I’ve been seeing a certain neologism increasingly often recently. The neologism is neurodiverse and as far as I understand it is a nice, non-offensive way to say somebody has a mental condition that may or may not be subject to medical diagnosis. That’s unless the somebody is Donald Trump, who is a plain idiot because nobody likes him and it’s okay to use offensive language on him because he uses offensive language on everyone. Fair.
But let’s leave everyone’s favourite emotional pinata aside. The term neurodiverse seems to have been coined to reduce the risk of offending another person, which is in itself an exemplary undertaking but in reality, I’m afraid, has an effect that would ultimately be the opposite of the desired one. Aren’t we all neurodiverse in the sense that no human brain is identical to another? And if we are all neurodiverse and it’s all fine do we even need things like psychiatry and psychology to help people who are neurodiverse in ways that interfere with their ability to, ultimately, be reasonably happy as members of a neurodiverse society, which we all are, whether we like it or not?
Initially, I wanted to refrain from checking definitions of neurodiverse/neurodiversity but I couldn’t resist the urge and did some googling. Here’s a quick tip: when you see that something “means different things to different people” run in the opposite direction. This means nobody knows what the hell they’re talking about. Every single mental condition from the mildest of anxieties to the most severe schizophrenia could be defined as a normal — as in naturally occurring, I suppose — variation. This, however, does not mean it can’t mildly to severely affect a person’s life.
I have a friend whose son is autistic. He’s doing really well because he’s getting the care he needs. Does anyone honestly believe this boy or his mother lose their sleep over how others refer to him? I’ll tell you: they do not. Z is autistic and he’s doing better and better every day. That’s all there is to it. Saying that Z is neurodiverse instead of autistic will neither make him better nor worse. And it will not make his parents feel better or worse about their son’s natural variation.
We’re (mostly) past the brutal days of blatant stigmatisation and social unacceptability. Could we perhaps not take this benign drive for acceptance to extremes? Extremes have the unpleasant ability to breed other extremes, even more unpleasant.
I strongly suspect neologisms like neurodiverse are all forms of the trap of newspeak that’s so easy to miss if you don’t pay attention. Speaking of attention, when did issue become a synonym of problem? I must have slept through it and now I see issues everywhere where problems are, in fact, the, you know, issue. I still haven’t figured out if someone took taking an issue too far or if someone deliberately promoted issue as a substitute for problem. I will make the educated guess the change was effected* to eliminate the negative connotation of problem lest someone feels threatened by the existence of such unpleasantness.
The problem with this approach is that the meaning behind the word, whatever the word, is the same and it’s not positive. You can call a problem a bunny for all I care and that won’t make that bunny cute and fluffy if it appears in a sentence such as “Houston, we have a bunny” or even the latest from the (supposedly) neurodiverse president of the U.S., who said “This country’s only bunny is the Fed.” Don’t tell me they sound cute because they don’t. They sound like intersectionality.
I remember how during my first year at university, when I first met the wall that is literary theory head on, I had the creeping suspicion many literary theorists were making up words to make their thoughts and ideas at least sound grand if not comprehensible. I also suspected I was extremely stupid for not being able to grasp these grand thoughts and ideas. Naturally, with the right amount of perseverance (I have terrible rota memory and I can’t cheat at exams so I had to learn it all the proper way) understanding followed. The trick was to strip the idea of all the gratuitous wording, often including long words that intersectionality reminded me of when I first saw it.
I’m not googling this word. I’m certain it means different things to different people. I’m also certain it has no actual, real meaning but it makes various texts sound more serious and scientific. I mean, just look at it: it has many letters and it ends in –lity, which rhymes with sexuality, universality, vitality, equality and other good things that end in -lity. It also rhymes with commonality but we’re having none of that. Ultimately, intersectionality sounds like a word that Roland Barthes invented and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Barthes is my personal monster. I believe everything that’s wrong with Western culture these days is Barthes’s fault. Don’t ask me why. I just know it’s his fault. Call him a pet peeve.
I know most of the newspeak we’re seeing and hearing today has been invented with the goal of bringing us closer together. There is a certain grim irony in that: all these words are in fact bringing us further apart as they divide us into ever-more groups to identify with and — this is the irony — distinguish from other groups. Words change meanings but the concepts behind them remain unchanged. Stereotypes fall and new ones rise because that’s what stereotypes do. And people drift further and further apart and hate more, blinded by the guise of love and understanding. Which is only to be had for the other members of their respective group. We’ll probably end up in groups of ones, hating everyone besides us. It would only be fitting, really.
*Here’s a simple way to spot the difference between effect and affect: You effect a change but its effects can be affected by a lot of factors. What? Not simple? Ugh, forget it, I was always crap at teaching.
** The Bulgarian text in the image above says “R. Barthes “Death of the Author.” It’s the language that speaks, not the author. A text is a fabric of quotes taken from an infinite number of cultural centres.” Now do you see why I hate his guts?