IDIC: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

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.

  7 comments for “IDIC: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

  1. Hans Akkerman
    July 13, 2017 at 8:49 am

    The recent surge of Trump v CNN memes, have started to include TOS clips. This really irks me something fierce.
    Seeing as Starfleet and Star Trek in general represents everything Trump hates. Socialism, abandoning capitalism, strong women, celebrating our differences and working together towards a common goal, the list goes on.
    Yet the TOS/CNN meme, casts Trump as Kirk.

    A better casting, in my view, would be Daemon Bok.
    The Ferengi captain who exacts petty revenge upon Picard, for killing his son.

    Trump is much more like a Ferengi anyway. Über capitalist, opresses women, thinks every other culture is inferior, (butt ugly) etc.
    Daemon Bok, in particular though, as he does things even his own people think is a bit too much. Like exacting petty revenge on Picard (Obama) instead of focussing on profit.

    Sorry for the rambling.

    P.s
    I love the podcast, keep up the good work!

  2. Anthony Neal Emmel
    July 13, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Exactly.

  3. Chris Sham
    July 13, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    I agree with Sue’s interpretation, but I also offer one other option: Do we even care about IDIC?

    On the one hand, this specific principle was only ever promoted by Spock in one or two episodes. A few other Vulcans wore them, but the majority of Vulcans are never seen to. And the rest of the Federation (and the various series and movies) don’t seem to care about IDIC at all. It’s barely a part of Trek canon. I think Slug-o-Cola may have been explained to the audience in more detail than IDIC, and the jamaharon symbol/principle is actively used in more episodes than IDIC, and yet somehow neither of those are presumed to be representative of everything Star Trek stands for. So it makes little sense to pretend that IDIC on its own should neatly encapsulate the entire series.

    And on the other hand, who even cares if IDIC is supposed to represent what Roddenberry and all other cast and crew had in mind for us… it’s a TV show, not a religion. We’re not bound to the dogma as laid down by St. Spock. We won’t get excommunicated for rejecting parts of the show we don’t like.

    I’m very pleased with how Star Trek (especially the three main ’90s series) contributed to my sense of ethics and justice, but I’m also not so limited that I stopped learning anything after that. I am capable of assessing situations beyond the strict letter of IDIC or the Prime Directive or any of a hundred Picard speeches (or the Rules of Acquisition, even!). These fictional ideas can make great frameworks to start developing something suitable for the real world, but they do always still refer to fictional worlds and the needs of a fictional story. Only very badly misguided fans will try to stick to them perfectly rigidly.

    • Janet
      July 13, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      Ironically, the biggest advocate of IDIC was Phlox. He preached this to T’Pol in The Andorian Incident. It might have taken her a long time but she eventually got it. Syrran didn’t directly promote it but he did wax poetic by saying that the word IDIC is but a shadow of it’s true meaning. It might not be mentioned as much as fans think but to say IDIC is barely part of canon is ridiculous.

      I do agree with your point about St Spock though. It’s also the reason people see “continuity issues” with ENT Vulcans.

  4. Janet
    July 13, 2017 at 8:27 pm

    I always wondered how bigots could claim to love Trek when they don’t seem to like its IDIC principle. Sue, you have answered my question with this. I never saw anyone use IDIC to justify racism/sexism/homophobia before but I’m not on Twitter.

  5. July 16, 2017 at 5:45 am

    The IDIC may not appear often, but it’s idea is a guideline to all Star Trek defends. Diversity is a concept present in almost everything, there. I liked the “do we really care” reflection and I think we must ask if we, as individuals and not as fans, care for it. I do, and a lot, and that question reminded me that. Excelent article.

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