Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Are Asperger's Syndrome and political correctness linked?

Having been as a child one of the firs people diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and long known how it affects my behaviour and leads to my pushy and often aggressive manner in public places (pushing in queues, running up to accost people about obsessions) and my inability to feel what other people think, I have in recent years as a self-taught social scientist wondered whether the political views of people with Asperger's Syndrome and other "autism spectrum disorders" tends to be substantially different from the mainstream.

The effects of inability to empathise on one's political and cultural views is something that has interested me a great deal over the past two years when I did a course of books about personality psychology for RMIT. What I quite swiftly concluded was:
  • the more empathetic a person is, the more conservative and small-government his/her politics will be
  • this is because the more empathetic a person is, the more feeling (s)he will have for not infringing upon other's privacy and hence right to private property
  • the most empathetic and compassionate people will have great sensitivity to violation of private property
  • autistic and similar people will have no such sensitivity and hence favour big government and public property
You can see an explanation for why I think this here.

One book I recently discovered when browsing for information about Alfred Seguine Kinsey, the father of the controversial sex researcher, said that Alfred Charles Kinsey may have had Asperger's Syndrome. My response was not that of somebody stunned, but of somebody half-expectant of such a revelation. It makes sense from what I know about Asperger's Syndrome that people with it would be socially as a radical as Kinsey was considered in his lifetime, and that, as his modern detractors point out, Kinsey ignored criticism.

To look for potential links between Asperger's and social or political radicalism, I have relied on Benjamin Wiker's books Architects of the Culture of Death and Ten Books that Screwed up the World. They provide the best general guide to the ideas conservatives oppose, but I found only Kinsey and Charles Darwin (see here) as "Asperger's possibles". Bertrand Russell, another writer to have a book on the hit list of the Right, is also listed, but there is no mention of the following from Wiker's lists:
  • Thomas Hobbes
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Arthur Schopenhauer
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Karl Marx
  • Sigmund Freud
  • John Stuart Mill
  • Margaret Sanger
  • Margaret Mead
  • Peter Singer
  • or Jack Kevorkian
as possible Aspergers' candidates. Of course, I don't rule out the possibility that the authors of these books know all or some of those simply could not have been autistic. I could still believe it that their sampling overlooked such peopleif the writers had not looked through every nook and cranny, but perhaps the problems associated with autism are not by any means necessary to develop the ideas hated by conservatives like Wiker. Either way, the hypothesis I have developed is worth a look.



Hi Mr..me Deen from Golden Sand, Malaysia. Hope we can share some ideas here. Greeting from Malaysia.


Aega said...

Sorry, in my opinion yours is a completely flawed logic. You are taking quite a leap in assuming that a neurotypical individual's empathy will express itself in a reluctance to infringe on another's privacy and/or property. I’m sure it can, but there is nothing to support the overgeneralized conclusion that it does so in all – or even most - empathetic individuals. I would posit the following cause and effect logic instead:

The most common trait of an AS personality is the inability to exist within a large social unit. The more numerous the group, the more strongly the dynamics of hierarchy will assert themselves. It would therefore be counterintuitive for an individual who struggles with effective socialization to seek out an environment where natural selection favors socially adaptive skills, such as nonverbal communication, willingness to conform, the give-and-take currency of material trade, and - empathy.

Since empathy by definition increases an individual’s spectrum of social tolerance, it makes him or her more likely to thrive within a broader range of personalities. Once the person is functioning as a member of a larger population, however, his or her further successful adaptation will be directly proportional to the degree to which he or she can adopt a group identity. Again, AS individuals will find themselves at a disadvantage in this setting as their ideation tends to be markedly more rigid than in a NT person.

Since an AS person’s comfort zone tends to allow for very few contingencies, practicality would dictate that - once defined – it would gain value for that person. Whether we define this zone as geographic or within a social unit, i.e. a membership in a group, the territorial approach to it would find parallels in conservative political views rather than liberal. In fact, the polar opposite of it would be an ideology that rejects most forms of individual ownership; socialism, anyone? A proponent of that particular realm of radicalism would constitute a threat to the security of anyone with AS. Karl Marx might as well be yhe antichrist…

Lastly, if we were to stipulate for argument’s sake that the historical ranks of socialists are teeming with possible Asperger’s-specific trait influences, I would still argue that political correctness among them is hardly a given. The general consensus which bundles PC with left leaning belief systems notwithstanding, mastering its rhetoric for someone with AS would serve a different purpose: it can become a cheat sheet for sounding diplomatic. Without genetically built-in safeguards that would prevent us from making an ass of ourselves before our peers (something a neurotypical personality takes for granted), we need a list of What Not To Say Out Loud. Besides, who says only right-wingers lack PC? We may have called them pinkoes, but they called us imperialist swine…


jpbenney said...


I appreciate your point, but I have a number of points to make:

1) "The general consensus which bundles PC with left leaning belief systems" is something I simply follow in the title for convention and improved understanding.

2) "the historical ranks of socialists are teeming with possible Asperger’s-specific trait influences", I am not referring specifically to socialists, but to atheistic philosophers, artists or scientists in general, even if distinctly capitalistic like Mill or Ayn Rand.

3) What is clear and extremely critical to my association of Asperger's with "leftism" is that the willingness to conform with the strict doctrines of traditional Christianity is most improbable with autistic people. They have little or no willingness to submit their will to powerful authority as is required of such faiths. I imagine autistic people are also more likely to involve themselves in homosexual relations (considered sinful by traditional Christianity) because their lack of empathy would be embarrassing and hurtful to women.

4) I suspect from what Wiker does say about Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Hobbes and Karl Marx that they would certainly be worth a serious psychiatric study.

5) It is true that some of those profiled (Phillip of Spain, Mendel, Ramnujan, Warhol) were strongly religious, but never in a really conventional manner. They often struggled with their faith, as did Simone Weil in her last years.

Asperger s syndrome symptoms said...

Asperger syndrome is also known as pervasive developmental disorder. It deemed as a highly functioning type of autism. Some of the symptoms are, difficulty in making eye contact, body stance or gesticulation and facial expressions. Person suffering from it might show extreme aggressiveness. There are some medications and some adopts autism therapy.

Tyler said...

People with Aspergers and I am one myself strike me as being not at all politically correct either because they don't know how to or just have no desire to be politically correct. Political correctness or lack therof doesn't explain someones views however. I am the kind of person who tells people that the Dalai Lama is a total fraud. That gets a lot of stunned reactions from liberal white middle class type people. That said your theory that empathy and kindness leads to being a small government conservative is laughable is this opposite day. Loving the rich and their right to hoard wealth while homeless people freeze to death doesn't strike me as empathetic. I consider myself a socialist. I was heavily involved in the Occupy movement and ended up sharing a tent with a fellow Aspie

Anonymous said...

I'm an Aspie. No way would I ever see myself aligning with the evil forces of Socialism, destroying incentive, and forcing the productive to work on the behalf of the non-productive (and unwilling I would say). Why should I have to be responsible for you? I have ability, and aim to use it, not to have it waste away in servitude to a bunch of ungrateful Socialist who can't seem to obey basic laws on park sanitation and city camping....much less work and be productive.

jpbenney said...

Tyler, what you are describing yourself as is exactly what I suspect lack of empathy leads to. Arthur Brooks in his book Who Really Cares is what gave me the strong impression that high empathy would lead somebody to be a small government and highly religious conservative: such people have very strong feelings about personal (or communal) private property since they feel such "personal space" is sacred and that people's lives should not be intefered with. This, as Brooks at the very least implies, leads to strong religious faith among the extremely empathetic - in extreme cases I feel it leads to people like Therese Neumann or Marthe Robin, of interest to myself for other reasons.

Anonymous said...

Had written a lot, the internet ate it.

The summary is that I think your theory/findings relative with how altruism and egotism match with right-wing/conservatism and left-wing/liberalism aren't quite in agreement with the research such as of Haidt (yourmorals.org).

Basically the idea is not that every sort of moral spectrum will just be polarized in some manichaeistic the same way like conservatives=altruists, liberals=egotists, but that ther are five "moral pillars" which are all valued for all the sides of the spectrum, even though liberals value disproportionally more only two of them (harm and fairness if I recall), while conservatives tend to value all pillars more evenly.

All this results in a situation more complex where the reasonings/motivations can be somewhat egotistical and altruistic in either side, and no way of measuring would result in something like conservatives/RWs are 95% altruistic whereas liberals/LWs are only 5% altruistic and 95% egotistic. What we would find are different egotistical and altruistic rationalizations for different policies that are determined by something more than just altruism vs egotism.

It's not hard to see how that's more close to reality as much of the arguments against "big government" are making the stress on "big government" rather than "social policies", but often even blatantly stressing the less altruistic motivation, "I don't want to support anyone else's children" and the like. It's also not hard to notice that much of the "economic freedom" talk tends to favor those who are already more or less well off, or at least think they are, so it can easily seen as more as an individual/selfish/in-group interest than interest in others. Not that the left-wing/liberal side would all be necessarily all-altruistic and nice, there can be definitely an element of envy, and even hatred towards the rich. But in both cases, these aren't things that permeate everyone who is more aligned with one or another side of the spectrum, but there's quite a lot of individual variation.

My own "gut feeling"/vague memory from random readings of research bits, is that, despite of that, the left side of the spectrum has more appeal to the the ones with altruistic tendencies, and the right side appeals more to egotistic tendencies, of individual liberties, that's almost by definition. This would be more like a visible "skew" though, not something one can accurately summarize with "left wingers are altruistic, right wingers egotistical". It's somewhat like differences in political spectrum between men and women, apparently women (and fathers of girls!) are somewhat skewed to the left (some people even complain that the feminine suffrage led to a raise in left-wing policies), even though obviously there's no scarcity of right-wing women.

And about the topic itself, my guess is that people on the Asperger spectrum would perhaps be more prone to be in the libertarian spectrum, which is itself a weird mix of left and right.

jpbenney said...


interesting article. There obviously is no simplistic relationship between egotism versus altruism on the one side, and conservatism versus liberalism on the other.

Still, it is very easy for me to see how both liberals and conservatives can be motivated by envy: conservatives in the US envy Australia’s surfeit of minerals and consequent small-government political system just as much as liberals envy Eurasia’s and Canada’s “quality of life” which results from strong government which in turn comes from activist working classes.

Anonymous said...

most aspies i work with, when they are political, are (besides libertarian) fascist of the mussolini kind. i dont think marxism is compatible with aspergers for obvious reasons, but makes sense that fascism is (unless you consider both ideologies to be the same)

Anonymous said...

I live in ' ground zero ' for liberals who display much of what's likely some kind of trait or disorder [ Aspergers Sx ]. San Francisco , Ca.. Once a beautiful little city , now the Belly of the Beast ' for political correctness , bordering on Stalinist totalitarianism . Likely these folks want Nanny stateism as they often don't / can't work , due to this trait and others , to include not being able to control their own ' lusts '. Even Che Guavera noted some of this tendency in his earliest writings.

Anonymous said...

To 22 November 2014 7:05 am Anonymous.... " Most aspies..." Aspergers Syndrome is an medical diagnosis . Do you have access to the health records of those that you work with.? I did work for medical officers , as a former Navy Hospital Corpsman , and I know that this and other mental conditions , illnesses are best left to those trained and licensed .

Eva Martin said...

What you say about NTs respecting more privacy and private property, and therefore prefering certain political systems, does not make that much sense for me. I think the main point is that Aspergers prefer rigid and simple rules (conventional morality) while NTs have more cognitive flexibility to find more subtile and complex rules according to the needs of individuals and the communities (post-conventional morality). Aspergers are rule-oriented, tend to hypostasize one rule or concept, and dont see where a certain rule does not fit, even if it is very obvious for an NT, or have difficulties to reasonably limit the rule s range when they finally realize that it does not fit. NTs are standard-oriented and better at weighing different standards against each other.

One important point with regard to political differences between Aspergers and NTs is also, that Aspergers can be much more anxiety-driven, due to their lack of cognitive empathy with others and with oneself, and that anxiety will further heigthen their black-white-thinking and lead to political radicalisation.

At the end of your post you have listed some people who are usually not mentioned on Asperger lists. I know quite well the writings and (auto)biographies of Hobbes to Mill, and would say that all of them are most probably on the spectrum:
Hobbes: the contract theory, the anxiety which is palpable, his strange language theory
Rousseau: (just one of many examples out of his autobiography) says that he put his first three children to the orphanage without even thinking about that this might be a problem, because the circle of his friends had told him that it is normal to do so, later he complained about that people mentioned that he put his 5 chidlren to an orphanage when critcising him for his pedagogic theories or guru allures.
John Stuart Mill: his high-giftedness, his depression, his logic
Schopenhauer: his inclination towards Goethe (Asperger), his confrontation with Goethe about the color theory, his confrontation with his sister and mother, his quite peculiar sister Adele, his overall misanthropic attitude
Friedrich Nietzsche: how his family described him in his childhood, his father s ad-libbing on the piano, that he insisted on walking at a grave pace even when it was raining because that is what he thought a grammar school pupil always ought to walk like, his strabism, his fists that made him think that he suffered from the same illness his father died from (i.e."Gehirnerweichung"´/"cerebral softening"), his religious allure (Zarathustra)
Karl Marx: his theory, the biography of his daughter
Sigmund Freud: his neuroanatomic approach in his first years of research the surgery on Emma Eckstein (nose) and his eldest daughter (womb) to cure them from hysteria, his insecurity whether his patients accounts about sexual abuse were true or imagined, his admitting in a letter to his future wife (whom he had just accused of having an weird strain in her family) that in his paternal family, too, there was a strain for neurasthenia (mentions one relative with a hydrocephalus and two who had been instituionalized at the age of 19 and 20 years), their strange kids: one son with his passion for trains and timetables, Anna s asexuality, her preference for the "absolute authority"-concept, her fixed idea that one child patient of hers, Peter Heller, and the son of her Boston marriage Dorothee Burlingham needed to be cured from a homosexual penchants towards their father, his grandson Lucian Freud, who according to 2 of his children and his must have been a quite pronounced Asperger autist.
I remember also having read some pertinent stuff about Margaret Mead, but cant remember anything anymore. So just this sentence in German wikipedia about her first stay abroad in Samoa: "with quite an amazement, she noticed that the seemingly rigidly fixed social roles were culturally defined - and not - as supposed so far - for all people generally valid." That says already everything, doesnt it?