The Needs Of The Many

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In the 1980s I learned one of the most important life-lessons anyone can learn. And this lesson was given to me by none other than Spock, the Vulcan in Star Trek who always let logic prevail... or did he?


Leonard_Nimoy_Spock_small.jpg
source: Wikimedia Commons

This lesson is compressed into one sentence, and is used to great dramatic effect in the second feature length Star Trek motion picture "The Wrath of Khan", which must be the reason why this lesson has determined so much of my personal development. In the film, the lesson is given twice. In an early scene, when the Enterprise and its crew are getting ready to go on an adventure, Spock says, "Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Upon which Kirk answers, "Or the one."


The Needs of the Many Outweigh The Needs of the Few

This scene sets up the emotional reward we get in the scene at the end, when the ship and crew are in imminent danger of destruction; Spock puts his money where his mouth is, so to speak, by entering a highly radioactive room in order to save everyone. Kirk is witness to his death because the movie's writers conveniently used a glass door, and he is of course very emotional seeing his good friend die. With his final breath, Spock says to Kirk, "Don't grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh..." Kirk finishes the the sentence for him, "The needs of the few." And Spock replies, "Or the one."


Spock Logic The Needs of the Many

Spock dies after that. Or at least we think so: in the next film, aptly called "The Search for Spock", we not only learn Spock can be saved by re-uniting his body and soul (they survived separately), we also get a reversal of his logic. That's because the entire crew now risk their lives to rescue Spock. Confused by this, Spock asks Kirk why they rescued him. Kirk answers with the reverse logic of "Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many."

This is why the originals of not only Star Trek, but also Star Wars and Doctor Who, in quality outweigh their modern incarnations by the metric ton; they had deep moral and philosophical themes woven through the spectacle of techno-babble, phaser-beams, ion-cannons and laser-shots, that were conveyed through solid storytelling and robust character development. But that's another topic; it's just that it's so sad to see the nihilism get hold of iconic intellectual properties like Star Trek. Also note that the phenomenon "cinematic universe" is nothing new at all...

Back to the needs of the many versus the needs of the few; we're not done yet, because now we're left with the question how these opposing motivations can be reconciled. The next film, "The Voyage Home", gives us an answer. We meet Spock's mother, who is a human. His father obviously is a Vulcan, and this film beautifully illustrates mankind's propensity to be motivated by emotions instead of rationality or logic. His mother asks him if he still believes that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, upon he answers yes. She then replies, "Then you are here because of a mistake—your friends have given their future to save you." The entire crew had broken the law to save him and are now fugitives.

We even see Spock reverse his own logic later in the film, when he insists that the crew save Chekov, even at the risk of the crew and their mission to save Earth. Kirk asks him if this is the logical thing to do and Spock answers, "No, but it is the human thing to do."

Now, there's a lot of holes in Spock's logic, such as the oversight that in many cases emotions and logic do align. Also, there's nothing wrong with Kirk wanting to save Spock, even at the risk of ship and crew, in the first film mentioned: in Kirk's mind Spock represents something of great value as his personal friend, but also as an invaluable member of the crew. Kirk saving Spock is the logical thing to do from Kirk's perspective. A mother trying to save her child won't consider any other souls that stand in the way of her and her child's safety; the mother might face charges afterward, but no one will accuse her of acting illogical. Also, it's important to know which "few" and which "many" we're talking about. If the many are a bunch that does obviously harmful things, maybe even to their own detriment, does the logic still stand?


Star Trek - Money Doesn't Exist in the Future

These are deep moral and philosophical questions indeed, the answers to which will vary according to circumstances and perspective, always. Still, I dare say that in general Spock's logic serves the reality of human existence best. The needs of the many most of the times do outweigh the needs of the few; we have cemented this ideal in our culture by the implementation of democracy. Democracy is a cultural thing, not some political ideology, but a sign of mankind maturing toward adulthood, hopefully. The family really is the cornerstone of society, for big ideals like democracy start there. The family is the smallest unit, the smallest group of people bound by a common heritage and common goals, the smallest collection of individuals among whom the needs of the one are set against the needs of the many. Democratic families discuss about what to do next, decide together where to go on vacation, while authoritarian families leave those decisions to the leader, mostly dad.

What I hope you take away from this, dear reader, is that we now live in a world where we tend to the needs of the few, and not the many. That our democracy, which should be the realization of Spock's logic, is superseded by a capitalist economy which is the realization of the reverse. We've let the insatiable greed for power and money of the few, be the model by which we organize our daily lifes, while simultaneously desperately holding on to bigger ideals, like democracy and individual freedom. Who's freedom? Capitalism caters to the freedom of the few, while democracy tries to cater for the freedom of the many; they are direct opposites of each other, they don't mingle well.

Let's see what comes from comparing the freedom of employers to the freedom of employees. The employer wants the freedom to hire and fire employees as he sees fit; it's his business, so he should be allowed to run that as he wishes. But what about the freedom of the employees? The freedom to have no worries about having a job as long as he performs the tasks he's been hired to do well? The freedom to provide for his family, to contribute to his neighborhood by maintaining his house and garden. There's one employer and many employees; who's freedom is more important? Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the employees outweigh the needs of the employers. That's why there are laws against the arbitrary firing of employees by employers. The thing is that we had to fight for these rights. We had to invent democracy to combat the inherent injustices of capitalism. And for a while we did reasonably well, we've won the 8 hour work day, work safety laws, the abolition of child labor, all by fighting against capitalism's inherent flaw of placing the needs of the individual above the needs of the community that spawned that individual.

We simply can not assume that democracy will function as long as it's a commodity to be bought by the plutocracy, just like everything is a commodity for sale under capitalism. Even cultural icons like Star Trek and Star Wars are now the "intellectual property" of money making machines, forever degraded to a vehicle to make a profit of, instead of one to teach valuable life-lessons for us to ponder on.

Live long and prosper.


live long and prosper


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Great post! I'm one of those who will defend all the TOS movies (yes, even V). And we are indeed in need of a more altruistic outlook, for many decades individualism has been brought forward as a completely good thing, and it couldn't be further from the truth. Individuality and self expression are indeed good things, greedy individualism not at all.

A very interesting article that makes one think. I agree and can only say ... it is the need an voice of a handfull that count, those with the biggest mouth and who know how to manipulate the rest.

I remember both this movie and quote
Best Star Trek Movie btw

I've been watching next gen from start to finish. When the series was airing I was too young and dumb to grasp the concepts underlying the phasers and warp drive mumbo-jumbo. As an adult that no longer assumes he is too cool for sci-fi I've really enjoyed these well composed moral stories.

In particular there was an episode about addiction that wrestles with some deeply misunderstood aspects of dependency and the exploitation of a defeated race. The parallels drawn between this and our current opioid/meth epidemic is quite potent.

It's also super cool seeing the touch screen devices, and other ahead of their time tech lingo that is sprinkled within the storylines.

I've been contemplating writing a bit on how at heart we are all Trekkie's. I find the newest installment Discovery to be worth watching as well.

Much to the chagrin of my wife I'm intend to catch up on the entire catalogue and I'm privileged to now call myself a Trekkie...

Well done and good on you for leading the horse to the watering hole that can nourish us with the realization that capitalism and democracy are not synonymous...

I'm not an economics master by any stretch but having lived in first world western world's and second and third eastern world's I'm beginning to see universal basic income as a need of the many.. I can also see blockchain and digital currency playing and integral role in this paradigm shift.

And it is that,its beyond theoretical discussion and thus arguing with those stuck in the old ways is an act in futility.. Nature always finds a balance the longer we as a civilization fight this balancing act the more disastrous and dystopian are future becomes.

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