it is that kind of a site, but he has 2 million page views and that piece alone had several hundred shares on Facebook before it started making the rounds in my circles. That's what tipped the calculus in favor of a response for me. When people search it because "they've heard about this autism and conservatism" thing, one of the hits they get will be this post. In fact, right now, it's on the hit page for a search on "autism" and "conservatives."

  8. I think it is possible that people will take the Chinese Autism analogy provided by the military scientist/historian Edward Luttwak more seriously as he was a respected adviser to the Whitehouse; he provides the same basic analogy of closed of from the rest of the world for his Autistic analogy, although the deficits in character don't read as offensive as they did in Wallis' article. I agree that it is important to set the record straight on the facts; not much harm can from an article like Wallis' as long people understand that character deficits are not an inherent part of Autism. I didn't see the opportunity provided to comment on any of the articles discussing Luttwak's book. In interacting with Wallis, I am convinced he was serious about his experience on the spectrum as a young child, suspect he has adapted like many, and continues to find some difficulties in social communication, as he seemed like he was having a difficult time understanding why others were seeing more offense than his stated intentions.

    I like your critiques on science, and was hoping if you are interested you might provide a critique of the articles in the media with the recent research associated with the DSM5 Autism Spectrum Disorder revision. The limitations of the research are explained very well I think in the research paper, but the comments by Dr. Lord, a co-author of the research, do not seem to reflect those limitations, as linked and quoted below, and also seem in opposition to the quote below that seems to reflect the more common opinion that the criteria is narrower not broader per principles, as Dr. Lord seems to suggest below.

    "All sides agree that the proposed criteria are narrower and will likely result in fewer diagnoses of autism, but until doctors begin using the new definition widely, the predictions of its effect are just that: predictions."

    “All of our data to date suggest that if you look at these patients carefully and understand the intent of the proposed criteria—which is to state broad principles and leave it up to the clinician working with the patient or parent to observe examples of behaviors that fit the principles—it would be very surprising if there are many patients [currently meeting DSM-IV diagnoses] who would not fit the new criteria,” Lord told Psychiatric News.

  9. My son was dx with Aspergers & SPD at 6,and during my search for information,I came across a site developed by young adults with diverse forms of HFA,college students that wanted to help family members understand how their brains might work.This subject was brought up and at least one of them agreed that some HFA's might be prone to a conservative way of thinking.Sadly,what most people in the US and most developed countries don't realize is that they are getting their impressions and information from a skewed source.The media and Hollywood are notoriously liberal and biased against conservatives,and this man's description is what they actually believe conservatives are,evil,hate the poor,don't care about the environment.Unfortunately,there are some fake conservatives in prominent positions that help to give this wrong impression.Really,all we can do is hope and pray for our children that they have a good life and are not unduly influenced by the wrong things.


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