You’ve probably noticed it – the disturbing trend of people defending their bigotry or prejudice by twisting the meaning of diversity. “If you love diversity so much, you shouldn’t make me conform to your opinion!” or “You say you want diversity but you want everyone to agree with you!” or “My opinion is one of many, and it’s part of diversity!” The people who use this argument want us to tolerate intolerance.
Unfortunately, this argument rears its ugly head not only in places you’d expect it (like political debates or on a friend’s wall), but in comments sections and Facebook threads and twitter discussions about pop culture. And, particularly in the Star Trek fandom, there is a specific piece of lore that gets twisted into a weapon: the IDIC.
Too often, I have seen someone make a racist, misogynist, ableist, or otherwise bigoted comment, get called out, and the post something like, “What happened to IDIC? If you believe in IDIC, then it has to include my opinion.”
Oh, but how they have missed the point.
“We’ve each learned to be delighted with what we are. The Vulcans learned that centuries before we did.”
“It is basic to the Vulcan philosophy, sir. The combination of a number of things to make existence worthwhile.”
– Kirk and Spock, “The Savage Curtain”
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. The basis of Vulcan philosophy. “It represents a Vulcan belief (also Roddenberry’s belief) that beauty, growth, progress — all result from the union of the unlike.” And the symbol, a triangle intersecting a circle, with a stone in the center, represents this with unlike shapes – one smooth and one angular – combining together with a gemstone in the middle, “as the union of words and music creates song, or the union of marriage creates children. The circle can represent infinity, nature, woman, etc; the triangle can represent the finite, art, man, etc.” (Inside Star Trek 1)
Though the statements from 1968 are unsurprisingly heteronormative, the idea is incredibly clear, optimistic, and inclusive. Over the years, this concept has come to mean so much to me that I had the symbol permanently inked into my skin.
In the same piece from Inside Star Trek (okay, it’s an ad for a replica IDIC pendant, but still), it’s noted at Gene Roddenberry himself said it’s “an ideal based on learning to delight in our essential differences as well as learning to recognize our similarities.” It seems so obvious to me: Hatred, bigotry, and discrimination of any kind – the concept that a person’s differences make them “lesser” – has no place in Star Trek, let alone IDIC.
“But it’s infinite! It has to include my opinion.”
Once again, no. Because that’s not what “infinite” means. The word gets tossed around a lot, especially in Trek fandom, and many people seem to think that “infinite diversity” means “every possible ideology or opinion” when what it really means is “an unending amount of diversity.”
I’m going to prove my point with some basic number theory, and I’d like to think that our logical Vulcan friends would appreciate that. (Don’t worry – it won’t hurt.)
How many positive, whole numbers are there? If you start counting with 1, 2, 3… will you ever run out of numbers? No! There are infinitely many positive, whole numbers. The fact that -1 or 1.5 are numbers, but aren’t included in the list of positive, whole numbers does not make that list any less infinite. Additionally, there infinitely many negative numbers, infinitely many rational numbers, infinitely many irrational numbers… there are even infinitely many numbers between each set of consecutive whole numbers. It’s like that thought experiment where you always move half the distance between you and your goal. Because you can always divide by half, an infinite number of times, you’ll never really get there. (It’s called Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox, FYI.) And that’s just numbers!
“Infinite” does not mean “all inclusive” and “infinite diversity” does not include bigotry.
If you try to insist that it does, you’ll never really get there either.