Letters to the Editor

The editors of The Writer’s Chronicle welcome letters from our readers. Short letters of 300 words or fewer are most likely to be published, and all letters accepted for publication may be edited.

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Supriya Bhatnagar

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    Argument Based on Straw Man Fallacy

    I think you did a disservice to yourself when you published Ian King’s essay “Writing About Others” (The Writer’s Chronicle, vol. 51, #1, September 2018). Not only is this essay incendiary, but also it is poorly argued and poorly supported by citations and scholarship.

    My main problem with the essay is that, from the beginning to the end, it builds its argument based on a straw man fallacy. The author never directly quotes the ideas and the writers he’s arguing with. He’s paraphrasing (and misrepresenting) the ideas he then engages with. The closest he comes to quoting an opposing idea is when he says, “As Jabari Asim might put it (as reported by Charles), Smith’s novel has ‘black characters’ in it, but not ‘black people.’” He doesn’t quote Asim directly, but quotes somebody who paraphrases Asim. This is a bizarre way to build an argument. As a magazine editor, I would ask the author to, at the very least, find a direct quote from Asim he could use instead.

    King writes: “If different cultures are to bridge any of their differences, they have to be able to talk to each other, to understand each other, and that requires to a substantial degree the formation of a common language and discourse created by all of us reaching over supposed cultural divides.” That’s a fine sentiment, for sure, but nowhere in his article does King show even the basic familiarity with the ideas he is trying to debunk!

    Major fail for him and an unfortunate fail for a magazine that aims at quality scholarship in its pages.

                  Olga Zilberbourg
                  San Francisco, CA

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    Disproved Trope About Autism

    I much appreciated King’s article (The Writer’s Chronicle, vol. 51, #1, September 2018) “Writing About Others” and found most of it very validating of my own frustrations with the contradictory nature of the discussions surrounding writing about “the other.” When [Ian King] pointed out that people with autism lack empathy, I felt compelled to write in. While his comment was a mere parenthetical, it continued to reinforce the erroneous and dangerous stereotype that people on the spectrum cannot understand another’s feelings.

    The caricature of autistic people (I prefer identity first rather than person-first language), often called a deficit of “theory of mind,” is that they don’t have the capacity to understand other people, which often really means they do not have the expected responses a neurotypical person would have to others. But I have often found that neurotypical people are unable to understand the thoughts, feelings and mental states of autistics. If they did, they would stop spreading the false idea that we have no empathy.

    It is to our (autistic people’s) vast and ongoing detriment that this idea is so widely accepted. We are seen as violent (Malcolm Gladwell attributed the Sandy Hook shooting to the shooter’s Asperger’s in a piece in The New Yorker; my friends kept their distance from me for weeks even though Gladwell’s article was based on flawed and outdated science); our doctors and caregivers do not take our experiences of pain as seriously and we are routinely talked about as less than human in front of our faces as if we are not there or can’t understand what the words mean. The very idea that autistic people are incapable of empathy itself demonstrates a lack of empathy.

    It is very disappointing to see this disproved trope about autism continue to circulate so freely.

                  Megan Wildhood
                  Seattle, WA


    Ian King responds to Megan Wildhood:

    I sincerely apologize for any hurt I have caused or any misinformation I may have disseminated about autism. It was not my intention to do either. Thanks for pointing out your concerns.