Neurodiversity and the Naturalistic Fallacy

I’m pretty much one of the biggest fans of the ideas of the neurodiversity movement out there. Brains are different and we can deal with that? Great! All people deserve accommodations and human rights? Awesome!

For some reason this is something that gets peoples’ goats. I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it is that pisses people off about the neurodiversity movement, and I think I’ve figured out at least some of it. One of the basic tenets of neurodiversity that a lot of people get hung up on is the sentence “Autism/ADHD/learning disabilities/mental illness is a natural human variation.”

There’s no question that autism or mental illness or ADHD or learning disabilities are human variations. That’s pretty damn obvious. Are they natural? Well most likely. Mental illnesses have existed for as far back as we have records, and few people want to argue that they’ve just been created by some sort of unnatural means. Some people will say that autism is unnatural because of vaccines, but honestly fuck those people. They have no evidence. Some people seem to think that in order to be “natural” something has to be caused by genes with no influence from the world, but that actually makes no sense at all. For the most part I also haven’t seen very many people argue these things either. They recognize that a mix of genes and environment cause variations in human brains.

The problem is that a lot of people buy into naturalistic fallacy, or the idea that if something is natural, then that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Some people within the neurodiversity movement believe this, and that’s why they think neurodivergent people deserve rights. That’s not really the majority view of the movement though, and it’s not the one I’ve seen articulated by most organizations. But there are also people outside the movement who buy into the fallacy, and those people are causing a lot of confusion.

See here’s the thing: if you buy into the naturalistic fallacy, then the fact that autism or mental illness come with negative elements means that they can’t be natural. I’ve seen people argue against neurodiversity by saying “I’m autistic and sometimes my autism makes my life hard in x, y, and z ways.” Oddly enough that doesn’t actually address the claims of neurodiversity, but if you believe “it’s bad” means “it can’t be natural” then you think it does. For some reason when advocates say “autism is a natural human variation” people hear “that means that it’s great, requires no treatment, and comes with no downsides!”

There are actual arguments that happen between neurodiversity advocates and those who advocate a more medical conception of neurodivergence. These are good arguments to have. There is a wide variety of quality of life for those who are neurodivergent, and we need to talk about whether embracing neurodiversity will really improve life for the whole spectrum of people. We need to talk about specifics of which therapies and treatments are a problem and why, versus which really do provide an individual with more tools to live the life they want. But what we really can be done with please, is the debate about whether there are downsides to neurodivergence.

We all know there are. It’s all anyone talks about. When we say that neurodiversity is natural, we’re not arguing against that. When we bring up the benefits of variations, we’re trying to balance out a conversation previously dominated by the inabilities of neurodiverse people. I’m so sick of arguments that fundamentally misunderstand and straw man the arguments of the neurodiversity movement. I have never actually seen an argument against neurodiversity that disputes that basic tenet, even when people are saying they are. So please: look up the naturalistic fallacy and come back when you have an actual criticism of neurodiversity.

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