How can you survive in a bad economic time? Will you surrender or change the way you lived? How can we improve our internal worlds to lead a better life? The book "Create your own economy: the path to prosperity in a disordered world" wrote by Tyler Cowen is a guide to help you discover yourself and improve your potential to live a better life.
Cowen believes that it is the value and the creative power of the individual that drives the world to be prosperous. How to discover the internal world for ourselves? Cowen answers the question from an autistic way. He emphasizes the cognitive strength of autistic people and their contribution to the society. The contents can be divided into four parts. In the first part, Cowen explains that because of the improvement of technologies, the world is filled with bits of information. This requires mental ordering to make these bits into a coherent vision. In the second part, he introduces the advantages of autistic people which are good to create your own economy in your internal world. The main advantage is the cognitive strengths, which include strong skills in ordering knowledge and perceiving small bit of information in preferred areas. The third part is concerned on what we need to learn from autistic people. In the last part, Cowen describes the future world and suggests showing respect to individuals and diversity of human beings.
In the book, Cowen discusses the advantages autistic people possess over non-autistic people in certain fields. Examples of successful autistic people are provided so that readers can better understand his argument. The main message Cowen hopes to deliver is that non-autistic people should learn something from autistics in this chaotic world.
With the development of the internet, and technologies like instant messaging, cell phones and internet programs like facebook, the world has become information-centered. We are constantly saturated by new information. This necessitates the development of a framework that allows us to internally relate information and order the information we receive. This is what Cowen refers to as the process of creating your own economy. Cowen argues that autistics typically have significant cognitive strengths which emerge from autism. These include abilities in ordering knowledge and interpreting bits of information in the areas they are interested in.
Cognitive skills associated with autism help to self-assembly of bits of information and create an ordered mental world; people possessing such skills are well suited to the present information-heavy landscape. Cowen explores "autism" in nearly every chapter of the book and discusses the advantages of autism on cognitive skills by answering the following questions. Why autism engenders "big-picture thinking"? How cognition provide insights into aesthetics? What we can learn from an autistic interpretation of politics.
This book offers a fresh and interesting view on how the culture of autism affect people's internal world when facing a world with cultural blends. I mainly agree with Cowen's point that strong cognitive abilities are helpful to accurately develop a "sense" of the world. Cowen makes effort too, to correct the prevailing doubt on the lack of "big-picture thinking". He believes that autistic people care much on the big picture as well as on details.
Admittedly, autistics are talented individuals, especially when it comes to cognitive abilities. Statistic shows that 10%-15% of autistic individuals have superior intelligence measured by high IQs. Also, many great figures in history are autistic; they have made significant contributions to the improvement of human society. From a macro perspective, it is hard to detangle the development of the society with the contributions of autistic people as possible who have devoted themselves to their preferred fields. However, from a micro perspective, things are somewhat different. I think leading a happy and desirable life should be the most important thing for every individual. Autistic characteristics prevent people from pursuing a satisfying and complete life. Cowen repeatedly emphasizes the strengths of autism; however, he neglects to discuss the drawbacks of being an autistic.
Two obvious weaknesses of autistic individuals are unnecessary anxiety and strong impulses. Autistic individuals become anxious due to the conflicts between their internal world and the external circumstances. Their cognitive strength leads the autistic to develop special ideas on subjects which buck the social trends. When successful, autistic individuals are regard as revolutionary with inventions that bring social progress. However, failures can drive autistic individuals to insanity or disintegrated personality. Moreover, autistic people tend to insist on what they are interested in and desire, which produce strong impulses in their internal world. Such impulses are strong enough to make them ignore other aspects of life which may manifest as an inability to behave in line with societal expectations.
Another weakness of autism is the absence of practical thinking. In other words, autistic individuals are likely to pay too much attention on certain sensations while ignoring the important and concrete issues in the external world. Maybe it is a significant factor that people in fields such as entertainment, art and literature have higher risks to be autism. The intense focus on sensations can be involved with their acre about details.
Cowen provides some opinions on education system. He says that "I view education as a means of accumulation into a particular mind-set". I agree with this idea, because the purpose of education is to form individuals' personalities and allow them to develop their own assessment of the world. Flesh-and-blood instructor better motivate students and the presence of other students will make the classroom vivid which allows better absorption of knowledge. However, I have issues when Cowen says, "Education is using social influences to encourage autistic cognitive skills". The truth is, schools may be not a good way to cultivate students' autistic cognitive skills. Further, the role of education must surely be far more than just that.
If our purpose is to cultivate students' autistic cognitive skills, other forms of education (besides schools) may be more efficient such as home schooling. The reason is that taking classes with classmates in schools can be distracting, which makes it hard to focus on learning. In other word, they have more incentives to play games and not learn. Moreover, they have the freedom to engage in naughty behavior which should not be encouraged. Taking these two aspects into account, schools are not necessarily the best way for everyone to learn cognitive skills. Furthermore, the purpose of education is far beyond developing cognitive skills. Cognitive skills should undoubtedly be cultivated; however, other purposes of education are also important such as communication skills, cooperation skills which cannot be cultivated by home schooling.
The autism issue leads me to let me think about the social difference between the Western and the Eastern. In the Western world, the values of democracy and meritocracy are trumpeted. In an atmosphere where society is more diverse and receptive, autistics are free to pursue their own interests and are not stifled from achievement. In the East however, cultures have evolved along different ideas of what is socially acceptable, People tend to be less receptive. Conservative ideas dictate what is right or wrong. For example, Chinese children believe in Confucianism and are educated to be ideologically identical. They are told to study well, get along well with their friends and get into a top university. They are expected to give up their own dreams in order to satisfy their parents' expectations. Autism is also NOT an acceptable way of life. In most parents' eyes, autism is a somewhat shameful state. Under such circumstances, the strengths of autistics cannot be utilized. I think this book has the potential to inform eastern parents so that they do not reject autistic children but seek ways to nurture their autistic child so that she/he will one day contribute to the society.
Overall, Cowen provides two good points about autism. One is that autistic people have some typical personalities that should be encouraged. Cowen also challenges the reader to discover the potentially autistic parts inside themselves so as to enhance their mental ordering. He argues that despite the fact that autistic people are a minority in the world, they have contributed a lot to the world and will continues to do so in the future given they will benefit more from the enhanced information flow present today. This is really an interesting book that worth reading. I heavily recommend people from eastern countries to read this book and refresh their dated opinions on nurturing autistic children.