During COVID times my youngest child TD and I have made a pact to watch all of the Star Trek films. All 13 movies from the very first full-length feature with Shatner’s Kirk to the most recent revival of the Kirk and Spock universe. I love every single one of those movies, even the less well-reviewed ones. Captain Kirk’s birthplace is about 10 miles south of where I live now. When I interviewed for my faculty position, people asked me, “Why do you want to come to Iowa?” I answered, “My long term goal is to be Captain Kirk’s great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, so I had better get to work setting up some roots here.” What I meant, was that I had taken the time to learn about the place I was applying to and I wanted to be part of a community. I wanted to contribute value to the place I chose to make my home, in the short-term and the long-term. I wanted to do something that made history and made the world a better place.
Last night we made it to the 12th film – Into Darkness. I might be one of the few that liked the reboot of the Spock and Kirk universe as much as the original series Spock and Kirk. I like the focus on Spock’s human half. I like that he struggles with whether emotion has value and whether to embrace his human half at the peril of his Vulcan half. Old Spock didn’t struggle with that nearly as intensely. People from a duality of culture know that you can never fully reject or embrace only half of yourself. You just have to struggle for a peaceful co-existence. Most of all, I like the scene where Spock is on the shuttle with Kirk and Uhura, fighting with Uhura about his choice to die inside the volcano. He tells her..
It is true I chose not to feel anything upon realizing my own life was ending. As Admiral Pike was dying, I joined with his consciousness and experienced what he felt at the moment of his passing. Anger. Confusion. Loneliness. Fear. I had experienced those feelings before, multiplied exponentially on the day my planet was destroyed. Such a feeling is something I choose never to experience again.
But anyone who has truly struggled with the duality of their own nature knows that you can never truly make that choice without rejecting part of who you are. Still, I’ve thought a lot about what it would be like to be able to choose not to feel, particularly when faced with something you already know will hurt you. To be able to say, “I’ve experienced that once and I never want to feel that way again, so I just won’t.” Maybe only Vulcans get that superpower.
Training in critical care and exercise physiology, I encountered a lot of predictable behavior. We would do these wacky exercise experiments and occasionally a male colleague would remark that I couldn’t run as fast, or pedal as far, or lift as much. I’d remark back that they were correct. I’d reply that it was unlikely that I’d ever be as physically strong as them, so it was really fortunate that I was smarter and worked harder. I called it the Steve Prefontaine Defense.
That type of sexism never really hurt me. It was comical and it was easy to point out how ridiculous and unrelated to my value as a scientist the comments were. But, there can be darker, more insidious discrimination in academia that is harder to laugh off and that cuts much deeper. Comments about people’s personalities, attributes, demonstrations of culture and ethnicity, fit within a system, and personal lives that are confounded with their achievements, are much harder to address, and are much harder to let blow over you. Those are the interactions that hurt. Those are the moments where I so frequently wish I could be Vulcan and choose to not feel any of it, instead of having to figure out whether I have any guts left.