Wikipedia, Dr. McCoy, and Freud

I have some book summaries I could be posting (I read almost two quite large tomes today alone) but for some reason, it’s the trivial that always rises to the top.

I have issues with Wikipedia.

Issue #1 is personal, in that every time I post a change there, it gets removed, regardless of correctness. This wasn’t always the case in its earlier incarnations. This state of affairs has led me to stop contributing entirely.

This leads to issue #2, the observation that in any community-run organization, which Wikipedia is, a kind of common-sense, conservative wisdom tends to prevail over change. This distinction keeps it from having the same status as, say, a print encyclopedia. Britannica is conservative, of course – much more so! – but it has the excuse of needing time between editions. Its slow-paced technology, much like that of academic journals, allows such consideration. Wikipedia, however, can be judge, jury, and executioner on a matter in a matter of days, if not hours.

An example should suffice. Let’s take the Wikipedia page on Mr. Spock. I dislike this page intensely, as it has a line that repeats a old, flawed commonplace about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy – namely, that they map well to the Freudian ego, superego (Wiki calls it “intellect”) and id:

Part of the classic appeal of Star Trek lies in the manner in which the dialogue of these three friends mirrors the internal dialogue of the human brain. In this relationship, Spock often appears as the “intellect,” against Kirk’s “ego” and McCoy’s “id.”

Freud is used to spinning in his grave, so I doubt he is very upset about this particular slip. The definitions of these terms are mixed up all the time. Wikipedia’s page on them, of course, is ironically on target (or was when I posted this).

I have never liked this matchup with Freud, and as I like Dr. McCoy (my favorite fictional characters are typically doctors for some reason, ala Stephen Maturin) I must come to his defense. He is clearly not the id.

So what would he be, then?

I can see how someone would come to the Kirk = ego assumption if the role of the ego is assumed to be that of the captain, making decisions, mediating between the advice of Spock and McCoy.

But let’s try it another way.

The id is the source of all desire. Food, sleep, sex, and the faster the better. No planning, no consideration of consequences, WHAT I WANT and NOW – decisive, primal action. It is a despot that issues orders that must be obeyed. The ego and superego exist to manage these desires. What reckless, womanizing military commander with two skilled subordinates do we know? Hmm.

The ego figures out how to fulfill the id’s desires. This chiefly involves logical planning – in particular, the ability to suspend pleasure for long-term considerations. Who does Kirk lean on to solve his problems? Spock, who is a master of suppressing emotion. Without Spock – who functions as not only a science whiz, but as an executive officer, Kirk would have a much shorter career.

The superego acts as an aggressive moral and social filter to the ego, vetoing plans that might cause personal guilt or distress to the community. It is loosely analogous to a conscience. Who scolds Spock constantly for being emotionless and inhuman and serves as the audience’s cranky advocate? Dr. McCoy.

I find this model much more interesting, as it renders Spock as the show’s true protagonist, stuck between logic and desire, trying to take Kirk’s orders and follow them but commonly raising the dreadful ire of Dr. McCoy.

Watching the show in this rather anti-authoritarian manner, I think, reveals how artificial and pompous the character of Kirk is. His main purpose is to generate orders and thus plot. The real drama only occurs when there is tension between Spock and McCoy – between the show’s real ego and his ever-present moral check. This is why The Wrath of Khan, which breaks the old formula, works so well. Kirk is presented with the consequences of being a rampaging, inconsiderate id all his life – something the old show never did. He gives an order to escape Khan that Spock can only follow by committing suicide – an utilitarian solution that overrides McCoy’s usual individualism.

Needless to say, there’s no way in hell this’ll get on Wikipedia. It deals only in facts. Even if the facts don’t always fit. And even if, in the case of its very impressive entries on early Christianity, only informed speculation is available. The line is not clear.

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