October 16, 2009

Neurodiversity vs. Cognitive Liberty, Round II

Casey Rae-Hunter is guest blogging this month.

I've taken some hits on my recent post about the possible differences (semantic and conceptual) between neurodiversity and cognitive liberty. Some of them have happened outside of the hallowed Sentient Developments grounds, as one particular individual does not cotton to the Blogger/Google comments protocol here at SD.

Mostly, the arguments have centered on a), my lack of specificity in articulating clear differences between the two terms and b), my assumption that those with Aspserger's Syndrome may be using neurodiversity as an excuse to advocate for an aggressive "hands-off" approach to neurological governance.

I'm writing this follow-up post to (hopefully) better explain why I think that neurodiversity and cognitive liberty — while sharing some similarities — are quite different animals.

Perhaps the best way to do this is to not focus on neurodiversity, as it can mean quite a few different things depending on your politics. At this point in history, theories of cognitive liberty will no doubt sound Philip K. Dick-ian, but it's never too early to start pondering the ethical and regulatory frameworks that impact societal attitudes and individual outcomes. In fact, George did a great job of itemizing these issues just the other day.

In case you missed it, below are my initial Principles for Cognitive Liberty, which I have expanded and clarified. Below that is a paragraph that should better illustrate some differences between neurodiversity and cognitive liberty (keep in mind that there are plenty of similarities).

1. Cognitive liberty is the basic right of an individual to pursue potentially beneficial psychological/neurological trajectories. If the individual is unable to make these choices themselves, than it is the right of their closest family members to make them, provided they are not coerced by the medical establishment or prevailing social strata.

2. Cognitive liberty recognizes that information and education are key to making informed choices. In the absence of such information, cognitive libertarians will advocate for the fullest range of data in when considering treatment options or lifestyle planning.

3. Cognitive liberty recognizes the range of psychological profiles in both the neurotypical world and otherwise. Until and unless an individual's psychology can be determined as infringing on another individual's cognitive liberty, they are free to pursue or not pursue strategies for conventional adaptation, possible enhancement or any other cognitive application — actual or postulatory.

4. Cognitive liberty recognizes the right to pharmacological experimentation, within existing legal structures. Where those structures are not beneficial or unnecessarily inhibit potentially useful individual research, cognitive libertarians reserve the right to challenge legal frameworks (and, where appropriate and with full comprehension of the punitive risks, step beyond them).

5. Cognitive liberty recognizes the essential function of the governmental regulatory apparatus, but places others' cognitive liberty ahead of the societal, legal or bureaucratic status quo. Through education, research and advocacy, cognitive libertarians can and should present information to policymakers that will enhance governmental comprehension of current and emerging issues. Where decisions are made, they must be transparent and open to debate.

6. Cognitive liberty is not an outlier of the neurodiversity movement. It is a separate, but complimentary effort to enhance understanding about the range of possibilities in self-directed cognition.

Once again, let's look at why this is different than neurodiversity.

A) Neurodiversity does not necessarily include an ethical framework for enhancement or targeted augmentation.

B) Neurodiversity may not currently recognize the efficacy of ethical "uplift" for the benefit of enhanced (or even equal) powers of cognition. Cognitive liberty leaves room for these discussions, while not advocating specifically for one or another approach.

C) Neurodiversity offers a necessary framework for human rights within the neurological and psychological spectrum, in which neurological pluralism is part of a new social contract. Cognitive liberty is not in opposition to these tenets, but is perhaps more concerned with the essential right of sentient beings to play an active part in shaping their cognitive destiny by available means.

This post may open a whole 'nother can of worms, but I certainly embrace any conversation or debate it inspires!

Casey Rae-Hunter is a writer, editor, musician, producer and self-proclaimed "lover of fine food and drink." He is the Communications Director of the Future of Music Coalition — a Washington, DC think tank that identifies, examines, interprets and translates issues at the intersection of music, law, technology and policy. He is also the founder and CEO of the Contrarian Media Group, which publishes The Contrarian and Autistic in the District — the latter a blog about Asperger's Syndrome.

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