Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Prime Directive...Reformed!

I've been a Star Trek fan since my childhood. The Star Fleet universe captured my imagination well beyond the Star Wars paradigm. A friend of mine describes Star Trek as "competence porn," meaning that throughout all of the series, the show highlights the organization of skillsets from many different backgrounds, coordinated with compassion and zeal to overcome obstacles that solve challenges.

Star Trek Discovery is closing out its series run with Season 5, and I am totally enthralled by the variety of characters and character development. Captain Michael Burnham rising from rebellious prisoner to starship command as a woman of color takes center stage. Lieutenant Tilly kicks butt as a no-nonsense science officer. Open and welcome non-binary, trans, gay couples, and diverse humanoids of color (blue, green and brown) round out the starship's crew. In this sense, Discovery has followed through with the Roddenberry dream of a future of diversity and progress and succeeded in spades.

However, the plot of season five has had all the watcher appeal of a cheesy, half baked escape room. Replete with an ultimate weapon that must be found by season end, a faltering attempt at a villainous lover duo serving as parallel nemeses, and not so  cryptic "clues" that should at least be named something more compelling like "astral-prints," "quantum-quips," or frankly anything that a writer spent more than five seconds concocting (that's all the time I spent coming up with those two far superior

Nevertheless, I must say Season 5 Episode 6 Whistlespeak knocked it out of the galactic park for me. (Spoilers lie beyond here). 

The episode has the Discovery hunting down the next "clue" [groan] on their path to find the progenitor's ultimate weapon. (generally I'm dismayed with the choice to have all humanoids of the galaxy unified by a god-like progenitor race who spread the humanoid life stinks a little too much like alien creationism trying to suplex darwinian evolution from behind).

Anyway, the infamous "Prime Directive" comes into play, as in order to search for the missing puzzle piece, Discovery must avoid affecting the local, primitive (pre-warp drive) civilization. This trope has gotten a touch worn over the years, but this latest treatment really connects with the idea that there is a compassionate way for an "advanced" culture to communicate with a less advanced once. Captain Burnham has a tour de force scene where in order to save the lives of her crew member and a local humanoid, she must confront the local tribe's shaman. She manages to discuss with loving intensity the imperative to leave behind an old tradition for a more well thought out decision making.  All while not causing offense to the shaman's belief in gods. (and as is typical with Star Trek competence porn, it's done in an exceedingly (if unbelievable) time constraint, that permits the episode to wrap up in under 60 minutes).

My world view as a hybrid atheist/agnostic/vegan/secular humanist/sentientist (yeah, that's quite a mouthful) resonates so amazingly with this scene. There are so many backward traditions our Earth civilization holds (gods/fossil fuels/meat eating/tribal hating) AND YET, I get it, people hold these generally misguided traditions as sacrosanct. Nevertheless, I feel it is my task as a compassionate and well-reasoned human to find a gentle way of influencing beyond the Prime Directive (live and let live, essentially).  

For all of us I suggest considering adopting a Zeroth Directive in our lives! What better application of ethics is there but to compassionately encourage family, friends, and anyone we come across to consider the evidence to reform out-of-date beliefs to improve the well-being of self, community, and planet.

Competence porn aside, Captain Picard used to be my favorite captain (James Kirk was a bit too much of a sexist brute imho), but Captain Burnham moves ahead of the pack as ultimate starship captain, for now. (damn, I hope she turns out to be vegan).

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Your Name (an anime film analysis)

Your Name delights the senses with its Japanese stylized, animated near-future sci-fi fantasy flourishes. The main characters Taki and Mitsuha are reluctant soul mates in a plot that pushes an array of Freaky Friday, Deep Impact, Back to the Future and Romeo and Juliet buttons. The film manages to pull the human viewer into an imagined world where star-crossed lovers fight all odds to find each other. Despite being a swirl of derivative ideas, it is a film well worth watching...

...and contemplating upon.

I found the primary premise (two minds swapping bodies every other day) to be an interesting take on the typical Freaky Friday exchange. The dualistic belief that our bodies and our minds exist separately is completely bonkers given the modern understanding of neuroscience. Yet something primitive, perhaps primed by our cultural upbringing and evolutionary nature succumbs to the possibility of this ultimate form of empathy.

Soul switching, impossible as it is, conveys the idea that we can put ourselves in another's shoes. And when it comes to loving someone, that imagining might very well permit us to care for someone as if they were ourselves. Such duality belief leads to the two parts of the same being abstraction and metaphor. Truly, if one finds deep love with another person, the hope that both lives can be enhanced bye each other in an ongoing relationship is a compelling pursuit.

Perhaps, all our mental abstractions fall short of the reality. The perception of free will, imagining of an afterlife, wish for telepathic understanding, and the possible union of souls all build upon our human need for social fulfillment. The fact that our minds are marooned in a body and brain doesn't minimize the power of such abstraction. In truth, we are all marooned on the same planet and though imperfect we can communicate with each other, share experiences, and work together to accomplish goals. It is a bit depressing to recognize our fantasies can never be truly realized.

At one level all this magical connection is wishful think voodoo madness, at another it is delightful and entertaining metaphor. Maybe, loving someone as deeply as we can benefits from a little abstraction, encouraging us to strive for supernatural levels of compassion to max out our real life love experience. 

In Your Name, Taki and Mitsuha only find each other after weeks of knowing from a great distance and in each others body. When they finally meet face to face, it felt as if a miracle had happened. Maybe our modern human minds need a bit of training to feel the same way when we make a connection with someone real. 

Thursday, June 6, 2024

States of Change Chapter 39: Flickertail (North Dakota)


States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.

The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 

Fifty independent States have forged unique societies from 

revolutionary technology and ideology

"What's for dinner, Jean Henri?" 


"Not again? Well I guess I shouldn't even ask. Other than Old Man Crayburn down in the valley, we haven't seen a critter bigger than a cockroach in ages."

"Cockroach pie is always an alternative, if you capture enough for me to make buggy mince pie with."

"Durn climate change. Who'd have guessed that all the animals west of Fargo would die off or migrate in one man's lifetime, all 'cept the damn ground squirrels."

"I'll take that as a yes to roast flickertail. What kind of sauce would you like with your meal?"

"Doesn't matter."

"Spiced flickerblood it is."

"Hey, Lumas. Any chance there's a can of beans somewhere in the old store house?"

"Not unless it's buried under the cockroaches and cobbies."

"Funny. You know, one of these days one of us is gonna get tired of this desert expanse, and go and string up the other for supper."

"Think so?"

"Yeah, I do. I know we's childhood friends since the 40's but sometimes life needs a bit of a change."

"Time will take care o' change, all by itself. No matter climate change, AI ultimatums, or viral outbreak. Death'll get us all one by one."

"Ya going philosophic on me, man?"

"Just questioning and speculating...if that is philosophy than I'm guilty as charged."

"Well shut up and hand me that flickertail so a man eat in peace then. Questioning ain't done anyone any good from where I's sitting. Life is shit and we's in it."

"I got no answer to that un, 'cept life must be good enough that we keep gettin' on."

"Clearly. Maybe we can try the story night thing again if'n the stars come out."

"I'd like that."

"I said maybe. Now eat somethin' y'self, or I'll be talking with a corpse later."

"Right ya be."