I was recently annoyed to read of a diagnostic which purported that Putin belonged on the Autism spectrum. Not only is this a preposterous claim, see the Guardian article I’ve included below, but it’s an irrelevant claim.
What is the problem with a statesman having a disorder on the Autism spectrum? Clearly, he can function well enough to rise to power in a chaotic diplomatic environment like Russia. This itself should prove that this diagnosis is outrageous. What’s more obnoxious is why this story has received any traction, apart from the criticism which followed (which is well-deserved). What does it say to compare Putin to people who self-identify as Aspies? Regardless of your opinion of Putin, as a fearless authoritarian maverick or a mad power-hungry irredentist, what is the point in affixing him with a label to which others identify?
There seems to be little purpose in breaking this story and nearly no purpose in the report which was originally produced. It shows not only an insensitivity to those with neurological differences, but an ambivalence to their struggle to destigmatize their difference within mainstream society.
There is often an eagerness to affix such labels to those who act in opposition to what mainstream thought proscribes. Foucault noted that mental illness was a label used to control thought by means of establishing a definition of normality, those who fit outside that definition must, obviously, be ill. It is an easy method to villainize a person by marking them as somehow different from their peers. Labeling helps to facilitate this process. We ascribe a label to behaviors which are abnormal and these behaviors become a taboo. Those who identify as having Asperger’s Syndrome or any other neurodiversity accept that those differences represent them as an individual.
Why does Putin’s difference have any bearing on his position? Honestly, it doesn’t. The discrimination shown in this proclamation is astoundingly inappropriate. Any criticism of his leadership can be made without also attempting to malign him using a description which is currently diagnosable within the new DSM-V. Any neural difference he might have should remain unaffiliated with his identity as a political leader. Conflating a person with a condition, especially without even relying on current diagnostic methods, which are arguably subjective and fraudulent, is as dangerous as conflating a racial or religious group with one individual from a group. That is clearly the motive here, to attempt to diagnose Putin, from a distance, with a condition which seeks to clinically diagnose aberrant behavior. By suggesting Putin’s behavior departs from norms so grossly may cause his public image to be further tarnished in the western world.
Why not tarnish Putin on other grounds, I ask, which don’t have implications on the lives of others?
The Guardian Article: