In addition to the Six Good Reasons to Blame Autism for All Your Problems that I posted a few days ago, we might add a seventh, which is that doing so is a natural, consistent, and thoroughly reasonable adaptation to the domain of personal ethics of certain cornerstone legal principles enshrined in the U.S. Justice System and even in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In particular, it is essentially an adaptation of the well-known Presumption of Innocence principle that requires guilt to be proven instead of innocence, but it is also an adaptation of the principle that a witness cannot be compelled to give testimony that is self-incriminating.
With respect to the current context, I think it’s imperative to recognize that quite to the contrary of pop-culture exhortations to “trust your gut”, feelings in general are often terrible representations of reality. What could be more common than irrational anxiety or fear, especially for autistic people? As another example, anger can make us feel powerful, even as it renders us inflexible, impulsive, and blind to relevant information (i.e. contextually stupid). And of course, who hasn’t fallen madly in love with someone who can only reciprocate with boredom?
In particular, pro-social feelings like guilt, shame, regret, remorse, and embarrassment are notoriously misleading. Human beings on either end of a given accusation — both accuser and accused — are vulnerable to what might aptly be referred to as delusions of culpability. Of course, delusions of innocence are also possible, and so clearly we should not pretend to be sociopaths, who themselves have a dangerously misleading lack of such pro-social emotions. Feelings aren’t always wrong either, and should never be denied or ignored.
But I think especially when we feel guilty or ashamed, for example, we absolutely should demand that our feelings be confirmed by the facts. Even a quick study of history and current events shows that it is very easy to manipulate someone into feeling guilty or ashamed for all kinds of ridiculous pseudo-crimes — homosexuality, masturbation, witchcraft, being black, Jewish, etc. Once our feelings of shame or guilt have passed the test of being grounded in fact, I think then and only then should we agree to accept appropriate personal responsibility for the events, actions, or consequences in question. I think a firm commitment to “autism made me do it!”, at least initially, is an excellent way to ensure such an outcome.
Yup. Autistic until proven guilty. That’s my new credo — for now at least, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that could change my mind.
And if you think you may have some of that kind of evidence, or any other thoughts on the above, please let me know in a comment below!