The instant a photon torpedo rents the hull of the USS Enterprise, the explosion ejects hapless crew members into the vacuum of space. Red and blue arms spiral over black booted legs into the ether.
It is always a haunting image that mixes death with vast emptiness.
And yet there are worse ways to go. Being hit by a bus or the ravages of a carcinoma seem much nastier.
Imagine the same scene on the Enterprise in super slow motion. In this version nano-seconds become months or even years. Now the torpedo is visible. It takes forever to deliver the inevitable, the fusilage opens without force and the air feels still rather than explodes. It takes a long while for the expression on the faces to change and the reality of consignment to cold emptiness doesn’t seem sink in at all.
You see we respond to real and present danger with fight, flight or freeze [the last one being a recently discovered ability of our brainstem]. These core instincts trigger when the scene plays in real-time, but slow it down and we just don’t feel the same. Our brain just says ‘get on with it already’ and finds something else to think about.
Now imagine that the developed world is the USS Enterprise. It has been hit by a photon torpedo. Disabled and defenseless, its contents fly into the depths of space. Only this is happening in super slow motion. So slowly that nobody has the attention span to notice. The crew are still blindly going about their business as usual.
We don’t see that there is no leadership, no options or ideas to deal with the situation, and no James T Kirk to save the day. It is all happening so slowly that there is no drama in it and nothing to hold our attention.
It is as though Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu and all the other members of the flight deck, right down to the unknown ensign, have all gone on the away team. The only ones left on the bridge are nameless crewmen who are ultimately anonymous and dispensable making ready for their cartwheeling exit.
We remember Lincoln, Kennedy, Churchill and their ilk because they were leaders. Few will remember modern politicians for they behave like the dispensable extras. Nothing is expected of them.
Our real problem is that we cannot speed up our scene. It is designed to play out slowly, far slower than our instincts can detect. Even the moderating effects of the limbic and frontal cortex of our brains that have helped us to slow things down, to plan and to think can’t see the rent coming. We cannot see the consequences of leadership loss ejecting us into the true emptiness of the universe.
And for this we must be eternally grateful. For if we knew what was coming it would be chaos as we are overtaken by fear. At least without leadership we can stay blissfully ignorant.
Thank goodness Kirk are still on an away team.