Leonard Nimoy’s Advice To A Biracial Girl In 1968

A few years ago, a Star Trek fan discovered a 1968 teen magazine article written by Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock. Nimoy was replying to the letter of a biracial girl who, like Spock, felt she didn’t fit into either of her racial cultures.

His reply is inspiring. I didn’t find a site where it was transcribed in full (the original text is small) so I’m transcribing it below.

I wonder how the biracial girl felt about Nimoy’s letter. I hope she found it as insightful as I did.

“Dear Mr. Spock,

I am not very good at writing letters so I will make this short. I know that you are half Vulcan and half human and you have suffered because of this. My mother is Negro and my father is white and I am told this makes me a half-breed. In some ways I am persecuted even more than the Negro. The Negroes don’t like me because I don’t look like them. The white kids don’t like me because I don’t exactly look like one of them either. I guess I’ll never have any friends.

F.C.
Los Angeles, Calif.

Leonard became so interested in this girl’s situation, FaVE [the magazine] offered him this chance to tell everyone what Mr. Spock did when he faced this problem.

“As you may know, only Spock’s mother was human. His father was a Vulcan. Spock grew up among Vulcan children and, because he was different, he had to face the problem of not being accepted. This is because people, especially young people it seems, and Vulcans, too, tend to form into groups, kind of like wolf packs. They often demand that you be just like them or you will not be accepted. And the Vulcans were no different than humans are when it comes to prejudice.

Most of the Vulcan kids didn’t like Spock because he was half human. So they wouldn’t include him in all the things they did. He was very lonely and no one understood him. And Spock was heartbroken because he wasn’t popular. But it was only the need for popularity that was ruining his happiness. The question was which was more important, being ‘popular’ with the pack who might turn against him at any minute or being true to himself?

TAKES COURAGE

It takes a great deal of courage to turn your back on popularity and to go out on your own. Although inside you’re not really like the members of the pack, it’s still frightening to decide to leave them, because as long as you’re popular, you at least have someone to hang around with. But if you do leave, then you may end up all alone.

Now, there’s a little voice inside each of us that tells us when we’re not being true to ourselves. We should listen to this voice. Often we try to talk ourselves into believing our actions are good – ‘it’s okay to pick on that person’ we say because it may make us popular for awhile with the pack.

But usually there is no good reason for picking on anyone. He’s only bullied or turned away because of his background, because of the way he looks or talks or thinks. It’s always only because he’s different – not worth less personally than anyone else.

KNEW HIS OWN WORTH

“Spock learned he could save himself from letting prejudice get him down. He could do this by really understanding himself and knowing his own value as a person. He found he was equal to anyone who might try to put him down – equal in his own unique way.

You can do this too, if you realize the difference between popularity and true greatness. It has been said that ‘popularity’ is merely the crumbs of greatness.

When you think of people who are truly great and who have improved the world, you can see that they are people who have realized they didn’t need popularity because they knew they had something special to offer the world, no matter how small that offering seemed. And they offered it and it was accepted with peace and love. It’s all in having the patience to find out what you yourself have to offer the world that’s really uniquely yours.

So – the answer to the whole problem, the answer that Spock found when he had to make his big decision, is in overcoming the need to be popular. It’s in choosing your own personal goal and going after it and forgetting what the others are saying. If you do this, then the ones who accept people for the right reasons – for their true worth – will find you and like you.

So Spock said to himself: “OK, I’m not Vulcan, so the Vulcans don’t want me. My blood isn’t pure red Earth blood. It’s green. And my ears – well, it’s obvious I’m not pure human. So they won’t want me either. I must do for myself and not worry about what others think of me who don’t really know me.

LISTENED TO THE VOICE

Spock decided he would live up to his own personal value and uniqueness. He’d do whatever made him feel best about himself. He decided to listen to that little voice inside him and not to the people around him.

He replaced the idea of wanting to be liked with the idea of becoming accomplished. Instead of being interested in being popular, he became interested in being intelligent. And instead of wanting to be powerful, he became interested in being useful.

He said to himself: ‘Not everyone will like me. But there will be those who accept me just for what I am. I will develop myself to such a point of excellence, intelligence and brilliance that I can see through any problem and deal with any crisis. I will become such a master of my own abilities and career that there will be a place for me. People of all races will need me and not be able to do without me.’

And that’s just what he did. And when I see him standing there on the bridge of the Enterprise, facing danger and life-and-death problems so cooly and with so much intelligence, I’m sure he made the right decision.”

Leonary Nimoy response to a biracial girl 1

Leonard Nimoy response to a biracial girl 2

Startup Tech to Get Government ID

I’ve been studying barriers to voter engagement and how technology can help. One barrier is that three million Americans don’t have a government-issued ID.

Thirty-three states have passed voter ID laws that typically require government-issued photo ID to vote. Most of the strict versions are in Republican states. They are the new poll taxes; thinly veiled ways to suppress poor and minority voters.

Government IDs are used not just to vote but to claim public assistance benefits, sign checks, and even enter some government buildings. The most common ID is a driver’s license but as autonomous cars hit the road, driver’s licenses will likely start to phase out.

ca-id-goodTo counter this, I can imagine a TurboTax for IDs. Give your information over the phone or through a mobile or web app and it walks you through how to obtain a Social Security Card, driver’s license, passport, or other ID. When people must appear in a location like the DMV, the app can handle scheduling, reminders, and directions. A network of volunteers can help those who need a higher touch. Sites like Vote.org and VotePlz can serve as models.

Another tack could be to work with a civically-minded state like California or Washington that would make it easy to get a government-issued ID from out of state. Many of the voter ID laws say any state ID will do. Some states may try to counter this in future elections by requiring an in-state ID but an out-of-state ID might at least work in the short-term and help people get services that require ID.

Those without IDs are likely among the remaining few without internet access. 92% of Americans now own a cellphone and 86% own a smartphone. Community centers like churches, charities, and libraries can help fill the gaps, including through mobile devices that can be taken to where people are.

Pressure should continue on governments to create fair systems but as technologists, we should think about how we can change the systems bottom-up.

Fake news: lay the lie, spring the truth?

Rick Gerkin had an idea I like for countering fake news stories: flood the web with them.

Many markets for high-value products – cash, clothes, handbags, even drugs and rhino horns – have counterfeits. The early counterfeiters reap big profits but once fakes proliferate and get detected, buyers and sellers get savvier and develop authentication methods.

Imagine if truth in journalism organizations published fake news traps across the political spectrum. Publish little lies and big lies, cover many politicians and celebrities, piggyback on lies told by nefarious groups – flood the market with fake “fake news” stories.

Separately, increase funding to non-partisan fact-checking sites like Snopes, FactCheck, and Politifact. Build their coverage and credibility and recruit all kinds of people to be bullshit detectors. When the flood goes viral, encourage people to call B.S. and link to fact-checkers, especially among friends and loved ones stuck in an echo chamber.

These fake news traps can even spring themselves. Once a story reaches a certain number of views, it could reveal itself as fake and link to a fact-checker. “Surprise, you’ve been punked!” Lay the lie, spring the truth.

More satire sites like the Onion could also train people to be on guard. The fake news writer in the below article claimed to be a satirist but satire is meant to be understood as false.

Not only could all this drown out nefarious fake news and bad journalism, it might get people in the habit of fact-checking.

Will people just believe bad journalism they like regardless? Does the amount of false information in society follow a parabola or an asymptote? I think it depends on the costs of believing and spreading lies.

People don’t like being branded as foolish, especially in small circles. Sharing an Onion story thinking it’s true is embarrassing. In the broader public, algorithms could create a “bullshitter score” for how often people share fake news. Make these scores public and searchable and auto-tweet them at bullshitters to foster accountability.

“But a flood of fake news will just make the problem worse!”

Fake news and bad journalism are already pervasive and will get worse since they’ve shown to be effective.

Reality eventually “asserts itself,” as Obama told Trump. The goal is to force everyone to hit the reality wall as soon as possible so we can emerge warier and savvier, preferably before the next election.

“But fake news groups will just create their own fake ‘fact-checking’ sites.”

This is true and inevitable. Counterfeiting and bad behavior in general is a game of cat-and-mouse. There is no silver bullet.

The closest things are 1) intellectual and moral education; and 2) transparency. Until we develop ways to spread both, we need more carrots and sticks.

I get this is out there and maybe a bad idea but the current system isn’t working. Thoughts?

Thoughts on the Election

Devastated. Still processing what this means. Here are a jumble of thoughts, some quite raw. I hope you continue sharing yours.

-To all those who will be attacked and marginalized by this election, my heart breaks for you. Please remember that half the country tried to protect you. We are still here.

-The civil rights movement broke through when the privileged and oppressed sacrificed together, enabled leaders like MLK and LBJ, and applied pressure from radical groups like the Black Panthers. We may need these again.

-In now the last eight presidential races, from Bush I vs. Dukakis to Trump vs. Clinton, the more charismatic candidate won regardless of experience or competence. Trump was more disliked but inspired more enthusiasm and that made the difference.

-I hope some of our officials, on the down low, are double-checking that no significant voting fraud occurred. My guess is the polls were indeed just way off, but given the multiple state actor attacks on our infrastructure and the importance of this election, double-checking is warranted.

-Hillary Clinton won the popular vote despite blatant voter suppression. If we had a true democracy, she would be President.

The electoral college has now screwed the Democratic candidate twice in the last five elections. Constitutionally eliminating it is likely impossible given approval from 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of states is needed.

However, eliminating it is possible by passing the National Popular Vote bill in a couple more states. This should get more attention.

-Republicans should not interpret their win as a mandate. It is, at best, a guarded and temporary willingness to work together.

I support some of the agenda that Trump has announced, such as lowering corporate taxes, reducing FDA regulation, encouraging charter schools, and steering some government programs toward privatization. I do believe some well-intended progressive policies have hamstrung innovation and choice.

However, I deeply disbelieve Trump’s ability to execute these policies well. Conservatives must remember how Bush II ran on fiscal conservatism, then started an unnecessary $2 trillion war and doubled the national debt.

-Further, if Republicans try to undo marriage equality, abortion rights, global alliances, and sensible environmental protections, as I unfortunately expect, the 48 Democratic senators must find their spines, channel Bernie, and filibuster until the Senate floor feels like home.

I hate gridlock but I believe Republicans are more responsible for breaking the norms of bipartisanship. It’s fair for Democrats to use the obstructionist Republican playbook until leaders from both sides agree to restore functional norms, preferably into law. Democrats should not be Ned Stark; they should be Tyrion.

-To Trump supporters, especially those I know and care about: I still care about you. Some of you are in real pain and I didn’t see how much. I am genuinely sorry.

Some real talk: the closeness of this election was enough to trigger change. This didn’t need to be taken over the deep end.

Please suspend disbelief for a moment. Watch the basket of deplorables video, listen to how Clinton talks about the pain of the disillusioned, and read about her thirty years of service helping others. She has flaws and made mistakes but she would have fought for you.

Then read Trump’s history of lies, lawsuits, bankruptcies, threats, and overall cruel behavior. Please explain to me why you believe he is willing and able to help you more. Especially explain how he would help fellow Americans who are not like you.

When I think about the gap between what could have been and what will be, I feel despair.

-But that gap has passed so here we are, sharing a turbulent ship. We are facing climate change, global terrorism, massive job automation, and yet out of fear and anger, you took a flare gun to our hull and blasted a gaping hole. You have our attention now, but it’s going to take a while to forgive how you got it and even longer to repair the damage, if we can.

-Another tragedy is that the damage may be subtle at first. Cancer and rot don’t alert us on four year schedules. If nuclear weapons proliferate, ISIS rebuilds its ranks, or global warming tips, the alert may take ten years but shock us in scale. Long cycles make it too easy to misattribute cause and effect, especially willingly, and may doom us to repeat mistakes we don’t have time to make.

-This election result – no election result – can sanction cruelty. Look at the abuse being reported on Twitter. We must seek to understand each other but mutual respect and human rights are non-negotiable table stakes, full stop.

Without them, the abused will feel, like Trump voters, that they have nothing left to lose. The result could tear the country apart.

-Many will use their voices to prevent that. Personally, I am passionate about exploring exit, as Balaji has outlined. California seccession is a pipe dream given 3/4 of states would need to approve, but we should be experimenting with new cities, countries, and systems of governance.

There are only 196 countries for 7.1 billion people. Surely we can create a few more to form a market of governments, apply competitive pressure, and better align citizens by values. As we increasingly see, diversity of values can only stretch so far. I think exit activity will now accelerate.

-Finally, venting is important but it must be channeled into action. A separate post will be about options I see.

What a Difference 2% Makes

This is an important piece on how we should not over-interpret the meaning of this very close election. If 1 out of 100 voters flips their vote, Clinton wins handily.

While I do think liberals should care more about the plights of conservatives – and vice versa! – the larger takeaway is that the nation is extremely and evenly polarized.

What will be fascinating is how both parties could remake their platforms and form new coalitions:

-Trump may push for protectionist policies that appeal to unions and the working class, both traditionally Democratic. The UAW president just announced support for Trump on crushing NAFTA.

-Democrats may move farther left on social justice, campaign finance, student loans, and progressive taxes to activate millennials who love Sanders and Warren.

-Pre-election, Trump was kinda socially liberal, supporting marriage equality, abortion rights, and even transgender rights. He reversed during the election but if he returns to his original views, he would neuter the religious right.

Trump is so wildly inconsistent that it’s hard to say where he pulls his party. His famously short attention span and lack of principles could lead him to reverse his stances on whims.

Congress might corral Trump as he learns he needs them to pass anything, but maybe Trump can rile his base to keep Congress in line. We may see more conflicts between a president and his party than we’ve seen in a long time.