I have the soul of a stamp collector. Some might object that it’s an unusually loud and psychedelic stamp collector, but I think it’s so. It shows in my research (data-heavy, fussing over terminological definitions, with a lot of statistics), in my attacks on nebulous jargon and muddled thinking in archaeology, in my affiliation with the skeptic movement, in the way I sort things into neat piles and papers into binders after throwing away as much as possible, in the way I do whatever my calendar tells me to do on a certain day, in the way I dislike sudden schedule changes and appointments with a “maybe”. There’s a strong systematising streak in the way my head works.
Reading this piece on the heritability of autism in Seed, I realised that with a different taste in women, I might now have been the father of an autistic child or two. Explains autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen (Borat’s
uncle? ): heredity studies suggest that autism-spectrum disorders may largely be due to an accumulating genetic predisposition to systematise. Have a little of this genetic factor, and you become a stamp collector or kick-ass programmer or me. Double that amount and you get Asperger’s syndrome. Double it again and you become an autist. The fact that autism has become so common in recent decades may not be due simply to better diagnostics: it may have to do with the radical post-war increase in female students at engineering schools. Nerd-on-nerd marriages were rare before.
Looking at the complete data set of women I have lived and procreated with (n=2), a 100% non-systematising tendency reveals itself. Both are smart ladies with strong artistic talents and a rich and complicated emotional makeup. Neither is capable of placing her clothes in a single neat pile or her paperwork in a binder with any degree of consistency. I’ve formed good partnerships with them: I’m good at everyday repetitive life, they’re good at taking a break from the daily grind and doing something fun.
And if Baron-Cohen’s idea holds, then my nerd-on-art-chick marriages have been beneficial in yet another way. I seem unwittingly to have been running a little eugenics project. Because my kids are very far from autistic. They have their mothers’ intelligence and artistic flair, they’re outgoing and empathic, and whatever they’ve gotten from me doesn’t seem to have harmed them. Maybe I can take credit for their social fearlessness. A tiny bit of Asperger factor isn’t so bad if it makes you unwilling to seriously consider that other people might not think you’re the best thing since sliced bread.