Progressives’ obsession with socialisation could harm the LGBT+ community

Last week, an NHS doctor was fired from a governmental position for suggesting gender is determined at birth. He was deemed “unfit to work” after refusing to identify patients by their selected gender. Some time earlier there was similar furore when a professor from the University of Washington School of Computer Science said that women are less likely to pursue computer science because of sexual variation in the brain. In an article for Quillette, he wrote “If men and women are different, then we should expect them to make different choices”.

Clearly, arguing that aspects of identity are biologically determined is extremely controversial in 2018. Progressives, especially, take umbrage with this idea namely because it undermines the socialist perspective that, with the right conditions, anyone can be anything. There is another understandable reason that the general population questions biological theories: wariness over the eugenics movement, which hypothesised that people are the product of genes alone. It has now become mainstream to believe the likes of gender are socially constructed.

But this way of thinking has its limits and contradictions. It can be dangerous to claim that we are simply the result of socialisation, and LGBT+ groups could be impacted the most. Take sexuality, for instance. Most would agree that being gay, straight or in between is not a choice, but something one is born with; there are even studies that demonstrate the existence of genes for sexual orientation. If someone insists that we are all the product of conditioning, this would give ammunition to homophobes, and those who push gay conversion therapies, as they could argue sexuality can be learnt and therefore unlearnt.

The transgender community, too, can be helped by biological arguments – contrary to what some might expect. Researchers have found evidence that genes play a large role in shaping sex identity and gender identity. A study led by Belgian University found that the brain activity of transgender boys and girls corresponded to the gender they most identify with. Findings like these can help to counter arguments that trans-identity is a choice, but they are then undermined by the progressive argument that gender has no neurological basis.

Most psychologists would argue that nature and nurture are actually equally important in human development, and interact with one another. The danger is when we start to push one over the other, which can inspire bigotry in different ways. If we promote socialisation, we suggest that facets of ourselves can be removed through conditioning. If we rely on nature, we become too rigid about humanity. Something in the middle can help us all, but progressives must not demonise biology. It has helped win some hugely important battles.

Is there a correlation between arts degrees and hating Jordan Peterson?

Something concerning of late is the number of Left-wing journalists laying into the scientific theories of Jordan Peterson, even though they have arts degrees! I have nothing against arts degrees, incidentally, but I do take issue with people pontificating about areas they know nada about…

This they do over and over again, particularly around psychology – which is Peterson’s specialist area. Yesterday it was the turn of Jared Yates Sexton, who accused Peterson of “bad science” and “patriarchal pseudoscience” – whatever that means.

Yates Sexton had taken offence to Peterson’s recently publicised hypothesis that enforced monogamy serves a protective function against male violence, whereas sexual frustration in men can lead to aggression. This observation does not seem unreasonable to me, considering most terrorists seem to be young blokes who weren’t getting any (nothing against virgins, incidentally).

It’s actually quite a complex theory, and certainly not a literal instruction for forced marriages, nor any suggestion that violence doesn’t happen within monogamous relationships. It deserves nuanced academic contemplation, but we are not in that sort of age.

Yates Sexton’s ‘critique’ resorted to nothing but insults, before he accused Peterson of relying “on shaky research and logical fallacies”. All of this prompted yours truly to investigate the background of Yates Sexton: how does he know? Is he a scientific researcher himself?

It turns out that he’s in fact a creative writing professor (though his prose tells another story). That someone whose job is making stuff up is tasked with analysing a Professor of Psychology says everything about the desperate state of academic debate.

Indeed, every time I see Peterson criticised, his opponent seems to have some sort of arts degree – be it English, creative writing or something else.

Like I say, I have nothing against arts degrees; I did music, art and drama at school and find literary people very attractive. It’s only that I am exhausted with “arts-plaining”; writers with no understanding of psychology trying to lecture on it. The expression “know your limits” comes to mind!

Much of the reason they find Peterson controversial in the first place is they haven’t studied psychology, nor dared to read about the topic, therefore they are hearing many theories for the first time through him. They take him way too literally; “Jordan Peterson wants forced marriage!” It’s hilarious at times…

Their infantile retorts (he’s “bad science”, “dangerous”, “alt-right”) are ultimately a smokescreen for their lack of scientific knowledge from which to draw.

Much of Peterson’s assertions are reflective of psychological research, not ideology. I know this because I studied psychology and his analyses chimes with the research. It is merely that facts do not always make Left-wingers happy.

Generally, the Left has huge issues with psychological theory. This is because of their belief that people are ‘blank slates’ who can be shaped by the environment, so as to justify their desire to engineer it. Thus they cannot stand anyone who cites biological variables in human development – for example, personality traits have genetic components – as Peterson and all psychologists will do…

This aversion to psychological theory is part of the reason why I have never been published in this subject in a left-wing publication. I have a First Class Honours BSc in Psychology and 86 in a neuroscience paper – sorry for the brag, just making a point – yet I am deemed as “right wing”. Why? Because I was always accurate about reporting my studies. It is astonishingly frustrating to have an ideology planted onto you for being factual.

All the while I have watched numerous Left-wing journalists cover psychology, even when they have no background in it. It is not a problem to lack qualifications… I am not an academic snob and love self-taught people, as well as thinking that university is overrated. But the issue is having no interest or knowledge of topics; it shows!

One of the worst examples of this was Owen Jones’s criticism of James Damore last year, who was fired by Google for writing a memo that suggested sexual differentiation in the brain. Owen accused him as ‘alt-right’, increasingly code for: “I don’t know what to reply”. Everything Owen wrote was wrong. But is it any wonder? He has a history degree!

It strikes me that one of the greatest diversity issues in media is actually academic diversity, as there don’t appear to be many scientific writers in the mainstream. Of course, by its very nature, journalism will attract arty, literary types. But if we do not have more BScs over BAs, is it any wonder journalists react to Peterson, as well as other scientists, with such horror?

Of course, Peterson covers numerous other areas like economics, history and religion which others may want to touch. These are ones I am more reticent to partake in; psychology is my area, and I really do know my own limits!

By all means people should criticise Peterson, but it is not enough to hurl insults, nor assume that sanctimony is a replacement for expertise. I am not against psychological criticism of Peterson, but, bloody hell, let’s have some facts. Until then I will keep count on the correlation between hating Peterson and arts degrees.

Girls shun science when they have choice

His Royal Mouthpiece for the Liberal Media, Prince Harry, and bride-to-be Meghan Markle spent International Women’s Day encouraging young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and careers. Like much of the public, poor Harry has swallowed the lie that female underrepresentation in STEM is the result of gross gender stereotypes.

Real empiricists will know that there hasn’t been much evidence to support this hypothesis, which has become all too fashionable in recent times. Our country has a huge obsession with gender equality – and diversity, generally – as a measure of a progress. It is not that simple, though – and we all need to wake up and think a bit. Controversially, a recent study shows that in societies with more wealth and egalitarian policies, women are less likely to select STEM degrees. This has been called the “gender-equality paradox”, and it’s something most feminists don’t want to talk about.

Gender stereotypes are a brainless theory for STEM disparity, not least because girls do so well across academia. Aside from last year’s A Level results, they almost always outperform boys at school and university level education. This gives them more choice than their male counterparts to follow different career paths. That they do not pursue STEM is likely to reflect their own interests and ambitions over anything else.

When I was at school, I have to say, there was nothing that I wanted to be less than a scientist. Most of my teachers in this subject were oddballs – one had a poster about “The Dangers of Snogging”, among other quirks – and staring at bunsen burners did not exactly light my fire. The only thing that forced me away from STEM was the boredom of the periodic table.

Girls are much pickier than is acknowledged about what they study, and it’s time people stopped treating them as passive participants in the process of their education. One of my main bones of contention with modern feminism is that it is so focused on ideology that it sometimes overlooks stark reality. Its proponents are unable to form nuanced conclusions about data, which inadvertently makes women look less good at science. It’s not simply the case in STEM that “lots of men” = bad and “more women” = good. Disparity may be the consequence of a free society, not an oppressive one. It can be reflective of choice.

Third-wave feminists have a narrative to prove – that women are victims – and so will always try to explain gender inequality through these terms. This is a shame because education is one area where women are very much winning; we should be popping our champagne bottles over girls’ achievements, not acting as if Peter Stringfellow had become Minister for Education.

The truth about STEM, as I suspect Meghan Markle will know herself – is that many scientific careers simply aren’t that appetising to women. Staring at petri dishes all day? No thanks. Equations on the blackboard? Zzz. On his ‘STEM’ tour, Prince Harry rather hit on a point when he said of engineering: “we want to get away from [the idea] that it’s all men in overalls and oily rags”. Isn’t that the point? Personally, I wouldn’t want to be Billy Joel in the Uptown Girl video. But Christie Brinkley on his bike? Yes please.

The Science Museum is right, feminists are wrong

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The Science Museum has taken a royal bashing after gender campaigners discovered its Who Am I? exhibition, which suggests there is such a thing as cognitive sexual differentiation.

They’re particularly affronted by one part of the showcase, which invites beady-eyed science enthusiasts to find out how female or male their brain is, on a ‘sex-o-meter’ coloured pink and blue. Twitter has been awash with fuming messages from people rejecting the notion of gendered thinking.

Interestingly enough, the exhibition has been about for six years, so I’m not sure why everyone’s het up now – especially as, if they cared about science so much, you might have expected them to spot the offence in that time.

Responding to the Twitter tantrums, the Science Museum has issued an apologetic statement, that says things like: “Creating exhibitions about cutting-edge science is a hard task for museums”. It is now made even harder thanks to sensitive sorts.

What vexes me about the backlash is that there are genetic differences between males and female brains, which the Science Museum was right to convey. Perhaps the biggest evidence of this comes from psychological disorders, which offer insights into which parts of the brain are most active in men and women. Females generally suffer from more emotional illnesses, like anxiety and depression. In males, ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders are more prevalent. Some suggest that these statistics are gleaned from crude diagnostic tools, that mean certain disorders are not recognised as much in one sex. But Tourette Syndrome is one very clear affliction that cannot be missed – three to five times more common in boys.

It’s not just psychological disorders that highlight variations, many studies do too, even if they simply point out brain size. One of the bizarre things I find about conventional feminism is that it denies male and female cognitive differences on the basis that these must be bad. Actually, differences can be a great thing! And don’t necessarily signal doom and gloom for the female species. One McMaster University professor has found that women’s brains have more generalised interconnectivity and plasticity than the male brain. Another scientist has found that women use less of their brain to complete cognitive tasks. See? Not all bad.

Differences also help males and females complement each other’s skills. Scientists scanning 1,000 brains in 2013 found that women had much more connectivity between the brain’s left and right hemisphere, compared to men, where connections were better between the front and back regions. Clearly this divergence breeds harmony, meaning that men and women can work in conjunction.

Another evidence of male and female brain differences is career choice, which is often used to highlight gender inequality – as the under- or over-representation of one sex in a profession may be seen as unjust. But more often than not it probably reveals individual preferences and abilities. One psychologist recently got into trouble for suggesting schemes to get more girls into science are pointless and ignore their innate learning inclinations. His name is Gijsbert Stoet and he used to once teach me! (Ironically enough, I absolutely hated his science classes). His crime is challenging the common nurturist consensus that girls don’t pursue scientific careers because of social barriers – despite the fact we’re more educated and autonomous than ever. The selection of careers is not necessarily the result of environmental oppression, but a window into the brain and its persuasions.

Generally I find myself to be quite Kinseyan about all aspects of psychological life, and accept that the notion of a “male” and “female” brain is quite rigid. Like sexuality, I suspect that everything about being male or female lies on a spectrum. Not even a spectrum, but a melting pot of biological and environmental factors that produce a masculine, feminine or in between sort of person.

But it’s not wrong to suggest that there are male and female brain differences. Even intuition suggests this; the films people watch, the books they read, the sports they go to see – which, of course, many will say is the result of societal stereotypes. Let me tell you, when I avoid football, it is the result of pure, inherent revulsion to a ball going up and down a field.

Feminists should back off the Science Museum. Especially as, if they want to prove they can be good at science, they must acknowledge the biological substrates of cognition. These sort of attacks damage academia, as professionals shouldn’t bend their research to suit socially acceptable narratives – or conceal findings to protect the easily offended.

I suspect what many have been cross about was the Science Museum’s crude representation of men (blue) and women (pink), but curators were clearly trying to engage the masses. And that’s not such a bad thing; with more people in science, we’ll understand even more about our sex.

Joan Bakewell shouldn’t apologise over anorexia comments

Joan-Bakewell-at-her-nort-001

You can’t do an interview these days without someone trying to catch you out. This week it was the turn of Joan Bakewell, who – speaking with The Sunday Times – offered an opinion on anorexia. Speculating on the causes of the eating disorder, she said: “no one has anorexia in societies where there is not enough food”, before adding that it was a sign of “the overindulgence of our society”.

Poor Bakewell didn’t know what she was in for, clearly, but anyone else could anticipate the sound of the high-horse brigade mounting their saddles, ready to charge. Since the interview was released, Bakewell has been flooded with angry messages and ticked off by mental health organisations. Naughty Joan, indeed.

What’s ironic about all this is that Bakewell’s comments have a certain degree of validity. Though she has been largely quoted as saying ‘Anorexia is narcissism’ – in other words, a result of individual vanity – what she actually proposed was more complex than that. Which was that anorexia is a sign of a narcissistic society.

Such a hypothesis is not too far away from other, scientifically-referenced ideas about anorexia. We know that it’s a complex disorder, with a variety of causes. One of these is claimed to be media influence, which means things like exposure to photoshopped images, thin celebrities across television and magazines, and ‘perfect’ friends on Facebook. All of these help to promote unrealistic ideals of the body, and are endemic in a narcissistic society.

And, truthfully, she is right to question the cultural components of anorexia when rates of it differ from country to country. Evidence shows that it is far more prevalent in the West, for instance. So offering a sociological hypothesis does not seem so irrational.

But even if she was completely off the mark, so what? Bakewell was entirely entitled to voice her sentiments.

She joins a number of high profile women who have found, in their later years, society to be more intolerant than ever of their opinions. In August last year, Chrissie Hynde was attacked after suggesting responsibility for her own rape, and let’s not forget the smear of Germaine Greer. It must come as somewhat of a surprise to these individuals, who played such a large role in promoting others’ intellectual freedom, to be suddenly vilified.

Responding to her critics, Bakewell said she was “full of regret” and “sorry”, before adding she must head to bed – as she was too tired to deal with the rest of the criticism (which surely seems like the saddest thing of all – when an 82-year-old is hounded off Twitter). I wish she would do what Chrissie Hynde did back in August, and tell everyone to get stuffed – for it’s the intolerant who should feel apologetic. There’s only one lesson to be learnt from this debacle: Society must learn to digest different opinions better, even if they’re on something as sensitive as anorexia.

Yes, young minds matter. But let’s not pathologise children

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In recent years I have become increasingly concerned about the way society talks about mental health.

It started when I worked at an American summer camp. I witnessed what it’s like to live in a country that constantly labels and medicalises emotions.

Everyone was on ‘something’. At dinner times, the camp nurse walked around the children’s tables, handing out little plastic cups of medication. I was astonished by how many were dosed up because they had depression, anxiety, ADHD or another thing. Some of the kids were as young as eight. I watched them trying to do normal things, like kick a ball around or play with their friends. But they were different; dopey, detached, and in some cases extremely anxious.

I write this a day after The Duchess of Cambridge penned a piece for The Huffington Post to spread awareness of mental health issues in young people, and to end the stigma around asking for “emotional or psychiatric help”. “We know there is no shame in a young child struggling with their emotions or suffering from a mental illness”, she writes.

It is an article with very honourable aims. And yet, it does concern me. The reality is that there are, indeed, young people experiencing real difficulties with mental illness – whom society could better support.

But there are also lots of children who live completely oblivious to mental illness, and will never consider if it affects them. This ignorance is bliss.

That bubble might be about to break. The Duchess’ piece might encourage parents to monitor their children for symptoms of psychiatric disorders, when they are not there. It might even make children start to diagnose themselves.

‘Mental illness’ is an extremely broad term, that encompasses a whole set of states. At one end of the spectrum, you have life-changing disorders such as Schizophrenia, hypomania and psychosis. At the other you have anger, loneliness and anxiety. Many of these are normal variants of human experience, and often justified responses to unhappy situations. But they are increasingly becoming pathologised.

According to MentalHealth.org, 1 in 10 children and young people are affected by mental health problems, which is an alarming statistic. But I’m sure it would be a lot less if, instead of seeing states such as anxiety as an ‘illness’, we granted it a functional part of our existence.

In America, they bear the consequence of a government that heavily publicised mental illness in all its guises. And the result is a highly medicalised and reductionist country, where people cannot allow themselves to feel negative emotions. American children are the victims of this psychiatry-obsession – any sadness or anxiety they now feel a symptom of something more sinister.

Yes, we must help young people with mental health issues more. But we must be sensitive not to colour the experiences of children who do not need intervention with our adult knowledge. We must allow them to explore their own emotions without telling them they’re wrong, or seeking psychiatric counsel. Getting children with psychiatric problems help is not so much to do with spreading awareness, but using good judgement.

Is incest about to increase along with sperm and egg donation?

Love thy brother (a bit too much): GSA might be an unexpected consequence of increases in egg and sperm donation
Love thy brother (a bit too much): GSA might be an unexpected consequence of increases in egg and sperm donation

Alibaba has been worrying.

Its concern surrounds China’s sperm banks, which are currently low on man juice. So unsettled was the e-commerce giant, that this week it set up a campaign to recruit more sperm donors, offering up to 5,000 yuan ($800) to any man willing to squirt his sample. The push resulted in over 22,000 sperm-bank sign-ups in three days.

In other parts of the world there hasn’t been the same need for financial incentives to gain donations. Statistics released by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) showed sperm, and particularly egg, registrations have risen gradually in the UK. 586 male and 1,013 female donors signed up in 2013.

These figures look set to increase, especially with advancements in social media. Recently it was reported how one man from Birmingham had ‘helped’ nine woman, fathering ten children in nine months through offering his sperm on Facebook.

This may seem kind and generous, but there is also a much more dangerous – and ignored – side to seed sprinkling. And that concerns the psychological phenomenon of genetic sexual attraction (GSA).

This remains a thoroughly underresearched idea across sciences because it describes a taboo subject: incest. GSA is a powerful sexual attraction between close biological relatives – parent and offspring, siblings or half-siblings or first and second cousins – who meet for the first time as adults.

Most of us are not attracted to close biological relatives because we have lived with them in what has been described as a ‘critical period’ (from birth to the age of six). During this time, our domestic proximity to relatives is said to cause a desensitisation effect, which prevents us from ever wanting to bump and grind.

Unfortunately, in cases where this has not happened, there is a probability of GSA occurring. In fact, one Guardian article suggests that up to 50 percent of close relatives who reunite in adulthood will experience GSA. In the news there have been tragic – heartbreaking – cases of people who have succumbed to phenomenon; desperately in love with someone who’s desperately wrong for them. Just last year, one husband and wife in Brazil – who did not realise they were related – discovered on a radio show that they had the same mother.

Even worse is that no one is talking about GSA. And that’s partly because egg and sperm donation is a controversial area. Criticising it can be seen as a way of controlling and reducing homosexuals’ reproductive rights. It is, quite simply, not PC to question its legitimacy.

But in allowing sperm and egg to be so readily shipped out to different parents, we are creating a ticking time bomb. The problem surrounds the fact that most of these children will never experience that ‘critical period’ with their close relatives, meaning they will not be densitised to the effects of GSA.

New rules surrounding egg and sperm donation from the HFEA also mean that any child who was conceived on or after April 2005 can now seek information on their parents when they turn 16 years old. This will inevitably mean more children seeking out their biological relatives in adulthood, thereby upping instances of GSA.

And when these individuals do find that they have suddenly fallen in love with mummy, daddy or cousin Jimmy, there will be very limited routes to helping them. Not only is GSA grossly underresearched, but there remains little therapy for sufferers to work through their feelings or to break off incestuous relationships.

But I expect that’s something neither Alibaba nor the Birmingham Facebook donor want to consider. At the moment sperm and eggs are being dished out like kidneys or livers that can be easily transplanted into the home of another human being. But they are different in that they contain enormous amounts of personality.

They’re a dangerous commodity, and GSA is a dangerous consequence of their availability. It is not to say we shouldn’t have egg or sperm donation, only to point out that their current proliferation and accessibility, and even heavy marketing, is setting us up for a troublesome future.

Pickles are teaching us important lessons about mental health

Good for the mouth and good for the mind: pickles have been known to lessen social anxiety symptoms
Good for the mouth and good for the mind: pickles have been known to lessen social anxiety symptoms

I hate to go all Cartesian on y’all, but the body is far more of a puppeteer in human emotion than we consider 

Pickles (or gherkins), to my mind, couldn’t get any more amazing. And yet, far from being a tasty treat, they have now proven their ability to improve mental health.

Scientists have shown that our phallus-shaped friends can reduce social anxiety. Statistics suggest that individuals who regularly nosh on pickles, kimchi (whatever that is), sauerkraut (same…) and other fermented foods experience less ‘neuroticism’.

Not just a Big Mac accompaniment
The underlying factor researchers have identified as the reason behind the reduction in neurotic systems is the ‘mind-gut connection.’ Speaking about the findings, one of the masterminds behind the study said: ‘microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety’.

I’m glad they’ve done this study because it’s given me the excuse to discuss one of the most fascinating things I discovered when I was studying psychology: the body influences in the mind.

We do have a tendency to believe that the mind is controlling the body – and that depression, anxiety and any other types of mental health problems come from top down. For example, you feel sad so you don’t want to do anything; you feel anxious, so you retreat from certain situations. But it’s actually a bit more complex than that.

The James-Lang theory – independently put together by scholars William James and Carl Lange – was the first to suggest that the body could be influencing the mind. They argue that it is possible for physiological change to be the primary response to a situation, preceding emotions.

To illustrate the point, James used an example of a person seeing a bear. Now we might conventionally imagine in this situation one would think ‘shit!!!’ (or worse) and run. However, James argued that it is possible we would actually experience a physiological response to the bear (running/trembling) and only feel our emotions later.

This makes evolutionary sense. We’ve all had moments where our bodies reacted before we had time to think or feel: perhaps our sleeve was catching on fire as we cooked dinner and we quickly flinched back, before thinking ‘bloody hell, that was scary.’

Gut feeling
There are a few examples in daily life where your body might be influencing your mind. The most obvious one is guzzling coffee. With people who have sensitive nervous systems, coffee can make them jittery, even causing a short, but dramatic, increase in blood pressure. It can also give you the shits. And what are all these physiological states symptomatic of?

Anxiety.

So, if you ever catch yourself feeling randomly anxious – even going into panic mode – after a trip to the coffee machine, consider it’s your body that’s influencing your mind.

The same thing goes for ingesting things like alcohol and drugs – which can elevate heart rate and cause the shakes. As we start to experience these physiological changes, our mind becomes alarmed – and it’s possible for us to interpret them as ‘anxiety’ or ‘feeling down’. Really, they’re just the body having a crappy time.

There is even evidence to show that bumming around, doing nothing can make you low. That’s why unemployment – among other reasons – is highly correlated with depression.

I am, therefore I think
So why am I going on about this? I was dead excited that pickles have such a good impact – this research highlights that our body really does do stuff to our mind. And that’s empowering. Unless you’re the Dalai Lama, trying to control your feelings can be difficult, but the body is a far more accessible tool to regulate.

Even just smiling more can make you feel happier. Psychologists have found that the behaviour can actively boost mood, in a theory they call the ‘facial feedback hypothesis’.

We can also do more exercise as a society. I am astonished by how many people never do it, given the dire mental health stats in this country. Of course it’s not the sole medicine when someone is down in the dumps, but surely it has to be one of the first – if not the primary – ports of call when an individual’s state of mind is in decline. Scientists have shown that working out releases powerful endorphins. And it’s completely human to need to run around. Humans are animals, equipped with reactive nervous systems that need to respond, and engage, with stimuli.

We are extremely complex beings and things like exercise or diet may seem like simplistic solutions to regulating our emotions, just like pickles. But we shouldn’t think that our mind is the controller all the time. It’s actually quite a complex dual process of interplay between the mind and body that, ultimately, makes us feel content.

So eat pickles, go to the gym – and never, ever think of your body as your puppet. Sometimes it’s holding the strings over you.

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.