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The ecological niche of A♾tistic peoples

The ecological niche of A♾tistic peoples

Surviving on the edges of modern society is an Art. The Arts and regular immersion in genuinely safe Open Spaces help us imagine and co-create ecologies of care in which care and mutual aid are the primary values. Within the context of the polycrisis that shapes the modern human predicament, the urgency of cultural evolution can not be addressed from within the paradigm of a hypernormative education system. Healthy Artistic and Autistic life paths by necessity differ from “normality”.

Meaningful lives

In times when social paradigms become toxic, when more and more people subconsciously suffer from cognitive dissonance, Autists and the Arts play an essential role in allowing cognitive dissonance to surface, and be shared in explicit form, in ways that transcend words, simplistic linear narratives, and established paradigms.

Aphanipoiesis (n.) combines two words from ancient Greek to describe this way in which life coalesces toward vitality in unseen ways. (Aphanis comes from a Greek root meaning obscured, unseen, unnoticed; poiesis is from one meaning to bring forth, to make.) Other words which also carry the root aphanis include phantom, diaphanous, and phenomenon, while the root poiesis is familiar from the word poetry, along with Maturana and Varela’s autopoiesis.
Aphanipoiesis, Nora Bateson (2022)

Surviving on the edges of modern society is an Art, assisting people in disentangling themselves from internalised ableism is an Art, de-powered dialogue is an Art, falling in love with life is an Art, co-creating ecologies of care beyond the human is an Art, explaining the modern human predicament in accessible ways is an Art, weaving intersectional solidarity is an Art, co-creating transdisciplinary bridges of shared understanding between modern disciplinary silos is an Art, etc. 

The Arts and regular immersion in Open Space help us imagine and co-create ecologies of care – ecologies in which care and mutual aid are the primary values

Man, growing up in this state of the world order just feels numbing. I don’t parcticulary see a bright or a dark future ahead of us (or egotistically me). But to put put it in the matter of colours, it basically just feels grey.

In my younger years I’ve always had tendencies to anxiety. But with me growing older and understanding more and more about our world, it gets worse over time. My inital tought during and after this video was “Why not just end it all, so you I don’t have to endure all of what’s ahead.” And I know that this is a very very dangerous thought, yet it was the first “rational” and impulsive thought that I had. Maybe my current state of mind is partly influenced by the consequence of Capitalism.

I thought about deleting the paragraph and just moving on with my daily life, but I will just leave it there. On the other side I don’t know the effects that my comment will have on other people reading this. However at the same time, I don’t really care, because I feel immensly powerless in the big sceme and disconnected from the world around me. I apologize if I’m come a across as egocentric, rude and naive.

– Anonymous

The journey towards a healthier relationship with the ecosystems which we are part of starts with the most powerful tool at our disposal, the introduction and consistent use of new language and new semantics to remind us of the wonder of life. For systematic education, we are curating timeless concepts for nurturing and describing ecologies of care. Many of the concepts of the new language are linked to related articles, each of which link to further sources and related research.

The wonder of lifeAnthropocentrismThe difference
the Artsprofessionsunseen possibilities vs institutionalised reality
giftmoneynon-fungibility vs fungibility
gratitudedebtlife affirming vs life denying
lovedemandscuriosity vs disinterest
couragefearcommitment vs paralysis
trusthidden agendascaring relationships vs atomised individuals
sensitivitydenialadaptation vs cognitive dissonance
awenihilismbeing alive vs being lifeless
ecologyeconomymutual aid vs careless greed
emergencehypernormativitybeauty vs violence
human scalesuper-human scalecomprehensibility vs loss of agency


Within the context of the polycrisis that shapes the modern human predicament, the urgency of cultural evolution can not be addressed from within the paradigm of a hypernormative education system. The documentary Schooling the World (Carol Black, 2010) provides an excellent introduction to the history of modern formal education systems.

Screenshot from the documentary 'Schooling the World' by Carol Black

Real freedom will come only when we free ourselves of the domination of Western education, Western culture, and the Western way of living.
– Mahatma Ghandi

The collective cultural learning that lies ahead can be framed as the project of unWEIRDing society.

It is time to fully recognise the level of trauma amongst the growing numbers of marginalised people, and especially intersectionally marginalised people.

Venn diagram of Artistic people and Autistic people, with the infinity symbol representing the union of both sets pf people

The Arts are also an essential part of education. Healthy A♾tistic life paths by necessity differ from WEIRD normality. This must be fully acknowledged as part of any Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) approach that claims to respect the human rights of marginalised people.

To enable A♾tistic students and educators to achieve their potential, schools need to recognize and celebrate our many strengths and talents that may not be showcased in the traditional classroom environment, such as our creativity, ability to think outside-the-box, problem-solving skills, unique insights, and perspectives, as well as our perseverance and ability to collaborate in innovative ways.

We are the utopian dreamers.
The invisible pioneers.
The vulnerable change-makers.
The compassionate healers.
We are the creative pathfinders.
The quiet adventurers.
The accidental discoverers.

We are your partners, lovers, friends, carers, nurses, clinicians, teachers, parents, children, and colleagues. Yet, we live in a world that is not safe for us. Our ability to fulfil our potential is being threatened by the stigma associated with having been labelled with a “disorder” or a “special” educational need, and by the misconceptions many people still have about A♾tistic people and people with learning differences. In a hypernormative society that pathologises human diversity we are more vulnerable and at risk of being mistreated.

In all domains that require specialised skills and deep knowledge, some of the best professionals, in terms of their level of experience and problem solving abilities, have strong Artistic & Autistic traits. It is very likely that these people will be misunderstood by their colleagues on a regular basis, simply because they may not stick to all the social rules of politeness at all times. A relevant extract from an earlier article on bullying:

In particular the questions that Artistic & Autistic professionals ask may be very direct and their answers short and to the point, and they may praise outcomes achieved instead of the contributions of individuals, because they recognise that all good work takes a team and because they consider social status to be irrelevant. This easily gets Artistic & Autistic people into trouble with “superiors” as well as with “subordinates” who they are expected to manage. These Artistic & Autistic professionals are not bullies!

Many Artistic & Autistic people are unemployable by organisations that operate hierarchical structures. There is an urgent need to catalyse and co-create NeurodiVentures (worker co-ops) and healthy A♾tistic whānau all over the world. A♾tists depend on assistance from others in ways that differ from the cultural norm – and that is pathologised in hypernormative societies. However, the many ways in which non-atistic people depend on others is considered “normal”. The endless chains of trauma must be broken.

Resources and services for educators

The Autistic Collaboration Trust in collaboration with S23M Healthcare Solutions is working with education professionals to facilitate sector wide education in the neurodiversity paradigm, the neurodiversity movement, and Autistic culture based on our lived experiences.

Further reading

  1. Autistic people – The cultural immune system of human societies
  2. Rediscovering the purpose of learning
  3. WHO framework for meaningful engagement of people living with noncommunicable diseases, and mental health and neurological conditions (2023)
  4. Life without the false God of Normality
  5. Celebration of interdependence
  6. unWEIRDing Autistic ways of being
  7. Collaborative niche construction
  8. Coherent theories of human ways of being
  9. Ban of all forms of Applied Behaviour Analysis
  10. Good company in an era of peak cognitive dissonance
  11. Co-creating ecologies of caring and sharing
  12. Autistic mutual aid – a factor of cultural evolution
  13. Autistic people are not for sale
  14. Co-creating comprehensible ecologies of care beyond the human
  15. Co-creating ecologies of caring and sharing
  16. Life is, at bottom, diversity

A timely call for participation

In my experience collaborative writing is one of the best ways for catalysing new insights and for communicating lived experience, domain specific knowledge, and deep wisdom. Even when I write without interactive collaboration, I like to include extensive quotes from conversations and from other writers, including links to their work – more so than is customary, to provide readers with essential context, in a format that is more accessible and more adapted to the digital era than the traditional academic style. I understand collaborative writing as a digital form of Open Space, which surfaces and generates insights via a Socialisation Externalisation Combination Internalisation (SECI) knowledge creation spiral. This is based on experience facilitating Open Space and co-ordinating the peer review and publication of Open Space results.

Regularly participating in the process of Open Space, I have come to appreciate that my first language is communication in terms of visual diagrams – a language that works beautifully in group settings around a whiteboard, that my second language is writing, and that mouthspeak is my third language. Even though I am perfectly capable of mouthspeak, it is a form of communication that in any context that involves more than two people consumes significant numbers of spoons. Open Space has also given me a visceral understanding of the extent to which:

(a) all explicit human knowledge and wisdom is a collective product, and

(b) that explicit representations are only useful if they remain connected to living tacit and internalised forms of knowledge.

In the context of cultural evolution, the increasing use of artificially “intelligent” tools is highly problematic, as language processing algorithms interfere deeply with the SECI knowledge / trust / relationship creation spiral, by reinforcing institutional bias and neoliberal bias. De-powered dialogues and Open Space, whether in-person or in writing, are two tools that we have at our disposal to operate SECI knowledge / trust / relationship creation spirals without direct algorithmic interference.

What is it like living on the edge – psychologically, culturally, creatively – in these times?
What do edge and edges say to you with your particular voice, experience, community and history?
What is it like to be an ‘edge-dweller’? …
…Or someone who is drawn to the edges of things? …
…Or feel that you are forced to the edge, or have little choice in the matter?
What and where are the edges in living systems and societies:
Do these edges actually exist and, if so, how are they created and sustained?
What are the consequences of creating and living with and within edges?
Where and how do our edges meet; and what do edges do when they meet each other?
What does it mean to be in community with others who share these edgy perspectives?
What might it mean to be between communities?
What is it like to be living with the identities and experiences of edge worlds?
How does complexity, inclusion and relationally respond to edge and edges?
How might Warm Data, as one example, provide insights in this space?
How do edge and edges relate to our ideas about the crises we face and ways of responding?
What does change do to edges and edging – and vice versa
As always, the response to the theme is for you to decide. We welcome divergent, innovative creations; experimental in form as well as content.

Unpsychology Magazine, 10 December 2023

If you like the concept of collaborative writing, then I’d love to hear your ideas! We can publish on and on suitable platforms operated by our allies.

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