Asperger’s syndrome and ignorance

One of my favourite over-privileged wastes of space has managed to incite outrage once again (which is an utter surprise to absolutely no-one). Michael Laws, former mayor and current self-important ass, decided that it was time that people with Asperger’s had some mud slung at the from the privileged position of a newspaper article in addition to what they have to deal with from people every day. I’m sure they’re so very grateful.

He says that a young man with Asperger’s who was caught stealing light fittings in the wake of the Christchurch quake was lucky to get away with just a black eye. What? Well, Laws decided that “he has Asperger’s. Big deal!”. Even if we ignore the Asperger’s comment, what kind of justice does this man believe in? Beating a young man for stealing is much more despicable than the crime he’s charged with. Perpetuating violence does not solve crime – it adds to it.

When we stop ignoring the Aspergers comment, it gets worse. The man had a fascination with light fittings, and it the wake of the chaos of the quake, which was very unsettling for him, taking light fittings was his way of trying to normalise life again. That doesn’t excuse theft, but it’s a compelling explanation for it, and one that will be taken into account in any justice proceedings.

Asperger’s is, in fact, a big deal. It changes how you process stimuli, how you interact with the world, how you think. It’s not something you shrug off like a common cold. Treating it like it’s just a poor excuse is garbage. It’s the sort of thing that you expect, though, from a man with no direct experience, no empathy, no sympathy. And he is all of these. I worked somewhere once where we had reason to have a lot of contact with Mr Laws and his wife. They were legendary for their selfishness and lack of human kindness. Apparently when you’re a Laws, you’re above everyone else and should be treated as such. And apparently when you’re a Laws, you have the right to criticise someone that you have no understanding of.

Mr Laws then went on to be less than friendly with the mother of an Asperger’s child, accusing her of poor parenting leading to her son’s condition. After being given a chance to learn more about Asperger’s, coming out with this shows that he’s not just ignorant and needs to learn – he’s wilfully ignorant and needs to shut up.

Mr Laws is symptomatic of a wider theme in society, one that I’m not sure will change any time soon. The lack of understanding of anything not in our personal sphere on experience is bad enough, but the wilful ignorance, the possibility of learning rejects, that’s ugly. And denigrating those ‘others’ is cruel. Laws shows all of those, giving a shining example of some of the worst attitudes humanity can show to each other.

Interestingly, it seems that the Sunday Star-Times has pulled the original article, and the editor has come out and apologised for running the column. I hope that they more closely vet their columns in the future, to avoid embarrassment to themselves and insult to others.

Laws, of course, will take no lesson from this, except perhaps about the power of public outcry. He’s a dinosaur staggering around a world that’s trying to move toward acceptance and equality, and maybe it would be better if his public persona was allowed to collapse and die. He can live as a private citizen, but he needs to give up the public face that’s so outdated and nasty.


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