This month’s column in The Meta Arts magazine. (If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you read this here a while ago.) It’s always a question: Among the competing demands on our time, how can we tell which are legitimate demands for us? Naturally, the guys upstairs had an opinion.
That’s the title of my June column for the online magazine The Meta Arts. You can read it by clicking here: http://www.themetaarts.com/pages/frankdemarco.html
leads me to reprint this conversation with Gene Roddenberry that I made into a column for The Meta Arts online magazine last December.
Star Trek, the individual and the community
by Frank DeMarco
Gene Roddenberry was a visionary. The man who created Star Trek set out to influence American culture in certain very specific constructive ways, and succeeded to an extent that he can hardly have imagined. Star Trek influenced America – and far beyond. What part of the world doesn’t know of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov?
Not the least fascinating aspect of this ability to talk to others on the other side is that we can ask them questions. Here’s an edited transcript of Gene Roddenberry talking about society and the individual and the process of inspiring society with new ways of seeing things.
On May 14, 2007, having been watching Star Trek videos and re-reading Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd novels, I had several altered-state sessions with the guys upstairs. They started off, as the often do, with very abstract statements, hard to absorb:
There are several points to be considered together:
– quality in the external life of the individuals in the community
– individual interest as actually community interest seen out of context
– dissatisfaction – unnecessary dissatisfaction – in what is possible within community
– all this as a parallel to what we have been saying of your internal lives.
We do not apologize for the fact that this is not clear to you. If it were clear at first sight, how new could it be? We want to show you individualism and collectivism in the light of newly seen context.
That was a little awkward. Am I losing the beam or are you in need of some coffee over there?
You will find, if you look back (or forward!) that when you are prospectively grasping very abstract statements, the process takes so much of your attention that grammar itself suffers, let alone metaphor.
Interesting. Okay, I get the idea: New context for our social ideas will produce a new point of view in the way that doing a Copernican shift will rearrange our ideas of ourselves and past lives, etc.
It might be better to put it this way: As you learn that you are not so much an individual but a transient collection of threads – or rather, that such a collection is what it means to be an individual – your view of your life changes. Your possibilities expand, and certain mysteries resolve. You can communicate with what you had thought of as “past” lives; you can access infinite knowledge; you can change your past, present and future. The “superhuman” abilities promised you by scriptures are right there in front of you, or rather, the ignition key is now in your hands. Similarly, society seen as if it were an individual.
This is very difficult work for you.
Yes – so many threads you are wanting to weave and I can scarcely stay up with you, let alone weave them.
You need other tools to make the handling of abstractions easier and more skilled.
It’s true and I have often felt it. The only thing I know to do is to keep it as simple as I can, sentence by sentence, and hope that you won’t forget where we are going, for if I try to hold it, I get lost. I get overwhelmed. Which thing to say first? How to make so complex a sentence that it will hold the various elements in relationship – and yet still be readable?
This is why so much “channeled” material comes out in the pompous, inflated language of the subconscious: it is beyond the ability of the interpreter to both render faithfully and translate into more normal language. It is one of your qualifications, that you are good with language, somewhat picky about it as a conveyor of meaning, free enough concerning structure to allow yourself to do what is needed, and above all determined to say it so that it may be understood. Getting these qualities in a medium means forfeiting other valuable but contradictory qualities. Hence, specialization.
I can see that. Oh! That’s why earlier you planted the seed in my mind about talking to Gene Roddenberry! It will come best via an individual, and hence one who had thought about it. And I have been watching Star Trek movies including the “making of” stuff they include in the DVDs. I’ll give you this. You guys are pretty clever. All right, I will be very pleased to talk to Gene Roddenberry about all this.
Yes, you don’t need to say it. What he will say here, from his present perspective, isn’t necessarily what he would say if he were still here in a single-life perspective. Since I don’t know anything about him except that he had the original Star Trek ideas (or got them from Wesley Bateman, if that is what happened) – I won’t even worry about conforming story to perception. Hopefully it will be easier, but in any case – we’ll see.
Gene Roddenberry, are you there? Or here, however we should look at it?
Like-vibrational souls seem to be a group when viewed from a certain focus. When viewed from a different focus, the like-vibrational teams will be partly or entirely different. No one is only one thing. To make that clearer, a baseball team is seen from a baseball-oriented focus. The members of that same team will not necessarily sort out in any predictable way when considered from ownership of one brand of car, or coverage by one kind of life insurance, or they might be sorted by political belief or ideology, or taste in art, or in wine, or in women. A very simple concept here: everybody has different handles, different vibrational signatures, that respond to different focuses. So, you experience me as part of a “team” that includes Franklin Roosevelt and Claude Bowers. Is this because we are a natural team, a sort of soul-family? Only in a given context. Claude Bowers is not necessarily interested in science fiction or television, or Abraham Lincoln. So, yes, I am here – for you, in this context. And I am “here” for others in different contexts. And this is true for all.
What the lesson of the day is, can be explained easier by reference to my own goals as a producer of television shows than abstractly (as you have found).
I wanted to show real people facing real problems; specifically I wanted to create a mirror in which we in the 20th century could see ourselves by contrast. Well, by contrast to what? To mankind as it could be if shaped by a different society. It could have been done by reference to a real or imagined past, but to do it against an imagined (received?) future offered greater leeway. Everything was possible.
The seven deadly sins still existed; they exist because people exist. The infinite potential range of emotion, skill, values, creativity, existed, because they exist in people, manifested more or manifested less, and in differing directions, according to circumstance. I am saying this: Creating a future matrix in which to place the future man, we created possibilities.
Start with a man (a person, yes, but say a man). He has our same innate range of possibilities – plus the things his society makes possible and ours does not, and minus the possibilities that ours makes possible and his does not. So – he is us as we would be in those circumstances. And the viewer, feeling that identity, infers the effect of the society by seeing the motives the man has – or does not have – in any given set of circumstances (also known as, “the plot”!).
How many times did viewers see and hear that the 23rd century does not use money? Whenever they heard the statement, it left a blank spot, for it is impossible to imagine a society without money. But it is not impossible to witness people whose actions are never motivated by fear of scarcity or the desire to amass a surplus. In short, it made no impression on the conscious mind, but a relatively great impression, cumulatively, on the subconscious pattern-imaging facility.
The means of transportation might be advanced – transporters, gravity-defying cars, spaceships – and this was accepted as a commonplace. The all-powerful all-connecting computers were accepted as magic, like any other marvel. The surroundings – strange worlds, spaceships, hostile or curious or indifferent races – were accepted with a shrug, so to speak, like horses in a horse opera. What was different, what was significant, what was meaningful, was the mental and emotional world of the captain and crew. That and nothing else is what turned a three-season show into a phenomenon that the fans kept alive. They weren’t attached to fist fights and transporters and dilithium crystals. They were relating to the possibilities in themselves that they could see only mirrored in the crew. Of course this doesn’t mean they knew this, at any level. They knew only that Star Trek had become important to them and they wanted to get as close to it as they could, emotionally.
So, as I said, start with the man. Then work your way logically – where is Spok when you need him? – to the society that will produce and nurture such abilities and such a view of the world.
It sounds like I have gone a long way away from our topic, but I have not. It is just that we are approaching from an unexpected direction.
You are saying, roughly, first get an accurate idea of who you are, then work to build a society that will support what you can become and want to become.
Well – not quite that. You as an individual are not what your society thinks you are. It is difficult to generalize because different subsets of society have different beliefs, but most would agree that you are one unit, proceeding moment by moment along the present that still somehow keeps being the past moving into the future. (A close look would reveal the absurdity of this view of things, but there it is.) If your subset is religious or is in some way psychically connected and intellectually congruent with the connection, it will say that you extend before birth and after death, though each will differ in specifics. Meanwhile – during your life on Earth – you are seen as having a physical heredity and perhaps a spiritual heredity; and a family, and certain interests and surroundings, and a given set of gifts and liabilities.
All well and good, and as epicycles, very serviceable. As descriptions of who and what you are – pathetic. This is a cartoon view of humanity. Because it is so, societies shaped around this view become cartoons as well. But they aren’t very funny.
No one in the Star Trek crew is an individual in the sense of existing in isolation, an end and a means to himself. The idea is an absurdity, easily seen in so small a mirror of earth life. Yet societies are set up either as one great beehive (Mao’s ideal for China) or as a series of megalithic organizational units (Hitler’s or Stalin’s ideals) or as tribes or families (multiple examples around Earth past and present) or as individuals. And it is the cult of the individual that is so dangerous in your time, as the cult of the beehive or the megalith was in mine.
Who can live without trees on the earth?
The quality of life is in the perfect interplay of millions of details. A good meal of nutritious and well prepared food doesn’t just happen. And if individualism is allowed to run far out of control, there can be a situation where it becomes impossible to have such a meal because too many necessary links have been snapped.
If the worlds here were to become unbreatheable, the ability to purchase canned air wouldn’t be lifesaving; it would only buy a postponement of the inevitable.
A society full of illiterates does not make possible [even] for those who can read the depth of services and knowledge offered by societies of widespread literacy – and this despite how much money one may offer for special services.
Star Trek kept the assumptions that past, present, future was the basic orientation. Travel into “the” past or “the” future still held on to these assumptions, but proposed exceptions to it. In the same way, travel to other dimensions, alternate probable worlds – you name it – still by implication assumes the same reality, “ordinary” reality.
What if we had made other assumptions and had been able to keep our audience with us? Suppose we had said, there is only the present (doing things one way) and it is 1/30th of a second ahead of whatever your senses report, and it is where the true magic of the world resides.
If Captain Kirk had been actively aware of all his other lives, active within his everyday consciousness, alive as he was, interacting continuously with him and with each other – and if he had realized that every one of them (and he himself, of course) was vitally tied to multitudes of others whose vibrations they had matched, would he have been the same man?
To look at it backwards, if he hadn’t been aware of himself as just one member of the crew, had thought of himself as the only important person, would he have been the same?
What if Kirk had been able to keep his sense of being one member of a team and had extended it internally as well? You are the captain of your extended self (from your point of view) because you are at the present, the point of application. Others in your group are too, from their point of view and in their present-point. So you have complete cooperation and complete individual free will and it all depends upon awareness of interconnection.
There it is, in a nutshell. And yes, this wasn’t so easy to bring across. We are not supermen here unless we were supermen there.
Thanks for making that effort, and I look forward to see what tomorrow brings. Thanks, too, for Star Trek. That was a good thing you did.