Poisoning the Well

Following on from conversations mentioned here and here, comes a slightly more revealing look at the animosity that’s on display toward not only Star Trek Discovery, but also its fans. The tweet above is a classic example of the ‘Poisoning of the Well’ fallacy.

What is the Poisoning of the Well fallacy? It’s where you attempt to make large swathes of a group or party appear bad, or pre-emptively try to deter people from taking someone seriously (don’t look at what they have to say, they’re <insert various remarks here>, you can’t trust them!). In this instance, I refer in particular to the further divisive stance of the #TrueTrek hash tag, as well as the leading statement regarding Discovery’s status as a reboot (it isn’t, and you can see this statement for the reality on the subject, as well as this one), and finally, the use of the term ‘Tardifan’, which is related to another term, ‘Talifan’. Patience – all will be explained!

Some background. The tweeter ‘ST-v-SW.Net’ is well known in ‘versus’ circles and has developed two sites, st-v-sw.net and canonwars.com. It’s worth pointing out that the main sites in both instances don’t appear to have been updated for some time, with their creator moving on to discuss things on Starfleet Jedi. I have sparred with him on a few occasions, though by far and away his biggest opponent was Michael Wong, the author of Stardestroyer.net. The pair had a pretty long-winded debate on the subject of what is considered canon in Star Wars (alongside a fascinating argument regarding the Death Star’s manner of planetary destruction), and there were plenty of accusations and attempts of poisoning the well back then. It is, it would seem, the modus operandi of this guy.

The ‘Talifan’ reference is a link between overzealous fans of a franchise and the Taliban. With an interesting degree of irony, given the behaviour on display, Starfleet Jedi’s Wiki page has this to say:

Talifan are fans who insists upon having the only right approach to the object of his fandom. Often followed by ferocious outrage when the authors or creators let others contribute in the further development of the fictional universe, particularly when those others write something which goes completely against the talifan’s view of how powerful the magic, or technology of said franchise should be. The term itself came into being as a contraction of “taliban fan”, though the exact origins of the term are sketchy, and various persons have been credited with the term’s creation. It was used initially by professional writers and others in the industry, but it has since found it’s way into general useage in various fandoms.

The Dark Moose on StarWars.com Blogs defines the distinctive characteristics of talifan further:

  • Harassing demeanor – they seek out the author or artist to attack them verbally on the same point over and over and over. Even if its a point they had nothing to do with in creating. Even if its a point they can do nothing about to change. Harrassment flows quickly into a kind of “e-stalking” in that wherever that artist/author may go on the Internet, they go, too. Even more ominously, they may send letters or make phone calls.
  • Personal attacks – A Talifan doesn’t criticize a book, or a game, or a poster or a model or collector’s item. A Talifan attacks people. Personally. Often times, profanely. Instead of making a suggestion or offering a point for debate, they purposefully attempt to make the author or artist feel besieged. They will attack their professional abilities. They will attack their level of competence. They will attack gender, race, creed, any detail they can glean, they will attack the person simply for being what they are. These are not valid fan opinions, these are malicious, abusive, antagonistic and in many cases some would consider libelous affronts.
  • Intense negativity – Talifans seek out negativity. They hunt it with myopic intent. They’ll draw you into an argument, sometimes over something innocuous, even something you don’t really care about. What they want is to abuse, malign, extort, insult..and oddly, be abused, maligned, extorted and insulted in return. It’s something akin to sadomasochism.

This approach is of course exactly what ST-v-SW.net does on Twitter. Whilst he has not, to my knowledge, taken this to the extreme of death threats (which, sadly, some Star Wars fans are alleged to have done regarding certain pieces of information about that franchise, and some Star Trek fans have done as well), much of the very behaviour he critiques and accuses others of, is attributable to him. He has then taken the hard-line approach of labelling anyone who disagrees with him as a ‘Talifan’ or ‘Tardifan’, seeking to tar by association, or ‘poison the well’ to discredit his opponents.

But don’t simply take my word for it regarding his ‘only my way is the right way’ attitude. The previous discussions I had with him on Twitter highlighted that point quite nicely, along with the continued use of the divisive and misleading #TrueTrek hash tag. His tweet above immediately implies anyone who disagrees with him on Discovery being a reboot is A: wrong and B: a fanatic for disagreeing. There is of course, a lot more…

When it comes to attacking an author/artist, or in this case professionals dealing with the subject of consistency/continuity as part of their daily jobs, ST-v-SW.net made it clear he had no regard (and indeed displayed contempt) for those who dared to present facts that contradicted his opinions. If you look here, you will see the ‘courtesy’ he displayed Star Trek writers and his disdain for those who worked for Lucasfilm can be seen here. He even tried to tell Mike Sussman, the author of Enterprise episode ‘The Augments’, that he had a better understanding of the episode and some of its consequences, than Sussman did! I reproduce the exchange below, with ST-v-SW’s comments in pink and Sussman’s in blue:

Hmmm, guess I’m not seeing where I “goofed”. I have to say I take issue with the new “background” info under the new Klach D’kel Brakt entry. You added:

When writing ENT: “The Augments”, episode writer Mike Sussman based Arik Soong’s “Briar Patch” on cut descriptions of the Briar Patch from an early script of Star Trek: Insurrection. However, the details of the two are quite distinct in the finished works.

You may feel they’re quite distinct, I happen to disagree. Strongly. Personally, I think the original Briar Patch entry was more accurate (although it did contain the inaccurate statement that the cloud was in Klingon space in the 22nd Century).

I mean no disrespect, but I believe you made a lot of specious points in your various arguments. You wrote:

The Insurrection Briar Patch is a system-size phenomenon”

Gotta say I disagree. There is no on-screen evidence that the Briar Patch (in Insurrection or “The Augments”) is restricted to one star system. Piller apparently intended it to be larger in his final draft script, and I remained consistent with that in my script. I don’t believe that the fact you can “see stars” through the cloud in the final film means the Patch must be no larger than one solar system.You further state:

It seems improbable that an area controlled by the Klingons for over a century, fought for in glorious battle by Kor himself, would end up in Federation hands a century later.”

The Briar Patch was never a part of Klingon space in “The Augments” — it was specifically stated to be on the far side of their territory. Soong’s line at the beginning of scene 28:

“Once we’re safely through Klingon space, we’ll set a course for these coordinates. The Klingons call it Klach D’kel Brakt… I call it the Briar Patch.”

I made this clear in dialogue to deliberately avoid any conflicts — actually, the Patch could’ve been very far beyond Klingon space. To me, there’s no conflict with the Federation controlling the region two hundred years later as it was never the Klingons’ to begin with. Moreover, Kor never said his battle was for control of Klach D’kel Brakt, he simply indicated the battle was fought there. Was the Battle of the Bassen Rift in Nemesis fought for control of that rift? Of course not.

• I agree it might seem “unlikely” for the Briar Patch to have been named by a criminal like Soong. For all we know, his name stuck and its origin was lost over the centuries. And maybe it wasn’t the “official” designation after all. In Insurrection, the Admiral says, “They’re calling this whole area the Briar Patch,” which to me sounds like it may be an unofficial moniker. If a little girl can suggest the name for Pluto, I think Soong can suggest the name of a gas cloud.

• There are plenty of good reasons why 22nd Century Klingons hadn’t mapped the gas cloud: 1) as already stated, it wasn’t in their territory and was quite possibly many light-years away. 2) It’s a big dangerous cloud, perhaps the Klingons assumed there was nothing useful inside of it. I think it’s likely Soong’s map came from the Orions or some other enterprising species.

Just some thoughts. I never have a problem if someone simply doesn’t like my work, but if I’m accused of making a “goof”… well, that warms up my Irish blood.

For my next magic trick, I’ll show how to reach Kronos in four days at low warp. Oh wait, I haven’t figured that one out yet. Mike Sussman – VOY/ENT Writer-Producer 21:15, 27 August 2006 (UTC)

Mr. Sussman, I have the utmost respect for your work, most especially with “Twilight” et al. And further, your comments on your talk page about enjoying these sorts of discussions so long as nastiness is avoided were grand. However, I must take issue with your somewhat less than non-nasty tone and “warm[ing] of my Irish blood”. You yourself used the term “goof” and when you brought up the other Trek “astronomical goofs” when responding to the issue at hand. Perhaps it was not your intent to imply that your link of the Insurrection Briar Patch with Klach D’Kel Brakt was such a goof . . . but then even the best writers and producers don’t always have things turn out the way they intend. Which is, of course, the matter at hand.

I have already discussed the many reasons why the two cannot be the same in an in-universe sense, and the only answers which have been given by other users have been wildly implausible, inconsistent, and/or required us to believe all sorts of extra wars that never happened. Others simply attempt to apply a slippery-slope idea to a very specific and well-reasoned point. (Regarding the in-universe perspective, to reply to Highwind in a similar tone, the discussion was over, and indeed the matter was settled as soon as I took the field.)
Regarding the first of my points, I have even uploaded a new picture of the Enterprise-E approaching the phenomenon at impulse power, a journey which would take decades according to the view that both are one. Unlike the view of the Delphic Expanse we get in “The Expanse” of the same name wherein we’re told a distance from the phenomenon, a speed, and how big it is, there is no cause to try to rationalize the Insurrection Briar Patch view except to support a view contrary to what the image clearly shows. Piller may have thought it larger in early scripts, but in the end that isn’t what we, the audience, get to see or hear about.
Further, I note that you reply to arguments of mine which I did not make and never supported. I was the one who pointed out that Klach D’Kel Brakt was not in Klingon space in 2154, for instance . . . it was integral to my point of where it lay . . . and yet you respond as if this will come as a surprise to me. I can only assume either that I was not carefully read or else that my own author intent didn’t shine through. C’est la vie.
I do find your use of the Battle of Bassen Rift curious, since that battle supports what I’m saying. That was a battle which occurred along the border regions between the two involved powers. Similarly, the 2271 battle would’ve logically occurred near a border region between the Klingons and Romulans, and … given the Klingon victory, canonically-known Klingon expansionism in the 23rd Century, and the very name of the thing as referenced even in DS9 … it follows that Klach D’Kel Brakt was controlled by the Klingons around the time of the battle, and presumably long afterward. Sure battles between powers don’t always occur in neat little border zones . . . witness the skirmish for Gomtuu in ill-defined territory . . . but that is the most likely occurrence. Combine that with the fact that it was beyond Klingon space from Earth-explored regions in the 2150’s, and it makes no canonical sense to conclude that the Federation would possess it (or that the Son’a would risk running a ketracel white trade when surrounded by Dominion enemies). The Klingon Empire wasn’t carved up like Nazi Germany and Klach D’Kel Brakt isn’t West Berlin. While wild and crazy territory-swapping might seem an ideal solution to this flimsy dilemma, the fact is that the only known instances of territory-swapping have been on border regions . . . refer to the Federation-Cardassian treaty and colonies like Dorvan V, or the Klingon/Federation trade of the Archanis sector. That’s because that’s the sort of territory-swap that makes sense. Israel didn’t take the outskirts of Tehran as their security zone … they took border regions.
In short, the only two ways to derive the conclusion that the two are the same is to (a) do so without bothering to think about it, or (b) start with that conclusion in the first place and start making rationalizations to try to support that conclusion. With the exception of your say-so, we have no need to try to shoehorn the two into the same definition. The pleasure of this sort of thing is applying critical thinking to a silly subject . . . your joke about the four day trip to the Klingon homeworld is just such an instance where we have cause to apply critical thinking. (And I have. It’s what I do.)
Now, since the idea of the two being one is what you had in mind when you wrote it, you’re certainly at liberty to jump through the required hoops when the hoops are identified as they have been, and anyone who prefers author intent over canon can do the same. And I’m sure that with the weight you bring to the table, canon policies such as Memory Alpha’s will crumble and the unwise, counter-MA revision Shran/From Andoria with Love mentions below will occur and be maintained even if I undo his revision. Sure you’re a “restricted validity resource” and don’t override the canon we all see and hear by the local rules, but that’s not important. (Of course in my rulebook you could probably simply declare contradictory elements non-canon and be done with it, a la your “soft canon” comments, but that’s neither here nor there.)
But canon policies, whether my site’s or MA’s, are based on the episodes as aired. It’s great to have you around to know what you were thinking … oh if we could’ve had Coon around … but just as Ira Behr and company knew (especially after the last shot of DS9’s fifth season), writers and producers don’t work alone. Each episode is the product of many talents, and sometimes what the writers want and intend just doesn’t appear on screen. Sometimes it doesn’t even appear in their own final draft. We can lament the loss, but in the end it’s gone, and only what we have on screen remains. It’s a bit more complicated than the old saying Spiner quotes of “if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage”, but the idea is similar.

So, do with it what you will. But the simple fact is that there’s no reason to conclude the two are the same in-universe, many reasons to conclude they aren’t, and even the local rules for determining Trek “reality” side with my position. But as the saying goes, “if the facts are against you, argue the law … if the law is against you, argue the facts … if the facts and the law are against you, yell like hell.”

I invite you, the reader, to decide if Sussman was unreasonable and apparently hostile in his reply. Unfortunately, this sort of ‘baiting’ is yet another form of poisoning the well. ‘You disagreed, therefore you are nasty’, is what’s effectively happening here.

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