Friday, October 15, 2010

A little encouragement for the non-neurotypical

On the various blogs I like to comment on, I often find myself speaking with distinctly non-neurotypical persons. By neurotypical, I mean a person whose brain (and particularly their emotions) work in a similar fashion to around 95% of the population or more. I am not using it in the fashion that the autism community uses it (i.e., people who are not autism-spectrum or Asperger's). Certainly there's a lot of overlap between my definition and said communities, but let's be clear, I'm not using this as in any way, shape, or form as a pejorative. Let's be blunt---if I mean to insult you, I will do so fairly openly---if I refer to you or another as not neurotypical, I'm not insulting but rather simply describing. Needless to say, I'm hardly neurotypical myself. My purpose in writing this little missive is to give aid and encouragement to my less neurotypical readers and those who find themselves dealing outside the neurotypical. A lot of what I've learned has come at a pretty steep price, and I'm willing to offer you a nearly 100% discount.

Probably the most common method we use as human beings for estimating what another person is thinking or feeling is the attempt to 'put ourselves in their shoes'. A programmer might say we try to instantiate a copy of ourselves inside their workspace and see what output it gives. A psychologist would say we use projection. Although the word 'projection' has a pretty seriously negative connotation (like a lot of other terrifically useful concepts, like generalization and stereotype), it is the neurotypical's most useful theory of 'other mind'. The closer you are in mindset to the person you attempt projection on, the better it works. For most guys, it works pretty well when dealing with other men, and poorly, but not so poorly as to be useless, when dealing with women. For the non-neurotypical, projection IS disastrous. It is bad, but usually a little better than useless with the same sex, and almost comically bad with the opposite sex. You can probably explain a large fraction of the relative lack of success of the average geek in romance right here. It doesn't necessarily have to be this way--remember, the purpose here is support and encouragement.

The second thing we reach for besides projection is a mental model of another person or group's behavior---how does it respond to the stimuli we generate? This SHOULD be the social salvation of the non-neurotypical, but in practice, it rarely is. The problem is, we, as a society, systematically lie about a terrific number of things as regards interpersonal relationships. Not being neurotypical myself, I'm not absolutely certain whether we lie intentionally or simply because we lack self-knowledge of our own motivations, or whether we simply do so for fear of social disapproval when we 'let the cat out of the bag', and speak too frankly. Here is the biggest one, in my experience. The only people who you'll meet in ordinary life who will be open on this one are salesmen, and only those speaking generally among themselves:

Doing someone a favor does NOT make them like you more. Getting them to do you a favor (particularly lots of small ones over a period of time) generally DOES.

To the non-neurotypical, or the neurotypical who's trying to use his mind's general processor (his social processor generally doesn't communicate directly with his conscious mind), this MAKES NO SENSE. Why in the hell would I dislike someone who did me lots of favors in the hopes of currying favor/improving their relationship with me? And why would I like a person more/be more willing to do them more favors if I'd donated to their cause in the past/helped them out of numerous jams/had them pester me for favors in the past?

Well, if you're not neurotypical, and I'm not, you wouldn't. However around 95% of the population would, AND THEY'RE NOT GOING TO CHANGE, even (perhaps especially), if you marry them. They're simply not wired that way. It's not a moral thing (although a lot of moral accusations are tossed in BOTH directions here, I'll talk about that a little more in a future post), it's just their nature. If you observe their behavior, both in your personal life and in macro examples in history, you'll find this to be true. Why it's true is something I don't really grok---I mean, I can advance possibilities---like maybe the neurotypical views you asking a favor as a status stroke and you doing him a favor as a status hit which his gut resents or maybe we mishandle it like we typically do sunk costs, but as I said, I don't really grok this one. In general, I counsel the non-neurotypical to do the following:
1) In the words of Dr Phil---ask yourself...how's that working out for you? I.E. is your mental model of others working for you? If it is, wonderful, if not
2) Suspend your existing model for a little while. Start actually observing what people DO...you should probably ignore what they say for the time being
3) Don't worry about explaining so much WHY people do what they do for now, just focus on general stimulus-response pairs...i.e. WHAT they do
Eventually you can work on refining your models into serviceable stereotypes and you'll find your success in this arena greatly enhanced.

If you meditate on this observation (I think Ben Franklin was one of the first to publish it in bald language), you'll find it helps to explain an awful lot of the stuff you see in your interpersonal life that just doesn't make any sense. Why do so many women keep going back to guys they know abuse them? Why do charities pester us incessantly once we've given them money? Why do fraternities, armies, navies, secret societies, and sororities have degrading hazing rituals?

Here are a few concrete suggestions:
If you're like me, you probably have a massively positive 'favor balance' (i.e, you do a lot more favors on the net than you ask for). Reduce that balance---don't explicitly say you're trying to 'call in a favor'---for some reason, being explicit like this REALLY rubs the neurotypical the wrong way because they absolutely HATE having interactions like that framed in transactional terms. Do, on the other hand, ASK for some favors---saying...can you do me a favor or, maybe you can help me or, I've got a problem, and I think you're the one with the (insert positive attribute here) that can help me are all good openers. Don't go hog wild here, but ask for them in cases where you don't necessarily 'need' them. Perversely, you'll find they'll improve and solidify your relationship with the person that does you a favor. If you study a bit of sales, you'll find this one is huge---but I'm not sure the catchy name they're calling it these days :-)

6 comments:

B Lode said...

I have so much to say about this I risk going back on my promise to go easy on the typing.

1. I have been treated better at work, in most cases, then I was in the social scene I frequented before my conversion to the hard right. At work, I am very assertive when I need help, because I can do so without feeling selfish. So the favor balance their is about neutral, where in my social scene, I did all the favors and was reviled by the simpering leftists I counted as friends. My unconscious code against being selfish led to my low status, and eventual abjection, from my circle of friends. So in my world, your favor balance hypothesis is borne out.

2. I think "Stockholm syndrome" is a funny term because there is nothing phenomenal about it. Stockholm is the way most people act most of the time. Trouble is, when two different forces play the dominant role, they often must fight to establish who is in charge. In heavily armed cultures this could be destructive. Hence the formalized monopoly of force. When the government recast itself from father figure into mother figure, the role of uncompromising, selfish male whom everyone inexplicably loves was taken over by adolescent thugs.

Not being neurotypical myself, I'm not absolutely certain whether we lie intentionally or simply because we lack self-knowledge of our own motivations, or whether we simply do so for fear of social disapproval when we 'let the cat out of the bag', and speak too frankly.

3. I like "non-neurotypicals" because it encompasses me in ways that "autistic" and "aspergian" do not. What I share with the A & A circuit is that I think, I really deeply process things, in words and symbols and programs. Neurotypicals deeply process things like animals and then produce preconceived streams of words to suggest their needs or their feeligns. So I'm a meaty computer in a world of chatty animals.

When I look at the public reactions to politicians' "gaffes", I see this every time. A "gaffe" is said by some to be a politician telling the truth, but what it actually is a lot of times is a politicians making a complex thought out loud. The media have arrogated to themselves the right of highlighting (abbreviating) politicians' comments, and yet the NT paper-buying population never catch on to the ruse. People would much rather talk for an hour about a political gaffe than spend four minutes looking it up to find out it was something completely unremarkable.

But then, the other talking animals are even dumber. Crows around myself have a lot less to say than the lady at the cafe, and they say it much more loudly and at more obnoxious hours. So I should count myself lucky.

B Lode said...

Humor is utterly integral to the way neurotypicals interact, and it has always been a fascination of mine. "It's funny because it's true" is the most wonderful crystallization of the tail-wagging-the-dog syllogism in neurotypical thinking.

In my observation, the way mockery works is:

An aggressive, apathetic male verbally notes something suboptimal/unusual about a member of the group. In a primate troop, an alpha male would notice a weakness in the combat abilities of another male, and deal a non-crippling surprise blow. Humans verbalized that to reduce the number of bloody incidents.

Females and secondary males bare their teeth at the victim and make high-pitched vocalizations. Primates are identical in this way. The function here is to maintain group stability by simulating a cannibalistic gang attack on the victim, causing him to flinch instead of defending himself, with potential success, against the leader.

The nature of the attack becomes "true" because it is funny. This is where humans differ from primates - nonverbal primaries don't have thoughts complex enough to be true or false because they cannot think in words.

Jehu said...

It's true that status competition explains an awful lot of what people do. I've joked with my wife that were I to successfully lead an army of reaction and seize total undisputed control over all the organs of the culture, the present SWPLs would quickly fall to trying to show off their superior status by displaying their incredible authenticity and command of Old Testament lineages. At least 95% of the population are like the munchkins from the old gaming (Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Loonies, Munchkins), in that they'll do whatever gives them the most status plusses. All anyone else can do is shift what gives status bonuses and what gives penalties. The problem is that status ACTUALLY IS vitally important. If you don't believe me, check the research on status vs health. Being low status actually causes inflammation. So it honestly is a matter of life and death to control the status levers in your society.

Jehu said...

On the 'Stockholm Syndrome', I think Roissy's 'rationalization hamster' fits quite well. Most people simply can't handle having anything negative regarding themselves in their head constantly. So I consistently cooperate with my oppressor. That means I must really like him, because if I didn't, that'd mean I was being oppressed, and weak and spineless. But I can't think that, therefore I must not be being oppressed, and must like that guy who was oppressing me...oops...guiding me...yes, that must be it.

Similarly when they've done someone a lot of favors, or they've endured nasty hazing to gain membership in a group---it had to be worth it right? If it wasn't, you'd have to admit you'd made a big mistake (this, BTW, is a key insight of Christianity that most don't get---repenting (which is basically exactly this) IS REALLY HARD.

But I don't agree that neurotypicals don't think---they do think, but their modes of thought are significantly different than that of the non-neurotypical. Here's the thing---if 95% of the population used one Operating System, and 5% a hodgepoge of others, and you wanted to manipulate them, where'd you spend your efforts? Compromising the biases and shortcuts that the neurotypical mind is prone to has been the focus of a terrific amount of research (kind of like viruses and such in Windows, when you think about it)---pretty much all of marketing, advertising, a lot of psychology, and most political persusion was developed with the neurotypical mind as its target. Were I the target of such a massive effort, I'm not so confident that I would not be a marionette as well. What makes this far worse for the neurotypical presently is that our present system of education and socialization has basically devalued and attempted to erase a lot of the old 'Bright Red Line' rules that helped protect them against overt manipulation.

The self-aware neurotypical (and make no mistake, they do exist as a nontrivial fraction of the population---some even have made some artistic efforts to articulate their struggles with their gut---Pat Benatar, for instance, has quite a few songs about her struggles with attraction to bad boys and the pain that this causes) sees the non-neurotypical as selfish. The self-aware non-neurotypical sees the neurotypical as an ingrate---utterly lacking in gratitude. My take is that both are right---I plead guilty to selfishness with the caveat that objectively speaking, at least 95% of the population is MORE selfish than I am and hence lacks standing to criticize me on that count.

Anonymous said...

1. Ask favors.
2. Receive status.

Wow! This post is a gold mine!

Jehu said...

Anonymous,
You're quite welcome. I wish I could've sent it to the 10 year old version of me.