Monday, May 11, 2009

Where are the black Vulcans?

Reihan Salam makes a totally good point here:
My understanding, confirmed by Wikipedia (which doesn’t fill me with confidence either, but it’ll do in a pinch), is that [black Vulcan character fromStar Trek: Voyager] Tuvok is a “full Vulcan,” thus suggesting that Vulcan variation in physiognomy roughly parallels human variation. Which is a little implausible, but fair enough. Because Tuvok is one of the only black Vulcans we’ve come across in the Star Trek universe, you have to wonder: what accounts for this?

In the most recent Star Trek film, there were no black Vulcans at the highest levels of the Vulcan Science Academy. This could mean that black Vulcans are a very small minority. Yet Tuvok’s wife, T’Pel, was also a black Vulcan. And so the pool of black Vulcans couldn’t be trivially small. Or perhaps endogamy is relatively common across Vulcan ethno-somatic groups. But doesn’t this strike you as an affront to the iron laws of logic? If ethno-somatic endogamy is not particularly common, one assumes that sharp “racial” distinctions would erode over time. Maybe not. But surely this phenomenon has to be explained somehow.

The iron laws of logic do cast doubt on another hypothesis, namely that the late emergence of black Vulcans in the Star Trek universe suggests human-like discrimination against Vulcans who vary from the phenotypic norm. Granted, we’ve seen evidence of Vulcan hypocrisy before. Vulcan color prejudice would really take the cake, though — it would be in such sharp tension with everything we’ve come to know and admire about Vulcan culture as to strain credulity.


Saxdrop said...

"Because Tuvok is one of the only black Vulcans we’ve come across in the Star Trek universe, you have to wonder: what accounts for this?"

I think Nassim Taleb would call this "the black Vulcan" problem.

Anonymous said...

Well if we're going to talk about it let's be honest. The idea that a species with Europeans features would evolve on a desert planet makes no sense. It also makes no sense that there would be the diversity among the species because the planet is not diverse.Vulcans should have those big ears also probably bigger eyes and dark skin.
But this is a show that was set in the 60's.
My guess would be that Before the Great Awakening the Pale Vulcans who were not as evolutionary fit to survive on the planet killed off most of the "full" Vulcans.