Welcome back to my February countdown of favorite characters who by all rights shouldn't be favorites, and yet something about them never fails to win me over.
Click here for Favorite Fictional Character (That I Shouldn’t Like) #5.
This week’s culprit isn’t a single character, but it's the consistent attributes of the Vulcan culture that I have my love-hate relationship with, more than any individual example, so I’m dragging them all into this.
For those who don't know (if any), the Vulcans are that Trek species who claim to be purged of all emotion, with all its pesky, dangerous and unpredictable side effects, and revere pure, perfect logic above all else.
The automatic response to Vulcan philosophy is pretty obvious, and as a writer of fiction, someone whose life's work revolves around making people feel things, maybe it hits me a little extra hard. Without feeling, and without the feelings of others, what's the point of being?
The Vulcans don't only reject the carnal kinds of feelings that so many human religions seek to regulate; even satisfaction derived from things like intellectual discovery and helping others counts as emotion and is therefore un-Vulcan, though Vulcans are expected to participate in those activities anyway in carefully controlled, emotionless ways.
What does that leave to live for?
That's how we emotional humans are supposed to respond to high-and-mighty Vulcan lecturing, however, so that's not necessarily a character failing.
Where the Vulcans really fall apart is on their own terms.
Why I shouldn't like them:
Applied pure logic is impossible.
Not only impossible for us poor humans with our incurably emotion-addled constitutions, I mean it's a theoretical impossibility.
You're in a room, a classic logic puzzle room with two doors leading forward. You can't go back the way you came. Each door offers a clue.
A helpful sign on an empty stretch of wall reads,
Assuming you trust the sign on the wall, which door do you open?
Door #2, of course. Right? Why?
Well, because being a creature of logic, you didn't panic and act on your first impulse to open the door promising true love. You thought things through and realized that the rules told you that neither room is empty, so the sign claiming its room is empty must be lying, and therefore both must be lying, and therefore the room promising true love must contain the tiger, and the other room, by process of elimination, must contain true love.
Except no, that's not why you picked Door #2. That's how you picked Door #2.
You picked Door #2 because, before you put your logician's hat on, you made the emotional decision that finding your true love is a preferable outcome to being devoured by a tiger.
That's strictly an emotional truth.
A completely emotionless entity of pure logic would be able to figure out far more complicated puzzles than the one above, puzzles few humans could, and that's a wonderful tool, but first, someone has to tell this emotionless computer the objective.
The objective might be "Find true love and don't die," as in the example above, or "Arrange this wedding seating plan in a way that won't cause any blood feuds," or simply "Solve for X," but whatever it is, one has only to ask "Why?" or "So what?" enough times in order to reach a question to which the only answer is, "Because this matters, damnit!" as explained by someone with feelings.
So this proud, ancient, interplanetary culture built entirely on the emotionless observance of pure logic is itself founded on a logical oversight, and no one notices?
Or they're, what, too scared to say anything about it?
Why I love them anyway:
Like pretty much every Trek species, the Vulcans are less a believably fleshed out fictional culture than they are a caricature of a small facet of human nature, and as such, overlooking the flawed internal logic of their existence, they can be very enticing.
Who hasn't occasionally wished for the ability to switch off irrational feelings, especially fear, to make it easier to do something that seems to make obvious sense?
It would certainly make speaking in meetings easier, even if the unleashed inside of your brain doesn't look like the hell dimension from Event Horizon.
And whenever a Vulcan tells off a human for irrational behavior, part of you wants to tell the Vulcan to stop being a pompous, insensitive ass, but part of you also looks at the irrational behavior of certain less heroic real-life humans, the ones whose "Because it matters, damnit!" reactions somehow fail to trigger in defense of things like humanist fairness but work overtime on defending prejudicial hate or documenting celebrity fashion faux pas, for example, and you want to be the Vulcan.
You want to try to use logic to explain why they're wrong. It's a perversely comforting idea, that everything wrong with humanity might be nothing but a failure of logic, and therefore fixable with logic. If you're an analytical type already, as many Sci-Fi geeks are, that's incredibly tempting to believe.
Even so, much as the simplicity of the Vulcan concept can appeal, my favorite Vulcan moment comes in Deep Space Nine, the Trek series that consistently gives the most complexity and depth to even the sillier reaches of the Trek verse.
In the episode “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” Captain Sisko rallies his friends to go up against his long-time Vulcan rival, Captain Solok, in a baseball game.
Solok has spent the duration of his and Sisko's careers taking every possible opportunity to take Sisko down a peg, always in an academic, logical forum, of course. He enters into the baseball challenge as a way of demonstrating his superiority physically as well as mentally, which he does.
Sisko and the rest of his mixed-species team get quite thoroughly thrashed by the all-Vulcan opposition but bond over their enjoyment of working together and giving a challenge their best, in true sports movie fashion.
When Solok sees the DS9-ers not crushed by his victory, he criticizes them in a superior, Vulcan manner for celebrating a manufactured victory, prompting a rousing toast among the DS9-ers, "To manufactured victory!"
Solok leaves in a close to a huff as a Vulcan would ever allow himself.
If you're noticing Solok's motivations (frustration, egotism, and obsessive rivalry) to be distinctly emotional, the DS9-ers catch onto that too, in spite of his collected facade.
Is it reading too deeply to speculate that the Vulcan purgation of emotion isn't half so effective as they claim it to be, and that their oh so logical self-presentation is little more than enhanced self-control and a wish of an idea that they cling to as hopelessly as any human viewer might be tempted to do so?
I do hope not.
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