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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spock on the Sidelines

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, the Enterprise suddenly returns to full power.  We find Mr. Spock in the Transporter room, where the chief claims he could not shut down his system if he wanted to.  Mr. Spock prepares for the unanticipated arrival.  He watches as Number One and Pike’s yeoman materialize.  Then, a little later, the system comes on again, and Captain Pike materializes.

When the group reaches the bridge, others pause to talk with their captain, but Mr. Spock quietly resumes his duties.  No longer must he worry about the dangers posed by the Talosians.  No longer must he grapple with conundrums.  No longer does the responsibility for two hundred lives rest upon his shoulders.  His captain is back.  Number One is back.  He stands at attention beside Number One’s console.  He stares at the viewscreen.  He is content.

So often we are told that we must seize the initiative, that we must abandon our comfort zones, that we must take command of a given situation in order to prove our worth.  But not all are meant to be leaders.  Without followers, those willing to work without being noticed, there would be no government, organizations, charitable institutions, churches, clubs, or businesses.  Individually, we can accomplish much, but by happily lending our skills and abilities to others, we can achieve so much more. 

It is not essential to your development that you always seek the spotlight.  If you wish to, or if you feel you must, then by all means vie for leadership.  But if you feel your gifts and abilities are better suited to standing back and playing a supporting role in a given situation, then be content, knowing you have made a wise decision.

Perhaps, even a logical one.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Does Truth Matter?

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has escaped his cell, and the Talosians have allowed him to leave their planet.  But Vena refuses to return with him to the Enterprise, and after Number One and Pike’s yeoman beam up, she shows him why.  Slowly, her body begins to change, until she is revealed to be a scarred, misshapen woman.  “This is the female’s true appearance,” the Talosian says.  Pike is shocked, perhaps even repulsed.

“They found me in the wreckage, dying,” Vena tells him.  “They rebuilt me.  Everything works.  But they had never seen a human before.  They had no guide for putting me back together.”  Then, despite this strange affirmation of fitness, she turns from him to slowly hobble toward the underground elevator.  Her real body does not possess the vitality, strength, and ease of movement that her illusory appearance led him to believe.  She might run, dance, or do anything she wished in the Talosian-generated dream, or even within an underground cell, but clearly she could not survive the demands of the planet’s harsh, barren surface.  She is too old and feeble to have children, or to farm. 

“It was necessary to convince you her desire to stay was a genuine one,” The Talosian tells Pike.”

“You’ll give her back her illusion of beauty?” he asks.

The Talosian leader, smiling wide, says, “And more.”

Then Vena’s youthful appearance returns, and she holds hands with an illusion of Pike.  Youthful-Vena and illusory-Pike hurry off toward the elevator in the blasted-apart rocky knoll.  Never has the Talosian leader’s smile been so wide.  “She has her illusion, and you have reality,” he tells Pike.  “May you both find your way as pleasant.” 

At last we can understand the Talosians.  Their leader is not acting as if he has seen his fondest dreams crumble before his eyes.  He is not devastated that a new Talosian race will not return life to their barren world.  Instead, he is overjoyed that Vena, the woman they saved from death and have cared for these past eighteen years, is no longer lonely.  Nor is Vena’s spirit crushed.  She smiles at him and the Talosian before pulling her image of Pike back to her underground home.  The Talosians have enough knowledge of Pike’s psyche and experience to sustain this illusion of a real, vibrant Pike.  Her “wisdom” or willingness to accept illusion as fact will enable her to live out her final years happy, content, and fulfilled. 

We’ve been taught that when facts disprove belief, that belief must give way.  Perhaps it is not shattered, but it must reshape itself, rebuild itself so it does not diametrically oppose our current understanding of reality.  Why then does belief so often seem more important to us than fact?  Creationists refuse to believe in evolution, despite the latter’s better grounding in scientists’ findings.  Widows and widowers pen letters to their deceased spouses, and find themselves talking with them during quiet moments, telling them of their current lives, and pledging their continuing love.  Fiction seems to fill a similar need.  People look to great stories to help them better understand their role in society.  They model themselves upon their beloved protagonists.  They might ask themselves: “If Captain Pike (or Mister Spock, or Number One) were here, how would he (or she) handle this situation?

Belief versus Reality.  Fictional role models versus present-day or historical heroes.  Does it matter which we identify with?  Or, as the Talosian leader suggests, might both be equally valid, provided they help us navigate the pitfalls of daily life?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Pleasant and Benevolent Slavery

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, the Talosians want Pike to mate with their human captive Vena, and to produce a human community that can return life to their barren world.  Pike knows the aliens’ mental powers are too strong, so he offers to remain behind if the rest of the Enterprise crew are allowed to leave orbit.  Number One dislikes this bargain, however, and sets her phaser on overload.  Then two more Talosians arrive.  They have scanned the ship’s records, which their leader now accesses.  He is shocked by the humans’ hatred of captivity.  “Even when it is pleasant and benevolent, you prefer death,” he says.

Human history is replete with slave rebellions and freedom movements.  Yet the Talosian leader’s assessment seems a skewed version of our history and customs.  While most of the nations in the world have condemned slavery, some still impose harsh restrictions upon their citizens’ liberty.  In poorer countries, individuals may even opt for slavery in order to secure a better future for themselves and their families.  Nor does Captain Pike, living in an enlightened future, seem completely against slavery.  Earlier, in his quarters aboard the enterprise, he confessed to the ship’s doctor that he was considering retirement.  One potential new career choice: he could become a trader in Green Animal Women Slaves!

In our individual lives, we often trade bondage for security and stability.  For a regular and acceptable level of income, we sign away a large portion of our lives to another, pledging to fulfill our employer’s wishes if they clash with our own.  We join political, social, charitable and religious institutions, pledging to live by their codes of conduct and affirm their beliefs, even if these clash with ones we have previously held dear.  In my own life, I’ve worked hard to free my body from the bondage of excess weight.  Now, everyday, I willingly enslave myself to my regimen, knowing that if I rebel, I will gain back those unwanted pounds.

At first glance, our ideal of “slavery is wrong” clashes with our willingness to pledge our lives to various causes in order to repeat the desired rewards.  The secret to this seeming incongruity resides in the individual’s ability to choose.  After all, children resent rules imposed on them by their parents.  Adults forced into nursing homes or sanitariums not only resent the relatives who placed them there, but perpetuate acts of rebellion against the staff entrusted with their care.  Pike, tricked by Vena and the Talosians, resents living in his cell and experiencing the dreams imposed on him.  But if we are allowed to choose a flavor of slavery to our liking, does this not make us more content with our lives?

What constitutes slavery in your life?  Has your slavery evolved over time into an overly-oppressive regime?  Or do you find that you have grown “too free”, and in need of a new form of slavery that is both pleasant and benevolent? 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Discretion and Valor on Talos 4

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has escaped his cell.  With the Talosian leader as his hostage, he returns to the surface, accompanied by Number One, his yeoman, and Vena.  Yet, even with a phaser pointed at his head, the alien refuses to back down.  Pike must remain on Talos 4 as mate to Vena and to bring life to this dead world.  So Pike offers him a deal: assure me that the Enterprise is all right, send these two women back...and I’ll stay with Vena.

Of the three women (all of whom have strong feelings for him), Number One knows Pike best.  She cannot allow him to make this sacrifice.  Pike’s calling is to be a starship commander, not a farmer.  And there is a moral principle at stake too.  So, to win Pike’s freedom, she sets her phaser on overload.  “It’s wrong to create a whole race to live as slaves,” she announces.

Her declaration is straight-forward.  Her action shakes the Talosian leader’s confidence (which is more than Pike has previously accomplished).  But is she leaving a deeper truth unsaid?  If Number One shared her fellow bridge officer’s fear of what the aliens were doing to Pike, she never voiced it.  She didn’t complain when Pike excluded her from his landing party.  She didn’t rebuke Dr. Phil for saying “I told you so” when her attempt to blast away the rocky knoll housing the Talosians’ underground elevator appeared to fail.  In all the time she has served with Pike, she’s never revealed to Pike how she feels for him.  So one may wonder: Is she saying everything she could say, or only what she needs to say to achieve the result she desires?

When the Talosians whisked her and the yeoman into Pike’s cell, she learned the explanation for his capture.  Of all the Enterprise crew, she realizes how unlikely this scenario is.  The Vena on the survey ship that crashed here eighteen years ago was an adult.  While Number One never reveals how old Vena would be now, she would certainly be older than the young, vibrant woman she appears to be.  Could the real Vena give birth to a child, let alone raise a brood of “intelligent offspring?”  Would she possess the vitality and energy necessary to help her husband run a successful farm, manage a household, and raise her children to adulthood?

While the Talosians built an underground biosphere, the current generation--so addicted to vicariously living-out the dreams of their captives--lack the knowledge and skills to repair the machines created by their ancestors.  They may be adept at deception, but do they know how to extend the years of fertility in their sole human specimen?  Number One’s discretion and valorous act preserves Pike’s dignity, while shielding him from how he ignored such obvious clues.  In so doing, she allows him to believe that he acted appropriately on Talos 4, and thus return to the Enterprise with confidence in himself. 

It can tear at your heart to see your friend going through a difficult situation.  Oh, for the discretion of Number One, to know just what to what to say, and no more. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"Your Destiny Lies Upon a Different Path from Mine"

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has broken free from his cell.  With Vena, Number One, and his yeoman, he has taken the Talosian leader captive and journeyed to the surface via the underground elevator.  But either the Talosian is creating the illusion that Number One’s communicator has malfunctioned, or the Talosians have made good on their leader’s threat and destroyed the Enterprise.  With his phaser pointed at the alien, Pike says “I want to contact my ship.”

The Talosian Leader points out that they are on the surface as he wished them to be.  Now, with the female of his choice (and with plants from their underground gardens), Pike can start the work of returning life to this dead world.  As the Talosians live much longer than humans, they will be able to guide Pike’s descendants, and evolve a thriving human society on Talos 4.  Pike sees the nobility of their cause, but his first concern is the Enterprise and her crew.  So, knowing that even with a phaser to their leader’s head, the Talosians are still in control of the situation, Pike makes this offer.  “You give me proof that my ship is all right, and send these two back...”

Here he pauses.  Then, ultimately:

“And I’ll stay with Vena.”

There are all types of worthy causes in which others would love to enlist us.  Sometimes we allow others to talk us into devoting our energies into roles for which we are ill-suited.  These end up sapping the joy that should come from service to others.  As a result, we may get so burned out that we cast off these unwanted obligations and recuperate by concentrating on our own pleasures.

Each of us, if we take the time to think about it, know what we are best suited for.  It cannot be that hard to figure out a way to utilize the gifts and abilities that elevate our spirits into tasks that will benefit those around us.  Despite the deaths and casualties his crew suffered on their previous mission, Pike is best-suited for running a starship.  His gift to others is the advancement of human learning, and bringing humanity into contact with others from which both civilizations will benefit.  Pike may be willing to sacrifice his life for his crew, but he doesn’t need another noble calling.  He already has one, which he is pursuing to the best of his abilities.  Can each of us say the same?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Hidden Escape Route

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has been kidnapped by the Talosians.  In the illusions forced upon him, he protects Vena from a Kaylar warrior, picnics with her back home on Earth, and experiences the carefree life of a trader in Green Animal Women Slaves.  Yet no matter how compelling the illusions, Pike never forgets that his body is trapped in a cell.  And when Number One organizes a team to rescue him, the aliens take command of the Enterprise transporter and beam Number One and Pike’s yeoman into his cell to join him in his imprisonment.

When the Talosian leader opens a secreted panel and reaches into the cell to remove the women’s discarded phasers, Pike discards his facade of sleep and hauls the alien into his cell.  After seeming to transform into two ferocious creatures, the Talosian threatens to destroy the Enterprise.  Vena warns Pike that, through their power of illusion, the aliens can make the crew unwittingly destroy their own vessel.  Pike shoots each phaser at the viewing window of the cell, seemingly to no effect.  Then he points one at the Talosian’s head and offers to test his belief that the weapons really work on the leader’s head.  To Pike’s satisfaction, a hole appears in the viewing window.

At the beginning of the story, Pike is so weary of responsibility that he is contemplating retirement.  But when he awakens in his cell, the walls surrounding him (and the Talosians watching him through the viewing window) fill him with an anger that never begins to dissipate until the alien allows him to see the escape route his phaser has created.  Those trapped in the cell with Pike are also transformed.  Number One subsumes her emotions even more than normal, and shifts into situation-assessment mode.  Like Vena, his Yeoman dares to hope the unthinkable: that a trapped Pike might look to her for love and support.  And the leader of a seemingly-peaceful race threatens to murder two hundred members of another intelligent species. 

The sight of the damaged viewing window likewise effects them.  Order and hierarchy return.  Pike hauls his prisoner from the cell.  Number One, Pike’s second-in-command, assumes her position of primacy, followed by his yeoman.  Vena, who holds no rank in the Enterprise crew, walks out last, knowing the odds that Pike will choose to make a life with her on Talos 4 have decreased dramatically.

We want to believe that we determine our own destinies, yet we are told that our capabilities and life-choices are influenced by our environment (in addition to our genetic make-up).  We may not be trapped in a cage, but our futures seem to be perpetually limited by such factors as job and family commitments, peer pressure and cultural expectations, our incomes and expenses, the homes and neighborhoods we live in, as well as the significant choices we have made up until this moment.

What bonds currently trap you?  What walls seem to surround you?  What might you achieve, if only you could perceive a hidden escape route?  And, most important of all, do such questions amount to little more than pointless speculation, or might attempting to answer them benefit your life in some tangible way?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Star Trek: The Phantom Menace

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has been kidnapped.  When the Talosians find him uncooperative, they kidnap Number One as well.  This leaves Mr. Spock in command of the Enterprise.  Due to the aliens’ immense mental powers, he believes that once they have no more use for the ship, they will swat it like a fly.  Therefore, he opts to flee, hoping to escape their grasp and thus save the hundreds of lives aboard.

Instead, the Talosians drain all power from the ship.  Spock and the crew tear into the ship’s circuitry, but can find no way of restoring power.  “If not for the batteries, we’d lose gravitation, oxygen--”  His assessment is interrupted by the lights coming on, followed swiftly by the computers.  The crew race to the controls, only to realize that the Talosians are running through the ship’s library, and they cannot block the aliens’ access.  “They’re collecting all the information we can supply,” he concludes.  “They’ve decided to swat us.”

Despite how the Talosians deceived the crew and kidnapped Pike, Mr. Spock previously suggested in the briefing room that the Talosians might only wish to study them.  Although he feared that any attempt to rescue Pike might prompt a violent response, the Talosians harmed no one when Number One set up a laser cannon on the surface and blasted the disguised elevator with all the ship’s power.  Yet when the Talosians snatch the women from the transporter room, prevent the Enterprise from leaving orbit, and begin reading their records, Spock concludes that the Talosians intend mass murder.  He overlooks the fact that the Talosians have left them sufficient battery power to keep them alive and comfortable.  Instead of being buoyed by this knowledge, he assumes the worst of this alien race whom he does not understand.

Caught up in their own problems, others sometimes fail to realize how they are imposing on us.  When inconvenienced, it is natural to believe that your self-respect (or more) is on the line.  But even friends will injury us occasionally.  To see malice in a stranger is easy, but not always accurate.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How to Bring Out the Worst in Another

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has been kidnapped.  In an effort to get him to stay willingly, the Talosians capture Number One and his yeoman.  He must now choose a mate: either Vena, or one of his two crewmembers.  But the Talosians make one mistake: each of the women they plucked from the Enterprise wears a phaser on her utility belt.

When a Talosian opens a hidden panel and reaches for the discarded phasers, Pike, only feigning rest, hauls the alien into the cell.  The Talosians are a sedentary people; the Enterprise crew are hardened by the dangers of space travel and away missions.  The Talosian uses illusion to transform into one fearsome beast after another.  But Pike has grown tired of such trickery, so the alien must use the remaining arrow in his quiver.  “Your ship,” he gasps.  “Release me, or I will destroy it.”

With their starships and the discovery of warp drive, more star systems can be visited than humanity can ever explore.  The Talosians have accomplished this and more, including mental powers such as telepathy, telekinesis, and their ability to generate convincing illusions.  A meeting between two such accomplished races should have been harmonious and constructive.  Instead, these two end up on the floor of a cell, one threatening murder, the other to a ship with a crew of two hundred. 

The Talosians believe their cause is noble, yet assume that Pike would never willingly give up Starfleet for Vena.  So they never scan the Enterprise records to better understand humanity.  (At least not until this point).  Instead, they imprison Pike, and employ illusion, punishment, and manipulation to shape him into the person they wish him to be. 

At the beginning of The Cage, Pike confided in Dr. Phil that he was tired of commanding a starship.  He wondered if he might be destined for another type of life.  Perhaps, had the Talosians tried to get to know him, dealt with him honestly and fairly, and given him the freedom to make his own choice, he would have willingly pledged his life to them (and to Vena).  Sadly, we will never know.

Can great good be accomplished through deception and manipulation?  Machiavelli might have said yes.  Events in The Cage suggest otherwise.