Tag Archives: neurodiversity

Plato’s Crito, civil disobedience and evaluativism

The Crito by Plato reads like a scene from a play set in the prison of Athens in 399 BC, the day before Socrates was to be executed. It is the scene in which Crito attempts to rescue Socrates, but Socrates refuses to avoid his execution. To some extent, the Crito must be fiction—Plato couldn’t possibly have overheard the actual events—yet the basic story is considered so important and historically accurate that the site of the prison has been preserved. This photo shows the foundation and three cells.

The Greeks consider themselves the pioneers not only of theater and of nearly every modern form of government but also of philosophy. Socrates taught philosophy to Plato who taught it to Aristotle who taught it to Alexander the Great who ruled an empire and established the place of that philosophy in history. Thus, Socrates was arguably the source of Western thought traditions, and reading the Crito helps us recognize deep biases inside Western thought.

Socrates had been sentenced to death over his habit of asking questions that made other people look foolish. Today, that behavior would be protected by the right to free speech, but no such right was established at the time. Socrates insisted that his antisocial habit was part of his identity, which he labelled “social gadfly.” He said he couldn’t stop being himself, much as modern people say we can’t stop having the sexual preferences we do or the neurodiversity we do. Apparently, the only way to end the embarrassment was to end Socrates.

Crito arranged to bribe the guards and send Socrates to live with friends in Thessaly. Such a rescue would have been an act of civil disobedience, a concept popularized in recent times by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. In the Crito, Crito explains this plan to Socrates, then Socrates details an argument to the conclusion that one should never engage in civil disobedience. “…one must obey the commands of one’s city and country, or persuade it as to the nature of justice.”

Today, it does not seem reasonable to condemn civil disobedience this way. If we will not condemn the followers of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., then we should count Socrates’ famous argument as fallacious, and we should examine it. We may find unsound premises in it which also appear in other parts of Western thinking.

To reject Crito’s offer was suicide. Crito claimed that Socrates would be wrong to commit suicide because Socrates would be shirking his duty to nurture his children until they reach maturity and because Socrates would be blocking his friends from fulfilling their duty to save him. Socrates dismissed the relevance of these consequences, “…if it appears [to us] that we shall be acting unjustly, then we have no need at all to take into account whether we shall have to die…” In other words, the consequences for individual citizens such as himself, his children, and his friends are trumped by the consequences for the State. This narrowed the scope of the Crito to the nature of civil disobedience.

Socrates argued that civil disobedience treats the State unjustly: “…do you think it possible for a city not to be destroyed if the verdicts of its courts have no force but are nullified and set at naught by private individuals?” Of course, the intent behind civil disobedience is not to destroy the State, but rather to save it! If a person is suicidal, then it may benefit that person to temporarily act against that person’s will. Likewise, if a State is ill, then it may benefit the State to temporarily engage in civil disobedience.

If the right sort of illness is not present, then civil disobedience would not be justified, but Socrates and Crito both believed that the State was ill in this instance. In his defense, Socrates said that a sluggish horse may need to be stirred up by a gadfly, and that the State similarly needs to be stirred up by himself. Rather than claim that the State was not ill, Socrates argued that it should be healed in a less destructive way: “we [the State] do not issue savage commands to do whatever we order; we give two alternatives, either to persuade us or to do what we say.”

In other words, Socrates claimed that civil disobedience is never justified because one should instead heal States by persuading them to change their understanding of justice. We now know of two major problems with this premise: First, persuasion might not be feasible. It is more appropriate to treat suicidal patients with drugs than with persuasion because their mental illness may render the persuasion ineffective. Likewise, the State might be too ill to be persuaded–Socrates had already failed to resolve his disagreement with the State through persuasion, and it would be insane to keep attempting what wasn’t working.

Second, persuasion could actually damage the State by diminishing the interdependent diversity of its social ecosystem. Some disagreements stem from mere ignorance. For example, consider disagreement about the answer to an arithmetic problem. It is entirely appropriate to reduce ignorance, and therefore appropriate to resolve such disagreements. However, other disagreements reflect our interdependent evaluative diversity. For example, society may benefit from including members with different thresholds for risk, and that diversity would produce disagreements about which risks to take. Resolving such disagreements would damage the State by reducing this diversity.

There are two kinds of people who reject the idea of resolving all disagreements: Corporantia and Evaluativists. Corporantia seek to preserve interdependent diversity. Rather than resolve all disagreements, they aim to maintain balance among interdependent parts of society and to discover the proper function of each part. The two most famous admonitions of Socrates and his students seem aligned with this approach: “Nothing too much” and “Know thyself.”

But Socrates died because he didn’t really practice what he preached. He was an evaluativist, someone who responds to the impossibility of persuasion by discounting those who do not share his own values. He proposed the premise: “One must not value…the opinions of all men, but those of some but not others…” Crito accepted this premise, supposedly to justify discounting the opinion of the State, but the same premise allowed Socrates to discount Crito’s opinion. Ultimately, the Crito concludes like this:

Socrates: As far as my present beliefs go, if you speak in opposition to them, you will speak in vain. However, if you think you can accomplish anything, speak.

Crito: I have nothing to say, Socrates.

Socrates: Let it be then, Crito, and let us act in this way, since this is the way the god is leading us.

Socrates leaves Crito no room for debate. He embraces evaluativism, and it destroys him.

Evaluativism typically stems from an inflated estimate of one’s own independent intelligence and ignorance about the virtues of interdependence. If the State recognized that its independent intelligence might be insufficient to understand justice, then, rather than demand to be persuaded, it would point to a more intelligent court where disagreements could be resolved, and/or it would test the sides in the disagreement by running separate social experiments in parallel.

As an example of parallel social experiment, consider Crito’s plan to send Socrates to Thessaly. If it turned out that Socrates enriched Thessaly, and that Athens languished in his absence, then this experiment would have produced evidence to support Socrates’ opinion that his gadfly behavior benefits the State.

But Socrates dismisses such a plan: “…if you go to one of the nearby cities… all who care for their city will look on you with suspicion, as a destroyer of the laws.” He never considers the possibility that the people of Thessaly might instead endorse civil disobedience because they judged that the State of Athens made an error it could not be persuaded to recognize. If we are to allow that Socrates can be a gadfly to the State, why not allow that Thessaly can be a gadfly to the collection of States?

Socrates’ lack of imagination in this scene is like that of a depressed individual who was dumped and cannot move on with his life. The Crito is ironic because Socrates’ evaluativism not only produces a fallacious argument against civil disobedience, but also dooms Socrates himself in the process.

Today, it may be most important to recognize that the argument would not have been fallacious if evaluative diversity were not interdependent. It follows that civil disobedience would not be justifiable without interdependence, and thus that every celebration of civil disobedience implies the claim that we lack sufficient independent intelligence. This is the key question which unsettles Western thought: “Should we expect to develop independent intelligence, or should we expect to develop interdependence?”

Socrates demonstrated the dangers of the former expectation. When do we learn the lesson?

The Big Picture: A less-anthropocentric worldview

To summarize the GRINFree.com website in a single image would be unfair: The site is interactive, personal, practical, and related to current events. However, there can be value in a grounding image which facilitates a quick overview.

“Anthropocentric” means human-centered, much as “geocentric” means Earth-centered and “heliocentric” means Sun-centered. Original image by Niko Lang SVG version by User:Booyabazooka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia CommonsA picture of our solar system can help us shift from the belief that all planets revolve around the Earth to the belief that all planets revolve around the Sun. The reason we need to make that shift is that our personal perspective of watching celestial objects move across the sky naturally biases us towards the geocentric model. To recognize the falsity of geocentrism, it helps to picture the world from outside our personal perspective. The geocentric model starts to look dubious when you actually confront it from outside. An image might likewise help us escape mistakes of anthropocentrism.

Here’s what modern anthropocentrism looks like from the outside:

Modern Anthropocentric Model

Humans are distinguished in two dimensions: In the vertical dimension, we sit at a particular level in a hierarchy—above cells and molecules but below corporations and ecosystems. This does not imply reductionism; in terms of integrated information theory, each level in this hierarchy represents a different grain size of consciousness,{\textstyle \Phi ^{\textrm {Max}}}. For example, a molecule may be conscious of warmth, but nothing less complex than a body could be conscious of a book (or of itself). The anthropocentric model assumes that bodies can be conscious of moral facts.

In the horizontal dimension, humans are distinguished from other kinds of bodies—other species and machines. This allows us to make sense of the notion that humans (and perhaps God) are the only moral agents that exist. Tests of moral education are administered to particular human bodies. Voting rights are allocated to particular human bodies (often one vote per body). Human bodies are put on trial and can be compensated in courts of justice. We realize that the components of human bodies can come from non-humans sources (e.g. food, pacemakers, artificial limbs, and whole cells from other species), but we do not expect such non-human sources to have moral agency because they do not have all of the components we do.

Less-Anthropocentric Model

The new worldview comes from analyzing the mechanisms of moral understanding into its functional components, and realizing that different bodies play different functions in that mechanism. This is why radicals so consistently oppose conservatives: because one’s function in the corporation is to provide novelty while the other’s is to provide fidelity. Both kinds of bodies participate in moral consciousness, as do neurons and DNA, but no body is individually complex enough to fully contain moral consciousness. We know this because the persistence of our moral disagreements shows our inability to recognize our own moral errors even when pointed-out to us.

All it takes to arrive at the new worldview is to categorize bodies by their function in service to the higher levels of the hierarchy. Since fully-functional corporations may be composed entirely of humans, species clearly isn’t a helpful distinction within corporations. GRINfree.com describes four interdependent evaluative types (though other evaluative types could be discovered). If a corporation lost its last member of a given evaluative type, it would be better to replace that member with a machine of the same evaluative type than with a human of a different type. For example, some humans are not gifted for compassion and other humans are not gifted for fidelity—relying on a human to exhibit a gift he/she lacks would lead to poor functioning.

Corporantia are bodies who respond to the persistence of moral disagreement by acknowledging a kind of consciousness they cannot attain individually; evaluativists are bodies who respond to that same evidence by believing merely that bodies of other evaluative types are incapable of moral consciousness (i.e. treating political opponents as sick or immature). Many celebrated moral theories suppose that one and only one type of body has moral agency (e.g. deontology for conservatives, consequentialism for achievers, virtue ethics for compassionates). These theories lack empirical support, but help to identify the plurality of types.

Why does a body assume it can individually achieve all possible consciousness—including moral consciousness? It’s a lot like the conclusion that the Sun revolves around the Earth—it makes sense from our point of view—and why bother to test it?

The reason why we should have bothered to test that assumption is that it will otherwise get tested inadvertently. The modern age is making it possible to escape biological families—to sort and destroy evaluative diversity—and thus deprive higher levels in the hierarchy of the components they need to achieve moral agency.

A corporation dominated by conservatives, achievers, radicals or compassionates would function as poorly as a body composed purely of muscle, bone, or neuron. Such lack of diversity could occur by closeting humans of particular types or by replacing humans of a given type (e.g. caregivers) with machines developed for a different purpose (e.g. competition). Ironically, anthropocentrism hurts humans; it prevents us from honoring our own diversity, which ultimately hurts not just minorities (especially the young and old), but all of us.

Rather than choose the geocentric model simply because it made sense, it would have been better to compare it with heliocentric models via controlled and systematic experiments. Likewise, it is better to test the proposed new worldview scientifically than to dismiss it out of hand. Some of those experiments have already been conducted and are cited on GRINFree.com.

Evaluativism and the Neurodiversity Movement

The rainbow-colored infinity symbol represents the neurodiversity movement

What do you call it when someone discriminates on the basis of evaluative diversity? For a long time, I didn’t know there was a word for it, but it turns out to be “evaluativism.” In his essay defending evaluativism, Hartry Field offered the following example:

…in dealing with a follower of the Reverend Moon, we may find that too little is shared for a neutral evaluation of anything to be possible, and we may have no interest in the evaluations that the Moonie gives.

In other words, an evaluativist is someone who disregards or avoids people with whom they have disagreements grounded in evaluative differences (and Field’s example is one in which many of us would behave as evaluativists).

Yet much significant research about evaluativism seems unaware of this term. As examples:

To put it bluntly, we engage in evaluativism a lot and without realizing or naming it. Evaluativism is out of control. Where is the movement to fix it? It might have begun with the GRINfree website, or it might have begun with the neurodiversity movement.

The neurodiversity movement grew from the autism movement of the 1990s, especially from Jim Sinclairs’s essay, Don’t Mourn for Us, in which he pointed-out that autism is part of one’s identity, so a parent who wishes their child were not autistic effectively wishes that child were replaced. This sounds remarkably like evaluativism, where a mother wishes her son had not joined that church, or had not fallen in love with that girl, or become a liberal, or become a conservative, or become a materialist. To wish this is to reject the son’s identity, and the son may reciprocate. They may each disown aspects of the other by declaring topics like religion and politics “off the table” between them.

The neurodiversity movement, however, seems to be far ahead of the evaluativism movement. It has a logo (see above), a manifesto (the Holist Manifesto), a national symposium, a host of petitions (including for a neurodiverse doll, for special school districts, and for neurodiverse Disney characters), Thomas Armstrong’s book, The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain, and even a course at the College of William & Mary (Interdisciplinary Studies 490: Neurodiversity).

Yet where does the scope of the neurodiversity movement end? It is called “neurodiversity” because it includes differences labeled “dyspraxia, dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia, autistic spectrum, Tourette syndrome, and others.“ What are the others?  Does the neurodiversity movement even include advocating for more regard between liberals, conservatives, and highly sensitive persons (political orientations do correlate to brain features, as does emotional sensitivity)?

Drawing a line is a problem for the neurodiversity movement because a line would force people to get diagnoses and wear labels. The better solution is for society to appreciate the distinctions observed in individuals even before diagnosis. In other words, appreciate people for who they are, rather than for the labels they wear. But to advocate for that kind of appreciation would be to fight evaluativism.

For example, in an analysis of whether it makes more sense to label people with “Asperger syndrome” and “high-functioning autism” as disabled or to treat them merely as different, Simon Baron-Cohen pointed out that the observable differences that lead to labeling are merely how the person chooses to spend their time, their interests, what they think is relevant and important, what kinds of experiences they prefer, and how easily they are influenced by others. In other words, the differences are all evaluative. Until diagnoses are made, with their accompanying stigmas, there is nothing but evaluativism for the neurodiversity movement to protect these people from.

Here we must take care to avoid stereotypes. Not all women have the same values, so we must not portray sexism as a kind of evaluativism, yet women are more likely to be Naturally Relational, so women’s liberation cannot be achieved without addressing evaluativism. Not all Muslims have the same values, so we must not portray religionism as a kind of evaluativism, yet religionism cannot be resolved without resolving evaluativism. Likewise, John Elder Robinson points out that although autistic people are more likely to reject organized religion today (much less follow Reverend Moon), some church leaders may have been on the autism spectrum. The resolution of evaluativism may be a high priority for the neurodiversity movement, but we should take care not to equate neurodiverse identities with evaluative types.

The word “evaluativism” may be as new to you as it was to me, but members of the neurodiversity movement have always known that evaluativism is an obstacle they face. Armstrong’s suggestion that we recognize the strengths of the children we raise and teach isn’t just a way to respond to a diagnosis–its a strategy for addressing evaluativism in general.

Recognizing this connection is especially important for people who previously thought they had no personal stake in the neurodiversity movement. The truth is that evaluativism threatens every family, company, and nation, and the neurodiversity movement may be best positioned to rescue us. For your own family’s sake, please start following the neurodiversity movement, encourage its activists, sign their petitions, and invite them to address your organization.