Greta Thunberg | Climate Activism | Autism

Not everyone can be Martin Luther King, Tyler Cowen posits in his recent philosophy book, Stubborn Attachments, but hints that those who can be will make a huge difference. How to know what to do… There’s a common sense morality that many of use that implies we do the best we can for our families and friends and acquaintances but, for instance, we don’t divert all of our time and resources to helping the extreme poor or to fighting climate change.

One trait that autistic thinking seems to have more than typical thinking is a stubborn focus. This focus borders on what typicals  would find too difficult. It can manifest on an insistence on only doing something one way, for instance only drinking out of a certain cup but also an insistence on, say, fighting for the truth.

Autistic thinking can sometimes have a concrete consistent logic that defies the niceties of typical thinking - either social niceties or the (wilful) blindness that typicals exhibit - a tendency to tell the truth as they see it - for example “you are fat” as statement of fact or “we are destroying the planet”

Typicals obviously can display these traits, but I find it notable in the atypical population.

Perhaps, it is unsurprising to note Greta Thunberg, 16 years old is on the autistic spectrum (Asperger’s diagnosis) and is a climate activist.

She finds the lack of progress by the Davos’ elites as bewildering and the use of airplanes (and meat eating) by those professing to be combating climate change as inconsistent.

Thus displaying a consistent concrete logic by travelling by train, activist campaigns and turning her parents vegan. And with a disregard for Davos social niceties.

A recent CNN article on her advocacy at Davos:

“"Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we will have created, but that is not true, because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame. And someone is to blame," Thunberg said flatly. "Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people."

(see above)

There was a short pause in the room before Bono started clapping.”  (Full text here:

Article here:

Her recent Washington post Op-ed

And her previous UN COP24 speech:

Autism is Lindy, autistic thinking has been conserved in history

(via) The Lindy effect is a concept that the future life expectancy of some items or concepts  such as technology or an idea is proportional to their current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy. My idea of Lindy comes from reading Nassim Taleb, who expands upon the writings of Beniot Mandlebrot who described an effect of a deli

Lindy is a deli in New York, now a tourist trap, that proudly claims to be famous for its cheesecake, but in fact has been known for the fifty or so years of interpretation by physicists and mathematicians of the heuristic that developed there. Actors who hung out there gossiping about other actors discovered that Broadway shows that lasted, say one hundred days, had a future life expectancy of a hundred more. For those that lasted two hundred days, two hundred more. The heuristic became known as the Lindy Effect.

Perhaps, it can be best thought of via example eg that butter is more Lindy than margarine and that olive oil is a very lindy cooking oil of our times.

Lindy is not really meant to be applied to perishable items. Nonperishable are Lindy. Ideas, technologies and institutions.

So… I think autistic thinking has been Lindy over the ages. Why might this be the case?

Autistic thinking tends not to follow the dominant social consensus thinking of the time, I also argue, autistic thinking can importantly lead to radical breakthrough where you have leaps of understanding that perhaps typical thinking would not demonstrate.

Rates of ASD diagnosis in the US are around 1 in 65, with New Jersey as high as 1 in 45 and between 1 in 50 to 1 in 100 a likely typical range in Level 4 countries.

If you look back 70,000 years there’s evidence that early man, Neanderthal man looked after his disabled siblings into old age..

Anecdote suggests that autism and autistic thought has been present in human society for hundreds of years, while both environment and genetic factors both plays roles I find it noteworthy that nature and its Darwinian forces seemingly have conserved autism and that autistic thinking might be Lindy.

If  there is some aspect of autism that is Lindy why might it be so?  I might be entirely wrong but let’s go a storytelling...

Why might that be…?

Autistic thought tends not to follow the crowd of “herd” thinking or social pressure or social learning.

These traits can be incredibly useful.

Think about any paradigm shift in thought which requires ideas outside of normal.  A non-autist has social pressures and social learning that an autism might not.

An ice age has set in.  On the one hand, you need tools and weapons to hunt.  You need social communication to co-ordinate large groups of people. You need leaders of those groups.

But, you need inventors to create tools which are different to the status quo.  If everyone hunts the mammoth in only one way and that way stops working, you need someone who can think differently and sees a solution not because “we’ve always done it this way” but because there’s a way that makes sense to autistic thought that non-autistic thought can’t reach easily.

The rest of the human society, maybe the leader of those small ape-like human groups, can see the value in these different autistic thinkers who have ways of seeing and answers to problems the “herd” can not solve.

Maybe I go too far to suggest that this different thinking is treasured.  

But if the autistic way has been treasured for tens of thousands of years, perhaps that’s one explanation for why is survives in humans today.

And with estimated rates of 1 in 100 (and rising) with close to 1 in 45 in New Jersey being diagnosed on the spectrum, is this an argument for autistic thought being Lindy - and for why we should still treasure our autists and their way of being.

A day in life of disability, FT offices

Why disabled people like me give up on careers (In the FT recently, Niamh Ni Hoireabhaird wrote, it gained her a visit to the Prime Minister's office - demonstrating the platform the FT can give you.):

“…When I was 13, I was diagnosed with a rare, progressive neuromuscular condition called Friedreich’s ataxia. My condition means I find it hard to balance and my energy is low, so for the past two years I have relied on a wheelchair. My cognitive ability and aspirations of a career remain intact, despite the obstacles. In England and Wales nearly one in five people has some sort of disability, so the chances are you know somebody in my position — whether their condition is visible or not. So why do so few of us make it through mainstream education and into the world of work? Now I am 21, my attention should be focused on my degree in French and Italian, and my summer internship in London at the Financial Times. Yet, I am struggling with the practical and administrative problems that go with being disabled. Each day brings low-level difficulties that add up to an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and defeat. It’s no wonder so many of us give up on our ambitions….” The article is behind the paywall, but I can send you a copy if you ask nicely or there are free articles available.

It highlights the daily problems of disability, where the world is set up for typicals. This chimes with this blog from an ASD person (see here on how hard the day can be)


Thoughts from Autist living in a neurotypical world

A thoughtful blog about how one autistic person (E Price) functions in a neurotypical world. It’s a 15 min read about various aspects of their life and gives a tiny glimpse into the compromises needed.

It starts:

“I’m an Autistic person with a pretty put-together looking life. I always make rent. I have money socked away in savings and investments. I juggle several teaching jobs and do statistical and methodological consulting work. I sometimes find time to write. I have a social life. Except for the occasional noticeable chest crumbs, I present as clean and well-dressed. I manage my stress. I sleep. I eat.

I don’t think I strike the average person as disabled at all. I get work done on time. I show up to things I say I’ll show up to. I don’t show much distress in public. I rarely ask for help. Because psychological disorders are often viewed through a lens of impairment, people might call into question whether I am neuroatypical at all.

Viewing disabilities — and mental disorders — through a lens of impaired functioning is very flawed. The fact that I am functioning does not mean I’m not impaired, or that functioning is not hard. That I can survive, day by day, does not mean that I am thriving, or that my life is as easy as it is for a neurotypical person. And the aspects of my life that are impaired are rarely visible to an outside eye.

We often don’t see a person at their lowest moments — when they are crying and nonverbal, or engaging in self harm, or refusing to eat, or isolating from everyone they love. We can’t always tell if someone is struggling to make it through the work day, or if their sleep and exercise habits have been disrupted. And we don’t know, from the outside, what a person has been forced to sacrifice in order to live a seemingly “functional life”.

A lot of us “function” because we have to.

A lot of disabled or mentally ill people are able to work a job, pay rent, and get by through an elaborate system of compromise and sacrifice. We may have abandoned career paths that were too demanding of our mental energy, or lost relationships that were too socially or emotionally taxing. ...”

“Even with all the immense, unfair advantages that life has given me, life as a neuroatypical person is hard. There are many careers paths I could never successfully follow, and workplaces I could never inhabit. Frustratingly, this is not due to a lack of interest, motivation, or skill, but because I’m not good at existing in a milieu where small talk, meetings, ambient noise, and social politics are abundant.”

A thoughtful read check it out here from E Price.

Autism, David Mitchell Guide

"“So how autistic is your son, exactly?” “Well, his sensory processing is pretty cyan these days. Speech-wise, he’s light magenta. A nice canary yellow when it comes to motor control and memory functions, mind you. Thanks for asking.”"

I've referred to the David Mitchell piece (see here)  previous in looking at his translation of Naoki Higashida's book.   It's worth re-examining in more detail, if you haven't as it is insightful and genuine.

“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

"So what are we still getting wrong about autism, and how do we get it right? My answers form a kind of wishlist. First up, is that we stop assuming a communicative impairment denotes a cognitive one. Let’s be wary of assuming that behind autism’s speechlessness lies nothing, or nothing to speak of. Instead, let’s assume that we’re dealing with a mind as keen as our own, and act accordingly. Talk to the person. Don’t worry if there’s no evidence he or she understands. Maybe there is evidence, but you’re not recognising it as such. If the person is there, never discuss them as if they’re not, or as if they’re only there like the coat stand is there. If they don’t notice this courtesy, no harm is done; but if they do, then someone who is often treated as a part-object, part-human, total nuisance gets to feel like a real, valid, card-carrying member of society."