on mark ruffalo’s professional reputation

After writing the previous post, criticizing Mark Ruffalo’s opinions on neurodiversity, I sent him a link to it. In response, he’s threatening to sue me. LMAO.

I was totally going to publish what he sent anyway, but he actually insists, for the sake of his professional reputation! I’m reposting the entirety of what he sent here, minus the contact info in his email signature. It’s spread across several blockquotes, so I can reply inline.

I have read your blog in response to my original article on neurodiversity posted on Psychology Today on July 29, 2018. I find the name-calling and personal insults that spatter your piece to be most unprofessional, but I suppose that when a person doesn’t know what to do with a message, they attack the messenger.

People like Ruffalo take no responsibility for how dehumanizing and pejorative their entire professional discourse is. He compared autism to congestive heart failure and insisted on the importance of calling me “abnormal.” It’s absolutely true that I’m insulting toward Ruffalo and called him names, such as “the cancer killing autistic people.”

LOL “most unprofessional.” Yeah, this is my personal blog, written under a pseudonym and unrelated to my day job. I’m under no obligation to pretend to respect Ruffalo. But I did get a psychology PhD, so I’m fully qualified on paper to criticize his work. He can’t pull an appeal to authority in this case.

He ignored the following substantive criticisms I made:

  1. He totally ignores the intellectual history of the neurodiversity movement in favor of sticking to sources he knows.
  2. He conflates the neurodiversity movement with the idea that psychopathology exists on a spectrum with normal behavior.
  3. He ignores cross-cultural evidence about psychosis and assumes he can generalize from Americans to everyone, ignoring the contribution of American culture to the problems. I cited a paper to back this one up.
  4. His point about the social construction of good/bad is trivial. The argument is about what we accept and what we don’t, given that we’re going to make judgments.

But hey, I also called him a dick, so I don’t know how to handle his towering intellectual contributions here. Actually, I call him names because of his intellectual contributions.

More of the letter:

Your blog contains several examples of incorrect and misleading information regarding my views. This is unacceptable and must be corrected publicly. These misrepresentations are as follows:

1.) I do not advocate for policies that would deny autistic persons or other mentally ill persons reasonable accommodations or inclusion in the workplace or in the broader society. Nor have I ever advocated for such policies. My contention is that it is possible to simultaneously accept the person and accept the medical reality of their disease.

I love the way he’s so casual about ordering people around. Who does he think he is, telling me what I “must” do to protect his professional reputation? I don’t think his professional reputation should be good, based on his views concerning autism and his response to criticism from the people he’s talking about.

It’s reasonable to use “the neurodiversity movement” as shorthand for its demands, which are about acceptance, inclusion, and accommodations. He titled his piece “The Problem with Neurodiversity” and claims the movement is counterproductive, that its aims are better achieved by his point of view. We don’t agree that his idea of inclusion in the broader society is real inclusion, because the message “autistic people are defective” drowns out all the half-assed talk about being nicer to us.

I don’t feel accepted by Ruffalo as long as he’s calling my personality a disease. I have a perfectly legitimate nervous system, with slightly different tradeoffs than a neurotypical one.

I think Ruffalo is incapable of, like, empathizing enough to really picture autism being ok in detail.

More to the point, I went the first 34 years of my life having people treat me like I’m not autistic, and I can tell the fucking difference between that and the disrespect that’s coming from mental health people.

2.) I do not believe that there are no benefits to psychopathology, e.g., the creativity that is commonly observed in milder bipolar patients that was brilliantly first described by the late psychiatrist Ronald Fieve. I also recognize the work that has been done on this topic in the area of autism.

If the “pathology” has benefits, then isn’t more like a set of strengths and weaknesses, like everyone has? The best and worst things in my life have to do with autism, inseparably. It’s just the basic wiring of my brain. People would certainly be nicer to autistic people if the Ruffalos of the world weren’t so insistent on using words like “psychopathology” to describe it.

Again, he seems to exist in a safe space where all ideas originate with, and the only valid criticism comes from, neurotypical academics and mental health people. First, he attributed the neurodiversity movement to the mental health people who listened to autistic people. Now, he attributes the idea of good things about autism to the “work done” by someone, instead of all the writings of autistic people about their lives.

Ruffalo most certainly doesn’t have a mindset like the one illustrated in this post, which was linked in the previous post, too. Quoting Spikins, Wright, and Hodgson from there:

Rather than see individuals with AS as outside society, anthropological perspectives argue that we should recognise a different sociality (Grinker 2010; Ochs and Solomon 2010). Individuals with AS certainly develop a theory of mind which is different in being based on the use of rules and logic, but nonetheless works. Theory of mind develops late in children and is constrained (with individuals with AS being more likely to fail at the level of second order theory of mind, i.e. ‘Y believes that X believes this’: Baron-Cohen 1989). However rather than being asocial, a rule-based theory of mind is sufficient to ‘get along’ socially (Baron-Cohen 2009), including facilitating long-term collaborative planning (W. Yoshida et al. 2010). One is often unaware from casual acquaintance that someone has autism and individuals with AS often have high levels of role and function in society (Howlin 2000) particularly in spheres such as engineering, mathematics, physics, information technology and law (Rodman 2003; Fitzgerald 2004) and have partners and children (Baron-Cohen et al. 1998; Lau and Peterson 2011).

A social understanding based on logic may bring disadvantages to understanding emotionally and socially complex situations, but it frees up cognitive potential for enhanced abilities in other realms, both technical and social, which can contribute to a positive social reputation.

That’s NOT the kind of minor stuff Ruffalo begrudgingly concedes. He doesn’t want to say that autistic people are fine being autistic.

3.) I do not insist that the autistic person is equivalent to the person with heart disease or that autism itself is equivalent in some way to heart disease. Rather, I point out that the philosophical basis for classifying physical disease is the same as that for classifying psychiatric disease. This was noted astutely by Pies in 1979. Careful scholars would have realized the epistemological argument in my comparison rather than falsely attributing beliefs to me.

Alright, let’s belabor this. Here’s what he said:

Try this one on for size: If autism, for example, is simply a normal variation of neurologic functioning, then congestive heart failure must be a normal variation of cardiac functioning—one that kills 5 million people a year. The psychiatrist Ronald Pies has perceptively noted that identification of all medical diseases—not just psychiatric disease—rests on a subjective determination about what constitutes abnormality (see Pies, 1979).

Actually, I’m criticizing his rhetoric, the impact his language is likely to have as received, based on connotations, etc. I could compare him to pond scum to make a point about the universality of DNA, but you’d get my drift from the fact that I chose pond scum instead of something else.

I’m supposed to be intimidated or bedazzled or something by the word “epistemology.” He’s not understanding my response: I’m granting the point since it’s trivial and obviously true, observed by even by Shakespeare. Alright, value is something imposed on the world, not something intrinsic to it. Now what?

He’s too judgmental about autistic people and others, is the point, imposing judgments where they aren’t needed.

What’s hilarious is that, in principle, theory of mind impairments are exactly what’s supposed to be wrong with me, and he’s being really harsh about it instead of being, like, Mature Professor Man and taking the high road. But I think any fair-minded reader can agree that Ruffalo is going out of his way to crap on a movement of self-advocating autistic adults, while incorrectly attributing those ideas to his professional colleagues. Careful scholars would, like, give credit to the originators of ideas. My point was that he wasn’t careful, instead relying on his knowledge of Szasz, Pies, et al. to criticize ideas that came 20 years later, with their intellectual roots in feminism and the disability rights movement, NOT anti-psychiatry.

That’s what’s so infuriating. The spread of neurodiversity ideas makes a difference to my actual quality of life. He’s cockblocking me, spreading the idea that I’m socially retarded and my ideas are misguided. We need more of Julia on Sesame street:

As 4-year-old Julian spun in circles by the swimming pool, his parent Lu Everman worried. Julian has autism and sometimes when he spins or flaps his hands, children react cruelly.

But this time something surprising happened: A girl asked to play with Julian.

“He’s silly!” the girl told her grandmother. “I want to play with him.”

She explained she liked him because he was like Julia, a Muppet with autism on Sesame Street.

“It was wonderful to realize there are abled kids who don’t feel threatened by or uncomfortable around him,” Everman, 32, of Tennessee, told TODAY, via email. “Seeing a girl basically correct her grandmother on the ins and outs of playing with an autistic child was magical.”

Everman felt so touched they shared the experience on Twitter:

“There’s an autistic, nonverbal Muppet. Don’t tell me that representation doesn’t matter,” they wrote in a Tweet that has gone viral.

That’s what not being a dick looks like, not writing articles called “The Problem with Neurodiversity.” He’s comparing autism to heart disease in a universe where this Sesame Street character is also possible. He just can’t seem to imagine actually accepting autistic people.

Finally, the end of his email:

I respectfully request that you remove your original blog post from your website or run a correction as soon as possible; e.g., by posting this communication. I consider this a matter that impinges on my professional reputation, and I reserve all rights in pursuit of a just resolution.

Look at how fiercely he defends his reputation! He took the time to send me legal threats on a Sunday. I just explained my opinion that he’s a tremendous douchebag on the internet, and woe betide me. He’s using his credentials and professional credibility to make my daily life harder, which is much worse.

The point of the neurodiversity is that autism sucks because normal people are making it suck for us. If that’s the correct diagnosis of the problem, the solution is more of Julia on Sesame Street and less of Mark Ruffalo.

He gets to casually destroy my reputation for the sake of professional posturing on the internet, but it’s lawyer time when the autistic guy complains? He can go fuck himself. I’m not taking down anything. May this go to the top of the Google search results for his name.

Typical of bullying normals, he can dish it out but he can’t take it. Does he have ANY IDEA how much casual disrespect I have to endure just using the internet and being exposed to popular culture, being autistic and black at the same time? He went out of his way to pick a fight with me. Do I not get to be in therapy and read self-help shit on Psychology Today like a normal person, without mental health professionals trolling me and undermining my political goals? What’s some name-calling, compared to what he’s doing?