Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Living in the age of autism

Dear Hannah,

Learning is a difficult process -- not just for autistic kids: for me.  For instance, there are certain things a man should know the second time through them; certain signs he should begin to look for, to make sure he isn't doing a stupid thing twice.  Sometimes it's more difficult than others.  All your life everyone knows that the people who attract the most derision are the people who can't take a joke.  They're basically begging for it.  So when you meet a man who incessantly misses your meaning and never understands why the heck what you said was funny, you just assume he's the man you're going to be joking about.  Until the day you start realizing that maybe he's a little different -- no; maybe a lot different, and maybe all the times you'd been poking fun at him because you thought he had a stick up his ass, were really all the times you'd been joking with a man who had some kind of a mental disability.

Words can't describe the feeling of horror someone experiences when he realizes he wasn't just messing with a goofus, but with a handicapped goofus.  It hurts your soul, the epiphany -- you immediately begin thinking of ways to incorporate him in everything, to stand up for him in the smallest issues, to apologize and explain whenever something goes over his head.  You go from being one kind of obnoxious to another.  No label was ever announced for his condition, but now that you know what it is, you hope more than anything else that nobody thinks you're as much of a jerk as you believe yourself to be.  This has happened to me several times, and it never gets any easier.  It's possible both of us have a mental disability.

And then all kinds of strange thoughts start going through your head.  You start to wonder, each and every time you run into somebody who's too humorless for company, where the line lies.  You begin to ask yourself all kinds of questions not only about yourself, but about everyone around you.  You begin to ask yourself whether Jerry is a dick because he's off in the brain; or whether Melinda is always slower than everyone else because her blood's thicker than molasses.  You don't know where the line is; you don't know who makes the call and says so-and-so is handicapped.  You have to make these judgments yourself -- and you thank God there are people out there who declare their condition before you have a chance to make a fool of yourself.  And then you think that maybe it's you that has the condition; that maybe human nature has compelled you and a whole lot of other people to poke fun at fools of all kinds, and that maybe we've been missing some kind of fatal flaw in our nature: that all of us are inclined, some way or another, to be some kind of a mess.  It's possible.  And that line you drew for the few people you picked on becomes a line you start to draw for everyone else -- not with any kind of confidence; maybe a dotted line, half-hearted, ending with a giant question mark.  Is the whole world disabled in one way or another?  Or am I taking things too far?

Of course you're taking things too far -- we have to hold people accountable.  That's the whole basis of human brotherhood, this idea that some things really are our fault: that Tommy really is a fool, or Jenny really is a lazy delinquent, and we can tell the difference between them and the rest of us.  How much of it is our fault and how much is something else is the mystery -- the obnoxious, unsolvable mystery of free-will and necessity.  But what we do know is that if everyone suddenly attempted to play the fatalist, we'd end the ruse by the end of the hour.  Somebody would be upset over something -- and rightly.  Somebody would be to blame.  And all of us would make a judgment.  And in the overwhelming majority of circumstances, I believe we would all make a good one.  And we would come up with a label for the person who offended our rules of good sense, of good humor, of appropriate knowledge, of good taste, and we would all run wild with it.  And our running wild with it would be the most sensible and humane thing we could possibly do.  That is what makes us human.  The exception, the man on the outside, is there to prove our common nature and humanity, not to hinder our defense of it.  If he escapes the motley cap of the fool, he escapes it not because the cap is thrown away, but because we place it on someone else's head -- someone who we believe really deserves it.

At the moment I'm writing this, nobody is really sure what causes autism.  There have been many speculations, some of them less helpful than others.  Some people say it's a result of pollution.  Jenny Macarthy went on television and told everyone that vaccines make children autistic, which resulted in a lot of kids dying from things that would have been prevented by vaccines.  One thing that's certain is that people are deathly afraid their children will be born without a sense of humor -- and rightly so.  To want your kid to laugh is about the most charitable sentiment a parent can have, almost like wanting your kid to have a working penis.  Whatever positive spin mothers have been putting on mental disabilities, nobody really wants her child to grow up misunderstanding me and taking me literally; nobody wants her kid to be offended when I say that I'm the most handsome man who ever lived, or that I'm the cutest (which was my most recent encounter with a person I suspect to be autistic).  To live a life without laughter is to live a boring life; certainly to shorten it.  It's one of the only medicines we've got these days that actually works without any side effects.  Solomon said that only fools spent their time in the house of mirth -- the end is nigh, after all, and beauty fades, and everything you love is passing away, and nobody knows what happens when you die (his words, not even mine).  This makes Solomon the most honest person in the entire Bible.  It almost certainly makes Solomon the most purposely autistic.  There are really only two options you've got when you and everything else is dying and you're aware of it, and one of them is to sit around crying.  The other is to laugh defiantly until you can't laugh anymore.  And I have a feeling that the longer you laugh, the longer you're capable of laughing.  Good for your ribs or something.

One doctor -- and I have no idea whether she's as legitimate as she thinks she is -- speculated that earth will be populated by autistic children in the near future, and nearly half of us will be mentally handicapped.  In my opinion this will make little difference.  Due to a recent catastrophe of humorlessness and excessive sensitivity, there are already people all around us who can't take jokes, which is the same thing.  And from the looks of things, now that nobody really raises their own kids anymore, these artificially handicapped people are in all the places responsible for raising the next generation: schools, media outlets, churches, governments, etc.  It seems that every day we're hearing new stories about a person who preached something ridiculous, like that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were racist -- a teacher, spreading the disease by teaching children to be offended about nothing.  And then there are the women yelling at Jeremy Renner for jokingly calling a cartoon character a slut -- which is a lot like getting mad at Jeremy Irons for jokingly calling Wiley Coyote murderous.  We have people who say you can't say things like retarded, which was the nicest way of saying "held back" until someone decided it doesn't mean what it means, which resulted in people using other terms that mean retarded (which in their turn will be banned in 50 years).  We have people who say that flying the American flag in America is an insult to Mexicans, and that nobody can use words like illegal immigrant, because everyone has a right to a country except the people who think everyone has a right to a country.  What else is left for humanity, but to laugh? 

The only thing that works against a relentlessly stupid sensitivity is a relentlessly stabbing laughter, and almost none of the most common-sense people known as Republicans understand it.  We're in a war in which the autistic people are taken the most seriously, because we take seriousness for believability; we cover them with letters of apology, for fear the other autistic people will hear about something we said, and that we'll have a lynch mob of other autistic people at our doors.  We gave them the right to sue our pants off for nearly any reason whatsoever, which means they control every major corporation's human resources department.  Our churches empower them, by teaching that Jesus -- who is easily one of the most controversial people who ever lived -- doesn't want us to make fun of anyone.  The future is already upon us.  Whatever doctor what's-her-name said about tomorrow, we are already living in the age of autism. 

Your father,

1 comment:

  1. "Our churches empower them, by teaching that Jesus -- who is easily one of the most controversial people who ever lived -- doesn't want us to make fun of anyone."

    Asserted by people who clearly haven't read the Gospels.