Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Unusual Intelligence

 

shutterstock_27901960Jeffrey Goldberg’s article last month in The Atlantic about the Obama administration’s disdain for Israel raised eyebrows with its now-infamous galline-related expletive. Analysts also highlighted a more substantial concern: that the administration was gloating that it had neutered Israel vis a vis Iran. But there was a third insult in the article as well, one that touched a certain group very deeply:

Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.)

Advocates for those with disabilities have rightly criticized the administration for using “Aspergery” as a slur.

On Wednesday, Ruderman Family Foundation, a major disability advocacy organization based in Boston, released a statement singling out the word “Aspergery” and called for action from the administration.

“While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner,” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president. “The term “Aspergery” was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome. It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.”

I don’t have statistics, but my experience leads me to suspect that autism spectrum disorders are more common among Ashkenzi Jews than the general population (like Jerry Seinfeld, I wouldn’t be surprised if I myself were undiagnosed). What the comment in the Goldberg article made me think of is another, older, news item about autism in Israel.

In Israel, Jews are drafted into the military after high school. Exemptions are granted in various cases, but serving is an important socializing force. It provides training that is useful for later employment, and people make lifelong interpersonal connections. Even for people who don’t leverage those connections for professional networking, army service is a common denominator, an experience other Israelis can (almost) always relate to. When those with more severe autism cannot serve, it puts them at a further social disadvantage.

So it warmed my heart when — earlier this year — the IDF revealed a theretofore secret weapon:

The Israeli Defense Force achieved a series of operational successes in recent years thanks to a group of soldiers with autism who contributed their unique abilities to Intelligence Unit 9900….

The Israeli Satellite Intelligence Unit provides essential information used by the military to execute highly complicated operations. This data is gathered using satellites orbiting Earth, high above the combat arena. In addition to satellites, Unit 9900 uses manned and unmanned aircraft, and advanced sensors.

The autistic young men and women who serve in Unit 9900 can sit for hours in front of electronic maps spotting the minutest changes, Channel 10 said. This is a rare ability that eludes most non-autistic soldiers.

Some of the commenters on the above article expressed concern about exploitation, but parents of those with Asperger Syndrone gently corrected them. Not only does this unit offer a gateway for those with AS to enter mainstream Israeli society, and not only does it offer an opportunity for them to serve their country in a meaningful way, it allows them to use their particular skills and talents to do a critical national security job with unique competence. As one commenter wrote:

I am autistic.. IQ 155. I can sit also for hours and ultra focus..that is an autistic/aspergers [sic] specialty…. its not abuse…we love it… [] if more people would use AS people’s talents..the world would be an incredible place…

Now that’s what I call win-win.

I leave the last word to Michelle K. Wolf, who wrote about the Goldberg article:

But from my perspective, “Aspergery” also has many positive connotations, such as the ability to have a laser-like focus on one issue, painstaking attention to detail and most interesting of all, a desire to tell the truth all the time. As one young adult with Aspergers [sic] wrote on a an online message board, “I have Aspergers and people tell me that I tend to blurt things out without thinking of how others would take it. I don’t quite understand this. If someone asks me a question I tell them the honest answer – I don’t dress it up or dance around the subject. “

Now, I am not a fan of Netanyahu, but I am a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself from the multiple terrorist and military threats it faces now and in the immediate future. And if the Prime Minister of Israel came across to Obama officials as a little obsessed about security issues and didn’t observe all the social nuances of diplomatic dialogue, well that’s ok by me.

And that’s okay by me too.

Image Credit: mikhail / Shutterstock.com

There are 21 comments.

  1. Sandy Member

    While acknowledging that in the world of diagnosis there is often a fine line between “ok” and “not ok,” I do question the breadth of the so-called autism spectrum. Only in a country in which we so highly value not hurting people’s feelings would we think that bluntness is a disease. The Israeli personality tends toward the, shall we say, “undiplomatic.” Some people like that and some people don’t, which is how I prefer to think about it. I mean to say, did Elizabeth Bennett have Asperger’s, or was she just refreshingly blunt?

    That said, the existence of the unit of autistic soldiers is very good news.

    • #1
    • November 10, 2014, at 6:28 AM PST
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  2. Instugator Thatcher

    Awesome – Now I am intrigued – off to read the article.

    • #2
    • November 10, 2014, at 7:23 AM PST
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  3. Hammer, The Member

    Fascinating. I do think that the Obama administration’s use of “asbergery” as a slur is pretty consistent with the general tone of condescension and arrogance that you see out of young liberals. It is very much a bad thing, for far more reasons than I can list in a comment.

    • #3
    • November 10, 2014, at 7:24 AM PST
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  4. Kay of MT Member

    I am sending your article to my grandson whose 4 year old son is autistic. His autism has been blamed on everything under the sun, including copper in water, and vaccines. Never any suggestion it might be an inherited trait. My daughter’s paternal family are Ashkenzi Jews, from Belarus in 1895. Thank you for this article.

    • #4
    • November 10, 2014, at 7:29 AM PST
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  5. Western Chauvinist Member

    If Netanyahu has Asperger’s, it’s something Obama could use more of.

    Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I covet Israel’s leadership.

    Great post, SoS.

    • #5
    • November 10, 2014, at 8:07 AM PST
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  6. Aaron Miller Member

    “While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner,” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president. “The term “Aspergery” was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome.

    Speaking as an Aspie, that’s retarded. ;)

    Very interesting. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Though I often wonder if I was foolish not to try, I passed on military service because the physical symptoms of my Asperger’s (tactile hypersensitivity) did not seem compatible with the great physical stresses normally associated with a soldiering career. Does anyone join the military in expectation of a desk job?

    The orderly environment is certainly ideal for autistics. As for looking at a computer screen all day and remaining alert, there is certainly that psychological element but, again, there is also a physical element. Eventually, that habit wears on a person’s eyes. (I’m billing Ricochet for my medical expenses.)

    • #6
    • November 10, 2014, at 8:31 AM PST
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  7. gts109 Member

    Interesting stuff about the contributions of those with Aspergers.

    But, to dissent a bit, I think the term was just another insult in a long list of them. The author likely meant by it that Netanyahu lacked social graces to the extent it warranted a clinical description. In another era, he might have just called the man a retard.

    Anyway, my point is not to excuse the Obama official for calling the leader of our close ally a series of degrading names. Calling the man stupid or cowardly is reason enough to think that the administration has it backwards when it comes to Israel. The fact that an organized grievance group took offense at one of the insults makes it no worse, however. The stupid, the recalcitrant, the pompous, and the obtuse have all contributed to society in many ways. Just because those groups don’t (yet) have their own lobbying shops, you should not be any less offended when someone lumps you into that group.

    • #7
    • November 10, 2014, at 8:35 AM PST
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  8. Scott Abel Member

    What? Wow. I had no idea. Thanks for pointing it out.

    I guess everyone DOES have a superpower.

    • #8
    • November 10, 2014, at 8:46 AM PST
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  9. PsychLynne Inactive

    SoS: thanks so much for posting. This was fascinating. I am sure in a country where military service is mandatory, they might be more incentivized to find a person’s strengths as well as ways to benefit from them.

    K of MT: Seriously, 4 years old with an autism dx and no one’s ever mentioned the hereditary link? It’s not as clean a connection as eye color or Huntington’s disease, but the research on genetics has been around awhile.

    • #9
    • November 10, 2014, at 9:53 AM PST
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  10. EThompson Inactive

    SoS, you have officially written one of the most interesting posts I have yet to read on this site.

    I was reminded of an Aspie high school friend who was always considered a bit ‘unusual’ (and is an Ashkenazi) but was embraced by my clique because we respected his remarkable IQ. He was instrumental in helping me work my way through college applications and make the right school choice. (I can still hear him chastising me for interviewing at one particular school – “Why are you wasting your time ?”).

    He went on to Harvard and Harvard medical school and proceeded to become a highly respected neurosurgeon at Mass General. It was so much fun to see him at ensuing high school reunions- the class *nerd* had reigned supreme!

    • #10
    • November 10, 2014, at 10:57 AM PST
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  11. Hank Rhody, Missing, Inaction Contributor

    Son of Spengler: “Aspergery” also has many positive connotations, such as the ability to have a laser-like focus on one issue,

    Anyone remember the President’s “laser-like focus on jobs”? If I recall correctly it was several pivots to the economy ago.

    In all seriousness, the way the IDF is deriving value from autism is awesome beyond words.

    • #11
    • November 10, 2014, at 11:10 AM PST
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  12. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler Post author

    Aaron, that’s a good point about staring at screens. My understanding is that someone would be staring at them regardless. If it weren’t someone with AS, it would be a neurotypical 18- or 19-year-old girl.

    • #12
    • November 10, 2014, at 11:26 AM PST
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  13. Kay of MT Member

    PsychLynne: K of MT: Seriously, 4 years old with an autism dx and no one’s ever mentioned the hereditary link? It’s not as clean a connection as eye color or Huntington’s disease, but the research on genetics has been around awhile.

    My daughter has never mentioned it to me, but we are not supper close to the child’s mother or her family. If it had been mentioned to them, they would probably not tell us. I made a gross error in diplomacy shortly after the child’s birth. Her parents refused to allow her to marry my grandson because he refused to join her “born again radical” Christian church, thus he wasn’t good enough for their daughter. She went along with her parents.

    They did invite my daughter and I to visit the baby when he was several weeks old, and the grandmother, who was the prime instigator in preventing this young couple from marrying, made a statement that put me over the edge. She stated that this child was going to be raised in a “Good Christian home, not like his father.” (A slur against my Jewish daughter.) I looked her dead in the eyeballs and remarked, “You needn’t be concerned about this child’s soul, as his ancestors were standing at Mt Sinai.”

    Sigh…I haven’t been invited back, and have only seen the child about once a year when he is brought over to my daughter’s house to collect Xmas or birthday presents.

    • #13
    • November 10, 2014, at 11:32 AM PST
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  14. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    I have long thought that we give a “diagnosis of a mental disorder, when really, it is people thinking differently.

    ADHD for instance may be an issue in modern society, but there is no one else I’d rather have in a foxhole with me. They notice everything. And based on how ADHD kids play video games, I imagine on a long cursorial hunting of our ancestors that they were great at it.

    Even treating bi-polar disorder robs people of some degree of creativity they have. Their lives might be easier, but they feel they lost something.

    • #14
    • November 10, 2014, at 1:08 PM PST
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  15. EThompson Inactive

    Bryan G. Stephens:I have long thought that we give a “diagnosis of a mental disorder, when really, it is people thinking differently.

    ADHD for instance may be an issue in modern society, but there is no one else I’d rather have in a foxhole with me.

    You struck an empathetic nerve here, Bryan. My active, humorous, and beloved nephew was diagnosed with ADD because society as of late seems inclined to inhibit boys from being boys. I ignored all PC advice and meddled by chastising both my brother and sister-in-law for accepting this diagnosis.

    My advice: He’s misbehaving in school? Then work a little harder to help discipline inappropriate behavior while he’s in a school setting. I was also a bit social in middle school and the first time I came home with a “D” in citizenship I was grounded for a million years. Problem resolved immediately.

    • #15
    • November 10, 2014, at 1:32 PM PST
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  16. Kay of MT Member

    ET, this makes me laugh. When I went to Arkansas to stay with my grandparents for a time, my dad’s 1st cousin, grandpa’s nephew, was the Superintendent of schools for that County, and his wife was the English teacher in our local school. I was told anything less than an A in Deportment, as it was called in the 1940s, my grandfather had a razor strap waiting for me. They weren’t about to be embarrassed by my behavior. No problems at all! Matter of fact, I made A in everything for 2 years, and I had been considered incorrigible for years.

    • #16
    • November 10, 2014, at 2:03 PM PST
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  17. EThompson Inactive

     I had been considered incorrigible for years.

    I knew there was a perfectly logical reason I relate to your posts.

    • #17
    • November 10, 2014, at 2:09 PM PST
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  18. Danny Alexander Member

    In an earlier day, Ashkenazi Jewish boys inhabiting certain points on the autism spectrum — perhaps not quite to the point of Unit 9900 material, but in some cases quite close — would likely have been praised (not diagnosed, praised) for meriting the blessing of “sitzfleisch.”

    Here’s a pretty solid profile of the “sitzfleisch king” — someone the Obama White House would have (with the unintentional effect of praising him) deemed “Aspergery”:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/history/2013/01/the_original_jewish_genius_the_gaon_of_vilna.single.html

    Ironically, the call in Israel to draft haredi yeshiva (and/or kollel) students into the IDF frequently turns on the contention that a great many of them are not destined for genius-level Torah greatness and are — by virtue of effectively “hiding out” from military service with religious exemptions — simply misusing time in their youth that could be put to the benefit of Israel’s national security.

    I say “[i]ronically” because it may well be precisely the genius-level yeshiva/kollel denizens — some of them, anyway — who could *also* (and thus *particularly*) serve with distinction in Unit 9900 or equivalent capacities.

    In any event, the intended slur of “Aspergery” against Bibi only serves to highlight the contrast with our shiftless POTUS; as Valerie Jarrett quite explicitly put it in an interview several years back, Obama has been “bored all his life” due to being genius-level smart and thus, in effect, both above and wasted on the roles and organizations he’s deigned to involve himself in pre-White House.

    (And as we’ve seen since 20 January 2009, mid-White House too!)

    It all begs the question, how can a person be too smart to sustain focus and attain substantive mastery of a subject (*any* subject)?

    The answer, of course, is that this is impossible — but Obama has been on record as sliding around that problem via simple brazen assertion (most memorably in his infamous pre-2009 litany, “I’m a better policy analyst than my policy analysts, etc.”).

    Eventually, the self-deceptive psychological behaviors — and the equally slipshod habits of thought that these behaviors engender — lead to catastrophic failure where logical acuity and frank pragmatism would have better served all concerned.

    By unhappy coincidence, “Times of Israel” editor David Horovitz (himself probably not all that “Aspergery”) illuminates precisely how such catastrophe-level failure — stemming from illogical and wishful thinking (and sitzfleisch deficiencies) — is now upon us:

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/looming-iran-deal-spells-the-empowering-of-evil/

    • #18
    • November 10, 2014, at 2:16 PM PST
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  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    EThompson:

    I was also a bit social in middle school and the first time I came home with a “D” in citizenship I was grounded for a million years. Problem resolved immediately.

    Mr Rattler also used to get D’s in “citizenship”. Turned out the problem was he was better at arithmetic than the teacher and corrected her mistakes as she went.

    Mr Rattler’s father was a bit torn on what to do about this. On the one hand, having the discretion to refrain from correcting every single mistake your superior makes, especially in a manner that might be considered disruptive to others, is an important life-skill. On the other hand, kids shouldn’t be taught math wrong.

    In the end, the teacher’s duty to not teach the kids wrong math won out over the young Mr Rattler’s duty to show “good citizenship” by not embarrassing his teacher. He was given his father’s blessing to keep annoying the teacher with corrections.

    • #19
    • November 10, 2014, at 2:18 PM PST
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  20. Aaron Miller Member

    Danny Alexander: In an earlier day, Ashkenazi Jewish boys inhabiting certain points on the autism spectrum — perhaps not quite to the point of Unit 9900 material, but in some cases quite close — would likely have been praised (not diagnosed, praised) for meriting the blessing of “sitzfleisch.”

    Gesundheit.

    • #20
    • November 10, 2014, at 3:22 PM PST
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  21. Doug Watt Member

    When the sycophant’s of a narcissist criticize someone, especially a narcissist that has the attention span of a gnat they are not to be taken seriously. There is no doubt that the US has been damaged but the day will come when they will disappear back into faculty lounges and labor in meaningless intellectual obscurity. Just keep your children away from them.

    • #21
    • November 10, 2014, at 3:51 PM PST
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