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Douglas Carpenter

Profile Information

Gender: Male
Hometown: Corry (Erie County), Pennsylvania 16407
Home country: USA
Current location: Saipan, U.S. Commonweath of the Northern Mariana Islands
Member since: Wed Jun 1, 2005, 08:56 PM
Number of posts: 18,809

Journal Archives

Should religious people whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or whatever be welcome in the Democratic

Party and the progressive movement?







Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Fri Oct 10, 2014, 07:52 PM (177 replies)

Representing Difference as Pathology by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg - This is a truly moving article

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg: An Example from Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Science of Evil

August 23, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I find it very painful to write about the work of Simon Baron-Cohen. I’ve done so extensively in the past, and this spring, I decided to take a break from it. But there is a passage in his latest book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, that has haunted me since I read it last year, and I feel the need to explore why. I’ve critiqued the book before, but somehow couldn’t touch this passage until now, and I think I understand why: The passage doesn’t simply speak volumes about how others view autistic people in particular, or disabled people in general, but constitutes a particularly telling example of the ways in which our society pathologizes difference and blames people outside the norm for the treatment we receive.

In Chapter 4: When Zero Degrees of Empathy is Positive, Baron-Cohen makes the extreme, pejorative, and wholly incorrect assertion that, for people on the autism spectrum, “Other people’s behavior is beyond comprehension, and empathy is impossible,” and concludes that autistic people have “zero degrees of empathy” (Baron-Cohen 2011, 117). He attempts to mitigate the impact of these statements by saying that autistic people are “zero-positive” because, in his estimation, our systemizing skills enable us to build such things as elaborate moral systems (my elaborate moral system is built on empathy, thank you, but I digress) and cutting-edge technology (for which I have no aptitude whatsoever, thank you, but I digress) (Baron-Cohen 2011, 122-123). Despite this apparent attempt to redeem us from the lack-of-empathy stigma, Baron-Cohen presents the story of a 52-year-old man named Michael, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, as representative of the lives of autistic people, and he characterizes Michael as almost robotic: controlling, anti-social, utterly logic-minded, and incapable of understanding other people’s feelings or of having any emotional responses of his own (Baron-Cohen 2011, 96-100).

To illustrate his view that autistic people are on the zero end of the empathy scale, Baron-Cohen begins by writing about Michael’s childhood. I find two things rather fascinating about Baron-Cohen’s rendering: 1) His descriptions of Michael’s childhood do not illustrate Michael’s lack of empathy, but the lack of empathy of the children around him, and 2) the wholesale lack of empathy on the part of “normal” children goes entirely unremarked. He writes of Michael:


Even as a child he found social situations confusing and stressful. He didn’t play with other children in the playground, was never invited to their birthday parties, was not picked to be on their team. He avoided the playground by going to the bottom of the playing field at primary school — alone — and counting blades of grass. In the winter when it snowed, he became obsessed with the structure of snowflakes, wanting to understand why each one was different. Other children in his class couldn’t understand what he was talking about because in their eyes all snowflakes looked the same. Although the teacher had told all the class that every snowflake is unique, it seemed that he was the only person in the class who could actually see the small individual differences in the snowflakes. The other children in the class teased him, calling him “snowflake brain.” (
Baron-Cohen 2011, 97-98)

It’s difficult, at first, to grasp all that is wrong with this passage, because Baron-Cohen is uttering entirely prejudicial things in a very kind and reasonable tone. Let’s start at the beginning: He suggests that a sign of Michael’s lack of empathy is that he didn’t play with other children, wasn’t asked to their parties, and was the proverbial last kid picked for the team. Baron-Cohen seems to take it entirely for granted that Michael is at fault, and that it was quite natural that the other children would reject him because of his as-yet-undiagnosed disability. He gives not the slightest nod to the idea that perhaps Michael didn’t play with the other children because they themselves were unempathetic — because they would not tolerate his confusion and stress, because they rejected him based on his difference, because they shut him out from every birthday party, and because they didn’t want him on their teams.

After continual social rejection, what exactly is wrong with a child running to the other end of the playing field alone and amusing himself as best he can? Counting blades of grass is not a normative response, but that doesn’t make it wrong; in fact, I can certainly understand why a stressed-out autistic kid who is being rejected for reasons he can’t fathom would try to calm himself with a counting ritual. Given the other possibilities for dealing with wholesale social rejection — lashing out in anger at others or doing harm to oneself — an obsession with grass seems to me an entirely non-retaliatory response, and says quite a bit about Michael’s gentleness. Not surprisingly, given the purpose of his narrative, the author never remarks upon this gentleness.

What I find most heart-wrenching, however, is the story of Michael’s fascination with the unique structure of each snowflake, and the ways in which the other children respond to it. Michael’s attentiveness to details that most people miss, and his love for the small and intricate beauty of the natural world, are deeply moving to me. The other children do not see what Michael sees and they do not understand his fascination, but Baron-Cohen does not tar this lack of understanding as a lack of empathy, despite the fact that he considers Michael’s inability to see what other children see, and his lack of interest in what gives them happiness, as prima facie evidence that Michael has an empathy disorder. I’m not sure on what logical basis a scientist could make such a subjective, one-sided, prejudicial assessment, but then again, it’s passages like this one that long ago caused me to give up on the idea of objectivity altogether.

Perhaps the most distressing part of the entire passage is the way in which Baron-Cohen assesses the children’s response: He writes that they “teased” Michael by calling him “snowflake brain” (Baron-Cohen 2011, 98). I take issue with Baron-Cohen’s use of the word “teased.” The children were not teasing Michael; they were calling him names and laughing at him. Teasing is good-natured fun between people of relatively equal power. There isn’t a hint of equal power here, and there is nothing good-natured about making fun of a beautiful thing that brings joy to an isolated, rejected kid. At best, several other children laughing at their defenseless classmate constitutes harassment; at worst, it’s bullying. Anyone who has ever been laughed at as a form of dismissal and exclusion knows exactly what I’m talking about. These are the kinds of microaggressions that accumulate to create self-doubt and self-hatred in those who are the targets of them. But Baron-Cohen does not seem to consider laughing at a vulnerable kid evidence of a lack of empathy in the “normal” children. In fact, he seems to imply that if Michael had any empathy for his classmates, he would have known better than to talk endlessly about snowflakes.

While Baron-Cohen’s much-cherished and erroneous belief that autism is an empathy disorder is the reason for the inclusion of this story in his book, the framing of the story is indicative of a much larger problem in writing about disability and other forms of difference: Non-normative people become responsible for our own social rejection. The accusations launched at Michael and, by extension, at us — that we’re incapable of “normal” human feelings and that we’re trapped in our own worlds — could just as easily be launched at those who reject us. How many “normal” people have enough human feeling to befriend and understand non-normative people? How many “normal” people are trapped in their own “normal” worlds, without any consciousness of what it means to be non-normative? The accusations of lack of caring and lack of engagement adhere to the ones who are different. Those in the majority are simply acting “normally” by doing all the things that, when non-normative people do them, are considered evidence of pathology.

These kinds of accusations are a form of victim-blaming that have no place in a civilized society. That people who consider themselves objective engage in it is an indication of how deeply entrenched a habit of mind it is.

References
Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011.
http://www.disabilityandrepresentation.com/2012/08/23/representing-difference-as-pathology/




I'm a writer and a graduate student passionate about disability rights and disability justice.

I welcome your comments and insights. Thank you for joining the conversation
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Wed Oct 8, 2014, 09:51 PM (4 replies)

I lived and worked openly gay in Saudi Arabia and the UAE for 25 years.

And I was hardly the only one. I just want to say that because a lot of people seem to accept a cartoon caricature view of the Islamic world. But, yes all my coworkers, Muslim and non-Muslim alike were well aware that I was gay and nobody seemed to care very much. In fact the only nasty comments I ever got about it came from westerners. I am not saying the Middle East is Scandinavia like enlightened. Of course it's not. But bit by bit progress in a lot of areas is being made - albeit a bit too slowly.
Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Tue Oct 7, 2014, 07:42 AM (206 replies)

Question submitted by Douglas Carpenter

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Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Mon Oct 6, 2014, 04:23 PM (0 replies)

Michele Bachmann to Obama: Islam is the problem and you need to ‘declare war on it’



At the 2014 Value Voters Summit, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann (R) claimed that there is no such thing as “moderate” Islam, and that President Barack Obama failed the American people by deciding not to declare war on it.

“Unbelievably, we have the first anti-Israel president in American history,” Bachmann said, continuing to address the absent Obama. “That’s your legacy!”

“It’s no wonder Hillary Clinton couldn’t think of an answer when asked on her book tour to name her greatest accomplishment as Secretary of State,” she continued. “Well I have one — permanent retirement!”
She claimed that Muslims are engaged in “spiritual warfare, and that what we must do is defeat Islamic jihad. Sadly, our president has the wrong prescription. He even fails to acknowledge their motivations for bringing out jihad.”

“Yes, Mr. President, it is about Islam!” she said as the audience applauded wildly.

“And I believe if you have an evil of an order of this magnitude, you take it seriously. You declare war on it, you don’t dance around it. Just like the Islamic State has declared war on the United States of America.”

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/09/michele-bachmann-to-obama-islam-is-the-problem-and-you-need-to-declare-war-on-it/



Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Fri Sep 26, 2014, 02:57 PM (11 replies)

The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids: What intelligence tests might be overlooking

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-hidden-potential-of-autistic-kids/

From the Scientific American

The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids

What intelligence tests might be overlooking when it comes to autism


Nov 30, 2011 |By Rose Eveleth


The average child will score around the same percentile for all these tests, both verbal and nonverbal. But an autistic child will not. Isabelle Soulieres, a researcher at Harvard University, gave a group of autistics both WISC and the Raven test to measure the difference between the two groups. Although she expected a difference, she was surprised at just how big the gap was. On average, autistic students performed 30 percentile points better on the Raven test than on WISC. Some kids jumped 70 percentile points. "Depending on which test you use, you get a very different picture of the potential of the kids," she says. Other studies have confirmed this gap, although they found a smaller jump between tests.

The “high functioning” autistic children, with the least severe version of the disability, were not the only ones to score higher. Soulieres conducted a study recently at a school for autistic children considered intellectually disabled. Using the Raven test, she found that about half of them scored in the average range for the general population. "Many of those who are considered low-functioning—if you give them other intelligence tests, you will find hidden potential," she says. "They can solve really complex problems if you give them material that they can optimally process."

What this means, she says, is that schools are underestimating the abilities of autistic children all across the spectrum. The widespread use of the WISC in schools has helped set expectations of autistic kids too low—assuming that they will not be able to learn the same things that the average child can. Based on the test results, people come to the conclusion that autistic children cannot learn, when perhaps they do not learn the same way other people do.

This hidden potential was recently acknowledged by Laurent Mottron, a psychiatrist at the University of Montreal. In an article in the November 3 issue of Nature, he recounts his own experience working with high-functioning autistic people in his lab, which showed him the power of the autistic brain rather than its limitations. Mottron concludes that perhaps autism is not really a disease at all—that it is perhaps just a different way of looking at the world that should be celebrated rather than viewed as pathology.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-hidden-potential-of-autistic-kids/


Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Fri Sep 26, 2014, 02:42 PM (39 replies)

Here is a great 10 minute and 27 second documentary about Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

Critically acclaimed documentary film about autism by an autistic film director.

'autism reality' is a moving interview-based piece that shows a new and refreshing side of the issue.



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Here is a 14 minute and 22 second BBC production narrated by a young 13-year-old child with autism:



Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Sat Sep 20, 2014, 06:12 PM (4 replies)

Oklahoma state Sen. Bennett: American Muslims are a ‘cancer in our nation that needs cutting out’


John Bennett (Tulsa World)

Oklahoma state Senator John Bennett (R) came under fire last week for comments he made about Muslims in America.

The Tulsa World reports that yesterday he doubled down on those comments, refusing to apologize “because I’m right, and they know I’m right.”

Bennett claims that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) “used political pressure to make me back down, but I didn’t and I’m not going to.”

“Is there a difference between moderate and radical Islam?” he asked, before answering, “I say, ‘No.’”

He then said that the goal of all Muslims is “the destruction of Western civilization from within. This is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out,” he added, but “the media is playing right into their hands.”

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/09/oklahoma-state-sen-bennett-american-muslims-are-a-cancer-in-our-nation-that-needs-cutting-out/

Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Wed Sep 17, 2014, 01:00 PM (9 replies)

Would you support Bernie in the primaries - but back Hillary if she becomes the party nominee?

This is of course if Sen. Sanders runs for the Democratic nomination in 2016.





This photo is in reference to answer # 7


http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/gooey_chocolate_mousse_10683











Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Wed Sep 17, 2014, 09:36 AM (16 replies)

John Stewart Tears Into Lindsey Graham for Scaring the Crap Out of Everyone over ISIS

link:

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/stewart-tears-into-lindsey-graham-for-scaring-the-crap-out-of-everyone-over-isis/
Posted by Douglas Carpenter | Tue Sep 16, 2014, 06:44 AM (5 replies)
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