Writer’s Ramble: Star Trek and (Intellectual) Diversity

(A note: This post will be touching on politics; I do not intend to do so often, and I’d much rather be writing about writing, or SF/F stuff I love, but this is something that needed to be said. Also, this, as it is under my “Writer’s Ramble” header, this was written in a relatively short period of time and is not meant to be some academic-level analysis–to approach it as such would be disingenuous. These are my personal thoughts and opinions, based on what I have seen, read, and experienced.)

I know I’m a bit late for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, but my schedule has only been getting busier, and besides, I only got the idea to write this post on after the actual anniversary date had passed. But seeing as I was practically raised on Star Trek (my parents remain original series purists, and love the new films), watching all of the The Original Series, just about all of Deep Space Nine, much of the other series, and all of the original cast films plus the reboots.

Amid the deluge of shares, retweets, and original social media posts, one featuring a quote by Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek, in case you’ve been living in space for the last 50 years). It reads:

“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”

Now, I found this very interesting, seeing as so many Star Trek anniversary posts, articles, etc., very heavily focused on praising “Star Trek’s legacy of diversity,” while also hoping (threatening?) that the new show coming next year should continue that. Now, my Master’s degree, writer’s brain immediately had a question: What about the diversity of ideas? Delighting in different ideas is the first “diversity” mentioned in the very quote people keep using as a way to discuss racial and gender diversity in Star Trek–why, then, are all those on the left (colloquially known as SJWs online) ignoring that?

I think I know why, because embracing the concept of diversity of ideas, or diversity of thought, means that they would have to tolerate those who disagree with them rather than raising the internet mobs to try and ruin the lives of people deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, islamophobica, or whatever other “ists” or “phobias” that’re out there that I haven’t had the displeasure of encountering yet.

Now, this post will be divided into two sections; the first will be my demonstrating that you cannot champion Star Trek’s diversity of race, sex, etc., while ignoring a form of diversity that, frankly, is far more important to a healthy society, world, and eventually, perhaps even a galaxy. Second, I will touch briefly on some events where this intolerance of different opinions particularly rankled me.

Immediately, I thought of several Star Trek instances where the diversity of ideas is championed, its importance made clear. The first is the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, which, as the name implies, celebrates all forms of diversity. To quote Roddenberry once again, in describing the philosophy:

“Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations represents a Vulcan belief that beauty, growth, progress — all result from the union of the unlike. Concord, as much as discord, requires the presence of at least two different notes. The brotherhood of man is an ideal based on learning to delight in our essential differences, as well as learning to recognize our similarities. The circle and triangle combine to produce the gemstone in the center as the union of words and music creates song, or the union of marriage creates children.

The key to this is a union of the unlike, as the quote says. and there is no argument to be made that this doesn’t include different ideas. Going deeper, the Vulcan emphasis on logic grows from this, as, logically, you must consider all ideas, even contradictory, distasteful ones. Then you analyze them, and come to a decision regarding what makes sense. You cannot do this when you do not consider dissenting opinions, and label them as awful, hateful people, then try and ruin them.

Star Trek features multiple examples of the importance of tolerating those with different opinions or viewpoints, as well as at least one example of the danger of not tolerating dissent. One that comes to mind is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One of the main themes of the movie was Kirk overcoming his (justified) hatred of Klingons and save an attempt at peace. We are well aware that Klingon culture was not about to change, and Kirk would never come to agree with them on many issues. But he is, by the end, able to champion peace despite it. Had Kirk been an SJW (I know, it’s impossible to imagine, but let’s go with it), he’d have gone on calling Klingons “child-killers,” “warmongers,” and openly harassed anyone supporting the peace agreement.

Another example comes in the classic episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver.” At the end of the episode, when Kirk and crew meet the real Balok, Balok tells them that he misses, company, conversation, and expresses a desire even to spend time with someone of another species, so that information and cultures can be exchanged. (I don’t think Balok would’ve given even a moment’s though to the ridiculous notion of cultural appropriation. Growth and development comes from taking in new ideas, merging them with previously held ones, or weighing them against those. That is how practically every society on Earth developed, it’s how we grow. You forbid people from getting inspiration from other cultures, you cause stagnation, and eventually decay.

Something else that is often brought up when discussing Star Trek’s “diversity” the United Federation of Planets being a perfect, socialist society where everyone agrees. Perfect diverse society? No, not really. Even setting aside many individual instances in which issues with the Federation are addressed (and it can even be argued that the drives by many toward such homogeneity led to a level of stagnation that left it unprepared for the Dominion War) we have the amazing episode “Journey to Babel,” where we, for the first time, I believe, get to see some of the the disparate Federation races interacting with each other. There, we quickly see the tensions between the Vulcans and the Tellarites, and this idea of the Federation is diverse racially but engages in a singular groupthink is debunked. In fact, it is made of different species who think differently. This also fits with Roddenberry’s quote about differences in ideas–you can’t get much more different than alien species.

Going to Deep Space Nine, we have the character of Garak, who, we learn, has a very shady history and even during the series itself has a moral code that is often at odds with those of the Federation crew of the station. They know this. They at times fight over these differing values. See the episode In The Pale Moonlight. Putting a long story short, the Federation was losing the Dominion War, and Captain Sisko worked with Garak to try and trick the Romulans into joining the war. The plan fails. Then, Garak, who values pragmatism over Federation ethics, has the Romulan official’s shuttle blown up, which will lead to them entering the war, and help the Federation. When Sisko discovers what happens, he confronts Garak, assaults him even. But he listens to Garak’s explanation and justification of his actions. Garak states upfront that the reason Sisko came to him for help was because he knew that Garak could do things he was not willing to do, and that the two people he killed (and Sisko’s personal ethics) were the price to be paid for likely saving their entire quadrant of the galaxy. What does Sisko do afterward in his personal log entry (which he later deleted) he states, “I lied, I cheated, I bribed a man to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all, is that I think I can live with it, and if I had to do it all over again, I would.” He had sacrificed his morals for his goal, and it was worth it.

This is the statement of a man who has his own strong beliefs and ethics, one who disagrees strongly with his erstwhile friend’s views and actions–to the point where he attacked him physically–but admits that there is a point to those other views, and that there is value to them. He doesn’t double down and completely ruin Garak for this, and continues to work with him throughout the war, which demonstrates that while he disagreed, he can tolerate diverging viewpoints. This is diversity of ideas. Diversity of ideas is this. You don’t try and shut down opposing views, or ruin the lives of people who say things (which they may or may not believe–you often can’t tell from a tweet) that you disagree with, or even find reprehensible. What is the end result of a society that doesn’t tolerate different ideas, you may ask? Well, Star Trek has a prime example.

Enter the Borg, arguably the most powerful and evil adversary in the Star Trek universe. Anyone familiar with Star Trek can repeat their mantra:

“We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

To me, that seems eerily similar to people who respond to differing views by trying to silence the people holding those views, or those who join a group like a fandom or a profession and then try and change it to suit their own agenda, thus assimilating it.  Perhaps the greatest thing to come of Western civilization, is the concept of freedom of thought. That is the truly terrifying aspect of the Borg. That being so, why do people celebrate the quashing of it, the enforcing of one particular way of thought? We have seen the effects of the monopolization of ideological views in colleges, and this was part of what fueled the #Gamergate controversy. We have seen this in the Hugo Awards, with the reaction to the Sad and Rabid Puppy movements (mostly the Sads, to be honest, as the Rapid Puppies had a different goal). Larry Correia, with the Sad Puppies, set out to prove that the Hugo Awards were, truly, an award given to the works liked by a small group of WorldCon fans, honoring works and creators that were part of their political clique, rather than the popular fan award it was presented as, when his mere involvement in the Hugo Awards process led to despicable and fallacious attacks on not just him, but on the people nominated by the Sad Puppies. They were not a part of the collective, and thus had to be assimilated or destroyed. More recently, we have the case of Wizards of the Coast, the company that created Magic: The Gathering, a game which I loved and have played for 16 years, essentially censuring one of the largest MTG YouTube channels, MTGHeadquarters, due to several apparently objectionable things he tweeted. In it, one of Wizards’ main PR people wrote that they had no desire for any interaction with him, and didn’t see his channel, and thus 125,000 followers, as part of Wizards’ “core audience.” Meanwhile, a person Wizards is using as a publicity figure for the game is Chris Kluwe, who, according to a number of sources more concrete than tweets, has done actual reprehensible things. The difference to Wizards is apparently the two individuals’ politics. This is a business attacking a prominent source of publicity for one of their flagship products, because they don’t like somethings he said. This is the Borg mindset, when a species they encounter resists. Had MTGHeadquarters not “gotten out of line,” or, rather, “asserted his distinctiveness,” then the Borg mindset would have assimilated him into itself. He did not, and thus they attack, along with others sharing that mindset. These are not the only examples of such things, but if I were to try and list them all then this would become an academic essay, but now that I’ve completed my Masters Degree I’m done with that, and much prefer informal “rambles” like this.

This controversy, all of these controversies, should not be happening–they should not be political issues. They are simple matters of free expression, the right of people say what they want, to hold ideas that some other find distasteful, even abhorrent. That doesn’t matter. You do not try and ruin their lives because of a few stupid, ultimately meaningless tweets, you don’t attack entire (diverse) groups of people because they are associated with people you deem bad, whether “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” “islamophobic,” etc. This happened to me personally, after I happened to tweet something completely mundane, not political in the slightest, at a popular SF/F author who I had been following for quite some time. Apparently, he looked at my timeline, or my follows, saw that I had a tangential association with someone he deemed “bad,” and thus immediately blocked me, after attacking me, and then from behind the block referred to be as, I quote, a “shitbird” (at least he had the slight courtesy not to use my twitter handle in that last tweet, so I didn’t get waves of drones attacking me because an order had come through the collective.) I was then tweeted at once and then blocked by someone who agreed with this popular author. I am also apparently blocked by multiple people with whom I have never interacted at all.  I should add that at that time, I had maybe made a handful of tweets of a political nature, because I was worried about the reaction. I have since decided that I don’t want to self censor, didn’t want, to follow the metaphor, pretend to be a background drone any more.

So what about my politics, you may wonder? They don’t matter here; this issue supersedes arbitrary labels of republican/democrat, liberal/conservative, etc, as focusing on individual politics will distract from the real issue at hand. Anyone who values freedom of expression should be outraged at how so many people act, from authors to private companies to presidential candidates, who seek to ruin people that deviate from the chosen path of their collective ideology. I would say the same thing should liberals be the ones attacked in this manner. But they’re not, not in the way those on the political right are. What attacks come from the right now are a reaction to years of this from the left, as many who align with the new “alt-right” will not hesitate to use what they consider as the enemy’s tactics in what they perceive as a culture war.

The Borg was Star Trek’s warning about the dangers of an intolerance of divergent ideas, more evil and terrifying then even villains like the Cardassians and the Dominion, who persecuted other species. Because the Borg cannot be reasoned with, and will not stop their pursuit of those that are not part of the collective, their desire to make all part of itself, by force. This is the message we should take from this momentous Star Trek anniversary. Yes, Roddenberry championed diversity, diversity of race, gender–and of course different people should be treated fairly, not discriminated against–but also he believed in the diversity of ideas. You cannot claim to champion one type of diversity and conveniently ignore the one that doesn’t advance your political agenda, despite its importance. Again, diversity of ideas, more than anything else, is what leads to growth and advancement in society.

I realize that some may not like what I have said here, but if that’s the case, then you’ll have a great opportunity to prove that you don’t mind other people having different opinions. Frankly, I’m tired of completely staying out of it, and I intend to voice my opinions here when key issues arise that either involve the SF/F world, or me personally.

Now, how about we set politics aside and celebrate one of the most important sci-fi franchises ever created? I know I’d much rather do that, and, in fact, at this very moment, I am watching the Deep Space Nine episode “Duet,” one of the best Star Trek episodes I have ever seen, one which does not hesitate to tackle very tough issues (though not issues directly related to this post–it’s just damn good Star Trek). I highly encourage you to do the same. And keep on writing, of course. (I promise my next post will not be as heavy and charged as this one–but this was something that needed to be said.)

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