It's been on my mind recently.
For those of you not up on your Trek, lemme summarize.
Kobayashi Maru is an exam given to Starfleet Academy cadets on a command track. It takes the form of a simulated starship mission, with the cadet taking the exam assuming the captain's post. Other cadets and/or TA's take the posts of the other officers, with a computer controlled scenario.
While underway, the ship receives a distress call from the civilian Freighter Kobayashi Maru. They have struck a mine in the Neutral Zone bordering a hostile territory (usually Klingons). No other ship is close enough to attempt a rescue, nor can higher headquarters be reached.
If the captain chooses to attempt a rescue, one of the bridge officers will remind them that the Klingons may consider a Federation ship entering the neutral zone as an act of war.
Should the captain decide to attempt a rescue anyway, the ship is attacked by Klingons. Enough force is used that the ship will be destroyed with all hands.
The stated purpose of the test is to make a character judgement when faced with a no-win scenario. Choices become leave citizens to die in space or cause a war where none of those under your command survive.
Kirk, famously, in the Trek verse, discovers the nature of the test ahead of time and decides to cheat. (in the reboot film, he rigs the simulation to overpower his weapons and shields and underpower those of the Klingon. In a novel published years before, he gives himself a reputation in the simulator, and the Klingon attackers surrender once they realize they're facing THE Kirk.)
Now, here's what has me thinking about it.
We're living in a post-no-win-scenario world, which rose along with the nerds winning the culture wars at the end of the millennium.
Our current repository of pop culture (by that I mean the 80's), caused a shift in our formative stories. While we still had our "strength" heroes popular since Beowulf like the one-man-army action heroes of Schwartzenegger, Stallone, Segal, and suchlike, more and more of our movie heroes relied on outsmarting or outwitting their adversaries as opposed to simply overpowering.
This was the rise of a nerd hero. Someone too busy typing in front of a screen to lift weights or run up and down hills, but who could use that typing to save the day.
They aren't a new phenomenon by any means. Tom Sawyer was tricking his classmates into doing his chores for him a century beforehand, and cunning heroes like Aladdin and Ali Baba were trying to escape hardworking lives for riches and comfort centuries before that. But the 80's started bringing them in every summer blockbuster season. Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star by literally doing the work of a targeting computer that nobody else could do.
This rose alongside the quest-based video game, where it wasn't a matter of winning or losing, but HOW you won. If you lost a life, you could get another. Eventually, you were going to defeat the game. It was just a question of time, effort, and cheat codes.
And we became a generation who, like Kirk, didn't believe in no-win scenarios.
But what happens when there isn't a third option?
What happens when we really, for good, lose?
I've talked before about how the video game quest attitude has bled over into our culture's problems with consent. How backing off and going away in the face of rejection has somehow no longer become an option, merely throwing different attempts until one works on one object of affection or another.
And in some other ways, we're changing the world this way. Gen X looked at the world and said, "The system is rigged, fuck it." While the Millenials came up behind them and said, "the system is rigged, rig it right back!"
And yeah, while that's brought us progress, it's done more to paper over the problems, and brought up unintended consequences.
Yeah, you can get all the music you want, anytime, anywhere, for a pittance, assuming you're bothering to pay at all. But how many superstars can you actually name today that came on the scene in the last five years? How many honest-to-shit favorite songs came out less than fifteen years ago? Am I just sounding old or am I hitting a nerve?
Yeah, Uber and Lyft are cheaper than cabs ever were. And you can do the work without paying more for your taxi medallion than you did for your vehicle. But cabbies, uber drivers, and Lyft drivers are all making less across the board. And we keep going with whatever's cheaper, fuck what it costs to thems already doing it.
Look at Afghanistan. We just lost three more Americans in the fighting last week. We're actively in a war that's lasted longer than M.A.S.H. was on the air, and for what? We've neither conquered the country completely nor left when it was apparent that we weren't going to. Our no-win scenario is right there in our face.
Look at the blue screen of death half the country flipped into when Donald Trump became president. And the screaming is still going on. There was neither a defeat of him at the ballot box nor a revolution to overthrow him. Just an ongoing campaign of being bigger assholes to your family and neighbors.
We can't concede an election when it's staring us in the face (Grow the fuck up, Stacey) nor bow out of a contentious position even when it looks bad enough to make your entire work look illegitimate (they're gonna be so far up your ass it'll look like an anal beads convention in your office, Kemp. And you earned every last one of them).
The point of the no-win scenario was supposedly to measure one’s character. If we’ve rejected the concept of no-win so much, has our character suffered in the process? I think it has.
Memories told me today of my favorite moment in Game of Thrones. Everybody cheers Tyrion on when he says, "I drink, and I know things." But what captured me is seeing him on his wedding night to Sansa. When he knows his marriage is a sham and even though his culture doesn't even use the fucking word, he refuses to consummate his marriage to Sansa without her consent. And when the terrified girl asks what happens if she never does? The vicious, spat-upon, drunken legendary whoremonger simply smiles, raises a glass, and says, "then so my watch begins."
That, friends and neighbors, is losing with grace. Something that we're forgetting in our race to win no-win scenarios.
May we learn to do so again before we're forced to in the worst manners possible.