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The social fabric

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In Cairo my wife made a friend called Luc at the hotel, but I got off on the wrong foot with him. I thought he was a flake and didn’t give him the time of day.

Then on Day 3 I realized that under the airy demeanor he was intelligent and wise. By then I’d blown it, I’d hurt his feelings; and Luc took an arch pleasure in ignoring me or baiting me. I scrambled/groveled, but he would roll his eyes and look at my wife–or as he always said, “your lovely wife,” suggesting that I was unworthy of her.

At dinner of molohaje Sunday night, I said that one of my wife’s complaints about me is that I can be prosecutorial in social situations, and Luc said I reminded him of “Eliot Spite-zer.” As the conversation went on, my wife gave me the nose signal—holding her finger to her nose, which means I should shut up—and on the walk back to the hotel she gave me the furry eyeball.

The next day in the hotel room my wife looked up from her Ipad and said, “Here’s a list of names, what do they have in common? Jeffrey Dahmer. Emily Dickinson. Thomas Jefferson. Glenn Gould.”

“Manic depressive.”

“I’m going to add one more name to the list. Philip Weiss.”

I knew where she was going. My wife often says that I’m “Aspergers-y”. I said, “Emily Dickinson was Asperger’s?”

“It’s a basket of symptoms. It’s not like temperature, where if it’s more than 98.6 you have a fever. Do you want to know your symptoms?”

I was eating a pomegranate. I put it down and turned in my chair.

“Obviously you can’t read people. You don’t know when you’ve made them uncomfortable. So you come barreling in, you have no sense of the energy in the room, you start saying inappropriate things, and when you get the big giant signal– most people would get the signal to chill when they were told they were like Eliot Spitzer– but somehow that just seems to encourage you. So those are real Aspergery kind of conditions.

“You also have the thing that is classical Aspergers which Orwell certainly had, and I think Christopher Hitchens has Aspergers– you have no idea when you’ve been naughty. That means you rip through the social fabric, and everyone else is looking at the social fabric on the ground, ripped and torn, and you’re just going your merry way, ripping down more fabric and kicking it up without any sense of the destructiveness wrought in your path.

“Also, some people might say that the 25 jobs you got fired from is some indication of your Aspergers.”

“I haven’t been fired by 25 jobs,” I said.

“Well I can’t figure out how to count it up.”

“Why does Luc say I’m charming?”

“He was trying to say something nice. Even Orwell could be charming if he had to be.”

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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30 Responses

  1. Remax on October 13, 2011, 8:44 am

    Heavens above! These are my symptoms too.

    Why on earth did you say that?, she asks.
    Well, it’s true.
    But you can’t go around saying things like that to people.
    Why not?
    Because…because…Oh, you are hopeless!

  2. Citizen on October 13, 2011, 9:15 am

    Some people may go their whole life without ever getting a punch in the face, or even a push or elbow, for what they have said, done, or not done. A lot of that has to do with what halls, sidewalks, roads they had to travel on. OTOH, some people on a timed mission tend to quickly ignore those they intuit will be a waste of valuable time. Nobody has time for everyone possible all the time. Phil does not give enough details here to really judge but Elliot Spitzer does have a personality pattern, same as, say O’Reilly of Pinheads and Patriots fame has one of his own.

    • Citizen on October 13, 2011, 9:19 am

      I know people intimately who have bipolar; Phil is not afflicted with bipolar in the clinical sense.

      • pineywoodslim on October 13, 2011, 4:49 pm

        Well, there’s bipolar I and bipolar II.

        Bipolar II folks generally function well enough and I doubt if anyone could diagnose that through blog posts.

  3. annie on October 13, 2011, 9:15 am


    great post.

  4. LeaNder on October 13, 2011, 9:36 am

    In Cairo my wife made a friend called Luc at the hotel, but I got off on the wrong foot with him. I thought he was a flake and didn’t give him the time of day.

    Well, I would look closer into the reason you thought he was a flake; was there a slight amount of rivalry involved? Your wife would register that as distrust. But it is a pity we can’t dive into these private wife stories via “the Assimilationist” (or did you change your mind on the tag?).

    I accepted that I have a slightly “Manic depressive” tendency too. It could be worse, to a certain extend it feels normal. ;)

    Obviously you can’t read people. You don’t know when you’ve made them uncomfortable.

    Don’t worry, it gets better with the time. I admittedly was pondering for a long time if that had to do with preferring to watch matters instead of being part of the social dynamics, and being slightly more head dominated and somehow over-challenged to register my own emotions at all except at special occasions, so how can I register the emotions of others all the time?; less well trained in small-talk too, and yes that’s definitively a handicap. Always somehow more important matters on my mind, to allow myself to be distracted by seeming trivialities and that’s were the problem starts. Asperger or having chosen to somehow remain outside, that’s the question.

    Wonderful day to everyone, I have to shut up again for a while.

  5. iamuglow on October 13, 2011, 9:42 am

    Maybe you’re being too hard on yourself Phil.

    I tend to feel, if someone doesn’t like me….there must be something seriously fcking wrong with them.

    You can’t please everyone, and Luc sounds like kind of petty. Better to just be yourself and not worry.

  6. alfa on October 13, 2011, 9:49 am

    I spend a lot of time with my asperger grandson, his father is absent, I don’t believe you have a good understanding of the condition. Like ADHD and related handicaps It’s not something anyone should make light of.

  7. Dan Crowther on October 13, 2011, 9:51 am

    Im going to send this to my girlfriend – she is gonna laugh her azz off.

    ” Dan, the boat has capsized, you can stop now.”

    You gotta be who you are, brother.

  8. Walid on October 13, 2011, 10:15 am

    From the before and after description of the guy and being told he reminded him of Spite-zer or Spitzer, no matter how smartly he talked, Phil’s initial impression of the guy being an A-H was correct; I would have been much more rude to Luc.

    • annie on October 13, 2011, 10:41 am

      telling a man in front of his wife he reminds him of a famous philander is not a gentlemanly thing to do.

      • iamuglow on October 13, 2011, 11:17 am

        From what Phil wrote, the dynamic seems like the guy was trying to score points with his ‘lovely wife’ by taking digs at him in front of her…I feel for Phil.

        If he is going to keep changing the world, he has to not worry about what other people think of him. That includes Luc, his wife or anyone else.

      • annie on October 14, 2011, 8:12 pm

        i tend to agree

  9. Ismail on October 13, 2011, 10:24 am

    Asperger’s, eh? The problem for me is that this option removes the notion of agency or motivation from the equation.

    Phil’s ignoring social cues because he lacks some cognitive ability most of us have? Maybe.

    Or maybe expressing his aggression in this way serves a purpose; he gets to flip the finger at someone who puts him off and still disavow his hostility – “Who, me? You really think I was being nasty? Gosh….I had no idea.”

    I hasten to add that I don’t know Phil from Anna O., so of course I’m being totally speculative.

    It’s just that, for the most part, I believe human behavior is driven by meaning and motive and, yeah, I’ll say it, we remain unaware of some of what drives us.

    Of course some of us suffer from Asperger’s, but it’s a mistake, I think, to try and subsume an increasing range of human behavior, from outright autism to extreme oddness to simple boorishness to plain old luftmensch distraction, under the mantle of a mechanistic model. Besides flirting with fickle diagnostic fashion, this approach erases the possibility of learning something about how those annoying repetitions that we should, fer chrissake!, after all this time!, how many times have I told already!, might be performing a service for us.

    But I see our time is up…..

  10. pabelmont on October 13, 2011, 11:34 am

    Hmmm. I get the elbow in the ribs occasionally too. Maybe, with me, more about being hard of hearing and missing stuff. But socially indelicate? Sure. You bet. (And I do better when I/P is not being discussed.) Asberger-y, wheeeee.

    • Walid on October 13, 2011, 3:09 pm

      “Hmmm. I get the elbow in the ribs occasionally too. ”

      With me it was the kicks under the table. How many times I ended up with black and blue ankles.

    • annie on October 13, 2011, 3:41 pm

      But socially indelicate? Sure. You bet. (And I do better when I/P is not being discussed.)

      yeah, me too. although i wouldn’t describe it as ‘better’. i sort of like the way i am.

  11. Kathleen on October 13, 2011, 11:41 am

    “and Luc took an arch pleasure in ignoring me or baiting me. ”

    So great to hear your intelligent and wise wife helps keep your feet on the ground..adding to your depth. I am sure your tendencies from her view were interesting. She decided to marry someone who is kind of “aspergy”
    Also sure that you help her in some ways.

    Spitzer never listens to people especially when they make relevant points. He trumps them no matter what. He is so pro Israel no matter what they do he is cross eyed. Although he sure went after Wall Street fat cats and then you can be sure that part of the taking him down was cultivated by….

    Only your closest partner can often see your weaknesses…takes a person who wants to grow to listen. Congratulations hopefully to the both of you.

    In DC at the Move Over Aipac conference I purposely threw out a question to both Phil and Adam who were on the stage receiving an award from Medea Benjaman which for me demonstrates who a person is. I asked “who morally and financially supported Mondoweiss’s birth?” All ready knowing the answer. I wondered if Phil and Adam could give some of the credit to the Nation. They did with prompting.

    I think this is always an indication of honesty, integrity. Sharing the credit

  12. yourstruly on October 13, 2011, 1:45 pm

    at c. 9 years my mother told me “——, you can’t change the world”

    but i can try, my response

    for self-preservation, though, life has taught me to hold back when in the presence of those who i perceive to be totally closed to the possibility of change, lest my bp go up to dangerous levels. why take the risk when there’s nothing to be gained? nothing wrong with engaging such folks with every day talk, if they turn to socially “hot” topics, either keep silent or, depending upon one’s state of mind at the time, step to the plate & take a chance

    right now, partly for health reasons, most of my change the world energies & limited skills are employed on mw. I’m assuming, of course, that mw is influencing the times we live in


    • yourstruly on October 14, 2011, 12:36 am

      and the social fabric once the walls of power come tumbling down?

      rewoven so as to feel softer with everyone having a say

      based on?

      the you are i, i am you, we are one

  13. Remax on October 13, 2011, 2:51 pm

    I don’t know about Aspergers but I do believe the world is, as Shakespeare had it, a stage, and while most of the population spend most of their time on the stage, some are reluctant, if not unable, to move from their seats in the audience. This does not mean they are not affected by what happens on stage, but it is always at a controlled distance. It is the same as the difference between ‘team player’ and ‘loner’. I first became aware of this on LSD. Those who took such drugs could vanish into the worlds it opened up to them and do crazy things, go places and never really come back. Others, like me, always reserved a degree of consciousness that watched, fascinated by what the human mind could do. I do not believe that I could ever fully have crossed over but I met some and heard of others who couldn’t help themselves. Obama, I believe, is more a member of the audience rather than the cast. This is a simplistic notion, and takes no account of the duplicity which enables some in the audience to climb on stage and pretend to be members of the cast.

  14. DICKERSON3870 on October 13, 2011, 5:38 pm

    Enough already about Asperger(‘s)! But speaking of “social fabric”, I want an update on Phil’s ink-stained jeans/genes. Enquiring mimes want to know!
    You might recall that Phil “threw them in the laundry room”, and his wife “didn’t take the pen out of the pocket when she did the wash”. Hence, a pen left in one of the pockets left a bad stain turning them into a pair of inked-on jeans. And then Phil and his wife blamed one another. What a brouhaha!
    And then there was that pair of torn jeans… Oy vey!

    YET ANOTHER AUTUMNAL AFTERNOON’S MUSICAL INTERLUDE [sponsored by the makers of new Ziocaine Extreme®]:

    Why’d you come in here lookin’ like that
    In your cowboy boots and your painted-on jeans
    All decked out like a cowgirl’s dream
    Why’d you come in here looking like that
    Here comes my baby
    Draggin’ my heart behind
    He’s drivin’ me crazy
    Who says love is blind
    He’s got a wanderin’ eye and a travelin’ mind
    Big ideas and a little behind
    Out with a different woman every night
    But I remember when he was mine…
    …I’m a softhearted woman he’s a hardheaded man
    And he’s gonna make me feel just as bad as he can
    He’s got himself a mean streak a half a mile wide
    But now he’s dancing on this heart of mine… ~ Ms. Dolly

    Dolly Parton: Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That (VIDEO, 02:33) –

  15. Eva Smagacz on October 13, 2011, 5:39 pm

    Hi Phil, if your pride can swallow this, you could do simple:

    I feel ….
    I need ……
    Would you please….

    I feel that I offended you with my rude behaviour and boorish attitude when we first met and spoke.
    I need you to know that I often misjudge social situations and this can create tensions with people that I do not wish ever to offend. I fear I lost many opportunities to make friends because of it.
    Would you please accept my apology?

    Learn by heart, and say it as if you mean it to people you want to salvage as friends or social acquaintances.

    I guarantee at least 75% success rate.
    Not bad for a speech lasting less than 2 minutes. But as I said, you need to swallow your pride.

    • Kathleen on October 14, 2011, 10:29 am

      Phil is often more than willing to “swallow his pride” Much of what he post in his reflections on his upbringing is full of reflection and a great deal of honesty. This post too.

      Only a professional could determine if he has “Aspergers” From a peasants point of view who has friends who have children with Asbergers (and I know these young people) Phil does not seem even a little “Aspergsy” . He and his wife (hope she knew he was going to be writing this post) seemed willing to bring us into their honest feud. I thought it was cute and honest.

      Cleary Weiss has the very intelligent piece (often those diagnosed with Aspergers are quite bright) but both of these young people who are quite intelligent but are basically unable to read another persons signals, be ask assertive about the other individual’s life etc. Seems to leave them rather isolated. Sad.
      The one young man spends most of his time on computers but his social worker is helping him develop the capacity or at least pretend to be interested in others and have a conversation with others that is more of an exchange rather than being so one sided. I have had one way communications with this young man for years knowing he was often isolated. Asking him how he was doing, what he was interested in etc. He would often share things he was reading about etc and incredibly well informed about certain subjects and if a person was willing to listen and accept that this was not going to be a two way conversation you could learn quite a bit. Anyway Asperbers seems to be a lonely condition that they are learning more about all of the time.

      Phil would more than likely not be involved with a blog that encourages others to share information, opinions, make suggestions about the I/P issue etc if he was even a “little Aspergy”

  16. Bumblebye on October 13, 2011, 6:36 pm

    Maybe the answer to this is a bit simpler than stated.
    Phil’s *wife* made a new friend. Male.
    Phil’s wife was charmed and amused by him. Phil reads flaky and air head, which possibly implies a younger man, still a bit full of his youth? Phil’s reaction could, just a wee bit, be jealousy? Like the chicken-y stuff of the last visit? And it takes him 3 days to realize there’s no threat?
    Do Phil’s hackles go up when younger males like his wife? Without him realizing that’s what happened? Hmmm.

  17. Charon on October 13, 2011, 8:44 pm

    Asperger’s has got to be one of those made-up conditions for a bunch of related symptoms. For a laugh, read the encyclopedia dramatica article about it.

    They call it the ‘internet disease’ because so many heavy-web users can relate to it.

  18. Richard Witty on October 14, 2011, 7:22 am

    I don’t think you have Asbergers.

    Are you talking at all about your professional life, or only personal?

    Some conditions in our life inform us, and some enable us.

    By 56/57, most of our natural skills have already surfaced and we’ve realized what benefits from them nearly fully. If we add some intentional elements to our interpersonal and psychological process (even if those deliberate features are in tension with our natural skills), much more is possible.

    I think politics is NOT a great field for someone with any compulsive verbal streak that is concerned about their soul/character/kindness, nor journalism, as it gives you permission to verbally war indefatigably.

    I’ve seen you emphasize listening. When you met my aspiring orthodox son a few years ago, you weren’t aggressive and seemed to listen to him as a person.

    Permission to listen more than a normal life. Permission to war more than a normal life.

    • thankgodimatheist on October 14, 2011, 7:36 am

      “I don’t think you have Asbergers.” R.W

      I don’t think either, Richard, but not so sure about Asperger’s though. ;)

  19. thankgodimatheist on October 14, 2011, 7:25 am


    I’m sure you meant molokhiyah, Phil, but the ‘haj’ in it makes it more local color, I concede. :)

  20. jewishgoyim on October 15, 2011, 4:01 am

    If Phil did not get some thrill from making people feel uncomfortable, he probably would not be writing Mondoweiss. What Phil’s wife is calling his “symptoms” are not just petty social inadequacies that could be corrected, I think they drive his work and his life.

    You cannot be a hard-hitting blogger on a very controversial topic (I mean really controversial: irritating to powerful constituencies) and be your average socializer or a party animal. And yes people with gravitas who believe in stuff are not very well regarded in social venues. Lightness and not expressing one’s controversial views is considered polite.

    One thing I can think of that is mitigating that is that I remember Phil writing at least once that in a particular context, he would not even try to speak about his views as he knew they would be met by no understanding at all and tremendous hostility. (in Cape Cod maybe?)
    So Phil’s social inadequacies may be somewhat controllable.

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