Autism

The COVID Crisis, the Imprinted Brain, and the Diametric Model

The crisis has important parallels to autism as described in these posts.

Posted Sep 23, 2020

Like Robinson Crusoe in his enforced social isolation from the "general Plague of Mankind," I might be forgiven during these extraordinary times for having tried “to comfort myself as well as I could, and to set the Good against Evil, that I might have something to distinguish my Case from worse…” Crusoe goes on to say how he “learn’d to look more upon the bright Side of my Condition, and less upon the dark Side; and to consider what I enjoy’d, rather than what I wanted; and this gave me sometimes such secret Comforts, that I cannot express them...” 

I can do something of the same where the imprinted brain theory and diametric model of the mind and of mental illness are concerned. At the very least, the current crisis made my earlier post on plagues strikingly relevant to today’s world in a way I would never have thought possible. And one or two further points are worth making.

In a post published in 2010, I argued that in some important respects you could characterize Western industrial societies as autistic. Specifically, I suggested that modern, mass societies induce deficits in social behaviour which are symptomatic of autism: notably avoidance of eye-contact typical of crowded ambiences such as trains or buses; difficulties with language related to the large number of non-native speakers; concentration of interests and expertise on a single, or narrow range thanks to the division of labour; and restricted or absent friendliness or close social contact in general.

 C. Badcock
Source: C. Badcock

Little did I know that only a decade later the coronavirus crisis would make all of these signs and symptoms worse. In fact, so institutionalized has all this become that we now have a new phrase for it: social distancing. (The sculpture by Antony Gormley left was originally used by me on a lecture slide about autism, but here it illustrates social distancing just as well.) And where working from home is concerned, I can now add yet another aspect of modern working conditions which isolates people just as much as automation in factories, retail outlets, or manual occupations has done.

Indeed, thanks to obligatory mask-wearing, I can cite a further important autistic symptom: deficits in facial recognition and the ability to interpret facial expression. Even apparent deafness, another factor in autism, is replicated by the extent to which masks muffle speech and rob listeners of the ability to lip-read—which I personally never noticed until now.

Social distancing may have come as something of a relief—or at least, not too much of an inconvenience—to those who like Robinson Crusoe have a somewhat autistic temperament. But to those whose cognitive configuration is the exact opposite, and tend to be somewhat paranoid, social distancing manifested as fear of infection has produced exactly the same result.

So, with both extremes of the mentalistic continuum encouraging autistic social behaviour, the point of balance of society as a whole has palpably—and perhaps permanently—shifted in the autistic direction. At the very least, this illustrates the way in which a tendency from the psychotic side of the spectrum — fear of infection — can manifest itself in a behaviour belonging to the opposite, autistic extreme: something which, far from contradicting the diametric model, in fact reveals its subtleties. 

Finally, who would have thought that just half a strand of DNA could bring the world to a standstill? (SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus, and RNA is the single-stranded equivalent of double-stranded DNA.) Just think what a hundred thousand times more DNA from parents of the opposite sex could do! Indeed, according to the imprinted brain theory, this coronavirus has had something of the same effect on society as paternal and male genes do on individuals. Call it social distancing or what you will: We have all become more autistic in our social behaviour thanks to this latest general Plague of Mankind.