The Final Frontier and The Black Freighter
The one about salvaging your divinity.
In ‘Braving the Wilderness’ by Brené Brown, she cites that the moments in our lives that lead to inextricable human connection are moments of collective pain or joy. She went on to share some very poignant examples of this, and the ones that resonated the most were the ones steeped in the greatest pain. The pain of hearing the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, or the pain from hearing about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. These are literally moments in time when regardless of how removed we are from those standing next to us, the knowledge that something horrific has happened somehow makes us feel kinship with those strangers. Those moments of shared pain, are often the most connected we’ll ever feel to humanity. But that’s not the only way to connect, it’s actually the worst way to make these connections. Shared collective joy works so much better…
This got me thinking about one of my favorite Star Trek films; ‘The Final Frontier.’ In this movie we are introduced to Spock’s half-brother Sybok, a man who has an innate ability to connect with those who willingly offer their pain to him. This idea — that someone you don’t know — would ask you to share the personal anguish that prevents you from living your existence to the full, is exactly what Brené was talking about. It’s the release of grief — communal or personal — that has the ability to free us from the very mental prisons we place ourselves in; ultimately leading us back to joy.
Sybok used his ability to comundeer the USS Enterprise in an attempt to find what many people seek; God. He released all consenting crew members from the internal struggles that had emotionally encumbered them. Although, there was one crew member who vehemently refused his offer; this — of course — was Captain Kirk. In his denial Kirk would say that pain and guilt are “the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”
Kirk’s refusal to be released from his anguish might have seemed like a good idea once the film came to its conclusion, but what Kirk was really doing was holding onto something much more insidious than personal tragedy.
Kirk seemingly always had his prejudices against Klingons, but that was reinforced when one killed his only son. In that moment, Kirk’s prejudices became hardened by the actions of a single individual. He would carry this hatred into the next film, where his own public acrimony would be used against him as he stood accused of being party to the assassination of the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon. Kirk never believed that Klingon’s were capable of wanting a peaceful co-existence, and he held those prejudices close to his chest as he came to realize that the prejudices of some of those he believed in were used to make him a patsey.
In typical cinematic fashion, the lead character learns a valuable lesson about themselves, and seemingly is a better person for the experience. Kirk, of course, made his life infinitely more difficult by allowing the pain surrounding the death of his son to taint his perception of an entire race of people. One imagines that had he shared his pain with Sybok he might never have been able to be framed for Gorkon’s murder. Of course, then ‘Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country’ wouldn’t have even been made. That would have been a shame of unimaginable proportions; the film itself is an interesting parable illustrating how even those who, because of their own race or ethnicity, having once been subjected to discrimination, were now actively engaged in promoting discrimination.
[Watchmen Spoiler Alert]
Pop culture has a lot of these parables. In the Graphic Novel ‘Watchmen’ we see a heinous attempted to unite humanity in shared grief engineered by one of the individuals we are believing to be a protagonist.
In realizing that humanity invariably seeks to find those whom are different, and instinctively dehumanize those individuals, Adrian Veidt (a.k.a. Ozymandias) created a brilliant plot device to distract humanity from it’s innate prejudices. As the head of a successful multi-national corporation he secretly manufactures a massive organic squid-like creature; he teleports the creature into the heart of NYC long enough for approximately half the city’s population to be killed. This attack from a creature seemingly from another planet forces the nations of the world to stand-down from their warring intentions with one another in an attempt to band together to fight a common (alien) enemy. This is the bonding effect created in shared pain. The world leaders — once at each other’s throats — stopped seeing each other as something to eradicate, but as allies in our shared desire to persist as a species. Unfortunately, it still boils down to the redirection of hate and prejudice.
Prejudices are such strange things; the hardest question to answer is “what’s really leading the narrative?” I wonder this a lot when I see a raging debate about Transgender soldiers; I often see someone say they wouldn’t want to be pinned down in a foxhole next to someone questioning their gender. From whatever comfortable place these people feel safe to lob such a silly and stupid notion, I wonder if they ever bothered to place themselves in that foxhole and really think about whether or not someone would legitimately be locked in their own existential crisis while their life, and the lives of their squad, were in danger. Such a scenario would literally never exist outside the minds of those trying so hard to strip the humanity of those who just want to serve their country.
But how do we ever get to these dark and xenophobic places to begin with?
Interspersed in the ‘Watchmen’ graphic Novel is another graphic novel being read by a ancillary character; it was called “Tales of the Black Freighter.” Within that graphic novel a ship is attacked by a supernatural pirate ship (The Black Freighter). Amidst the wreckage, a single survivor exists. Marooned on a nearby island the survivor begins a descent into madness. He believes that the Black Freighter has set sail for his hometown, and will certainly kill his whole family. As that madness consumes him, he forms a raft out of the bloated carcasses of his shipmates and fights to return home on this morbid barge. Upon his arrival, and still believing his town has been ravaged by the crew of the Black Freighter, he sets forth under the cover of night to kill these aggressors. The man ultimately kills his own wife whom he mistook as a Pirate, thus destroying the life he so vehemently thought he was going to spare. He flees the town and finds the Black Freighter waiting nearby. The ship and it’s crew have not arrived to pillage the town, but merely to collect this man’s damned soul.
In this fiction we have an apt reflection of our modern bigoted society. We have an individual acting on un-established “facts” and hearsay, who either by the will of their own narrative or the narratives of equally fanatical individuals has created a false boogeyman within their own mind. Today that enemy is framed as anyone of varying race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation. And now those small-minded individuals believe that the only cure to what ails their madness is the eradication of what they honestly believe is an invading force. We have already begun to see the tipping of their souls, the moment they realize they are damned is the moment they spiritually and physically attack those who are different. They honestly believe their actions are just; but do they ever stop to consider who made them believe this? Do they ever stop to think of how many lives they sully with every literal and emotional killing they partake in?
I can’t speak to that morality for they have truly gone mad. There is no justification for creating actual evil to combat perceived evil. In the past, I have said that determining who is right or wrong in any given situation is easy; one need only ask “who is being oppressed?” Perception of oppression is not oppression, actual demonstrative steps taken to inhibit a individual's personal sovereignty is oppression.
Upon taking the USS Enterprise to the center of the known universe and finding the God of “Sa’Ka’Ree,” Sybok ultimately discovers a deep truth about himself; a truth that mirrors ourselves. The God we believe in is actually ourselves. This is how we justify hurting good people; because that’s what “our” God finds acceptable. Our God hates what we hate, and loves what we love. It’s also why we insist that any variation of that belief is heresy; in our minds there is only one God — our God, and they are infallible.
If I didn’t think I’d be murdered, I would make a habit of proving to such stalwart individuals that the God they believe in is a total lie. The God that says I should not exist because I am Transgender is simply not real. I would ask them to prove I am an affront to God by praying that their God immediately stop my heart, or strike me with lightning. And the moment they realize they’re God will not do this, is the moment they will feel compelled to act on that God’s behalf. It’s too much to challenge their belief in “their” God; they must feel compelled to act as the smiting hand of that God. This is part and parcel with the dehumanizing tropes used to goad others into delegitimizing the lives of good, decent people whose only crime is not living as someone else’s God has chosen.
It’s time to admit the truth about God. We are our Gods. Every single one of us is the face of God. There is no degree of race, ethnicity, immigration status, hair/eye color, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. that can be weaponized to rob us of our divinity. It is only when we seek to instill our own prejudices against others that we become morally bankrupt. Just remember, even Kirk’s own prejudices prevented him from believing that Klingon’s we’re capable of seeking peace. Kirk was completely unscrupulous; a total racist. But he also had his awakening; proof that everyone can be redeemed, even corrupt fictitious idols.
Ozymandias didn’t have to kill millions of people to save billions (as he legitimately thought). That was the voice of his God which was influenced by his own prejudices. He had no means of knowing that humanity as a whole could not eventually push past their own bitterness and contempt for one another. Creating moments of collective suffering such that humanity is united for a brief moment in time, is not the answer to any problem. Understanding that we are all equally divine is. The second we denounce another’s divinity, then we renounce our own, and the Freighter shall await our damned souls.
We can achieve so much more with collective moments of joy than collective moments of pain.
I remember exactly where I was when the Challenger blew up. I remember where I was on September 11th 2001 when the towers fell. But just because I remember these tragedies does not mean they define me. I would still put my faith in the space program, and I have not let the actions of a few rogue individuals keep me so paralyzed with fear that I distrust all people who share their faith. If throwing entire groups of people into categories of hate were good practice, how many cisgender heterosexual white Christian males would be under a microscope following the multitude of mass shootings committed by individuals who fit that mold?
I refuse to create blocks of hate that force me to change my entire existence and diminish the divinity of those who have done no harm. The problem lies within us, the problem lies with OUR personal Gods.
We delude ourselves in believing that God is in a place, but that’s a lie isn’t it. God isn’t this almighty being who wants to see people smited; if that were true, they wouldn’t need mortals passing pathetic legislation against the individual sovereignty of others or shameless keyboard-commandos lobing anonymous castigations from the safety of their bunkers. God would simply deal with those individuals accordingly from on-high.
God is not in what we make, they’re in what’s been made; the very people and faces you see everyday. Maybe it’s time to stop ignoring their divinity, and in doing so redeem your own. This is the source of collective joy, and the source of our spiritual restitution.
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