The Great Leap Forward:
The Great Leap Backward:
Songs of the Gorilla Nation
In this book, Prince-Hughes gives some compelling first-person accounts of life viewed through autistic lenses (Part One). Specifically, she lived with symptoms of undiagnosed Asperger Syndrome. Although this caused her some difficulties in relating to other people, most of her problems as a child were caused by (1) public school, (2) alchoholism, and, most of all, (3) stupid parents.
Public school “socialized” her properly: She learned that she was a freak and deserved only ostracism and aggression against her because of her differences. This was not an unusual public school or one that needed more diversity seminars; it was a normal collection of insensitive, self-centered teenagers, full of self-righteousness and loathing for nonconformity. Consequently, she dropped out at 16 and became a homeless runaway, until she got a job at a strip club. Just imagine how much worse her self-esteem would have been if she had not been properly socialized!
Her drinking started in seventh grade mainly because of the stress of trying to fit in at school. Her mother’s friends helpfully bought her plenty of alchohol and even dropped it off for her at school. Of course her school friends also helped her out by inviting her to parties with free alcohol, where boys/men repeatedly tried to rape her. These experiences left her with a distaste for crude boys. The boys reciprocated by branding her a lesbian, quite apart from the fact that she had no overtly sexual feelings for anyone. Her political views and her reading of Kant led her to the intellectual conclusion that she must be queer.
When her parents found out that she thought she was a lesbian, they helpfully took their 14-year-old daughter to a youth brainwashing group for homosexuals, where she was freed from the oppression of the “two-gender system.” This was helped along by her readings from Psychology Today and the National Organization for Women, as provided by her parents. The book portrays her parents as providing no structure or guidance but plenty of hippie psychology about finding her own way.
She also gives touching descriptions of using coping strategies to overcome obstacles related to autism (Part Three). One coping strategy was to pursue her education as far as possible, since autistic people tend to have an unusual ability to concentrate intensely on subjects they are interested in. They do become overwhelmed in a traditional classroom, however, so she acquired her educational credits through independent study courses.
The benefit of advanced education is that it is greatly valued by neurotypical people (who have difficulty concentrating for extended periods of time on anything), so the autistic person can achieve a kind of social status and employability. Apart from certain requirements for social interaction in academia, autistics seem to fit in quite well, leading me to wonder if college professors exhibit a higher incidence of autism spectrum symptoms than the general population.
In between the factual, autobiographical parts is a romantic piece of fantasy fiction about gorilla men and women trying to cope with the unsympathetic homo sapiens around them, a kind of zoological Dawson’s Creek or Seinfeld. It seems that long ago, all the best parts of “human” nature were expressed in unadulterated form among the unevolved primates of the world. Their nonhuman descendants naturally continue to express the best of human nature, as evidenced by the fact that they have not yet developed MTV or Internet blogs. Since they are unable (or unwilling) to translate their more complex thoughts into our feeble sign systems, we must use special empathic powers to create metaphors for their thinking. This part of the book is a pure distillation of the most unbelievable crap to ever come out of evolutionary psychology.
Part Two does have value in the descriptions of close observation of animal behavior, but the author should have asked the gorillas for permission to quote them verbatim rather than guess at their thoughts. Without the mindless romanticizing of primate psychology, it is clear that relating to animals is simpler and more comforting for a wide range of human people, but most distinctively for those who may have obstacles in relating to other people because of mental, emotional, social, or physical disabilities.
Overall, this book is just another first-person account of coping with a neurological disorder. It has a few lessons for parents as a cautionary tale. It will also provide vindication for the sentimental idealism of diversity to those predisposed to romanticize it.