"Confessions of the Miner’s Canary" by Allan White

Richard Smaby
BOOK REVIEW

What if you couldn’t find or keep employment or succeed in your education because you worked too slowly and people belittled you because you spoke 'funny?' What if you had difficulty working in business, because you were unable to meet the measures of productivity required? What would you do? Allan White has faced these challenges his whole life. He initially tried to escape by preparing himself to live off the grid with almost no money, until he witnessed firsthand the ravages of such a lifestyle. His life story is an odyssey of dealing with his neurodiversity. His telling is intimate, brave and brutally honest. He shows himself no mercy – sharing with us his dreams and disappointments, his blaming his parents and the society in which he finds himself, his anger resulting in one occasion of violent rage and others of murderous fantasies, his persistent search for an alternative lifestyle and his dream of a society where individuals with disabilities can thrive by simply contributing to the useful diversity of humankind. It is a fascinating look at the world from the point of view of a neurodiverse person.

His story starts with his difficulties in grade school and high school in Federal Way and progresses to steps he takes to live off the grid. After giving up on life off the grid, he struggles hard to work in retail, but ultimately finds the expectations of managers consign him to unsuitably menial tasks and customers become impatient and even insulting because of his mannerisms. He encounters a variety of counselors and other advice givers that get it wrong and make his life hell. He is perennially hopeful that the next teacher or advisor will be different – those hopes constantly dashed, with rare exception. He amazes with his persistence and eventually graduates from The Evergreen State College in Olympia and subsequently earns an MA degree in Experimental Archeology from the University of Exeter, United Kingdom.

He rails against the capitalist system for failing to accommodate diversity and against the myriad equally rigid demeaning and discouraging government programs that are supposed to assist people like him. He argues for a world in which neurodiversity is as easily accepted as different colors of hair. If we take time to think about it, each of us has different mental capabilities – not surprising given the billions of neurons we all have and the trillions of synapses possible among those neurons. Anyone who has worked in a group can testify to the variety of minds in the group. And as we age, we observe the changes in our own minds. All we need to do to agree that it should be possible to build a different society is to reflect on our own neurodiversity and remove the boxes from and de-stigmatize in our minds the variations we witness. The Miner’s Canary in the title refers to the service neurodiverse people provide to our society in pointing out what is not working and needs fixing.

He finishes his book with a flourish – a tour de force of suggestions about how specifically to change society. The lynchpin of his proposal is guaranteed basic income, an idea supported by various libertarian, conservative and economic liberal theoreticians. The idea is to provide every adult citizen a guaranteed minimum income independent of their wealth. One important result of such a plan, proponents claim, is that it removes the paternalism that accompanies the current welfare programs. White explains other significant advantages and answers the criticisms.

The author intersperses the style of a how-to manual for survival skills (both in the wilderness and in our political and economic system) with the style of philosophical argumentation and the style of a personal narrative.

The present unedited form of the book reflects the author’s story. He has self-published the book. It needs serious editing. I suspect that he has discovered that it is better for him not to try to meet the constraining rules of the publishing industry – something we can easily understand after reading the book.

Through his book I have come to understand where my own neuro abilities and disabilities place me in the neurodiverse universe. I recommend it as a must read to anyone interested in understanding neurodiversity. That might very well be everyone. It is available on Amazon.