Apologies are not useful. Learning is useful. Some advice on how to spend your energy and everyone else’s on the part of the exchange that pays its rent.
This post is going to be a little more personal, but hopefully it’ll be a useful window into how someone’s autisticness can change basic social needs.
I don’t really have any interest in apologies. Most of the steps of a “good” apology are entirely irrelevant to me. Expressing remorse? I don’t care; that’s no use to me. Asking forgiveness? First of all, I am not obligated to forgive anything and secondly… useless. The actual words, “I’m sorry” aren’t useful either.
“I’m sorry” is a great way to pacify someone who is upset without actually investing thought or effort in understanding, let alone doing better. And when “I’m sorry,” isn’t a conscious attempt to manipulate someone into putting their feelings away… they can be a result of a trauma reflex, the reflex to abase oneself to stave off disproportionate consequences. To show suffering so that hopefully it’ll be deemed adequate suffering by whomever is in a position to add more suffering on top.
This is also, to the person impacted by a screwup, entirely useless. (Worse than useless, if it turns into reassuring the person apologizing that actually everything is fine and they’re fine and nothing is wrong.) It’s primarily useful to abusers who want/need to see suffering in my experience, and to be entirely blunt… fuck those people. Suffering doesn’t actually have inherent value. How much someone is hurting is an entirely separate matter from whether they are going to do better.
So if none of that is useful to me, what should people do if they realize they’ve done something that’s… well, that wasn’t ideal. What should they do?
Accept this new information exactly as you would accept a new effort-saving way to do something in Excel. “Ohhh that makes sense. Thanks!” or to be even more informal, “Oh shit, good call, thanks.”
If you are going to add anything, you can do a comprehension check. Make sure you actually understand what someone is suggesting you learn, instead of assuming that the lesson is probably just that you are garbage that everyone should just exile to Cancelvania. It’s okay to be curious about how something you did may have caused harm.
Time for a fun tip! Get excited, because it’s good. Imagine this in a weird font atop those random gross images that show up in chumbucket ads at the bottom of websites:
One weird tip to grow from social mistakes!
Codependents hate it!
If you’ve ever seen one of those memes that suggests thanking people when you might reflexively apologize, that applies here! If, “sorry I’m late,” can become, “thank you for your patience,” then “I’m sorry I did the thing,” can become, “thank you for saying something.” Of course you have to actually mean it, you have to actually want people to tell you uncomfortable things.
Aside: Yes, you have to actually want it. I know that it’d be better for all of us to just never make a single suboptimal choice, and it’s easy to say that that’s the actual practical desired outcome of every interaction. But it’s not possible and as a benchmark this is only useful as a tool for self-punishment. Here are your real options.
Make suboptimal choices and have to learn a new thing about them.
Make suboptimal choices and have nobody dare to tell you, and learn no new thing.
You have to actually want option 1. If you can only grudgingly acknowledge that 1 is better you suppose, practice reminding yourself what your real options are and which one you prefer. Write it on your mirror if you have to; I don’t care how you do it as long as you do.
Once you have solidly consciously decided that it’s better to know unpleasant things so you can maintain a certain standard of behavior for yourself, it’ll be easier to thank people who trust you enough to actually engage with you in that way. They are helping you learn. The lesson may suck, but they’re still opting to be useful to your learning process instead of just writing you off. They are giving you the opportunity to practice your actual values and priorities. Thank them. MEAN IT WHEN YOU DO.
I know that for a lot of people, swapping in, “Oh that makes sense, thank you,” for the ritual of self-flagellation is going to be less satisfying. It’s going to feel too small a response to a wrongdoing. If this is you, please remember: your misery has no inherent value. You do not need to preserve it or perform it or induce it. Misery and being better are not actually causally linked; I’d argue they aren’t even correlated.
As an autistic person, I don’t care about anything other than what’s actually going to happen to the pattern of our interactions. People say a lot of nonsense for a lot of reasons other than its accuracy, and I’m done pretending to believe all of it just because it’s impolite to consciously know how much of it is nonsense. I don’t care about hearing the words, “I’m sorry.”
I’m not pointing out an area for improvement to hear, “I’m sorry.” I just want it improved. I’m not rejecting an apology to be terse or mean or unforgiving or punishing. I just literally don’t care about anything but how things are going to be in the future. If things improve, the conversation is over and the matter is closed.
I guarantee you that as an autistic person I am aware that we are all social works in progress. We are all going to do things that we don’t realize in the moment are beneath our standards for ourselves, and we are all going to have to choose whether we learn from those situations.
Go write down somewhere that your actual options are for people to tell you uncomfortable things or not to tell you uncomfortable things. Your wish for there to simply be no uncomfortable things is a silly trap you are locking around your own foot and you can just not do it. Know your real options. Either you learn and do better or you don’t. Everything else is just noise.
Feel free to be very suspicious of anyone who “needs” to see your misery over a thing you did that in retrospect you could have done better. Your misery has no inherent value; only your continuing evolution has value.
If instead someone helps you learn that you hurt them, they are investing in your evolution. Appreciate them. Thank them once you do appreciate them. They took a risk being real with you and they deserve to know it was and will be a safe thing to do.
That’s how you use a screwup to rise in the esteem of whomever you hurt. That’s how you use a screwup to learn. “I’m sorry,” doesn’t do the work; a genuine, “thank you,” absolutely can.
Autistic people learn allistic norms. Allistic people, with their allegedly superior Theory Of Mind, should have no problem with ours, right? ….Right?
First off, I’m going to use identity-first language here and not person-first because being autistic isn’t about having a condition; it’s a kind of brain wiring that creates a culture. This is why, for example, we don’t say “person with Deafness” when we mean “Deaf person.” Because being Deaf and being in a Deaf community is not the same as being in the broader world with a condition.
If you are not personally autistic and you want to argue with me about this, please instead look up “identity first language” and deal with your feelings about that yourself.
A lot of people don’t really understand autistic culture, or why people who thrive in autistic culture would find broader allistic norms so profoundly traumatizing. Personally I think that autistic culture has fixed a lot of the problems in allistic culture that harm everyone (allistics included). But I suppose I would, because I’m autistic, and I see a lot of what allistic people train and traumatize each other into as being totally unnecessary.
Here’s what’s possible instead, if you do things the way autistic people learn to do them amongst ourselves. Here’s some of what you need to do to interact smoothly with us, and to benefit from the norms we are building for our own survival.
encourage interest and expertise
be honest about your needs
be receptive to honesty about our needs
assume we are asking questions because we want the real answer
ask questions because you want the answer
choose your words with conscious intention, and assume we are doing this for you
trust what we tell you more than what our body language may seem to be saying, or what the implicit meaning would be if an allistic person said it. We aren’t saying something carefully calibrated to take a certain form on the other side of your mental filters, so that you end up transforming what we said into what we want you to understand. We will say the thing we want you to understand. Any transformations you apply to it are transformations you applied to it. We say what we say.
The long version:
Much of what we do that makes allistic people uncomfortable falls into the broad category of making oneself vulnerable in ways allistics have been punished for being. We have been too, but hiding our loves or needs or questions costs us a lot more. We can be your opportunity to take a break from this costly pretense. You might like it! Being emotionally vulnerable can be good for you!
Vulnerability can also be dangerous. Having our loves and fears be obvious makes us low-hanging fruit for manipulative behavior. Abusers can learn our levers and switches especially efficiently. This is how ABA works, incidentally, by weaponizing our joy and fear to train more compliant and convenient property for whomever is perceived to own us. A lot of autists probably have trauma around being “allowed” to love or fear things openly, so we try not to reproduce it in our spaces.
Importantly: Some things are legitimately harder for us to learn. That’s just a thing. A lot of them are mostly harder to teach to us if you aren’t prepared to answer questions about your starting assumptions or values.
It’s been my experience that we have difficulty learning subjects in disconnected pieces. To understand a tree, we need the concept of its forest. This may be why we seem to learn in sudden giant leaps. We were learning the whole time, but it’s only when we can place our knowledge into patterns that we feel like we know any of the constituent pieces. We just need enough data points to solve for the pattern, and that’s why we ask so many questions. If we care about what you have to teach, we will look for the gaps in our idea of it, hunting for the vague or seemingly contradictory places on our map.
A good thing to remember is that if we aren’t asking you questions, we probably don’t respect you as a source of answers. I know that in allistic society, questions are seen and used as attacks. From us they are trust. We are trusting you with our map of the universe. Be as trustworthy as you can.
Sensory Processing is Only Half the Story: Movement Differences in Autistic People https://neuroclastic.com/2021/03/14/sensory-processing-is-only-half-the-story/ More reasons why treating autism as a series of irritating behavioral choices we make out of pure sadism to martyr our parents: it’s not just our inner experience that differs (though it does). It’s the way our brains and bodies form and execute our intentions. And that is not actually something that can be obedience-trained out of us.
Neurotypical Peers are Less Willing to Interact with Those with Autism based on Thin Slice Judgments https://www.nature.com/articles/srep40700 We’ve been saying forever that neurotypicals refuse to meet us even 1% of the way when interacting with us, so of course our connections stall out at 99% and never complete. Here’s more data to suggest that we may actually know some things about our own life experiences.
Retribution and revenge were major parts of how Greek morality worked, and so the most famous stories of Nemesis show her punishing transgressors in ways that have little to no benefit to the one they wronged.
Finding information about Nemesis can be challenging. A lot of the sources for her say a lot more about the agendas of the writers or compilers than about her, mostly about how important rape is to the cosmic order. Which. Ehhhnnnnnn didn’t sit right. So I went digging, to see if the stories of Nicaea and Aura were typical or anomalous. Here’s what I found.
CW: canon-typical amounts of gratuitous rape
Iliad, Dionysiaca. By this point everything about her reads as a pretty transparent attempt to reduce the power of her priestesses, or at least reduce the threat they pose to patriarchal norms. So you go from having a morality goddess with an influential all-female priesthood to a revenge machine who shows up more than half the time to explain why some women just need to get raped. Not useful sources.
Much of what I’ll mention here is pulled from Backe-Hansen’s work, and if you check out the thesis you will see why. All content from the thesis is pulled from Chapter 4 (labeled Source05 on the linked page), about her cult center at Rhamnous. It’s really good and if you have the time/energy you should absolutely check it out. It goes beyond “what’s the deal with Nemesis” and into things like what nemesis was as an emotion and the place it occupied in Greek morality. Super excellent shit here, is what I am saying.
Ways the cult at Rhamnous was fairly typical for its time
1. Lots of votive offerings, lots and lots. Votive wheels, statues, even I think a pair of shoes? So much stuff.
2. Annual festivals. The Nemeseia included a lot of the usual competitions that Greek festivals are known for.
3. Elevated social status for clergy. Rhamnous’s priestesses had their own reserved seats at the theater.
4. Priestesses didn’t do pastoral work the way a lot of modern monotheist clergy are expected to. They performed jobs for Nemesis. People’s spiritual wellbeing was their own job.
Ways the cult at Rhamnous was unusual, at least compared to better-known ones
1. A lot of priesthoods were positions one could buy their way into. Rhamnous did not do this. The job may have been hereditary, like most jobs of the time.
2. Priestesses were not required to be celibate. At least one was married and had children who later dedicated statues to her.
Things the Dionysiaca won’t tell you about Nemesis
She and Themis were extremely close, despite their work being at odds much of the time. Themis was the goddess of the proper order of things, of how the universe should work and things should be done and how people should conduct themselves. She focused a lot on helping people out, and so preferred to say yes to whatever someone needed that she could provide. Nemesis provided boundaries, and punishment when that was appropriate.
Have you ever known someone who is really generous in every area of their life, and has that one friend to remind them they’re allowed to say no and will go have The Talk with anybody taking advantage of this softie, threatening them when necessary? That’s Themis and Nemesis. Nemesis had so much of her identity and purpose centered on providing this service to Themis that at least one statue of Nemesis may have been dedicated not to Nemesis herself, but Themis. If true, that’d actually be sort of a touching validation of Nemesis’s work and how much Themis needed and benefited from Nemesis being around.
Imagery of Nemesis had a lot in common with both Aphrodite and Themis, but she was better armed than Aphrodite and unlike Themis did not wear a blindfold. Nemesis dealt justice with her eyes open. It’s a good highlight of the difference between the two.
The worship of Nemesis far outlived formal attention to Themis, which I suspect would have made Nemesis rather sad. Nemesis is one of the personifications of human virtue that will be the last to leave us if we ever do fall all the way down the morality drain as a species. Her investment in us and in our agreement with Themis is that important.
Nemesis has a lot of chthonic attributes, which may be related to an early identity as the goddess of fairly allocating farmland among those who need it and will use it appropriately. She maintained ethical standards for who could access the means of production, and was known to loathe violent or overbearing men. It seems fair to say that modern agricultural monopolies would not have made her happy.
Being associated with agriculture was frequently just an inherently chthonic thing to do, seeing as the dead were buried and then crops came up, suggesting all sorts of spiritually relevant things happening underground where the living can’t go. In addition to fair distribution of land, she was known to act on behalf of unquiet dead. If someone had died violently, not been given proper burial honors, or just had a lingering grudge against someone still living, they couldn’t really do anything about any of that, but Nemesis could.
The Nemeseia were probably at least in part festivals to appease the dead so that they wouldn’t feel so motivated to send Nemesis at living mortals who had wronged them in some way. A fun bonus was that the festival had competitions which provided men an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the worship of Nemesis. Ordinarily sacred duties for Nemesis were all handled by women, but this was a way men could help.
Hubris wasn’t just a failure of humility–although it often happened that way–or a lack of piety. Hubris was a loss of context for the actual size and impact of oneself in the universe. Treating others like they are less important or even disposable was a great way to get on Nemesis’s bad side. Treating oneself as more important than the gods was a terrible enough move that Nemesis was the least of such a person’s concerns.
There are a few examples of Nemesis stepping into a story to play a relatively minor role. She turned Narcissus into a flower because nothing was as important to him as how good-looking he apparently was. He was so self-absorbed that he neglected everyone else in his life once he found out how gorgeous he was, eventually neglecting even himself for the sake of his own beauty.
There’s also a first century Russian bowl that shows Psyche torturing Eros. Eros is looking around plaintively at Nemesis, who is standing by and spitting to repel bad luck, as if to say, “I don’t know what you think I’m going to do for you. You’re the one who hid things from your wife whom you barely even married and then abandoned her to get jerked around by your mom.” Where does this fit into the classic story of Eros and Psyche? Perhaps Nemesis played a part in his return to Psyche and Psyche’s eventual uplift into full divinity.
Hubris and Justice and Retribution
Nemesis’s job was to make sure people were getting what they deserved. If someone was luxuriating in a life without problems, it was Nemesis who threw some hardship their way. If someone was being treated poorly and denied opportunities they deserved, that was her business also. Praising yourself without giving credit to those who got you there, casting aspersions on others because of things that have nothing to do with their actual values or behavior, these were no good.
Retribution and revenge were major parts of how Greek morality worked, and so the most famous stories of Nemesis show her punishing transgressors in ways that have little to no benefit to the one they wronged. How exactly does one person benefit by another person’s rape? Unless some people “deserve” to suffer, unless a bad person suffering does some good for the broader world, this makes no sense. Not all problems are as simple a zero sum equation as “you don’t need all this land, give some up so this other farmer doesn’t starve.” Avenging wrong done to one person by arranging for the wrongdoer to be raped is the equivalent of burning the surplus farmland instead of redistributing it, just to hurt the one hoarding it. This is not entirely an archaic sense of how justice works, though. You need only look to the criminal justice system in the United States to see ample evidence of the desire to punish a wrongdoer regardless of the cost or impact. Restitution is absolutely no part of it at all. It’s purely punitive. In some cases, the urge to punish wrongdoers more will come at the expense of the wellbeing of those wronged, and if that’s not a disqualifying factor then truly the suffering of “bad” people must be all that matters.
It’d be easy to write off Nemesis as the representative of that approach. To dismiss her as the embodiment of carceral logic, and of valuing suffering for its own sake. I’d like to try a different angle, and I hope you’ll come with me.
I gave a lot of thought to what I’d consider hubris today. Comparing oneself to the gods in petty ways–“oh my titties are so much better than Artemis’s, hers are so big and slutty”–is not really a major problem behavior for modern humans. However, we are absolutely not over our tendency to act like we are the center of a universe that can’t touch us because we are just so important and great. Here are some things that I would personally consider hubris:
1. Ignoring Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance.
The veil of ignorance is an ethical framework that says every decision should be made as though one cannot know which of the people impacted they’ll be. If a decision of mine means a large number of people will be harmed so that a few can benefit, it’ll be easier for me to know whether it’s right if I pretend for a moment I don’t know which of those impacted I’ll be. In this case, I’m way more likely to suffer from this change than I am to be one of the few who benefit. One form of modern hubris is assuming that one will be exempt from the consequences or the costs of their decisions, because they’re just too special.
2. Assuming immunity from cause and effect.
If someone takes actions that will make the world worse, the world they also live in, it’d be hubris to assume that this will never impact them. That the cost will be borne by less important people. And yet it happens all the time. Have you ever seen the joke about someone voting for the Leopards Eating Your Face candidate, and then being shocked and horrified that leopards ate their own face? That’s the hubris I’m talking about. Why wouldn’t face-eating leopards eat their voters too? Why are they so special? Why would they be immune to an environment they helped build?
These are not situations that can be solved by just teaching each individual asshole a lesson, by taking individuals down a peg. Punishing the wrongdoer to humble them solves little if anything. For an alternative option, I’d like to point you to the financial habits of the cult at Rhamnous. Initially they were probably financed at least in part by Athenian patrons. When they became really successful and prosperous, they sponsored other smaller local cults in turn. I think this is a window to how Nemesian reallocation could work. Athens gave them the money, but does Athens need more money? Or do these tiny local temples? The money goes where it’s needed. The Rhamnousian priestesses didn’t pay back generosity; they paid it forward.
In our modern world, I think it’s a fairly easy observation to make that not everybody gets what they deserve. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen for those who exploit others to benefit themselves. What’s the answer? Do we pay the suffering back in kind, or do we invest those efforts where they’ll be building something better?
Restorative justice is a framework for repairing the harm done by crime, regardless of whether it hurts or benefits the wrongdoer. If someone’s house is burned down by an arsonist, the victim needs shelter more than the arsonist needs a showy public trial and penance. Assuming limited time and work hours that can be applied to any problem, restorative justice prioritizes support for the one who has been wronged. It also prioritizes potential future victims by working with the wrongdoer to figure out what went wrong and how they can have a different impact going forward. What if Jean Valjean had been given a loaf of goddamn bread and access to more instead of sent to jail for 19 years? What if Aladdin hadn’t been chased with swords, but allowed access to a safe place to sleep and adequate food? What if nonviolent drug or property offenses were addressed with social support instead of prison slavery? That helps everyone, and the only cost–if you want to call it a cost–is that it produces less suffering.
The attitudes and behavior I consider hubris are problems it’s easy to solve this way, especially compared to the progress made by punishing individual offenders and calling it a day. Consider that people didn’t pray to Nemesis to let them off the hook for terrible behavior; they prayed to Nemesis to help them be the kind of person who doesn’t piss her off. They prayed to be better, to do better. So why not look to Nemesis for this in modern contexts? We could look to Nemesis to prevent social crimes of hubris, rather than just punishing them as brutally as we think we can get away with for the sake of deterrence–an effect soundly debunked by all available evidence anyway.
After all. If you solve all your problems by inflicting suffering, and assume that nobody will every try to do it to you, what can you call that but hubris?
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