Section 13(1) and Aspergers

OK – this is a topic that people who know me have had to listen to me rant on and on and on….

And, I have tried to write it up – and have at least 18 drafts to prove it…

Because… this is something SOOO IMPORTANT that it deserves the most perfectest write up ever!

Because… this shows an internal inconsistency in the Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Code – the ‘Hate Speech’ bit!

It clearly demonstrates that Section 13(1) is in contravention of itself!!!

That, if I my layman’s understanding of our legal system holds, would render the whole thing illegal.  After all, a law may not contravene itself, may it?

Yesterday, I got a comment on my last post, which said exactly the same thing I had been ranting on and on about.  (The comment, not the post – well, the post, too, but that is implied.)

Actually, I read it out loud to my husband, who thought I was reading my words, so close was the sentiment!

Hi Xanthippa.

Your blog has got me thinking… Perhaps we Aspies particularly resent censorship boards like Canada’s because we are used to “saying it like it is”, speaking the truth (as we see it) bluntly and plainly, and not being stopped by thin-skinned people taking offence. Aspies can’t detect _likely_ offence in advance, and if we played it safe and avoided all _possible_ offence, we’d never say anything!Whereas those who support Canada’s state censorship system are probably neurotypicals who are good at treading their way carefully, taking cues from context. They have picked up, for example, that joking about assassinating President Bush is “brave dissent” while joking about assassinating President Obama is “racist hate speech” that will get you visited by the FBI.

Aspies like to have the rules laid out clearly, neutrally and consistently. They/ we don’t like implications, winks and nods, and “It just is, okay?!” So you get someone like Ezra Levant (almost certainly an Aspie) asking why the Emperor has no clothes, why Canada’s censorship rules are applied differently to Christians and Muslims, and a lot of people regard him with distaste: he’s rude, he’s offensive, he’s loud, he’s rocking the boat, he “just doesn’t get it”.

Perhaps Section 13 could be struck down as discriminating on basis of a disability, do you think?

That is exactly correct!  I’ve been ranting on this for years!

*  * *

Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Code is the ‘hate speech’ section which has, lately, been applied to silence people with unpopular views.  The key bit of the wording is that a person is forbidden from communicating anything which could potentially give offense to someone or a group.  No, not ‘just anyone’ – only people who are members of ‘protected groups’.

In other words, it is illegal, in Canada, to communicate anything that might offend people, based on their sex, race, religion, disabilities, sexual orientation, and so on, or stigmatize them, or is likely to increase ‘general hate’ against them.

*  *  *

Now, let us look at  the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome (an Autism-spectrum disorder):

Aspies For Freedom (an Asperger’s support group) lists, among others:

  • Criterion A. Severe and sustained impairment in social interaction
  • Criterion C. The disturbance must cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. tells us that

“The essential features of Asperger’s Disorder are severe and sustained impairment in social interaction…

“…  The disturbance must cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Dr. Leo Kanner, a psychiatrist at Hopkins and a recognized authority on Asperger, wrote in ‘Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry with Practical Neurology’ about ‘Aspergers’:

It is characterised by impairments in reciprocal social interaction and communication

I could go on, in a typically Aspie obsessive manner… but, you get the picture.  Aspies (people with Asperger’s Syndrome usually prefer the nomicker ‘Aspies’ – it is less cumbersome) have a neurological disorder, which prevents us from having ‘normal’ social interactions.

We cannot tell when we are boring you.

We cannot tell when what we are saying is offensive to you.

We cannot tell if people are so fed up with us, they are about to loose their patience and beat us to a bloody pulp, because we have just said something they consider ‘insensitive’ or ‘offensive’.

We think the rest of the world ought to get over themselves and their stupid emotionalism and its burdensome public display and grow up!  (And get some logic, while they’re at it.)

We also lack the ability to ‘believe’.

Oh, we can accept rules – and love to adhere to them scrupulously.  So, Aspies CAN follow religions.  We just can’t believe in them.

We can take some God(s)’s existence ‘as given’ or ‘pre-defined parameter’ – but not as an ‘article of faith’ to be ‘believed’.  There IS a difference.

Despite what some clinicians think, we CAN accept ‘alternate realities’ (make-believe) – as long as it is presented as a concept (not ‘truth’ – but a ‘different game’) and is internally self-consistent.  That  is why we love Spock (the first ‘real’ Aspie character on TV who was not a villain – at least, not intended to be perceived as a villain, even though his appearance followed an ‘evil-man’ archetype) and why we CAN accept alternate reality rules.

But we recognize them to be ‘non-real’.  And – naturally – we say so.  Especially when somebody is wrong and thinks it is ‘real’.

It is our responsibility to educate them!  To do any less would be insulting to them…

We are especially good at pointing out internal inconsistencies – within belief systems, ‘holy’ books (scriptures), the behaviour of clerics vs. the tenets of their faith and all kinds of things like that.  Good and persistent!

And THAT is why so many Aspies earn the wrath of religious people….. because we will never understand why it is OK to correct someone’s misconceptions regarding physic or mathematics, but not regarding bronze-age myths and demonstrable reality.

Actually – any age myths…

With our lack of social skills and inability to ‘take things on faith’ – both conditions are documented as being biologically based and not something we can just change because we want to – we are BOUND to offend a lot of people. Or, so I am told.  Especially with all that religious nonsense!  And I mean NON-SENSE!!!  As defined…

(Is this a good demonstration?  I hope so… I was trying to convey the understanding of our internal thought processes….)

I suppose it would be a fair parallel to describe Aspies as ‘offensiveness-deaf‘!  And, this disability is a well documented, recognized medical condition.

*  *  *

Ah – but our constitution states that no person shall be discriminated against on the grounds of a medical disability!

Would it be legal to pass a law that penalizes people for not standing when the National Anthem is played – even if they were deaf and did not hear it?  Or of they were a paraplegic or otherwise disabled and unable to stand?

Would passing such laws, which punish people because they have a disability, be tolerated if that disability were anything other than Asperger’s Syndrome?


We would not tolerate such laws!  And, our constitution specifically forbids discrimination on these grounds!

Yet, Section 13(1) is a blatant and shameful discrimination against people who have a medical disability which prevents us from knowing when we are likely to ‘give offense’!!!

*  *  *

OK – this is where I tie it all together….bear with me, please, I’m almost there.

1.  Section 13(1) makes it illegal to communicate anything which ‘is likely to offend’ or stigmatize a group or individuals (on ‘protected grounds’), or expose someone to hate.

2.  One such ‘protected ground’ is ‘medical disability’.

3.  Asperger’s syndrome is a medical disability, whose defining characteristic is an inability to successfully socially interact with others:  in other words, rude and offensive behaviour is an invountary symptom (and even a diagnostic criterion) of this medical condition.  As such, Aspies cannot tell if they are ‘likely to offend’, just as deaf people cannot hear and react to sounds, or just like people cannot significantly change the amount of pigment in their skin!  By just existing, we are ‘likely to give offense’!

4.  Therefore, Section 13(1) makes it a criminal offense to live with this specific medical disability!

5.  By criminalizing our very existence, Section 13(1) seriously stigmatizes Aspies, simply because of how we were born! It is very likely that we, as an identifiable and protected group, will be stigmatized and we are likely to be exposed to hate, as a direct result of the existence of Section 13(1).

6.   However, Section 13(1) forbids anyone or anything to stigmatize a group on protected grounds, or expose anyone to hate – and having Asperger’s IS a ‘protected ground’!

7.  That is an internal inconsistency.

8.  Therefore, Section 13(1) is in contravention of itself.


    12 Responses to “Section 13(1) and Aspergers”

    1. ‘Section 13(1)’ and Aspergers « Xanthippa on Aspergers Says:

      […] ‘Section 13(1)’ and Aspergers Cross posted from ‘Xanthippa’s Chamberpot’: […]

    2. alain41 Says:

      No. If you have to come up with such a complicated story, you are proving the other side’s arguments right to exist. Also, anyone who uses QED to argue, is not to be listened to (I say this because I have found that bullies love to say something and then say QED to cut off response. Doesn’t work with me but they do it anyway because it works with some).

    3. truepeers Says:

      You’re right, of course. Section 13 is an embarassment to any thinking person.

      And this is in many ways an interesting post. You’ve got me thinking; have you written anything on the paradox of the existence of an Aspie group identity, such as your writing demonstrates, given your claims that Aspies don’t really have social skills or religious faith? Why not say you/we have different social skills/faith constructing our group identity? How do you feel about Groucho’s “I would join no group that would have me as a member”?

      We can take some God(s)’s existence ‘as given’ or ‘pre-defined parameter’ – but not as an ‘article of faith’ to be ‘believed’. There IS a difference.

      -logically, we can understand the need to consider the pre-defined parameters of any system. But i think we can also recognize logically that the pre-defined parameter is not, for anyone, a constant experience. We can see that even the faithful have to retreat from the busy day and concentrate on experiencing God. So if God experience is not a steady state for human consciousness, but ebbs and flows as a possibility that may or may not be recognized or developed or renewed by the human individual, in each of our conscious iterations of any human scene, then couldn’t we take this understanding as the basis for a logical understanding of the need for faith in renewing the parameters (which we would have to explore) that are themselves beyond reason?

      Logically, I can see that if I am to do anything, I need some faith in the pre-defined parameters of any human scene. Or, in other words, logically, how can we have logic and reason without a faith – that goes beyond logic – that our logic has a purpose?

      What I am saying is that neither the illogic – the religion – of Section 13 has shut you up, nor has your own logic lead you to shut up. And this is a happy reality I can only take on good faith. I’d like to say that the belief in free speech is exemplary of our shared good faith.

      Xanthippa says:
      Truepeers, you have got me thinking.

      You deserve answers, good, well thought out ones. And, I am a slow thinker. First, I’ll have to wrap my brain around some of what you have said and digest it before I can give a proper answer.

      But – some answers are easy (or I have thought about them for a while), so, here we go.

      Getting Aspies to form any sort of a homogeneous group is worse than herding cats. I know. I’ve tried both. (I used to pet-sit a lot.) Aspies are about as individualistic as you can get. Plus, we are obsessive compulsive – and each of us is obsessive compulsive about different things. And, even though not everyone who has ADD/ADHD is an Aspie, every Aspie has ADD/ADHD (this is part of the diagnostic criteria). Plus, most of us (though this seems to affect fewer female Aspies than male ones) are not good at written expression and would rather have a root canal without freezing than write down a single sentence. And we tend to be absent-minded about everything outside the focus of our present obsession…

      I think that that is why Aspies have not really ‘organized’ themselves. It’s not easy – we each have a definite idea on how, and are not willing to submit to the rules other people think up, when the ones we came up with are obviously way better. And, often, even thought we want to be a part of something, we get distracted by something shiny – or squirrels – and only remember about it later. Plus, we don’t like to be ‘labeled’ – so if we go to a group, we prefer to be ‘observers’ rather than ‘participants’. But if there is going to be a lot of people there, we’d rather skip it anyway – too much pressure.

      It is technology which is responsible for the whole ‘Aspie awareness’ thing – esocializing (as in, over the internet) is way more comfortable for us, the writing has less stringent rules, you can take your time with responses and nobody is constantly staring at you (it is unnerving and very uncomfortable, the way people keep staring at you while talking to you – but most people don’t take the hint and keep trying to catch your eyes while talking with you). Unsurprisingly, Aspergers’ is sometimes called ‘Silicon Valley syndrome’ because in the more technical, computer-heavy fields, being an Aspie is the norm and the so called neurotypicals (I personally don’t like the term) are in minority. But, without electronic communications, I think that Aspies would not really be aware that there are other people like us… much less get into contact with each other, or organize somehow.

      But being an Aspie is not an on/off switch: it is a continuum. There are a lot of people who, in one aspect of their behaviour or another, display some Aspie characteristics, but who are not affected enough to be diagnosed as ‘Aspies’. That is also important, because it is much more difficult to ‘define’ – as has been the historical truth.

      For the longest time, Aspies would be the ‘weirdo who lives at the edge of the village’ – either the loner guy who builds and fixes stuff, or the lady who talks to animals and collects and classifies herbs. We would be part of the society -people would come and see us if they needed us to help them, because we are usually very good at classifying, organizing, fixing and so on, a very narrow thing, like being a herbalist – but we would never be able to integrate into the society fully, more staying at the edge, in isolation (we could not take the suffocating ‘closeness’ of the village life).

      As such, we – especially female Aspies – were favourite targets of the Inquisition and the witch hunters. There, part of the society, but not fully. In a very real sense (in my never-humble-opinion), ‘witch hunts’ were, to a large degree, ‘Aspie hunts’… Think about it – it makes sense. (Of course, Aspies were not the ONLY targets – but made for excellent scapegoats when one was needed.)

      Which is why I say that Section 13(1) is the ‘Witch Hunting’ section of the Canadian Human Rights Code!

      • truepeers Says:

        Thanks for the reply. Just a quick thought. The idea that it took electronic media to produce Aspie self-awareness makes sense, though I think as with everything in history, the technological development, while necessary, is not itself a sufficient explanation; there has also to be the development of some ethical understanding that allows the group to know itself, its place in history, its sense of right and wrong, its ability to communicate some things to outsiders. You get into this when you talk about witch hunting. And that, maybe, ties back to my first comment since ethics are ultimately i believe a religious phenomenon (i.e. not entirely explainable in rationalistic or naturalistic terms). What would you say to the notion that maybe Jesus was an Aspie?

        But, if he were, and had our modern categories, I don’t think he’d say that people burn witches because they’re Aspies; i think he’d say that the “need” to burn witches is somehow fundamental to a primitive religious consciousness and would exist whether or not there were Aspies to fulfill the role. This then takes me to the very tricky question of how much of the Aspie phenomena and identity is 1) a product of the general human need for scapegoats and 2) how much we can identify Asperger’s as a “naturalistic” phenomenon in rational biomedical terms. I haven’t given it a lot of thought, though I’ve often thought to study it, but I think the question may be a fundamental paradox because Asperger’s, while partly biological, is surely not just a biological phenomenon but rather a social phenomeon distinctive to the only specifically lingusistic animal (other animals do not use signs, or symbols, as part of their communications systems and their “hard-wired” signal systems are not like our language). Human anatomy, especially the brain, has evolved, physically, alongside the evolution of symbolic language, i.e. “co-evolution”

        And ultimately i think it is the very nature of human language/religion that has led to the “need” for scapegoats, although Judeo-CHristian religion properly teaches us to go beyond the need for scapegoats. In these ideas I am influenced by Rene Girard who says, amongst much else, that “we did not stop burning witches because we invented modern science; we invented modern science because we first stopped burning witches” (i.e. the ethical before the technological…)

        I am interested in what is paradoxical which means that, slow thinker or not, ADD or not, my questions don’t always lead to easy conversation. I think you have to have something of a religious (but not superstitious) need to pursue them and I surely don’t expect everyone to share that. Regards,

        Xanthippa says:
        Interesting conversation.

        My answer will necessarily wander – there is a lot of ground to cover!

        I think that Aspies were, by their nature, on the margins of society. Not necessarily economically, though that could be, too. Rather, I mean physically. Because of the biological impairment of our social skills, Aspies have typically sought to minimize conflict by minimizing social contact. In the medieval times, this would often mean living physically near the edge of the village (if possible) and being part of the community we were born into (there was little travel), but not at the heart of the social group.

        Plus, Aspies were a little different. We are.

        Put these two things together in a time of ignorance and hysterical fear of witches… Natural targets. Fit the description of what a ‘witch’ is like – part of the community, but not really as she is plotting harm to it. Looks like a normal person, but acts weird because she is controlled by the devil. Many Aspies have ticks and twitches, we have a need for repetitive movements, often we perform useless ritual movements before doing something – that would all look like ‘witchcraft’!

        Of course, political enemies were also primary targets for charges of witchcraft. And feminists (in those times, these took form of healers, herbalists and midwives). And – as history tells us – gnostic Christians were also primary targets… they even held a few crusades against them!

        All I meant was that in those times, in small communities, Aspie behaviour could easily make one a potential target for Witch hunters.

        Aside: language is not a purely human phenomenon. Most mammals and birds have it. And it is certainly not something hard-wired, because the languages vary by region, just like human ones do. The easiest example are the whale songs: they have been shown to change and evolve over time. Also, linguists in England had wondered why the word for ‘quack’ differs so much among languages. So, they did some research, recording and comparing duck sounds all around the world. They concluded that the calls were very distinct indeed. For a demonstration (I saw it on a science show), they played a ‘danger’ call by Chinese ducks – and other Chinese ducks flew away. But, when they played this same call for English ducks, these did not react. They did not understand the ‘danger’ call. No, language – as we understand it – is by no means an exclusively human phenomenon. As a starting point for research on this, I would recommend Konrad Lorenz’s ‘On Aggression’.

        Now, if we are to take the debate further, we need to ensure that we both understand the same things by the terms we use. For example, from reading this comment and re-reading your previous one, I am not certain if we are using the term ‘religion’ to mean the same thing. I am using it in the purely Jungian definition, as I ranted on here.

        On the religious side, I consider myself to be both an ignostic and an archetypal polytheis – if that helps explain what perspective I am coming from. And I suspect (based on the Aspies I have talked to) that most if not all Aspies are, to some degree, ignostics. Perhaps that is why, when I was in my 3rd year Physics in University, most of my classmates converted to Budhism: that is one religion which considers the concept of ‘God(s)’ so irrelevant, it does not address them.

        I do identify strongly with archetypal polytheism: and, during debates (many are online), have often argued that once a concept – even one of ‘God’ is thought, the process of thinking (electrochemical reactions) produce an electric field which, in a very real sense ‘IS’ that very specific ‘God’. But that is a very different ‘existence’ than most people who channel their spirituality through dogma-regulated mainstream religions.

        The whole evolution of the need for scapegoats… I have devoted a lot of time and energy to studying religions. Both from ‘practitioners’ and from an academic point of view: actually, I was always rather fascinated by the anthropology of religion. As such, I have learned from – and joined at religious worship – many groups, from various Christian sects (mainstream protestant, RC, gnostic, Pentacostal, Jehova’s Witnesses), Muslims (yes, I have attended prayer in a Mosque, with permission, as a student-observer: when I took a class on the history of the Arab tribes, our professor set it up for the whole class to go), I have been to a Synagogue, though not for regular worship, have attended many religious services/rituals with a number of neo-pagan sects, including The Wiccan Church Of Canada as well as a local strictly Goddess worshiping feminist pagan group, learned about Hinduism (I found their take on Buddhism interesting) and attended their temple, not enough Sikhism, Buddhism, and so on. I have discussed Native American theology with Native Americans (though the closest to a ‘ritual’ I got was a Pow-wow). And so on. As such, I have concluded that this ‘need’ for a ‘scapegoat’ is a byproduct of our early social evolution. I can go on about it at length, if you’d like…

        I warned you: we Aspies are obsessive-compulsive…and ‘understanding religion’ has been my lifelong obsession. Perhaps the fact that of the 3 grandparents and 3 great-grandparents I knew, no two had the same religious convictions (or absence thereof) – and competed with each other about convincing me to pick theirs as ‘the best’ – might have been the trigger….

        So, when you ask if I think Jesus could possibly have been an Aspie, I must ask: whose Jesus?

        Aside: this whole notion that language and our brain (ability to think) had co-evolved…

        With all due respect, that is a load of dingo’s kidneys!

        Many linguists claim that people think ‘in a language’. When you learn a new language, they always instruct you to ‘try to think in that language’.

        How can people ‘think in a language’? That makes no sense at all.

        I certainly do not think in language – symbolic or otherwise. That is WAY too SLOW and cumbersome a way to process information and concepts! The hardest part of getting my ideas across to others is, once they have been fully formed, how to translate them into symbolic language (pictures, sounds, words, symbols are all included in this) which I could then use to communicate my thought/idea to others. I know that several other Aspies do not think in symbols, either – and also find it difficult to shoe-horn ideas into the narrow borders language permits us…and that this necessarily limits our ability to ever convey the full idea exactly…..which is why we go on and on about it, defining and explaining in minutiae, to avoid the linguistic truncation of our ideas. It’s never quite right…

        OK – I’ve gone off the deep end here, going on and on and not self-censoring what I write… forgive my long rant….

        • truepeers Says:


          Sorry I wasn’t able to get right back to this.

          I’m going to focus on the language/animal question for now. It’s an interesting thing, but I’ve had something like this disagreement before with other people who strike me they might come under the rubric of “Aspie”. They are offended by my understanding of language and of the difference between humans and animals; they see my ideas as anti-animal. I’m not sure they are convinced when I point out that my refusal to anthropomorphize the animal mind is a sign of respect for their difference and that I in fact love animals. I point out that they might consider that it is perhaps anti-animal, or at least human arrogance, to assume they are rather more, than less, like us.

          Now of course it is not only Aspies who can be so offended but I’m getting to think that I’m encountering a pattern in self-understanding that might be worth exploring. However, there are at least some aspects to my own nature that would be considered some of the identifiers of an “Aspie”…

          My ideas on language are not my own invention, but draw on a new discipline in the humanities known as Generative Anthropology. If you are interested in taking this discussino farther I can point out out some of the more interesting arguments/readings. Just a couple of quick responses for now:

          Aside: language is not a purely human phenomenon. Most mammals and birds have it. And it is certainly not something hard-wired, because the languages vary by region, just like human ones do. The easiest example are the whale songs: they have been shown to change and evolve over time. Also, linguists in England had wondered why the word for ‘quack’ differs so much among languages.

          -Animals have communication systems, to be sure. But “language” is something I would define in terms of the kind of signs that humans and no other animals make. It is true that we can teach chimpanzees to understand and share our signs; they do have some mental capacity for them; but, when we send our trained chimps back to live among themselves, they do not use or further develop their capacity for sign language; as a group, chimps don’t have the need like we do. They remain ordered by a kind of pecking order composed of one on one relationships that is unlike the human community which, as you note in regard to Aspie experience, takes a structure of one to many, or centre-periphery relationships. IN other words, humans relate to a centre of attention, to the sacred (thing/sign) and/or to the sacrificial/scapegoat, in organizing themselves.

          It’s true animals like whales have some learned behaviour and distinct “cultures”; perhaps “hard-wired” isn’t the best word to describe that but the point I’m trying to make is that the signals of whales are not like the signs of humans. Their signals are indexical; they are conveying information about the immediate environment. Or, at least, we have no evidence or reason to believe they are making signs that can refer to things/experiences that are not there, now. I don’t think we have any reason to think there is a whale signal that corresponds to a human concept like “God”. BUt humans have signs that refer not primarily to things but to what is communally significant, according to a shared understanding or consciousness about how human order is constructed; and this which is significant entails a presence that has no material correspondence in the world, just as the words and meanings I use to write this comment only have a material existence as sounds or letters, while the words and meanings themsleves are entirely transcendent of the material domain.

          I certainly do not think in language – symbolic or otherwise. That is WAY too SLOW and cumbersome a way to process information and concepts! The hardest part of getting my ideas across to others is, once they have been fully formed, how to translate them into symbolic language (pictures, sounds, words, symbols are all included in this) which I could then use to communicate my thought/idea to others. I know that several other Aspies do not think in symbols, either – and also find it difficult to shoe-horn ideas into the narrow borders language permits us…and that this necessarily limits our ability to ever convey the full idea exactly…..which is why we go on and on about it, defining and explaining in minutiae, to avoid the linguistic truncation of our ideas. It’s never quite right…

          -what I think you are describing is the struggle all people and especially writers have with turning lived experience into transcendent representation. Sure, some people have the gift of the gab, but when you consider formal representation, every creator struggles to find the “right words”, etc. There really is a fundamental difference between lived experience and its representaiton and a fundamental mystery in how our experience comes to be represented for others to share in meaningful ways. We could talk about this endlessly but I would be wary to start with the assumption that you process information, or concepts, wholly without language. yes, we gain informatio through sensory means, and in moments of anxiety we maybe act a lot like scared animals, but the impossible slowness you refer to is the inescapable pull of language. How can anyone not, at some point, avoid turning their feelings into linguistic concpets? Most obviously, your awareness of the dangers others humans may pose to you is tied directly to the human orgin of language and religion.

          I’ll leave off responsidng to your comments on religion for now though I share your great interest in the anthropology and origins of religion and am only hesitant to start writing until I know you don’t mind my lengthy comments here; If I might offer you, for starters, one example of the kind of thinking that interests me, and that might interest you for its exploration of the differences in human infant and animal development, from the point of view of how we learn “culture”, have a look at this:

          Xanthippa says:
          Oh, my! This is getting to be involved!

          I will comment quickly – as I read through the first time – because I am a little pressed for time right now (I am cooking for tomorrow’s ‘Thanksgiving meal’ – since cooking is my passion (one of them), I get to make the majority of the dishes, like turkey with stuffing, vegetarian alternative with vegetarian stuffing (I got a package of juniper berries and hope to have fun!), 5-6 side dishes like yams and so on (my in-laws are making mashed potatoes and coleslaw), plus some ethnic deserts (they make/buy the pies, I bake what I like). So, if my thread of thoughts is interrupted in my response, please forgive me…

          First – welcome to the club of ‘Aspie or somewhat Aspie-like’ people! Good for you to recognize who you are!

          Now, to the rest…

          * * *
          OK – I am not familiar with ‘Generative Anthropology’, but, at a very, very brief glance, I see contradictions between it and the reality I have observed. Language is something that has been observed to arise spontaneously – as with twins who develop a language of their own. However, I will look into this more deeply before I make up my mind as to what to think. For now, I am ‘sceptical’ but not educated enough to have a conclusion.

          When you say that people anthropomorphise the communication systems non-humans use, I will say that you are doing the same with human communication.

          Bear with me – by definition, of course, ‘anthropomorphise’ means ‘make too human-like’ or ‘understand in human terms’. I know. I do not mean my statement to be taken literally. Rather, I mean that my experience has been that many people who draw such a huge difference between ‘human’ language and ‘all other species’ languages tend to see ‘human-only’ characteristics where none are while overlooking the similarities between the species, humans included.

          I would claim that the differences in language/communication between, say, cats and dogs, is no greater than between, say, humans and chimpanzees. As for the observation that Chimpanzees, once taught sign language but then introduced back into a group of Chimpanzees, did not continue to expand the sign language: absolutely logical. It does not, however, in any way, shape or form, prove anything about Chimpanzee language.

          Let me give you an example from my own experience. The difference between one human language and another is much, much smaller than between, say, American Sign Language and the way Chimpanzees naturally communicate. And, English is not my native tongue – I immigrated to Canada when I was in my teens. My mother is fluent in English and is able to use it without difficulties. Same with my father. I, too, am quite comfortable communicating in English. Still, when either (or both) of my parents and I are together, we do not speak English! It would seem unnatural and contrived if we were to speak English! We naturally switch over to our native tongue!

          Speaking English to each other would seem highly pretentious to us. As in, a rejection of a very private part of who we are.

          According to your reasoning, observing that we did not communicate with each other in English and did nothing to ‘further develop the language’ – well, the only conclusion parallel to your conclusion would be that we did not grasp the ‘finer points’ of English because we did not work to forward it further…..that our brains were not competent enough to handle this sophisticated a manner of communication!

          It is not reasonable to expect two non-English speakers (who share a common language) to speak English when alone, even if English is well understood by them in all its aspects.

          And scientists have to be very careful to ensure that their conclusions are actually based on their data and not extrapolations of their prejudices. Which happens way too often – but does not make it right or acceptable.

          Your assertion that chimpanzees have the capacity to learn human language and then fluently switch back to Chimpanzee method of communication only serves to confirm that their capacity for learning different languages is great and that their intelligence is higher than we had originally suspected….and, quite likely, since humans can ‘hop’ between languages, their capacity for communication is likely much more similar to ours than we had originally suspected.

          Of course, this is based strictly on the observations you have described.

          * * *

          ” But “language” is something I would define in terms of the kind of signs that humans and no other animals make.”

          Well, if you use non-standard definitions of terms, discussion is rather mute, isn’t it?

          I contend that your understanding of what constitutes ‘language’ is flawed and rather insulting to humans.

          * * *

          Yes – until people have experienced something themselves, they often have difficulty wrapping their brain around the fact that others have experienced it. So, I can understand your difficulty here.

          Still, I assure you, I do not think in language or symbols, and I have not done so as far back as I can remember. Yes, speaking a few languages helps me ‘self-verify’ my thought process is not fettered by any language. I process thoughts, then work to translate them into some sort of symbols. Perhaps it is an Aspie thing, perhaps I am just a bit of a freak. But I am not alone. There are people out there who do not think ‘in a system of symbols’, including language (or mathematics, which many scientists consider to be a language).

          I am not making ‘an assumption’ that ‘I do not think in symbols’. Rather, I am asserting it is an ‘observation’. If you do not believe I am being honest or perceptive enough to have a grasp on reality sufficient enough to report it accurately, I do not know what else to say…

          * * *

          If you think that all animal communication is about their immediate surroundings, you do not know very much about animal communication. This is not something controversial or a new finding or concept. Scientists who study animal communication are well aware that animals can and do communicate what we would consider to be rather abstract concepts, like justice. Both wolves and crows do hold their version of a ‘trial’ for any individual which had broken their social rules. They get together in a group, communicate, and deliberate. Then they come out with a verdict: death, excommunication or no punishment.

          These have been observed and well documented by many scientists in many different countries.

          In addition, my personal observations from communicating with the crows in my neighbourhood have clearly demonstrated that crows have basic understanding of mathematics and patterning and that, once you ‘strike a deal’ with one of them, all the members of its murder will obey the terms of the deal. My deal with them was that I would feed them in my front yard, but they are to stay away from my back yard because my son’s rabbit likes to hang out there. The crows are truly obeying the terms – making a great point of flying over the yards of the 3 neighbours whose yards are adjacent to mine, while never crossing past the fence and flying over my yard!

          That requires at least somewhat sophisticated communication system – and I personally have observed it to be true.

          Thus, it has (to MY satisfaction, though not necessarily yours – I urge you to read up on this) been demonstrated that animals (in my case, crows) are capable of communication which is not related to ‘immediate experience’ but is rather designed to build and maintain a complex social order, with ‘laws’ which are abstractly communicated to all members of the group and then adhered to – and breeches of which are dealt with by more communication of abstract concepts between members of the distinct social groups. Moreover, these ‘laws’ differ greatly form one group to another.

          * * *
          Not ALL humans relate to the ‘sacred’ thing you allude to.

          Not all Aspies do, and not all ‘neurotypicals’ (I hate that term) do, either.

          Many have no experience of this ‘sacred’, or the need to search for it, and do not understand its existence in other people. They mistake it for pretentiousness. Ask around – I bet it will not take long before you find people like that. It is, however, difficult for many people to admit this because in our culture, not having this feeling is considered to be a deep flaw which one ought to correct – and ought to WANT to correct.

          If you do not believe me, read some works by deeply communist thinkers. They are willing to capitalize (pun intended) on other people having this need, but they themselves do not have it and clearly regard it as a weakness or a form of immaturity.

          These people (I included) do not have any understanding – conscious or instinctual – of ‘God’ …. or consider such an abstract construct a valid description of our experience. Does this – according to your definition – make us less than human?

          Certainly, I understand that we have philosophical constructs which embody archetypal concepts. However, these are direct results of specific environmental and social pressures in the history of our evolution, both physical and social – and in no way ‘outside our daily experience’ or ‘mystical’ or ‘sacred’ (beyond the idea that understanding why they are important may aid in our self-understanding and thus may aid in overcoming our own physical and mental limitations….but that does not mean it is anything beyond a ‘teaching tool’). [OK – here we would have to get into a lengthy definition of what ‘sacred’ means. Let it suffice that I suspect that you and I understand something very different by the term, and that I am asserting there is no ‘deity’ in the ‘sacred’ sense in which I suspect you are using the term.]

          * * *

          I am eager to follow your last link, and read up on this. However, it’ll have to wait till tomorrow – or, more likely, Monday, as tomorrow will be a draining day of social interactions called Thanksgiving Dinner….and I will love it (provided I manage to finish the food to my satisfaction – I LOVE cooking and so do my boys, and they are helping me, so I have no doubt things will be ‘perfect’), but like all intense social gatherings, it will leave me drained and feeling as if my brain had been boiled….

          Sorry for the imagery….that is how it ‘feels’….

          So, I will read up and would love to continue our conversation!

          If it’s OK with you – perhaps I’d like to take excerpts of it and make them into a post? Just to get the ideas exposed to more people, and, perhaps, more enrichment to the conversation.

          Please, let me know!


          Update: OK – I have started reading the study you have linked to.

          Right from the beginning (and, I am only at the beginning of he study, so far – but I thought this important to point out), this study does not take into consideration people like me. Why? Because of the time-lines it defines.

          It states, clearly and at the beginning, that it is considering infants who begin acquiring language at 9 months of age. OK – fine. But I have my ‘Baby-book’ – my biologist mother’s records – which clearly state that by that age, I was using full, grammatically correct sentences. My recollections (which pre-date my ability to speak) confirm this. Therefore, either I am a freak outside of all boundaries, or (as I suspect) the obsessive-compulsive is, in FEMALE Aspies, focused on communication at a much earlier stage of development than any researchers have thought of looking for.

          Regardless of the causality, this study obviously does not take into consideration non-standard neural development…which, by definition (being an Aspie, and all that) I am an example of. Therefore, attempting to extrapolate anything subsequent from this study to ‘humans overall’ is flawed science as it is not reflective of humans who are, as they say, ‘two standard deviations from the mean’ (or more)!

          Looking at averages only gives you an average picture. It is only by contrasting the average (or mean) versus all the developmental extremes that one can gain an insight into the workings of the human mind!

    4. djb Says:

      S13 doesn’t make anything a criminal offence.


      Xanthippa says:

      Please explain.

      • djb Says:

        S13 is not part of the Criminal Code of Canada. A judgement against a person under s13 may be abhorrent, but is not a criminal conviction. For instance, one can still travel out of Canada.

        If you’re going to pontificate about legal issues, you should be careful about using legal terminology.

        Xanthippa says:

        You are, of course, right and I do deserve the rebuke!

        I was, as I am so often guilty of, not explaining all the steps along the way.

        Please, let me correct this omission!

        1. I do not realize I am ‘offensive’.
        2. The HRC rules against me, placing an order on me not to ever be offensive on that topic again. Once pronounced, the HRC verdict IS legally binding, and breeching it is a criminal offense in Canada.
        3. I, due to my mental limitations, fail to comprehend when I am – again – being offensive on this topic. I may THINK I am COMPLYING with the order of the HRC, but, in reality – and without me being able to understand it – I am actually in breech of it!!!
        4. By breeching the order, I have – solely due to my medical disability to discern when I am being offensive – breeched the order and thus broken the criminal law of Canada.

        Thanks for pointing out I needed to explain the steps along the way!

    5. Zimriel Says:

      I need to bookmark your site. This description speaks to me.

      Xanthippa says:

      Thank you!

    6. Section 13(1) and Aspergers « The Lynch Mob Says:

      […] was kind enough to let me cross-post this article from her blog. You can read the original here. Also noted by Blazing Cat Fur […]

    7. truepeers Says:

      Dear Xanthippa,

      I hope you are having a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner and will leave off reading this.

      I don’t mind you using excerpts, though I fear some readers may be taken aback by your talk of making deals with crows who know math. I was. But I hope I can say that and you will trust my aim here is not to offend or exacerbate differences but to seek out the irenic possibilities in bridging two quite different ways of seeing the world.

      Let me begin by quoting from the article I linked above, which sums up my feelings better than can I. At least it will give you a sense that your arguments are the kind that Generative Anthropologists reguarly confront and find an obstacle in advancing their alternative paradigm for human self-understanding. Rest assured that GA is yet but of interest to a small group. Anyway, here’s the quote:

      “Why do the vast majority of scientists appear so eager to deny or ignore the obvious differences between humans and nonhuman animals when it comes to symbolic phenomena such as culture and language? If I were forced to explain this curious fact, I would put it down to our natural inclination to identify with others. We can’t help but explain nonhuman behavior in human terms because that is how we interpret our own behavior. Humans have an irresistible urge to anthropomorphize the world, and this urge spreads to other animals who appear to behave like us in certain respects.

      “I realize that this is rather counterintuitive. Surely we can expect the scientists, of all people, to be more objective. But I’m afraid I can’t think of a better explanation. For a long time, we believed the whole cosmos operated in terms of human beliefs and desires. We seem to have gotten away from seeing our preoccupations mirrored in the rocks, trees, and stars. But it seems as though a residual element of this “cosmological anthropology” remains when we turn to animals, and in particular to our closest primate relative, the chimpanzee.

      “So what are we to do? Well, one thing we can do is listen to people like Tomasello. When it comes to comparing human societies with nonhuman primate societies, I think we have no better guide. His extensive knowledge of the literature in primatology, his own empirical research on chimpanzees and children, and above all his theoretical sophistication, make him an ideal guide for navigating the controversial subject of human origins. ”

      To be clear, I think you are very human and I think you are – as all humans are – clearly in relationship to the sacred. I am certainly not trying to deny the widespread fact of atheism; but the sacred exists as a human anthropological phenomenon quite apart from belief in God. Let me briefly try to explain what I think the sacred is.

      The sacred is what attracts a shared human desire (in distinction to mere biological appetite); it is what people see to be significant, meaningful, in ordering the human community; it is what centres a shared attention. A Nike swoosh, a red rose, a painting, a picture of Marx, all can act as sacred signs/things. Clearly, for you, and most of us modern people, the human individual is sacred and the suggestion that someone may be denying your own sacrality rightly sparks your indignation. So when I read… “I contend that your understanding of what constitutes ‘language’ is flawed and rather insulting to humans.”… I see a person impassioned by what she considers my profaning what we should together hold sacred.

      We all experience resentment and love, and these are relationships to the sacred, or more precisely attitudes towards the people we think are alienating us from, or bringing us closer to, the sacred.

      Moving on, I don’t think twins can invent a language of their own. Of course they can invent a code system whereby they translate words (first learned from their parents or other caregivers) into their special code; but this should not be called inventing a language from scratch; a distinct language can only evolve slowly over time – many generations – as the shared memory of a group of people, large enough to be self-sustaining, with their own history of events that the language encodes.

      On a side note, my dictionary defines “language” as “human speech”; it is not uncommon for scholars to recognize that the human linguistic is qualitatively different from the animal signal system. But, as noted, many don’t share in recognizing this.

      It is a common response to GA that people say, well, the difference between human language and animal communication systems cannot be so great. While there is no way to measure sameness and difference, it is paradigmatic in our culture to downplay the difference because of the great pull of thinking about biological evolution, the paradigm of which is often applied to assumptions about the origin of language. But my experience is that if one dwells for a time on the question of how human language could ever have simply evolved, one finds that evolutionary theories just don’t explain much about how language works or could possibly have first come into being. In comparison, the hypothesis that human language entails a punctual break in time – that the human began with a kind of memorable event, a break in evolutionary time, a break with the animal pecking order and the creation of a qualitatively different kind of community – has much heuristic power, but only once one is accustomed to the idea. That can’t happen in a short time, and at first a new paradigm, if such it really is, will seem scandalous (as it was in some, though not all, respects for me). I am not going to do much more to represent the heuristic power of a new paradigm here. The arguments have been worked out by better minds to which I am happy to point anyone.

      Still, I assure you, I do not think in language or symbols, and I have not done so as far back as I can remember.

      -I don’t want to offend you, but I have to challenge you to explain what you think thinking is.

      I think that what makes us human is our ability to engage in what some scientists call “off-line” processing of information. We can step out of the immediate rush of sensory information and reflect on what is happening. But what allows us to do this? My answer is that we translate experience into signs or into esthetic representations; and thinking is attending to these signs or representations and ALSO to the difference between signs and the things or experiences that they represent. THinking is the oscillation of our mind between signs and things, between experiences and representations.

      You say you “process thoughts” before you try to translate them into symbols. BUt If you are conscious of yourself processing, then there is already some kind of distance between your experience and your thoughts. What makes that distance possible? You are implying that there is some kind of mediation between experience and thought. And what can that mediation be if not representation of some kind?

      Scientists who study animal communication are well aware that animals can and do communicate what we would consider to be rather abstract concepts, like justice. Both wolves and crows do hold their version of a ‘trial’ for any individual which had broken their social rules. They get together in a group, communicate, and deliberate. Then they come out with a verdict: death, excommunication or no punishment.

      -it is pretty common to see scientists explaining animal behaviour in human terms, as noted in the quote above. Again, I can only say I attend to a different paradigm for explaining observations.

      Or, I can play the skeptic to your claims. What evidence do we really have of animals deliberating together? Yes, there are group dynamics among animals; but what reason do we have to interpret our observation of these dynamics by assuming that they can be explained by a deliberative process?

      With thanks,


      Xanthippa says:

      My reply will need to be somewhat lengthy….will take a bit of time.

    8. Steynian 388 « Free Canuckistan! Says:

      […] XANTHIPPA ON Section 13(1) and Aspergers; and “Letter to my Member of Parliament“; Questions for […]

    9. Lala Parbs Says:

      Hello! Someone in my Facebook group shared this site with us so I came to give it a look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Exceptional blog and excellent design and style.

      Xanthippa says: Thank you!

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