"I Have Killed my Captain - and my Friend"

If one were to ask a thousand Americans to make a list of the most well known quotes in the history of science fiction, a few statements would predominate. "May the Force be with you," would probably be on every single list. "There can be only one," "E.T. phone home," "A robot may not harm a human being, nor through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm," and for anyone who groups fantasy and SciFi together, "One ring to rule them all and, in the darkness, bind them," would come up again and again.

There's one other quote, perhaps the only one that approaches the near-universal recognition of the Star Wars saga's most famous utterance, that would be on nearly every list. This would be Star Trek's most famous statement, Mr. Spock's trademark line, "Live long and prosper."

What few non-Trekkers know is that these iconic words do not exist on their own. They are, in fact, the customary response to another well-wishing. It is the "you're welcome" to a "thank you." It is the "alaikum assalam" to a "assalaam alaikum."

The complete exchange is, "Peace and long life." Replied with "Live long and prosper."

I can think of no other pair of mantras, no other statement made between equals that is more beautiful or more elegant. It's true, similar statements, nearly identical utterances have been enshrined in the world's vernaculars for eons, from the Arabic statement quoted above to the "Peace be with you" that opens so many Catholic services.

Star Trek, though, introduced this idea and popularized this expression not as a statement related to religious liturgy nor even as declaration of brotherhood of nation but as the perfect articulation of good will made under the auspices of perfect logic. Here is this idea that, by virtue of originating with a purely logical, mathematically trained and atheistic character, is stripped of it's superstitious baggage and it's tribalist undertones. Within it's fictional context, it is the ultimate statement of benevolence and amity because it is intoned by characters who are bound by neither blood nor creed, who share no common distinction beyond sentience. It is a mutual approbation by characters who are of different species.

Well versed fans will counter that the Vulcan Salute, the "V" shaped hand gesture that traditionally accompanies these words,* is lifted from rituals of Kabbalah. This is true. It is also a point of Hebrew mysticism so arcane that even most observant Jews were unaware of it before the publication of Leonard Nimoy's autobiography. I don't think this fact diminishes the fundamental beauty of the statement.

This is one of those moments in popular culture. This is a catch-phrase from a television show that speaks to the best parts of us. It underscores our understanding of universal brotherhood. It highlights the fact that we can only enrich ourselves by wishing well to others. We should all wish each other so well.

Peace and long life.

*Legend has it that William Shatner cannot execute this gesture without putting his fingers into position with the opposite hand.

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Violet by Design said...

i found the first paragraph hard to read, as my internal monologue was quoting Dune.

waldo said...

Peace and long life. Et cum spiritu tuo.