“In order to be able to be an irreproachable member of the herd, one must, above all, be a sheep.” Albert Einstein
I come from a long line of reclusive people who immerse themselves in reading or surfing the Net, according to their age, and shout at every intruder. The younger ones are usually diagnosed as high-functioning autistics. The older never thought they have any reason to be diagnosed.
All of them have big hearts, deep concern for the suffering of people and animals, political awareness, and substantiated loud opinions.
They’re all willing to make big sacrifices to help people and other creatures in need.
Yet, the younger ones often see themselves as disordered. Probably because that’s how society labels them nowadays.
At the same time, the elders see themselves as individualists. They’re proud of who they are, and society admires them as highly advantageous people.
Obviously, they’re all the same. The behaviors are similar, only the terms have gloomily changed over the years. While the current diagnoses are important to answer children’s needs, their vocabulary idiotically addresses only disadvantages.
Lamentably, these depressing terms damage not only the diagnosed people. They also damage our entire unsuspicious society.
So more truthful terminology, and perspective, can work miracles.
The Rickety Pillars Of Society
Each one of us, at any given moment, is situated somewhere on the blissful arch between sociability and individuality. Essentially, the autism spectrum is expressing this arch.
Autistics are usually not very sociable, and they tend to move along the arch’s individualistic branch. It’s perceived as a flaw, because we’re used to see sociability as the only base for society. Yet, in fact, individuality is just as important. Without equilibrium between these two pillars, our society would collapse like a drunken party animal.
The reason we’re sitting on this powder keg is the inherent conflict existing between every individual and their surrounding society. The social order must require the individuals to give up some of their freedom, and to change some of their behaviors, in order to fit in. As Ralph Waldo Emerson depressingly puts it,
“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.”
Henry David Thoreau explains it by saying that,
“Wherever a man goes, men will pursue him and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate oddfellow society.”
(Describing society so repulsively, both Mister Emerson and Mister Thoreau would have undoubtedly been diagnosed as having an autistic spectrum disorder, had they lived nowadays.)
So, as rulers and leaders must harness the masses to their goals by constraining their freedom, not always to the benefit of the people, healthy society requires courageous heroes who would stand up to the repression.
That’s where individualists come into play.
Typically, individualists feel the need for freedom more than others, and often fight for it, for the benefit of all the people. Consequently, they’re frequently the ones defending our freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of actions (however awkward these might be.)
President Thomas Jefferson, who is alleged to be autistic and shaped the US Declaration of Independence and constitution, is one glorious example. John Stuart Mill, who vigorously supported the freedom of the individual against the state control, colonialism, chauvinism, and slavery, is another, and the list is long.
Individualists are vital for society, therefore, and instead of being demeaned, they should be put on a pedestal. Or at least, as this pedestal must be dangerously crowded, be appreciated.
But individuality is necessary not only for defending our freedom. It’s also required for defending our ability to flourish.
Because individuality is also the cornerstone of creativity.
The Lonely Pillar Of Civilization
Any new idea, invention, craze or work of art must start by thinking out of the well-known box. Repeating the conventional thoughts, the used thoughts, can’t bring us anywhere thrilling. As James Richardson puts it,
“Path: where nothing grows.”
Unfortunately, every scientist, entrepreneur, artist or true leader has to think for oneself, however difficult it may be. One must look at the current problems and flaws of society, and look for a brave new approach to solve them, before finding a new way. As Boris Pasternak writes in Doctor Zhivago,
“Gregariousness is always the refuge of mediocrities, whether they swear by Kant or Marx. Only individuals seek the truth.”
Therefore, it’s usually the individualists who make the significant breakthroughs. Oscar Wilde’s explanation is that,
“Individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. There lies its immense value. For what it seeks is to disturb monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine.”
Radical words, indeed.
It’s no wonder, then, that many of the greatest groundbreakers were individualists, who are alleged to be autistics. Some of the illustrious examples are scientists like Newton, Darwin, Kinsey, Einstein, and Tesla, artists like Michelangelo, Andersen, Joyce, Mozart, Yeats, Carroll, and Warhol, and leaders who are characterized by autistic traits, like Lincoln, Churchill, Merkel, De Gaulle, Reagan, Washington, Ben-Gurion, Thatcher, Truman, Mandela, and many many more.
Individuality, therefore, is apparently the way to innovation.
Accordingly, as the source of both creativity and liberty, individuality definitely deserves no less than to be celebrated.
The Unbeaten Pillar Of Humanity
We can, then, thank individualism and individualists, whether diagnosed as autistics or not, for the continuous colossal contribution to culture.
We also better learn to cherish our own marvelous individuality.
And find unique, better ways to advance our surroundings,
To advance humanity.
Using our distinctive perspective,
One query at a time.