PostHeaderIconWeek of 29 April - 5 May 2017

Week of 29 April - 5 May 2017


Welcome to my weekly update. This week I've been working on my Nov/Dec 2017 book review column as well as some other projects.

This Week

Major Project: 

My Analog column usually has a lead-time of about 6 months; this time around, for various reasons, my deadlines are accelerated a little. So I'm working on the November/December 2017 column right now.

In December I generally structure the column as recommendations for books to give as holiday gifts. Now that Analog is bimonthly, I've decided to continue that tradition in the expanded length I have now. Which means I'm doing about 10 books rather than my usual 7 or 8.

(Actually, I've cheated a bit. I read some of these titles earlier, knowing I was going to have this crunch.)

In any case, preparing for the column means reading, making notes, thinking hard, and then whipping it all into shape. That last step is where I am as I write this.

I hope you'll enjoy the column when you see it in several months.

Other Project(s): 

I've had something of a major breakthrough on Hunt for the Dymalon Cygnet. I've been wrestling with a plot problem, and this week I realized that a character from earlier in the book is the key to this problem. It means, I think, adding a chapter that isn't on my outline—but the result will be well worth it.

The solution to that problem, it turns out, helped me to get a better handle on the next book in the sequence (the tentative title is Play for the Crimson Scintilla). So I've been making notes and slightly rearranging genealogies.

Of course, this week I've also been scanning books, keeping up my Legion of Super-Heroes site, and maintaining my publicity efforts.


Upcoming Appearance(s): 

Obligatory Cute Hamster Picture

Currently Reading


Autism and Political Discourse

I guess you've noticed that political discourse has become...chaotic? unrestrained?

I'd like to talk about one of the problems with political talk nowadays. There are many, but let's concentrate on this one: Everybody knows what people on the other side think. And most of the time, it's pretty clear that people on the other side aren't thinking. They're either evil to the core, or just plain crazy.

In 1980, psychologist George Miller proposed the following principle, now known as Miller's Law: "In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of."

Let me give you a real-world example. Trump promised to "drain the swamp." After 3 months in office, we have the most corrupt Administration since the Teapot Dome. And folks are saying, "He didn't keep his promise, he hasn't drained the swamp. Yet his supporters keep supporting him, they're insane."

But wait. Suppose instead of "drain the swamp," he had promised to "get rid of obstructions." What with gutting Federal agencies, appointing members of his family, and canceling Obama's executive orders—well, you can't say he hasn't kept that promise.

Here's the thing: that's exactly what he meant when he said "drain the swamp." He knew it, his supporters knew it, and on some level, you knew it.

So here you are, proclaiming that his supporters are idiots for (from your viewpoint) trusting in his broken promises. And here are his supporters, thinking you're an idiot because you can't acknowledge the simple fact that (from their viewpoint) he's keeping his promise.

Not only that, but you'll keep expending your time and effort fighting his corruption, while all the time he'll keep removing obstructions. You're fighting the wrong battle.

It's not enough to oppose an authoritarian. You have to oppose him on the right things. Which means you have to understand what he and his supporters are saying and thinking.

Which brings us to autism.

Neurotypicals think they can read minds. Most of the time, they can. They read facial expressions and body language, vocal tone and all that crap..and from that, they instinctively understand what the other person is thinking. Most of the time, NTs don't even pay that much attention to actual words—after all, we know that 90% of communication is nonverbal, right?

This breaks down when there's a mismatch between body language and thoughts. When a person's face/body says one thing, and their mind says something else.

This happens with autistic folks: our body language doesn't match, and NTs assume they know what's going on. It also happens when someone is from a different culture, or if someone is deliberately misleading.

NTs don't make usually an effort to understand what Trump is saying, because they're not used to making that effort with anyone. They can read minds, so why would they need to think?


If you've lived successfully with autism for nearly 60 years, you develop some skill in figuring out what others mean when they speak. Because we don't read minds. We're surrounded by people who think differently, and we're accustomed to puzzling out what they really mean.

I'm not claiming that autistic folks have some magic ability to understand the authoritarian mind. Instead, what we have is the awareness that understanding people takes work; we have the skills to scrutinize spoken words and cultural background, to puzzle over hidden meanings, to consider several different possibilities.

Miller's Law isn't a curiosity for us: it's our lives. In every social interaction, we've had to assume that what the other person says is true, and imagine the world in which it could be true.

I'm not saying that you have to be autistic to understand and effectively combat Trump and his supporters...but I am saying that it would help if you could learn to think like you are.


Thanks to

Greg Berlanti