You Are Not Spock: An Opinion by Seanán Kerr


When Leonard Nimoy died who was more sad people who watch Star Trek or people who didn’t? It’s a silly question, when obviously the answer is ‘people who watch Star Trek’.

When Kim Jon Il died, who was more sad people from North Korea or people who aren’t from North Korea? It’s a silly question, obviously the answer is North Koreans, you probably saw the clips online, footage of North Koreans balling their eyes out over the death of ‘Dear Leader’ someone we all generally accept was a bit unpleasant, you probably though it was funny, I mean, “DUH don’t you stupid North Koreans know you’re living in North Korea, in the axis of mother fucking evil, you shouldn’t be sad you should be happy, fuck that guy”, right? But maybe you were a bit sad when Leonard Nimoy died, a man who played an alien from the future, with large ears, on a TV show nearly fifty years ago.

What’s in common here, well the simple essence is that both North Koreans and Star Trek fans have assumed the fact that they are North Koreans and the fact that they are Star Trek fans as being part of their identity, it’s part of who they are. Again nothing too controversial about that, okay let’s get controversial!

Let’s take North Koreans, why do they think they’re North Koreans? Because they were born in North Korea, like you were born in wherever you were born, North Korea doesn’t have too much immigration. So how does this identity then manifest? Do they follow North Korean sports teams, watch North Korean TV soaps, etc. I’m not sure, but I am aware the ‘Dear Leader’ is a big deal, I don’t mean that in a superior manner, everyone at some stage gets upset about something (if you haven’t shouted at a television, you haven’t lived), it’s just that in a place like North Korea, when your identity is so closely bound to your country and then is so closely bound to one leader, it is genuinely upsetting when they die, because part of you has died, and somewhere in the back of your head you think to yourself “one day I am going to die”, and that’s sad too, maybe you feel a bit selfish for doing so, but you shouldn’t. Do you think North Koreans like being North Korean? You probably think, “of course they don’t”, but do you know that for sure? It’s unlikely you’ve ever met a North Korean before and even if you did they’d probably tell you how bad it was there, that would be the first thing they’d tell you, but maybe after a bit of talking they might open up a bit, get to trust you a little more, maybe then they’d admit “it wasn’t all bad, I miss my friends and family, I think about them a lot and hope they’re okay…”

Here’s another thing about ‘identity’, who you think you are, is nearly often rooted in some kind of trauma followed by relief. The bullet ant is so-called because it has the most painful sting of any insect, it is said to be like being shot, hence the name. You may have heard of the Satere-Mawe people of Brazil, they have an initiation into becoming a warrior, it involves boys putting on a glove with the ants stitched into it, the goal is to keep the glove on for around ten minutes, as these ants bite and sting you, do this twenty times (over months and years) and boom you’re a warrior. The reason this is effective is because the level of the trauma is so high and when it is finally over and an elder puts their arm around you and everyone claps and whoops and celebrates that fact that you are now a true warrior, you feel very happy, the pain has ended, the gap between the trauma of that pain (being inflicted by people you love) and the relief is so big that for the rest of your life you associate that pain with not being a warrior and the release from it with being a warrior, you become a fearless warrior, because no fear, no death will ever be greater than that pain.

Are nerds popular, they sure are now, there can be no question, but were they popular in school? Who are nerds? Why do they wrap themselves up so much in escapist culture, why do alcoholics drink, it is because they are happy with the reality around them? The only happy alcoholic is a drunk one.

‘I am not Spock’, might be the best title ever given to a book, it was Leonard Nimoy’s first autobiography (you can probably guess what the sequel was called), he didn’t want to use it as a title (he felt worried this would alienate fans who might think he was bitter, when he wasn’t, by all accounts he seems like a genuinely lovely man), but the publishers did, because they’re publishers and they know a good title when they see one. Every person who reads books is on some level insecure about they’re intelligence, about themselves, they want to ‘know more’, every person who reads books on some level thinks they know better than Socrates, who said all true knowledge is self knowledge. The most insecure of all buy self-help books (insecure people are essentially those who think something about themselves but don’t think anyone else would agree with it). So a title like ‘I am not Spock’ is a challenge, it’s a book written by Leonard Nimoy, you know Leonard Nimoy was Spock, but you also know he’s an actor, so he’s not really Spock, that’s the real truth, but the really, real truth is that you are not Spock, thus ‘I am not Spock’, you are not a hyper intelligent alien from the future, but some small part of you thinks you are, it says “whadda you mean I’m not Spock?”, and that’s the part that buys the book.

But the really, real, super real truth is you are not you, you just think you are. That’s identity, that’s culture, every tweet, every Facebook update, every Instagram, every email, every form, every vote, every single word that comes out of your mouth says either “I am” or “I am not”, when really, deep down you know you’re neither, but that’s what you think other people think you are, so you keep it up, every tweet, every Facebook update, every email, every form, every single word from your mouth, but you are not Spock, you are not a hyper intelligent alien from a fictionalised future, you are not you either, you just think you are and everyone agrees with you. Seanán Kerr

Illustration by Mike O’Dwyer