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Alek Minassian incels mass killing

Alek Minassian is using autism as an excuse for his murderous van attack — much as his fellow incels use it as an excuse for their hateful beliefs

Autism made him do it?

Self-identified incel Alek Minassian is currently on trial in Canada for the van attacks that killed ten in Toronto in 2018. His defense? That his autism made him do it, leaving him not criminally responsible for the killings.

One of the psychiatrists testifying on his behalf argued that his thinking was so distorted by “extreme autism” that he was virtually psychotic. The other argued that Minassian was so lacking in empathy he was unable to understand that what he did was wrong.

There are several problems with these arguments. For one thing, autism is not remotely the same as psychosis. For another, despite Minassian’s lack of empathy — a trait shared by many violent criminals — he made it clear in interviews with the two experts that he does indeed know the difference between right and wrong. It seems unlikely that the defense’s logic will convince the judge trying the case.

More broadly, the “autism defense” is distressing because it essentially throws every law-abiding autistic person under the bus, suggesting some sort of innate connection between autism and acts of extreme violence that simply doesn’t exist. As Autism Canada has pointed out in a response to the defense’s arguments, autistic people are far more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators.

In an essay on the case, autism activist Sarah Kurchak wrote

The lingering idea that autism alone can make a person violent and dangerous, and the idea that autistic people can’t experience empathy—and that those who don’t experience empathy are dangerous and incapable of caring about others in alternative ways—affects everything from the way that people treat us socially, to our employment prospects, to whether we are able to access autism testing and services at all.

Reading about the Minassian trial, I’m struck by the similarities between his lawyers’ arguments and the ways in which Minassian’s fellow incels also use autism as an excuse for their own foul ideology.

Many incels claim to be autistic, or at least on the spectrum, though it’s hard to know how many of these people are legit and how many are self-diagnosed pretenders. And while it’s likely that the social awkwardness that tends to come with autism has led to romantic difficulties for some incels, autism doesn’t explain or excuse their adoption of a hateful, misogynistic set of beliefs, or the cheering on of mass killers like Minassian and incel “saint” Elliot Rodger, or the acts of outright harassment of women and girls that some incels indulge in.

Just as there is nothing inherent in autism that led to Minassian’s rampage, there is nothing inherent in autism that leads to the so-called “Black Pill.” Pretending there is some innate connection is an insult to the overwhelming majority of autistic people, who are as horrified by incels as the rest of us.

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epitome of incomrepehensibility

@Brian B. – Welcome! I don’t remember you writing before. Anyway, your points are excellent and this sentence got me thinking:

But other autistic people tend to make perfect sense to me; they’re often my favorite students to teach, for example.

Reminds me of how I volunteered at an after-school centre for kids during my first undergrad. It was a “homework club,” a loosely structured classroom environment where volunteer tutors would sit with one child at a time to give them extra help. Anyway, I remember one kid, 7-8, who had ADHD. I’d do things like give her short breaks to draw, things that had worked for me in school, and the teacher was pleased at how well we worked together.

Similar thing with one of my campers from my summer job – I got a note saying she had ADHD and so-called “oppositional defiance disorder” but I didn’t find her defiant. When she seemed stubborn, it was because she wanted to finish doing something and was frustrated with the time limits.

This was all before I was diagnosed with ADHD myself (at age 23). So yeah 🙂

.45
.45
7 months ago

Yes, I have the dubious honor of living in the US. I have no personal experience with disability, but a family member and several of the people I mentioned before as owing me money over the years have had things to say on how they can’t get a job that pays enough to justify getting off benefits, but any minimal wage or thereabouts job combined with said benefits is barely enough to make rent. Enforced poverty is unfortunately a thing.

Thinking more on my questioning status for autism, every other post on here has me thinking “This. Totally this.”

Concerning eye contact for example. I have trouble with that too. Something I want to admit that is related to that is also that I have trouble saying hi.

That sounds stupid to say that. Three year olds grasp the concept and I know how to say hi, but if I am feeling uncomfortable or there is too much going on, I literally forget to so much as acknowledge people.

I have been constantly reminding myself over the past few years to say hi to people when I come into work and yet I still fail to do so as often as not. I am quite sadly a little proud of the fact that after a few years of trying to properly respond to people asking how I’m doing, I have managed to manage, without stuttering (usually), the simple response of “Fine, how about you?” I’m just so much in my own thoughts most of the time, people saying hi or asking how I am doing is a surprise out of left field for me.

I work retail. I have years of experience dealing with the public. It is blatantly ridiculous that this is a struggle. But it is. I am left scambling for words like “Oh hey, I’m good, how are you?”

Don’t get me wrong, in the right circumstances I have been known to be very chatty and friendly, but outside those circumstances…

Moon Custafer
Moon Custafer
7 months ago

@ .45:
 
You’ve probably already thought of this, but would it help to try to mentally divorce greetings and replies like “fine, thanks” from their literal meanings, and just think of them as birdcalls or other sounds to be made in a certain context? I sometimes find treating interaction rituals as abstractions makes them easier to do without stumbling over the words.

Moon Custafer
Moon Custafer
7 months ago

(Longer version): Years ago, I came across a Flash game on the internet that had been devised by psychology students, in which the object was to click on the smiling faces and ignore the not-smiling faces. I think it was supposed to help with social anxiety? Anyway, I figured out that the easiest way to play was to stop seeing any of the faces as faces, and instead click on the oval-shaped targets that had a white horizontal stripe across the lower part. Then I worried that I was playing the game wrong. But if it works to smooth interactions and you’re not harming anyone, why not?

Ann Hatzakis
Ann Hatzakis
7 months ago

Can I use my Autism as a reason to vomit whenever people use autism as an excuse for brutalizing others?

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
7 months ago

@Alan, et al:
Brains are indeed fascinating, even if a lot of it is very much in the ‘dancing circus bear’ mode. (The old joke being that people don’t applaud the dancing bear because it dances particularly well, but because it’s frankly amazing it can dance at all.) I have teachers in my family, so there’s a certain amount of psych background required for that, but I also remember watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when it was first broadcast, and one of the episodes touched a fair bit on the brain and memory, which kind of helped with my fascination.

I think the same episode also mentioned the Voyager record you have a picture of there. Of course, Sagan was one of the people involved in creating that disk.

And yes, I’ve been hearing about Aricebo. It’s unfortunate; as you say, it’s irreplaceable, even as highly limited in direction as it was. And we’re now well past the point at which the only option is to pretty much tear it all down and start from scratch. Heck, the final big collapse happened in part because nobody could figure out how to do any work on it safely after the original cables broke.

Never really worked directly with Aricebo, even when I was doing work in radio astronomy. The fact that the telescope had a really limited ability to be pointed at a particular target meant it wasn’t used for VLBI as often as more steerable telescopes. Any VLBI mission involving Aricebo had to be pretty much ‘okay, what can Aricebo be looking at during this time frame, let’s build the viewing sequence around that.’

Of course, that was also why Aricebo was heavily involved with SETI: there were a lot of other missions it couldn’t be involved with, leaving more open time for things that just involved ‘let’s just see what shows up’.

@Naglfar, .45:
I’ve had friends who had problems with eye contact for multiple reasons. One of my high school physics teachers had a pretty literal ‘evil eye’: one eye was swollen and locked in its socket, so it didn’t move. Made it hard to know which direction she was looking in. A friend in University was albino, and his eyes were pretty constantly twitchy and unable to focus on anything for long. And a couple of friends who probably would have been diagnosed as autistic spectrum had they been growing up now rather than over thirty years ago were more like what you’ve been saying, not focusing on eye contact because that would distract from focusing on the actual conversation.

Speaking as somebody pretty neurotypical so far as I know, it’s something you get used to if you’re willing to spend a little effort. You meet more interesting people that way; life would be so much more boring if everybody were the same.

.45:

it does offer me a perspective on what my less educated associates must feel like when I start over explaining something to them though

I still remember the moment when a group of us who had been friends since University were all eating out together at a little hot pot place, and two of them at one end of the table who were both geologists started going into full tech-speak on that subject… and I turned to someone sitting to my other side and said, “Ah, so this is what it sounds like when I start talking about computers.”

(My coworkers have commented on me writing ‘epistles’ in my email before.)

Surplus to Requirements
Surplus to Requirements
7 months ago

@Jenora Feuer:

Brains are indeed fascinating, even if a lot of it is very much in the ‘dancing circus bear’ mode. (The old joke being that people don’t applaud the dancing bear because it dances particularly well, but because it’s frankly amazing it can dance at all.)

Civilization is a geological eyeblink old, so the last few pieces of brain capacity needed to make it possible have only just evolved. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that we’re barely adequate to the task; we’re the buggy beta version. If we remain civilized, on and off, for another hundred thousand years, by the end of that time it will be more on than off and we’ll be a lot better at it, both biologically and in terms of learned knowledge.

Right now, though, and for lifetimes to come, we’re only just over the line of “good enough” to be able to build and maintain a civilization. And we slip from time to time (see also: Somalia, Syria, etc.)

One of my high school physics teachers had a pretty literal ‘evil eye’: one eye was swollen and locked in its socket, so it didn’t move. Made it hard to know which direction she was looking in.

I’d suggest considering the direction the other eye was pointed. Strange, though, how this situation resembles Arecibo’s in miniature. If she wanted depth perception of something she’d have had to turn her whole head to point the locked-in-place eye, then aim the other eye at it afterward. A bit better than having to wait for the planet to turn to face the right direction, though.

I still remember the moment when a group of us who had been friends since University were all eating out together at a little hot pot place, and two of them at one end of the table who were both geologists started going into full tech-speak on that subject… and I turned to someone sitting to my other side and said, “Ah, so this is what it sounds like when I start talking about computers.”

That’s actually a good time to pay attention, if you know something about the topic. When someone goes occasionally past the edge of your knowledge you have the opportunity to learn something. Maybe you get to infer the meaning of a new and unfamiliar term, if its context is full of stuff you do know.

It’s a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Once you have a chunk of it done it’s often easier to grow that chunk at the edges than start building a disconnected chunk from scratch, and you won’t get any more done at all by staring at the middle of an already completed part.