Sunday, 8 March 2015

Most Illogical: A Response to Matthew Continetti
"I believe that the Captain feels that Star Fleet's mission has always been one of peace" Mr Spock

So as I'm sure everyone with an internet connection is aware Leonard Nimoy passed away recently. Naturally as a Star Trek fan I was saddened by the news and there were plenty of people sharing my grief.

Not everyone felt the same way of course and that's fan the man couldn't possibly have made the same impact on everyone's lives. One contrary response though seems to have struck quite a raw nerve with some was the blog post of Matthew Continetti the editor of the Washington Free Beacon. I've never heard of either before but the post was widely linked to amongst Trekkies, usually to universal derision.

And I can see why, Mr Continetti claims to be a fan of Star Trek and he can cite many episodes and films from Star Trek but like the guy who claimed Star Trek was Communist I don't believe Mr Continetti paid much attention.

 Its not just that we interpret the character of Spock differently, he makes claims that are false and deliberately twists others to make a point.

Take this early paragraph as an example:

Not only do Spock’s peacenik inclinations routinely land the Enterprise and the Federation[1] into trouble, his “logic” and “level head” mask an arrogant emotional basket case. Unlike the superhuman android Data[2], a loyal officer whose deepest longing is to be human, Spock spends most of his life as a freelancing diplomat[3] eager to negotiate with the worst enemies of Starfleet. He’s the opposite of a role model: a cautionary tale.
 1: Spock's "Peacenik" inclinations are reflective of Federation society, Kirk and McCoy and every other member of the Federation who isn't shown to be crazy or under alien control behaves in much the same way. Spock's peaceful overtures are often dictated by the rules of the Federation. If Continetti claimed to not like Star Trek at all this would be fine but he praises many other characters who behave the same.
2: Case in point Data, unless Mr Continnetti got confused with Data's evil brother Lore it is simply a gross inconsistency to criticise Spock but praise Data.
3: This is simply false Spock spent most of his life in Star Fleet before becoming a diplomat for the Federation, he broke off official ties with the Federation late in life (more on this from both of us later).

He also seems to have written his piece purely as platform to bash Obama which seems a rather odd thing to do. From the opening

“I loved Spock,” said President Obama, reacting to the death of actor Leonard Nimoy. Why? Because Spock reminds him of himself. The galaxy’s most famous Vulcan, the president wrote, was “Cool, logical, big-eared, and level headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.” Just like you know whom.
It continues on like this till the end.

Spock cares only for himself. He returns to the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) only because he believes the superior intelligence of V’ger might help him finally purge all human elements from his soul. True, he sacrifices himself for the good of the ship in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)[1], but Spock’s renunciation of self is not as total as we are led to believe. He knows he has a fallback position[2]. He knocks out McCoy and—without the doctor’s consent—transfers part of his consciousness to his old friend.
 1: He cares only about himself, except for the time he didn't.
2: Actually no he doesn't, this `fallback` relies on something he couldn't possibly have known about at the time. What Spock was actually trying to do was fulfil a Vulcan burial ritual.

It also conveniently leaves out important plot details and context in order make the case against Spock more damming. Though curiously many of the things brought up don't actually involve Spock at all and are about the actions of other characters in relation to Spock.

The crew then spends the following two movies breaking countless regulations to bring Spock back to life. They steal the Enterprise, illegally pilot it out of Space Dock, trespass on the Genesis planet, blow up the Enterprise, hijack a bird-of-prey and kill its entire crew[1], take the stolen Klingon vessel to Vulcan, and return to Earth despite a travel ban imposed by the president of the Federation at the beginning of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Illustrating the absurdly liberal future envisioned by Gene Rodenberry, where there is no money or human want or, apparently, rule of law, despite all of these crimes Kirk and Spock and company are rewarded with a brand new ship at the end of the fourth film[2].

1: Said Klingons were planning on harnessing a device that could destroy all life on planets, they also attacked the Enterprise, destroyed a scientific vessel and murdered Kirk's son, and they attacked the Enterprise first. Also isn't hypocritical to criticise something for being peace loving, and then two paragraphs later condemn them for fighting back? 
2: Again misleading, the charges against the crew were dropped because they had saved earth from destruction.

Spock is the reason Sybok captures this just-off-the-assembly-line Enterprise in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and comes very close to delivering it to an insane, frightening god entity that sounds like Orson Welles[1]. Most damning to his reputation, however, has got to be the mess Spock creates in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)[2]. Unbeknownst to his best friend, Spock has taken up secret negotiations with the Federation’s mortal enemy, the Klingon Empire[3], to dismantle the neutral zone and end the military dimension of Starfleet. Then Spock decides the best person to accompany the Klingon high chancellor to a galactic peace conference is Kirk, whom the Klingon’s despise (in the words of the great John Schuck: “There shall be no peace as long as Kirk lives!”) and who hates them in return. What a brilliant idea[4].
 1: Not quite Sybok already gotten aboard with his followers, Spock refused to shoot an unarmed man (whose his half-brother). Spock also redeems himself by vanquishing the evil God entity.
2: Funny considering that in Star Trek this is said to be his greatest achievement.
3: Indeed, he did so as special envoy to the Federation Council, given the sensitive nature of the talks it was kept secret as are all high level negotiations. And why would he or why should he tell Kirk about his work when there was no reason too?
4: Er, yeah it actually was a brilliant idea, since it worked. This sort of thing happens all the time in the real world too, they even directly referenced Nixon's overtures to Mao Ze Dong, "Only Nixon could go to China" as an example.

To quote Tuvok "Spock's suggestion, so controversial at first, proved to be the cornerstone of peace."

Furthermore, Spock volunteers Kirk for the job without the captain’s permission[1]. His decision thoughtlessly plays into the hands of the interstellar conspiracy to foment war between the Federation and the Klingons[2], because the plot’s leaders see Kirk as the perfect fall guy for the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon[3].

1: Kirk is in Star Fleet, AKA the space Navy, being volunteered for things without giving your conent first is how the military works. 
2: ???? How could he think about something he didn't know about. You might as well say JFK thoughtlessly played into Lee Harvey Oswald's hands when he picked Dallas to go on tour.
3: So? The plot was going to go ahead anyway, the plotters didn't make it look like Kirk personally murdered the Chancellor they made it look like the Enterprise fired on the Klingon ship, and had two plotters beam aboard and kill him. They clearly had the capability to do both no matter which ship was assigned to the job.

Spock’s ethnocentrism, combined with “illogical” romantic attraction, leads him to promote one of the conspirators, Lieutenant Valeris, to a bridge position wherefrom she manipulates the investigation into Gorkon’s death, conceals evidence, and murders two co-conspirators. Some judge of character, that Spock.[1]

1: ??? The whole point of a conspiracy is that its hidden, and so you can't have one if the conspirators themselves can't hide there agenda. You can't have a conspiracy plot if the characters aren't fooled at least in the beginning. Notice how Continetti doesn't cite an example of behaviour of Valeris that should have tipped Spock off to this plot he knows nothing about. How would you possibly pick up on a co-workers plot to murder someone anyway? This is just gratuitous.

Then, when Kirk surrenders himself to General Chang, Spock plants a ridiculously conspicuous Viridian Patch on Kirk’s shoulder so he can trace the captain’s whereabouts. But he has no need to track Kirk because the captain’s trial is broadcast across the quadrant and the Klingon judge says specifically where Kirk and McCoy will be imprisoned[1].

1: And Spock would know of this ahead of time how? Seems like a complaint about a precaution that wasn't necessary.

A routine planetary scan of Rura Penthe would have alerted the Enterprise the moment Kirk emerged from the energy shield[1]. Was Spock hoping the Klingons would see the patch and murder him and McCoy for attempting to escape? We’ll never know[2].
 1: Would it? Entire episodes have revolved around atmospheric interference preventing accurate scanning.
2: ??? Okay I hope this was a joke, I don't think it is because the tone is so similar to every other point made. Why would Spock want Kirk dead? This accusation isn't even consistent with the naive peacenik Spock is constantly depicted as. And how would planting a tracker on Kirk's back lead to Klingons murdering him anyway? Wouldn't they just remove the tracker?

If you haven't seen Star Trek Six: The Undiscovered Country, then here's how it ends, the plotters are all exposed and defeated. This means the peace treaty is signed by the Klingons and the Federation, the treaty lasts for many years and we see in the Next Generation that the Klingons have moved from implacable foes of the Federation to an occasional ally. Relations between the two powers have grown so much that they have officer exchange programs. Relations were so close that a third power the Romulans felt they had to break the two apart and on several occasions tried to engineer a coup, once leading to a civil war within the Klingon Empire.

Kirk eventually figures out the murder mystery and once again saves civilization[1]. But Spock’s colossal blunder[2] does not stop him from disappearing from the Federation decades later and turning up on Romulus[3], where he begins unauthorized negotiations with yet another illiberal adversary of the Federation[4]. This time he has befriended Romulan Senator Pardek, with whom he hopes to arrange for the unification of the Vulcan and Romulan peoples.
But of course Pardek is playing Spock for a fool[5]. Reunification is a guise for an audacious Romulan invasion of Vulcan that draws inspiration from the Soviet taking of Iceland in Red Storm Rising (1986)[6]. It is only because the Enterprise-D has been sent to the neutral zone, and Captain Picard and Lieutenant Commander Data have been dispatched to Romulus to locate and secure Spock, that the plot against the Federation is revealed before it’s too late[7].
 1: He saves civilisation by getting both sides to agree to the peace treaty.
2: A blunder so massive it leads to a lasting peace between two embittered enemies.
3: Apart from the presence of Spock and a power hostile to the Federation the two aren't really equivalent.
4: Actually he doesn't, he goes to Romulus to teach dissidents about the Vulcan way of life, he hopes these teachings will help bridge the divide between the Romulans and the Vulcans and lead to a more peaceful galaxy. He doesn't directly negotiate with the Romulan government, Senator Pardek is posing as a reformer and works with Spock. Its Pardek whom pushes Spock to talk to other Romulan officials.
5: It's almost as if spies are sneaky and two faced. Also Spock sees through Pardek eventually just not in time to prevent his capture.
6: I'm afraid I couldn't verify this, I'd be interested to know if there is information that this book was an inspiration. Claiming peaceful intent to cover an invasion is hardly unique though.
7: Indeed how dare Spock a man who lives in a cave conversing with Romulan students not know that the Tal Shiar a secretive organisation of spies and assassins were using him to further a plot he had no contact with until the final act of the episode?

To further underscore the pettiness of the complaint that Spock can't see through a Romulan plot I bring up an earlier Next Generation episode that's very similar. Series 3's The Defector, which is about a defector, this defector turns out to be a senior Romulan Admiral. The Admiral defects to the Federation because he learns of a plan to launch an invasion of the Federation, the Admiral believes the conflict would devastate Romulas, hence his defection to prevent the war from starting. However it turns out to have been a sort of loyalty test, the invasion plans were fake and the Admiral was supposed to come across them. So if a Romulan Admiral with many years of experience with Romlan intelligence and deceit couldn't see through a scheme cooked up by his fellow officers is it really surprising that Spock was also fooled when he mostly interacted with Romulan youths?

I also find it noteworthy that Commander Sela and Proconsul Neral believe there is a chance that Spock will actively cooperate with their plan[1]—evidence that the ambassador’s loyalties aren’t clear even to the Romulans[2]. What’s more, despite inadvertently starting yet another war,[3] Spock insists he remain on the home world of the most aggressive and conniving galactic power.[4] In a massive (but unusual) lapse in judgment[sic], Picard agrees.
1: I've re watched both part one and two of reunification, I believe the scene mentioned takes place at 33:55 of part two. I have to say that scene reads more like they think Spock may cooperate due to his captivity aka Coercion, rather then divided loyalties. They also threaten to kill him after he says no the first time. He continues to refuse afterwards.
2: The fact they've already prepared an elaborate back up suggests they actually were sure that he'd refuse.
3: This simply isn't true, there is no war as a result of the events of Unification.
4: We seem to have yet another contradiction, if the Romulan Empire is such a threat then surely Spock remaining behind to promote a subversive movement whose goal is peaceful coexistence and reconciliation is a good thing. Either the movement will spread and triumph bringing about peace and stability, or it won't in which case the Romulan military and intelligence service still have to devote considerable energy and resources to combating it, both outcomes would result in a diminished threat. During the Cold War both the USSR and USA invested considerable resources in supporting dissident movements in the opposing sides nations for that same reason.

I feel its worth recapping the episode in some detail as Mr Continetti yet again leaves out some very important details. Yes Spock does disappear from the Federation and turns up on Romulas, yes he is working closely with a Romulan Senator called Pardek, and yes Pardek is revealed to have been part of a plot to use the reunification movement to aide the conquest and annexation of Vulcan. But one very important thing to keep in mind is that the reunification movement itself is real, it exists and has supporters across Romulas. Another key thing to remember is that Spock doesn't naively go along with Pardek's schemes. On the contrary he's incredibly cautious, the reason he continues to go along with Pardek is in his own words an attempt to discover the Romulan governments ulterior motives."If the Romulans do have an ulterior motive it is in the best interests of all concerned that we determine what it is, so I will play the role that they would have me play." The charge that Spock starts a war is simply facetious, after the plot has been exposed a Romulan Warbird destroys the invasion force (over 2,000 lives) and then withdraws. That isn't a war, its a cover up. Furthermore his decision to remain behind is proven to be correct, either Mr Continetti is being dishonest or he stopped watching the show afterwards. The dissident movement continues to grow in the later episode Face of the Enemy we find that it has succeeded in infiltrating the military and the government.  

What follows is a couple of paragraphs about the new Star Trek movies with Spock played by Zach Quinto, I'm ignoring these since the argument boils down to Spock being unable to see into the future, though his criticism does include stating that Zoe Saldana is out of Quinto's league, and that Spock relieves himself of command in a crisis because he's emotionally distraught, which seems to me like a pretty good thing to do, but there you go.

Mr Continetti moves from galactic intrigues to discuss Spock's family life, but again his argument is mired with the same poor techniques.

Spock is rude to his father.[1] “I never knew what Spock was doing,” Sarek (Mark Lenard) tells Picard in “Unification 1.” “When he was a boy, he would disappear for days into the mountains. I would ask him where he had gone, what he had done; he’d refuse to tell me. I forbade him to go; he ignored me.” Spock and Sarek fight constantly throughout the Trek continuity, despite Sarek’s offering his son countless diplomatic opportunities that Spock invariably messes up[2]. Then Spock ignores his father for years as Sarek suffers from Bendai Syndrome and dies[3].

1: This is pretty accurate though again Mr Continetti paints a one sided picture, Sarek and Spock both share blame for their strained relationship. For example Sarek disapproved of Spock joining Star Fleet instead of the Vulcan Science Academy, and this lead to a rift between the two in their early years. Sarek was also a proponent of a purely logical philosophy and disapproved of Spocks (who contrary to common perceptions had grown beyond it) inclusion of other influences.
2: I'm not aware of Sarek offering Spock any diplomatic opportunities, or how Spock squandered them. Spock went into Star Fleet for most of his life and then when he did go into diplomacy its clear from remarks both characters make that they were often on opposing sides. In Unification its revealed that the cause of the rift between the two towards the end of Sareks life was caused due to disagreement of negotiations with the Cardassians.
3: Sarek didn't try to reconnect either from what I could gather.

Here's the thing about Spock and Sarek, its made abundantly clear that the relationship between the two was frayed and that the attitudes of both weren't exactly helpful. Spock event laments in unification that the only interactions they had were argumentative. Sarek is shown to be unyielding and demanding of his son, so unless Spock was willing to bend completely to his fathers will there doesn't seem to be anyway for the two to have healed their rift. In Journey to Babel Sarek's introduction involves publicly snubbing Spock showing he wasn't above rudeness and being petty.

And Obama likes this selfish jerk? The coolness the president so appreciates in Spock is a thin veneer over a remarkably arrogant and off-putting detachment from human suffering[1]. Dr. McCoy, played by the charming DeForest Kelley, bitingly exposed this truth about Spock’s nature again and again. Discussing the Genesis Project in Wrath of Khan, for example, Spock lectures McCoy, “Really, Dr. McCoy. You must learn to govern your passions. They will be your undoing. Logic suggests—”
But McCoy won’t hear it—and he’s right. “Logic? My God, the man’s talking about logic; we’re taking about universal Armageddon!”[2]
1: Remembering Spock once killed himself to save his mostly human crew. 
2: I confess, this doesn't make much sense to me, McCoy exclaiming that Spock is talking about logic when Spock said he was talking about logic doesn't seem very compelling. And how is it a bad thing to think logically about something as powerful as the Genesis project? How does this expose an arrogant and off putting detachment to human suffering? This discussion takes place after they learn of the device being used to terraform lifeless planets. The only human suffering at this point is at the hands of Khan and his minions, whom Spock works very hard to defeat. Again later in this very film Spock will sacrifice himself to save the crew of the Enterprise. Even if you accept Mr Continetti's assertion that Spock had a way out he still irradiated himself to save the crew. Surely if he were so callous he'd run to an escape pod?
Note the Facial lesions

All Spock can do is pretentiously raise his famous eyebrow.
Spock is ashamed of his humanity. He flees it. In Star Trek VI Kirk tells Spock, “Everyone’s human.” Spock says he finds that sentiment offensive[1].
 1: ??? Star Trek takes place in space, that space is populated by thousands of intelligent species, so yes assuming all those species are like humans is offensive, its the galactic equivalent of assuming everyone is like an American, or a Brit. Pointing out the inherent offensiveness of this statement does not automatically infer shame.

My favorite scene in “Unification 2”: Spock and Data are alone, collaborating on a technical project. Spock muses on the Vulcan aspects of Captain Picard, which Data finds curious because Picard has been a model for his emulation of humanity. Spock can’t understand why Data would want to be more human[1]. “You have an efficient intellect, superior physical skills, no emotional impediments,” he says. “There are Vulcans who aspire all their lives to achieve what you’ve been given by design[2].”
“You are half human?” Data asks.
“Yes,” Spock says.
“Yet you have chosen a Vulcan way of life?”
“I have,” Spock says.
“In effect,” says Data, “you have abandoned what I have sought all my life.”
The two look at each other in silence.
1: Curiosity does not equal incomprehension.
2: Spock is not one of those Vulcans, in another scene with Picard he explains he has moved beyond a purely logic based view.

It’s in this scene where Data’s superiority to Spock is most apparent. Data not only has the mental and physical edge over practically everyone[1], he is curious and earnest and humane, while Spock is moody, flip, detached, and self-consciously superior[2]. Data wants to fit in, while Spock displaces his anxieties over his bicultural heritage onto his family and work relationships. Data’s words and actions are the result of blind unerring computation[3], while Spock is a creature of inner conflict and envies his famous and high achieving father[4]. I’d pick Data over Spock for my first officer any day[5].
 1: Funnily enough this scene where Data supposedly proves his superiority is the result of Data needing Spocks assistance to crack Romulan computer codes.
2: Depending on the episode this could be a pretty accurate description of Spock but not in Unification. In Unification he apologises, concedes points and praises others, in this very scene he compliments Picard and shows fascination with Data.
3: Can you be both curious and earnest  and blindly adherent to computation?
4: Is he? Where's the evidence of that?
5: So would I, but I don't have to trash one to validate the other.

The piece ends on a conclusion much more interested on bashing Obama then Data so I won't bother with it. Except for one point, in the list of reasons why Obama (and presumably Spock) is a bad President Mr Continetti lists not directly intervening in Syria"like Spock, has derided the notion of helping to end the slaughter of the Syrian Civil War as illogical" which is a very curious line for Mr Continetti to take. Not just because I can't think of a single occasion where Spock derided intervening in a civil war, but also because when I was looking up Mr Continetti's other articles I noticed this one
which argues against Obama intervening in Syria. Going so far as to label it a trap. Now its clear from a brief glance at that text that Mr Continetti thinks "Obama's War" doesn't go far enough but concedes the use of military force, which would mean that the USA is intervening in the Syrian Civil War, just not to the degree that Mr Continetti would like. And makes the Spock connection even more spurious, unless Mr Continetti was referring to an episode were Spock endorses photon torpedoing a planet but resist sending security teams to the surface.

Either way It would seem that Mr Continetti's uses the same bag of tricks (disregard for context, twisting of meanings, outright fabrication, inconsistent criticism) in other areas.

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