While you won’t catch me on any B-roll footage from the conventions, I have been (and always shall be) a Star Trek fan. I was introduced to it, as I was the majority of my pop culture obsessions, by my father. My mom was never a fan of fantasy. She still isn’t unless it has some foothold in the real world. I, on the other hand, loved being transported to the worlds created by Gene Roddenberry. In fact, during that brief time as a child where lines between fictional worlds and reality are blurred, I thought for sure I must be Vulcan or at least half Vulcan, like Mr. Spock.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the character originally played by Leonard Nimoy, Vulcans are a people who voluntarily disconnect from their emotions to live a more logical and peaceful existence. Spock himself struggles more than most Vulcans because he is half human. His mother is from Earth and on his planet that amounts to being flawed. My child mind envisioned that some other Vulcan viewed Spock’s difficulties fitting in from a nearby vantage point and decided that I would struggle less on Earth, so I was raised here instead. Not meaning any disrespect to my Vulcan mother, but that could not have been further from the truth.
Before you get the wrong idea about me, I’m far from emotionless. Just like Spock I possess all of them and can feel them very deeply if I allow myself to succumb to their pull. Too deeply almost, if I’m going to be vulnerable and completely honest. Without the controls I’ve learned and maintained over close to half a century, I’d be enveloped by them…barely able to keep my head above water.
I’ve discussed in previous blogs my depression diagnosis, and the best way for me to rationalize it is that I wore down my body, brain, and soul to the point where those controls I had previously established fritzed the heck out. Like a control panel suddenly exposed to watery elements, sparks were flying and zapping noises abounded. My emotions were at the surface and anyone who had known me prior to the short-circuit could see a noticeable shift in my behavior. Shocking displays of irritability and tears (Not tears!!) left them spellbound. Where did their calm, rational friend go?
Calm was always a trait attributed to me. It still is with newer friends, which makes me giggle a little. You think this is calm? You should’ve met Jen 1.0. My world feels anything but calm now, especially considering what’s going on in the world around us. That, albeit in the most meandering, long-winded way possible, is what this essay is about.
I’ve always studied people from a distance. Whether it was hand engineering long layovers back in my travel agent days or watching countless hours of reality TV programming. I have always been fascinated by why people do what they do. In eras where things are going well, it’s a fun and lighthearted pastime. In times of crisis, however, it can set my minding spinning.
One of the emotional control dials I referred to earlier is humor. Humor has a way of deflating the stress of a situation that few things, barring music, can rival. It can beam us away from fear and worry with the speed of one of Star Trek’s transporter platforms. Some view it as irreverent and even callous in times of tragedy. I don’t concern myself much with those perceptions, because it’s an effective tool with a high success rate.
As we’re facing the COVID pandemic, it has continued to be my go-to control. Creating memes or funny takes on it to share with my friends has kept me stable and floating in calm seas as my boat bobs gently up and down. Roiling under that surface, though, is an eddy of epic proportions threatening to pull me ever downward. That whirlpool is fueled by the force of dismay at what I’m witnessing in the world around me.
One of the most iconic Spock moments occurs in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The USS Enterprise and its crew are facing certain peril after a battle with Ricardo Montalban’s Khan character. The ship’s warp drive has been damaged and is unable to flee to safety. Mr. Spock, in a moment of unbridled heroism, enters a radiation filled room in order to repair the engine and in the very last moment possible the ship manages to escape.
I won’t bore non-fans with the entire dialogue, but trust that I can recite it verbatim. The key point to be had is this: once Captain Kirk is called to engineering and sees his friend covered with radiation burns, mentally addled by the invasive rays, we’re treated to the apex of emotion. Spock hoarsely utters “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” His life force is snuffed out shortly after. Growing up in a Christian household, it’s hard not to draw the parallel of self-sacrifice in order to save the masses. It was a powerful and moving cinematic moment. We all hope to possess that type of nobility, wherein the well being of our friends and loved ones supersedes our own.
As you gaze around our world today, it stands in stark contrast to that principle, and it’s shocking me to my core. I’m fritzing out again, not by my own body’s failings, but instead by what I perceive to be the failings of humanity. People have crossed that fine line between self-interest and selfishness. Whether they are hoarding in an attempt to profit off of it or for their own consumption, the result is the same: the needs of the many don’t rank on their priority list.
Be it an excess of toilet paper, cleaning products, or more heartbreaking…diapers, people are stockpiling goods beyond their needs at the expense of the needs of others. Shelves are bare all across the country and people have lost their ability to be civil, kind, and in the worst cases: rational. Fights are breaking out in stores and car accidents are increasing as people rush to not be left wanting, as people are taking much more than they need.
This isn’t meant to be a scold, but a moment of reflection during dark times and a plea to evaluate our behavior. I’m aware that the panic and fear are very real to some. The unknown by nature often elicits fear, because we’re unable to predict what comes next. I also know that if we allow ourselves to be consumed by it, we’re going to usher in a very dark period. Fear has stoked the fires of some of the greatest tragedies in history. The moment we begin to repeatedly tell ourselves that an every-man-for-himself mentality is necessary is when we will lose the essence of what makes humanity so powerful. There is a balance to be found in all of this if cooler Vulcan heads prevail. We can get what we need without depriving others of their needs. Please, at least consider it, so we can all live long and prosper.