Saturday, February 25, 2006
On the heels of my thinking about "oughtism," I'm drawn to thinking about its inverse: repressive tolerance.
The idea of repressive tolerance, developed by twentieth century political philosopher Herbert Marcuse, is that sometimes actions that appear to be about freedom and human liberty are actually repressive. Some behaviors that we tolerate in ourselves, and in others, in the name of freedom, may actually be detrimental to us individually and collectively. Or, put differently, what looks like freedom may be a pleasant, pleasurable prison.
Marcuse's examples, from 1965, included allowing advertising and publicity to dumb-down our thinking, or allowing automobiles to transform the landscape of our cities, making pedestrians an endangered species. In the name of freedom, and especially in the name of free markets, we've come to allow all kinds of ills, from environmental havoc to electoral travesties. In the name of sexual freedom we have, perhaps, created vacuous forms of sexual expression that lack any sense of human connection. For Marcuse, while these "freedoms" look like some sort of liberation, they're actually repressive in that they limit the sort of genuine human flourishing that he envisioned.
Consumer culture is particularly prone to encouraging repressive tolerance. For example, that "one more donut" might feel like it was your choice, but it might also have just been because a marketing genius at Dunkin' Donuts figured out that they should pipe the smell of donuts out of their shops to snag us all by the primal sense of smell.
So what does this have to do with oughtism, autism, and raising Sweet M?
While I hope for liberation from oughtism, I sometimes wonder if my willingness to go with the flow with Sweet M constitutes a kind of repressive tolerance born of parenting fatigue. It's often so hard to know when to push and when to back off.
Even for parents of typically developing children there are questions of when to discipline and when to leave well enough alone, but for autism and ADHD parents, the stakes are arguably higher, and the possibilities for parental fatigue that much greater. After one gets done slaying the dragons around the IEP conference, or the Board of Education's bus schedules, or the school placement — not to mention earning a living adequate enough to support the services our kids need — how much energy remains for reigning in our kids?
While there are many non-negotiables in Sweet M's world: no hitting, no screaming, must do homework, and so on, she also has a huge amount of freedom in, for example what she eats. She really doesn't like much of anything that isn't pasta, sweets, or milk products. She may very well have a gluten-casein sensitivity, but I haven't had the heart to go through a rotation diet with her. Controlling her food reminded me much too much of battles over food, eating, and body image with my own mother. So she eats pretty much what she wants — a hi-carb, hi-sugar diet very similar to that of high-functioning autistic genius Andy Warhol — and she takes a megavitamin (non-negotiable).
We have allowed many of our parenting decisions to be governed by her preferences, and I sometimes wonder how wise that is. What are real preferences — that ought to be honored — and what are the passing whims of an eight year old?
I think about one of the hot-button issues among autism parents and autism activists—how to handle our kids' stims. If we believe what autistic authors such as Donna Williams and Temple Grandin say about stimming, then letting our kids remain transfixed by rituals or other stereotypies, would be repressive, in that it would not be allowing them access to their human freedom. But, on the other hand, having some sort of self-soothing behavior, which they also describe stimming as being, can aid in regulating internal states.
How do we balance between oughtism — shoehorning them into shapes that are too far from their natural inclinations — and letting them run too wild, too far a field, too uncultivated?
I wish I knew.
Keywords: autism • Asperger's Syndrome • ADHD • parenting • repressive tolerance • Herbert Marcuse
Posted by MothersVox at 2/25/2006 11:45:00 AM