Wooly thinking part two

Does autism correlate with high IQ?

Or is this simply a form of reverse stigma?

I’ve mused about the apparent paradoxes in the diagnoses of autism before but I’ve yet to find anything that’s making me think that most people with autism are bloody geniuses.

There is a study which suggests that many of the genes implicated in autism are also those implicated in high IQ, but, as anyone who knows anything about genetics will tell you, it’s very difficult to identify ‘a gene for X’. Basically, this is the equivalent of searching for The Bachelorette gene.

I particularly enjoyed this article that told me that people with ASD are brainy because compared to the general population,

Nearly half of children (46 percent) who have been diagnosed with ASD have an above average intellectual ability, however, it differs from person-to-person.

That’s right, almost fifty percent of those with ASD fall above the average! Which I guess means that 54% fall below the average. Which tells me nothing except that as a population people with ASD are slightly dumber than those without ASD. It depends, I suppose, on how they define ‘average’ – for me, I take a pretty straight up mean/median approach, (the sample was 10 000) but maybe they decided that the top of the curve was actually a table top.

I see you, kurtosis, and I place a plate and some chips on top of you!

How good is science reporting? I mean, really. This shit is top drawer.

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What’s racist today?

When protectionism is racist;

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Here, the Australian left-wing media hangs New Zealand’s Prime Minister elect Jacinda Ardern out to dry because she’s at once too socialist and not socialist enough.

To be clear, there is a difference between social socialism and economic socialism.

Economic socialism views housing as more than a commodity and claims that the free market trade in goods and services (such as houses) must be regulated to prevent the concentration and consolidation of power*.  Ardern has stripes in version of economic socialism**. Economic socialism also does not view people as commodities, to be imported and exported depending on the GDP per capita that quarter.

Social socialism (probably what the vapid, swaying lampreys in the right wing media call ‘cultural Marxism’) means not being a cunt to the Indians living next-door. It means making sure that people who live in your country do not experience prejudice and have the same opportunities as others. Ardern also has stripes in this department.

We see this paradox emerge in the US all the time – Republicans are economically liberal but socially conservative. That was, of course, until Trump, when the socially conservative finally realised that they were economically conservative too – coming clean about the protectionism that engenders their economic strength. They’re still economically liberal with health care though – you limping losers brought that on yourselves.

Which brings me to my final point;

The more astute of you may have guessed that my reference to ‘limping losers’ was a statement whereby I take the position of an anti-healthcare advocate. It is an attempt at positioning both them and me – I believe in publicly funded health and disability care, many Americans do not. If I were a politician, this statement, along with many others I have made online would be enough to get me fired in a fit of internet outrage, no doubt after a Guardian revelation that I’d called disabled people limping losers. Let’s make this easy;

Senator XXX Suspended After Calling Disabled; ‘Limping Losers’. (The Guardian, March 2039)

Tagline; Senator XXX has been relieved of her duties after it was revealed that she once referred to disabled people as ‘limping losers’ in an online blog post in October 2017. 

Let’s have a look at one the BBC prepared earlier;

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Yep, this MAN called women ‘sexy little slags’ in an online review of an Arctic Monkeys something-or-other in 2002 (14 years ago for those playing at home). He also apparently called someone he’d an some kind of sexual relationship an ‘ugly bitch’ during a discussion with her (he denies this).

Conservative MP Mims Davies, chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group for women in Parliament, said it was “right” that Mr O’Mara had been suspended over his “vile” comments.

But she added: “Why on earth has it taken so long?”

Ummm, let me think about that one….

Firstly, maybe no-one gives a fuck? I am a woman and I couldn’t give a fuck if some bloke calls women ‘sexy little slags’ – and that’s without knowing the context of it. Maybe he was trying to be funny, he is a ginger after all.

Second, no-one is going to call out this behaviour because it opens the Giant Box of Hypocrite. How long till we see ancient online comments from Conservative MPs claiming poor people are best sliced thinly and served with a light vinaigrette?

I’m less interested in the hyper-vigilant confected outrage du jour and more interested in how it is used. It’s like a tractor beam, ever ready to be pointed at the next person to go. Outrage does not ‘do’ complicated political intrigue – no-one’s got the attention span for that. No, it cuts straight to the chase; he called me X. Let’s get rid of him/her.

Politicians are constantly on the knife-edge of inferior wokeness, endlessly surveilled by a foaming media pack ever-ready for salacious, one-line mis-steps in the morass of shrill identity politics.

Who benefits from this hyper-vigilance? The right wing media, who claim that we all live in fear of saying anything at all. Right wing ideologues like Andrew Bolt are increasingly recruiting ‘ordinary Australians’ as the distance between political speak and regular speak grows.

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*Houses in Auckland (because that’s where this debate begins and ends) are sometimes bought by overseas investors (often Chinese – thus the Asian racism angle). However, it’s worth noting that although 70% of Auckland’s entry level housing is purchased by investors only 3% is purchased by overseas buyers. Middle aged kiwis are finding Auckland’s housing market almost impossible to access because of Glenys and Murray, not Mr and Mrs Tan. Even though 3% is a small amount, it’s testament to the disquiet about houses being traded as commodities quite so blatantly. After all, even if Glenys and Murray are using their property investment to make money they’re still spending it in NZ – it’s an interesting type of commodification.

**Also worth noting that this reflects a peculiarly Australian viewpoint of racism, focused on anti-Asian sentiment when actually, a good deal of the disquiet about overseas investors isn’t about Asians at all, it’s about the (tiny but high profile) trend of very wealthy global/Americans (Peter Thiel et al.,.) buying large properties within ‘iconic’ New Zealand landscapes. New Zealanders fear their rural and ‘natural’ landscapes becoming an increasingly gated community that they are locked out of. Maori have seen this movie before of course….

 

Depression and anxiety; The new racism

It’s been a hell of a few weeks. Clearly I am suffering from stress. It could lead to depression, or perhaps anxiety.

Or perhaps I’m just busy and under pressure. Perhaps I’ll just harden the fuck up for a bit and see if that helps.

First; a warning. This is just some out-loud thinking. Sorry if it doesn’t make any sense. I’m stressed etc.,.

Yesterday I heard Frank Furedi speaking about freedom of speech on Radio National. I’ve not heard of Furedi since I was an undergrad student, about 20 years ago. I liked his work then, but have shifted in other directions since.

Yesterday, I listened to him argue that Western universities are increasingly self-censorious. This is because, under a neo-liberal consumerist model, they’re competing for students. There are prizes for the least confronting course content.

Education has become commodified, of course, but it’s happened in weird ways. University is no longer an adult stage, it is a continuation of a cosseted larval form, where endlessly fretting parents shuffle continuously build a fuzzy little ‘happy bubble’ around their children.

Every year the numbers of university students applying for special consideration on the basis of ‘stress’ or ‘depression and anxiety’ increases, as students pathologise the normal pressures of life in the adult world into an ever-expanding rubric of ‘wellness’.

Furedi often writes about this cultural turn but for me it was refreshing to hear someone validate what I myself have said so many times. In fact, I usually go one step further. I think we are encouraged to focus our attention on ourselves so as to avoid looking at the structural inequities and problems that may affect our ‘wellbeing’. This is one of the key ways that neo-liberalism works – it is the cult of the individual; If you can’t make life work, it’s because you’ve got something wrong with you. You have an illness. I’ve moaned about how this insidious cult of wellness operates before.

Here’s the thing; All capitalist systems require a certain degree of labour market elasticity. This is what the NAIRU (Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) refers to. It is simply the rate of unemployment that can be sustained before inflation rises.

In the old days, the easiest way to secure churn at the bottom of the labour market was simply racism – you brought people in to your country and then stigmatised them so they would remain at the bottom. The decline in Empires (something that really only happened with the recession in the second half of the 1970s) has made flat-out racism more unpalatable and immigration much harder to manage. But the market still needs a bunch of people who will buy things but can’t work all the time.

Depression and anxiety is the new racism.

There’s another dimension to Furedi’s comments about education and feeble-mindedness, however. The commodification of a university education under a neo-liberal model has seen a dramatic increase in university enrolments. I’ve written about this in the Australian context before. My point is, universities are now accepting students who are completely unprepared for a university education.

One of the one hand, it’s predatory lending – inviting students to buy a mediocre education where they barely scrape through a general degree, with the help of multiple concessions to ‘stress’ or ‘depression’, is a bad thing.

But I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I myself left school before School C(ertificate*), and hit university in my early 20s. I was hopelessly outgunned. But, after a year I worked it out and did rather well thankyouverymuch.

So I’m cautious about suggesting that university entry requirements should be tightened as it may exclude those who might genuinely benefit.

I’ll leave that there. Apologies for lack of coherent thought.

 

 

*School Certificate and Bursary were the two main qualifications one could earn at school. Bursary (silly name, as it didn’t come with money) was roughly the same as HSC, undertaken at the end of Year 12. Only those planning to go to uni sat Bursary.

School C was the main qualification and you sat it at the end of Year 10. Can you imagine today’s year 10s sitting a series of exams at the end of the year? The stress! You’d be weeping into your chai latte.

 

500 words; Risk, autism and wooly thinking

None of this makes much sense, it’s really just me mapping out questions rather than answers.

Recently a friend claimed that everyone at MIT (where she studied) was on the spectrum. The assumption that intelligence corresponds with autism is well known – here’s a primer on the idea that certain alleles crossover for both.

Basically, the argument runs that autism is like a concentrator – some bits of the brain get gooderer, while others get badderer. The article I’ve cited talks about this from an evolutionary perspective, including ‘assortative mating’ – like mates like.

Here’s my question – everything I’ve read about the ‘stratospheric rise’ in autism suggests that it has something to do with rapid changes in the environment (in an evolutionary sense), especially pre and immediately post-natally. In other words, the food we eat and behaviours we engage in, especially stressful ones, positively correlate with a diagnosis of autism.

I don’t know if I believe in a ‘rise’ in autism – seems like the diagnostic criteria is tremendously malleable, you can see this in the discrepancies across social categories too.

I guess I’m musing on an apparent paradox;

The rise in autism is supposedly caused by poor environment – high maternal sugar intake, high post natal stress/cortisol etc.,. and yet autism would seem to correspond with high ‘innate’ IQ – that is, ability to think about difficult topics logically (expressing this is a different story).

Does this lead to the conclusion that the rise in Lifestyles of the Poor and Ignominious have resulted in higher levels of IQ – albeit alongside autism?

Doesn’t stack up for me.

I’m wary of labelling everyone smart with being ‘on the spectrum’. As a child I was diagnosed as 100% NutBar – with many troubling behavioural and learning issues (I’m NOT labelling being on the spectrum with being a nutbar – I am claiming my own experience not speaking for anyone else’s here).

My life was very stressful but we lived in an affluent area where social problems are far more likely to be pathologised as medical ones.  Then at 13 I moved schools and started living in a hostel. Suddenly (almost) every problem I’d ever had with learning and behaviour magically evaporated. I’m not suggesting that I am completely ‘not nutbar’ – I am a bit odd, and that’s good. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being on the spectrum – as long as the consequences are good rather than negative (stigma etc.,.) but that’s another set of issues. But, I am suggesting we should be realistic about the range of human variability, and realistic about what that means. Diagnosing epidemics of this and that makes me uncomfortable.

I’m not suggesting autism doesn’t exist, or making claims about causality or anything else, I’m just very interested in what appears to be a paradox described above.

I guess another way of saying this would be – if we define IQ as the type of stuff people with autism are good at (the type of thinking defined in the article I cited above) then is there now more of it? And is this due to shitty western lifestyles?

 

 

Pepi pods

New Zealand is currently going through a pepi-pod phase, encouraging new parents to place their baby in a small sleeping pod to prevent cot death. The pepi-pod enables the baby to sleep in the bed next to its parents without fear of being squashed, suffocated, or otherwise lost amongst the Minties in the glovebox.

Yep, turns out that most cot deaths aren’t caused by some mysterious set of factors, they’re just caused by unfashionable ones – poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and formula feeding.

To engage in a little social history…when I was a fresh new Mum my own mother offered to whip me up a ‘banana box’ bassinet. These were common in the 1970s – a long skinny banana box covered in cotton fabric and a little wadding. Babies were separate but accessible – my earliest memories were of a gentle hand reaching down to me through a miasma of cigarette smoke so as I might receive another bellyful of thick, yellowy formula (I should note my Mum didn’t smoke, Dad did. But then so did everyone else. It was the 70s after all).

On another note, I asked Mum the other day what women did before formula. Mum grew up on a remote sheep farm – in those days new Mums did not scrum it out with sinewy Chinese girls for another tin of Karicare, yet breastfeeding wasn’t universal. Cow’s milk was the answer there – fresh, unpasteurised cow’s milk. I’d be fascinated to know how many babies received cow’s milk as their first food.