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.

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

  1. I really don’t understand our desire to try to control others because they live differently than us or the masses. I say live and let live and everyone deserves no they should demand the same rights as the rest of the masses share and they deserve happiness as much as the next person.

  2. Bigotry is Anti-diversity. As such it stands outside of and in opposition to diversity. It is not part of diversity, it is the antithesis of diversity.

  3. Star Trek isn’t for bigots. It isn’t for misogynists. It isn’t for homophobes. It isn’t for xenophobes. Anyone who tries to twist IDIC around to allow those ignorant beliefs simply doesn’t understand IDIC.

  4. Vulcans who follow the IDIC philosophy still OFTEN actively disagree with other beings they encounter. Usually this is vocal disagreement, but regularly if that does not resolve an important issue they are willing to escalate matters to direct action against those who they disagree with. In some cases we see examples of that direct action to be physical violence (whether in hand to hand or ship to ship combat). IDIC does not mean fully accepting those who wish to do harm to you or those with whom you have allied. IDIC is an openness to assessing and accepting other points of view rather than the belief that your perspective is absolute. Also, for real, it’s a tv show. As much as I adore Star Trek, sometimes the real world (and actually even the ST universe) is more complicated than following simple maxims.

  5. When people twist the words of the Bible and the constitution and the meaning of truth; are you surprised that Star Trek lore gets twisted? IDIC simple prepares one to accept that there are infinite possibilities, it doesn’t mean all are acceptable. IDIC is not a stand alone principle and needs other guiding principles to attain enlightenment. Needs of the many vs the few etc.

  6. Great article, Sue!

    I just discovered this podcast. I agree with your analysis. I don’t believe anyone except opportunistic bigots believe that diversity justifies bigotry.

    It’s infinite variety of species, cultures, spiritual beliefs, races, genders, etc.

    Bigotry is not diversity, it’s a frantic paranoid attempt to throw closed and bolt the door of diversity, to send us back to an imagined world where only white people existed and everyone was heteronormative and patriarchal.

    All of that is antithetical IDIC, and to the Trek universe.

    Glad this podcast exists and I find it, “fascinating”.


  7. I happen to agree with this interpretation and I think the “numbers” example illustrates it beautifully. And like Alexandre Malhado, I do care about IDIC translated in the same manner as the author. m mattell suggests “good” and “bad” combinations of all the food in your kitchen and I agree that there are good philosophies and philosophies that I might not agree with. However, no matter how bad a combination of food might be it’s not poisonous and it’s not going to kill me. Hatred, in all its forms, is NOT a philosophy. It is poison.

  8. Infinite diversity. Infinite combinations. You will get things “good” that you agree with. You will get “bad,” things you don’t agree with. Take all the food in your kitchen. There are a lot of combinations. Some work well and taste good. Others don’t work. We pick and choose what we are but choosing our personal “combinations” using diverse input.

  9. I have no choice but to agree with MD as far as IDIC including *everything*. However, being a mere imperfect human, *I* just can’t include everything in my personal philosophy. I’m having a hard enough time wrestling with hatred, as it is, when I ignore trump worshipers and the average far right republican. If I were to incorporate them into my belief system, I’d probably provide proof of human spontaneous combustion. I wasn’t even aware that I could hate so much and so completely. I find it utterly appalling! It’s very distressing. I used to include everything in my personal philosophy…and I was real good at it…for decades. But now I feel like I, my family, my friends (both here and abroad) are under attack. To just sit there, smile,and mutter IDIC to myself feels like sitting there like a lamb waiting for slaughter. I have no choice but to exclude them.

    But, MD is right…and I know it. I’m just not strong enough to follow my (nearly) lifelong belief system as strictly as I used to. It’s not the first time that I honestly wished I was Vulcan.

  10. I’m going to disagree. I enjoyed the article, but then I did some reading on what IDIC really means in Star Trek’s mythology. In order to accept IDIC, you only have to realize, “the vast array of variables in the universe.”, which is everything is everything. IDIC doesn’t tell you how to live your life. If you take it and apply it to smaller parts of the universe rather than the whole, for instance just apply it to living things or society, then you might have soemthing like, “The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity.” and “And the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.” It’s like polarity. You don’t have good without evil or the balance of all things without each extreme. The author wants to deny other people’s ideas, opinions, or points of view in favor of her own, which wouldn’t exist without varying points of view. So no, you have to include everything. It’s not a philosophy, it’s a fact that is the basis for certain Vulcan philosophies.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

    • 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.

      • I think its worth recognizing that there are a lot of canonical events in the original continuity (pre-reboot) that happened offscreen, in the various novels (D.C. Fontana and other media. IDIC as a philosophical motto is discussed periodically in nearly all of them when dealing with the Vulcan culture in any significant measure.

        On screen, it also appears in Vulcan crew quarters and civilian kit, (mostly post-TOS series)

  14. 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.

    I love the podcast, keep up the good work!

    • Hmmmm, I get your gist, but “Petty” (Revenge) vs. “Killing…son”. Perhaps those two don’t sit well together. While I am not a parent who would say that any thing my son/dautghter does, I must defend. The loss of one would not be a petty event.

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