Monday, February 11, 2013

#522. My Romulan Exile

"As happens frequently here on Romulus, a new government came to power.  They decided to abandon the plan.  They were afraid that I might be discovered and that it would lead to war."
The above is a quote from Star Trek Nemesis, the 2002 film that ended the adventures of Jean-Luc Picard and The Next Generation.  The speaker is Picard's clone, Shinzon.  I've long been a far bigger fan of the film than most Star Trek fans, who invariably dismiss it for any number of reasons, one of them being that it reminds them too much of the classic second film in the series, The Wrath of Khan.  One of the reasons for my devotion would be my appreciation for the psychology behind Shinzon's arc, the mere tip of it expressed in that quote.  It's a rare moment where Star Trek is very much about the human element, at least as much as the later Star Trek, soon to see its sequel Into Darkness released in theaters.

Yet it's only now occurred to me the true significance of what Shinzon was saying.  He's no big fan of Romulans himself, being a human clone cast into the darkness of Reman exile (it's funny to me that Tom Hardy portrayed Shinzon, a role that is so similar to his Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, which completed the actor's redemption following his breakout appearance in Christopher Nolan's Inception), yet Nemesis is also perhaps the clearest indication of what Romulans really are.  In Star Trek lore they're an offshoot of Vulcans, who rejected the strict tenets of logic and chose a more pragmatic lifestyle.  Yet as I now see them, Romulans are also huge idiots.

Yeah, I just said that.  The essential thing to take away from the quote is that Shinzon says political upheavals are a regular occurrence.  This is reflected by everything we've ever seen of them.  They're horribly ineffective.  Sure, they developed cloaking technology, but that's the extent of Romulan achievement.  They went to war with Starfleet in early Federation history, but were too proud for anyone to even know who they were.  In the episode "Balance of Terror," it's Kirk who makes the first official contact with them, and only because the Romulan commander is rethinking, or rather rebelling from, the ideologies of the Star Empire, which during this period is mostly active by supporting the Klingons.  (That's right.  Much of what you know about Klingons was borrowed from Romulans.)

Romulan pragmatism keeps further conflict with the Federation at bay, but it also eventually made enemies of the Klingons.  Worf lost his family because of this.  Starfleet couldn't use cloaking technology because of this.  And Sisko was able to trick the Romulans into the Dominion War because of this.  Romulans essentially have no backbone.  They have the most ambitious plans of anyone in the galaxy, but are never able to capitalize on them, because they hedge all their bets.

They're idiots.  They ultimately prefer the status quo.  That's the real trick.  Unlike Vulcans, who hem and haw about wanting everything to make sense but ultimately are willing to do some pretty radical things like making friends with the extremely illogical humans, Romulans keep themselves in a corner and atrophy.  Shinzon was supposed to replace Picard.  It would have been a brilliant plan.  And yet he was tossed aside.  He performed brilliantly in the Dominion War, by the way.  Picard himself seemed to do everything but fight in that conflict.  The whole idea of Nemesis was to present the contrasts between the driving forces and diverging outcomes of the man we knew so well for two decades.  We knew Picard had a wild youth, and that he ultimately valued this period because it helped make him the man he became, who seems so much more respectable...but is it possible that the brashness of Shinzon is more admirable?  Picard plays it safe, like Romulans.  He knows what to do in a crisis, but that's experience, and the support of those around him, not decisiveness.  If Shinzon falters at all, it's that he continually loses his nerve around Picard.  He wonders if there's something else he should be doing.  He, too, becomes a Romulan.

I'm not saying that Shinzon is the hero of Nemesis anymore than Picard being the villain.  What I'm arguing is that conviction can be a good thing.  Yet like Romulans, so many of us lack conviction that it spoils many plans.

The title of this post is "My Romulan Exile," so what I'm really saying is that this is very much a problem I've been experiencing personally.  For one reason or another, I'm suffered from a lack of conviction for much of my life.  I've suffered for the last decade at least because of it.  I graduated from the University of Maine with a Bachelor's Degree in English...and that's as much as that's ever done me.  In the ten years since, I've experienced my own series of regime changes, switching jobs from one miserable experience to another, corporations with no idea what they're doing affecting the lives of everyone around them with complete indifference.  The best lack all conviction.  The best of us don't know how to navigate these waters.  We're like Shinzon, we're like Picard.  There's no telling what we should be doing.  There's too much space in space, and too many ideas about what we should be doing, and too many people doing whatever it is they think they should be doing, rather than trying to work for a common cause.

As I said, Picard's main strength is not only his experience, but the support of friends around him, working to a common goal.  There's a hierarchy to this structure, and Picard is at the top of it, but he's no tyrant.  Even Shinzon had his trusted adviser, the Reman who looked after him most of his life, someone he implicitly trusted.

So many of us only pretend to work within structures of this kind.  Yet we're also incredibly selfish, pretending one moment to be looking out for others and exploiting that support for our own ambitions the next.  It's all a game of shadows and air, producing insincerity and a distorted version of reality that we convince ourselves to be real.  Yet it isn't.  When Shinzon meets Picard, and Picard meets Shinzon, it gives each of them pause.  It creates a new Romulan paradigm.  The old one is what Shinzon speaks of.  The new one is a holding pattern, a new evaluation, a choice.  If Shinzon chooses well, he could be rewarded.  If Picard chooses well, he too could be rewarded.

We're told constantly that our lives are a summation of our choices, and yet it's not the choices we make but the options presented to us that define who we become.  If the best choices are still awful, then we will probably not become a very good person.  If we have the luxury of good choices but make bad ones, then we truly are bad people.  Too often we assume that someone deserves to be living the life they have, whether that life is a good one or a bad one.

In what I term my exile, I constantly observe those who are in the same circumstances as me but who are nonetheless very different people.  I'm constantly trying to change my own circumstances, but all too often it seems those who see only my circumstances will do nothing to help me change them.  It's this indifference, this very Romulan mentality, believing that the change we want can happen without actively trying to make it happen (Picard's famous credo is "make it so," after all, and his best friend is an android with the dream to become more human).  I've been trying for a decade, but seem to be no closer now than before.

Part of it is because those around me are sticking together like mud, and like mud they're a giant mess that's hard to clean up, and mud being what it is they're not much aware of or particular care about what they are.  Mud is mud.  It's not really anything else but someone's perception of it.  There's nothing inherently wrong with it, but to some people it's horrible and to others it's fun to play in.  Romulans are mud.  People who blindly accept the status quo are mad.  People who try to change their circumstances without the necessary awareness to affect the change they seek are mud.

What I'm saying is that I wish this Romulan existence weren't so adhesive.  I wish that I weren't so aware of my circumstances.  That's always been my biggest problem.  Shinzon was certainly aware of his circumstances.  That's what led him to a radical sequence of events.  He wanted a revolution, but was too undisciplined to find lasting success with it.  He wouldn't be the only one.  Picard's pragmatism was the last straw.  Sure, Shinzon secretly wanted (pretty much needed) Picard to sacrifice himself so he could live, so there was only so far to go in that relationship, but that was only because there was no trust at all between them.

Trust goes hand-in-hand with conviction.  We're still primitive enough that we invariably view each other as competition, "survival of the fittest."  It doesn't seem to matter or occur to anyone that humans have existed for thousands of year.  We still tell ourselves that the only way to get what we want is to make sure the other guy doesn't.  This saddens me, not just because I remain a victim of this instinct, but because I don't know how to overcome it.  That's why I'm an exile.  That's why I don't know whether I'm Shinzon or Picard, or just the Romulan in the middle, incapable of exhibiting the necessary conviction to find myself in the circumstances I want, always struggling and bemoaning a fate that has continually deposited me in a sea of upheaval, watching those around me throwing all my ideas to pieces.  What is a dream but a vision that evaporates before your eyes?  I wouldn't know.

All I know is that Romulans are idiots.


Anonymous said...

It's always hard to find yourself Tony, but it's the search that makes us grow. Some never bother to look and stay lost forever. :)

Tony Laplume said...

I hate for it to sound like this, but I think I've found myself. It's whether or not the world wants to find me that matters. Or figuring out where that moment is where I slide into the waiting slot...


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