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Autism and anarchy: Real autistic community is a class community

Autism and anarchy: Real autistic community is a class community

This is the third instalment of Loukas’ Autism and Anarchy series; read the first here and the second here.

It was very difficult for me to write this article. I don’t mean that how most writers do, that it was hard to get past the strong emotions associated with writing, or I was lacking inspiration. No, I mean that literally opening up a computer, setting up my writing space and focusing on a keyboard demands enormous amounts of energy to super-charge myself through all the twists and turns of my tangled executive functioning. Even with support and medication, I have to constantly balance writing with being too exhausted to make food, care for my children, or do so much that I burn out and become depressed.

According to the labour theory of value, something’s worth is based on how much human labour it demands, so anything I produce should be super-valuable. But in the marketplace of commodities, it isn’t like that. I’m not getting a premium price for the lettuce I’m growing in the desert over here because people wonder why I’m not growing as much as the Netherlands is in their grassy swamp. This means that for me to get a fair standard of living at a level that allows me to participate in society, I need to either find some way of getting a privileged price for my labour or I need to be in opposition to the entire system of market rates for labour.

We can see that many disabled people do seek individual solutions and try to find a niche where their labour is valued. And I’m not going to judge what people do to survive. But finding your own niche doesn’t make the overall environment for people like us bigger. I think the most important thing is to recognise that our class interests, as disabled people, are not aligned with the market in labour as a commodity, even if some of us manage to make the system work for us.

There’s a common experience of autism: there are patterns to life that people recognise in each other. As I argued in the previous article, this is what makes community diagnosis possible. Now, I want to add the class dimension to this. By ‘class,’ I mean a social relationship rather than a defined group, but I also want to explain how class consciousness can allow us to organise as groups.

Ablism is a system of stealing our energy, and how that means things about how we should respond. Ablism is not some bad thoughts or accidental prejudices that just need to be rinsed out by confession and good thinking. It is rooted in the fact that it delivers for some people, that it gathers energy unto itself and uses this like a squatting parasite to reproduce itself. Ablism exists because of the class experience of disabled people, whether or not anyone wants it to.

In general, I think it’s most useful to look at all the big ‘isms’ as systems of expropriation. They aren’t just bad little thoughts inside people which can be educated away like a priestly exorcism. Ablism, sexism, racism, classism, exist as systems that keep going because they keep on stealing our energy like vampires, and, again, that means a class relationship between the exploited and the exploiter.

Sometimes, this seems hard to understand, even for leftists. Maybe Marxism has made us believe that (capitalism) takes our labour and makes it into value. So, for a long time, Marxists and other traditional socialists ignored areas of society where they thought value wasn’t being created. They thought that women’s struggle and antiracism were distractions from the factory where labour is stolen and value created.

But I think we need to look at labour-theft in a different way. Consider the Toni Morrison quote:

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is a distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being”.

In other words, often, the system of exploitation will take your labour only to destroy it, to burn your own energy before your eyes. No value is created, but domination is reproduced. It’s here I think we need to look for inspiration in fighting ablism, in the theories of labour and exploitation that women and Black thinkers have articulated. Just like White Supremacy and patriarchy, it is a system that lives off others’ labour but is centrally about control rather than capital reproduction per se, although economic production is part of it as well. So I see ablism not as some wrinkle in the system but as Ablist Supremacy.

This all means that meaningful organisation for the autistic community is based on recognising our common class interests as disabled people rather than trying to individually make our own escape. Often it’s not an escape at all; it’s more like trying to fit in, to assimilate to the ablist supremacy. But no matter how well you perform, no matter how much of a good disabled person you are, that’s not changing the nature of the ablist supremacy, which needs you to be categorised as lesser.

The reason the supremacy isn’t changing is because, ironically, it’s not even about us, disabled people.

Just like how white supremacy exists to discipline the entire society and patriarchy exists to discipline all genders, so ablism exists to control everyone because none of us are ever able enough. We all get ill, we all get old, we’re all born young.

So, ablism is an economic-authoritarian system of supremacy that looms like a big stick in the sky that can be used to beat anyone over the head. No sick days for you, no maternity leave for you. You’re not able to handle the stress of this job? Sucks to be you.

Disability is a knife against everyone’s throat that can be used at any time. This has implications for how it can be rolled back. I think it has to be all about us taking back our energy and labour.

The ablist supremacy will now say – what are you talking about? Disabled people don’t have the energy or labour power; that’s the entire point.

But all humans have creative power and energy. We don’t think that people who need glasses can’t see, instead we recognise that even very basic disability support measures can unlock life for people who are disabled. And above all, we need to stop allowing the supremacy to take and waste our energy. My conclusion is we need to work on ways of pooling and ploughing back our disabled energy. Not gaining small snatches of energy to try to fit in or be productive according to ablist norms, but creating a virtuous spiral of energy which makes us less and less dependent on pretending to be ‘abled’.

My point here is that nobody at all should have to pretend to be abled because none of us are just like no one is really white. The struggle against ablist supremacy is just another part of human liberation. Against the harsh categories, towards being able to be our messy authentic selves.

So, to return to my first point, the only way to have a decent living in society despite our enormous acts of labour being valued as lesser is to have a cultural understanding that everybody needs to be rewarded and supplied with the means to reproduce our lives in a reasonable way in keeping with what is needed for a good life.

~ Loukas Christodoulou

Image: Some guy from Fediverse

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