Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Curiosity and Routine in Autism

Although my mind never stops asking “what if”, “how”, and “why”, the one thing I’ve never asked myself is “why is my mind so active?”. Over on A Is For Aoife Not Autism, Aoife discusses the relationship between autism and curiosity. This post started as a comment on her blog, but it kind of grew until I realised it was no longer appropriate as a comment. Thank you Aoife for prompting me to add another (infrequent) post to my blog.

Since being diagnosed as an Aspie at the tender age of 60, I’ve often been asked what I collect, since this is supposedly a common autistic characteristic (I’m not so sure about that). Certainly as a child I was an avid stamp collector and I’ve had other intense short term interests over the years, but for a while I was stumped for an answer.

That was until I realised that I have been an avid collector of facts and interesting (often useless) information for as long as I can remember. I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, but friends and family are always amazed at the depth of knowledge I possess about almost any topic. It’s probably why I was dubbed “the little professor” by many of my peers at primary school, and “the prof” in high school. Passionately curious marks me to a tee.

A recent example was when some friends dragged me along to view a restored steam locomotive going through its paces at the local railway yards. Although the restoration society’s premises were not open to the public on the day, we were invited on a tour of the site to see the work in progress. There were about a dozen locomotives in various stages of restoration, and in every case, I knew much more about the history of the locomotive class, and the purpose for which they were constructed than any of the thirty or so society members there. By the time we reached the third locomotive, I had taken over from our guide in relaying information about each locomotive, and a number of those on site, stopped what they were doing to follow what was now my guided tour, often asking questions that I would have otherwise assumed they knew. It’s rather nice to be able to “info dump” without being told to shut up!

This curiosity, in my case, masks much of what might otherwise become routine habit. Besides having absolutely no awareness of the passing of time, I’m always asking myself how, what, and why (but seldom when and almost never who).

Give_Way-128x128For example, whenever I’m driving somewhere, I seldom appear to take the same route twice. If I was given a dollar for every time I’ve been asked “Why are you going this way?”, I’d probably be a millionaire by now. So, why? Perhaps this way might be quicker, have less stop signs or give way  signs. Perhaps it might involve fewer right hand turns, or might have less traffic, or more roundabouts. Sometimes, it’s simply because I want to know what’s on that route. Until it’s tried, I’ll never know. And I really dislike not knowing.

No_Right_Turn-128x128And once I know, I’ll add it to my repertoire of routes, labelled with when and why that route is better and/or worse. And of course, routes can have sub-routes, each with  reasons why they might be more appropriate to use at certain times. Eventually, I’ll develop a complex set of rules as to why a particular route is best for a particular set of circumstances. To others, my variation in routes seems random, but I’m simply following the rules I have established, unless it’s to check whether those rules are still appropriate (and I have rules about how often to check), or whether there might yet be another route, or because I’m curious what I might find…

This applying of rules goes on in every walk of my life, but it’s through my insatiable curiosity that I have developed complex rules that others don’t see. They see only randomness instead. When I’m asked why I’ve taken a particular route, I could very easily say why, but it’s probably going to take some time to give the reason justice, and they’re likely to loose interest before I’ve finished, so instead I usually reply with “Why not?”

Strangely, my curiosity was mostly at the theoretical level, seldom at the practical level. Perhaps because I tended to be rather cautious, my curiosity seldom ended in “Oops!” moments, unlike my younger brother, who still today finds himself in the occasional one. Of course, many of his Oops moments in childhood, were the result of me posing a question I was unable to resolve in my head. Perhaps I might consider telling some of those stories some time in the future.


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When you criticise Christians, you criticise my Mum

Over the years that I have been involved with the blogosphere, I have often jumped to the defence of Christians – especially when when statements begin with “Christians believe…” or “Christians do…”. The last few weeks have given me cause to reflect on why I have jumped to their defence when in hindsight it would have been more prudent to “keep my mouth shut”.

My mother was a devout Christian who believed very much in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She had a very strong moral code, and nothing, absolutely nothing could ever allow her to break that code. I realise now that so much of the criticism of Christians is generalised to include or to imply inclusion of all Christians. And that would include my Mum. And those claims are so much not what my Mum was.

The observant reader will have noticed that in the previous paragraph my mother is referred to in the past tense. She died in the early hours of last Tuesday morning and her funeral was held last Thursday. On Monday my siblings and I, with our partners, will scatter her ashes and those of our father into the Whanganui River from the river bank that adjoined my parents’ home of forty years.

Unlike the rest of the whānau, I feel no sadness or loss at her passing. She was more than half way through her 97th year and had had a very good innings. Her death is as natural as the passing of the seasons and the blooming and fading of a flower. I do have some unease about the morality of the process of dying that modern medicine raises, and her death brought that into focus for me, but that’s a matter for discussion at another time.

I’ll confess that I don’t understand why friends, family, acquaintances, and complete strangers feel sadness or grief at Mum’s passing. What emotions I feel are sympathy for those who are experiencing that grief and not knowing what I can do in the circumstances. I feel somewhat helpless in this regard as I know my putting a rational slant on the event will only make things worse for them.

Getting back to the subject of this post: Generalisations can be both inaccurate and hurtful. “Christians are judgemental”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians think they are somehow better”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe homosexuality is a sin”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians proselytize”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians can’t distinguish beliefs from facts”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe atheists are unethical or untrustworthy”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe it’s okay to shame someone who holds different beliefs”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe other faiths are wrong”, that’s not my Mum.

So what was she like? As I mentioned, Mum had strong moral compass, but in all my years, I’d never heard her use the Bible or her religious beliefs as a justification of her views. She may well have got some (perhaps most?) of her values from her religious beliefs, but it was from her that I developed my own philosophy which loosely says “if the Bible is the only source of authority for a particular stance then it’s time to change the stance”.

As the most wayward of us siblings stated during the funeral service, Mum was his confidant, counsellor, adviser, moral guide and friend. Even today if he is unsure of whether he is doing the “right thing”, he considers what Mum might think about it. Of course, knowing what is the “right thing” doesn’t always mean that he will do it.

Mum’s method of guidance was by example. We were never judged, no matter what the transgression. We were encouraged to learn and discover for ourselves what values we should aspire to, even if those values were different from her own. For her, differences in the way we perceive the world were part of the rich tapestry of life.

For Mum, love was never conditional, and even though we were far from being a demonstrative family were all knew and felt that love. Punishment of any kind was virtually unknown. Justice was always restorative, never retributive. We were encouraged to discover for ourselves why something might be right or wrong. But for Mum, knowing the difference was not enough. It’s our duty, as far as we are able, to right wrongs and to fight injustice wherever we find it – even if that meant being on opposite sides from each other.

To me, my Mum exemplified what the Christian message is all about. Although I can’t say that theology was irrelevant to her (she had a firm belief in life after death, and Jesus was her Saviour, for example) it was the spirit, the broad brush strokes, of the message that were important to her.

If I were to believe in a deity, it would be modelled on my Mum and my Dad. Although they were poles apart on religious belief (one being Christian, the other having something close to agnostic atheism), they shared almost identical values and practices. Those values and practices I see as being prevalent in the Christian community here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Sure, there are exceptions, and the Destiny Church and Gloriavale are extreme examples, but on the whole, Christianity here, with varying degrees of success, preaches and practices those values that so clearly shone through my Mum.

The sense of justice and compassion that I learnt from my parents – especially my mother – causes the hair on the back of my neck to raise whenever I hear comments that tar all members of a particular group with a wildly inaccurate generalised brush that at best applies to a very small subgroup. I don’t care whether the group being generalised is religious, atheist, LGBTQ+, ethnic, cultural, or even Morris dancers. Don’t do it.

And when you include all Christians as being a horde of Bible-worshipping, homophobic, fundamentalist, Evangelical bullies, you’re including my Mum. Back off. She, like most Christians in this land, is anything but.

By all means, be critical of religious privilege, or attempts to impose belief on those who do not hold them. Be critical of bigotry and intolerance, be it religious or otherwise, but please don’t claim or imply all when you really mean some or a few.

Finally, if you care to comment on this post, please avoid offering your condolences or expressing sympathy/regret for my loss. I feel no loss, and while it was necessary to hide my irritation at such expressions in the neurotypical world in which I must live, this is my blog, my world, and that requirement does not apply here.


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 2)

In this first clip, Professor Lloyd Geering makes the point that since the Enlightenment, everyone is a heretic as we are all free to think for ourselves – we are all free thinkers – and make our own choices accordingly. As he points out “We are encouraged to think for ourselves” [3:08], but who are the “we” he’s referring to?

The nation of Aotearoa New Zealand had its formative years at the height of the Enlightenment, and this country has always had a significant number of individuals and leaders who were Free Thinkers, atheists and agnostics, as well as those of assorted religious traditions. Our isolation from the rest of the world meant we developed an individualistic attitude to living, with a very egalitarian attitude towards authority.  Certainly there’s no doubt that Professor Geering is referring to Kiwis when he says we are encouraged to think for ourselves, but to what extent can the same be applied to other nations – especially when it comes to religion.

From this relatively remote corner of the world, I see vast regions of the globe where people seem to be discouraged from thinking for themselves – especially in the way of religion. I blink in amazement when American bloggers, while confessing their atheism anonymously online, are extremely reluctant to come out to friends, family and community about their lack of faith for fear of a backlash. Reminds me of those being reluctant to come out as gay in the 1970s and early 80s. I would like to think their fears are more imaginary than real, but the stories told are too consistent  for that. Perhaps after the dark ages being brought on by the Trump administration, America will make a more rapid swing towards liberalism.

Early on on the clip, Professor Geering describes his understanding of God – not a supernatural being, but a set of values that include truth, justice, love and compassion. On that matter, he and I agree completely.


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Aspie Challenge #5

Face Blindness

If you change your hairstyle; if you change your usual lipstick colour; if we cross paths in a different environment than where we usually meet; if I usually see you wearing a neck tie but today you are wearing an open necked shirt; if I usually see you in jeans but today you are wearing a dress, then

I WILL NOT RECOGNISE YOU!

You will need to provide me with some clues. I find women are particularly troublesome in this respect as even a change in eye lining or the wearing/not wearing of mascara can throw me.


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DONALD TRUMP AND HIS ALTERNATIVE FACTS ON TPP

While I’ve never been a big fan of the TPP, mainly because of the secretive nature of the negotiations and the apparent loss of sovereignty imposed on smaller nations, I do think in the long term, America’s withdrawal from the pact will see the rise and rise of China and the increasing isolation of the US. Bill Peddie makes some interesting observations:

Bill Peddie's website

DONALD TRUMP AND HIS ALTERNATIVE FACTS ON THE REJECTED TRANS PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP

While I am sure President Donald Trump knows how to add using his fingers, I wish he had used bigger fingers before maligning the junior trading nations with the US like New Zealand.

According to our New Zealand Statistics figures for 2016 we sent NZ $5.6 billion worth of exports to the US and in return received NZ $5.7 billion worth of Goods and Services from the US.   In the Brave New World according to Donald Trump he claims this means that New Zealand gained far more from this trading relationship than did the US! ?  In response, small minded journalists might suspect that (using Trump’s own invented language) he might have “misspoke bigly”.  At the very least, his assertion that smaller partners have been gaining more from trade with the US than does the US doesn’t match…

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