A stranger appears in the city. He is awkward and sometimes distant in social interaction, and appears to regard many well-established customs and traditions with curiosity or even irony – but most people are happy to attribute this to the vaguely defined ‘foreign connections’ that are also offered as the explanation of his considerable wealth. That’s enough to win him acceptance in the upper levels of society, even to the point that he is assigned to lead an important mission in the war that the city has been waging for some years. His performance in this role is best described as diffident or hesitant – a former subordinate reports his habit in crisis situations of muttering the phrase proton prostagma, and then generally opting for inaction – and it is wholly unsuccessful. Banished from the city, over the next twenty years he visits many different parts of the region, appearing unexpectedly at every major crisis point in the war, taking notes and talking to people before vanishing just as mysteriously. At the end he returns to the city, remaining long enough to hand over a manuscript – “I have compiled your war,” he is supposed to have said. “Use it well.” – before disappearing from this planet for the final time.
Of course Thucydides was an alien. Generations of his readers have been struck by a sense of the distance between his sensibility and that of his contemporaries; they have seen him as a modern before modernity, and developed elaborate theories of cyclical historical development and/or individual genius to show how this could be possible, rather than grasping the obvious explanation. His language is strange, full of words and phrases that are found nowhere else in Ancient Greek; his sentences are complex, idiosyncratic and disconcerting, not always conforming to Earth logic. He is detached, analytical, impartial and restrained; this does not reflect an absence of emotion, but rather the rigorous control practised by a species all too aware of the destructive power of the passions – as Arnold Toynbee perceptively observed, his deep feelings are just occasionally discernible in the quivering tension of his words. His careful observation and evaluation of ‘the human thing’ is not that of the disinterested pathologist but of a committed – albeit often bewildered or disappointed – friend of humanity.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 2764.8: The Enterprise is experiencing a range of subspace anomalies that manifest as screaming ghosts, terrifying visions and a pervasive sense of despair. Mr Spock has diagnosed a temporal anomaly. His concern is not that civilisation may be destroyed, but that this has already happened, and our civilising mission, as well as the entire Federation, is merely a fiction generated in a kinder, more optimistic phase of human history.
“Events are never self-contained, captain. There is always a long chain of antecedents and contributing factors, so that changing a single event may have little or no effect on the overall course of historical development. Nevertheless, all the data suggests that the year 2016 may be a particularly crucial moment in Earth’s history. The global economy is on the brink of another crisis, as inequality and indebtedness rise to unsustainable levels. Processes of global warming and environmental degradation are reaching the point of no return. And yet the people of the United States of America are on the point of choosing a path of isolationism, paranoia, hatred and aggression, while the United Kingdom is considering a self-destructive course of detaching itself from ties with Europe, driven by similar fears and prejudice against foreigners; in both cases, legitimate grievances are being exploited by unscrupulous politicians for their own ends. The plausible outcome is the weakening or even dissolution of the structures and institutions of international cooperation, just when they are most needed.”
“When you’re down by sixteen points in the final quarter with five minutes to play, you don’t drive the team bus off a cliff because you don’t like being told what to do by road signs,” interjected McCoy.
“Thank you, doctor. As you know, the Prime Directive forbids us from interfering in the development of a civilisation, even our own. But what I believe we can do is assist the human race in understanding itself and in recognising what it actually already knows. You humans are prone to let your emotions overrule reason, to overestimate your advantages and abilities, to misunderstand situations and jump to conclusions, and to rely on blind optimism rather than realism. If I tell you this directly, you reject the idea angrily, which confirms the hypothesis but is unproductive in practical terms. I shall instead seek to draw attention to certain paradigmatic historical events, introducing these into the cultural tradition at the moment when an interest in the past first develops, with a clear indication that these events are worth thinking about. Readers will reach the necessary conclusions through their own efforts, and so be far more likely to accept and act upon them.”
“But why you, Spock? Wouldn’t it be better to convey a message to humanity through someone who can, well, speak human?”
“I do not think so. I am of course half human, but this task requires someone who can maintain a sufficient detachment from events to convey their significance, writing not a performance piece for a particular moment but a source of wisdom that will still be read two and a half thousand years later…”
First Officer’s Log, Stardate 2823.1: I have compiled the war of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians…
[Note: I have been asked about the stardates used here, with the suggestion that I might update them according to http://www.stoacademy.com/tools/stardate.php. Further investigation shows that this is valid only for the online game, not for the TV series or films, and a fortiori not for reality. I’m sticking with the official guidance for the original series, as set out in Star Trek Guide of 1967: “Stardates are a mathematical formula which varies depending on location in the galaxy, velocity of travel, and other factors, can vary widely from episode to episode.”]