Wednesday, January 27, 2016


The New Yorker and the NYRB arrived on the same day this week. The first contains another review of Steven Shapin’s book about autism, and the second contains another review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book about black life in the USA.

Those who pass for intellectuals in this anti-intellectual nation have focused their attention on these two subjects for different and apparently unrelated reasons: autism because it’s being redefined in a way that calls into question the distinction between normal and pathological behavior, and black life in the USA because the surge in shootings of unarmed blacks calls into question the claim that the election of a black president means racism is a thing of the past. 

These two subjects do not appear unrelated to me. They merge, at a fundamental level, into one subject.

Having known people diagnosed as autistic, and read books by people like Temple Grandin, it seems obvious to me that autism is not a pathology, but an attempt to withdraw from a pathological society. The world we’ve made for ourselves was always irrational, but now it’s become completely insane.    

Having known black people, and read books by people like Ta-Nehisi Coates, it seems equally obvious to me that a society which appears increasingly irrational to me has always appeared completely insane to them.

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