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Maier '17: Brown’s oppressed minority

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.


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