Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The rise of autism

Diagnoses of autism have "exploded" in recent years. Why?  There is a lot of doubt that there is  a real underlying increase in cases of autism.  Most psychologists would account for the rise as an effect of expanded diagnostic criteria.  And that in turn is an aspect of what is often called the  "medicalization" of deviant behaviour.  That is the explanation that I incline towards.  I am aware that there are some claims of a role for diet and pollution but I see no clear evidence of that

A friend of mine who is a most experienced practicing psychologist has however offered me a rather novel explanation -- an explanation that is both sociological and draws strongly on history. History is the only laboratory of sociology so it is undoubtedly the place to look for sociological explanations. 

The starting point of the explanation is that the very first diagnosis of autism was by Kanner in 1943.  Did he invent it?  Why was it unknown before his work?  Clearly, it must have existed all along but why did it come to attention as a recognized syndrome so recently?

My psychologist friend has come up with an explanation.  He says he was recently reading a book about etiquette in the Victorian era and was amazed by the minuteness of the rules that governed social interactions at that time.  The whole idea of social etiquette has become rather passe these days but the aim of the rules was to make social interactions easy and pleasant for all parties.  It was not some authoritarian invention.  It was a set of arrangements that had arisen  through trial and error over time that most people were comfortable with. There was such a clear consensus about the rules that you could write books setting out the rules for those who needed to learn them.  So the rules did have something of a straitjacket character

And that was GOOD for autistic people, or at least the less disabled element of the autism spectrum.  Autistics did not have to feel their way towards socially acceptable behaviour.  It was all very clearly laid down for them by society.  The rules were made to ease social interactions and they had that effect for anybody who followed them  So the social expectations of the day DRAGOONED autistics into adaptive behaviour  They did not have work it all out themselves

That explanation will not of course work for extremely withdrawn forms of autism but for the more articulate parts of the spectrum it makes considerable sense.  It is only the breakdown of social mores resulting from two ghastly world wars that deprived social behaviour of much of its guidelines. The old order was destroyed and not replaced. And once Kanner had described juvenile autism, people began to see degrees of it elsewhere.  And that is where we are today

This is not of course a glorification of Victorian society.  Charles Dickens has convinced us all that Victorian society was thoroughly wrongheaded. It is simply an argument that Victorian rules had some benefit for some people, not all of whom were high and mighty -- people with poor social competence generally

This is not of course a theory about the origins and causes of autism but merely a theory about its visibility.  So what are the causes of autism?

I remember when I was doing a seminar in abnormal psychology as part of my Masters degree in psychology in the department of psychology at the university of Sydney in 1968, Kanner was much mentioned, but the discussion centred around whether autism was a psychosis. I have never thought that

The  long-running theory of autism traced the condition to "refrigerator mothers".  I forget who first proposed that theory but I would shoot  him if I could. To blame poor distressed mothers for the dysfunction of their child   was extremely cruel and unforgivable to my mind.  Fortunately that theory fitted so few actual cases that it was perforce eventually abandoned.

That led to an exploration of physical causes instead. I was a party to those debates and found one explanation persuasive: That autism was caused caused by excessive stimulus sensitivity which was in turn caused by an overdeveloped cerebral cortex.  I still subscribe to that theory and believe that it is now the mainstream one. There is no complete consensus in any area of science, however, climate science excepted, of course.

As a small amusing note in confirmation of that theory, I have observed informally that autistic people  tend to wear big hats! And when I met my present girlfriend via a dating  site she said that the thing she most liked about my photo  was my high forehead. She is very bright, has an intense interest in psychology and believes herself to be a high functioning autistic -- a diagnosis with which I concur.

I have had many papers published in the academic journals on abnormal psychology topics but none on autism.  My interest in it was however sparked by a recent realization that I too am a high functioning autistic.  And that has benefited my social life. You can see from the early photo with my sister below below what my forehead has been like from the beginning.  Plenty of room for a large cerebral cortex.

I have however had 4 marriages and three ladies still call on me regularly even though I am in my 80th year so I think that promotes the view that at least some autistics can have an interesting life

Friday, June 02, 2023

Leftism is fundamentally incompatible with what universities do

So it is a considerable tragedy that universities are a great bastion of Leftism

The besetting fault of Leftists is that they propose solutions to problems without first making much effort to understand the problem.  Their ego makes them sure that they know it all without effort.  Sadly, their ignorant solutions often make the problem worse

I have just come across a classic example of that.  It appeared in the glossy magazine put out by my alma mater, the University of Queensland -- and was written by a UQ academic. For details, see:


To understand how brain-dead the article is you need only to know that there is a great shortage of rental accomodation in many advanced countries  -- including Australia and the UK.  Many people are not in a position to own their own homes so rely on what they can rent.  And all governments -- including Soviet-style ones -- are very poor at providing housing. Even welfare housing is usually only a small fraction of the available rental housing

So in Australia, the UK, and elsewhere, it falls on private landlords to provide most of the rentals.  But at the moment there are just not enough rentals to go around.  People end up living in their cars and in the streets.  And some groups cram six people into an apartment built for two.

So amid such a dire shortage of rental housing, you would think that governments would be going all-out to encourage  more people to go landlording, would you not?  But that is logical -- too logical for short-sighted Leftists.  Instead, they are doing their level best to DISCOURAGE private landlording.

They seem to think that they can give tenants more rights without reducing the rights of landlords.  But that is in fact a zero-sum game.  A right for a tenant is a restriction on rights for a landlord. 

A good example:  Mandating that tenants must be allowed to keep a pet restricts landlords from forbidding pets.  And landlords do usually want to forbid pets -- for good reasons.  When a pet-owning tenant moves out, the piss and shit that has fallen on the landlord's carpet makes the carpet so stinky  that the property is unlettable to new tenants.  So the landlord has to spend thousands replacing the carpet.  As a former landlord, I have been there and done that.

And making it compulsory for landlords to allow pets has actually been done where I live.

So the first two things listed as needing to be done for tenants in the UQ magazine are solidly aimed at advantaging tenants -- without the slightest evidence of thought about how landlords might respond to that.  Real estate agents have already warned that new rights being contemplated will cause owners to withdraw their properties from the rental market.  So the reforms that would supposedly "help" tenants are  likely to leave more of them on the streets

Apartments and houses are being sold for very high prices at the moment so it will be very tempting for landlords to sell up.  One despairs for our universities.  Deep thought has become alien to them