Dec 30: Edited and retitled"There is no Dark Side. There is only fear of the dark." That was a story about our earliest ancestors who huddled around campfires as protection from a dark that could kill.
People still huddle, but campfires are not that important any more. To feel safe, we gather around virtual normlights that are generated by collective stories, ideas, ideologies and values. And while the dark might not be as dangerous as it was, the glare of normlights blind us to what is outside our circle of norm.
This is a story about normlight that I lived under a long time ago. A normlight of colonization:
The year is 1958. I am a pupil at St. Paul's School in Darjeeling. I am one of four girls who were daughters of teachers in a school with 700 boys. And this note from the assistant headmaster brings on a crooked smile:
"Not unintelligent and is coming along very well. I think that she would benefit by mingling more frequently with the boys.."
I am 8.11 years old, according to this term report. And I can't possibly stretch my imagination into a scenario where the 23 8-year-old boys in my class would let me "mingle" with them. Being ignored was the best I could hope for.
This story begins with a comment from my form teacher: "Rather restless in class and so distracts many of the children. She must be more attentive and obedient."
55 years later I still recall vividly one time I was restless and disobedient. It was early in the first term, I was new at the school, and we were doing Norway in geography class.
And I read in the ancient British geography book that Norwegian children skied to school all winter, wearing a woolen sweater with a belt on the outside so that snow wouldn't get under their clothes when they fell.
Maybe the author was extrapolating from a viking costume like this one?
When I tell Norwegians about the belted sweater, I get the Garfield stare. I had recently gone to school in Norway, and we took the school bus or walked or biked or sometimes used a kicksled, but skiing wasn’t exactly the norm. I had never, ever, ever, ever, seen anyone on skis in a woolen sweater with a belt over it, and in my wide range of experience as an incompetent skier, snow under clothes is not a problem.
I tried to tell Miss all this, and I don’t think I got to complete a sentence before being told to be quiet and sit down. I do remember not giving up easily, this was important to 8.11-year-old me in ways I did not have words to express.
This is how a Normlight - the collective story of a Normiarchy - works. It renders information that exists outside it invisible, while it invades invades and colonizes the stories of individuals.
I unvented the word Normiarchy because I wanted a gender-neutral variant of Patriarchy, as I will also be writing about this in a context of feminism.
And because of episodes like this, my childhood defense against the certainty of Normlights - any kind of Normlights - was "no feel/no show": to shut down, go neutral, not feel upset, not protest, not react.
It took me 50 years to realize that I wish Miss had said: “Let us check this. If you write a letter to the author of the book, telling what you know and asking him where he has his information from, I’ll send it to him via the publisher.”
But this school was a tiny outpost of Britain at the time. The students were from all over Asia, with a smattering of European kids whose families worked in this part of the world. The frame of reference was British, and people sent their children here so that they could learn the correct British accent, and connect with others on a common ground of British frames of reference.
And it worked. It worked so well on me that I almost burst into tears when I first visited the British Museum. So many of the artifacts there had been illustrations in my Darjeeling school books that it was like coming home.
My years in Darjeeling fine-tuned my ability to go neutral, yet I remember them fondly, partly because of the Himalayas and the rather benign aspects of the colonization I encountered there, mainly because of the kindness and integrity of people I was lucky enough to meet and befriend.
And when I received a travel grant via my translators union, I went to London and visited the British Museum every day, learning more about why this place felt like my roots.
And that story is here:
Relevant links, via @medskep:
You See What You Believe
Your causal beliefs about the world influence what you see.
Published on August 23, 2013 by Art Markman, Ph.D. in "Ulterior Motives"
The Curse of the HerdWhat does it mean to grow up in a society that permits no strays?
Published on January 6, 2013 by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. in "Making Humans"