spock: keep calm and carry on

Fic: A Letter Concerning Toleration (Spock - gen)

Title: A Letter Concerning Toleration
Author: igrockspock
Pairing(s): Spock - gen
Rating: G
Summary: in which Spock spends the summer before his first year at Starfleet Academy encamped in a shitty apartment, attempting to explain his refusal to attend the Vulcan Science Academy
Notes/Warnings: Quotations attributed to Surak are actually slightly reworded quotations from JS Mill's On Liberty. Title is from John Locke's famous letter on religious freedom. (Why yes, I am a philosophy nerd!) Many thanks to blcwriter for the beta and very helpful discussion :)



Spock rises each morning at 5:30 a.m. without the aid of an alarm clock. On weekdays, this ensures sufficient time to complete essential personal tasks before arriving at work at 7:45 a.m.; on weekends, the regular schedule guarantees his continued capacity to awaken at the appropriate time on Mondays. His human landlady describes the apartment as "cozy," but he sees no need for euphemism. It is small. When it rains, a frequent occurrence in San Francisco, a corner of the bedroom ceiling leaks. The availability of the hot water is unpredictable, and the climate control unit is non-functional.

"Let me find you a place to stay," Mother had offered on the day of his unexpectedly early departure from Vulcan. He had refused.

"Well, at least let me add some credits to your account." This was less an offer than a plea. He recognized his mother's omnipresent desire to protect him. Though he was not annoyed by it, he refused to indulge it. This did not prevent her from sending daily subspace transmissions with further offers of financial, professional, and residential assistance.

"Mother, if I am to become a Starfleet officer, I must become accustomed to independence," he argues in each of his replies, illogically speaking aloud as he types. She accuses him of stubbornness, and she is not incorrect. However, in the weeks since his refusal to attend the Vulcan Science Academy, he has learned that many emotional decisions may be supported by logical justifications. He believes that his mother calls these "rationalizations," but she has thus far refrained from such blunt verbiage.

"My living quarters are small, but adequate for the requirements of a single inhabitant," he writes, then pauses to place a sauce pan under the leaky spot in the ceiling. He returns to his desk and continues, "additionally, they are well-suited to my budgetary requirements and excellent preparation for the uncertain and variable living conditions I may encounter in Starfleet." This, at least, is true.

She asks how he spends his time, and he tells her about his internship translating philosophical texts from Vulcan to Standard at Berkley University, which he reaches from the public transporter terminal each morning. Though the student body there is...unorthodox, the work is intellectually stimulating, and he has already re-arranged his first year schedule at Starfleet Academy to accommodate his new interest in xeno-philosophical studies.

"Professor Sandridge has allowed me to borrow several volumes from her personal library to study in my private time, and I believe these will keep me adequately occupied until Academy orientation," he writes. He does not acknowledge her suggestion that he "get out and explore the city" so that he can "make a few friends and have a few drinks." Instead, he concludes transmission by saying, "although my daily activities are unvaried, I will comply with your request for communication at least once within each 24-hour cycle." It is his closest possible approximation of her perennial closing line: "I love you."

He does not inform her of his other occupation: a letter to his father justifying his preference for attending Starfleet Academy. The rift in their relationship is a disproportionate response to their disagreement, and he is troubled by the implication that joining Starfleet is tantamount to renouncing his Vulcan heritage. The letter, therefore, is meticulously researched and carefully phrased, a final (though unnecessary) demonstration of his Vulcanness. Either Father will respond, or he will not. He can take no further action on this matter, therefore worry is illogical. Still, he re-reads the letter one last time before pressing "send."

***


The purpose of this letter is to acknowledge my own errors in my dispute with my father, and to seek to resolve it through reasoned discussion. I recognize first my own irresponsibility in neglecting to inform my parents of my application to Starfleet Academy, an omission which no doubt rendered the reasons for my decision more difficult to comprehend.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that my father has refused to hear my reasoning. Free discourse, as every Vulcan knows, is essential in preserving harmony and reaching the truth. I will, therefore, make this final attempt to demonstrate the validity of my decision through sound logical evidence and the writings of Surak himself. I hope that my father chooses to listen.

Having established the necessity of expressing my viewpoint, I will now refute the objections made against it.

1. No Vulcan has ever declined a position at the Vulcan Science Academy. This statement clearly implies that my decision was incorrect merely because I am the first person to make it. This objection is nothing more than an appeal to past practice, a logical fallacy which judges the validity of an action based on previous traditions. However, sanity is not statistical; the number of individuals who choose to perform an act in the past does not determine its rightness or wrongness. Surak was the first person to propose the supremacy of logic, and the first person to live by it; if people had refused to recognize the legitimacy of his philosophy merely because it was not traditional, Vulcan would have been condemned to an endless cycle of tribal warfare. Social progress is impossible if society demands we live according to the dictates of tradition. Recognizing such a fallacious appeal to past practice is part of every Vulcan child's earliest education; I am certain that I need not remind my father of this basic pedagogical principle.

Spock is 5 years old. He sits outside his father's study, one ear pressed to the door. Eavesdropping is not logical; his parents will communicate all information that is relevant and important to him. Mother and Father are correct to believe that he understands this. They are incorrect to believe that he cannot hear their footsteps approaching the door in time to escape before he is detected.

They are speaking to the head of the school that he will soon attend. "It is not logical to expect a half-human child to comprehend a curriculum that is rigorous even for Vulcans," she says. "Though I will respect your decision on the matter, I must again urge you to consider educating your son on Earth."

He does not stay to hear his parents' answer. Though he has heard such statements many times before, his eyes sting. An emotional response does not preclude a logical response, however. He pulls an astrophysics holovid from the media library and accesses an elementary logic text on his child-size data padd. Already, he has learned to simultaneously absorb information from dual sources. If his intellect is less, he must study more.

That year, and all the years thereafter, he is ranked first in his class, excepting the year of his outburst to defend his mother. Outwardly, he expresses contrition for his lapse. Inwardly, he is pleased.


2. My father prefers that I attend the Vulcan Science Academy. This statement is yet another logical fallacy: an appeal to authority, a claim that we should act according to the dictates of powerful individuals. However, actions are not right or wrong merely because an authority figure deems them so. The advice of one's parents is often valuable, particularly to a young Vulcan; elders, after all, have had far greater opportunities to develop their intellect and hence their capacity for logical reasoning. However, the rightness or wrongness of an action is inherent in the act itself, not whether it is sanctioned by a parent or other authority figure -- no matter how eminent or well-respected that individual is. Blindly following the dictates of authority precipitated numerous tragedies across the galaxy, such as Earth's Holocaust and the extermination of religiously variant Andorians. This, again, is among the first precepts taught to young Vulcans, and I therefore presume that mere paternal desire is not truly the reason for my father's objections.

67 minutes after declining the Vulcan Science Academy's offer of admission, Spock sits in a sanitary cubicle one floor below his father's office. The location is unusual and odiferous, but logically justifiable. He will not be interrupted here, and the proximity to his father is efficient. Most importantly, his location is secret, ensuring that he will have adequate time to prepare a defense of his decision before speaking to his father. For 23.4 minutes, he meditates to regain control of the spark of anger that had flared the moment he heard his mother called a disadvantage and which he has tried -- unsuccessfully -- to extinguish ever since. That task accomplished, he devotes 31.2 minutes to developing logical arguments in support of his impulsive, emotional decision to defend his mother's name, as well as his own. For 3.7 minutes, he is not certain if such arguments exist, but by the end of his time in the cubicle, it is clear that they do. "Emotional decisions can be supported by logical reasoning," he murmurs to himself. "Fascinating."

Having established that the foregoing objections consist of elementary logical fallacies, it is clear that my father can hold only one valid objection to my enlistment in Starfleet: that his logic is sound, while mine is flawed. However, as he has not consented to hear my logic, he lacks a factual basis for this conclusion. Because maintaining open dialogues regarding differences of opinion is essential to both social and individual progress, I will therefore outline the justification for my decision.

He is 8 years old, accompanying his parents to a diplomatic conference for the first time. Humans, pink-skinned and round-eared like his mother, tower over him. Andorians' blue antennas sway gently in the faint breeze of the air reclaimation system. A Horta delegate arrives, trailing heat and the scent of sulfur. While his mother speaks with the Tellarite ambassador, he escapes and circles the room with his universal translator. No one notices him, leaving him free to record dozens of conversations in dozens of languages. At night, after his parents are asleep, he repeats 264 new words in 36 dialects, savoring the alien rhythms on his tongue. "Fascinating," he murmurs, and drifts to sleep knowing that he wants to be just like his father when he grows up, surrounded by thousands of ideas and beings and beliefs and cultures.

First, diversity is to be valued, not avoided. In support of the doctrine of infinite diversity in infinite combination, Surak writes, "the world, to each individual, means the part of it with which he comes in contact: his party, his sect, his class of society." Surak wrote at a time when Vulcan was divided by both tribe and social class, however, his statement is no less valid today. By entering the Vulcan Science Academy, I will come into contact with a particular element of Vulcan society -- a very worthy element, I acknowledge. However, the demands of the curriculum there will provide limited opportunity for off-planet exploration and interspecies interaction. It is logical that some people should choose to undertake this course of study; after all, full devotion to scientific inquiry often yields important advancements in physics, medicine, chemistry, philosophy, and so on. However, our society risks becoming insular. We are among the founding members of the Federation, yet we are nearly absent from its largest policing body. This absence limits both the new ideas which can be returned to our own society as well as our capacity to influence Starfleet by our own ideology of peace and logic. The opportunity for such an exchange cannot be overlooked. Although I personally might obtain a superior scientific education at the Vulcan Science Academy, Vulcan society most clearly needs more representatives in Starfleet. All Vulcans have promised to place the needs of the many above the needs of the few or the one, and I do not hold myself an exception to this philosophy because of my half-human heritage.

His father's voice is careful and even. He reminds Spock of the choice he made more than a decade ago, to follow the Vulcan path over the human one. Starfleet is a military organization, he says, but Surak teaches that disputes must be resolved through reason, not violence. This is the purpose of both the Federation and the diplomatic corps. To reject the Vulcan Science Academy, the pinnacle of intellectual achievement, in favor of an organization such as Starfleet can be no less than a complete renunciation of the Vulcan way. His father's argument is flawed; Surak himself addressed the necessity of self-defense. But Spock does not speak: all he can think is that his father was there, and he stood silent while his bondmate and son were insulted in a moment that ought to have confirmed their worth as members of Vulcan society. You betrayed us both, he wants to say.

Second, although Starfleet is a military organization, it applies force only when necessary to protect the safety of the Federation. Self-defense is a logically valid use of violence. Self-preservation is rational, and by extension, so is social self-preservation. Regrettably, some civilizations do not live according to the precepts of logic and non-violence, and we must defend ourselves from them if we are to survive. Furthermore, as Surak explains, "every one who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit." Society cannot be preserved unless its members contribute to it, and logically, all members ought to contribute equally. Yet, although Vulcan enjoys the protection of Starfleet, it does not contribute equally to maintaining it. Providing scientific and diplomatic support is perhaps an acceptable substitute, but the fact that most Vulcans prefer to contribute this way does not invalidate my preference for direct enlistment.

Spock fulfills the duties of a good Vulcan son: he listens carefully to the arguments of his father, prepared to give them his full consideration in spite of his disagreement. He awaits the opportunity his father owes him in return: the chance to express his own reasoning so that they might reach a mutually enriching understanding. The opportunity never comes. "Father," he says finally, "it is your duty to hear me, not only because I am your son but because I am Vulcan. To refuse discussion implies that I lack all capacity for logical reasoning."

Father's silence implies agreement. Spock rises to level one final accusation: "your refusal to hear me has a second implication. You feel an emotional desire to win an argument rather than a rational desire to arrive at the truth. You charge me with an emotional lapse, yet your stance on this issue is an emotional one. I will take my leave of you until you have regained control."

In the 6.7 seconds it takes to exit the office, he becomes certain that these are the last words he will exchange with his father for many years. He feels nothing.


Finally, the supremacy of logic does not preclude individuality. In science, logic may yield definite conclusions whose correctness can be clearly proven. However, outside scientific experiments, logic my arrive at variety of equally valid solutions to the same problem. In some cases, the needs of the many dictate which solution an individual must choose. Nonetheless, in many cases, no such pressing social needs are present; individuals are thus free to choose according to their own talents, interests, and inclinations. Surak establishes the benefits of such freedom when he writes, "individuals ought not eliminate their unique traits in order to achieve full conformity to society; rather, they must call forth those traits, within the bounds of logic, to achieve the apogee of their intellectual potential." As Surak recognizes, most progress begins with individual variation. Surak himself was the first to recognize the supremacy of logic; T'Peren alone once recognized the possibility of traveling faster than the speed of light. Only by allowing such individuals to bring forth unique ideas can our society truly live long and prosper.

I do not claim to be a social revolutionary merely because I have enlisted in Starfleet, but these examples substantiate the importance of individuality even to a society such as our own -- even when the individual decisions in question are as trivial as my own. If my decision is a good one, our society will profit by the introduction of a new idea; if my decision is incorrect, we can learn valuable lessons from my errors. However, as the results of my decision lie far in the future, it can be judged only by its conformity to logic. While most Vulcans' logic has led them to different decisions than my own, this paper clearly demonstrates that my use of logic is sound. In the absence of any further logical objections, I will consider discussion on the issue terminated. If renouncing my own logically justifiable decision is a condition for maintaining familial relationships, I will consider all communication between us terminated as well.

***

The unanswered letter is the last piece of communication he exchanges with his father until Mother's death nearly a decade later. "Why must you both be so stubborn? Is protecting your pride really worth sacrificing your relationship with each other?" she had asked every month after his departure, then every year, and finally not at all.

On the transporter pad where his mother had vanished, Father finally speaks the words he had awaited for 8.4 years: "you will always be a child of two worlds, and I am grateful for it." He expects to feel a flicker of triumph or satisfaction or pride, but instead there is only the hollow certainty that Mother was correct: being right is worth very little in matters of love.
Oh, this is so beautiful, and I love the direction you've taken it in. The last paragraph slays me.

There are so many things to love-- the way he talks himself out of loneliness at the start, the image of young Spock repeating new words in new languages to himself in his bed, and oh-- "You betrayed us both."

Oh.

Beautiful, sensible, and so sad. Wonderful job. Thank you for letting me take a look!
Thank you so much! I'm so glad his loneliness came through, and that the little flashbacks worked. And thank you again for the beta :)


P.S. Sorry I added a random underscore to your username. I fixed it!
Once again, an amazing and moving Spock character study. Ouchie, but so so worth it :)
Thank you! I'm especially pleased it worked as a character study; characterization is so important to me in writing.
You captured that detached Vulcan voice perfectly - loved the shitty apartment as described by Spock ;) The whole thing was beautiful.
Oh, this is just so lovely and painful! Great voice, and beautiful, wonderful snapshots! I love how you wove it all together!
Thank you! This was the first time I've ever experimented with narrative structure and flashbacks, so I'm really glad it worked :)
That was wonderful! I loved the writing voice you established for Spock, and all the little flashbacks were compelling. I really loved your characterization of both Spock and Sarek. Just a wonderful, creative, powerful story. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you! Characterization is so important to me in writing, so I'm really glad that both Spock and Sarek came through well.
This is gorgeous and heartbreaking, and a nice tie-in with TOS. Spock's voice is wonderful. And I love his description of the awful apartment at the beginning. I'm pretty sure I've lived in that apartment, but I never would have described it so eloquently. ;)
Thank you! I'm really glad it worked well with TOS.

I think we've all lived in that apartment. I suspect it's a right of passage, no matter what century you live in or species you're from.
Ooooooo. This is excellent. Not only is it a great character study and the flashbacks very affecting, but I loooove the device of the letter. I feel like you did an incredible job there capturing the essence of...Vulcan-ness basically.

Wonderful job overall. Reccing!
The essence of Vulcan-ness? That might be one of the best comments I've ever gotten! And I'm glad you liked the letter. Philosophy, logic, and argumentation are pretty close to my heart, but I wasn't sure the device would work for anyone but me.
Just pathetic and sad and awful.

Poor Spock, in an overpriced apartment in The Mission, probably starving, writing this ridiculous letter to his equally ridiculous father, meanwhile eating Ramen.


And yeah, that last line? Killed.
Love how you wove in the rational arguments of Spock's letter with his emotional memories of his childhood on Vulcan. Thanks so much for sharing. :-)
Thank you! I really worked on the balance of emotion and rationality, so I'm glad it came through :)
This is so very lovely (and it's interesting how the split in the timelines seems to have resulted in First Contact with the Horta happening decades before it did in TOS.)
Thank you! I confess I forgot that first contact was made with the Hortas sometime in TOS, but I suppose I'll just tell myself that the early encounter with the Romulans pushed the Federation to quickly forge alliances with previously unknown species.
This is so brilliant--I love your Spock voice. It's so touching and true to his character that he would construct this logical argument as a protest over his father's refusal to hear him. Also the interaction with his mother is lovely, especially his "rationalizations" about his apartment and this:

"Mother, if I am to become a Starfleet officer, I must become accustomed to independence," he argues in each of his replies, illogically speaking aloud as he types.

Because, how many of us have illogically spoken aloud while typing? I love that character detail, that he does this and also noticed it's illogical.

BTW I came over to read your Gaila story, "Whore"-- which is also awesome!--but now that I'm here I realize I've been missing all kinds of greatness. I hope you don't mind if I friend you--I want to be sure to know when you write something new.
Aw. Thank you for commenting on this in such detail! This fic has a little soft spot in my heart, and I admit to being slightly sad that it didn't get as much feedback as some others that I wrote. I'm really glad it resonated with you.

And pleaes feel free to read along. I can't think of a single author who minds having people watching their journals and reading their fic :)
Truly excellent Spock characterization. This is why I love him: he is at once logical and passionate. I don't know whether this is because he's half human or if it's just that he's the only Vulcan that we really know in the series/movie, so we think it's just him, when in fact, all Vulcans negotiate that balance. I'm really not sure. His letter to his father is both cool and charged with emotion -- the thing that I love most about him. You've written him as such a good person! I hope it's okay if I watch your journal for all your marvelous fic. <3
Logical and passionate - that's exactly how I see him too! I think all Vulcans deal with these issues in one way or another, but they might be bigger challenges with Spock.

And of course it's okay if you watch my journal! It's always great to have more people reading :)