Saturday, February 27, 2010

Monsters

One of my earliest memories, from when I was three or four years old, is sitting on the sidewalk, looking at the house across the street. I believed that monsters lived there.  These monsters looked like ordinary people (in fact I don't recall having met them personally) but what they were supposed to do was the opposite of what we were supposed to do. Their parents told them to be mean to other people, and not to share, and to mess up their rooms. This last one seemed particularly  unfair, as their job seemed so much easier than mine.
There are a couple of things that strike me now, looking back on that:
1. I thought that cleaning one's room was a key part of moral behavior, and that not cleaning my room was immoral. When I read Seventh Son in junior high, the idea that people who invented things and made artwork were good, and that evil was the Unmaker really resonated with me. I think the two had something to do with each other.
2. At age three I was speculating on the possibility that moral requirements are different for people in other cultures, and that other cultures were monstrous. Even much later, into high school, the explanation I gave myself for the way people behaved towards me was that most people were actually trolls.  This wasn't meant literally, but simply to convey that their minds were as different from my own as another hominid species that would think nothing of feasting on human flesh.
For example: why would they drive past me, a pedestrian, and yell out the window rude comments as they drove by?  I understood, intellectually, that this must somehow be an activity that caused them pleasure, since it caused them to laugh, but I was completely perplexed by it on an emotional level. Or in study hall-- why would everyone want to spend the whole time talking, and have to be repeatedly punished to get them to stop?  Why didn't they want to sit quietly and draw aliens in their trapper keeper? It must be that their minds were organized completely differently than my own. And why did they enjoy anything having to do with sports? They couldn't be wrong in an absolute sense, since they were clearly in the majority, yet it never occured to me that I might be strange, only that I was living in an entire world of monsters. This perplexity kept me socially isolated and unhappy in school a lot of the time.
3. The idea that a rule to mess up your room instead of cleaning it was much easier to live by finally made sense when I learned about entropy when I was about eleven. (Not from school, of course.) Everything wants to get messy, and everything we do to fix it makes things worse somewhere else. The concept fascinated me, especially when I learned about the connections with information theory.

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