The death yesterday of Leonard Nimoy, best known for his role as Mr. Spock in Star Trek, created — to mix my SF metaphors — a great disturbance in the Force. Mr. Nimoy was eulogized across mainstream media and on social media, a constant stream of accolades and tributes filled the news feeds. Well, at least it filled mine, but I am a SF writer with a lot of friends in fandom.
Still, Nimoy was a significant figure in the pantheon of pop culture but I think that he was more. The role that he created, assembling it from bits and pieces provided by writers and directors and from his own deeply held beliefs and abilities, transported him beyond mere ‘star’ status so he could say something profound about America and its hugely divided soul.
Spock (like Nimoy himself, the child of immigrant Ukrainian Orthodox Jews) was an American in so many ways — the product of the melting pot philosophy, the outsider who became integral to his adopted society. Spock was also a person of mixed race and, as such, faced difficulties that many of the citizens of a racially divided America could identify with. He also represented, both internally and in his relationship with Kirk, the great struggle that has been part of America since its founding fathers wrote the US constitution, which, despite its flaws, remains one of the great instruments of progress and human freedom in the world.
The founders of America were for the most part products of the Enlightenment. Like Spock, they believed that good decisions and good government came from the exercise of reason. They were not — as Spock was not — without emotion, but they strove to set aside powerful passions to do the right thing based on evidence and logic. They professed that all men are created equal — and yes, I know how limited that profession was — which in many ways leads directly to the Vulcan philosophy, that the good of the many outweigh the good or the needs of the few.
Kirk, on the other hand, was the paragon of American exceptionalism. He frequently violated the rules or even the law because he knew what he was doing was right. He ran on instinct and emotion — relying on the advice of his more rational colleagues but always doing what he believed was necessary. His response to Spock: sometimes the good of the one outweighs the good of the many is pure emotion, pure instinctual choice. Right or wrong, Kirk was always sure. It often led him into trouble but Spock was always there to get him out.
So I am proud to say that I am Spock. I have deep emotions but I try not to let them rule my life. I want to be part of a larger thing but not at the cost of my deepest values. Like Spock, I am always seeking answers. And I’m always prepared to continue to grow so that in the end someone might say: Of all the souls I knew, his was the most… human.
And that’s ten minutes.