Sunday, August 06, 2006

Who Decides?

My previous post, which mentioned my interest in autism, led to a wonderful chat with a colleague. Justin reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - a fabulous story told from the perspective of a boy with autism. I was then reminded of Jonathan Lethem's brilliant novel, Motherless Brooklyn, about 3 inept crooks, one of whom has echolalia.

So why am I interested in this? Because it falls right into the sweet spot of what always interests me - who decides? who decides what is normal? If the founder of BitTorrent, Bram Cohen, didn't have Asperbeger's Syndrome, would he have worked for two years to create this tool? What about the relationship between what we call mental illness and artistic creation? Or scientific discovery (maybe this is why the whole Archimedes thing has my attention also - ancient and present day scientists puzzling through problems). Who gets to decide that something is a disability rather than an incredible ability? Read anything by Oliver Sacks and you should find yourself wondering, as I do, who decides?

These questions, in this case focused on mental ability, are actually the same ones I ask everyday in the context of philanthropy - who decides what is public? What is private? How do they fit together? For the benefit of whom? Who decides?

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