Grokking Spock

by baroquemongoose

Before I do anything else, and I do mean anything, could I please introduce you to the amazing Captain Awkward (whom I keep wanting to call Captain Awesome, for reasons which will become obvious when you read her)?  She’s got an advice column over there, and although we don’t totally agree on all points (largely connected with me not totally getting sexuality and her not totally getting asexuality), she is cool and wise and sometimes hilarious and flawed-but-not-hung-up-on-it and completely non-judgmental.  Well, except for people who absolutely insist on behaving anti-socially and won’t stop when other people ask them to.  Then she gets ranty, because by the time someone has gone that far along the no-clue scale, it isn’t being judgemental anyway, it’s Consequences, Baby.

Today I want to talk about Mr Spock, who has a very special place in my roll-call of fictional heroes and role models.  This is not just because Mr Spock is almost entirely asexual himself, apart from the one time in seven years (why is it *always* seven years, folks?) when he must Reproduce Or Die, which I always thought was clumsy and embarrassing, and if I could rewrite one thing about that series I would have it so that Vulcans developed the whole asexuality thing after they worked out how to produce test-tube babies.  Of course I’m not going to deny that the asexuality helped, but it’s also true that I’m not going to relate to any character, however asexual, who is either a pain in the backside or completely alien.  Mr Spock was neither.

In so many ways, Mr Spock is me.

One of the things which has struck me while I’ve been typing the entries in this blog is the number of times I find myself saying “I’m really confused by [insert X here] because I just can’t see the logic in it”.  This isn’t me being judgemental; this is how I work.  And the more I think about it, the more I realise that this is how I have always worked for as long as I can remember.  I am not good with stuff that doesn’t hang together logically.  That doesn’t mean I can’t do fantasy – I’ve also always had a rich imagination – but the fantasies had to hang together logically too.  I was never the sort of child who could just imagine that there was a witch who lived in a gingerbread cottage in the middle of a forest and ate children.  I wanted to know why the witch wanted to eat children and how come the gingerbread cottage didn’t fall down when it rained.

The thing is, I also wanted to know things like why other children were bullies so often, and why something that was right for one child to do wasn’t right for me to do (I got hung up on this one so often that I eventually defaulted to Whatever It Is, It’s Not Allowed, So Don’t Bother Asking), and why it was that men were usually in charge of things when it was perfectly obvious that Boys Were Stupid.  From the evidence I had at the time, it wasn’t too surprising that I came to this conclusion, because it happened to be the case that the four or five most able pupils in my class at primary school were all girls, and all but one of the four or five least able were boys.  Of course, I knew plenty of men who were far from stupid, my dad being one of them, but in the absence of any other obvious explanation I assumed something must happen to them around their late teens to turn them into intelligent, reasonable human beings.

It’s safe to say that, whatever other issues I had as a child, gender inferiority wasn’t one of them.

But, back to Mr Spock.  Obviously, being this super-logical child who tried to work things out all the time, I asked a lot of questions.  This generally didn’t go down too well.  I’d get some of them answered, but the thing with adults is that they have a tendency to be busy doing important adult things, and children who are trying to fit the world together from scratch are not really a priority.  (Heaven preserve me from ever inflicting this attitude on a child, but it was very common when I was growing up.  It was a very important thing to ensure that children understood how unimportant they were, otherwise, oh, I don’t know, the sky would fall in or something.  Do not read this as a beef against my parents, whom I love and get on fine with; it was general.)  After experiencing this from almost every adult in sight for a number of years, it’s easy to feel kind of invalidated.

And then along came Star Trek.  I’d always been fascinated by space anyway – I wanted to be an astronaut for years, until I discovered that you really needed to be very physically fit, and I’ve never been the sporty type at all – so the idea of a series set in space was pretty awesome to start with.  I soon decided I didn’t much like Captain Kirk, because he fell for almost every woman in sight and that was yaaaaaaaawn, but Mr Spock… oh, Mr Spock.  I would have given anything to have him for my Vulcan uncle.  Because he was a highly intelligent adult and a very much respected member of the crew, but he saw the world exactly as I did.  He applied logic to every situation, and if it failed to work, he got puzzled.  I was bright enough to spot immediately that the bit about not having emotions was hokum; certainly he had good control over his emotions, but emotions he had, and that was why it was possible to warm to him as well as admiring him.  He really cared about his fellow crew members, including, of course, the spiky, outspoken and equally wonderful Dr McCoy.  I loved how their running battle was actually built on a foundation of huge mutual liking and respect, though both of them would have been pretty much shot sooner than admit it.

Mr Spock gave me validation.  I couldn’t have put it into so many words at the time; in fact I couldn’t even have worked out that the character was doing anything for me at all other than being generally awesome.  Nonetheless, that was what he did.  If it was OK for the Enterprise‘s ultra-cool first officer to try to logic the heck out of the Universe as we know it, then it was OK for me.  No argument.  Even though both he and I knew that it didn’t always work, and both he and I were invariably puzzled when it didn’t, it was still a good initial approach, and it saved me from a number of mistakes I might otherwise have made.

So, fine, you may be saying, we all love Mr Spock, but why are you talking about him at length on an ace blog?  To which I reply: thanks for bearing with me so far.  I’m just coming to that.

You remember how I drew a parallel earlier between asexuality and autism?  And how I talked about using one’s intelligence in both cases to handle things that most other people could understand intuitively?

This is Mr Spock.  This is what he does all the time.  He’s clearly not autistic, because he demonstrates a great deal of skill at picking up on other people’s feelings, whether it’s a question of knowing when Captain Kirk is feeling pressured and needs a bit of extra support or simply what’s the best thing to say to needle Dr McCoy at this precise moment.  He is (99% of the time) asexual.  He does grok feelings, no matter how much he claims not to; what he genuinely doesn’t grok is why people sometimes act on them when it’s contrary to logic.  He does not grok sex.  I honestly can’t remember if anyone ever tried hitting on him in the series, and, if they did, whether he was portrayed as being blithely oblivious or noticing very quickly and gently dissuading them.  (Either would work, though I tend to see more of the former reaction among younger asexual people and more of the latter among older ones; it’s an individual thing, though.)

Now then.  Here’s the big, and so far unanswered, question.  Is it the case that asexual people, because we have trouble making sense of something that is such a big deal to the overwhelming majority of the population, have a higher than average tendency in general to fall back on logic as the default way of trying to understand the world around them?  (Note that this question doesn’t mean “are asexuals more logical than everyone else?”.  Being heavily reliant on logic does not automatically mean that your logic is very good, just as relying heavily on your intelligence doesn’t have to mean you’re particularly bright.)  I have no answers to that, but I would be really interested to hear about other people’s experiences.

And I cannot leave this subject without letting Inner Child have a chat with Mr Spock about the bullies.  Because she and I are still struggling to work those out.

Inner Child: Mr Spock, I’m getting bullied a lot at school.  All the grown-ups tell me I should ignore them.

Spock: The bullies are illogical.  So are the adults.  You do not yet have the internal resources to deal with the bullies.  You require external help.

Inner Child: Yes!  I keep trying to tell them that!  Can you help?

Spock: Naturally.  Please show me where the bullies are.

Inner Child: Are you going to do the Vulcan death grip?  Because that might cause trouble…

Spock: That will not be necessary.

Inner Child: These are the bullies.

Spock: Greetings.  Please explain why you have been mistreating this child.

Bullies: [various mumblings before one finally says something coherent] She talks funny.

Spock: [raising one eyebrow in classic style] Her speech is not identical to yours?

Bullies: Er, yes.

Spock: Fascinating.  I note that my speech is similarly not identical to yours.

Bullies: …

Spock: I see that you are not attempting to mistreat me.

Bullies: Er, no…

Spock: Then your original behaviour was illogical.  Please apologise and we will say no more of it.

Inner Child: Thanks, Mr Spock!