Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Empathy

Like many, perhaps most autistic people, I am suspicious of a lot of the work and research that Simon Baron Cohen is involved with, however sometimes he hits the nail right on the head. I recently watched a 2012 TEDx presentation by Cohen and he made some comments regarding empathy and democracy that are surely relevant today. Let me quote starting from 10:35:

10:35 “Empathy is vital for a healthy democracy; it ensures that when we listen to different perspectives, we hear other people’s emotions and we also feel them. Indeed without empathy, democracy would not be possible.”

11:46 “Empathy is our most valuable natural resource for conflict resolution. We could wait for our political leaders to use empathy – and that would be refreshing – but actually we could all use our empathy.”

If I was asked for one word to describe what is lacking in American society and politics at this time, I think I would choose the word empathy.

If you wish to watch Simon Baron Cohen’s presentation in its entirety you can find it on YouTube: The erosion of empathy | Simon Baron Cohen | TEDxHousesofParliament.


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Spirituality, is it “woo”

Over on Nan’s Notebook, Ark wrote in a comment[T]hey love to include bullshit terms such as spirituality and other ‘Woo’ words“. To Ark there’s no doubt that it’s woo. I’m not persuaded that spirituality is “woo”.

Twelve days ago I attended a pōwhiri at a marae about an hour’s drive from home. The experience, as has every other pōwhiri I have been part of, is indeed intensely spiritual. Before I continue, here’s a brief description of a pōwhiri:

A pōwhiri usually begins with manuhiri (guests) gathering outside the meeting grounds. An older woman from the host side performs a karanga (call) to the manuhiri. This is when the visitors start moving on to the marae. A woman from among the visitors will send a call of response and acknowledgement. The visitors walk onto the marae as a group, slowly and silently with the women in front of the men. They pause along the way to remember their ancestors who have passed on.

Once on the marae grounds, the guests and hosts sit down facing each other. When they are all seated, speeches are made and a song is sung following each speaker to support their address. Customarily, the final speaker for the visitors will present a koha (gift) to their hosts.

To finish the ceremony, visitors and hosts greet each other with a hongi (the ceremonial touching of noses). After the pōwhiri, kai (food) is shared, in keeping with the Māori tradition of manaakitanga (hospitality).

What is a pōwhiri? Understanding the traditional Māori welcome

In total there may have been fifty guests and hosts, perhaps a few less. All the speeches during the pōwhiri were in Te Reo Māori, as were many of the speeches during the sharing of kai. I struggle in crowds. I find them overwhelming and I mean in a negative way, even in large family gatherings. Yet when I move onto a marae I feel “at home”, in much the same manner as I feel when attending a Quaker Meeting. I feel embraced, becoming one with those present. It seldom happens elsewhere.

I cannot speak Te Reo, and the few words of Māori I do know did little to help me understand the speeches, but even so I could detect the speakers’ connectedness through their pepeha. More importantly I felt the connection. It’s the being connected, being one with something beyond self that makes one’s experience spiritual. That connection enabled me to stand and speak, and for the first time in a long while I didn’t need to rehearse what I wanted to say.

Morning rain

I felt the same type of connection this morning, not with people or a community, but with nature. I stood on our balcony while steady rain fell, hiding the Ruahine and Tararua ranges and the Manawatu Gorge that separates them. The rain muffled the sounds of Feilding traffic below As I stood I felt I became one with the environment. I noticed a slowing of my breathing and of my pulse. There was a sense of belonging, a calmness that I don’t usually experience.

I noticed too that I stopped scripting. For those who don’t know what scripting is, it’s a bit like learning lines of a script for a play. I’m not really able to create sentences on the fly so my head is always shuffling words around to make intelligible sentences, memorising them and then storing them away for moment when it might be useful to pull it out and recite. It’s a process that seldom stops while I’m awake, and at times it becomes so distracting that I lose concentration on whatever task I’m undertaking at that moment. But this morning it wasn’t there – silence, serenity, being one with nature, or perhaps the universe? It then hit me that in the ceremony of the pōwhiri I wasn’t scripting either.

If I had been living several centuries ago, I might have attributed the “being one” with some type of agency – a spirit or mystical force or energy, as that is certain how the experience feels. At a time when the existence of such agencies were taken for granted, I would have had no reason to suppose it was anything else. But I live in a “rational” secular world with a better understanding of how the mind functions, so I can attribute the experience of “oneness” to the marvel that our brain is. Knowing it’s caused by chemical and electrical circuitry in the brain doesn’t make it any less an awe inspiring experience.

Dismissing such experiences as “woo” diminishes what it is to be human. I don’t know if Ark has ever fallen in love, experienced the euphoria of a crowd of spectators when their team wins a sports event or the satisfaction that comes when a difficult task has been completed. I haven’t. I can’t even imagine what those experiences feel like. But I’m certainly not going to call them “woo” simply because I don’t understand or experience them. I’m not usually aware of emotions, mine or anyone else’s. I’m not able to predict what people might do in a second’s time let alone in a minute or an hour, so I’m always of an uncertainty when around people. But in the environment of a pōwhiri or a Quaker meeting everyone becomes part of a whole which is predictable. There’s a routine created by custom fashioned over centuries.

A similar predictability applies to nature. Seasons come and go regularly as does day and night. Clouds tell me when rain is likely and how much will fall. Wind changes direction over hours as does its intensity. In one sense nature and ritualised social occasions talk to me, informing me what will happen next. There is no need to rehearse what I might need to say in the next moment, minute, hour, nor predict what might happen.

Being autistic is a little like taking part in a play where you have been given the script to Sound of music (even though I can’t hold a single note in tune) while everyone else is working to the script of Hamlet. It’s disorientating, confusing and stressful. So spiritual experiences take on even more significance whenever they do occur. It’s a sense of calm, peace and euphoria all at once, and unless you’ve experienced it, you have no idea what it is like. It is, literally, indescribable.

Woo? I think not.


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Where/who/what is God?

When God is no longer a person up there in the sky, where is God? When God is no longer personified in ways which can be controlled and manipulated by the powerful, who is God? When we stop creating images of God which are mere projections of ourselves, what is God?

Rev. Dawn Hutchings, pastordawn Sunday 5 December 2021

The above paragraph is from the sermon NATIVITY – a parable born in the darkness of trauma given by Pastor Dawn. She is one of several Christian pastors/preachers I follow on WordPress. Pastor Dawn Identifies herself as a 21st Century Progressive Christian Pastor. I suspect most of the others would also identify in a similar vein, even if they haven’t identified specifically as such.

The sermon itself, places into perspective the minds of the gospel writers in light of the genocide being committed against the Jews by the Roman empire that started in the latter part of the first century AD, and continued for another fifty or so years. I agree with Pastor Dawn, that without understanding the circumstances of the writers, it’s not possible to understand their intent, nor the meaning of what they wrote.

Even though the Gospels were written nearly 2000 years ago, our modern understanding of the effects of social upheaval, and how people responded to tyranny and genocide at the end of the first century means that we should be able interpret their contents in a nonliteral way, which I suspect was the intent of the writers, and perhaps implicitly understood by the first generation Christians who were predominantly Jews facing extreme persecution by the Roman Empire – as Pastor Dawn describes it “the first Holocaust”.

Given the conditions of the time, why any thinking person today should believe that the Gospels must be read as factual history is beyond me. And while I can understand that fundamentalist indoctrination might be reason why some Christians conflate universal truths told in the form of storytelling, parables, metaphors and symbolism with historical facts, I struggle to understand why so many non Christians also hold a similar view – that the gospels are meant to be understood literally so are therefore a pack of lies. Neither perspective is accurate and both do an injustice to the works of art contained within the Bible.

Pastor Dawn offers a plausible explanation as to how early Christians came to deify Jesus. Although she doesn’t mention it in the sermon, Roman emperors of the day were deified and surprise, surprise, myths were created claiming some to be the offspring of a union between a mortal and a god. At least one of them had a star hovering in the sky to announce the birth. Under the circumstances, attaching a similar story to the birth of Jesus seems an obvious way of describing the significance of Jesus and his teachings to his early followers. The symbolism would have been very obvious to those of the day.

I’m a firm believer in what Quakers describe as “continuing revelation“. This can be understood in many ways, (old Quaker saying: Ask four Quakers, get five answers) but my take on it is that with new knowledge comes new understandings (of the world around us and of us as individuals and communities). While I vehemently disagree with Richard Dawkins’ view of religion, I can thank him for naming (but not originating) an evolutionary model to explain what Quakers have intuitively known for generations: that ideas, values, concepts of morality, or art, be they religious or otherwise do not stand still. They change over time.

Dawkins coined the term meme to describe the mechanism by which ideas and concepts are inherited from generation to generation, and in a way similar to how genes combine and mutate and subsequently succeed or die out, so do memes. An example might be the concept of slavery as it evolved in the West and culminated in the horrors associated with slavery in America. In its heyday, most people in southern USA considered slavery to be part of the natural order of the world. Today, remnants of that concept remain in the form of racism, it’s a meme that has mutated by not (yet) died out completely.

Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Christian history should be aware how much Christianity has changed (evolved) over the centuries. Let’s face it, Jesus was a Jew, in both ethnicity and religion. His desire was reform, to place an emphasis on ethics and social justice rather than rigid ceremony and law. It was not to create a new religion. I have no doubt that he would find Reform Judaism closer to his goals than most (perhaps all) forms of Christianity.

Meanwhile Christianity evolved into a multiplicity of forms – some developing characteristics that expanded on the ideals of the first followers of Jesus and some that developed traits that Jesus strongly opposed. I see that as an inevitable and natural outcome of the evolutionary process. Just as organisms evolve, so do religions. If they don’t evolve to adapt to their environment then they either become restricted to a niche environment to which they are suited or they die out.

Evolution also applies to our concept(s) of God(s). One characteristic that most fundamentalist Christians and many atheists have in common, is that they have an almost identical notion of how God is defined. Both seem to be unable to grasp the fact the Christian God has been under constant evolutionary change from the moment Christianity became a movement – even before it moved from being a heresy of judaism to a movement followed by Gentiles.

Some Christian fundamentalist movements will insist that God hasn’t evolved. He (it’s always ‘He‘) has always been the same, only no one fully understood the scriptures until the founder/leader of that particular movement/sect discovered their “True” meaning. In extreme cases theirs is the only “Truth”, and any who believe otherwise are heretics, deservedly destined to whatever fate their God has reserved for non-believers.

Atheists can find no evidence to support the existence of any god as an entity, and I have no issue with that. In fact, I concur. But then some atheists make the assumption that every form of religion must, of necessity, include a conviction that at least one deity or supernatural entity lies at its heart, even if that means shoehorning their concept of a non-existing deity into faith traditions that have evolved different notions of what God is (or is not).

I belong to a 350 year old faith tradition commonly referred to as the Quakers, and to a particular branch that in the 20th and 21st centuries is often described as liberal Quakerism, although in many ways it is the most traditional branch when it comes to practising our faith. In the short history of Quakerism, there is ample evidence of Dawkins’ memes in action. What is now viewed as the liberal branch were the conservatives in the eighteenth century, holding true to the tradition that everyone has direct access to the divine without the need for any intermediaries such as clergy or scripture, whereas the progressives/liberals of the day embraced the new evangelism and biblical authority that was sweeping through Christianity at that time and adopted articles of faith, creeds, clergy, and much else that is found within the evangelical movement.

In evolutionary terms evangelical Quakerism has been the most successful branch within the Quaker movement with about 85% of Quakers worldwide belonging to one of the evangelical branches, whereas the then conservative, and now very liberal branch account for around 12% of all Quakers, and confined to Britain and former British settler colonies (such as Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, and Canada), Western Europe, and some parts of the USA.

My reason for the (extremely) truncated description of Quaker branches is that on many occasions in the blogosphere, I have been “corrected” for making claims about Quaker beliefs and practices that are true for Aotearoa, but incorrect when referring to Quakerism in many other parts of the world. In fact I’ve been told in no uncertain terms by one atheist blogger that I have no right to call myself a Quaker as I don’t profess to be a Christian. Whenever I refer to Quaker beliefs and practices, my only point of reference is the religious community I am connected to (Quakers Aotearoa, Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri). Please keep this in mind whenever I refer to Quaker beliefs and practices. I accept that Quakers in many parts of the world have different beliefs and practices, but I am less familiar with those.

So, back to the question of where/who/what is God. For atheists and Christian Fundamentalists, the Answer is simple. For the former, there is no such thing, end of story. For the latter there is no doubt of “His” existence, and they can (and do frequently) quote passage after passage from the Bible to support their claim. For the rest of us it’s not so simple. God has evolved and continues to evolve.


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Getting the facts right

(I have been going through the hundreds of unpublished articles that I had originally intended to post to this blog, but for many reasons I never completed. Most are being deleted as they are no longer relevant or have been said better elsewhere. A few are worthy of resuscitation, and while this article composed in August 2020 refers to a specific event, the message I intended to convey still holds true today.)


It’s really no wonder some people dream up some very imaginative scenarios based on so called reliable media sources. It only takes a minor error or oversight in reporting to give others a completely false idea.

Take for example this article from Reuters on 21 August 2020 which includes the statement “The attack led to a ban on firearms in New Zealand“. No it didn’t. This is a case of sloppy reporting by a reputable news organisation, and it’s the type of wildly inaccurate reporting that gets blown out of proportion by those living in other parts of the world, and in particular by the pro gun lobby in America.

I don’t intend this article to either an argument for or against the ownership of firearms, although I should state that I support strong gun control. I’m going to assume that the majority of those who believe in the right to bear arms are reasonable and rational beings. In the US, the courts have determined that the constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, and I have no intention to argue that.

Not only are our laws irrelevant to the situation in America, our laws do not not impinge on our freedom nor our personal safety. But first some myths that require correcting.

How many guns in New Zealand?

That question cannot be answered with any certainty. A firearms licence is required to own a gun or to use a gun without supervision, but up to now there has been no gun registration regime in this country. So what facts are known?

  • Best estimates of the number of guns legitimately in circulation in New Zealand is somewhere between 1,200,000 and 1,500,000 guns of all types.
  • There are approximately 250,000 licensed firearm owners.
  • The number of guns estimated to be affected by the law change was somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000. It was not possible to get a more accurate picture as guns are not registered.
  • Approximately 57,000 guns were handed in during the government buy-back scheme.
  • Not all licensed firearm owners own a gun. Many hold a license in order to be able to use a gun in the course of their employment (pest control, hunting tour guides for example) or for recreational hunting. In such case the guns may be owned by an employer or a recreational group.
  • The carrying of any weapon for the purpose of self defence is not lawful in this country. That applies to knives, pepper spray, bows and arrows, and baseball bats just as much as it does to guns. Even carrying a screwdriver for the purpose of self defence is illegal. The law change does not alter this.

The first mistake the pro gun lobby make is to assume that one in four Kiwis own a gun. This is patently false. They get this figure by dividing the population (5 million) by the estimated number of guns (1.25 million), completely ignoring the fact that there are only 250,000 registered gun owners. A more accurate figure is one in twenty Kiwis hold a firearms license and even fewer actually own a firearm. Those who do hold a firearms licence own many guns.

Inaccurate reporting has resulted in two distinct and contradictory perceptions by many Americans.

  1. All guns have been confiscated and Kiwis are “defenceless” against criminals and an authoritarian government
  2. Kiwis thumbed their noses at gun confiscation and the government’s ban has been a complete failure.

The myth that Kiwis have had their guns confiscated is widespread on the internet. Confiscation was never the intent – only specific types of guns, perhaps 5% of those in circulation were re-classified so that they could not be legally owned on a category A firearms licence, and the government offered a buy back scheme for those affected. In fact the estimated number of guns in circulation still remains about the same as before, as has been stated previously the estimated number of firearms in circulation vary by 300,000 or more.

The pro gun lobby also get the facts wrong when they refer to the “failure” of the government buyback scheme after those guns were reclassified. Remember that the number of firearms in circulation that were reclassified is unknown but estimates vary between 50,000 and 150,000.

Around 57,000 weapons were handed in during the buyback amnesty period. The reasons why the pro gun lobby argue it was a failure are based on erroneous calculations.

  • Few Kiwis handed in their guns: This argument assumes there was requirement for all gun owners to hand in all their guns. They compare their estimated (but wildly inaccurate) number of gun owners in the country (1.25 million) and the number of guns handed in (57 thousand). Using this calculation they claim that less than 5% of gun owners handed in their weapons and that 95% of NZ gun owners have thumbed their nose at the government. This is the stance taken by the NRA.
  • Few guns were handed in: Again an error based on the basis that all guns had to be handed in. They compare the estimated number of guns (1.25 million) and the number handed in (57 thousand) and conclude that less than 5% of all guns were handed in.

Their conclusion is that the citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand are openly defying draconian regulations imposed by a fascist/Marxist/authoritarian government hell bent on eliminating the last of our few remaining freedoms. This is just as false as the belief that all guns have been confiscated.

There is more than enough misinformation floating around to satisfy almost every nutcase and conspiracy theorists. When supposedly reputable sources provide “confirming” evidence through sloppy reporting we shouldn’t be very surprised.

As to the relative levels of freedom that Kiwis and Americans enjoy. Even though we don’t have guns to “protect” ourselves, I am admittedly biased and see Aotearoa as being significantly more free than America. Our gun ownership laws do not impinge on our freedoms, and in fact make this nation much safer and ensures we remain free. I do intend to look at the relative freedoms of our two nations at some time in the (hopefully not too distant) future.


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Most autists…

Most autists (people who are autistic) face a range of difficulties in social situations. But almost every social situation that autists face is with allists (non-autistic people). In social situations where the ratio of autists and allists is reversed, it’s the allists , not autists who face a similar range of difficulties.

Most autism “experts” (allists who study autists from an allistic perspective) have concluded that autists lack empathy. Autists are more likely to hyper empathetic or hypo empathetic than allists, but what sets autists apart is how we express our empathy.

Most autists avoid eye contact. Most autism “experts” will tell you it’s because autists lack an understanding of the importance of eye contact in social interactions. In other words, autists lack theory of mind. Most autists who avoid eye contact will tell you they do so because making eye contact presents a sensation ranging from “icky” to having the “soul exposed” to being physically painful. In my own case, I can, with some effort, consciously make eye contact even though I find it very unpleasant, or I can listen to what you are saying. I can’t do both.

Most autists don’t have prosopagnosia (face blindness), but it’s more common amongst autists than amongst allists. However most people with prosopagnosia are allists. I have prosopagnosia.

Most autists don’t have alexithymia (emotional blindness), but it’s more common amongst autists than amongst allists. However most people with alexithymia are allists. I have alexithymia

Most autists can communicate by speaking, but non-speakers are more common amongst autists than amongst allists. However most non-speakers are allists.

Most autists are straight, but autists are more likely to be homosexual, or bisexual than are allists. However most gays, lesbians and bi’s are allists.

Most autists have a sex drive, but autists are more likely to be asexual than are allists. However most asexual people allists.

Most autists are cis gendered but autists are more likely to be trans than are allists. However most transgender people are allists.

Most autists identify with a specific gender, but autists are more likely to be gender diverse or not identify with any gender than are allists. However, most gender diverse and agender/nongender people are allists. I view myself as agendered, but for reasons of safety (learnt the hard way in the 1950s – 1970s) present male.

Most autists do not suffer from migraines, but autists are more likely to be migraineurs than are allists. However most migraineurs are allists. I suffer from chronic migraines.

Most autists do not suffer from epilepsy, but autists are more likely to have epilepsy than are allists. However most epileptics are allists.

Most autists are employable, but it’s also true that most autists are unemployed or under employed. The cause is how allists perceive autists and/or refusing to accommodate the needs of autists. I was forced into early retirement, at the age of 50, due to burnout, although it would take another 10 years before I discovered it was caused through being an undiagnosed autist.

[TW: self harm, suicide] Most autists do not commit suicide but autists are nine times more likely to commit suicide than are allists. In America, autistic females are 37 times more likely than allistic females to attempt suicide.

Most autists experience meltdowns, shutdowns and/or burnout at some stage of their lives. Most allists perceive these to be wilful acts by autists in order get their own way or to gain attention. They are not. They are caused by emotional and/or sensory overload, over which the autist has little or no control. In the case of meltdowns or shutdowns, the best an autist can do is learn to avoid situations that might cause an overload (easier said than done) or learn how to be out of view of others when it occurs (also easier said than done). While burnout ( as a result of long term stress) is quite common for autists, it is especially common when they are unaware that they are autistic. In fact burnout can often lead to the discovery of being autistic as it eventually was in my case.

Most autists who undergo ABA therapy (known as conversion therapy when applied to other conditions) develop PTSD. Most allists are convinced ABA helps autists become more like their allist peers. Most autists view ABA as a form of torture that teaches autistic children that their needs and wants are less important than those around them, that compliance is more important than autonomy, and that they must pretend to be allists, otherwise known as masking. ABA does not make an autist less autistic.

So what’s my point? Autists are not the sum of our deficits. Yet we are collectively still perceived as somewhat less than fully human – inferior to allists. No, we are not. We are different, true. But that difference is primarily in how we experience the world around us, and as a consequence, how we respond to it. Current allistic understanding of autism and how allists respond to that understanding dehumanises us to such an extent that when an Autist is a victim of a “mercy killing”, the public and the media often empathise with the perpetrator rather than the victim, whereas if the victim had been born blind, or without legs , public and media empathy will be strongly in the victim’s favour with zero shown to the perpetrator.

Over the next few weeks, or months (you all know how irregular my posts can be) I intend to write a series of articles on how current medical and social understanding of Autism from an allist perspective causes Autists more harm than good and perpetuates the myth we are defective humans desperately in need of a cure, or failing that being eliminated from the human gene pool.

Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath).


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How racism improves sales in Aotearoa

Every nation has some who for want of a better word are haters, and Aotearoa New Zealand in no exception. Cameron Slater is a notorious right-winger blogger and tweeter. According to Slater, he’s not a racist, he claims instead “I am simply stating that I will not buy from woke companies“. I beg to differ.

Recently Whittaker’s, a large NZ owned and operated confectionery and chocolate manufacturer, announced it intended to rename blocks of its Creamy Milk chocolate as Miraka Kirīmi to celebrate Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week), an annual event that this year will occur from September 13th through 19th.

Slater, not surprisingly, does not approve and tweeted with the comment “Go woke, go broke… see ya @WhittakersNZ”. And he should know all about broke, having been declared bankrupt by the courts for failing to pay out on defamation judgements made against him. While I like to believe there’s “that of God in every person”, in Slater’s case it is exceptionally well hidden.

The response to the tweet has been overwhelming and almost unanimous. It should provide Whittaker’s with sales beyond their expectation if comments on Twitter and elsewhere are any indication. An article on Newshub is typical of the public and the media’s response to Slater’s tweet. I too will be purchasing extra Whittaker’s chocolates because (a) they make the best chocolate, (b) I support woke (in it’s true meaning of being alert to injustice and discrimination in society,), and (c) most importantly, to piss off Slater.

Personally, I’d be more than happy if Whittaker’s made all their labelling and packaging bilingual on a permanent basis, after all re reo Māori (the Māori language) is an official language of this nation, and if it’s to survive, it needs to be nurtured, not just by Māori themselves, but by all Kiwis. Three out of five New Zealanders now believe re reo Māori should be a compulsory subject at school. Only 23 years ago the singing of out national anthem in Māori caused an outrage amongst some Kiwi, now the convention is that the first verse of the anthem is always sung in Māori. How things have changed (but not for some people such as Slater).

Some comments on Twitter tickled my fancy. Here’s a few:


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Stupid people

How many stupid people do you know of? Some of my blogging friends seem to be able to make stupid people lists many pages long. So I thought I’d try making a list of my own. Here it is:

My stupid people list

As you might possibly observe, it’s a decidedly short list. I can’t think of a single stupid person.

I can think of plenty of stupid things that have been said by a great many people (including some by yours truly).

I can think of plenty of stupid ideas that have been held by a great many people (including some by yours truly).

I can think of plenty of stupid actions that have been performed by a great many people (including some by yours truly).

I only see the words, ideas or actions as stupid, never the speaker, thinker or actor. Am I the only person with this perspective?

So the sixty-four thousand dollar question is: Is this (a) a stupid perspective, (b) the perspective of a stupid person, or (c) something else?


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Press Release: Judge Rotenberg Center Threatens NeuroClastic with Defamation Suit — NeuroClastic

I am autistic, and over the 12 or so years since I discovered the truth about myself, I have come to the position where I can state that not only I am autistic but that I am proudly autistic – I am an Autist. After first coming to terms with my neurology, I have gradually become more and more aware of how autistic people are treated worldwide – Abysmally, and often horrifyingly. Treatment such as the administration of powerful electric shocks that are deemed inhumane when applied to animals, terrorists or criminals is, apparently okay when applied to autistic people, and in some places permitted by law! This includes the state of Massachusetts in the USA, where the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) subjects disabled and/or autistic children and adults to GED electric shock “treatment”.

Trigger Warning: description of abuse and torture. Read the terrifying experience of one JRC survivor on Aspiesforfreedom’s Blog

The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC, founded in 1971 as the Behavior Research Institute) is an institution in Canton, Massachusetts, United States, housing people with developmental disabilitiesemotional disorders, and autistic-like behaviors. The center has been condemned for torture by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. The JRC is known for its use of the graduated electronic decelerator (GED), a device that administers electric shocks to residents through a remote control. The device was designed by Matthew Israel, the institute’s founder.[1] While the FDA issued a formal ban on the GED in 2020, the device continued to be used on some residents pending an administrative stay for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.[2] In July 2021, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FDA could not issue a “partial stay” but must issue a blanket ban or no ban at all, thus allowing the JRC to continue subjecting 55 people to shock in the meantime.

Judge Rotenberg Educational Center – Wikipedia

The article linked to below deserves to be read by every human rights advocate, especially in light of the attempt to stifle the voice of criticism by the very people who are affected the most – Autistic people.

For decades, the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts, has been using graduated electronic decelerators (GEDs) to shape the behaviors of children and adults. The GED delivers a powerful and extremely painful electroshock and is worn by students 24 hours per day, every day— even during sleep and showers. The GED looks like a…

Press Release: Judge Rotenberg Center Threatens NeuroClastic with Defamation Suit — NeuroClastic


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Autism “awareness”

Ngā kaipānui kia ora

When I tell people about Autistic Pride they say, “how can you be proud of something that you have no control over? That doesn’t make sense? How can you be proud of being Autistic?”

Lyric Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel

April is Autism Awareness month, and today, Saturday 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Day. It’s a time when many autistic people “go into hiding”. Why? Because autism is still portrayed as a bogeyman – something that is undesirable, that destroys families, causes misery to “sufferers”, that needs to be eliminated. No it’s not. From my perspective, autism describes a way of perceiving and experiencing the world that is different from the way the majority of the population perceives and experiences the world. It’s not so much about deficits and disabilities, it’s about an alternate way of being. The bogeyman, if there is one, is that the non-autistic world writes of the autistic world as something undesirable.

So back to the question “How can you be proud of being Autistic?” I’d answer by saying “In the same way one can be proud of being gay or black or trans or Māori or Native American or…”. It’s a way of saying “Even though society devalues me for being who I am, and puts obstacles in my path that limits my ability to develop to my potential, I deserve to be recognised as a worthy and valuable member of society, and my rights and needs are no less important than the rights and needs of anyone else”.

I object to having an Autism Awareness month for the same reason I’d object to a Gay Awareness month of a Māori Awareness month. Look at it this way: there isn’t anyone who isn’t aware of there being gay people, trans people or people of colour, but that does not prevent the likes of racists, homophobes and transphobes from spreading hate and disinformation about them. It doesn’t prevent normal, intelligent people from failing to appreciate the social barriers that are placed in the way of individuals who are members of minority groups – in other words intentional and unintentional discrimination.

Likewise, I doubt that today there is a single person who isn’t aware of autism. For goodness sake, in some quarters, there’s panic about an “autism epidemic” being accelerated by vaccines or 5G or plastics or the New World Order or GMOs or… something. In fact it’s nothing more that a growing realisation within the health sector of what autism actually is. What is sad is if they had consulted with actually autistic people instead of making lab rats of us, they would have had that “Ah ha” moment long ago.

What we need is not awareness, but acceptance at a minimum. Better yet would be valuing the alternative perspectives that autistics and other other forms of neurodiversity bring to society. Because Autistic people perceive and experience society and the world differently, we express our experiences and understandings differently. Accept that our differences are not deficits, but are a valuable and important part of the diversity that makes the human species what it is.

Embrace diversity!


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Guitars, not guns

In Afterword, following this morning’s Quaker Meeting for Worship, some attending expressed their frustration of feeling so powerless in the light of the Ukraine invasion, when another mentioned the part Aotearoa New Zealand and its military played in not only bringing a brutal war to an end but the bringing of long lasting peace. It was brought about without a shot being fired, not because they had overwhelming power but because they were powerless – no weapons whatsoever, even for self defence. Instead they armed themselves with guitars and the haka.

After Meeting, I located the documentary titled Soldiers Without Guns, a documentary thirteen years in the making, produced by TMI Pictures, directed by Will Watson, and narrated by Lucy Lawless. Strictly speaking most of the narration is by participants and victims of the conflict and those attempting to bring peace, principly New Zealand military personnel, and the women of Bougainville. Lawless helps tie it all together and informs the viewer of the history that led to the conflict.

The war in question was waged on the island of Bougainville, ran for ten long years, and cost the lives of one sixth of the population. It was as brutal as that currently waged by Russia in Ukraine and previously in Syria, with civilians being targets and victims. Sure it was not on the same scale as those wars, as the populations and resources of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville are tiny in comparison to those of Russia and Ukraine. But the methods were just as brutal. It seems to be that this pattern of warfare that is becoming only too common.

The 2019 documentary is long at 96 minutes but fortunately avoids the graphic gore and brutality of the conflict. It brings to the fore the pain and suffering experienced especially by the women and children, but also the hope, faith and strength of those who suffered the most. It show that there are alternatives to the use of violence to end violence.

At its heart I feel the documentary demonstrates how aroha (bringing together in peace, love, giving and forgiving) can be more effective than brute force in ending conflict that results in a genuine peace (not simply a lack of violence), the role women can play in bringing conflict to an end, and how forgiveness can be more effective than retribution.

On this last point, I believe that the decision not to prosecute war crimes, irrespective of who carried them out, was the correct decision and, in my opinion should be considered in the Ukrainian conflict. The reasoning was simple: Those who are guilty have nothing to lose and everything to gain by extending the war in order to avoid or delay punishment. Justice comes in many forms, and in my mind, retribution and punishment are poor forms of justice at best, and are outweighed by the process of restorative justice and the saving of lives that would have otherwise been lost by an extended conflict, not to mention the reduction of pain and suffering that could have continued for years, perhaps decades.

Some may say that forgiveness is not the Western way. Perhaps, but isn’t it a central tenet of Christianity? If Western history can teach us anything it’s that retribution is usually planting the seed of the next conflict. It hasn’t worked for the West in the past. There’s no evidence that it will work in the future. As is eloquently spoken in the documentary, “Human beings are only mistake makers. The only real mistake is the one we learn nothing from them”.

In some ways, the documentary emphasises the influence of Māori culture on NZ society and the NZ military as a significant factor in helping bring an ending to the conflict – that no other nation was capable of doing so. Perhaps in this specific example it might be true because of our awareness and valuing of non-Western culture, but I would like to think that other nations – including large, powerful and wealthy ones – are also capable of doing the same: bringing peace without the use of force. All that is required is a willingness to take the risk. I think it’s worth it. What’s your opinion?

I have located two sources of the documentary: NZ On Screen and Vimeo. WordPress will not allow me to embed the NZ On Screen video but did allow the Vimeo version. It is a powerful and moving documentary and illustrates an alternative non-violent method of resolving conflict – one that’s no less risky, but potentially with immeasurably better outcomes.

Soldiers Without Guns (2019)