Monday, June 22, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 016

Sarek Lies to Young Spock

Previous: Vulcan Prep Schoos are Elevated Dungeons

The post schoolroom brawl parental conference continues as Sarek advises young Spock on "The control of feelings, so that they do not control you." This was a great addition to the film, and reflects a profound realization made millennia ago by some of the greatest philosophers in both the East and Western traditions. In Buddhism, this realization was based on the observation that sentient beings' unhappiness and suffering were caused by "attachment" to desired objects, states, and outcomes. 2500 years ago, philosophical teachings were presented in a style containing a problem statement, followed by a recommendation.

Buddhism, although is covers a complex diversity of beliefs, is generally accepted to teach "The Four Noble Truths". These include the existence of suffering, suffering is caused by attachment, suffering ends when attachment ends, and that methods exist for sentient beings to eliminate their attachments. This last component is usually called the "Eightfold Path", which are attributes the individual is to develop simultaneously. These include the paths of wisdom, ethical behavior, and concentration. The first of path of wisdom is development of the "right view" which results from a good education. This meshes beautifully with the portrayal of vulcans developing a culture where the education system imparts encyclopedic knowledge to the young.

The western analog to this realization occurred in and around the Aegean, manifested in the teachings of Zeno of Citium in the 4th century BCE, who advocated for "Logic" as a means to avoid deception, "Physics" for understanding nature, and "Ethics" for achieving happiness by living with "Virtue" in harmony with nature. The proximity in time and content of these worldviews was not lost on fellow atheist Roddenberry when he created the vulcans.

Unfortunately, this rich philosophical tradition appears completely unknown to Spock, who responds with the untrue claim, "You suggest that I should be completely vulcan, and yet you married a human." The idea that humans do not seek to govern their emotions and practice logic to avoid deception is incredibly ignorant, even if one were an average vulcan, but this kid lives with his human mother for crying out loud, one who appreciates vulcans and presumably has a clue about the benefits of their core cultural principle: logic. We are asked to believe that after more than a decade of intimate exposure, this genius prodigy hasn't noticed anything of his mother's affinity and capacity for logic? Of course, writing believable characters requires understanding their culture, which appears to have been largely beyond the team. At this point, Sarek might have pointed out that "completely vulcan" is a foolish mirage; that one purpose of education is to provide different ways to view situations and no single view is superior in all situations. Even unconsciousness is necessary for survival. Sarek, if written more with Roddenberry's humanism and affection for vulcans, might discuss the shared aspect of profound emotions shared by vulcans, and humans' ancient traditions of logic.

Apropos of nothing, I am reminded of TNG's episode "Sub Rosa", where Maturin shared with Picard that when he finally visited Scotland on Earth (or perhaps it was the colony designed to recreate it), he felt that he had found his home. This was typical of the unity and solidarity which Roddenberry tried to portray in Star Trek's mix of diverse cultures, peoples, races, and viewpoints. Not so for JJ Abrams & Company® where we can avoid all that icky Kum Ba Yah acceptance and solidarity crap, reinventing a future that is more comfortably sexist, racist and ignorant, where violence is praised as the answer to a fairy-tale style of total demonic evil…you know, the kind that George H.W. Bush believes justifies murdering hundreds of thousands of innocents, torturing others, and lying through his teeth about it. When one has faith in their own "good" and their divine mission fighting pure evil, they can happily lie and go have "fun" and "a great time" on vacations while young men and women who believed the propaganda are dying horribly. Roddenberry was very clear that for the world to eliminate war, faith and religion would have to be left in the past as humanity matured.

Rather than address the myriad problems with Spock's unrealistic and fallacious comment, Sarek explains "As ambassador to earth it is my duty to observe and understand human behavior – marrying your mother was logical." Yet another embarrassing non sequitur from supposedly a highly-intelligent, logical vulcan who is a friggin' DIPLOMAT! Apparently Sarek is lying and "logical" means something different in Abrams' alternate universe than it does here. Considering this non sequitur sufficient, Sarek then jumps forward with, "Spock, you are fully capable of deciding your own destiny." OK, this is ridiculous. Obviously no one gets to "decide" their destiny, because of one small detail: a universe which is not ruled by children's decisions. On what would have been her 80th birthday, we might ask: Did Anne Frank decide her destiny? Did Nero? Did all the Romulans? What about all the Vulcans Nero slaughters later? Overlooking that minor detail, Sarek's statement makes no sense regarding Spock's capability because of another detail: Spock is still a child, in school for the purpose of developing his capabilities for responsibility, but "fully capable" now? …and saying this to a kid who isn't even capable to wipe off a bloody lip? C'mon guys, do you even proofread these scripts?!

Sarek now appears unable to distinguish between destination and journey as he follows this with "The question you face is: Which path will you choose?" Perhaps this was intended to sound profound, but it shames a movie already reeking of nonsensical contrivance in order to obtain, as far as one can tell, not a single benefit for the story, other than to make the writers' job easier, quicker, and cheaper. As I recall, the "which path" line is echoed by a Starfleet officer to James Kirk after a brawl later in the film - and one would guess there was supposed to be some story-telling benefit to the very unlikely recitation by an older male to a younger male just after a convenient fight scene, before they both happen to conveniently land on the Enterprise together from many light years apart. In Abrams' Star Trek, miracles never cease!

Finally, Sarek says: "This (path in life) is something only you can decide." Really this decision is "only" Spock's? That would imply no assistance or influence on his decision is available - which is quite an unsubstantiated claim! Getting an education is designed to provide assistance in making decisions based on a foundation of awareness. In other words: vulcans value reliable approaches to knowledge sufficiently that they go to extreme lengths to collectively aid youngsters in building strong, healthy minds. The Greeks considered emotions to be the horses that power the chariot of life, but a sharp-eyed driver of conscious choice had to hold the reins and decide the course to avoid endangering oneself and others.

The scene fades to black, and then to the silhouette of Amanda, Spock's mother beckoning to him.

Next: Proud Mama!

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