As I work at my desk, an MP3 machine plays a Beatles song a little too loudly — a great tune, but it’s disturbing my concentration.
“Computer, decrease volume!” I order. Nothing happens. That’s as expected — not because the machine can’t respond to my commands, but because I never got around to programming it. The technology exists. I just don’t use it.
Many such technologies were first seen only on television as fanciful imaginings depicted on “Star Trek.” Electronic devices that talk and listen are only one example. We can’t beam ourselves to starships, but when we approach doors, many of them open automatically.
When our wireless communicators chirp, that means someone wants to talk to us. We don’t have tricorders, but we can nevertheless pinpoint our location on the planet and detect life forms or other energy sources in our vicinity.
As well, if we want to speak with anyone in the world, even if we don’t share any languages, we can easily find a decent universal translator online.
Unfortunately, as often happens, technology has raced ahead of society. We can converse freely with everyone in the world, but we’re not talking. We might be embracing “Star Trek’s” electronic gadgetry, but not its humanist philosophy: not IDIC. That’s what holds the fictional “Star Trek” future society together — a society composed of thousands of sentient species.
The slogan, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, means that one should not avoid differences, but accept them, learn about them and learn from them — while sharing knowledge in return. With increased familiarity comes increased understanding, heightened tolerance and the chance to live together in peace — not despite what makes us different, but because of it.
Sadly, while that philosophy might work in an imaginary future, it’s having trouble taking hold in the present — even in Canada and now, especially, in Quebec.
Citing “Star Trek” to lead into a serious issue like the Parti Québécois’ so-called Charter of Quebec Values might seem to lack the proper gravitas, but on the other hand (as others are warning) full-frontal attacks against the PQ for being intolerant of other cultures only risks helping them, by encouraging Quebecers to leap to the PQ’s defence. An attack draws attention away from important issues. When a hockey fight breaks out, who cares about the game score?
The Parti Québécois, led by Pauline Marois, wants to bar provincial and municipal public servants from wearing religion-required garments or symbols (like yarmulkes, hijabs and crucifixes) while at work. The proposed law might allow the Quebec National Assembly to display its Christian cross and people who grow beards for religious reasons may not be forced to shave them off, but women (no matter what their faith) will not be permitted to wear headscarves, Jewish men must remove their kippahs and Sikhs will have to take off their turbans.
The Parti Québécois considers all these things (except, presumably, the beards and big crosses) to be threats to its concept of a secular society. As Marois and others claim, the clothing somehow forces one person’s religion onto another.
It does not seem to matter that that’s not why people wear these things. Instead, they are mostly culturally determined ways for someone to observe personal commitments to a belief. A man does not wear a yarmulke to convert Christians who happen to see it, but because he believes he must keep his head covered while at prayer or in public — which hurts no one else.
When a woman wears a hijab, she only seeks to practise modesty, not to impose her beliefs on others. That’s only one of many reasons why they should not be forbidden.
People who observe such practices to follow religion will simply not be able to remove these items of clothing without offending their faith and so they will likely be forced out of their jobs, or denied ones that they are otherwise qualified to hold. That violates their rights and it hurts all of society, since it becomes a society tainted by intolerance and diminished by limited experience.
After all, if “Star Trek” is to be believed, it’s not through a monotone world, but through infinite diversity that we’ll all find peace together.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.