The personal significance of the Terminator films to me.

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I should start out by saying I’m on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. I am not one of the people who considers it a different but equally valid way to be. “Neurodiversity” is pretentious nonsense for the same reason calling cancer “biodiversity” is nonsense. It’s a disorder.

I am privileged to be high functioning enough to recognize it as one. Were I not, I would be oblivious to the ways it affects me. I was for much of my youth, it is often the case for the milder cases that symptoms fade with age. Back then I couldn’t recognize when my own inability to intuit emotional states and make my own feelings understood caused people to react badly. They just seemed randomly hostile.

That made for a pretty bleak world for mini-me. I called it “monster world”. Not understanding why most of the people I tried to befriend would eventually be cruel to me and seem to delight in my reactions to it.

I coped with this by retreating into the simpler mindset of being a machine. Disconnected from the hurt I felt, mechanically going through the motions necessary to complete schoolwork, eat meals and so on. Just keep moving, one foot in front of the other, no matter how I feel.

Around this time I first saw Terminator 2. The relationship between the T-800 and the Connors was hugely inspirational. Here’s this guy who is fundamentally limited, and may never meet them on their level. But they don’t care. They trust him, try to teach him how to fit in better, and eventually come to love him.

“That’s who I can aspire to be” I thought. Not literally a time traveling robot, but someone useful enough and devoted enough to people I love that they overlook my shortcomings. The T-800 made single minded obsessiveness into a strength. It would stop at absolutely nothing to protect Sarah and John.

I admired that strength, I identified with the helplessly logical, rigid nature of the machine and started working on becoming stronger. Because he would’ve been no good to them if he weren’t exceptional in that one way. He’d just have been a regular disabled person.

I, too, sometimes wrestle with my own nature. It grates on me. The machine in me always wants to do the same thing, repetitively, without end. Totally insensate, it will clumsily trample the delicate feelings of people I care about if I don’t restrain it, which is a full time job. I often hate it. I don’t require encouragement; it isn’t that there aren’t things I like about myself, but this particular quality is the one I most hate and wish could be fixed.

I am distinctly aware of how it affects me and why evolution decided human brains by and large shouldn’t work this way. It’s very much like only barely being more than a chinese room. A rube goldberg style purely deterministic AI which, only by the thinnest hair, exceeds the sum of its parts. Such that the tiny sliver of it that’s genuinely self aware can look back on the rest and recoil in horror, unable to separate itself from it.

Terminator 2 showed me I can redeem myself by loving, even if it is never outwardly apparent, and that I can be loved in spite of it all. It gave me a role model I felt I could realistically aspire to and become somebody likeable, if rough around the edges.

More than that, it resonated with my desire to one day be strong enough to protect people I love from absolutely any danger which might ever threaten them, even if it ultimately destroys me. And I have, pretty often, felt that it would be no great tragedy if I were destroyed.

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