Monday, December 14, 2009

Fiction's Philosophy

Bauer or Star Trek

As the new Star Trek movie arrives on DVD, I dare to ask the philosophical question from fiction about why communication has been degraded when we deal with enemies. Star Trek introduced the idea that you communicate to find the flaws in your foe. Today’s more representative image of Jack Bauer on the TV show 24 sends the message that you often don’t have time to communicate.

Is there time in a frenzy to communicate? In last year’s version of 24, Bauer told the US President that lack of time was responsible for him needing to torture a traitor to stop an attack on the White House. Trek’s Captain Kirk didn’t have time when a computer system was about to doom a planet to a war with a neighbor if people failed to voluntarily kill themselves. But Kirk took just a few moments to short circuit the system by showing the flaws in the system’s logic.

Bauer had just a few moments to interrogate a traitor in the White House as agents were about to stop him. He chose to intimidate, and threaten the traitor. The result pushed the story deeper into a crisis as the traitor withheld vital intelligence. Agents stopped Bauer, and his goal was thwarted. He could have chosen the path to communicate. The traitor was loyal to a cause that drove him to allow an African General to seize the White House. Bauer could have played on that loyalty. He could have used that info to derail the person’s goal, but he chose the easier, more aggressive route.

Communication doesn’t mean you give in to the enemy. No enemy operates with illogic. The logic might not be that of the protagonist, but there is a system of logic inside the enemy. The better chance the hero has to reach success depends not on force, but communication. Kirk was a product of the Kennedy era. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Picard lived in the time before 9/11, so we can understand why the fear of lacking time threatens the characters in fiction after 9/11 — the time of Bauer. Maybe the fear from the real world could be changed by the philosophy in fiction. But in this case, the fiction’s philosophy follows that of the real world - maybe it should be leading it in another direction.

"24" image courtesy of
"Star Trek" image courtesy of

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