"We are what we are, and we're doing the best we can. It is not for you to set the standards by which we should be judged!" -Capt. Picard, to Q
When you think about Star Trek, a whole variety of things might come to mind. It might conjure images of space exploration, feelings of optimism about the future of humanity, the inextricable link between prosperity and technology, or the fear of the unknown. But what has always set Star Trek apart from any other sci-fi or fantasy show has been its ability to hold a mirror up to humanity, and force us to confront our greatest moral and ethical quandries.
We inhabit a world today rife with "othering," where we look at those who we see as different from ourselves, and are quick to condemn them as being inferior to those we see as more like us. This extends not just to physical traits, but ideological ones as well. Yet each of the Star Trek series in the past has embraced this conflict, and with five stunning examples from Star Trek's past, I'm happy to elucidate my great hopes for what Star Trek: Discovery just might bring to the world.
Starting next week, we'll once again have a Star Trek series on the air, for the first time in over a decade. What's in store? Here's what I'm looking forward to!
- Log in to post comments
Looking forward to your Trek book. You know you will have a vociferous audience. Ive only been to one Trek conference and all i can say is that these guys are crazy!
No doubt you will do better than that awful and childish Shatner book on Trek tech. However I will be most interested in how you compare with Lawrence Krauss, of whom I am a big fan.
I just read "Physics of the Impossible" on the subject, which seemed pretty good.
Theres also Treknology:Star Treks Tech 300 Years Ahead of the Future. Only one review on Amazon - anyone read that?
I am not hopeful - the title doesn't make sense. Ahead of the future? Where in the future? Shouldn't that be ahead of the present?
Ugh, not a fan of CBS putting it on 'all access'. Not content with advertising revenue plus billing us for cable, now the networks want us to get accounts so they can track our watching habits, probably add more commercials, and potentially charge us an additional monthly fee for said account at a later date? No, I don't want your account. No, I don't want to login just to watch a TV show. No, I don't want you asking for my email and phone number just so you can send a 'confirmation email' but really so you can spam my email with ads. So annoying.
Perhaps Discovery can do an episode about a 'friendly' interstellar service that provides all sorts of nice benefits to it's subscribers, for their personal information...and how that information is then subtly used to manipulate that populace for the temporal and material gain of that service.
"we look at those who we see as different from ourselves, and are quick to condemn them as being inferior to those we see as more like us."
I believe this is a caricature and not the truth in general. People have a natural tendency to often feel more comfortable around people who are like/look like themselves. Be it based on physical looks or intellectual qualities, people prefer themselves and things they can relate to. That doesn't mean that people think they are superior, and that they are racist, sure some will are but not all.
A scientist should be more precarious in his writing, because there are biology studies where this kind of behavior is observed and it has got little to do with racism, more with recognition.
Some politics on the left want to promote that all races 'simply' can mix, but it's based on unrealistic goals. Just like how on the far right it's exluded that people should mix.
Sure we can mix but you also need to allow people not necessarily wanting or feeling the need to mix. On the liberal side we 'allow' free love and/or to smoke a joint, in the same way you should accept that some people do not feel as ease around people with an other culture or skintone. We allow people to be gay and we understand why they prefer their own kind, in the same way we should be able to have an open debate about people who prefer their own culture.
As long as there are 'blacks' and 'whites' there will be most likely also different communities, a better understanding why this 'naturally' happens would help us deal much better with the issues, and look at them in a different light.
This isn't a plea for segregation, but a request to look more broadly at race and how groups and communities organize themselves, and leave the negative connotation of racism out of the debates.
If we talk a about Trump getting elected by whites you also need to acknowledge that Obama got elected because of the same reason, by blacks; or why blacks didn't vote for Hillary.
Look at people and their dogs they both often look the same it's not because supremacy.
Discovery looks like a lot of warfare.
All you have to do now is slap a 'Coexist' bumper sticker on your electric vehicle as you tootle around and feel like you are above it all.
My problem with Ethan's 'perspective' is that he is at heart, more of a socialist justice warrior trying to convince people of an imaginary alternate reality, than an objective scientist trying to describe the reality we've actually got. He honestly believes that if you eliminate work, and just give people things, prosperity and erudite equanimity will follow. This has no historical basis whatsoever in any socialist 'utopia' anywhere that has ever been. I really wish he would just move to Venezuela or Cuba for a year instead and get back to us. People generally try like gang-busters to leave 'social-economic equality paradises' and move to far worse and more terrible places full of nasty money and jobs...like the United States for instance, because they sure aren't trying to get into Russia.
A few things to consider about Star Trek which Ethan seems so keen on emulating:
1. It has no economy, yet some people obviously have much more stuff than others. Kirk liked his expensive antiques, had a taste for exotic (illegal) Romulan Ale. No mention is ever really given how such a thing would be possible, not even in star trek la la land. Someone somewhere is obviously making decisions about where resources go, to build a telescope, or a starship, or a fecal processing plant, but that 'someone' is never mentioned, and ever more strangely, no one seems to care. So much for the inquisitive nature of humanity.
2.The Federation is a military organization through and through. There is no way around this, it's a military government that casts itself as benevolent. No, it isn't a science/exploration organization, it is a military government organization, notice what we call the various characters? They all have military titles: Captain Kirk, Lt. Data, Ensign Crusher etc. And it is a COMPLETELY hierarchical organization, everything is the chain of command (they say so often) and if you aren't in Star Fleet as an officer, you are pretty much nobody, unless you are some scientist working on something the federation wants, then you are treated like a celebrity German rocket scientist.
3. The Federation talks about diversity, a lot, much like liberal college academia, while insisting everyone who subscribes to this is then stripped of their culture altogether and is then put into monochromatic uniforms and rankings within the federation, where they all inhabit incredibly bland beige and gray rooms of no particular distinction and shares the same mindset ... and there's that 'chain of command' thing again. Star Trek eschews financial prosperity or individual accomplishment (outside of rank) and replaces it with group think and a military pecking order. Your rank determines your significance to Star Fleet, nothing more.
4. I know this is going to annoy Ethan with the whole socialist nirvana "we have evolved beyond money" shtick, but making Star Trek take a political side is financial suicide . Even Gene Rodenberry knew there were limits, and he was very careful to go up to the edge "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", but not over it by calling out one side. Ethan really doesn't care for Trump, or over half the country, that's ok, but keep it to yourself if you are in the entertainment business, because over half your audience isn't going to like be insulted on a regular basis...As Stephen Colbert just discovered at the Emmys. His ratings sucked.
I think people like Ethan who wish to live in socialist nirvanas where the horrors of money and property are not afflicting them should do so...by moving to such a place that actually exists...
I'm going to stick with a constitutional republic with capitalism. At least it works and doesn't rely upon imaginary technology based on flakey ideological wish fulfillment to exist.
Star Fleet is a military governmental organization through and through. Everyone in it has a military rank, wears a monochromatic uniform, does what they are told, and follows star fleet regulations and the chain of command. This doesn't look at lot like any kind of pretense of freedom or diversity of thought or prosperity to me...It's just a dressed up police state with ray guns and space ships. No thank you, I think I'll pass.
Discovery looks a lot like warfare because the Federation is a Military Police State. For all their talk of diversity, they pretty much wallpaper over all culture but their own with their uniforms, military command structure, and chain of command that doesn't exactly encourage independent thought outside their own regulations.
Star Trek is obviously one of your "enterprizes," and science fiction (with social commentary) is clearly your gift and forte'. Why not quit pretending to do real science in your SWAB blog. It is now mostly imaginary "what if" speculation and math modeling without reference to or care about scientific realism, like empirical validation is not important anymore. A lot like "Because Science" on the new sci-fi as-if-it-were-science TV channel. I guess that's where the fame and money is. I'll be unsubscribing soon. I think honesty in science is nearly eclipsed by the popularity of sci-fi.
More specifically they determine if he is property of the Federation even though the Federation seized him rather than his creation being an endeavor of the state. They do the same thing in Voyager over the Doctor being property of the Federation in 'Author, Author'.
The storyline I'd like to see covered is when the Totalitarian Fascist Federation took over Earth. While the crew in the Original Series is paid, The Next Generation and beyond crews are not. Starfleet, as a branch of the Federation, doesn't need to. Every person in that ship is effectively a slave because THERE IS NO FOOD OR WATER on the ship. There are only replicators that are Federation property. Ever wonder why if there is no money how do they get people to do the dangerous or crappy jobs? If you don't serve the Federation, the Federation doesn't serve you and you die. Crew members don't get paid, they get to eat.
The economy in the Star Trek universe is very close to Marxist Utopia with some weird carve-outs for property rights similar to the Fascist movements in Germany and Italy. The examples of characters in TNG describing their socialist world are numerous. They are half-way between Nazis and the old USSR; not ethno-nationalist but also not true Communist. they are Federalist-Socialist. Fezi instead of Nazi. If the Federation treats their people like the North Korean Government does, it is no wonder that getting in to Starfleet is so desirable.
It is very fertile ground for story telling. It also explains a lot, such as why so many Starfleet Admirals throughout all series are complete morons, or turncoats.
The Federation is effectively a militaristic police state. Everyone who has power is in start fleet, and their positions are all pretty much appointments in a military chain of command (they use military titles). The few exceptions are usually the equivalent of a wunderkind German rocket scientist, highly regarded and valued, forgiven almost any excess... because of what they can do for start fleet's power and influence.
Much like academia and it's exaggerated claims to desire diversity, Starfleet actually desires different looking people acting, working, and thinking in uniformity, they are all wearing monochromatic uniforms to make them look the same, and cultural differences are treated pretty much as quaint accents and ethnic novelties to be cast aside the moment start fleet regulations come into play.
I really don't see why all humanity would want to live under an all controlling star fleet, that isn't very human at all. I imagine sooner or later some branch of humanity is going to go off on it's own (much like the Romulans from the Vulcans, or the Americans from the British). It would be refreshing to meet some future non federation group-think humanity who actually wanted a functional society that wasn't regurgitated collectivism.
that the federation world and it's idea that it's not money driven, is very close to marx utopia is true. And nothing wrong with that.
That it resembles old USSR or NAZIS or FASICST is bull. You either don't know how those regimes worked or you just think that if you don't have money, then it's communism and communism is what USSR was. USSR's version of communism is for far removed from what marx wrote about, that it's painful.
As for federation, no one is forcing anyone to join starfleet. Nor are they slaves. Slaves are property without any rights. People of federation can do whatever they want (including joining makii). And money is not gone if you don't want it. You can be a trader, you can run a bar (like Cisco's father) etc... The point of ST's federation is to show that you don't need money provided you have a miracle of replicators.
" Ever wonder why if there is no money how do they get people to do the dangerous or crappy jobs?"
I don't think anybody get any job they want could ever work in any society. It is imaginable that people would be given job choices based on their education, experience, intelligence, physical strength etc.
Well sort of. AIUI Roddenberry did set the Earth-of-the-Federation up as a utopian society where all a person's basic needs are provided for by the state...if they want them or can't get them elsewhere. However that's not necessarily communism, unless the state says you can't own private property and can't get your resources from elsewhere. AFAIK, this is not the case Now, all the people on the Enterprise (multiple versions) do of course work for the Federation, that's kinda part of the plot. Have a story about a Navy boat, most of your characters if not all of them are going to work for the Navy. But IIRC the ships in the various series encounter many humans and aliens that are in the Federation but who don't work for the state. So therefore, not really communism.
It's notable that there have been other sci-fi genre series that have explored the outcome of "all needs met" and few of them devolve into communism. Ian Bank's Culture. David Brin's uplift world. More recently James Corey's Expanse series has Earth meeting people's needs...and it's somewhat dystopian. There's also a whole bunch of transhumanist/post-human books and series, many of which take as a jumping off point that practically free power + replicator/translator technology = individuals can meet their survival needs independently of any government requirement or structure.
Are there reasons, other than puritan notions of hard labor being good or zero-sum ideas that some other guy getting a lot devalues what I get, that we wouldn't strive for a future in which everyone's basic needs are met without them needing to lift a finger? As far as I can tell, accomplishing this does not require adherence to any specific governmental structure.
Star Trek is obviously one of Ethan's popularity enhancing "enterprizes," and science fiction (with social commentary) is clearly his gift and forte'. Honesty in science is clearly not a priority here, as exemplified by the fact that serious challenges to Ethan's opinion and speculation (presented as facts) are ignored in the weekly comment replies. Increasingly this blog is filled with sci-fi as if it were science.
My attempt to post this criticism yesterday (three times) failed after repeated error screens, "It looks like you already said that." Testing again whether this posts.
Testing from different computer. My comments not posting. (error screen... "you've said that before.")
Test. Hey Ethan. If you are banning me at least do in publicly and email me as to specifics. Was it the" stuff in a point of no volume" criticism or my confronting you on your instrumentalist philosophy?
@Sinisa Lazarek wrote:
Of course it is far removed. The USSR had to operate in the real world while Marx's ideas did not. The Utopia of Marx can never be reached. Trotskism, Leninism, Stalinism, etc., are all about compromises required for implementation. No real world implementation on a nation-sized scale is unremoved from what Marx wrote.
The Federation is a Socialist State, but like all others it deviates from what Marx wrote. Some of the deviations are not unlike idea that have been tried here in the nations I mentioned. You may quibble but it is far closer to that than it is to laissez-faire or even Social Democracy.
It has been a long time since I've seen it but I seem to remember an episode in the original series where they openly praised the economic efficiency of the Nazi system.
While this is completely getting off topic, I'd agree with their (James S.A. Corey is 2 people) idea of what happens to people 'on Basic'. You do not end up with Star Trek.
There were a series of experiments referred to as 'Mouse Utopia' or 'Behavioral Sink' back in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. It culminated with Universe 25 where 4 male and 4 female rodents were given all the food, water, and clean nesting space they'd ever need. It started off well then devolved into hell. The rodents never reached the capacity of the experiment and ultimately died off completely within a few generations. It is fascinating stuff.
Well that's fine, but your original point was to call the economy of the Federation a "Marxist Utopia" and the people on federation starship "slaves". Both claims being IMO right-wing hyperbole. Its clearly not marxist because the state doesn't control access to goods and services, they provide those goods and services to those who want them - but many poeple don't. And the idea that the crew of a ship must be considered slaves unless they carry their own food supplies is just laughably ludicrous. It's IMO not even wrong, and just shows how far down the right-wing rabbit hole you've fallen.
In the Star Trek universe, as a citizen of the Federation, if you have a good or service, how do you sell it if the Federation has outlawed money? The Federation has made it so that any produced good must be given away for free, which they can do because they control the economy and can recover costs via labor they don't have to pay for. A private citizen can produce something but can't recover any of the cost of production. The effect of banning money creates a Marxist Utopia with the state effectively controlling all means of production. As far as the members of Star Fleet, they have to work under the threat of any insubordination being punished and they are not paid. That is slavery.
" The USSR had to operate in the real world while Marx’s ideas did not. "
It's not about that. Yes, utopia of Marx can never be achieved (at least not with out current traits). But all of the regimes you referenced were ruled by maniacal tyrants. That they played on the communist ideals for the masses was just a propaganda for those masses in order for the tyrants (Staling, Hitler, Mussolini etc. ) to grab power. None of them cared one scrap for their fellow man. Stalin killed more soviets after the war then Hitler could ever manage. So much for "we are all same and work for benefit of all".
Maybe a better comparison should have been with (also mostly failed) attempts of Kibbutz communities in Israel.
But IMO the most important difference between what Marx wrote and what went for "communism" in USSR/China etc.. is that in Marx mind, communism was suppose to be a next step AFTER hard-core capitalism. Marx was British, in the time of Britain's imperial days. His ideas were how to transition from capitalism to something more "humane". Then that was taken by others (in Russia and elsewhere) and used to create revolutions and overthrow kings, tzar's etc and on the pretense that they are creating a better world for a common man. Little did the common man know what awaited him once psychopaths like Stalin grabbed power. Those regimes never had capitalism in the first place. They sort-of tried to skip couple of steps. Instead they ended up switching from one totalitarian regime to another. And none of them came as "evolution", instead they were enforced by secret polices, gulags, Mao's death squads and likes.
The Federation and Star Fleet are like a Marxist (and any other) Utopia: a fantasy safely beyond our reach.
@Sinisa Lazarek wrote:
I'm not sure I'd call Mikhail Gorbachev 'maniachal', but United Earth also had a titular head. When it became the United Federation of Planets, it too had a top down administrative structure.
A snapshot of what life was like for the non-ruling class came from Tasha Yar who spoke of scavenging for the bare necessities of life and needing to avoid rape gangs. It is no wonder that indentured servitude to the state in StarFleet was so preferable.
Interesting you mention Gorbachev, since he was the person to start the reform and basically end USSR. So not sure how that plays into your original argument that Federation is just like USSR under Stalin or Nazis under Hitler.
As for Tasha Yar, she wasn't born on Earth, nor in Federation. She was born on Turkana IV in the middle of a civil war. So again, what relevance is that for your argument? Tasha was rescued by Federation and sent to Earth.
Earth to Trekkie1 and Trekki2,
The war's over. No further need for justifying your respective positions.
@Sinisa Lazarek wrote:
Tasha was born in the Federation. Turkana IV was a Federation planet when she was born in 2337. The rape gangs and need to scavenge was all as a Federation citizen. Turkana IV didn't leave the Federation until 2352 which is also the same year Tasha was "liberated" to serve the state without pay as a member of StarFleet.
As far as an equivalency to the USSR under Stalin, I never said that. What I'm saying is by banning money the Federation effectively seized the means of production. No private factory can hire employees to produce anything because hiring requires payment for services which the state has banned. Likewise any good produced cannot be purchased even if property rights are tolerated. The domination of state-owned production combined with property rights lies between Soviet Socialism and Nazi Socialism.
Ok, so Tasha Yar was rescued from a world which plunged into anarchy, disconnected itself from the Federation, where people had to scavange for food and avoid gang rapes. She then decided to join starfleet out of her own free will. And you call that " “liberated” to serve the state without pay". Interesting.
I don't mind that you're fixated on the notion of money, since that's basically a theme that runs in all your comments here. But you do have the concept of Federation all upside down. Your portrait it as some totalitarian regime that forces it's people to do this and that. When in fact it's the humans themselves and other races who chose to change the way of life to something more better instead of obsessing about money. And that happened before the Federation was born. They are not forced to do anything, in fact they can leave federation and do whatever if they so choose.
Anyhow :) In a ST universe, I guess you would be more happy as a Ferengi then as a human.
OK, Earth to Trekkie1 and Trekkie2 and Trekkie3: Same message.
Yet another difference between the Federation as portrayed in the actual fiction and Denier's unhinged claim that it's a totalitarian communist state, is that he would be allowed to leave.
I wonder how much this cult of Trekkies will dominate this blog.
I know, it's just one thread, but clearly Ethan's "enterprize" is to capitalize on his familiarity with science fiction and try to make it sound like science. Imagination is not science, no matter how much math you put into your model. Empirical evidence is required to make it science.
My view is, if most people of a country/world is enlightened (well educated, respectful to laws & each other etc), then it does not really matter what kind of government system is used.
@ Frank #35 Frank, with all due respect, you should really ponder over what you just said there in that post,
Ask yourself how do people become "Enlightened"
"Ask yourself how do people become “Enlightened”"
And that is the main condition to judge any kind of government system. If you have that, as the result, then it does not really matter what kind of government. It could be a kingdom for example. For example England is still a kingdom but also a highly civilized modern country.
If a government controls and manipulates what its citizens become aware of - The Ministry of Information - how do people become “Enlightened"?
There was also an episode where Kirk quipped to Scotty that he earned his pay that day. Although there was a TOS episode that expressed admiration for the efficiency of the Nazi socialist system, the ST universe didn't go hard socialist until TNG.
Although they are technically in the same universe, they should really be looked at through different eyes. The follow on series and even late TNG episodes should again be looked at differently as Roddenberry's influence had thankfully waned.
Probably the biggest benefactor in that were the Ferengi who were nothing but Space Jew caricatures for Roddenberry's Socialist Federation to overcome in the early TNG episodes. (want argue Nazi/USSR parallels in that?) By DS9 the Ferengi had been humanized to the point of representing a cartoon version of present day America.
Per showrunner Ira Seven Behr on a DS9 commentary track:” Ferengi are us. That’s the gag, the Ferengis are humans. They’re more human than the humans on Star Trek because they’re so screwed up and they’re so dysfunctional. They’re regular people.”
As for siding with the Roddenberry Federation humans or Ferengi, I'm definitely on team Ferengi.
As naive/superficial as the writers' treatment of the Federation's economy might be, they didn't give much more thought to the Ferengi's. They are portrayed as goods traders in a universe where essentially free power and instant object duplication would, in reality, render the trade value of most goods essentially zero. IIRC the writers got over this inconvenient contradiction by making some materials non-replicable. Which was a ham-handed deus ex machina but probably the only viable solution if you want to have space-traders.
IMO the people who have gotten this right tend to be the post-human/transhuman story writers. In such a universe, the things that would continue to have value is creative thought; the ability to create new art, new music, make new scientific discoveries. Because while your Federation citizen might be able to listen to any past song at any time for free, they can't tell the replicator to come up with Metallica's or Banksy's or Hawking's next big thing. Only Metallica and Banksy and Hawking can do that. In a utopian version of this future, all the art gets shared and the composers of new ideas take as their pay the reputation and status of being stars, the way a sports or movie star is idolized for their performance now. But we can also think of a dystopian version of this sort of world, where individials, corporations and governments aggressively protect copyrights, and we start jailing and punishing people who dare to replicate an object without the "owners" permission. You can't replicate a chair without paying AcmeCorps for the use of their copyright for the platonic concept of chairs, etc.