I keep hearing the term “neurodiversity”, and it bothers me. It feels like a way to excuse and eventually glorify disabilities. Let’s look into it a bit more.
The DSM-IV defines a huge range of mental issues. Some of them are debilitating. Some of them require a large amount of effort to control. Some of them are severe or minor quirks. Some of them even have upsides, though accompanied with downsides that mean they are both unsuitable for the general population and troublesome for individuals.
The term “neurodiverse” would seem to encompass all of them. This means promoting diseases that harm people. Paranoid schizophrenia, severe autism, and more. This is stupid. Who would willingly give their child an attribute that would severely impair their life?
Of course, I could say the same about homosexuality or skin color. The difference there is that it is a cultural problem for your kid’s potential success if they are black or aboriginal American or aboriginal Australian or homosexual, while it is an internal, intrinsic issue for people to suffer from severe autism or mental retardation or many of these other issues. That is, it wouldn’t be a problem for someone to be black or homosexual or First Nations, except some bastards decided to make it a problem.
What about mental disabilities? These tend to be problems even in societies that try to make accommodations for them. There are exceptions, and certainly society has made a lot of them worse than they should be even without assistance, but for the most part, we’ve catalogued a series of problems that are decidedly problematic.
I think neurodiversity as a concept is useful. Some people are high functioning and also have some neurological issues that have beneficial side effects. Some people have neurological issues that they find reasonably manageable, and just having an additional perspective is helpful.
Additionally, it is good to encourage people to be compassionate toward humans with neurological disabilities. We have a history of treating people poorly with the slightest excuse for being slightly different, and we should stop that.
This doesn’t mean we should be happy with this second sort of mental issues. It doesn’t license us to stop researching cures and treatments. We’d still be best served by editing debilitating problems out of our genome if the opportunity arises. We should continue to acknowledge this even while trying to treat debilitated humans more gently and accepting people with functional but uncommon mentation.