Special Ed and ABA: Where Thoughtcrime is Real

Countless political radicals have come to believe we are living in an Orwellian dystopia but while most of those people are bat-shit crazy, one place where that is completely true is the world of special needs. In the broader world, institions don’t actively try to modify one’s modes of thoughts to conform to society’s norms. However, that is fucking literally what happens in special ed. Almost nothing is thought of it. The victimless crime of mildly offending people is subject to McCarthy-level moral panic and the thought police are sent in to brainwash the thoughtcriminals into conformity.

It is a world where like in 1984, one’s every minute behavior is analyzed by the apparatus of the state and institutions and if one is deemed wrong, operant conditioning is used to change one’s mind. That’s not 1984, it is an ABA clinic. Literally, what the acronym ABA stands for is what telescreens did in 1984. In 1984, psychologists micro-analyzed behaviors and when they deduced someone was thinking wrong, they sent in thought police to correct the heretical mind. For many with special needs, there is no privacy in the cubic centimeeters within one’s skull. There is nowhere to hide. One’s thoughts are policed.

It is a bit like Foucault except rather than macro mental illness, it is far more pervasive. You see, Foucault was writing about institutions in the 1940s-60s. At the time, severe bipolar and schizophrenia were expected to conform and such but the average Asperger’s person was left to the liberty of their own eccentricities and their community did not panic and demand perfect conformity. Foucault’s Marxist analysis makes sense, kind of, when dealing with macro social standards. Yet, expecting the most mild cases of Asperger’s to conform lest there be an ape-shit panic among administrators was not a thing and seeing it now, it is difficult to assign that to Marxist ideas about society.

Nerds in the 1950s were considered the victims of jocks, not deviants to be be made into jocks with the jocks being the ideal normative teleology. Being a nerd was not a disease to be cured. In fact, nerds were a sympathetic underclass. Yet, today, the nerds are regarded as unethical and immoral to be corrected to conform to social standards represented by the popular kids. Quite literally. That level of insane pettiness is not Marxism as Foucault would argue. It was caused by many things but foremost the decline in heterogeniety of people’s exposures. Suburbia and, especially, the internet meant people’s relationships were more elective and less determined by geography and kinship. People chose like-minded friends and because of Contact Theory and Expanding Circle Theory (well, their inverse), became more sensitive to and prejudiced about non-like minded people.

That and Rawlsian liberalism with its mostly purely consent-based ethics which meant the unpopular, whose presence is consented to less, are unethical by their presence. Lacking virtue ethics or utilitarianism to counter that so that one may be unpopular but still virtuous or tolerated because that makes society, as a whole, happier when different types of people are tolerated, meant that the institutions had an ethical mandate to cure the unpopular. So, what made the 1984 of special needs where nerds had to be cured and were under constant surveilance and control was a dystopia borne of liberalism, suburbia, and the internet.

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