Building the Ship Of Theseus

I had stepped away from the squall that Suzanne Wright kicked up around Autism Speaks. I wanted to get back to my roots and focus on Dmitry’s goofiness, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share the wisdom of this article with my readers.

“There Is No Baseline Me”

This is a concept I’ve touched on before, namely the question “Where does Dmitry end and autism begin?” Who is Dmitry the 3 year old, who is Dmitry the autistic, and who is Dmitry the person? And can it ever really be answered with certainty? There is no “Baseline Dmitry” onto which autism has layered, adhering, infecting. It is pervasive in his lifelong development, and research even suggests his very genetic makeup as well. Dropping Dmitry into a “normal brain” might actually be best explained as a meaningless absurdity, as it would not yield another Dmitry at all.

Consider the paradox of the Ship of Theseus. Theseus is the consummate captain, taking most excellent care of his ship. With every rip in the sail, he replaces the sail rather than suffering unsightly patches. With every boom that shows the wear of the sea, he scraps it in favor of freshly dried, fully tarred lumber. Each decaying plank is swiftly replaced, until eventually, over the decades, not a toothpick remains of the original ship. The philosopher’s question is: “Is this the same ship, or a new ship?”

This paradox applies to the human condition equally well: as I grow and mature and age, a plank is stripped and a snapped oar replaced and a new sail unfurled. Does this mean I am “the same man” at age 32 as I was at age 21? Most of us would say “no”.

Now consider that every timber of Dmitry’s ship has been varnished with the pervasive influence and unique perspective of autism. The only way I could strip away and “cure the autism” is to leave nothing behind. Scrap the ship and build a new one all at once. I might have a shiny new ship, but my son as I know him would be no more.

Autism Speaks has the stated goal of elimination and a cure. I fear that this path will lead to the conclusion that it is better for there to be no child at all than an autistic child. And, ultimately, better no person at all than an autistic person.

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5 thoughts on “Building the Ship Of Theseus

  1. That’s a really clever way of looking at it – really novel. I must take my hat off to you for this observation. So insightful.

    • Wow, thanks J! I must admit that is high praise indeed from you, judging by what I’ve observed of your habits of reasoning and observation.

      Then again, since we seem to have similar modes of thinking, this could just turn into a circle— well… you know.

      • lol thank you :) but this is quite brilliant – I know the quandary, but would never have used it like this. I love this sort of thing… because what you have is an observation you can really run riot with. It’s so simple, but so are most wonderful things!

        Awesome! I might not be able to stop myself from having a think about this later :D after I’ve finished with monkeys!

  2. mewhoami says:

    That’s a very good analogy. If we take autism away, then as a result we take a large part of our child, as we know him/her, away as well. I won’t lie and say that I would love for my son to be able to do all the things that ‘normal’ kids can. At the same time, there are so many things that he is protected from (peer pressure, etc) because of his autism. Plus, he has a sincerity about him that most kids do not. So, it’s kind of a toss up of which of those a parent would prefer. I’d like both honestly.

    • That’s my sentiments as well. While I would never have chosen to have a child with autism, I’d have to be a bitter person indeed not to see what new growth and glorious weirdness he’s brought into my life!

      And no I’ll never feel “bad” about Dmitry’s therapy that some may deride as ableism, because the fact is that the more “normal” Dmitry is *able* to be, the easier he will be able to integrate into a society that simply isn’t autistic and does not understand him.

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