A Measurement Problem
“The nature of the primary harm caused by hermeneutical injustice is analysed as a matter of someone suffering from a situated hermeneutical inequality: their social situation is such that a collective hermeneutical gap prevents them in particular from making sense of an experience which it is strongly in their interests to render intelligible.”
Miranda Fricker: Epistemic Injustice
How do we interpret the actions of others? This is a great mystery for me as an autistic person. Perhaps I doubt myself because I have knowledge that supposes that this is difficult for me. This knowledge was given to me from those who control the distribution of information: the human sciences; long standing charities and increasingly – people who have autism themselves, who also have attained knowledge and descriptions of the condition from those who had control over the narrative.
The problem of testimony has long occupied the field of epistemology. The reductionist stance would implore that the veracity of a person’s testimony would depend of the comparison of knowledge from external sources. If you want to believe what someone has told you, then you must also ask others to justify the claim.
This relies of the assumption that the truth can be revealed this way. But what if everyone you ask is willing to lie to protect someone with power over the ones who are hermeneutically disadvantaged? The current revelations relating to Harvey Weinstein are a good example. Some celebrities came out in defence of the accusations stating along the lines of “he didn’t do it to me so I doubt what the others are saying is true!” One person with power can make many others suffer, while others still remain silent – or engage in mendacity.
Conflict can arise when contradictory interpretations of the actions of others, render testimony from a reductionist point of view, difficult to ascertain. Utilising reason to interpret emotion is leaving a gap of understanding that is decreasing the likelihood of a peaceful resolution. Post-truth darkness is stifling the spirit of the enlightenment.
I am currently working towards the idea that the social world operates along the same principles of quantum mechanics – in particular; quantum supposition, entanglement and the measurement problem. This is the notion that two or more social or mental states can exist at one time; two or more people can be emotionally entangled; and when we measure a social phenomenon – we influence its final state.
This idea is not pure speculation – there are many scientific teams throughout the world that are working towards the goal of united the great theories of our existence. We are getting closer to understanding with each year that passes. The only problem is that those with power are often the ones who do the measuring – and this is causing the quantum state to collapse into an unbalanced interpretation.
I have recently experienced a type of reductionist judgement that I recognised as simulationist theory of mind in nature. This folk psychological element is the crucial difference between those with autism and those who develop “typically” – in other words – people with autism ‘lack’ this theory of mind, whereas people without autism have it. So when someone judges me negatively because they happen to know someone else from my culture, they are not only demonstrating their own standpoint – what they would do if they were in my shoes – they are operating from prejudice that is informed by dominant biases.
This led me to wonder whether the descriptions of behaviour, and the given reason for actions, are highly influenced by a theory of mind that actually perpetuates discrimination. If we grow in an environment that is sexist, or racist and have a simulationist theory of mind – then this is exactly what influences the discriminatory behaviour and passes it down through the generations. When we are autistic – we can move beyond the legacy of our social environment.
It has been suggested that the genes responsible for autism have developed due to natural selection. My research is trying to determine whether autism is a natural variation of the human mind. If we are still evolving, and more and more autistic people are being born – then there must be a reason.
Perhaps not having a simulationist theory of mind is what enables autistic people to have such unique and fluid lives – research has suggested that the LGBTQ+ community are proportionately more likely to have autism or other mental health conditions. Maybe this is because our minds enabled us to develop a sense of identity based on our internal emotions and not what society tells us we ought to be.
So little research has been conducted relating to the cultural intersectionality of autism. As a dual heritage woman who is autistic, I found that a little worrying. We have a nexus of prejudice to untangle and the work I have done so far is only the start.
It is quite amusing to ponder whether I am experiencing hermeneutical injustice because my research has led me to a greater understanding, or awareness of the potential for unfair treatment.
Is this experience happening so that I can identify its manifestation and use it to highlight the hidden inequalities in society?
Either way – I believe that I can truly understand what Rosa Parks and Colin Kaepernick felt in that moment when they took up their silent protest against unfair treatment.
Sometimes taking a stand means either remaining seated or taking a knee.
In my case – I choose to do what I do best.
Write about it.