|To the Editors: Post-Autistic Economics Review
7th September 2008
The Importance of Words
I am an economist sympathetic to the aims and objectives of the Post-Autistic Economics Network. However I object strongly to the use of the word "autistic" in this context. I find it distasteful and objectionable and I am sure it will cause an increasing number of people discomfort and even distress as the work of the Network and Review becomes more widely publicised and known. There are several potential lines of concern but I will concentrate on just three.
(a) The word "autistic" is used in a derogatory or pejorative sense in this context. You are doing to the word "autistic" what was done to the term "spastic" many years ago. Like "autistic", the term "spastic" was originally used in a neutral and descriptive sense before it degenerated into a term of disparagement. To describe mainstream economists or economics as "autistic" is rather like calling a football team or players "spastic", the intention in both cases being to denigrate and call attention to real or perceived limitations or failures . It would have been hoped that we had moved since 1981 when the singer Ian Dury wrote "Spasticus Autisticus" for the International Year of Disabled Persons. People with autism (and their relatives and carers) have as much right to be offended by the abuse and misuse of the term as people with cerebral palsy (and their relatives and carers) have a right to be offended by the abuse and misuse of the term "spastic".
(b) There is no "post-autism" any more than there is "post-spastic" or "post-cerebral palsy". There is no cure or "after" state for either condition, and in those circumstances the use of the term could also be regarded by many as a sick joke mocking (albeit inadvertently) the life-long nature of the condition.
(c) It is deeply ironic (reinforcing the offensiveness) that many of the students and some of the colleagues of members of the Post-Autistic Economics Network are themselves liable to be on the autistic spectrum. Indeed, it is highly probable that some members of the Network are themselves on the autistic spectrum. It appears that a disproportionate number of high functioning autistic adults (especially those with Asperger's Syndrome) are attracted to an academic career, and indeed may achieve very high standards or performance in that context. In many cases they may not have been actually diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, may be unaware of their condition, and many are likely to be labeled as eccentric "geeks" or "nerds". If the labeling of this network is indicative, it is only a matter of time before "autistic" takes their place alongside them as a derogatory term.
The slogan of the Network on their website
proclaims "Sanity, Humanity and Science" and it is in
the spirit of these words that I would ask the Network and Review to consider
renaming itself to avoid promoting any further offence and distress. I
know that the members of the Network will almost certainly respond that
no offence was intended and regret any that was caused, to which I would
reply with the words of Ian Dury in "Spasticus Autisticus";
... to you out there in Normal Land
Well, if you do not comprehend this tale and understand, then there it
is to the detriment of Sanity, Humanity and Science. But I would ask you
to communicate my concerns to members of the Network, I have faith that
they will comprehend and understand, and that you will respond appropriately.