The Passing of Logic, Science, and Mr. Spock

Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock, passed away at 83 last Friday and captured the collective conscious in unexpected ways. Marketwatch, the blog of Wall Street, published a bulletin reserved for big Bull or Bear market movements on the day. The news captured headlines at the NYTimes, Entertainment Weekly, Toronto Globe and Mail, TheGuardian, Sydney Morning Herald, Luxemburger Wort, France 24, etc, etc. The news traveled with Internet speed and was featured on all the major evening newscasts in  Canada and the United States. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr all lit up with hundreds of personal messages of grief.

Google Trends showed strong pulses of reaction in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada,  Columbia, Chile, France, Germany, Holland, India, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Spain, Sweden,UK, USA, etc.

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In sum, Mr. Spock’s passing touched the World Psyche on a day filled with great irrationality and illogic:
– 7 Missourians killed in yet another senseless gun rampage in the USA.
– Vladimir Putin’s Russia emerges starkly Stalinist with the killing of his political critic Nemtsov.
– Israeli Premier Bibi Netanyahu comes election barnstorming to Washington barely invited.
– House Republicans desert their leader and virtually shutdown Homeland Security amid a terror filled World.
– ISIS raises the level of its barbarity yet again with attacks on art, Christians, and women.
And as coping mechanism many again just tuned out segments of the news. But this repeated withdrawal from reality has consequences.

Reality aversion by tuning out sustains profound reality denial. This is a topic covered in several Star Trek episodes. For example, see Denial of Destiny. Denialists succumb to acceptance of truthiness where a person makes an argument or assertion claiming to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts- see here for origins.  In the worst case, there is acquiescence to authority in Milgram fashion.

The reaction to Leonard Nimoy’s death is the contemporary realization that Mr. Spock’s  LLAP – Live Long And Prosper is becoming a more distant possibility as jobs become more scarce and lower paying as evidenced by  participation in the labor force reaching new lows in North America while Wealth Inequality expands.Trickle-down Economics has gutted the Middle Class to the massive benefit of the 1% Wealthy. So beware of the political dogs that bark  that we must give tax breaks to the “Job Creators”. This deception for profit is a theme in several Star Trek episodes including Profit and Loss and False Profit.

Data from World Bank

We see this Ponzi scheme enacted today as business worldwide works relentlessly to increase profits by lowering wages and  cutting jobs. But most economies are dependent on robust consumer consumption for their growth and prosperity. So it is too often repeated Tragedy of the Commons, where Businesses own cutbacks threaten their own profitability.  As a result of this short-sighted business tactic, the  labor participation rate has steadily declined from a high of 67.3%  in 1999 to only 62.9% of the US labor force working. That 4.6% drop represents 7 million workers who used to be  employed. Unemployment is a world wide problem particularly high in Europe and the Middle East.

Likewise, in what Spock would identify as “most illogical”, the same pattern is seen in the decline of median income [adjusted for inflation] with a high of  $56,200  to a current low of $51,000 – Middle class incomes have steadily declined while the 1% rich incomes and wealth have skyrocketed – and this is a worldwide phenomenon. No doubt there has been a recovery from the 2007-2009 Great Recession but the biggest beneficiaries have largely been confined to the stock markets on Wall Street, London, Zurich and  Hong Kong.

The Decline of Science

In the 1950’s and 1960’s Ronald Reagan used to host General Electric Theater on NBC where he promised that “Progress was GE’s most important product”. Ronnie didn’t have to add “Progress for all” because that went without saying as Science was making life better throughout the World with spectacular improvements in  computers, telecommunications, drugs, agricultural devices and food production, home appliances, etc.

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The Space Race was on and the US  and other developed nations were putting ever more emphasis on maths, science and engineering from grade school  through college. Science  was uncovering both the start of the  Universe and the Origin of  Man. The whole world was a beehive of activity and discovery through science. And Star Trek celebrated that World of Science & Discovery with its very mission statement:

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Invention, discovery and science were prized and celebrated – and no more so than on Star Trek..

Fast forward 50 years. True, US leadership in Science continues unabated at the upper echelons but signs of distemper also abound:
– Science & engineering enrollment is declining slowly  in the US as foreign students displace US students who have moved to Finance and Law.
– Climate change deniers have managed to slow if not halt climate change controls in both the US and Canada despite growing weather extremes and continuing evidence of  environmental overheating.
– More broadly PR Merchants of Doubt use  refined propaganda techniques  and the  truthiness  phenomenon to delay, diminish and neutralize science-based control of health, environmental, and climate issues. For example delays in smoking regulations  kills 7.5 million/year  of Lung Diseases including Leonard Nimoy.
– And to see Truthiness in action look at the Creationism vs Evolution Debate and the Texas School Book controversies on the topic.
In sum, Science is being systematically discredited by various groups but most tellingly by major businesses who on one hand depend on science and engineering for their very well being; but on the other hand use devious methods to sow doubt about science when “its in their interests“.

Finally, there is another undercurrent against Science – its human cost. There is no doubt that major  industries have been changed in how they do their business several times over in the past 50 years.  Just ask the VHS then CD then DVD  then Cloud Drive providers. Or consider musical, image, writing and journal/press talent with their multiple upheavals over the past 40 years with PCs, mobile devices and  then the  Internet. Or assembly line works in countless industries who have seen multiple changes in how their work is done and whether they will even have a job. Meanwhile the cost of getting a Science or Engineering education is rising 4 times  faster than inflation and at 1012% since 1978 surpassing even notorious health care cost rises at 610%. Worse the benefits of getting a degree are also declining.

This employment vs educational cost disparity has been the subject of continuing evaluation. Star Trek visited the issue in the episode Past Tense part II. Here is a contemporary review from the Issues of Science entitled Anticipating a Luddite Revival. The writer, Stuart Elliott, examines how a new wave of advanced Artificial Intelligence apps could revolutionize manufacturing, delivery of medicine,legal processing, and operation of commercial transportation networks among other business and industry sectors. Here is the crux of the argument:

In principle, there is no problem with imagining a transformation in the labor market that substitutes technology for workers for 80% of current jobs and then expands employment in the remaining 20% to absorb the entire labor force. Considering the contrasts across the occupational groups in Table 3, such a change might involve a drastic reduction in sales, management, administration, construction, maintenance, and food service work accompanied by a massive expansion in health care, education, science, engineering, and law.

The United States experienced a labor market transformation of this scale between the early 19th and the late 20th century, when the portion of the workforce employed in agriculture shifted from roughly 80% to just a few percent. However, in the shift out of agriculture, the transformation took place over a century and a half, not several decades.

Clearly this argument is a repeat of the often made aphorism – “for every job lost more than another is created.”
Of course the problems with such labor transfers is manifold:
1)Will the new jobs created appear as fast as the old ones are lost;
2)Will the displaced workers have the skills to take on the newly created jobs;
3)Will the “massive expansion of jobs” match the possibly more massive loss of jobs;
4)Will the pay for the new jobs match or exceed those for the old ones.
And this job displacement will take place in a business climate where the top 1% are more than amply rewarded while the lower 80% have seen not only their incomes decline but their total taxes paid as % of income rise while the 1% are now paying lowest taxes in decades. Clearly Science as the major agent of change will not be wholly welcome. To which Mr. Spock might argue “The whole model is illogical. Equal opportunity for  prosperity and well-being for all is Society’s Prime Moral Directive.

Logic Shaken

To Mr Spock logic and morality are one in the same thing – what is logical is also what is morally fit and right. But world wide, morality and logic are under social siege.
– one sect of Islam sees  a moral right to attack, enslave and kill any infidels including rival Islam sects.
– worldwide major financial institutions who depend on the rule of law to maintain  the validity of  their millions of contracts flaunt that same rule of law regarding their own actions. No NewYork, London, Paris, Zurich, Singapore,  HongKong or Tokyo  banker has  been banned from holding financial office nor gone to jail for their transgressions in not just the worldwide 2007-2009  mortgage and derivative-based crisis but ongoing gross financial misconduct including massive money laundering, huge tax evasion dealings,  Libor interest rate manipulations  among a continuing stream of financial misdeeds.
– the US Supreme Court under the guise of Freedom of Speech has allowed  organizational executives to speak and spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns without recourse or approval of the organization’s shareholders, employees, suppliers or customers. This has unleashed huge political spending and influence peddling on Federal, State and Local politicians and governments.
– major news media  in the US, Britain, and Australia [almost all Rupert Murdoch properties] flaunt any semblance of truth as “opinion pieces”. The classic catching of the journalists with their moral pants down is the Jon Stewart video – 50 Fox News lies in 6 seconds. The problem is  the Fox  network gets to moderate a Presidential debate and so its  libelous behavior get legitimized much like the Wall Street bankers who escape prosecution and censure – and having gotten off Scott Free are in the process of repeating their financial shenanigans including endangering the Financial System with another very profitable but increasingly risky Derivative-based Bubble.

Each of these illogical behaviors has a contradiction at its core. A religion, Islam,  whose moral code enables/condones killing of “infidels” including mostly other Muslims. Finance which is dependent on rule of law flaunts it in the executive suite where legal transgressions has now been factored in “as the cost of doing big financial business”. US Supreme Court whose role in government is to make rulings that are respectful of precedence, while balancing evolving social mores with  non-partisan judgments  has become patently partisan in the past 10 years. News media which are expected to be fair, balanced and non-partisan have switched to infotainment where opinion pieces provide the cover for biased, partisan, and deliberately deceitful coverage. And these logical contradictions persist because accountability has faltered with counter-balancing institutions  failing  to censor or check the offending organizations  and their most deviant players.


Now it is only a 70-year lifetime ago when the World was concluding an all consuming Second Earth-wide War of horrific proportions. It was a war of immoral logic which had an Ideology of Supremacy threatening to thrust the rule  “Might and Right can  impose its will on any and all that oppose its absolute rule” upon the World. It is notable the writers of Star Trek envisioned a future World of Universal Conflict where Earth and Spock’s Vulcan race and logic were an outpost against such tyranny.It is also interesting that the Star Trek writers added empathy in episodes like Empath and  as a trait for characters like Counselor Troi and Captain Picard – acting as antidote against aggressive tyranny.

But it is also vital to realize that the Vulcan’s absolute, stoic, emotionless devotion to the dictates of logic just would not work in  humans. Emotions are crucial to writing the value of experiences in human learning and behavior. Leonard Nimoy recognized this in his book I Am Not Spock where emotion and humour are on full display. 20 Years later in 1995 and after a successful career in acting directing, photography and poetry, Leonard wrote I Am Spock where he celebrated  human emotion and humor but also the worth of rigorous logic and science. The World would do well to observe Leonard’s final epilogue  – “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Live long and prosper”. As logic and science dim, a fictional but fine spokesman for them has passed away.

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