Yesterday I got a new tattoo. I had a credit with the good folks at Dark Horse Tattoo in Los Feliz and I wanted to get something for my sci-fi arm. See, on one arm I have a Dr. Manhattan-inspired hydrogen atom, a Dune quote done up in gorgeous Eastern style and a little Godzilla (and also two random Fantastic Fest tattoos). My other arm has an upside down pentagram and an Evil Dead 2 image, making it my horror arm (it also has a Starfleet insignia up on the shoulder, but nobody ever sees that).
The decision I made was to get the IDIC, a Star Trek thing. It’s a Vulcan symbol, and it stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
But IDIC wasn’t always part of Trek’s Vulcan lore. It was introduced in season 3, the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry, and Leonard Nimoy wasn’t wild about it. See, even as Trek was struggling in the ratings it was doing gangbusters with a small but dedicated audience, and Gene had figured out he could sell them all sorts of shit by mail order. It sounds like a no-brainer now, but it was novel at the time.
More than novel, Nimoy found it tacky. He thought that Gene created the IDIC just to sell jewelry through his mail order business. He was right, more or less. The official Star Trek fan magazine had this ad in the issue that went out before season 3 even aired:
“Would you like a Vulcan pendent, designed by Gene Roddenberry, creator and executive producer of Star Trek? You may be able to get one…. If enough interest is shown, replicas of Leonard Nimoy’s idic will be added to our catalog. The replicas will be made from the exact same design created by Gene Roddenberry, but less expensive materials will be used so that the price can be kept in reach of all. Write Idic, Star Trek Enterprises, 1023 North La Brea, Los Angeles, California 90038.”
(Gene Roddenberry didn’t design the IDIC, by the way. He was a real self-aggrandizing piece of shit)
I love what a naked cash grab the IDIC is, and that Gene had only a half-baked philosophy to go with it. But that’s what makes the IDIC so interesting – the looseness of its philosophical underpinnings allows us to find our own meaning in it. And the fact that it was a cash grab reminds us that we live in the world, even as we try to transcend it. No mud, no lotus. No cash grab, no IDIC.
So what does the IDIC mean to me? I like this exchange from the episode where it was introduced, Is There In Truth No Beauty:
Miranda: “The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity.”
Spock: “And the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.”
It reminds me a lot of the concept of dependent origination, one of the Buddha’s big breakthroughs. Nothing arises on its own; all things exist because of other things. There is argument about whether this teaching is meant only for the mind or for all of reality, but you can apply it easily to both. Nothing in the physical world around you arises on its own; every blade of grass can only exist because there is soil and sun and rain and air. So it is for your mind; all your thoughts and emotions come from experiences and interactions with the world.
IDIC isn’t exactly that, but it’s in the same neighborhood. Like dependent origination it honors the interconnected nature of all reality. The IDIC places a value judgment on it (“meaning and beauty”), something you try to do less in Buddhism. But that’s a little advanced, and I like to still find meaning and beauty in the delicate ways the disparate elements of creation come together to manifest as the world. I’m one of those guys who remains impressed that the material in our bodies is the same material in the stars, quite literally. We could trace our molecules and atoms back over billions of years to see them combing and separating from other things, becoming other things, being fuel and the fueled, all the way back. It’s cool. It reminds me that there is no separation between myself and you and the world around me. One day I will die, and if I get the burial I want I’ll return to the soil and combine into a new thing, my elements going forward in new ways.
I was never a big Vulcan guy; Kirk was always my hero over Spock. And I’ll be honest – I think the later shows really fucked up the Vulcans (they were turned into assholes, generally). But I see now in the hodgepodge Easternism of the Vulcan culture stuff that I really like, recombinations of existing philosophies and attitudes that appeal. Just as my atoms were once part of a star, so were elements of Vulcan fictional culture once part of Zen or Taoism. Thus the diversity continues combining, in all new ways. And here’s the thing about truth, or dharma: it stays just as true however you transmit it, whether that be in holy teachings or in the backstory behind cash grab jewelry.