The Used and Abused Vulcans

Written by Dan Carlson

Published February 24, 2004

This afternoon, I watched that classic of classic episodes, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” The only episode written by sci-fi author Harlan Ellison, this episode tells an awesome story of emotion and logic. The story of Kirk, a Starfleet captain out of time and falling head-over-heels for Edith Keeler, a woman doomed to die (unknowingly) for a better future, is about as emotional as one can get while at the same time being coldly logical. Kirk and Spock were always the perfect duo— Kirk perfectly emotional, trusting his instincts, and Spock, perfectly logical, trusting his rationale.

And while watching Spock tell his captain— firmly, logically, yet still compassionately— that “Edith Keeler must die,” you realize that logic does not require only strict adherence to unemotionalism, and that a lack of emotions does not require a lack of compassion and respect. Yet, this is exactly what the Vulcans in modern Trek have become— cold, sanctimonious boobs awash in their own superiority.

Does anyone remember when we met Surak, the father of modern Vulcan philosophy? True, “Surak” was only a caricature based on mental pictures taken by the alien Excalbians, but surely we can assume that Spock’s mental picture of Surak was at least as accurate as Kirk’s perspective of Abraham Lincoln.

“I am pleased to see that we have differences. May we together become greater than the sum of both of us.” — Surak, epitomizing Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

What’s up with the Vulcans in Enterprise, then? If the philosophy of IDIC was founded by Surak, who lived some two thousand years before the series, it seems that there’s very little respect for that philosophy. Excepting their awful portrayal in DS9’s “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” Vulcans never condescended towards those other beings who chose not to follow their rigorous demands of logic.

I can understand the desire to make Vulcans “different” from what we’re used to seeing in the other series, but if this was the writers’ idea of a good way to develop the most popular race in Star Trek, you have to question their imagination. Rather than portray a fatherly race of calm, logical people patiently trying to shepherd the Human race into the galactic community— whether they want shepherding or not— we instead get a race of arrogant pricks bent on simply impeding Humanity’s progress, merely because they’re convinced they know what’s best.

Even the Vulcan-Andorian conflict would be more interesting with more “normal” Vulcans. As it stands, the Vulcans are eagerly locked in the tit-for-tat battle with the Andorians, and they’re much more alike than either might admit. Instead, the Vulcans are convinced that the Andorians are a treacherous race that can’t do anything peaceful or honest, much the same way they seem to believe— or at least, the boob Ambassador Soval believes— that Humans can’t do anything rationally.

Even if the writers wanted to shake things up slightly, they could’ve done it without totally betraying everything the Vulcans stand for— for example, Vulcan warriors can be eminently logical, powerful, and strong (as Spock was never averse to combat when necessary). They could still be locked in combat with the Andorians because the Andorians feared their power, or distrusted their unemotional practices, or.....

All this doesn’t even take into account the perversion of that most sacred of Vulcan rituals, the mind-meld. The Vulcan priesthood, seen in Star Trek III, for example, described an ancient tradition using their telepathic abilities, the transfer of the katra. And yet mind-melds are eschewed, even forgotten, in the 22nd century, only to become entirely commonplace barely a hundred years later?

Perhaps I should explain a bit of my perspective on change in the Vulcan race. I have no problem with them doing certain things differently, but I also perceive the Vulcans as a much less dynamic race than Humanity— over the short term, that is. Vulcans live two to three times the average Human life-span— would that imply that change would take a bit longer to be adopted? I believe so, and yet Enterprise seems to be laying the stage for a revolution of Vulcan culture as massive as the revolution in Humanity following First Contact. And this is really what irks me the most.

So, we have a culture that espouses logic and unemotionalism while at the same time frequently displaying emotions— such as arrogance, disdain, revulsion— themselves, and at the same time have forgotten millennia-old traditions that are supposedly widespread only a century later. We have a culture that— apparently against its own philosophies— seems more interested in squelching scientific development on other worlds than in encouraging it. We have a culture convinced that their way is the only way.

So much for IDIC.