Superior Ability Breeds Superior Ambition

star_trek_into_darkness_poster_teaser  When I was a kid I aspired to be like my heroes. Most of us   did. I liked the superheroes but I also liked those without any super normal abilities too. The Lone Ranger comes to mind as one of my first heroes in that category. He proved that one didn’t have to be born on the planet Krypton to be something special. Ambition and training could transform someone as well. The theme of improved humanity, however, served as a cautionary tale in a memorable episode of Star Trek.

In ‘Space Seed’ the Enterprise happens upon an ‘ancient’ Earth vessel from the 1990s. In the background story the 1990s were notable for a third World War waged by leaders selectively bred to have superior abilities. Now a submarine shaped craft from that era drifts aimlessly as the Enterprise pulls up beside it. To the crew it represents a historical mystery that they’re compelled to investigate.

Kirk, Bones, Scotty and a historian, Marla McIvers, beam over to find that the vessel is a sleeper ship. In other words it transported its crew in a state of suspended animation. The discovery explains why their bio scanners picked up only extremely slow heart beats. Apparently, they forgot there was a time when ships were so slow that they necessitated suspended animation so the crew could endure long flight times.

Scotty turns on the lights and it triggers one of 84 life support canisters. They beam its occupant to sick bay where Doctor McCoy marvels at the man’s refusal to accept death. When the patient eventually wakes a little misunderstanding occurs involving a knife and the doctor’s throat. With the incident peaceably resolved the captain is summoned to sick bay to interview the man who’ll only give his name as Khan. He is evasive and suspicious and Kirk comes away from the meeting with his curiosity unsatisfied. When he confides in Spock about his impressions, Spock makes a statement that has stuck with me for a long time. It’s the title of this post and you’ll have to decide if you agree with it or not. An excerpt of Kirk and Spock’s conversation about Khan follows.


Kirk: Would you estimate him to be a product of selective breeding?
Spock: There is that possibility, Captain. His age would be correct. In 1993, a group of these young supermen did seize power simultaneously in over 40 nations.
Kirk: Well, they were hardly supermen. They were aggressive, arrogant. They began to battle among themselves.
Spock: Because the scientists overlooked one fact– Superior ability breeds superior ambition.


When I first heard that I thought it was so profound. But is it really true? I think we’ve all known gifted people who never took advantage of their skills. And on the reverse side who doesn’t know of someone who lacked innate talent yet overcame it to succeed in some endeavor that appealed to them. So superior ability may lead to superior ambition but not always.

A counter argument is made in a terrific movie that I’d describe as moody and stylish where astronauts board spaceships in business suits. It’s called Gattaca released in 1997. Ethan Hawke stars as Vincent, an older brother who didn’t receive the genetic benefit his younger brother did. The younger boy, Anton, exceeds him in almost everything including height, health and athletic gifts. The one area that Vincent excels, however, is his passion for the space program. It’s this passion that drives Vincent to excel in spite of his inferior make up. One scene in the movie has the adult brothers engage in their version of a game of chicken. They swim out from shore and the first one to turn back loses. Vincent always lost but not this time. He even has to rescue Anton. When his humbled brother asks how he did it, Vincent tells him he was willing to die before turning back.

Haven’t all of us at some point made up our minds to accomplish something no matter what the cost? Whether it was grand or trivial we’ve all experienced that mindset. So does superior ability breed superior ambition? Or is it the other way around? Superior ambition breeds superior ability.


  1. That is high praise, Walter. Thank you.

  2. Julius Caesar took power and marched an army illegally into the city of Rome because he could (superior ability) and he turned Rome from a Republic to a Dictatorship(Superior Ambition).

  3. More blogs coming soon. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 😉

  4. We see it all the time in the most corrupt industry of them all…politics. “Superior” ability accompanies the worst qualities in humanity, inflated, among these is the “superior” ambition, of good intentions to serve the greater good, that paves the road to hell, of the “common” man. Look at leftist social engineering of the 20th century, look at the liberal war on poverty, that has solidified, generational poverty, and destroyed the wealth of the middle class…”superior” ability does breed “superior” ambition…yet you don’t need genetic manipulation for that…only people with an inferiority complex and the ambition to prove themselves because of it.

  5. Remember….Caesar was a “man of the people (I.e. Roman mob)” he did what he did for “the greater good”…he entered Rome (and Gaul for that matter), because of his “superior” ambition, for the greater good of the Roman common man, and the Pax Romanus.

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