Demonization

Search term post! Someone found my blog by searching for “why does society seek to dehumanize and demonize the mentally ill.” You know what? That’s a really good question. I mean, it happens really a lot, like when that lady wrote that letter calling an autistic boy a wild animal and telling his parents to euthanize him. It’s astounding how awful some people can be. How little empathy some people can have.

Let’s talk about one of my pet peeves. Actually, I think it’s more than a pet peeve, since it’s an attitude that is actively harmful. I call it the “it’s all your fault” syndrome. It’s that thing that causes people to say that since autistic people have trouble understanding typical people, it’s because we lack empathy (our fault). Yet since typical people have trouble understanding autistic people, it’s because we’re flawed (still our fault). If we get bored listening to a lot of mindless chatter, it just shows that we lack empathy. If someone else gets bored listening to us talk about our special interest, it also shows that we lack empathy.

See where this is going? Somehow it’s always our fault. Somehow, no matter who is confused or bored or whatever else, the fault is our differences or “lack of empathy” or whatever else.

I call bullshit.

Personally, I think everyone lacks empathy. I think empathy is not nearly so prevalent or so easy as people try to make it out to be. Thing is, most people can fake it. Most “empathy” seems to involve assuming people are like you. When you’re typical and many of your feelings and responses are typical or close to typical, this makes you “more empathic,” since your random guesses as to what other people are thinking or feeling are close to accurate. When you are not typical, when you think things and feel things that are distinctly different from what most people think and feel, then your guesses are going to go wild.

Yet all those typical people with their apparently amazing empathy somehow consistently fail to empathize with people on the autism spectrum. Why? Because we’re different. Because we aren’t like them, we don’t feel like them, we don’t think like them. However, admitting to their own failure in empathy is, apparently, anathema. No, they can’t do that. So instead they blame us. It’s our fault. It’s always our fault. If only we weren’t so different, you know?

Which is to say, I think people dehumanize and demonize the mentally ill due to a lack of empathy on their parts. They can’t understand us. And for some reason, this translates into a failure to accept us. I also think people have a really hard time with the idea that “normal” people can do bad things. So somehow “violent” and “mentally ill” have become synonymous is people’s minds. And because they can’t (or won’t) empathize with what it’s really like to be mentally ill and/or different, few people bother to challenge their own perceptions. The actual facts don’t really mean a lot to way too many people.

And honestly, this isn’t just about mental illness. People do this to physical illness and physical disability as well. I can see it any time I see people claiming that type 2 diabetes is always the sick person’s fault. I can see it whenever someone would rather say “gee, it sure was nice of that business to actually follow the law and put in a disabled entrance” rather than “disabled people might feel discriminated against when they’re told they have to enter in the back.” Or any time customer service people ignore anyone in a wheelchair, instead only serving or talking to able-bodied people. Or any time people say they’re all for equality, but really, it’s ok to pay disabled people less than minimum wage.

It’s all around us. It’s everywhere. It’s not ok and it’s frustrating and I don’t know how to fix it, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore it.

Though I will say – just after writing this I saw this here video

So maybe it’s not ALL bad.

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