I've been (slowly) reading Daniel D. Hutto's book, Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons. I say slowly because, well, it's slow. It's meant for people who are much more able to handle (and thrive on) philosophy jargon, as opposed to my sometimes ability to essentially liveblog it and hope that what I wrote out in what amounts to a liveblog in my own language sticks.
I'm only bothering at all because the ideas in the preface looked interesting, and I'm only able to at all because this one is better than most about using words I can understand and providing examples I can understand.
Right now, I want to talk about an idea that reading his stuff has let me work through a bit better. Here's some of the stuff from him that I'm looking at:
- It makes sense to ask if we even seek to understand people using predictions and explanations anyways. “For one thing, it is not plausible that we could take a detached interest in the movements of all those we encounter, for to do so would surely sap our intellectual resources” (250.)
- Hutto repeatedly points out that speculating on others reasons for their actions, even when we have evidence to support us, is unlikely to get us the right reasons, and that while the person's own explanation for why they acted isn't 100% foolproof, it's way more likely to be accurate than the guess is. I think I have this in my notes 3-4 times and I'm still on chapter 1 (and its endnotes.)
- In some cases, a person's beliefs and desires could be sufficiently different from those expected that knowing what they were doesn't actually help make their actions understandable. It just moves the confusion from “Why did you do that?” to “Why would you think/want that?” In that case, further explanation, using cultural differences or individual differences, is needed to understand. (Paraphrase from a paragraph on pages 7-8.)
- Stories can help us understand unusual actions: they can either show us why the reasoning behind an action is actually familiar or they can make it familiar. (Summary of a paragraph on page 8.)
- “Sometimes the behavior of others is so erratic that we have no option but to regard those individuals in the same light as we do objects” (8.)
I think that covers the ideas and quotes I'm using for this bit.
Now for immediate responses I had to each of those things.
- I've seen a lot of autistic people write that trying to understand what others are doing, trying to understand social situations, is exhausting. It's cognitively taxing! As an autistic person, I'm going to agree. Handling social situations does “sap [my] intellectual resources.”
- And people insisting on taking that kind of spectator guessing without listening to the person's explanation when trying to explain the actions of neurodivergent people (my experience would be as an autistic person) is basically using this kind of logic. No wonder it doesn't go well! Folks, we already know it doesn't work that great when it's within the same culture and neurotype! (Grumble grumble theory of mind grumble grumble doesn't know what it's like to be themselves grumble grumble nonsense.)
- Oh, you mean like people thinking big parties are fun? Or that strobe lights are fun? Or that fluorescent lights were a reasonable idea? Or one of any number of ways that sensory processing and general cognitive differences mean that people's wants could be different to the point of not being able to understand them.
- Huh. So that's going to tie into representation stuff for all the groups ever. If there aren't stories about neurodivergent people acting for reasons that make sense to neurodivergent people, then it'll be harder for folks to understand the reasons neurodivergent people might have for doing things. Which goes back into thinking we're not understandable. I guess I'll keep writing fiction with autistic characters, especially protagonists, who don't die, get cured, or get sent away.
- THIS IS NOT AN AUTISTIC PERSON SAYING THIS. THIS IS A PRESUMABLY NEUROTYPICAL ACADEMIC SAYING THAT WE SOMETIMES REGARD PEOPLE IN THE SAME LIGHT AS OBJECTS. Now that that's been established:
- The reason given that we would do so is when their actions are super-duper not understandable to us. Super-duper not understandable, not even a little bit sense-making.
- Isn't it people in privileged and majority groups who tend to have trouble seeing members of oppressed and minority groups as human? And the stories are about the people in the privileged and majority groups, so... yeah, actually this totally fits.
Now, I have some connections between the things!
Hear me out.
What if it's not that autistic people have some sort of inability to use folk psychology or theory of mind or any of those other things? What if it's that the reasons for doing things that make automatic or near automatic sense to autistic people are sufficiently different from the ones that make automatic or near automatic sense to neurotypical people that we have to resort to those kinds of guesses more? Then we run into the fact that no one is actually very good at those guesses.
And what if we resort to those guesses because the reasons that make sense to the dominant neurotypical culture are supposed to be “obvious” and we get laughed at (and probably still not answered) when we ask?
What if the idea that autistic people see others as objects... is because that's what most people do, at least a little bit, when their actions are super-duper impossible to understand, and the differences aren't being explained in ways that make sense to us? (I mean, also autistic people generally don't actually think of other people as objects.)
What if the exhaustion that autistic people often have trying to do social things is because, unlike people who are close enough to the mythical exactly average neurology that these expectations can be picked up by osmosis, we do have to use the kind of prediction and explanation that Hutto was arguing against on page 250, and he's right that the problem with doing that is exhaustion?
What if a willingness to explain the reasons and cultural underpinnings on the neurotypical side, and a willingness to listen to the neurominority-side explanations, could go further to solve the supposed lack of theory of mind or inability to use folk psychology (different things according to Hutto, and both things that I think aren't what's going on) than any amount of “therapy” to teach those skills ever could, because those skills weren't what was missing?
And by what if, I totally mean that I think those are what's going on. And I know other neurodivergent people have thought of a lot of these things before, but I think the specific way of looking at it through Hutto's ideas of folk psychology stuff and challenging how the neurotypical folk do things might be new. Also the turning theory of mind upside down and saying that maybe we resort to that more, and that since it's not that reliable for anyone, that's part of where social differences are coming from. (Which would make the social differences a lot less "core" to autism than they're usually treated as.)
Hutto, Daniel D. Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print.