The Phantom Carrot

  • Reading time:3 mins read

I think what makes life hard for me in a neurotypical world is that I don’t respond well to coercion or ultimatums. It’s not that I’m proud or defiant. It’s that I don’t get what’s happening. Someone declares something, expecting it to activate my self-interest—kick-start a negotiation or an argument or a plan or some kind of active response—and I say, “Oh.” They say, “This is going to happen!” And I think, “Well, that’s unfortunate, but I’m not going to interfere with your decision. Surely you know your mind better than I do. I guess I’m going to have to live with it.” It doesn’t enter my mind that I’m expected to do something—and if so, what exactly.

I get the sense people see this as willful, or that I don’t care what happens, or like I’m calling their bluffs all over the place—when the issue is that I don’t fully grasp the nature of the threat, and have little sense of self-preservation. You tell me a thing, and I incorporate it into my understanding: this is how things are. My own desires don’t really factor in.

Even on a flat plane, it’s hard to make that leap that I am able to act in my own interest, or what that might entail. It’s such a stretch of the imagination to just… do a thing. That if I realize I’m hungry, I have the agency to just make a sandwich. I feel clever every time I figure this shit out.

This has always been a problem with me. That last decade was another level, of course. Every interaction was a threat of some sort, expecting to coerce something that I didn’t understand. I still spend so much time puzzling over what they were trying to make me do (and failing). But this extends to, you know, just basic engagement with the systems that frame our society. Capitalism. The legal system as it stands. Cultural norms. All of this stuff we lean on, it relies on this tapestry of implied threat, expecting that of course people will sense what’s good for them and act accordingly.

And I, like. I can’t work with this dynamic. It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know what it’s trying to tell me. And I don’t have any strong impulses that guide my behavior. You tell me I have to die now because of some mistake I made, I nod and I say, “Oh.”

We need a new way of doing things in our society, that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment.