In 2016, I was in set four in maths, with a man who got increasingly frustrated with me as I demonstrated carelessness, a lack of focus, and a tendency to make mistakes. He clearly saw me as a nuisance as he moved me down a set. Four years later I was referred for ADHD(I). This is an example of how there is a complete lack of understanding towards neurodiversity and mental differences, especially if you are female (and even worse if you are an ethnic minority or working class) and the first thing that came to mind when I saw that ad was this. I was, along with many others, being told again just to work harder. My mental difference was treated as a personal fault in school, and it was an amplification of difficulty for me. Similarly, this ad pins mental difference as the individual’s fault, suggesting that to not have STEM literacy means you are valued less than those who do, you do not deserve help from the government – and you are a burden. The creatives are worth nothing if they cannot just pull up their bootstraps and ‘get on with it’. If you are neurodivergent these skills are even harder to possess because our brains work with a greater difference, and we have greater disadvantages. Yet we are being told again just to apply ourselves, we are once again being told it is our fault. And I am back in a maths classroom feeling lesser because I cannot keep up with everyone else. I am trying to speak Spanish and I can’t remember any words. I process information at a different speed, and archaically this would mean I’m stupid. But this is an old dialogue, and from the time of IQ tests, that places value only one type of intelligence. A STEM based intelligence, that ignores humanities, and ignores neurodivergence more so.
Currently, the government is deciding who deserves a ‘handout’, who deserves to keep their living, and the decision with this ad is clear: STEM is to be aspired to, and our skills have less value. But it is an old belief that asserts STEM based skills and numerical intelligence as higher value. The old ways of measuring intelligence, of designing a system to assign worth, were created in part for eugenics. For example, the IQ test was partly designed to select eligible cases for eugenic sterilisation. An individual’s social worth was based off this fantastical number, reducing a multifaceted and complicated brain down to a set of questions and answers. It is completely unreasonable, robotic, and incredibly biased. People were subjected to it, or assessed without their knowledge, and it was horrifying, used to measure if someone deserved to live or have children, particularly because of their race, disability or poverty, which intersected particularly in America where women on benefits where subjected to forced contraception. How can we continue this view of intelligence when it originated like this?
And on the surface a neurodivergent person might come across as slow, but you do not know why that is. And IQ tests are designed to flag up that apparent slowness, they are designed to exclude mental differences, and reward neurotypical brains educated in maths and reasoning, in Western methods of reasoning, since they were a Western invention. They do not acknowledge mental differences, and it is wrong to place people on a such a simple scale of worth because of that. Nevermind the fact that a diagnosis for neurodevelopmental disorders is harder to receive if you are working class, or a woman, or an ethnic minority, because of this terrifying societal tendency of grouping individuals by intelligence.
It is also linked to the view of poverty, to the cause of poverty. Thatcher played into it heavily in the time she was PM to argue that poor people were the cause of their own misfortune, whilst she was attempting to build a ‘free market’. Embracing capitalist values meant taking away the responsibility of the government in the abject poverty her policies caused. It meant abandoning those beneath the bread line because it was ‘their fault’. She used pseudoscience backing up garbled theories about genetic destination to argue this. In this view, the poor had no right to the state.
Capitalist dialogue sends a clear message that a lack of economic productivity means that you are lazy, and less intelligent; that poverty is the fault of the individual and failing to become entrepreneurial would leave you unemployed, or poor. It is a myth. Wealth creates the grounds for entrepreneurship, rather than simply hard work or independence. Jeff Bezos was bailed out by his parents and so had the economic stability to be entrepreneurial, but sure, continue to shame people for their poverty, continue to shame neurodivergents for not adjusting, for not functioning, for not being productive. Many traits which capitalism shames are neurodivergent traits. I do not need to be reminded of the fact that in the big wide world I currently, unmedicated, would be severely disadvantaged. I have major executive disfunction, disorganization, poor memory, and more, and I do not do well on my own. I fall apart at a level everyone else manages to cope at, and I am the capitalist definition of someone destined to fail, because my executive disfunction is seen as lazy. The issue is that I believed that that was my fault, proving that this self-sufficiency dialogue completely dismisses the existence of neurodivergence. Because in that dialogue my failure is my fault, and their poverty is theirs. Capitalism prizes neurotypicality, productivity, behind old fashioned methods of valuing intelligence, measuring intelligence as lack of productivity due to slower external functioning, and different speeds of processing. I cannot help this and yet from the beginning I am behind.
It means now that musicians, artists, actors are a ‘burden’ on the state because we do not have STEM based ‘intelligence’, and we are not productive in the ways you want us to be. We are worth less because you do not value our forms of intellect. You do not value us. You would never ask a fucking scientist to get an English degree and just get on with it. This is saying worse, if you cannot adjust, if you do not have the numeric ‘intelligence’ to, you deserve to be abandoned by the state. It is your fault because you lack the 'intelligence' to. You deserve financial insecurity, just like how Thatcher blamed poverty on the poor’s ‘genetic destination’ (mentioned above).
The truth is that we must take the empathy needed towards neurodivergence and apply it to everyone. Because no one deserves to be told that their skills are worth less, that they do not deserve to keep their living, simply because they do not have scientific based intellect. Fuck the prizing of IQ tests, and our old myths about intelligence. We do not want to be pushed back into a system that made us feel stupid simply because our skillsets were different. And clearly more empathy is needed. I am not slow, I am not stupid, and my mental differences are not my fault, just like everybody else.
We are worth more than the production of a factory, or digits on a spreadsheet. Human communication is vital, without it we are cold, robotic creatures, with no empathy, and no understanding (like a conservative). You do not get to tell me that is worth less, because you cannot tag a price on it . Our human connection places a price on that, and it is beyond value. We need it to live, not just survive.
I know this ad has been withdrawn, but it is symptomatic of the wider issue and lack of care within the government, about anything requiring empathy. Human beings are not robots. They already know they don’t have the arts vote, which is probably another reason for ignoring us. Instead they’ll just make patronising ads as a substitute for their job. Arts jobs are not a nice dream, they are a legitimate career, not a stage before a ‘serious’ job in cyber.
And anyway, what the fuck even is cyber?
‘Scientific’ Racism: a Tangled Skein, Mohan Rao, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 38.8, p 698
Within Mohan Rao: Rose, Hilary, 2001, “Colonising the Social Sciences?” in Rose and Rose.