Thursday, November 19, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing

Here's one for you: what do you patriotism, faith, profanity, salt and Star Trek have in common?

Too much of them is a bad thing.

Obviously how much is too much is purely subjective; some people live bland, sodium-free lives, others listen to Kevin Smith and say, "Oh, did he slip an f-bomb in there? I hadn't noticed."

For a long time, I have considered the parallels between patriotism and faith. They both encourage devotion to something unprovable, and people are capable of extraordinary behaviour in the service of either one, and that's not always a good thing.

It seems to me that this devotion comes in two varieties. The first convinces us to do something we don't necessarily want to do, because we should. The other flavour lets us justify terrible things, because we can. Volunteering to defend your homeland against invasion, or to sock Nazis is good (at least, I think so), but putting your own citizens into internment camps to placate the xenophobia of the mob is not.

Robert A. Heinlein's character Lazarus Long says, "To enjoy the flavour of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks." And that joie de vivre has a lot going for it, but there is clearly a place for moderation when it comes to what we choose to believe. (Or not to believe, for that matter; I don't appreciate anyone telling others they are hellbound or what-have-you because of differing beliefs, so why should it be all right for militant atheists to sling mud and label everyone whose belief system happens to include divinity as deluded? Did that 'two wrongs don't make a right' precedent get overturned by a recent court order on account of three rights do make a left?)

This border between positive and negative is not only subjective, it is a moving target, both personally and societally. Cultural shifts, personal growth, new discoveries all conspire to stamp many value judgments with a "Best Before" date. And in most cases (all right, maybe not profanity), values are what we are talking about here.

Using faith as an example, you have the vast majority of Christians and Muslims who use their religious teachings as a means of evaluating and encouraging 'good' behaviour, and most encouraging is how much overlap these two sometimes disparate belief systems actually possess: the Golden Rule, the importance of treating others with respect, etc. On the other extreme, you have people shooting abortion doctors in America or blowing up schools in Afghanistan, and all in the name of faith. Most disappointingly, since the scriptures they quote from can be taken out of context to defend the most reprehensible acts, the base hypocrisy and contradictory nature of their actions appear lost on them.

In a much lighter vein, your Star Trek fan continuum works in a similar fashion: at the shallow end you have people who enjoy watching the shows and can name most of the characters, towards the middle you have those who know not only Kirk's middle name but also Khan's (Noonien! Whoops, tipped my hand there...), and making our way towards the end of the scale you have the example of a well-intentioned person who thought the best way to convey her conviction in the positive and cooperative future created by Gene Roddenberry was to wear her Next Generation uniform to jury duty, and ended up being dismissed for her efforts. I'm not sure what the basis was for her dismissal, whether it was for contempt or something else, but perhaps the 'land of the free' requires an assemblage of peers to adhere to some dress code. I guess I can understand how this could be a distraction for the other participants, and it would almost certainly impact the comfort of the other jurors. All in all, while the intentions were almost certainly positive and good, this was probably a poor choice on her part.

Somewhere beyond that though, is the gentleman who spent the first three years of his son's life speaking nothing but the made-up language of Klingon to him. Now, in this case, it probably has less to do with fandom than it does with scientific curiosity, being as he is an expert in computational linguistics.

Now, a lot of people will look at a a guy who is fluent in a make-believe language and say, "that dude has waaaay too much time on his hands," which I dispute. I am willing to wager he gets the same 24 hours per 1/365th of a planetary rotation that we all do, it's just that he has chosen to spend his chronal currency in a, let us perhaps say, somewhat unconventional manner.

Now, when it comes to being judgmental, let's remind ourselves that if we were to have the way in which we spend our time audited by our great-grandparents (just as a f'rinstance), not a helluva lot of us would get a passing grade either: "You actually have a hobby and spend quality time with your kids? Why haven't you gone out and gotten a second job filled with mind-crushing, soul-draining drudgery? Are you some sort of Bolshevik?" So I don't have any problem with people who want to spend their time mastering made-up languages, if for no other reason than it being used to brilliant effect in the Lord of the Rings films (except maybe the second one, right Rufus?).

That being said, though, I really have to call someone's judgment into question when they use their own offspring as the subject in an impromptu scientific experiment. Dad can pend his time any way he likes, but at the point where little Dakh'tag gets to playschool and asks someone for a serving of gakh before naptime, that's going a step too far. I understand that the types of actual grievous harm some other parents have done to their children makes a case like this almost irrelevant, but still.

"Success by Six" is an movement that places a lot of importance on the lessons learned during the pre-school years, and is very much in keeping with the saying, "Give me the boy until seven, and I will give you the man," which I believe is attributed to Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Kids are resilient, so I will not surprised at all if this kid turns out right as rain and has some great stories to tell about his eccentric dad, but in the meantime, maybe I will say a little prayer on his behalf, and one for myself to remind me to keep it between the lines, wherever they might happen to be.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article dude. Gizmodo actually posted an update to the Klingon Father story that fleshed out the whole situation more than was initially dispensed. Turns out it wasn't as bad as we initially read.

    "As far as the main issue went, Speers told me that the only time he spoke Klingon around his son during those three years was when the two were interacting directly. His son was primarily exposed to English in his environment and also observed Speers speaking the language to others, which was why this whole thing didn't work as planned"

    I guess his son is in his teens already and doing just fine. :)