Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington leading up to and following the release of J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.
â€œDon’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you. Don’t let anything take you off the bridge of that ship. Because while you’re there, you can make a difference.â€
– Kirk to Picard before Picard convinces Kirk to help him, resulting in Kirk’s “death”.
Hopefully, when you try to make a difference, you won’t end up dying like Kirk. But that’s the risk I suppose that’s worth taking. I guess it’s the same message that’s in the latest movie when Pike dares Kirk to do better than Kirk’s father. And in a famous Kirk soliloquy from an Original Series’ episode, â€œReturn to Tomorrow,â€ Kirk passionately says, â€œRisk is our business.â€
I’ve been in semi-retirement for six months now. And I can’t seem to relax. My mind keeps thinking that I should do something with my life. The best years have passed me by; however, if my health remains well, I still have half my life with which to accomplish something. Being in a state of inertia, I think I’ll most likely not do anything with my life. Even knowing that on my death bed that I’ll regret not having done anything, I still can’t motivate myself to do anything.
I guess the problem is I don’t know what to do with my life. I suppose I could take classes for self-improvement, but that wouldn’t really make me happy and it wouldn’t make a difference to other people. I suppose I could volunteer my time to help others, but helping individuals doesn’t seem like a worthwhile pursuit in the grand scheme of things. What I mean is that there will always be people who need help. I understand that helping others is important even for the person who does the helping. It helps a person maintain his humility. I’m going to contradict myself now. It’s important to help individuals. But for me, that’s not enough.
Looking back, I had the grades and opportunities to go into any line of work. I never think of â€œintelligentâ€ people entering into occupations like police officer or firefighter. I know I’m getting into trouble by being so frank. I know serving people in these capacities is important and I do appreciate the selfless nature that is required. Anyway, I’ve always valued my life too highly to put it at risk like these people do. Never was much of a talker, so being a lawyer was out of the question. Many parents dream of their sons and daughters entering the medical profession. Besides being squeamish around real blood (especially my own), I think being a doctor or dentist falls into that category of helping individuals which is not my thing. I like to engage in tasks that have some clear goal. Helping people live as long as possible doesn’t do it for me.
Since I had an affinity for mathematics, I found myself having a choice between a career in computer science or aerospace engineering. I thought I might find more opportunities with a computer science degree, so I took this pragmatic choice. While at university, I had the opportunity to work with the Canadian astronauts for some co-op work terms. There was a part of me that harbored the thought that I could become a Canadian astronaut, but being with these first set of Canadian astronauts made me think that I didn’t have the â€œright stuff.â€ Besides the academic qualifications and high-risk nature of the position, the public relations aspect of being an astronaut seemed daunting. When Star Trek: Generations later came out, I was reminded of the uncomfortableness of dealing with the press during the scene when Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov are on the bridge of the Enterprise-B.
When I graduated, I didn’t want to use my computer science degree to work on databases for the lucrative bank or brewery industries. I managed to find a position writing software for biomedical purposes. This was interesting for a while, but ended up being a dead end job. So I switched into video game programming. This too was a dead end. Perhaps I’ve reached the limits of my capabilities, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working on stuff that I didn’t care about.
It’s time to put away the plush toys and grow up. Part of my ego thinks I should be spending time working on a â€œcure for cancer,â€ but where does one begin? To me, the way the world runs doesn’t offer much in pursuing that goal. Everyone including myself seems only to be looking out for himself. But I know there are people who are able to overcome obstacles, create opportunities for themselves, and succeed despite the odds.
If Star Trek were a reality, I suppose I might think about enlisting in Starfleet. Exploring the universe seems like a worthwhile pursuit. I lack the confidence as well as a multitude of other attributes to ever be a Starfleet captain though. I’d probably end up being a red shirt. Unless you were a part of the bridge crew or had shapely legs, I can’t imagine life on a starship to be too exciting. (In the Original Series, Kirk would often choose a comely female scientist to accompany the landing party. I love feminism!)
Instead of making a difference, I find myself watching a lot of movies and television. William Shatner used to answer the question of the importance of Star Trek with â€œStar Trek is just a television showâ€ or with some other equally dismissive response. This was a good way to deflate the self-importance that many non-Trekkies thought people associated with the show felt. But to be fair, Star Trek does offer inspiration. And not just for future doctors, engineers, and NASA employees. When tragedy strikes, people look to entertainment to feel better. And Star Trek’s vision of the future can give optimism to people during bad times. I’ve mentioned before how some episodes like The Next Generation’s â€œTapestryâ€ have made me take a look at my life. I suppose it’s up to me to do something with the message.
I suppose people find the raising of children to be the most important aspect of life. If we can’t make a difference, then at least perhaps our children might. And I do realize that every life is important in ways that aren’t always apparent. The popularity of the movie, â€œIt’s a Wonderful Life,â€ each year at Christmas time is a testament to that message. We can’t all be Captain Kirk, but the U.S.S. Enterprise doesn’t fly on his charisma alone.
I’ve been reading a book called Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard. Ricard is a Buddhist monk who earlier had a promising career as a cellular geneticist. Ricard seems to be in favor of suppressing negative emotions like desire, hatred and envy. I wonder why the Vulcans didn’t try this instead of suppressing all emotion. Is it even possible to suppress only the negative emotions while reveling only in the positive emotions like compassion and love? One might argue that you can’t have one without the other, but I think that having an understanding of something doesn’t mean one has to agree with it or express it.
In order to put an end to the incessant wars on Vulcan, the Vulcan people made the drastic decision to put their faith in a philosophical leader, Surak, who taught the suppression of all emotion. Those who disagreed with Surak left Vulcan to found their own planets. The Romulans are offshoots of Vulcans. Surak seems to have been a good influence. War was no longer a problem. (Vulcans even practiced vegetarianism before the practice became popular with humans.)
According to my understanding of Buddhism, happiness is leading an altruistic life. But I don’t understand what a Buddhist priest accomplishes besides leading a peaceful life and spreading peace. If everyone was a Buddhist, nothing would get done. I mean the world wouldn’t progress. Maybe that’s what true happiness is. But that’s not the type of world that Star Trek believes in. Captain Kirk would always be destroying computers that controlled worlds with everyone living in bliss. His argument for interfering was that living should be more than merely existing. Life should be about making a difference. Not just in helping others, but in pursuing the broad questions. Like the meaning of life not only within ourselves but in the universe we live.
Note: Can anyone spot the non-Star Trek plush toy in the above photo? (Sorry, I don’t have a nifty prize for the person who gives the first correct answer.)