Today I came across a particularly well-executed piece of sophistry called The Neurodiversity Case for Free Speech. I hadn’t heard of Quillette before, but it seems to be a slick right-wing-but-keeping-it-discreet operation. As Andrea Dworkin said, the First Amendment was written by slave traders.
The author, Geoffrey Miller, is notable for writing evolutionary psychology how-to-fuck-chicks literature with Tucker Max. White guys hate it when we take their nigger jokes away, but his axe to grind about free speech goes deeper than that:
It may have taken Miller less than a minute to write out this message and hit the “Tweet” button: “Dear obese Ph.D. applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.” But the consequences of that tweet will last much longer.
According to a university memo released on Tuesday, Miller — who has tenure at the University of New Mexico and was a visiting professor at New York University this summer — will be required to:
- Not serve on any committee involving the admission of graduate students to the psychology department for the duration of his time as a faculty member at the university.
- Work with the faculty co-advisers of the psychology department’s diversity organization to develop a plan for sensitivity training on obesity (for himself to undergo, said a university spokeswoman). The plan must be approved by a co-adviser or by the chair of the department.
- Be assigned a faculty mentor for three years with whom he will meet on a regular basis to discuss potential problems.
- Have his work monitored by the chair of the department.
- Apologize to the department and his colleagues for his behavior.
Miller did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
After sending out two apology tweets, Miller made his Twitter account private and has not tweeted since. Miller told University of New Mexico psychology department chair Jane Ellen Smith that his tweet was part of a “research project.” This prompted the Institutional Review Board at the University of New Mexico as well as the IRB at New York University to open separate investigations of Miller’s claim. Both universities found that his tweet could not be considered “research” that would have required approval by an institutional review board.
It’s not about that, Miller is saying. “Our lawyers will kill us if we let you bully someone on the basis of a protected characteristic” is surely like persecuting Isaac Newton himself for originality.
Imagine a young Isaac Newton time-travelling from 1670s England to teach Harvard undergrads in 2017. After the time-jump, Newton still has an obsessive, paranoid personality, with Asperger’s syndrome, a bad stutter, unstable moods, and episodes of psychotic mania and depression. But now he’s subject to Harvard’s speech codes that prohibit any “disrespect for the dignity of others”; any violations will get him in trouble with Harvard’s Inquisition (the ‘Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’). Newton also wants to publish Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, to explain the laws of motion governing the universe. But his literary agent explains that he can’t get a decent book deal until Newton builds his ‘author platform’ to include at least 20k Twitter followers – without provoking any backlash for airing his eccentric views on ancient Greek alchemy, Biblical cryptography, fiat currency, Jewish mysticism, or how to predict the exact date of the Apocalypse.
Newton wouldn’t last long as a ‘public intellectual’ in modern American culture. Sooner or later, he would say ‘offensive’ things that get reported to Harvard and that get picked up by mainstream media as moral-outrage clickbait. His eccentric, ornery awkwardness would lead to swift expulsion from academia, social media, and publishing. Result? On the upside, he’d drive some traffic through Huffpost, Buzzfeed, and Jezebel, and people would have a fresh controversy to virtue-signal about on Facebook. On the downside, we wouldn’t have Newton’s Laws of Motion.
I don’t appreciate the implication of his argument that autism is a license to racism, like racism is a natural human tendency that anyone with impaired impulse control should be given a free pass to express. Again, he’s comparing “lol fat chicks” to the Principia Mathematica, as if having a problem with one is the same as having a problem with the other. Sooo much melodrama here.
Burn down the straw men.
Here’s the problem. America’s informal ‘speech norms’, which govern what we’re allowed to say and what we’re not, were created and imposed by ‘normal’ brains, for ‘normal’ brains to obey and enforce. Formal speech codes at American universities were also written by and for the ‘neurotypical’. They assume that everyone on campus is equally capable, 100% of the time, of:
- Using their verbal intelligence and cultural background to understand speech codes that are intentionally vague, over-broad, and euphemistic, to discern who’s actually allowed to say what, in which contexts, using which words;
- Understand what’s inside the current Overton window of ‘acceptable ideas’, including the current social norms about what is ‘respectful’ versus what is ‘offensive’, ‘inappropriate’, ‘sexist’, ‘racist’, ‘Islamophobic’, or ‘transphobic’;
- Use ‘Theory of Mind’ to predict with 100% accuracy which speech acts might be offensive to someone of a different sex, age, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, or political outlook;
- Inhibit ‘inappropriate’ speech with 100% reliability in all social contexts that might be reported or recorded by others;
- Predict with 100% accuracy what’s likely to trigger outrage by peers, student activists, social media, or mainstream media – any of which might create ‘adverse publicity’ for the university and a speech code inquisition, without due process or right of appeal, for the speaker.
This guy is autistic, but even nonautistic racists labor under the delusion that there are fixed rules for who can say what, and they just missed the memo. “First I could say nigger and then I couldn’t and then maybe now I can? I am so confused.” There is definitely something wrong with you if you believe that respecting people’s dignity is vague or hard to implement.
You know who else has probably been autistic in intellectual history? Ethical philosophers in search of rules to guide behavior in all situations. The principles they arrived at are generally pretty simple: take your pick of utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics. You can use Buddhism or something, too. Honest and thorough application of any of those principles to a situation will usually yield something socially acceptable.
The repeated use of the term “100%” is another giveaway that we’re not dealing with a serious argument. If people would just sincerely try to be decent, nobody would have ever thought to write down speech codes. The people complaining about them are the ones who’ve been so attached to bullying that we need formal codes to stop the worst of it.
It’s ridiculous that it’s hard to identify sexism, racism, hatred of Muslims, etc. This is especially true because people write very thorough explanations of why they find things objectionable. If you can do academic research and can’t figure this out, it’s because you’re not trying.
Everyone who’s actually trying not to be racist talks about how it involves a lot of work on yourself and listening to other people and not being defensive.
I learned about not being a racist asshole from my parents, both of whom were autistic and untreated. What’s his excuse? My parents just called it manners and being polite and “beleidigt” was one of the few German words my dad knew (offended, feelings hurt).
Geoffrey Miller is trying to destroy the reputation of myself and my family to protect his entitlement to be a racist douchebag.
I’m autistic and I understand enough about racism to know that it doesn’t normally present itself as blatant bigotry. It presents itself as things “everybody knows” if you’re a racist. That way, anybody who complains is by definition out of touch with reality and therefore feminine and soft-headed.
Most of the real geniuses I’ve known are not neurotypical. Especially in evolutionary game theory. They would have a lot of trouble comprehending or following typical university speech codes. I suspect this would have been true for most of the brilliant thinkers who built civilization over the last several millennia. Consider just a few geniuses who seem, given biographical records, to have been on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum: Béla Bartók, Jeremy Bentham, Lewis Carroll, Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, Sir Ronald Fisher, Sir Francis Galton, Glenn Gould, Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock, Alfred Kinsey, Stanley Kubrick, Barbara McClintock, Gregor Mendel, Bertrand Russell, Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, Alan Turing, H. G. Wells, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. (Aspies like me enjoy making lists; also see this resource.) Moreover, the world’s richest tech billionaires often show some Asperger-like traits: think Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Peter Thiel, and Mark Zuckerberg. And in movies and TV, outspoken, insensitive Aspies no longer just play ‘mad scientist’ side-kicks, but heroic protagonists such as Tony Stark, Sherlock Holmes, Gregory House, Lisbeth Salander, and Dr. Strange.
On the upside, the civilizational contributions from neurodiversity have been formidable – and often decisive in science and technology. On the downside, ‘Aspy’ traits seem common among academics who have suffered the worst public outrages against things they’ve said and done, that weren’t intended to be offensive at all.
Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and Alan Turing rolled over in their graves just now.
He makes what could be a good point about Tourette’s syndrome, but misses the big picture. The people who want policies against racism are way more likely to support accommodating “neurodiversity” than the right-wingers he hangs around. It would be illegal to discriminate against them under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is ALSO the reason he’s not allowed to harass people and create hostile work environments. He’s too proud of being a white guy to see that his interests are actually with the niggers and the cripples and their “oversensitivity.”
I really don’t like where he’s going with this:
Some of the prevalence estimates are imprecise, and many people have more than one of these disorders. But together, mental disorders like these affect at least 20% of students, staff, and faculty. That’s higher than the percentage of American college students who are Hispanic (17%), Black (14%), LGBTQ+ (7%), or undocumented immigrants (5%). And for many of these mental disorders, symptom severity peaks at the ages of typical college students: universities are demanding that the neurodiverse inhibit their speech most carefully when they are least able to do so.
First of all, he ignores the existence of things like an association between autism and being transgender. Minorities also have mental health problems. After all, they’re under a lot of stress.
Really, what he’s trying to do is make every white person with a prescription of psych meds resent minorities. Fuckin’ minorities, always taking what’s ours.
Unless universities want to outlaw fatigue, hunger, heartbreak, meds and coffee it’s hard to maintain the delusion that everyone’s speech will be 100% inoffensive 100% of the time.
It’s true that those things impair executive function. Being a minority is super stressful, so is he prepared to excuse misbehavior by minorities on the same grounds? I’ll bet he never thought of that, for lack of empathy.
Since speech codes are written by the neurotypical for the neurotypical, the neurodiverse often find them literally incomprehensible, and it’s impossible to follow a rule that doesn’t make sense.
For example, a typical set of ‘respectful campus’, ‘sexual misconduct’, and ‘anti-harassment’ policies prohibits:
‘unwelcome verbal behavior’
‘unwelcome jokes about a protected characteristic’
‘hate or bias acts that violate our sense of community’
‘degrading pictorial material’
‘displaying objectionable objects’
‘negative posters about a protected characteristic’
These quotes are from my university’s recent policies, but they’re pretty standard. I don’t understand what any of these phrases actually allow or prohibit, and I worked on free speech issues in our Faculty Senate for two years, and in our Sexual Misconduct Policy Committee for one year, so I’ve puzzled over them for some time.
Lacking good Theory of Mind, how could a person with Asperger’s anticipate which speech acts would be ‘unwelcome’ to a stranger, or might be considered ‘sexist’ or ‘sexually suggestive’? Lacking a good understanding of social norms, how could they anticipate what counts as a ‘hate act that violates our sense of community’, or what counts as an ‘objectionable object’? Lacking a good understanding of current civil rights legalese, how could any 18-year-old Freshman – neurotypical or not – understand what a ‘protected characteristic’ is?
I work in the state of California. Every year, by law when I was a supervisor and by policy otherwise, I’m required to do at least 2 hours of perfunctory training on harassment and discrimination. They enumerate all the protected characteristics, and even which ones are state and which ones are federal. I have to watch videos of scenarios and correctly answer multiple-choice questions about them before proceeding further. Every single person at my company complies with this. He’s especially full of shit because it was in the newspaper that he had to be in a room with people who sat down and explained this shit to him. He can’t be Mr. Academic Brilliant Guy and also claim that degree of retardation. He writes books on romantic relationships. I can say that I’m having more difficulties than he is in that area. He wrote the book on it, but somehow I can understand far simpler social expectations and he can’t. I know how to be polite. I don’t know how to make people want to have sex with me.
People on the autism spectrum, such as those with Asperger’s, score much lower on the EQ scale. (Full disclosure: I score 14 out of 80.) Thus, Aspies simply don’t have brains that can anticipate what might be considered offensive, disrespectful, unwanted, or outrageous by others – regardless of what campus speech codes expect of us. From a high systematizer’s perspective, most ‘respectful campus’ speech codes are basically demands that they should turn into a high empathizer through sheer force of will. Men also score lower on the EQ scale than women, and Asperger’s is 11 times more common in men, so speech codes also impose ‘disparate impact’ on males, a form of sex discrimination that is illegal under federal law.
Use your strengths to compensate for your weaknesses. I lack certain social intuitions, but I can “read between the lines” quite a bit. The reason is that I studied social science, critical theory, political science, etc., so I understand how society works. Anthropology is great.
I think he already knows this because his day job is social science and he’s being disingenuous.
The ways that speech codes discriminate against systematizers is exacerbated by their vagueness, overbreadth, unsystematic structure, double standards, and logical inconsistencies – which drive systematizers nuts. For example, most speech codes prohibit any insults based on a person’s sex, race, religion, or political attitudes. But Aspy students often notice that these codes are applied very selectively: it’s OK to insult ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘patriarchy’, but not to question the ‘wage gap’ or ‘rape culture’; it’s OK to insult ‘white privilege’ and the ‘Alt-Right’ but not affirmative action or ‘Black Lives Matter’; it’s OK to insult pro-life Catholics but not pro-sharia Muslims. The concept of ‘unwelcome’ jokes or ‘unwelcome’ sexual comments seems like a time-travel paradox to Aspy people – how can you judge what speech act is ‘unwelcome’ until after you get the feedback about whether it was welcome? Even worse, most campus speech codes are associated with social justice theories of gender feminism, critical race theory, and social constructivism, which reject the best-established scientific findings about sex differences, race differences, and behavior genetics. Requiring Aspy academics to buy into speech codes based on blatant falsehoods violates their deepest systematizer values of logic, rationality, and realism. For an example of a systematizer’s exasperation about unprincipled speech codes, see this letter by a Cornell student with high-functioning autism.
Just think about this: “Even worse…social justice…”
If what he’s saying really goes without saying, then we have a crisis on our hands because the humanities are essentially bad and don’t belong at universities. That’s what the right really believes, when you boil it down. College is there to give you a piece of paper that will give you money and therefore you will have more sex. That is why they preserved the Western canon.
In fact, to many STEM students and faculty, empathizers seem to have forged campus speech codes into weapons for Aspy-shaming. In a world where nerds like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are the most powerful innovators, speech codes seem like the revenge of the anti-nerds.
Citing Mark Zuckerberg as being against speech codes is fucking ridiculous and the reasons are internationally reported and obvious to Facebook users.
Imagine you are a man with Asperger’s syndrome doing a science Ph.D. and you see social justice activists destroying nerdy male scientists for their non-PC views, trivial mistakes, or fictional offenses, as in the cases of Matt Taylor or Tim Hunt. You realize you’ll probably make some similar misjudgment sooner or later if you stay in academia, so you leave for a Bay Area tech start-up that’s more forgiving of social gaffes.
Follow the links and look at what he’s really defending here.
And this comment:
Sitting on a sofa with his wife, Hunt tries to explain why he made the remarks that got him into trouble while Collins groans in despair as he outlines his behaviour. Hunt had been invited to the world conference of science journalists in Seoul and had been asked to speak at a meeting about women in science. His brief remarks contained 39 words that have subsequently come to haunt him.
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry,” he told delegates.
“I stood up and went mad,” he admits. “I was very nervous and a bit confused but, yes, I made those remarks – which were inexcusable – but I made them in a totally jocular, ironic way. There was some polite applause and that was it, I thought. I thought everything was OK. No one accused me of being a sexist pig.”
True victims of the SJW crusade inquisition against neurodiversity.
Imagine you’re an anthropology professor with Asperger’s, so you can’t anticipate whether people will find your jokes hilarious or offensive until you tell them. But you get better student course evaluations when you try to be funny. Now your university imposes a new speech code that says, basically, ‘Don’t say anything that people might find offensive’. You need good course evaluations for promotion and tenure, but your brain can’t anticipate your students’ reactions to your quirky sense of humor.
Anyway, it’s better for Geoffrey Miller’s self-esteem to identify with the Tucker Maxes of the world and feel like a winner. Let’s just coopt neurodiversity rhetoric that was inspired by the ethnic minorities he wants to make fun of.