Anyone who knows me knows what a big fan I am of Star Trek. In the mid-70s, when the original series (TOS as it’s known to Trekers and Trekies alike) was enjoying its rebirth in reruns, I couldn’t miss an episode. There was something about it that spoke to me to like no other TV show ever had or ever would.
Was it Gene’s Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future that humankind would somehow get over its petty squabbles and unite to explore the galaxy in the spirit of peace and good will? At the age of seven, I don’t think I was capable of understanding something that profound. Was it the adventure of seeking out new life forms and new civilizations? Perhaps. Was it the ship’s resident alien? Definitely.
Mr. Spock was series creator Roddenberry’s idea to remind the viewing public that humans weren’t the only intelligent life forms in the universe, and that they could work with, and learn from, people of other cultures and civilizations. He was another voice in the growing struggle of the 1960’s civil rights and women’s movements.
To me, however, Mr. Spock represented humanity’s potential. As the youngest of four children, I often felt inferior, weak, and stupid compared with the rest of my family. In a way, I guess, I felt less than human. Mr. Spock was more than human, though. He was smarter and stronger, and he didn’t allow emotion to cloud his judgment: he depended on logic and pure reason.
To a young boy feeling less than human, this new life form offered me an option to my inferiority complex. Humans were less intelligent, physically weaker, and more violent than Vulcans. If I could become Vulcan, I could surpass all those to whom I felt inferior. This was the way to go.
A seven year-old Vulcan couldn’t get hurt by his older brothers’ ribbings. A seven year-old Vulcan could defend himself. A seven year-old Vulcan would be closer to perfection than any human could hope to be.
I wanted to be Spock.
While psychologists may say that I began to withdraw from society in order to protect myself from getting hurt, that was not how I remember it. I was bettering myself by becoming what I thought was the next evolution of Homo sapiens. I was convinced that emotions caused more harm than good and that using reason was the more sophisticated way of making life decisions.
In “The Galileo Seven,” first aired in January 1967, Spock is in command of a shuttle mission that runs into problems and has to crash land on a planet full of giant, hostile caveman-like creatures. As the shuttle’s crew tries to repair the craft while fighting off the violent inhabitants, there is a constant struggle between the emotional crew and logical Spock. I was on Spock’s side of course. In the end, Spock commits what could be interpreted as a desperate, emotion-laden act in order to save his crew. Spock, however, insists it was the logical thing to do, and I saw no reason to disagree with him.
As I got older, I was able to perfect my emotionlessness and saw spurts of anger, despair, or even joy, as momentary lapses and a failure to control myself. In my late 30s, a work colleague told me I was the most emotionless person he ever met, and I took that as a compliment. I don’t think that was his intention.
It wasn’t until I hit the age of 40 that I realized I had completely missed the point.
The human brain is the most sophisticated computer we know of, but relying on logic alone misses out on the other half of the equation that factors in things like love and compassion. People are emotional creatures as well. This is as natural as our respiratory, circulatory, and other physiological systems. Unchecked emotion, however, can lead to rash decisions made in moments of fear or anger and can be destructive.
Spock represented pure logic, and Dr. McCoy represented unchecked emotion. It was Captain Kirk who was able to connect with both of these qualities and act with both his brain and his heart. It was Kirk that showed humanity’s potential by utilizing these two great forces in order to protect his crew and serve the Federation of Planets.
In “The Corbomite Maneuver,” first aired in November 1966, Spock suggests to Kirk that he employ the strategies of chess when dealing with a superior life form’s ship. Kirk considers it but decides to go with poker instead, and a calculated bluff keeps the Enterprise from being destroyed. Spock could have gotten them all killed.
What was I thinking before? How could I have been so blind for so many years? I can’t live without emotion anymore than I can live without a brain, and to fight it causes stress, anxiety, a severe missing out on many of the joys of life.
Now I’m a few years into my 40s, and I’m experiencing true joy for the first time since I was a very small boy. Emotions can be a real pain sometimes, and there are days when I still curse the fact that I’m human instead of Vulcan. But on the whole, I’m beginning to see life in a whole new way. Most of life’s annoyances aren’t strong enough to do serious damage to me, and I think I’m better off working with my emotions instead of against them.
I just wish I hadn’t gotten that pointed ear surgery a couple years ago.