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In Star Trek (2009) we see a scene from Spock's childhood where he is regularly being bullied by some Vulcan children, in order to elicit an emotional response from him (see below video).

What I don't understand is, what is the logical reason for them to bully Spock?

Bullying (here on Earth) is the result of emotions and psychological state. Yet Vulcans have adopted Surak's code of emotional control, and let logic dictate their behaviour. So for those Vulcan children to bully Spock seems illogical.

The children should be sufficiently practiced in emotional control to not repeatedly bully Spock out of emotions; Spock's father was disappointed in him for reacting to them, so it's clear that Vulcan's are expected to have a high level of emotional control by this age.

So what is the logical explanation for why they were bullying Spock?

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Young vulcans lack emtional control –  Richard Aug 20 at 10:04
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Further to @Richard's comment, children also have a completely different concept of "logic" to adults. –  Moo Aug 20 at 10:13
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Could it be a "scientific experiment" and they didn't have any emotional investment in his emotional well being? –  Liath Aug 20 at 10:25
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@Moogle: There is precedent for Vulcan children to be emotionally uncontrolled right into adolescence (see: Tuvok). –  Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 20 at 10:33
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@Liath - that's definitely how I saw the scene. He was a test subject for them to see if a half-Vulcan would react to certain stimuli that a full-Vulcan would not. –  Darth Satan Aug 20 at 12:02

9 Answers 9

up vote 48 down vote accepted

My suggestion from the comments above was simply that they were conducting an experiment on him. There was no malicious motivation for their behaviour - they simply didn't care about their test subject at all.

Their hypothesis was that as a half-Vulcan he would be unable to control his emotional state as well as a full Vulcan. They were trying to test this theory (or more likely this was an excuse for childish bullying).

This is your 35th attempt to elicit an emotional response

and

I presume you've prepared new insults for today

Imply that they have been at this for some time.

Experiments require data, and repeated tests with different varied inputs.

Perhaps an emotional response requires physical stimuli?

Of course whether they are using this as an excuse to prove their Vulcan superiority is another question. Many of the other excellent answers have suggested they are not as emotionally mature as they are pretending to be and that they are simply bullying him because he's different.

However in order bully him they need to act as if they're emotional superior. Hence creating the illusion of an experiment to prove that Spock is less "Vulcan" than them.

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This is the most accurate representation of the scene. They have had a systematic experiment taking place. Spock recognizes his place in the experiment (and is not pleased by this). Yes, a distinct lack of emotional control is displayed by all the young Vulcans in this scene and is likely to mean they are all still learning how to control their emotions. –  Thaddeus Aug 21 at 18:10
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I accepted this as it provides a logical explanation for their behaviour. Although the others are all valid answers so I upvoted them as well. –  Moogle Aug 21 at 19:49
    
I would very much have liked to see an extended scene where a Vulcan teacher asks the bullies to explain the logical chain of conclusions that led them to believe that 1) Spock's mother, whose myriad accomplishments are a matter of public record, would feel the need to resort to sexual wiles in order to ensnare a member of a species not known for being easily affected by them; and 2) that Sarek, whose accomplishments and status are likewise impeccable, would apparently be susceptible to said wiles... –  Shadur Aug 22 at 5:43

There isn't one, but there doesn't need to be.

Vulcans as a culture may have adopted Surak's teachings of emotional control, but it's still something that has to be learned. This was demonstrated in a flashback to a young Tuvok in VOY 5x13, Gravity, where he has yet to learn control of his emotions.

Using Tuvok as an example, it appears that at least some young Vulcans misunderstand the meaning of Surak's teachings. In particular:

Tuvok: Because I refuse to deny myself passion, the way you and.. men like my father do.

Master: You reject logic.

Tuvok: If I was meant to deny feelings, why was I born with them? Where is the logic in that? Master: Hidden, for you to find. Or in plain sight, for you to ignore.

Tuvok: You speak in riddles because the truth frightens you.

Master: You're right, it does frighten me. You are surprised to hear a Vulcan master admit to having emotions?

Tuvok: Yes..

The point of Surak's teachings is not to deny or suppress emotions, but to control them so Vulcans are not controlled by them.

The children in the 2009 movie are likely only beginning to learn emotional control, as they look even younger than Tuvok. While they have learned to control outer appearances, they are likely still driven by their emotions.

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Yep. It's cultural, not genetic (e.g., Romulans). –  Paul Draper Aug 20 at 18:07
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In fact, in Sarek (NG s3e23), we learn that Vulcans have very powerful emotions, moreso than humans. Only firm mental discipline keeps these in check. –  Paul Draper Aug 23 at 5:30
    
Except that we see the children's bigotry of Spocks heritage echoed in adult vulcans we see. The children are just less subtle or indirect about it and do not cloak it in cultural justifications. –  Tyson of the Northwest Sep 16 at 18:23

Vulcans affect emotionlessness and logic because at their core they are so turbulent that their unchecked emotions nearly caused the destruction of their species. It's worth remembering that Romulans are a splinter group of Vulcans that refused to accept that.

Even when Vulcans are acting with logic and emotion, it is not because they do not feel emotion, but instead because they have severe self control. Theirs is not true logic, but a fake logic based on rejecting emotions - more rationalizing than true logic. And their generational war with Romulus is a part of an offshoot of that. They reject emotions because they fear them. They reject Spock because he does not control his emotions like they do, which they fear. And so they hate him. To provide a logical source for their hatred, they need him to react with emotion so they can demonstrate that they are correct for hating him.

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The answer to this question lies at the heart of the contradictions and selfdelusions of Vulcan society.

  • They claim that their are beings of pure logic without emotion yet that logic is built on a foundation of destructive emotion.
  • They claim that they value science and knowledge, yet purposefully neglect or actively suppress research into aspects of their own biology. (every episode dealing with pon farr or Ent:s2x14)
  • They claim that they believe in infinite diversity in infinite combinations, yet we see that Federation ships with pure vulcan crews like the T'Kumbra are not out of the ordinary and not worth comment. (DS9:s7x04)

Spock has internalized the vulcan cultural view of their superiority over humanity to the point that for much of the TOS era he treats being associated with humanity an insult, something lesser or impure. It is not hard to imagine that vulcan children would also pick up this implied xenophobia from their parents even though their espoused beliefs run contrary to that. We see it often enough in human cultures where the religious or cultural value states one thing but in jokes, stereotypes, or actions the people express the opposite. Logic and science don't keep one from being toxic.

Interestingly enough this xenophobia and species-supremacy is also seen in Romulan society. To the point that their arrogance and dismissiveness of other races seems to be a character trait. From this we have a "control" group of what vulcans might look like without their "logic" to rule them. But as we often see in vulcan characters, that logic may just be a thin veneer.

  • T'pau has very little respect for Kirk and is shocked at his willing involvement in Amok Time, and T'pring uses her logic to get an emotionally satisfying outcome. (TOS:s2x05)
  • Sarek is genuinely surprised that Picard was able to contain his emotions in Sarek. (TNG:s3x23)
  • In Field of Fire (DS9:s7x13) we see Chu'lak who has twisted his logic to the point that murder is the only logical option.

I didn't include episodes of Enterprise in this list as there was a bit of a cultural renaissance on vulcan after events in Kir'Shara (Ent:s4x09) and the rediscovery of Surak's Kir'Shara. During the Enterprise period vulcan culture was even more problematic in its contradictions and hypocrisies. So much so that it was a running thread through the show. Also, considering that Sarek, Spock's father, was only born 10 years after the launch of the NX-01 it is very possible that the effects of the recovery of the Kir'Shara have not fully expressed itself in vulcan culture.

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As a cultural reference, the original series (TOS) was produced in the 60s during the civil rights movement. There were many current issues that the series tackled, especially racism. One of the first inter-racial kisses shown on primetime American television was in a TOS episode S03E10 Plato's Stepchildren.

This bullying you see in the movie was built into the Vulcan culture by the author. Vulcans are terrible racists, as are Klingons, and most especially Romulans. Even the enlightened Federation has issues (Kirk's hatred for Klingons).

The author was holding a mirror to society and basically saying "this is how I see you", but the genre also allowed him to say "this is how you could be".

He had a prophetic streak, and predicted more than just cell phones and tablets.

They bullied Spock because they considered him a half-breed and a threat to Vulcan purity. Especially the elders (that's who children emulate).

Eventually they accepted him as a great leader, for the very same reason. Logic triumphs!

Sound familiar?

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The racism sounds reasonable, but are you suggesting that a 2009 movie made a reference to a 60s civil rights movement issue? –  doppelgreener Aug 22 at 5:55
    
The movie very successfully goes to great lengths to be faithful to the original vision of the author. TOS was a document of the 20th century. Did you notice that the movie also had sexist overtones? True Trek culture will always be rooted in and referential to the idealism and optimism of America in the 60s. And short skirts. Personally I would have cast Seth Rogen rather than Chris Pine, but a pretty good job, overall. –  user31962 Aug 22 at 6:20
    
I'd say it's a bit more complicated than that. The 2009 movie does try to say true to the original, but it does so by showing how it would fit it into our modern sensibilities. In TOS, racism was tolerated. Both Bones and Spock traded racist jabs. In the new movie, the racism is shown to be bad. –  trlkly Aug 22 at 19:06
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Don't kid yourself. Nothing has changed, from Birmingham to Ferguson. Our vain and intolerant modern society is deeply in denial, concerned only with optics (like your comment). TOS S03E15 Let That Be Your Last Battlefield was about Birmingham and is more relevant than when it aired 50 years ago. At least Shatner&Nimoy were Jewish. Pine&Quinto are so Aryan they reek, their homo-eroticism is a veil. "Pointy-eared bastard" and "Never trust a Vulcan" are not racist jabs? Blarf, I say. –  user31962 Aug 23 at 19:16

Many Vulcans feel themselves to be superior to other (emotional) humanoid species. Even when arrived at by "pure" logic, racism/elitism is still nasty.

Examples (as requested, off the top of my head): The baseball game episode in DS9; TOS episode where the Vulcan ship is destroyed and their main reaction is surprise (that anything could defeat them -- so maybe that's just arrogance); Spock's childhood -- those boys in the alternate timeline movie were NOT an isolated example; the reaction of other Vulcans (including his own father) when Spock chose to join Starfleet; the "congratulations" from the Vulcan Science Council on Spock "overcoming" his half-humanness; the question from T'Pau to Spock when he was "in heat" (Are thee human, or are thee Vulcan?); young T'Pau's complaints in STE about the human smell of the ship.

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Good premise, but your answer is too short. Could you expand on it? There are certainly examples you could cite, in this movie as well as elsewhere, that lend support to your case. I do agree that it could (at least partly) be simply a case of prejudice. –  iamnotmaynard Aug 20 at 20:05

I think there's a pretty simple explanation here that the other children are still learning how to control their emotions, and like human children, are less aware of their ineptitude.

They're attempting to elicit an emotional response to make themselves feel bigger than Spock, and are failing to realize (or are willfully blind to the fact) that that proposition is in itself a failure to control their own emotions.

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I think many of these answers are being over complicated. The simple answer it is simply childish bullying because Spock is different to the other children. He is a half-caste Vulcan and it would be fair to say that Vulcans see themselves as superior to other races, partly because they do not let their emotions control their behaviour.

As Spock's mother is human and humans have much less control over their emotions than Vulcans... "Spock is not like us, he is only half Vulcan, his mother is human, let's see what it takes to make him lose control of his emotions.

I'm sure variations of this behaviour have happened in classrooms and playgrounds all over the universe.

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How does that differ from the accepted answer from @Liath? Welcome to SFF.SE. –  BMWurm Aug 23 at 8:17

I can’t be too surprised that Vulcan children are capable of bullying when the adult council was unable to hide their hostility and bias.

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