Hopkins isn’t the only one on the spectrum. We’re a spectrum species

Wise words for once? Katie Hopkins has suggested she might be 'on the spectrum'. She wouldn't be the only one
Wise words for once? Katie Hopkins has suggested she might be ‘on the spectrum’. She wouldn’t be alone

Autism – just like sexuality, gender and pretty much any human phenomenon – is a grey entity

‘I’m definitely on the spectrum’, uttered Katie Hopkins in – arguably – her most candid interview to date.

She was on LBC radio, defending Tweets she had made about an autistic child on Channel 4’s Born Naughty?

Hopkins had described the program’s subject – nine-year-old Honey – as a ‘T***’. This, paired with the fact she had accused Ed Miliband of being autistic in the run up to elections, angered mums and dads – particularly those of children with special needs.

And then, Hopkins confessed her prejudice might not be so outward, revealing that she might too be autistic.

That’s no reason, of course, to try and out other people with the same condition – just as a gay man would not out another (unless you’re Perez Hilton).

However, she has raised an interesting point about autism: its defining features are far subtler than we think. Looking at Hopkins, with all her cockiness and – dare I say it – ability to engage, she and Honey seem worlds apart. But they could actually be far more similar than any of us realise.

In our society we tend to think of things as very black and white: you’re a man or woman; autistic or not; dyslexic or not; mentally ill or not. Yet, science constantly teaches us that humans are really quite a muddled species. The ‘spectrum’ has become a big word in psychology over the years because it teaches us that most traits are on a continuum.

One large part of human experience that supports this is sexuality. In recent years people have been far more open to the ‘greyness’ of attraction. This notion was largely advocated by sexologist Alfred Kinsey in the 70s, who found that people’s romantic experiences were far more fluid than previously thought. He devised a 6-point scale to describe how people can go from being exclusively hetero- or homo-sexual to more ambiguous in their preferences.

We need to be a bit like Kinsey when we look at every psychological phenomenon. That’s things like autism, psychopathy, anxiety and depression. There isn’t a ‘having it’ and ‘not having it’ – for most things we lie on a scale.

This was especially demonstrated in a Horizon documentary last year, Living with Autism. In the show Professor Uta Frith examines what it is that makes someone autistic.

Characteristics such as the need to control, obsessive interests in things, finding it difficult to empathise and an inability to cope with unusual situations are used as diagnostic criteria.

They are all inhibiting traits; and yet, very human.

At the end of her research, Frith asks Professor Simon-Cohen (one of the world’s most renowned autism experts) the elephant-in-the-room question: could we all be a bit autistic? Yes, he says.

What he points out is that we all have autistic behaviours and cognitions – it’s only when these traits are pertinent enough to reduce one’s quality of life that a doctor is likely to give someone a diagnosis.

You can see this parallel in disorders such as psychopathy, which is characterised by attributes such as low fear responses, the ability to turn on or turn off charm and desire for power. They’re totally natural features – it’s only when a person has them in droves that you have a problem. A psychopath.

It’s not just psychopathy and autism that are spectrum phenomenons – it’s mental health.

I sometimes get bothered by statistics around them that say things like ‘1 in 4 people are depressed’. It sounds like something so random; that only hits an unlucky few. But there are not ‘depressed people’ and ‘non-depressed people’. Everyone experiences sadness, guilt and anxiety – feelings that typify depression – it’s just that they happen to varying degrees.

And lastly there’s gender. Remember Mokgadi Caster Semenya – the South African middle-distance runner, who won gold at the women’s 800m in the 2009 World Championships? Many questioned what her gender was as she was masculine, with her macho voice and chiseled abs. But she was a woman.

We all know masculine women and we know feminine men. And then we know the in-betweens.

Gender is fluid; sexuality is fluid; state-of-mind is fluid. The jist of so much psychological research is: people are fluid.

That’s why when Katie Hopkins tells the world that that she’s ‘on the spectrum’, I won’t laugh. I don’t know if she is attention-seeking, but I thank her for bringing attention to the notion that the spectrum is far more big and welcoming than we all imagine. We’re not staring at it, we’re sitting right on it.

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Dancing Man: we’re only charitable when the cameras are out

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The media says Dancing Man has finally got his ‘own back’. But has he?

Micro-socialism is what the world needs more of; not overblown ‘charitable’ campaigns

Like any civilised human being, I felt sorry for Sean O’Brien – aka ‘Dancing Man’ – when I read what had happened to him in the papers recently.

This is the larger-than-life chap who was ridiculed on social media for shaking his jelly at an event. A group of spectators posted a photograph of him on the internet with the caption: “Spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week. He stopped when he saw us laughing.”

So upset were social media onlookers by this piece of body-shaming that they decided to do something about it. Stars including Monica Lewinsky, Pharrell Williams and Moby came forward to organise the 47-year-old a spectacular party.

Dancing Man joins a host of other benefactors of people’s sudden, abrupt generosity, including autistic boy Glenn Buratti – whose empty sixth birthday party was saved by web campaigners – and mugging victim Alan Barnes.

They’re individuals for whom life has – most likely – been extremely difficult; people whose existences we have the ability to improve easily, with simple every day gestures. But we don’t. We only care when the cameras are out.

It sounds awfully harsh to say that but that’s how I felt reading about the party to make it up to Dancing Man.

The question I want to know is, what happens when it’s all over? When Dancing Man (who, interestingly, is rarely called by his name – Sean O’Brien) goes back to his home. Will Monica et al be popping round for dinner? Will Pharrell be knocking on his door to watch the footie? I very much doubt it.

It’s far easier to promote grand gestures towards the needy – or victimised – than the small cumulative ones that add up. These huge spectacles of kindness are actually providing a get out card from engaging in real acts of charity.

More than that, it’s straightforward to support people like Dancing Man and Glenn Buratti when they’ve suddenly become a trend – a fashion you and your friends can subscribe to. We have a tendency to work in packs, whether we’re supporting or belittling an individual.

And yet, fashion dies out. Who’s going to rave with Dancing Man the next time? Who’s going to be at Glenn Buratti’s seventh birthday party? These are the questions that plague their loved ones.

Any sort of charity is a good thing, but in our quest for big, sweeping statements of support for vulnerable individuals, we may have forgotten the symbols that give people hope and reason to survive.

These can be things as simple as asking an old lady if she needs help carrying her bags into her house, or just giving someone a compliment. Heck, it could even be going dancing with Dancing Man once a week. Instead, the internet has given rise to a whole new level of charity that says ‘bigger is better’. And I’m not sure it is.

You only have to look at Susan Boyle – who was taken to The Priory for emotional exhaustion during the peak of her fame – to see that extreme adoration, aside from looking a bit phoney, can actually be quite damaging to vulnerable individuals. Loud is not necessarily love.

There are no quick solutions to helping people; charity is a commitment. The kindness of our society aren’t making a big statement about it; they’re quietly helping others through their daily actions.

By all means, throw Dancing Man a party. But when the music has died out, and Monica and Pharrell have gone home, let us remember that Dancing Man is just that, a man. What he needs is not fame, nor social media campaigns, but compassion.

Women: why are we so scared of having a big nose?

Are you for zeal? Azalea has allegedly had plastic surgery again
Are you for zeal? Azalea has allegedly had plastic surgery again

We love a big booty. Why not a big snooty?

Who nose why Iggy Azalea went under the knife.

I always liked her look. With her prominent facial features, large bum and moles, she challenged conventional ideas of what it is to be sexy in showbiz.

But at Sunday evening’s Billboard Awards there was something very distinctly different about the singer. Her snuffer had gone.

Of course, it hadn’t gone. But it had been shaved into a shape that dramatically transformed her face, making her look like all the other Kardashi-clones gracing the red carpet.

As someone with a big beak, I felt rather disheartened to see another one bite the dust. But who can blame Azalea? She’s just wearing the school uniform. Forget breathing, the nose has become a staple accessory in the quest for beauty. One of the few body parts where smaller is better.

It’s not only the A-listers turning to surgery. In 2014 Rebecca Adlington had rhinoplasty to reduce her nose after years of abuse about its size. That someone of her profession thought it essential to reconfigure her face spoke volumes about the state of things. It didn’t matter that she was an Olympic swimmer. She was a woman and she didn’t look right.

In years to come I fear that girls will be far more inspired by Adlington’s surgery than front-crawl technique. From statistics you can already whiff a worrying increase in the amount of women wanting nose jobs – 3,841 in 2013 (a 19 percent rise from 2012).

Many of these are teenagers. This trend doesn’t say to me women want to look better. It says: women want to look like babies. We have fetishised neoteny, and made ourselves into strange hybrids of young and old. Mature physiological assets such as big breasts, lips and bottoms are acceptable, whereas infantile features such as button noses and small hands are perceived as attractive and feminine.

But I don’t want to be a baby. And I don’t want to be like Azalea, or all these other women with disappearing faces: the Kardashians and Simpsons and Agrons of this world. In essence, they are experiencing the ‘Anti-Pinocchio’ effect: the lies grow (‘I haven’t had any plastic surgery’), but the noses shrink.

I can’t see how they are any better for filing away their noses. Just as I don’t feel anyone improves from plucking away their eyebrows or pumping collagen into their lips. Noses are what give us individuality and character; we are all the sum of our parts.

You only have to look at the likes of Lea Michele, Barbra Streisand and Davina McCall to see that quite apart from being – as Hollywood might suggest – a hindrance, a larger nose can be a positively sexy asset. One of plastic surgery’s greatest tragedies is, arguably, the loss of Jennifer Grey’s nose. It was big, sure. But it was great. Without it she’s not exactly unattractive – yet, she has lost a certain je nais se quoi.

Slowly but surely women are turning into an army of small-nosed, doe-eyed Martians, losing a very public fight against the plastic surgeons. Just the other day in between a Made in Chelsea television break I was presented with an advert for plastic surgery. If I was impressionable; more susceptible to the idea that my nose was some sort of face parasite, perhaps I would pick up the phone.

But I like my nose. So I didn’t.

I liked Azalea’s nose. She was really quite beautiful with it pre-surgery. But it’s gone now, and I mourn for it like a fallen soldier. Azalea was a beacon of hope for women campaigning against a society that would like us to regress into infancy while retaining our sexuality. My only bit of hope comes from big bums. They haven’t always been in, but somehow J Lo, Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose have made them the next big thing.

If we can promote a big booty, surely we can do the same for the big snooty.

Made in Chelsea highlights our obsession with the ‘meta’

Jess contemplates whether to go out with Jamie in Made in Chelsea
Jess contemplates whether to go out with Jamie in Made in Chelsea

The other day I did something that felt really naughty. Sort of like eating a massive chocolate cake when you’re on a diet.

Only this time I was indulging in something far less nourishing. Made in Chelsea.

I’ve never really got into these British ‘reality’ television series that came to prominence after American predecessors such as The Hills and Laguna Beach. That’s mostly cause, bloody hell, we’re shitter actors (and uglier).

Made in Chelsea has all the makings of a good show: hot, young people with money. And I don’t care that it’s fake in the slightest. But I really feel like it’s being let down by scriptwriters.

Of course they probably don’t have scriptwriters, per se. There are just people giving the ‘real-life’ participants (/dodgy actors) a vague idea of what they want to say. (Which is a shame because Binkey et al can’t be trusted with such responsibility.)

The dramatic situation has ultimately resulted in this: characters basically looking like they’ve oDed on some sedative only for someone backstage to poke them with a cattle prod, forcing them to say their line.

I think the real thing that’s gone a bit Pete Tong with Made in Chelsea is this: it’s a bit too ‘meta’. By this I mean, there’s too much reflection rather than action.

Like, you know, when the characters talk about things happening to them, and then reflect on experiences as they’re happening. Most of these conversations revolve around dates: when they’re on one they start talking about the date with their date, and its relation to other dates. It all feels a bit kaleidoscopic.

I almost think that Made in Chelsea has become too philosophical; Socratic in its determination to question the human experience.

I’ve been interested in this ‘meta’ phenomenon across a series of shows recently, such as TOWIE (high brow, I know). I like TOWIE a bit better than Made in Chelsea from a dramatic perspective as I think the cockneys are better actors. They have this nitty grittiness that can’t be found in Sloane Square. But they are just as guilty of over-analysing.

“Do you fink he likes you?”

“How do you fink this date is going?”

And yada yada yah.

So many questions, so little answers.

Seeing as these shows get quite huge viewing figures, it seems to be they emphasise something salient about the human condition. Our need to cross-examine each element of our experiences.

People are literally looking to Made in Chelsea for guidance about how to view relationships and friendships. Slowly but surely we are turning the simple processes of every day life into something psychologically complicated, that must be assessed at every chance.

You can see this tendency sometimes when talking with friends. With all the cod psychology available these days, people sometimes attach pseudo reasons to why they act the way they do.

“I don’t want to go out with you” might become “I don’t think I’m ready for a relationship. I have commitment issues.”

“I want to break up” might become “I need a break. I feel so confused.”

Made in Chelsea and TOWIE are fuelling this culture of ‘why do I feel this way?’ whereby we attach narratives to our cognitions.

But is life really that complicated? I’m not sure it is. Sometimes we have to accept that we just feel one way, and there is no deep down psychological reason for it. Out with the grey, in with the black and white, I say.

Jess might talk to Jamie all day about how she feels about their relationship, but – ultimately – Jess knows if she wants Jamie or not. It’s a question that can be asked in one second, not an hour-long episode.

This is by no means a criticism of Made in Chelsea. It brings me delight each weekend as I watched the dead mannequins tell each other their ‘feelings’ and talk about weird things like tents. But I am saying – like all of us – it could do with a little less conversation, a little more action.

Teenagers are stupid, but is it any wonder why

Bloody hell, kids are stupid.

That’s what I thought today when I read the news that a ‘dangerous’ game is sweeping across social media, consuming spotty, impressionable teens.

It’s pretty easy to play. The creatively named “Game of 72” only makes one demand: that its participants disappear on purpose for 72 hours.

Sounds fun, right? I mean what’s better than scaring your parents and having nothing to do for three solid days. Part of me thought, screw it, if those teens are dumb enough to think this is a good idea, they deserve every bit of their comeuppance. I feel the same way every time I hear about the latest teen sexting angst, or girls running off to join ISIS.

And then the more I point my finger, the more I realise that it could have been me doing all those stupid things. I reminisce about the rebellious fantasies of my yonder years that I wasn’t brave enough to live out. When I ask myself what the reason for them is, it seems simple: boredom.

Yeah, boredom. It’s surprisingly dull being a teen, and I blame school. We think of our school days as some of the best times of our lives, carefree and easy. But for some they can also feel like an eighteen-year prison sentence with smelly inmates, bad food and miserable authority figures.

There’s also the company. Year after year you’re stuck with the same people. At least in the real world – aka work – you interact with individuals from multiple backgrounds. School can feel like being in a relationship with someone you didn’t choose. And more than that, it can leave you feeling totally sexually frustrated.

This may seem like a trivial point, but it’s especially pertinent for teenagers going to single-sex schools. People I know have, literally, pushed their sexuality to its limits in order to get some form of action. With the lack of choice for guys in my sixth form, a testosterone-fuelled village goat could have probably tempted me. I’m not saying sexual frustration was the prime reason those girls ran off to ISIS to become wives, but I am suggesting that the limited choice of people we have for company as teenagers can skew our minds, forcing us to consider totally inappropriate alternatives.

Schools haven’t changed much from when I left sixth form around ten years ago. They are places where students have no place to harvest their imagination, and are forced into activities that don’t always engage them. Then they get home where they are flooded with television shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, which serve to emphasise how much more exciting and dangerous their lives could be. We are animals: if we do not get social and intellectual stimulation in our ordinary places, we look for it elsewhere.

My teenage education seemed especially dull when I compared it to my primary one. I went to an amazing – albeit a bit hippy-drippy – independent school in London. It was all about free will and expressing yourself. I called my teachers by their first names, we didn’t wear uniforms, and we viewed maths like a giant turd that was to be avoided at all costs. The day was unstructured and mostly consisted of interpretive dance lessons, sewing or art. When I heard people from other school complain about their days I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. School was a place of laughter for me – where my imagination could run free. What I learnt back then is that there’s no time to be naughty when you’re happy.

But teenagers today aren’t happy. They’re bored out of their wits because somehow we have made education – one of life’s greatest joys – desperately dull. So I can understand why they have turned into idiots; why they might think it’s fun to get lost for 72 hours. They are hungry for adventure – even if that, more often than not, ends up as misadventure.

Vegucated: why we should all watch this simple documentary about the farming industry

I first became vegetarian when I was 14. I loved the taste of meat, and no one believed me in my family when I said I wasn’t going to eat it any more, but I fundamentally felt that what I was doing was wrong.

In the years since I have given up meat, I have learnt that being vegetarian really isn’t as fashionable as you might think. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that vegetarians and vegans are two of the most unpopular groups for their ideas. And so, instead of sharing our opinions with everyone – as it is often suggested we do – we keep quiet a lot of the time.

People stereotype us a lot too. My evidence of this is largely anecdotal, but I feel we are generally perceived as wimpy, airy-fairy Guardian readers, who can’t ‘man-up’ enough to eat a cow. There is even psychological evidence to suggest that people give psychological profiles to food – vegetarian items are regularly perceived as feminine, whereas meat is thought of as masculine.

But anyway. I’ve had enough of keeping quiet about eating meat. That’s because the other day I watched a documentary called Vegucated, which offers rich insights into the farming industry.

It’s a very simple documentary, where a vegan woman asks three New Yorkers to adopt her diet for six weeks, educating them about the farming industry along the way. I was curious to find out what happens ‘behind closed doors’ in farms, as I don’t really know what does happen, other than death.

The main thing the film showed is that animals are being treated like they’re objects rather than creatures. There’s footage of ‘useless’ male chicks being thrown into grinders, or even bins sometimes like they were paper going into the rubbish. Bulls and pigs are being castrated without anaesthetic, and left to die if they get infections from such operations. I watched pigs burned alive and skinned.

What’s upsetting about these scenes is how human the animals are. Some were desperately trying to run away from their captors, others looked scared out of their wits. I watched a pig getting chased around by a stun gun, shaking madly with terror. It knew exactly what was about to happen to it. The people on the show were just as upset as me and adopted vegan diets quickly.

I have seen others on film get equally distressed by animal cruelty. On Bear Grylls The Island I watched a group of female ‘survivors’ struggle for days over whether to kill two cute pigs despite being starved. There was also a Googlebox episode showing a clip from Channel 4’s Vietnam’s Dog Snatchers: a show about the dog-farming industry in the country. The hypocrisy of it all astounds me when people are suddenly reduced to blubbering wrecks, confronted with the reality of how an animal got to their mouths.

What this documentary showed me was just how much our society disconnects life and food. And how reluctant we are to engage in vegetarian and vegan arguments. I get why people don’t want to do that: meat is one of life’s greatest pleasures and giving it up can feel like the dietary equivalent of celibacy.

But our farming processes are totally messed up. In developing countries we are eating with our eyes closed. We want meat, but we don’t really want to know what happened to it. Some of the cleverest people I know eat meat, and when I – very rarely – question them about it they say things like ‘but it’s so tasty’ or ‘I know it’s bad but I enjoy it’. Basically, they don’t really want to think about it. But what kind of life is that where you don’t think about these things?

Even if you can’t think about the ethics of eating meat, you should watch Vegucated to consider the environmental impact. Meat and fish farming are having a dreadful impact on our planet’s health.

But who cares, right? Because animals taste yum – and yum equals fun. That seems to be everyone’s outlook, and it’s making me despair.

I sometimes think that we are such a rational species. Stories in the news of social injustices and the public’s response make me feel proud to be human. The farming industry is the only thing that makes me feel we’ve completely lost the plot.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. At the end of the documentary its creator spoke of all the people spreading the message of vegan and vegetarianism. To me, they felt a bit like modern day Cassandras. By this, I mean the prophet in the Illiad who warns the Greeks about the Trojan horse, predicting that it will destroy them (it does). But no one listens. We have lots of these modern day Cassandras in today’s society, whether that’s your Facebook friend posting about injustice in Palestine, or global warming, or something else.

These people have so many intelligent things to say and yet it’s falling on deaf ears – because thinking about the truth is painful and incompatible with the way many of us want to live.

But there are hard facts we must confront. There is nothing pretty or honourable about eating animals. In doing so, we are endorsing industries that treat living things with brains and hearts like garbage. For our humanity’s sake, we must engage with documentaries like Vegucated.

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And for anyone who is wondering, here are the reasons I do not eat meat (NB. I would never preach these opinions to those in countries where veggie/vegan lifestyles aren’t feasible for economic/resource reasons):

  • Fundamentally I do not like the idea of killing an animal for my dietary satisfaction.
  • In developed countries we do not need to eat animals. There are more options than ever for vegetarians and vegans. So why should something need to die?
  • It is not ‘natural’ to eat meat any more, as so many people proclaim. Perhaps it was ‘natural’ when mankind went out and killed his own prey and had the psychological relationship to the death process. Now we let slaughtering happen behind closed doors in factories. We have no idea what’s going on. We also must remember that practices that seemed cultural norms die out over time as people question the ethics of them. For example, the Romans might have thought gladiator fights were a natural way of life, but where are they today?
  • People say that it’s healthier to eat meat and fish because you get more nutrients. That is not true. You can get everything you need from vegetables. In fact, a vegetarian/vegan diet has been shown to dramatically reduce the chances of getting diseases such as bowel cancer. It might take a little more effort to get iron-rich meals, but the more people become vegan/vegetarian the more the food industry will gear up towards feeding us.
  • We’re playing God. There is no logic to deciding what animal should and should not get eaten. It is not based on intelligence or emotional capability, mostly cultural relativism. For example, pigs have been shown to be one of the most intelligent creatures and yet we eat them, but we’d cry if someone tried to turn our dogs into a burger. As animals evolve it’s going to get more difficult to decide which deserves eating.
  • Further to that point, there is no evidence to suggest we are any better than animals. Why is cannibalism less of a valid choice than being a carnivore? People sometimes use two incompatible arguments to justify eating meat, which are:
    • Animals are less intelligent than us, so we should eat them
    • If animals eat other animals, why shouldn’t we do it too

You can’t say animals are more stupid than you, so you’re justified in eating them – and then copy the behaviour of a ‘stupid’ animal.

  • I couldn’t kill an animal myself to eat, so I don’t think I deserve to have it. People have sometimes told me about the time they went off to Africa one year and killed a chicken to prove they could do it. But that isn’t enough to prove you should eat meat. You need to do it over and over again to understand what it really means – psychologically and physically – to eat meat.
  • I hark on a lot about this ‘psychological’ connection to our meat. Death is a big deal. Some of man’s worst atrocities have happened when people were removed psychologically from bad things happening. We need emotional engagement in everything that we do.
  • We’ve cheapened life. Our meat industry mocks its sanctity with ridiculously inexpensive products.

The only argument I have ever been convinced by when it comes to why we eat meat is that it tastes good. But, hey, my arm probably does too.