locore (locore) wrote,

No Social Skills - I Think Not

At Adacamp, I found myself feeling that Asperger behaviours and personality traits were being conventionally dissed, in a low grade way, both in themselves and as components of "geek culture". In particular, the pejoratives "poor social skills" and "low emotional IQ" are thrown at Aspies at least as often as "thin-skinned" is thrown at feminists, but while my use of the third of these netted me (polite) criticism and educational input, the other two were clearly subculturally acceptable.

One of the most pleasant aspects of true geek culture is that no one, ever, throws the first two pejoratives around. Social skills are irrelevant to important matters, like talking about the latest geek toys, participating in a project together, or reviewing someone's work. There are certainly inappropriate ways to do these things, which may themselves draw criticism, but the criticism is generally specific, just like criticism of a piece of code. "Saying 'that sucks' wasn't useful; give us some specifics". "That content-free stream of insults could have been usefully summarized as 'I don't like you'." Or perhaps you get a lengthy critique demonstrating why the generic pejoratives used are not in fact accurate, relevant, or useful. Or someone responds to your response by pointing out all your grammatical and spelling errors. The worst things you can say about a geek's contributions are "that's not true" and "that won't work". Saying things about the geek themself is neither welcome nor relevant, in general. Or it's another topic to explore, generally without malicious intent.

There are ways for geeks to insult each other, but the target is generally someone's competence, and the criticism has to (attempt to) demonstrate that incompetence, not allege it. And incompetence, unlike many other traits is presumably temporary, unless of course there's a bad track record.

Geeks generally ignore other people's feelings, unless those feeling are made explicit. In most (sub)cultures various types of mind reading are required and presumed. If she says "I'm too busy" more than once or twice, it means "I don't like you" and you should stop asking her for dates. If he wears jeans to work, it means he's not a manager. If she says "I'm fine" you should presume she's just being polite, and she might not really be fine. If he says "I'll be there" it means "I don't want to disappoint you by saying no, but probably won't be there". Etc. ad infinitum, with reams of subtle differences.

When applied to a geek, and still more when applied to an Aspie, they are generally inaccurate. If she meant "I'm not interested" she'd have said that. If he wears jeans to work, it means he likes jeans, and (perhaps) no one's ever told him there's an informal dress code for managers. If she says "I'm fine" she either is fine, or (just possibly) wants to be treated as being fine - not probed for possible problems. If he says "I'll be there" then he'll be there, barring emergencies.

When applied by an Aspie, it means someone's been pressuring that Aspie to learn "social skills", and they may well be ludicrously misapplied - e.g. to other geeks, or to managers on dress-down Friday. That's not always true - some Aspies make a project of learning their local (sub)cultural codes - and often do better than non-Aspies, since they rarely then misapply them to Aspies, foreigners, and others who don't use the same code(s). But basically the results tend to be ludicrous, and geek culture has mostly dispensed with them in consequence.

But there's one more thing about "social skills" and Aspies. We are somewhat routinely told that non-Aspies instinctively have "good social skills". They understand what people are feeling. Sometimes we're told this is because they have a "theory of mind" and we do not. (Apparantly we don't realize that other people are conscious beings and can't account for that in our thinking?!?) They use this, we are told, to make people feel comfortable, etc. etc.

But that's not what we observe. As every Aspie knows, most neurotypicals (non-aspies, in general, really) routinely misunderstand them, make them uncomfortable, and quite often abuse and exploit them. With closer observation, we see that they (most untrained NTs) do this to all Aspies. Whereas - and this is important - most other Aspies do not. Sure, you may have to tell an Aspie, bluntly, "I'm not interested." But they won't take offence, presume you are being coy, etc. etc. You won't get a lecture on why it's racist of you not to want to date them, or insistence that not being interested in their pet topic (probably some kind of content free chitchat) means there's something wrong with you. They probably won't bully you, either. Unlike the common experiences of Aspies, particularly Aspie children, from both NT classmates and NT authorities (teachers, parents, sometimes therapists, etc.) So from where we sit, at an emotional level NTs have no social skills.

Now we generally know this isn't true. We are, in general, aware that we're not a hegemonic majority, and that NTs manage to get along with each other, generally. But in a group of Aspies, NTs tend to be the proverbial bull in a china shop. They can be taught better, but unlike Aspies, NTs have low talent and tolerance for using intellect (rather than instinct) in social interaction, so learning seems to be bothmore difficult for them and more unwelcome.

But the insistence that we "have poor social skills" grates in a big way. And that particular generic insult generally presses Aspie buttons.

This entry was originally posted at http://locore.dreamwidth.org/2185.html.
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded