STbtM 033: Why Spock Never Made the Debate Team 1
Previous: James T. Kirk, Step Forward
The Kobayashi Maru win and academic inquest is our first chance to see the adult, alternate timeline Spock in action since his absolutely fabulous line at the end of his meeting with the Vulcan Academic Council (see STbtM 018). This council leader gives Spock, now at a lectern opposing Kirk's the floor with: "Commander." Spock: "Cadet Kirk, you somehow managed to install and activate a subroutine in the programming code, thereby changing the conditions of the test." The problem with this statement is that the conditions of the test are identical; it is the test itself that was changed, because it went from a test of crew response with certain failure to a showboat of Kirk being clever with his instructors and using the simulator to make an emotional and philosophical statement. This should have been explored, but either the writers did not understand the underlying dynamics, or any clue we may have that they do understand and have something to say was not included in the film. The only reason I can imagine that Spock is using the term "conditions" is to match Kirk's description of the event from Wrath of Khan, but regardless of the reason for this line coming out as weak as it did, it is just the start of a bad spiral. Only the general weakness of the entire script keeps the exchanges appearing below from really standing out.
Kirk asks: "Your point being?" "In academic vernacular, you cheated" announces the council leader. Kirk responds with "Let me ask you something, I think we all know the answer to: the test itself is a cheat isn't it? I mean you programmed it to be unwinnable." Here he is attacking the assumption underlying the complaint against him, suggesting that the structure of the test is inappropriate for the standard regulation to apply. The counter to this approach is to explain why Kirk's assumption is a special pleading fallacy, and that an exemption from the regulations is not justified, but that would be logical – something which is largely beyond the film.
"Your argument precludes the possibility of a no win scenario." This language must be either vague or inaccurate. "Win scenarios" and "No win scenarios" are easily excluded from the realm of possibility. If win/loss categories are concepts which someone decides, then scenarios upon which someone is making that judgment are tenuously related to it, but it does not make that scenario intrinsically "a win" or "a loss". Categorizing an action or event within a scenario is not part of that scenario, regardless of what some versions of the Copenhagen Interpretation propose. This dialogue is a case where they could have read Shakespeare, or watched TNG, or Kenneth Branagh (my favorite Hamlet) and recalled "Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Kirk very appropriately responds that "I don't believe in no-win scenarios."
This comment by Kirk was a great opportunity to argue that StarFleet and the Federation are dedicated to improving society due to a belief that this commitment will make things better. It is an optimistic worldview and, Kirk could argue, it would be unethically pessimistic not to attempt to overcome our limitations, and that his intention was to demonstrate that to his instructors. However, this film is written to portray not that effort, hard work, and compassion lead to success, rather it is "destiny", "faith", prayers, aggression, and a series of miracles that carry us to "winning", which seems a very small, sad view of life… and dangerous in the long term for any just, cosmopolitan society.
Spock replies, "Then not only did you violate the rules, you also failed to understand the principal lesson." Ridiculous in three ways: first, categorizing this statement we cannot even call it a "response" to Kirk's comment but rather it is a Red Herring fallacy changing the subject from the matters at hand: Kirk's apparent violation and claim that test conditions offer a justification. Second, the content of Spock's reply is defective as well, in that whether Kirk did actually violate the rules is in question and has yet to be decided, so stating this as an established fact is an error that perhaps might be made by a freshman debate team member, but the best mind that Vulcan has to offer? No. Kirk seems interested in Spock's fallacy detour, "Please, enlighten me," he encourages. "You of all people should know, Cadet Kirk, a captain cannot cheat death," says Spock. Ridiculous. Spock is going after Kirk's family in an appeal to tradition and/or authority fallacy? The film already repeatedly established his distaste for argument based on parental decisions, and his proper rejection of this tactic, but now he is shown trying to beat Kirk over the head in the same way. This strikes me as inconsistent with the character as portrayed, unless we are blessed with divine creativity and have faith that can make black white. Also completely silly is the term "cheat death", a meaningless phrase within the context of a logical argument, and such a character in this situation would never utter such flippant clichés in support of a conclusion.
Kirk repeats "I of all people…," to which Spock non-sequiturs "Your father, Lt. George Kirk, assumed command of his vessel before being killed in action, did he not?" Perhaps this detour would eventually weave back toward some dialectic progress, but Kirk (in front of the council) ignores this question from one of the most distinguished graduates at SFA and the highest achieving graduate on Vulcan so that he can try to change the subject to an ad hominem fallacy against Spock by offering "I don't think you like the fact that I beat your test." Spock then says, "…Furthermore you have failed to divine the purpose of the test," a ridiculous non-sequitur. It also makes no sense to ask a question and link it with "furthermore" unless one is asking a clearly related follow-up question, and asserting a statement afterwards without clear relation to the preceding. It is also completely inappropriate to design communications that require students to resort to "divination" in order to gain the target understanding. This almost looks like a shooting or editing error where several scenes were filmed and then spliced together in a way that seemed to make sense at the time.
Kirk says "Enlighten me again." Spock replies, "The purpose is to experience fear, fear in the face of certain death." Even if "inflicting fear of certain death" was possible in a simulator, would that not criminally violate laws against torture? Before I get emails on this, I realize it is not torture according to the Bush/Obama administrations (when the U.S. does it), but is our time not better spent developing scenarios which training officers to make the best possible choices? Overlooking that, isn't it more likely that the fear cadets face is fear of performing poorly? No one on the simulator during Spock's test gave any impression they experienced ANY real fear, much less that of "certain death". Spock appears to be the most deluded and unaware test designer ever.
Spock continues "…to accept that fear, and maintain control of oneself and one's crew." Well, it seems Spock can't count either, because he just named off at least three purposes to the test, four if you want to count general fear and fear in the face of certain death.
Only men speak in this segment.