I’ve always been slightly odd. As a child, I was shy, bookish and obsessive, and these traits have continued into my adulthood. Despite my degree and decent career and home-ownership, I’m still a very awkward and geeky individual. Most of the time this is fine, but occasionally it feels like I have problems with socialising that start to get in the way of my life.
I first became aware of Asperger Syndrome a decade or so ago. I was knew of autism, but didn’t think I could possibly have it as. Asperger’s though was a different kettle of fish. While people at the more severe end of the autistic spectrum may experience difficulty in communicating and cognition problems, people with Asperger’s are higher functioning, but still struggle with certain aspects of communication and cognition. The description of the condition, and the revelation that it didn’t necessarily preclude employment or relationships, was a revelation to me.
After a few years of nagging my G.P., I was referred to a specialist in Glasgow for an assessment around a year ago. After 90 minutes or so in front of a panel of three health care professionals, I was told I didn’t have an Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). Well, better get on with things, I thought. Fast forward 12 months and I find myself seeing a counsellor, who happens to have a niece and a nephew with ASC. She’s said to me that a couple of things I’ve said in our sessions make her suspect I may well indeed be on the spectrum.
In one of our first sessions, she asked me if I had trouble with other people’s opinions. “No,” I replied. “Well, not if they make sense to me.” I don’t have an issue with people having a different viewpoint to me, if they can argue their case, but when their position seems predicated on flawed logic, popular myths, and a critical lack of research, then that starts to grind my gears.
The X-Files. Which if you hadn’t heard, is being revived this year. Famously, the credulous Fox Mulder had a poster in his office that read ‘I want to believe.’ The older I get, the more I realise this is true of huge swathes of humanity. They want to believe something, regardless of facts or logic; it’s why ghost stories have been around for centuries and why your Facebook feed is full of utter nonsense about Apple giving away iPhones because the boxes have been unsealed. I now fact-check almost every popular meme to make sure the context is correct, the information is accurate, and any event that’s referenced actually happened. Particularly with photograph-based memes; when I started studying photography 17 odd years ago, my lecturer pointed out that while cameras are objective recorders of situations, the people using them aren’t. Photographers regularly frame, crop, zoom and physically manipulate their subjects to obtain their shot. Sometimes this is done for the sake of the image, sometimes the subtext. Either way, you can affect the narrative. The lesson I took from that was that an untouched, non-photoshopped image still might not actually show the whole image.
The internet, and modern life, is full of misleading information. Data becomes information when it is interpreted, and misinformation when it is misinterpreted. Graphs can be used incorrectly, either accidentally or maliciously. Statistics can be presented without any attempt to contextualise them. Logical fallacies litter the internet, and I think it’s more important than ever that the general public starts being a little more sceptical about what they’re presented with. I’ve blogged previously about the Qatar death rate graph, which was proliferated across both my Facebook and Twitter feeds, and which from a statistical point of view, was meaningless. The figures have since been questioned by the BBC.
Coming back to me having a potentially ASC brain, I have several problems with all this misinterpretation. Firstly, the world is not a black and white place, so any attempt to view it that way is cannot but fail. Secondly, can we seemingly not appreciate multiple viewpoints on a topic before forming our opinion? But I probably have the biggest issue with the most likely reason for these frustrating misinterpretations: mendacity.
Human beings are fairly prone to lying, from the small (Sorry, I forgot to text you back) to the large (I didn’t mean to blow up the moon.) We do it every day, from our ablutions and our salutations to our occupations. Most of these falsehoods are teeny white lies that we’ve developed as a species over thousands of years to stop us killing each other – pleasantries, I think they’re called. Like capitalism, they exist because no-one has realised how fucking stupid they are for the most part. They’re harmless, though, unlike the politicians and newspapers and bloggers (Where’s this going? – Ed) that stand to attain power and make money and gain notoriety if enough people believe their porkies. That’s what I really struggle with. And the entire world seems complicit in it. Everyone knows everyone else is being less than ingenuous, but there’s no sign that will ever change. Facts seem to be selected to fit a narrative, rather than data being interpreted to provide a theory, and my brain will not let me accept that. Which is as exhausting as you might think.
So if the world will never change, can I? People with ASC are apparently reluctant to change their ways. But for me and a formal diagnosis of ASC, well…as I’ve already had an assessment, I think I’m right in saying that I can’t pursue a second opinion through the same channels. I’ve tried to get in touch with another organisation that might be able to help, but they haven’t replied to my email yet. I don’t know; part of me feels that I should accept the consultants’ opinion and get on with things, but there’s another part of me that suspects I’ll keep crashing in the same car, that even if it’s not ASC, there’s part of my brain that doesn’t work properly, and will always make socialising a hell of a lot more complicated than it is for other people.
Of course, the third way is that I’m just an arsehole, so you can see why I don’t particularly want to consider that possibility. I can self-diagnose, but a proper diagnosis would probably be more helpful, in all the spheres of my life. We’ll see what develops.
This is kind of a long-winded apology, but if I’ve blogged in the last couple of years about my frustration with other people’s opinions, and I’ve insulted you, I can only apologise.