Thursday, February 10, 2011


ghob tIvnISbe’lu’.
--Klingon traditional saying, translated: “One need not enjoy virtue.”

Well, my friends, I had planned for today’s entry to tell of Dominique Pire, a French Catholic priest who saved many refugees after WWII, and of the Jewish middah of Lomed al Manat La'asot (Studying in Order to Do Good Deeds), but I will save that for another time. In a fit of what is probably fatigue-fueled Whimsy, I have decided instead to talk about ethics from the vantage of the Klingons, and the principle of Ghob (Virtue/Waging War).

For those who do not know, Klingons are a humanoid species hailing from Qo'noS, an M-class planet located about 90 light-years from Earth in the Beta Quadrant. Humans first visited Qo'noS in 2151. Klingon culture has a strict code of Honor; like the Spartans of Ancient Greece, Klingons consider themselves a race of warriors, preferring to die in combat than to live as captives. To the Klingon, life is an eternal struggle for dominance and victory.

Legends claim the first Klingon, Kortar, killed the gods who created him. Their religious traditions center around Kahless, a messianic figure who lived around the time of Earth’s 9th century. Kahless founded the honor tradition that united the species into a Klingon Empire. At death, a Klingon’s compatriots howl to the spirits of the dead, announcing a new arrival. They happily describe the afterlife as the Eternal Battle:

Below are some Klingon aphorisms, with translations, which will give you a sense of the meaning of Ghob:

bogh tlhInganpu’, SuvwI’pu’ moj, Hegh. (Klingons are born, live as warriors, then die.)

qa’ wIje’meH maSuv. (We fight to enrich the spirit.)

lumbe’ tlhInganpu’. (Klingons do not procrastinate.)

Worf, a Klingon with ghob.
Dubotchugh yIpummoH. (If it’s in your way, knock it down.)

tIqDaq HoSna’ tu’lu’. (Real power is in the heart.)

pujwI’ HIvlu’chugh quvbe’lu’. (There is no honor in attacking the weak.)

bItuHlaHbe’chugh bIquvlaHbe’. (If you cannot be shamed, you cannot be honored.)

nIteb Qob qaD jup ‘e’ chaw’be’ Suvwl’. (A warrior does not let a friend face danger alone.)

yIn DayajmeH ‘oy’ yISIQ. (To understand life, endure pain.)

QaghmeylIj tIchID, yIyoH. (Have the courage to admit your mistakes.)

reH ‘eb tu’lu’. (There is always a chance.)

pop ‘oH ghob’e’. (Virtue is the reward.)

batIh bIHeghjaj. (May you die well.)
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Despite my Whimsy, or perhaps because of it, I do find serious merit in the addages. “To understand life, endure pain” sure sounds suspiciously like the First Noble Truth. (Although one commentator has insisted that if they embraced a human religion, Klingons would in fact embrace Christianity.) I said in the earlier essay about Honor that one could not reach it without standing on Courage. It occurred to me tonight that, in the realm of the two Ultimate Virtues, Self-Knowledge and Self-Possession, fear must necessarily melt away. Something about the Klingon insistence for absolute Rigor, for an unabashed Acceptance that Life is Struggle, appeals to me. It’s honest. Every true warrior knows that his or her greatest enemy is the hardest to face: Oneself.   
*    *    *
May we see the gates of Ghob, and perhaps make a home there. 
*    *    *
Aphorisms from Marc Okrand’s Star Trek ©:The KlingonTM Way--A Warriors Guide, and quoted with grateful acknowledgement.

1 comment:

  1. I admit, I've always admired the Klingons.

    I once took an evening class in Russian culture at Stanford. The instructor, Serafima Radivilova, was struggling to explain Cossack culture to a class of mostly under-50 Americans. I said, "the Cossacks are the Klingons of the Russian world". She got this "Eureka!" look in her eyes and said, "Yes, that's exactly it!"

    The Cossacks are a set of related Slavic groups (called "hosts") that share a militaristic culture. And the Cossacks (with the exception of a very small Jewish minority) are mostly Orthodox Christian -- so I suppose I could buy the idea that Klingons might gravitate towards Christianity. (Although I think the Cossacks being Christian had more to do with their enemies the Tatars being Muslim (having converted to Islam in the 10th century)-- and it's worth noting that before the Cossacks converted to Christianity, they were already monotheists, worshiping a tribal storm god -- oh, how very Aryan!)

    Personally, despite the fact that their real world cultural analogs the Cossacks were Christian (and a minority Jewish), of the three Abrahamic religions I think the Klingons would most likely gravitate towards Islam, with its concept of jihad ("struggle") and of peace only existing within the cultural sphere of "Submission" (to the Truth), while waging war against that which is outside the cultural sphere -- I think this has much in common with the Klingon Empire, which is at peace with itself, while continuously at war with that which is outside itself. If you want to be at peace with the Klingons, you have to submit to their rule. That seems to fit.

    That said, I also see a lot of similarity between Klingon culture and the values of Asatru (AH-sah-TRU) also known as Germanic Neopaganism.

    Cultural groups that are martial in nature tend to share a cluster of values: strength, courage, honor... basically, the most grievous sin in such cultural systems is weakness or cowardice.

    Anyway, thanks for the interesting post, Rick.