Monthly Archives: September 2017
Like many of you, I grew up watching episodes of Star Trek on television. It was one of the few shows that consistently had content suitable for intellectuals, and presented a world in which knowledge and mental acuity were celebrated rather than scorned. Star Trek was an escape from a mundane existence that was slowly deteriorating from economic, social, and cultural corruption. That being said, Star Trek is not above criticism, and I think it would be useful to examine whether it truly reflects the freedom-loving individualism that it claims, or whether it has a more malevolent goal in mind.
I will concentrate primarily on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine for this article. The Original Series was a very different type of show, combining action, adventure, and exploration into more of a western mold. Voyager was more the story of pioneers, almost an Oregon Trail in space, and the writing was inconsistent enough, especially in earlier seasons, to make it difficult to extract any kind of coherent political philosophy. Enterprise was likewise a pioneer story, and attempted to capture more of the hero’s narrative than the political grandstanding of the 1980s and 1990s.
Secular Atheistic Materialism
Star Trek is founded upon a utopian, materialistic world view. There is no hunger, practically no disease (at least within the Federation), no internal political turmoil or war (Admiral Layton’s attempted coup in Paradise Lost excepted), and life is defined by leisure. This seems plausible on the surface. After all, we are talking about a future that is centuries away. It is entirely possible that technology will have sufficiently progressed by that point to have largely eliminated poverty, hunger, and disease, at least. Material goods are available because magical boxes called replicators can call them into existence through mere verbal commands. Travel is likewise magically trouble free. You can instantly teleport yourself anywhere you wish (at least within moderately short distances), and for greater distances you can travel on starships that are capable of speeds many times the speed of light. Problems are solved through long technobable monologues and flashy gadgets, and humanity is generally saved through the convenient brilliance of its technical experts.
It seems to be expected that with this material plenty comes a subsequent domestication of mankind. The assumption appears to be that if we work for no more than eight hours a day in luxurious surroundings, regularly eat good food, get lots of rest, and can spend our down time pursuing art, music, and literature, that humanity will naturally be good. This isn’t science fiction, it’s Walden Two in space.
Humanity has already seen a meteoric rise in standard of living. Cars, sanitation, and widespread medical care are scientific leaps and bounds ahead of the technology of even the recent past, and it has done absolutely nothing to improve the character of the human race. Indeed, it may be argued that it has had the opposite effect, freeing more time and more resources for wanton destruction. The national pass-time of the United States, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, is slaughtering brown people in countries half a world away. And this does not even begin to address our internal problems, such as racial tensions, violent political ideologies, toxic food, single motherhood, a Lucifer-worshipping music industry, and fractional reserve banking. Material plenty certainly does not lead to an improvement in the character of the people.
This is, of course, a premise of the secular atheist mindset. Because the secular atheist cannot conceive of anything greater than the mundane material world, he or she naturally concludes that there can be no higher good than material plenty. Anything else, the materialist reasons, is the result of the irrational imagination of humanity, and should therefore be rejected. Star Trek is set in a utopian paradise because it has no other means of effecting an improvement in the character of the population than through material wealth and technological innovation. We are regularly subjected to monologues about how humanity no longer seeks the acquisition of material wealth, but rather seeks to “improve itself,” but it is the very wealth and luxury that everyone enjoys that must be their argument for a utopian world. And what does that improvement actually mean? Improve how? Does this mean that people wish to become more virtuous? Better educated? More intelligent? This is never explicitly stated, and that is by design. If Start Trek claimed a specific method of improving the character of humanity through technological advancement, we could test their hypothesis. However, by keeping it ambiguous, their argument cannot be tested, and thus can never be falsified. It’s a trap.
It is a problem for Star Trek to claim that, as a species, we are only about to become virtuous when all of our material needs are satisfied, as that implies that once we find ourselves in a state of poverty we must necessarily lose our virtue. Star Trek also cannot explain in detail how that revolution in virtue might take place, or what might catalyze it, as it would also have to explain why that cannot start now. We are actually supposed to believe that humanity cannot give up malevolence and greed until we have faster-than-light travel and the earth is swarming with autistic, greed-blooded space elves running around? If it is a technological problem, why couldn’t we have become virtuous after the development of the internet, or radio, or aircraft, or automobiles, or winter crops, or iron, or agriculture, or even fire itself? This is an arbitrary technological milestone placed far enough into the future so that we cannot reach it in our lifetime. Were it otherwise, viewers would question why such a utopia would not be naturally manifesting itself before their very eyes, and realize that Star Trek is full of it.
But there is more to the materialism of Star Trek. Notably absent from the show is religion. Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, paganism, Zoroastrianism and the other world religions are almost completely absent from Star Trek. We do not even see the odd believer who goes against the grain of their society. We do see religion in certain alien cultures, such as the Bajorans or Klingons, but never among humans. Likewise absent are holidays, and this would follow, as holidays are, exactly as the name would imply, holy days. Lose religion, and holidays naturally follow. The problem here is that religion dictates the values of the society. Star Trek is not a vision of the future in which humanity has become good enough to stop greed and war, rather, it is a future in which humanity has magically become good and no longer requires virtues for no better reason than technological advancement.
Some might say that Star Trek teaches us to be tolerant, but tolerance is not a virtue, but rather an anti-virtue. Tolerance states that no virtue is more virtuous than any other, and so all virtues are equal. If all virtues are equal, than virtues are entirely meaningless. Moreover, how can one be tolerant of intolerant people and cultures?
The lack of values and virtues in Star Trek becomes especially galling when you consider how much self-praise goes on. Humanity, we are told, is a wonderful species that knows how to come together in blissful socialist unity with others and work toward a common goal. But how can that be a virtue? Working toward a common goal in unity is not inherently virtuous, the goal itself and the means of attaining it are what are virtuous. Star Trek lulls viewers into a socialist, one-world government mindset by coaxing them like a cat with a laser pointer into a padded hug room of self-praise and masturbatory vanity without ever having made an argument for any kind of virtuous behavior what-so-ever.
Praised even higher than humanity is the vaunted Starfleet officer, who is treated as a being morally created above all others. Star Trek pretends that graduating from Starfleet Academy somehow cuts people from a different moral cloth, though we are never explicitly shown what those morals are. Certainly, some episodes claim certain moral virtues, such as the prime directive, but these virtues are then violated repeatedly in later episodes. Voyager is especially guilty of this. In some episodes Captain Janeway is willing to let the ship be destroyed and the crew killed in order to protect aggressive alien species from gaining relatively mundane Federation technology, but in other episodes she is violating her conscience by torturing prisoners and risking everything in personal vendettas. Through considering individual episodes we are supposed to think that she is following her moral compass, but taken across the entire series we are left with nothing but inconsistent hypocrisy and the impression that Janeway is an impulsive dictatorial megalomaniac. I should point out, however, that I d not think that this is deliberate. Rather, I expect it is a result of employing writers of mixed quality and vision.
Conservatives are not absent from Star Trek, though they are generally alien. Consider the case of Worf, for example. Worf is noteworthy in that he is the first and only Russian Viking Klingon officer in the history of Starfleet. Furthermore, he is a bridge officer on the flagship. Worf is portrayed quite simply in the first two or three seaons of The Next Generation. He behaves like a brutish, unintelligent, aggressive creature who is barely more than an animal. If he has a conflict, it ends in a brawl at the least and a fight to the death if he’s really irritated. If he sees a woman he desires, he growls, and claws at her. He enjoys eating worms that are still alive and drinking blood wine. In a universe of directed energy weapons, Worf prefers to enjoy the slow, messy killing of a bladed weapon such as a bat’leth or a mek’leth. Worf is, for all intents and purposes, Star Trek’s cave-dwelling neanderthal.
Worf begins The Next Generation as the security officer, but is quickly promoted to tactical officer following the death of Natasha Yar. As the Enterprise inevitably finds itself in dangerous situations, Worf advises the captain to raise the shields, but is denied again, and again, and again, and again. And again. It’s a wonder he even bothers after the dozenth time. Of course, this usually worsens the trouble, as the strange alien vessel inevitably starts shooting at the Enterprise, putting the crew into situations that we get to watch them brain their way out of through technobable and magical gadgets instead of morals, virtues, or genuine cleverness.
Worf acts as the conservative caricature of The Next Generation. He is violent, whereas the rest of the crew use their words. He is harsh, but everyone else is soft and agreeable. Worf is superstitious, believing in Kahless and Sto-vo-kor, but the rest of the crew is too refined to believe in such silly fairy tales. For most of The Next Generation, the writers of Star Trek use Worf as a means of making fun of conservatives and masculinity. He is a walking, talking straw man argument, and the very fact that the writers and producers thought it necessary to stoop so low displays their complete lack of a valid argument against conservatism.
Another character of interest is that of Counselor Troi. Troi is a half human/half betazed psychotherapist who has the ability to read the emotions of practically everyone around, and the minds of other betazeds. Strangely, she is not only a senior officer, but even a bridge officer, often sitting on the bridge to the captain’s left, suggesting that she is subordinate only to the captain and first officer.
Now consider, if you were operating a starship with a large crew and their families, it would probably be a good idea to have a psychotherapist on board. However, why should that person be one of the highest ranking officers? She is so high ranking, in point of fact, that we even see her taking command of the ship when the need arises. Were I designing a command structure, I would make my psychotherapist a junior officer under the command of the medical department head, not a senior bridge officer with the captain’s ear. She is so far outside the normal command hierarchy that she isn’t even required to wear a standard uniform. The more interesting detail, though, is the fact that she is empathic. She can read the emotions of anyone and everyone in her immediate surroundings (save holograms and Data), so that if anyone engages in wrongthink, she is there to take note. This sheds light on why she is so often seen on the bridge. Of course, we are given the excuse that she is present to read whomever the captain is talking to on the viewscreen, but that does not account for the large amount of time she spends on the bridge. Troi isn’t a psychoptherapist so much as she is the Enterprise’s political commissar, and you had better not take issue with that or she will know. She always knows….
The set design of The Next Generation is dominated by soft, beige colors, carpets, and curves, especially curves. The windows are curved, the corridors are curved, the consoles are curved, the lounges are curved, the hull of the ship is nothing but curves, even the shuttles are curves. This, of course, does not deviate from the time. The 1990s were especially feminine. Think back, for example, to some of the popular vehicle designs of the 1990s.
That being said, the Enterprise looks as much like a luxury cruiser as it does a ship of exploration and, when the need arises, war. The floors are carpeted, the furniture is plush, even the bridge chairs recline nicely.
The uniforms are likewise soft and feminine. The crew walks around wearing thin pajamas uniform bodysuits that have absolutely no shape what-so-ever. Appearing early in the series are skants, very short skirts that are worn by both women and men. The modern gender confusion did not come out of nowhere, as here we see Gene Roddenberry planting the seed as early as the late 1980s.
Not everything is softness, pajamas, and curves, however. Klingon and Cardassian set design is dominated by harsh colors, sharp edges, and dim lighting, another cheap shot Star Trek takes at masculinity and conservatism.
Star Trek is set in the United Federation of Planets, of which Starfleet is the military, scientific, and diplomatic agency. The Federation closely mimics the real United Nations, and, if you were too thick to figure that out, the producers made it as clear as possible through the Federation’s logo. Now, consider the time in which The Next Generation was produced. It started in the late 1980s, during which time the Soviet Union, the only real rival or threat to the west, was in the midst of collapse. UN propaganda was already strong in the media during this time, and only got stronger after the Soviet Union dissolved. Star Trek furthered this propaganda, suggesting that it is best for man to have all nations and states united under a single supranational totalitarian government.
What I found especially interesting is that Star Trek actually tackled the question of what happens to people who wish to live a free, self determined life. The Next Generation began it with the story arc of the Marquis (named after the French resistance group of the second world war who bore the same name), a group of Federation citizens whose worlds were handed over to the Cardassian government in a Neville Chamberlain style attempt at appeasing a foreign aggressor. The Marquis refused to leave their homes for resettlement, and, against Federation policy, waged a war of resistence against the Cardassian invaders.
Most of the Marquis story arc occurred in Deep Space Nine. Deep Space Nine at least acknowledges the moral ambiguity of the situation and even depicts prominent Starfleet officers becoming members of the Marquis. This culminates in the episode For The Uniform, in which protagonist Captain Sisko pursues morally ambiguous Marquis antihero Michael Eddington to the point of obsession. Sisko even goes so far as to use bioweapons to poison an entire world, just to capture Eddington, an act that most people today would consider a war crime that is punishable by execution. Does Sisko receive any kind of disciplinary action? Nope. Do the writers condemn such wholesale political violence? Nope. Over the course of the story arc between these two characters, the political philosophy of both camps is explicitly stated, and through their argument, we are able to discern the political philosophy of the Federation.
The writers take the side of Sisko, arguing that because the Federation gave the Marquis worlds to the Cardassians, and because they offered the Federation colonists resettlement, the action was justified. They make the case that this justification comes from the fact that it was the supranational government of the Federation that made the decision. For this to be true, citizens of the Federation do not have private property and are not allowed political self-determination. The only rational conclusion here is that Federation citizens are the future equivalent of serfs. They may have freedom of movement, but they are not allowed to exercise personal liberty. They do what their liege-lord commands, or they suffer the consequences. In a free society, the government would not have the legal right to give your land, or any of your private property, to another government. This is how we know that Star Trek is full blown state-worshipping communist propaganda, and not merely possessed of socialist leanings mixed with B.F. Skinner’s political brain-farts. It tries to portray communism as a good thing, and of course it would, but their argument is entirely based upon material wealth and technological sophistication, not personal liberty or virtues. Those who think for themselves are monitored by the political officer, and if the supranational government issues a decree, you had better obey or be labeled a “terrorist.”
It doesn’t take much examination to discover the writers’ error. Are we really to believe that just because the state does it, it isn’t a crime? If we kill our neighbor to take his stuff, it’s called murder. If we take our neighbor’s belongings to bribe our other neighbor, that’s called theft. If we commit a crime and moral violation through these actions, then how can the state do them and remain blameless?
Today the western world is run by totalitarian governments of both communist and fascist leanings. Western populations were lulled into this state of affairs slowly, much like a frog sitting in a slowly boiling pot of water, and Star Trek was an important vehicle for this political transition. We should take Star Trek as a warning, and closely examine what other elements of our popular culture are undermining personal liberty in the name of centralized totalitarian government.