Columns

Maier ’17: Brown’s oppressed minority

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I write to you from the frontlines of a losing battle. I’m a Brown student, and I am oppressed. Horribly oppressed. Invaders with an agenda, who think they know best and seek to implement their ideas and beliefs upon unwilling others, are at my front door.

The ideological imperialists to whom I refer are the politically liberal and social justice-­minded students of this fine university. I have recently read many an article discussing the issues of political correctness and freedom of speech on college campuses. All the discussion points raised around the issue are very important and critical, but I fear that there are discrete sectors of the student population that are being left out of the conversation, silenced. They are rarely, if ever, even given a chance to speak and, when they do, their words are sneered at and disregarded, trampled by a stampede of condescension and derision.

This oppressed minority consists of students with autism or who are on the autism spectrum. Such students, through no fault of their own, have difficulty interpreting, understanding or empathizing with the thoughts, experiences and emotions of other people. Through no fault of their own, they struggle to think with their hearts. For these people, myself among them, life at Brown is often a living hell.

The worst of the oppression, cruelty that can drive one to suicide, comes socially. Many people with autism, or who are on the spectrum are social space cadets. Not only do I have a very hard time reading and understanding social situations, but I am virtually incapable of political correctness. “Being offensive” or “taking offense” has no meaning to me. All I care about is the strength of an argument. If something doesn’t follow logically, I will always call it out, for I want to fully understand it. For better or for worse, I am dedicated to reason, since I can interpret no other way.

Unfortunately, the loudest voices at Brown seem not to make sense a lot of the time. They are hypocritical. They oversimplify. They commit logical fallacy after logical fallacy. I call it out, whenever I get a chance, in a civil manner, with the hallmarks of critical thinking and good, fair argument, and I usually get shouted at. The worst part is not knowing. Not knowing who is going to snap or what’s going to set people off leaves my autistic self under siege. It is psychological torture. Being doomed to make the wrong choice repeatedly and get viciously rebuked for it, I haven’t made many friends here. I don’t partake in activities or clubs, nor do I speak in class. The Brown student body, in its radical and aggressive demands for safety and acceptance of all people, is downright hostile to people with autism. People who see the reasoning, and the staggering logistical, philosophical and moral complexity of ensuring safety and acceptance for all. I have yet to find a political cause or point of advocacy that is airtight.

Microaggressions, trigger warnings, “check your privilege,” multiculturalism, cultural appropriation, gender spectrum, spiritualism, animal rights, protests, the social construction of virtually everything, human rights, indigenous rights, rights for the homeless, feminism, Black Lives Matter, the list goes on. They all have their problems. Somewhere, the pure logic of all these advocacy points falls apart. Feminists run up against transgender activists, LGBTQ rights advocates conflict with critics of Western “imperial domination” in the Middle East. Microvictims of microaggressions are, themselves, microaggressors of other microvictims.

Most unfortunately, Brown’s social justice advocates take on the guise of imperialists of the mind, absolutely rejecting any deviation from left wing ideology, Brown’s norm of idealism and utopianism. I’ve been told to “stop theorizing people’s lives,” to “stop being a bigot/homophobe/transphobe/racist” and basically to shut up and stop spreading the plagues of skepticism, reason and logic. I trust the evidence. I am skeptical of presupposition. Demanding that I “show a little compassion” (whatever that means) or “stop theorizing” or “empathize with someone’s situation” is basically demanding that I not exist at all. Perhaps the most stifling of rational debate is when I am told that I “simply do not have the capacity and ability to partake in discussion.” I take this to be the result of someone misinformed about autism. I don’t have a problem with the statement, but it does strike me that those who tell me this would never say the same thing to a black person or a person with Down syndrome or a woman or a homeless person. Another contradiction.

By all outward appearances, I want the same world as the most ardent of Brown’s social justice advocates. I want creativity, I want homeless people to have houses, I want to end oppression of women and of the poor, I want science and behavioral genetics to ensure that there will never again be another Ferguson. But I want more people educated and rational. I also want skepticism and logical consistency. I want to know what is fact and what is speculation. I want to know what is assumed. Above all, I want reason, and I want to not be shouted down when I poke holes in the logical structure of a topic of advocacy. I must do so, for that is the only way I can understand anything at all.

M. Dzhali Maier ’17 studies science and society.

  • sure

    “I want reason, and I want to not be shouted down when I poke holes in the logical structure of a topic of advocacy”

    if you are looking for actual advice: maybe talk a little less and listen a little more and think about things. read some books, go for a walk.

    • Alum

      This is your response to a bravely vulnerable op-ed, “go for a walk”? Maier here relays that the vocal, liberal students have created a campus so hostile to the author’s observable social condition, that it is a literal hell, marked by confusion and derision. This author and Brown student already relayed their earnest attempts to engage and understand, and by asking is how this person, like many, learns. When they do so at Brown, they are met with what I can only imagine is the same kind of self-absorbed, bullying demagoguery I witnessed on campus, and telling someone they lack the capacity to partake in a conversation is asking them to take a hike and “go for a walk”. Maier is asking for the dignity of some empathy from a campus that loves to talk the talk (and fails to deliver) and your response is “go for a walk.”

      • Read again.

        You can’t ask for empathy. We’ve established that asking for empathy does not respect those who are incapable of it; please stop.

        • Alum

          Found the reason for the op-Ed!

          • Alum

            Excellent point Alum! I’m applying skepticism to this piece and being told that I should not do so. Another contradiction.

            And no, I am not the take a walk guy, who is still kind of a dick.

  • Not-so-sold POC

    Innovative! All we have to do is hand out “behavioral genetics” stickers to communities in Ferguson—insightful solution.

  • I am sympathetic, but the problem here isn’t Brown. Being on the autistic spectrum has put you in a really difficult position, and I hope you can find resources to better navigate the liberal arts environment. But you cannot ask a university to drop subltety and nuance out of its discourse because you have trouble with those things on a neurological level.

    I’m not saying you’re “unable to partake in the discussion,” either, because I know there’s no point in that. But you can’t deny that autism has made it more difficult for you to partake in the discussion. And you (with the help of SEAS, or whatever other resources you find useful) need to figure out what accomodations you need, to be prepared to handle those conversations at the level that your peers are having them.

    (I probably would say that a person with Down syndrome lacks the ability to participate meaningfully in most of those conversations, but maybe that makes me a bigot idk)

    Here’s my advice, and it may not be very good:

    Often, what comes naturally to some people (via empathy) is also supported by a great deal of evidence. What part of oppression is rational? Sure, it’s rational for the people in charge to want to stay in charge, but it’s not obviously *better* for the world.

    When you find yourself amidst a conversation that seems full of logical leaps and bounds that you can’t get behind, try bringing it up later with someone who understands both the argument and your unique perspective (a professor, a good friend, or some kind of mentor perhaps). Other people may be able to fill in those gaps with empathy — you will need something else. But luckily, there usually IS evidence to fill them.

    Basically, you can (and should!) ask someone to talk you through these things — someone who won’t get offended if you have a lot of questions, because they know you’re not playing “devil’s advocate” to literally advocate for the devil, that’s just how you need to understand the world.

  • Oops.

    Lmfao at the recent articles by this author in the context of this one.

  • ‘`*-.,_,-*’`*~-.,.~*’*~ (2014)

    hey – you’ve casually mentioned suicide/”praying for sweet death” in a couple of your columns. i’m sure you know this, but: if you’re actually thinking about suicide, there are resources available blah blah blah u can also email me at iliterallyjustmadethisforthis@gmail.com if u need to vent

  • M. DZHALI MAIER: You have no excuse. You use an “ism” as your shield, and with your sword, you attempt to justify genocide. Did Hitler do the Jews a favor? I mean, is China doing a solid for the Tibetans? Riddle me how Columbus did indigenous natives a favor, by cutting off their hands if they didn’t deliver enough daily gold to him, after he made them his slaves. He personally saw to it that the native population of the Bahamas went to zero not long after his arrival. In what way is that an improvement for indigenous people? Natives are the racial group most often killed by police while unarmed, and remain the most socioeconomically disadvantaged group in our country. Their land and resources were stolen, and their way of life was murdered from the food supply on up. We *get* that you are biased towards cars, metal, and the many shiny things of “modern” society, but we do live in a dark age today, where we can be killed by those cars any day – this is the 3rd leading cause of death in the US. #2 and 1 are easily preventable diseases. We live in a true dark age, and are plagued by problems that did NOT exist before Columbus smeared his germs and violence all over the continent. The Vikings are a stark contrast to Columbus, who arrived in the Americas earlier, and somehow, managed *not* to commit heinous acts of genocide and violence. Rather, the Vikings assimilated; just as we all can recognize, immigration without assimilation is invasion. There were a thousand ways Europeans could have come to the Americas peacefully, and assimilated, and have been welcomed. The only thing Columbus discovered was that one could commit genocide in the Americas, with the Vatican’s unapologetic approval, which continues to this day, so now you live with the reality that you publicly support genocide. The heart of your problem, as I run through it with my sword of truth, is that you poo-pooh empathy, and raise up materialism as God. That, let it be known, is idolatry. When you advocate violence for material gain, you are somewhere between petty mugger, and slavemaster. You stand against peace and love, and I see you as a demon of violence and hate. Your genetics have been manipulated by GMOs, and you are literally the walking dead.

    • Johnny

      How dare you. How dare you diminish the voice of a person with autism.

      The author’s point was, first and foremost, that Christopher Columbus was a terrible person. He did the most horrendous things. He did the native people he killed and tortured absolutely no favors.

      However, the author’s point was that he did the utmost of favors for any native person alive today. The legacy of Columbus is the Columbian Exchange. The legacy of Columbus is the Modern Age.

      As the author points out, the Vikings may have well committed less harm, but they did not bring the creme de la creme of European agriculture and animals. There is nothing in the article that advocates violence. There is nothing in the article that seeks to make an “ought” from an “is”. Read the darn thing, why don’t you.

      Oh, and by the way, GMOs have been scientifically demonstrated over and over again, in study after study to be safe. Stand for “peace and love”, stand against GMOs, stand against reason, stand with liberal institutions that promote alternative medicine, conspiracy theories, fearmongering, and the anti- vax movement. I will never take you seriously

  • alasti

    Mr. Maier: You haven’t given a single example of the logical flaws which you claim are inherent in every progressive cause of your experience. On the one hand, you state that you’re incapable of feeling the emotions which are so primary to human social functioning, and which indeed are the basis for much activism. The root logic behind that is in evolutionary biology…most humans are predisposed to a certain amount of empathy and compassion because that is what has made us as successful as a species as we have been, and social groups within which this was more prevalent were on the whole more successful than others over the millenia. There is a fundamental logic of that kind in the “Do unto others” maxim. When such behavior is the norm, well-being for all is enhanced, even if there are inevitably going to be numbers of people for whom self-interest might be a personally winning strategy.

    You acknowledge that you have lacked capacity to adequately comprehend the emotional drivers of behavior and motivation common to most people, yet rather than attempting to find a mode of interacting with others which accommodates that, you insist that those who differ from you in this regard should comply with your standards of logic in justifying their beliefs. Clearly you’re capable of feeling anger and unhappiness, and I’ll bet that there are elements of love and equanimity which you could come to know if that hasn’t yet been possible. A bit of humility could go a long way toward facilitating exploration of that as well as better mutual understanding between you and those with whom you don’t agree.

    Avoid derogatory labellings and denunciatory statements (so far as may be possible, given that others apparently have been quite intolerant toward you), and see whether a different approach might not bring unexpected rewards. Everything can’t be everyone else’s fault, and obviously none of us is so brilliant as to have all the answers. The path you’re on is not taking you anywhere productive or fulfilling, so try something different. That is within your capacities.

    • Del Aware

      You seem to assume that empathy, compassion, and altruism are equally distributed among all races (subspecies) of humans.

      You are wrong.

      You thus are shadow boxing.

  • Rhein Ouaiffe

    That could have been edited down by about 90%.

  • it’s pretty funny

    She may be on the autism spectrum, but she has a better sense of humor than the PC brigade she’s mocking. For those having trouble understanding what’s going on, Maier’s essay is a parody of the articles complaining about how tough life is, what with all the microaggressions, cultural appropriation, etc. She doesn’t actually think she’s oppressed; she’s poking fun at the histrionic left.