You all know me as Brony, Social Justice Cenobite and I’ve been a commentator in these parts since before FTB was FTB or was centered on Scienceblogs. This was back when Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars (before Ed moved on) and PZ Myers at Pharyngula were independent bloggers with some shared readership. I’m gratified that this blogging community seems to think that I might have some things worth sharing. Those things are related to neurodiversity, social conflict, and places where atheists and the religious are the same. They are all connected issues on a personal level through the second topic, social conflict. The name the this blog, Primate Chess, reflects this.
I’ll also touch on mental health in general as I have finally found a job after three years of unemployment. That is what delayed my first post here (and likely others) as it’s really serious shit that I need to focus on. I’m a technician at a mental health facility doing long term behavioral intervention for people of all types. To give you an idea of how serious I recently had a conversation with a minor who was comfortable speaking casually about killing one of his friends, and another about triggers from sexual abuse and how I can help with respect to how I interact with them when they have a conflict with another patient. It’s a pretty intense place but it’s important work and it feels like a good fit for me in a way I’m still trying to figure out. I can see that I owe this community a lot because I would not have been prepared for this without what I have learned here at FTB and other social justice spaces.
Social Conflict and My Experience of Tourette’s Syndrome.
There is a place where the symbolism that we use in social conflict divides into content intended to reflect reality, or simply “being correct”, and a place where the content has to do with “winning”. I like to think that I’m practiced in the textual version of this from about two decades of exchanges with creationists and other individuals and groups of people that have problems accepting the way the world really is. We are a species that can win a social conflict and be wrong about the reality that it is supposedly about and I internally think of that part of human social conflict as “Primate Chess”.
Think about the round-and-round-and-round of two people trading text-walls on politics, religion, health, science, philosophy, society and more. I actually see it as something analogous to a martial art like grappling where instead of limbs, joints, mass, force and torque the opponents use rational and logical structure, shared meaning (or lack of), emotion (it’s always a factor) and strategy. But as serious as it is it can often be like a game in that games tend to be instinctual practice for more serious things. The serious thing in this case being real physical conflict, the failure mode of politics. As I move forward on this blog I’m going to try to objectify how I see people argue and I hope to see many of you adding your experiences to this so that our experiences can be refined into broadly useful knowledge.
As strange as it might seem it turns out that my Tourette’s Syndrome (TS), ADHD and sub-clinical OCD tendencies are benefits when it comes to social conflict. My story is one of discovering how the ways we traditionally divide up “normal” fail many of us when it comes to innate developmental differences and dispositions that blend into personality. As a result of work I have done I’m pretty comfortable talking about TS and my relationship with it.
Lately advantages have been discovered for people on the autism spectrum, people with TS, people with ADHD (trickier to define, but I’ll get into it), and I’m certain that the same is true for many other mental conditions. It was a group of four studies describing cognitive enhancements in people with TS that gave me positive motivation to figure my live after my diagnosis seven years ago. Since then I’ve been able to discover how I am shaped on a basic human level that lets me take advantages and disadvantages into account. There is no single piece of information(1), it’s a collection of:
*Journal articles studying the psychology, neruobiology and anatomy of TS, ADHD and related conditions.
*Current and historical examples of people with TS that seem to have used the characteristics to their benefit that allow me to average out general features. Combined with the studies describing cognitive enhancements I’ve been able to make some useful tentative assumptions about what my advantages might be.
*Discussions of the experience of TS with other people that have been diagnosed with the condition in internet and meatspace support groups that let me farther strengthen some of my assumptions.
In this post I’m only going to highlight the features of TS relevant to social conflict that combined with my life experience as anill-defined flavor of non-straight(2), probably-cis(2), white male raised in a conservative, fundamentalist protestant military family in the US during the last decade or so of the cold war. I’ll do posts that are more specific about TS in general and other topics after this introduction. This stuff gets very sensitive and quite frankly I owe this community and other social justice communities a great debt because it’s helped me to be empathetic and socially conscious enough to be me morally and ethically given the fact that these features of TS do intersect with problems that many disadvantaged communities face. As a result I have a kind of insiders view of problematic people by sharing the history and psychology, but not the choices. When considering the following keep in mind that all human instinct and ability has good and bad expression and I suspect that people like me have found social roles in many cultures (3), but in others we seem to blend into “demon possession” as you go back in time.
*Heightened sensitivity to social information. Think about the fact that many of the urges we experience have to do with insults, slurs, physical boundary violations (common as children and quickly socialized out of us), obscenity related and non-obscene related urges to do the opposite of what is considered “normal”. It pretty much feels like everyone is yelling at me all of the time so I’ve had to learn to control my reactions all of the time.
*More intense feeling of aggression and social dominance instincts, and problems controlling rage and anger. The stereotype of the person with TS ranting angrily does have a basis in fact. I used to be pretty bad with video games in particular but I’m very in control of my anger today and can successfully remain rational and logical while angry. As an adult that enhanced control is very useful here and I’m experienced in feeling and seeing the good and bad things that people do when angry, and controlling my anger so that it is a tool and I am not it’s tool.
*Oppositional tendencies reflected in more co-diagnoses of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Combined with the above urges to do the opposite of things and a lifetime of choosing to do the right thing gives an interesting perspective of the different “sides” in social conflicts.
*Greater awareness of the use of non-literal language. That paper discusses things in terms of “impaired understanding of non-literal language”, but I see this as a result of how these studies see humanity as a whole. It’s better to say “more literal than the population at large”. I can understand non-literal language, it’s just less important to me. In my experience having your brain continually remind you of the literal meaning let’s you create an effective “bullshit detector” in social conflict. Think about the abuse of hyperbole when people get called out for sexism or racism. I don’t care about the “witch hunts”, I want to see the reality that does not involve metaphorical mystical women getting burned at stakes and I can almost never get a person who was called a sexist or a racist to show me that. Characterizations of things are less useful than descriptions of things in a social conflict.
*Obsessions with aggression, violence, sex, social rules, checking, counting, and symmetry. The social rules OCD is often called the “religion OCD” or scrupulosity. What’s a person with unpleasant urges who does not want to hurt people to do but get obsessed with the rules for not hurting people. I have an odd view of OCD where if a person gets control of the urges and compulsions they end up with a powerful filter for perceiving and thinking about the subject/object of the obsession/compulsion. It’s a matter of controlling instincts and associated emotions.
*More cognitive control of the rule-based parts of the mind related to the above. See the links having to do with enhancements and articles like this. The cognitive control is not limited to the motor domain and is also present in other areas where we have to exert control.
*Enhancements in rule-based physical and cognitive processes. That’s the four papers above that gave me positive motivation to figure this mess out. The paper on rule-based language enhancements is particularly interesting in light of the achievements of Dr. Samuel Johnson, a historical figure with TS from England that I consider a biological role-model. If I had to summarize how TS intersected with his life I would say that he had an extraordinary ability to understand how the language was objectively used in his time which let him to produce his famed Dictionary of the English Language at an increased efficiency relative to peers and even come up with innovations that set a standard for what we consider a Dictionary.
A lifetime of that and you develop a very different view of how people fight with words.
The social symmetries between the religious and the non-religious.
This last one is about how atheists and the religious are the same, a thing I have been more interested in over the last six months to a year or so and stems from my experiences of the ongoing schism in the atheist community. The events surrounding elevatorgate and Dear Muslima pushed me from occasional commentator to regular commentator here at FTB as people who wanted social abuse and neglect to be recognized and dealt with, received more abuse and aggressive attempts to drive them back into silence.
It was a period of training for me and I won’t pretend that it was pleasant for me or for the people who took the time to critisize me for my own flawed attempts to be supportive. I fucked up a lot and had to learn how to fight for other people. I had to learn to put aside my reasons for fighting and fight for other people’s reasons. I won’t claim any level of quality as an ally (which too often has negative connotations) other than the fact that people have told me that I have been helpful because I fully expect there to be many more places where things need changing and refined.
Regardless of anyone’s intentions it was necessarily a social conflict because there were people attacking other people in action or reaction. It was also a time of writing of mythologies (in the neutral sense of “a story of a group of people”) as the two sides faced off, told stories about one another, and socially postured. Those stories and postures do not equally reflect reality and the two sides are not equal in their ability present reality. I am quite comfortable on the side I have chosen.
Pejorative comparisons with religion were and are quite common and there are legitimate insulting comparisons to be made with respect to fallacious reasoning, means and manner of respect/support/attack/defense for group and authority, shitty beliefs/manner of thought/behavior/communication and other things. I started thinking about what was being associated with religion in atheist/skeptic culture and decided that a lot of it actually had to do with universal human behavior independent of any supernatural appeals. Figuring out what some atheists think religion is became useful as many were tossing out perfectly good kinds of human interaction like weekly group socialization and celebration of general things human. In my view religion is simply an expression of how we collectively do social organization, interaction, and activity. That is a thing that the atheist and skeptic communities need to do a lot of work to ensure healthy and effective communities.
I also experienced a second schism at the time as an outspoken feminist at a Brony image board. First as a user and then as the moderator of the serious discussion board. For now all I will say is that two schisms let one look for look for common patterns and I’m glad I was trained as a scientist.
So that’s what I’m planning on writing about. Along the way I would love to be able to make sure that can adapt these subjects to people in general and would welcome other perspectives on these issues. While my perspective is unique, it only exists because of other people and it’s only when it’s averaged with that of others that universally useful things can be found. Thank you for reading! I’ll be sure to try to work some figures into the next one so that it’s more interesting.
(1) The reproducability problem is very relevant to brain science. The collection of work on cognitive enhancements, historical examples, discussions with others with TS and my own observations of the consistency between my experiences and the literature on TS increase the strength of support to the point where I am comfortable making some assumptions and taking advantages of my own TS benefits.
(2) Tourette’s Syndrome puts me right in the middle of issues surrounding sex and gender, but in a way that makes me more privileged since the characteristics would be considered “hyper-masculine” as a male with TS. For female people with TS the the situation is the polar opposite since they also share the more masculine characteristics. There is also the 3:1 ratio of male to female people with the condition (which is certainly affected by inheritance and culture/society, and probably bias in diagnosing), and other things. I’m going to address this topic at some point, but I am very carefully considering how to do it inclusively and with respect. Any criticisms I receive will be taken seriously. I depend on criticism to be a good person.
(3) I’m currently trading emails with an anthropologist of Lakota descent who has recommended some colleges to me. I consider the Heyoka to be a role-model for how I can express what I am for my chosen communities. This is another area where I owe a debt to the FTB/social justice community because I have the tools to think about these kinds of comparisons respectfully.