Yes, We Judge Others

One of the simple truths of life: we all judge other people. This is, according to some evolutionary psychologists, a beneficial trait. We judge in an instant in order to preserve ourselves. We see patterns in our experiences and use those to predict new experiences. If I've been attacked by men in blue shirts several times, it makes sense that I might be afraid of men in blue shirts. That's not prejudice — it's caution.

When I wrote about The Mediocre, it was a reflection not only of psychology research — and there has been a fair amount of research on unconsciously mean people — it is also a reflection of experiences with unhappy people. Sadly, there are some very unhappy people online.

Angry, unhappy, discontented people do make me uneasy. And you can tell that some people are "happiest" being angry. Some, but not all of these people, seek out conflict. They can't simply disagree and keep quiet about it. I had a colleague who liked to visit Christian websites and tell believers how stupid they were for having faith in anything. I wonder if the parallel is people who feel compelled to go to some autism community forums to tell the members how ignorant they are? We know people do this in political forums. Why "troll" online to cause fights? I don't understand that impulse.

I used to try to understand and appreciate everyone, but there was a point in the last six years when I realized there are mean people who are either convinced they aren't being mean or are certain their meanness is entirely justified. I'm reminded of fictional villains who are certain someone wronged them, so they turned to crime and destruction in pursuit of "justice."

In autism communities, there is a lot of anger and a lot of stress. There is a sense of being victimized by someone or something. So, people lash out and attack. Some attack science, while others attack segments of the autism community. At some point, I simply cannot accept any justification for the anger and vitriol, even if there was an "original sin" that started the spiral. Someone has to be mature enough to stop feeding the anger. But that's just not human nature.

I don't like many autism therapies or supposed cures, but you won't find me posting to websites and forums associated with those treatments. I'm not going to seek out people to criticize — that's just not helpful. If you don't want my view on those issues, you don't need to read my blog. I'm not seeking to persuade anyone on other websites on any particular point.

Autism has so many unanswered questions that people find their own answers… and stick to them no matter what. Why try to argue these points on other forums? I'm not going to change any views with my "I don't know" and "The evidence is inconclusive" answers. And those answers are likely to only generate more distrust and, sometimes, hate.

A cycle of name-calling and distrust is spiraling out of control in some Internet virtual spaces. People are deciding and declaring who is or isn't "authentic" and attacking others. The anger has shifted from attacks on researchers to attacks on parents, self-advocates, teachers, and even spouses in some instances.

It makes sense that I might avoid some people and groups because some members of those communities have been mean, even threatening, towards me. The Internet makes being rude and threatening easy. Maybe that isn't fair to every member of a group, but it is self-preservation to avoid groups I associate with mean-spirited behaviors. 

When someone tells a parent to please control "that retarded kid of yours" — sorry, but I am going to judge that behavior. I also have a right to fear such meanness online. But there is a subtler meanness online in autism forums. It's the meanness that calls some people "shining Aspies" or "inauthentic autistics." Then, these same angry people wonder why some self-advocates are angry and defensive. The self-advocates' anger doesn't help, and it can be a burning anger. Again, that's not all self-advocates — not even the majority — but it is enough that it feeds the cycle. 

I do fear what is happening online. I've been told in emails to blow my head off, that I should be killed, and my family has been insulted by some unthinking people. It is often obvious what the biases are of the writers of these emails and posts. Then, I catch myself developing my own deep biases against people and the groups to which they belong.

As I wrote last week, this isn't a unique situation. Autism communities are no more (or less) dysfunctional than other communities. But, when you have a group inherently struggling to communicate and to understand other people, the cycle is much harder to stop.

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