A philosopher looks at Star Trek and sees our dark dreams

Summary: Philosopher Kelley Ross gives a harsh review of the Federation as seen in the Star Trek TV shows from “Next Generation” through “Voyager” — the popular ones loved by liberals. TV shows provide a mirror in which we can see and so better understand our fears and dreams.

Enterprise 1701-D

The Fascist Ideology of Star Trek

“Militarism, Collectivism, & Atheism.”
By Kelley L. Ross. Posted at Friesian.

I have always liked Star Trek. I watched the original show in the 60’s, waited eagerly for the first movie in the 70’s …and then later in the 80’s got hooked all over again on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It has been good television, good science fiction, and occasionally even good film. …

Less easily forgiven or forgotten are the more troubling messages about the nature of the future, the nature of society, and even the nature of reality. Star Trek typically reflects certain political, social, and metaphysical views, and on close examination they are not worthy of the kind of tribute that is often paid to Star Trek as representing an edifying vision of things.

Star Trek: First Contact
Available at Amazon.

Money in the Federation.

In a 1996 newspaper column, James P. Pinkerton, discussing the new Star Trek movie (the eighth), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), quotes Captain Picard saying how things have changed in his day, “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force; we work to better humanity.”

Perhaps Picard never stopped to reflect that greater wealth means greater material well being, which is to the betterment of humanity much more than any empty rhetoric. But this is typical of Star Trek. A first season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called “The Neutral Zone,” has Picard getting up on his high horse with a three hundred year old businessman who is revived from suspended animation: The businessman, naturally, wants to get in touch with his agents to find out what has happened to his investments. Picard loftily informs him that such things don’t exist anymore. Indeed, poverty and want have been abolished, but how this was accomplished is never explained.

All we know is, that however it is that people make a living, it isn’t through capitalism as we know it. Stocks, corporations, banking, bonds, letters of credit — all these things seem to have disappeared. We never see Picard, or anyone else, reviewing his investment portfolio. And those who still have a lowly interest in buying and selling, like the Ferengi, are not only essentially thieves, but ultimately only accept payment in precious commodities. In the bold new future of cosmic civilization, galactic trade is carried on in little better than a Phoenician style of barter, despite the possibilities of pan-galactic banking and super-light speed money transfers made possible by “sub-space” communications.

Too much of Star Trek has always reflected trendy leftist political sentiments. It was appropriate that John Lennon’s “Imagine” should have been sung at the 30th Anniversary television special: Capitalism and religion get little more respect from Star Trek than they do from Lennon. Profit simply cannot be mentioned without a sneer. The champions of profit, the Ferengi, not only perceive no difference between honest business, piracy, and swindle, but their very name, the Hindi word for “European,”  (from Persian Farangi, i.e. “Frank“), seems to be a covert rebuke to Western civilization.

Religion in the Federation.

At the same time, one can find little in the way of acknowledgement of the role of religion in life that, whether in India or in Europe, would be essential. Although exotic extraterrestrials, like the Klingons and Bajorans, have quaint religious beliefs and practices, absolutely nothing seems to be left of the historic religions of Earth: There are no Jews, no Christians, no Moslems, no Buddhists, no Hindus, no Jains, no Confucians, and no Sikhs, or anything else, on any starship or settlement in the Federation. Star Trek is, not to put too fine a point on it, what the Nazis called “Judenfrei,” free of Jews, a condition that Marx also anticipated with the death of Capitalism — though Leonard Nimoy did introduce, subversively, the hand sign of the Hebrew letter “shin,” , to signify the Trek benediction, “Live long and prosper.” 

With no practitioners, there are no chaplains for the crew — no ministers, no priests, no rabbis, no mullas, no brahmins, no monks, no nuns. The closest thing to religious advice is the tedious psycho-babble of counselor Troi. The absence of traditional human religions stands in stark contrast to the more recent, short-lived science fiction series, Josh Weldon’s Firefly {the anti-Trek} — which, however, doesn’t seem to have any Jews either.

Why there is this conspicuous absence of religion is made plain in a third season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called “Who Watches the Watchers” It concerns a planet of people who are still at only a pre-industrial level of development but who are related to the Vulcans and, presumably because of this, are so intellectually advanced that they long ago ceased to believe in anything so absurd as a God (so some races are just smarter than others?[!?] — sounds like some kind of racism). Because a Federation observing post and its advanced technology is inadvertently revealed, one of the natives mistakenly takes Captain Picard to himself be the God of ancient belief. He spreads the word among his people. The rest of the episode is then taken up with how this folly can be undone without otherwise distorting the natural development of the natives. In the end, they realize that Picard is not God, and they continue on their previous path of atheistic wisdom.

Star Trek: The Final Frontier
Available at Amazon.

Such a story is so blatantly hostile to theistic religion, that it is astonishing that it provoked neither comment nor protest. Perhaps the messages contained in science fiction television are simply not noticed. Movies have a somewhat higher profile and, indeed, the futile quest for God in the fifth Star Trek movie, The Final Frontier, provoked the comment from Michael Medved, a political conservative and devout Jew, that it was the same old “secular humanism.” Even the aforementioned religious beliefs and practices of the Klingons and Bajorans seem to consist of little more than ritual and mythology, and one is left with the impression that respect for such things is motivated more by cultural relativism than by a sense that they might contain religious truths of interest to others.

The Star Trek universe is one without religious truths — where the occasional disembodied spirit can be explained away with talk about “energy” or “subspace.”

Everyday life in the Federation.

If daily life is not concerned with familiar economic activities and the whole of life is not informed with religious purposes, then what is life all about in Star Trek? Well, the story is about a military establishment, Star Fleet, and one ship in particular in the fleet, the Enterprise. One might not expect this to provide much of a picture of ordinary civilian life; and it doesn’t. One never sees much on Earth apart from the Star Fleet Academy and Picard’s family farm in France — unless of course we include Earth’s past, where the Enterprise spends much more time than on the contemporaneous Earth.

Since economic life as we know it is presumed not to exist in the future, it would certainly pose a challenge to try and represent how life is conducted and how, for instance, artifacts like the Enterprise get ordered, financed, and constructed. And if it is to be represented that things like “finance” don’t exist, one wonders if any of the Trek writers or producers know little details about Earth history like when Lenin wanted to get along without money and accounting and discovered that Russia’s economy was collapsing on him {Ed: inaccurate: see Wikipedia}. Marx’s prescription for an economy without the cash nexus was quickly abandoned and never revived. Nevertheless, Marx’s dream and Lenin’s disastrous experiment is presented as the noble and glorious future in Star Trek: First Contact, where Jean Luc Picard actually says, “Money doesn’t exist in the Twenty-Fourth Century.”…

Without a need for productive economic work, what one is left with in Star Trek is military life. Trying to soften this by including families and recreation on the Enterprise in fact makes the impression worse, since to the extent that such a life is ordinary and permanent for its members, it is all the easier to imagine that all life in the Federation is of this sort. Not just a military, but a militarism.

In the show, this actually didn’t work out very well. In the beginning, Star Trek: The Next Generation wanted to remind us of the daily life, children in school, etc. on board; and more than once the “battle hull” of the ship was separated from the “saucer” so that the civilian component of the crew would be safe from hostile action. This cumbersome expedient, however, was soon enough forgotten; and we later forget, as the Enterprise finds itself in desperate exchanges with hostile forces, that small children are undergoing the same battle damage that we see inflicted on the bridge — unless of course it is brought to our attention because there is a story with a special focus on a child, as with Lieutenant Worf’s son.

In Star Trek: First Contact, crew members are being captured and turned into Borg. Does that include the children? We never see any. Do Picard’s orders to shoot any Borg include Borg who were human children? This disturbing situation is completely ignored by the movie. Star Trek, therefore, cannot maintain its fiction that military life on a major warship will be friendly to families and children.

The ideology of Star Trek.

In the 20th Century there has been a conspicuous political ideology that combines militarism, the subordination of private economic activity to collective social purposes, and often the disparagement of traditional religious beliefs and scruples: Fascism.  Not the conservative Fascism of Mussolini and Franco, who made their peace with the Church and drew some limits about some things (Franco even helped Jews escape from occupied France) — but the unlimited “revolutionary,” Nihilistic Fascism of Hitler, which recoiled from no crime and recognized no demands of conscience or God above the gods of the Führer and the Volk.

Certainly the participants in all the forms of Star Trek, writers, staff, producers, actors, fans, etc., would be horrified, insulted, and outraged to be associated with a murderous and discredited ideology like Fascism; but I have already noted in these pages how naive philosophers and critics have thoughtlessly adopted the philosophical foundations of Fascism from people like Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger to what they think are “progressive” causes in the present day.

This danger has come with the corruption of the idea of “progress” away from individualism, the rule of law, private property, and voluntary exchanges — in short the characteristics of capitalism and the free market — into collectivist, politicized, and ultimately totalitarian directions.

Star Trek well illustrates the confusion, ignorance, and self-deception that are inherent in this process. Dreams of Utopia turned into horror in the 20th century so often, but the same dreams continue to be promoted just because they continue to sound good to the uninformed and the foolish, including the brilliant fools of American universities. As Thomas Sowell recently wrote about the determination of many to find Alger Hiss innocent of espionage, regardless of the evidence:

{Alger} Hiss is dead but the lies surrounding his case linger on. So do the attitudes that seek a cheap sense of superiority by denigrating this country and picturing some foreign hell hole as a Utopia.”

Star Trek has a Utopia to picture, or at least a world free of many of the ills perceived in the present, but it doesn’t have to deal with anything so inconvenient as the experience of history. Star Trek is free to disparage business and profit without the need to explain what would replace them. Star Trek is free to disparage religious belief and ignore traditional religions without the need to address the existential mysteries and tragedies of real life in ways that have actually meant something to the vast majority of human beings.

It is particularly interesting that Star Trek is free to do all this with the convenience of assimilating everything to the forms of military life, where collective purpose and authority are taken for granted. Captain Picard does indeed end up rather like God, come to think of it.

——————————–

Kelley L. Rross

About the author

Dr. Kelley Ross retired in 2009 after 22 years as an instructor at the Department of Philosophy of Los Angeles Valley College. See his LinkedIn profile. He joined the Libertarian Party in 1992 and has run several times for the California State Assembly and Congress.

He is the editor of The Proceedings of the Friesian School website, which has a wide range of fascinating material about philosophy, literature, film, and art. This school of philosophy is based on the work of Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843). See Wikipedia for details.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  See all TV and film reviews, posts by Kelley Ross, posts about Star Trek, and especially these…

  1. The Shiny, Sexy Seduction of Star Trek Into Darkness.
  2. Star Trek reboots to give us simple stories, the cartoons we like.
  3. The neocons captured the Star Trek universe, as they’ve captured America.
  4. Our future will be Jupiter Ascending, unless we make it Star Trek.

The best of Star Trek!

These two present great visions of the how we can build a great future, showing the struggle to bring peace and justice to both ourselves and other: Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Enterprise. I believe they are dislike because they show this as work and striving — progress and mistakes.

Star Trek - The Original Series
Available at Amazon.
Star Trek Enterprise
Available at Amazon.

36 thoughts on “A philosopher looks at Star Trek and sees our dark dreams

  1. Many of these topics were addressed in DS9, although he might not have liked what they had to say.

    The question of how the Federation runs its railroad does not seem to get clearly addressed, no doubt to some extent on purpose. However, there are at least private enterprises (Ben Sisko’s father owns, or at least operates, a restaurant in New Orleans). A high level of material abundance could well be provided by fusion/antimatter power sources and the replicators shown throughout the show, however distributed.

    As for religion, leaving aside DS9’s extensive examinations of the topic, the Vulcans follow something that is at least comparable to a religion in their various logic disciplines.

    1. SF,

      I’ve only glanced at DS9, so can’t comment on it.

      “Ben Sisko’s father owns, or at least operates, a restaurant in New Orleans).”

      That there are restaurants (and wineries) tells us nothing about their economic system. Who owns them? Are they run for profit?

      “A high level of material abundance”

      That’s a common statement in discussions of Star Trek. But today’s developed nations have material abundance beyond anything dreamed of before the modern era began (~1600). The poor have comforts unavailable to the rich in most of history — and health beyond anything even imagined. Yet we still have capitalism — and scarcity.

      In the 24th century there will still be scarcity. Could every home have a holodeck? Servants (robot or human)? Servants providing sex (human or robot)? A personal starship to travel the galaxy? And the scarcest thing: power, always in limited supply.

    2. My impression was that, because of free energy (via fusion/antimatter or whatever) and replicators that could rearrange any material into any other material, that Star Trek was supposed to be a truly post-scarcity society. Anything you could want could just be produced with a replicator, from food to tools. Though the big blind spot seems to be automation, AI, and robots…but lots of scifi suffers from that (eg, why are living things still piloting war ships and getting killed in movies like Star Wars? Why not just use droids for all the dangerous stuff?).

      But let’s not forget this is all just backdrop for characters to act out stories in, it isn’t necessarily supposed to be particularly feasible, realistic, or incredibly fleshed out, though Roddenberry and his writers put more effort into that than most.

    3. ch1kpee,

      “My impression was that, because of free energy (via fusion/antimatter or whatever)”

      Nothing in Star Trek suggests energy is free. First, those engines are large — and need rare dilithium crystals to work. Second, they use antimatter as fuel. Antimatter is not freely available, so it must be manufactured. Therefore it is not a primary source of energy — but an means to store and transport energy — much like the proposed hydrogen economy (atomic or fusion plants manufacture it, which is shipped to cities by pipeline).

      “replicators that could rearrange any material into any other material, that Star Trek was supposed to be a truly post-scarcity society.”

      First, energy is not free. Second, even replicators don’t create a post-scarcity society. As I said upthread:

      “In the 24th century there will still be scarcity. Could every home have a holodeck? Servants (robot or human)? Servants providing sex (human or robot)? A personal starship to travel the galaxy? And the scarcest thing: power, always in limited supply.”

    4. @Larry: It is a fair point about those forms of scarcity. As for power sources, I remember dimly hearing that the Federation’s ultimate source for antimatter is big stations near suns that use the antimatter to store solar power. (Don’t tell WUWT.)

      Capitalism is also not entirely absent from the setting even if it does not seem to be a primary factor for Starfleet personnel or widely practiced in the Federation. There are humans who aren’t in the Federation, and there are the Ferengi, although the Ferengi’s practice of capitalism has several major differences from what we might commonly describe.

      If there is courage here rather than just vagueness meant to backdrop the story and make a broad statement, it is that Trek, for all its banalities, imagined a setting that was NOT primarily defined by modern-style western capitalism, AND ALSO was not a Stalinist hell-hole. In a lot of modern science fiction it seems easier for authors to imagine the demise of civilization than a future not essentially ruled by corporate oligarchy.

    5. SF,

      (1) “big stations near suns that use the antimatter to store solar power.”

      Therefore the resulting energy is not free. Capital and labor are required to build and maintain the stations, and to transport the antimatter. As I said, antimatter is a means to store and move energy. It’s not “free.”

      (2) “Capitalism is also not entirely absent from the setting…”

      Did you read the post? Ross explicitly discusses this at length. For example, on the Ferengi: “The champions of profit, the Ferengi, not only perceive no difference between honest business, piracy, and swindle…”

      (3) “Trek, for all its banalities, imagined a setting that was NOT primarily defined by modern-style western capitalism, AND ALSO was not a Stalinist hell-hole.”

      I think almost everybody agrees. Ross shows the boundaries of Star Trek’s optimist vision, and its roots in today’s western leftist thought.

    6. A point of clarity regarding the fictional technology: the solar stations I mentioned were apparently run as a site for generating antimatter, as you say much like the hydrogen economy (if presumably more functional). There is also cheap fusion; the Enterprise-D’s backup/impulse power was a rack of modular fusion reactors. They can’t run the warp drive, apparently, but they do keep the lights on.

    7. SF,

      I don’t understand what you are saying. Your original point was that energy is “free” in Star Trek. All your subsequent comments explain why that is false.

    8. @Larry

      A clearer version of my rambling thesis would be “the presented technologies, especially in the TNG-era shows, seem to be sufficient that a wide range of material needs could be met abundantly – enough such that it would seem like post-scarcity luxury to early-21c humans, perhaps enough that a monetary economy could be dispensed with for the man or Andorian in the street.” Similar to how many nations have dispensed with the “health care market” that we are attached to in the USA.

    9. SF,

      You are ignoring all my rebuttals, and just repeating what you have said.

      “the presented technologies seem to be sufficient that a wide range of material needs could be met abundantly”

      That’s exactly what someone from 1600 Europe would say of us today. But we don’t have “post-scarcity economics.” Let’s replay the tape with some other rebuttals.

      “In the 24th century there will still be scarcity. Could every home have a holodeck? Servants (robot or human)? Servants providing sex (human or robot)? A personal starship to travel the galaxy? And the scarcest thing: power, always in limited supply.”

  2. Is there ever politics discussed in the show? A democratic society is necessarily political as people need to take a stand on policies and leaders. I recall that ST never has that and they just get their orders from above, implying that it is a dictatorship of some sort.

    1. Tony,

      That’s a great observation. There are only a few shows discussing politics, and they are about geopolitics. For example, should Coridan be admitted to the Federation, in “Journey to Babel“. It is seldom mentioned that this show is about economics — since Babel has great mineral wealth.

      “implying that it is a dictatorship of some sort.”

      Rather it implies that Star Fleet is a uniformed service — and run on military-like hierarchy. In addition to the military, the US has 3 other uniformed services: the Coast Guard (law enforcement), The Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service, and NOAA’s Commissioned Corps.

  3. Babylon 5. There are very few atheists and lots of conflicting politics, economics, etc. They even sat shiva for a major officer when her father passed away and she wouldn’t attend his funeral due t bad blood. That one got an award from a Jewish group. Plus the ultimate future of sentient life seems to be to become gods. Jon.

    1. Jon,

      That’s a great observation! Babylon 5 is an exception in modern science fiction, both in its recognition of religion and providing a secular explanation for it. Much like Arthur C. Clarke’s great novel Childhood’s End.

    2. I’ll have to read Clark’s book. and Harland Ellison was a consultant for B5, so the complexity is no surprise. Dune comes to mind, too, although it’s so strange as to almost be irrelevant to our culture today. But if you read some of Herbert’s other works, he makes it clear that he relies a lot on Jung, which makes sense with the psychic and shared memories themes. Still, Dune is basically a feudal society in space.

      Jon.

  4. I find it amusing that he spends the first half spelling out all the ways that Star Trek is communistic, then suddenly decides it’s actually fascist because there’s no overtly Jewish characters.

    Of course everyone on the Internet loves to throw the word “fascism” around in any argument, since it basically means “any kind of politics I don’t like” these days.

    1. ch1kpee,

      “first half spelling out all the ways that Star Trek is communistic, then suddenly decides it’s actually fascist

      His point is that Hollywood writers have a low level understanding of economics and society. Also, communism and fascism are not, as you seem to believe, opposites. They are opposites of liberal democracy, but have strong similarities. Both are totalitarian. Both are collectivist. They give priority to the group over the individual, although they define the key group differently: the “workers” in communism, by nationality or ethnicity in fascism (e.g., the “Volk” for Nazis).

      “because there’s no overtly Jewish characters.”

      Looks like you didn’t read carefully. Let’s replay the tape for you, where he gives his conclusion based on the preceding fifteen hundred words.

      “In the 20th Century there has been a conspicuous political ideology that combines militarism, the subordination of private economic activity to collective social purposes, and often the disparagement of traditional religious beliefs and scruples: Fascism.”

  5. One aspect of almost all discussions of ‘free market’s and ‘capitalism’ that I have never come across in any elaborated form by someone claiming to be a libertarian is the subsidy called “limited liability”. Nor is there any analysis of the consequences of the economic warfare [in the form of sanctions or embargoes or whatever name] imposed by the capitalist West on any country experimenting with socialism. An analysis of Star Trek may not be the place to start the conversation but then Star Trek was merely, and I am a fan, speculative fiction. Taking it as gospel would be confusing the map for the country. Cheers

    1. In a lot of cases “free markets” and “capitalism” mean, in practice, either “whatever is good for us that day” or “the system we practice in the West, more or less.”

    2. SF,

      Sloppiness or outright misuse of terms is commonplace in political discussions. On the fringes, left and right, it often seems to be the primary means of debate.

  6. The American Left changed a lot between the time Classic Trek went off the sir and Next Gen debuted. Both shows to some extent, reflected the ideals of the Left of their time. If it seems like a long way from Jim Kirk to Jean Luc Picard, well…it’s a long way from John Kennedy to the Left we had when we all sat down to watch Encounter At Farpoint. Classic Trek was idealistic. Next Gen, like the Left of its time, was utopian and increasingly coercive. I lost patience with Next Gen pretty quickly because it turns out that utopia is a pretty boring place. There are no stories to be told in Utopia. James T Kirk probably wasn’t that far removed from John Kennedy in his PT Boat days. They were both brave men who had survived some close scrapes. They were both ladies’ men, and let’s face it, neither man was a saint. Both might have done better to have paid more attention to the Prime Directive.

    I was sitting in a yuppie tea house the other day taking on caffeine and carbs listening to some early to mid twenties dude with mascara, a lispy voice, and his hair in a chignon or whatever holding forth to some chick on life the Universe and everything. he was a Trek fan, and he was confident that by the time that Trek takes place, we would have evolved something better than capitalism. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    1. The Man,

      That’s a powerful observation! As people often point out — Hubert Humphrey was a liberal icon in the late 1960s. If transported here, he’d be a Republican. Times change. The labels, such as Left and Right, refer to political positions relative to their time; they’re not permanent measures (such as up and down).

  7. Dear Mr Kummer and all,

    What an interesting piece, and, man does it bring back memories. I have not kept up with all of the subsequent Star Trek series after the first one, though I very much love the gritty essence of the tin-can flying through space of Star Trek: Enterprise. However, I wonder how many of what came after were different than what came before. When Star Trek came out, it really was different. Yes, there was Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel in The Avengers, but there wasn’t the “of course she’s a bad-ass” competence of a black woman as top communications officer as Lieutenant Uhura. That was heavy shit for 1966. On the Enterprise, women wore short skirts, true, but the men were men enough to deal with it and expected the women to discharge their duty with competence, just like anyone in the crew. Yes, men were still the captains and chief surgeons, and well, Scotty, but no one questioned the brilliance and the competence of the women officers and scientists. It seemed natural and was done brilliantly, IMO. There could hardly been a more check-the-stereotype cast of characters, but it was written in such a way, you didn’t notice. At least, I didn’t. Until Chekhov, which was absolutely hilarious, whether they meant to do it or not.

    Star Trek was (inadvertently?) honest about the essential relationship between exploration and militarism and imperialism. That is, if you are going to explore, you need to be prepared for the eventuality that you discover someone who doesn’t like you or wants to take your stuff. I think this relationship was more overt and sanguine in the original series than what I saw in the smattering of TNG and DS9 I’ve taken in. Arena where Kirk fights the Gorn was a brilliant contemplation of what it means to “explore” and to “colonize”. That is still one of my favorite TV episodes. And Balance of Terror. One of the better 50-minute war movies ever made.

    A difference between ST66 and subsequent STs (ST: Enterprise exception) is that the original’s overt connection between Star Fleet’s military roots allowed them to dismiss all of the details of economy and social structures by the rigid, socialist hierarchy that is what a military is. NCC 1701 Enterprise is not a Constellation class battle cruiser as much as it’s a Lively-class 38-gun 18-pounder frigate with it’s young, dashing, and bold captain given an extended, independent cruise. Of course no one is worrying about investments and where the money is coming from. They’re on a man-of-war.

    There were some terrible episodes, I admit, but at least they were swinging for the fences. ST66 actually did wrestle (kinda sorta) with religion in Bread and Circuses and Patterns of Force puts lie to the notion that Jews were somehow expunged from the Star Trek narrative, at least as far as ST66 is concerned.

    Finally, one of the more ideological episodes was The Omega Glory, where the “Yangs” were fighting the “Kohms”, well, just because. They had turned their sacred beliefs into an empty mantra, and Kirk, once again giving the middle finger to the Prime Directive, drops freedom and responsibility on an unsuspecting public (not the first time, not the last, LOL). The edgy episodes were among the best, and I remember them as compelling, not preachy. But they are fifty years old now, as are my memories, so YMMV. What could be more politically incorrect as some cis-normative white dude dropping in on your culture and telling you you’re reading your Declaration of Independence all wrong?

    I really like what Seth MacFarlane is trying to do with The Orville and SyFy is trying to do with The Expanse. I like that they’re grappling with issues, not trying to preach. The great thing about fiction is we can chop someone’s back open and flop their lungs onto their shoulders to make a blood eagle without actually having to do that to a real person. When it becomes just another tool for propaganda, well, we all lose.

    And just so we’re all really damn clear on this, if I had just one wish, I’d wish for a TARDIS. Mine would be an Aston Martin DB5 that didn’t break down and I could drive as well as show up anywhere in time and space. And didn’t need gas to roll around. With air-conditioning. And demisters that actually work.

    With kindest regards,

    Bill

  8. “This danger has come with the corruption of the idea of “progress” away from individualism, the rule of law, private property, and voluntary exchanges — in short the characteristics of capitalism and the free market”

    It seems to this reader that Dr. Ross believes we have reached the end of history. Not so fast!

    “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” -Ursula Le Guin

    1. Cato,

      “It seems to this reader that Dr. Ross believes we have reached the end of history.”

      I don’t believe that is a correct deduction. He is saying that progress does not lead away from “individualism, the rule of law, private property, and voluntary exchanges.” That does not mean he believes that progress has ended.

      A good statement of this is from Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel, said by a professor of an advanced civilization:

      “Democracy is a good system, for beginners.”

      We are just beginners.

  9. One thing I always wondered about the Star Trek economy is, who does the undesirable work? There has to be a lot of work that is both undesirable to perform, and is also not subject to automation by robots.

    In other words, if everyone gets their basic needs met for free, and no one has to work if they don’t want to, then who scrubs the toilets?
    Maybe there’s a system of non-monetary rewards, like “Even though you scored poorly on your aptitude test, you still get to ride around on the star ship and see other planets (or live in a nice neighborhood, or extra holodeck credits, or whatever), as long as you scrub toilets”. Maybe there’s a complicated algorithm that determines exactly what non-monetary rewards are appropriate for each undesirable task. Still seems inefficient though, like a “Phoenician style of barter”.

    On the other hand, we never do get to see inside the Star Trek toilets, so maybe it is all done by robots.

    1. Todd,

      I too have wondered about that. Lots of leftist fans of the Next Generation write about it as a post-money post-scarcity economy. But how does that work? I discuss this briefly in this post.

      This makes no sense. Yes, people will work for fun and prestigious jobs like Starship helmsman and captain, and doctors. People will work as chefs, artists and craftsman, running the small shops, wineries, and restaurants described in the Star Trek shows. The basic welfare allotment allows people to pay for some level of access to these services (e.g., crafts and physician services are a scarce resource even in a world with replicators).

      But why do people do menial jobs, those requiring little skill and lacking prestige? I doubt many women will dress in those pretty Star Trek uniforms (eat a muffin and it shows) to work as waitress on the Enterprise-D unless it improves their personal standard of living. Ditto for the groundskeepers we see at Federation HQ and the construction workers at spacedock.

      My post gives the likely answer is, the same as your: robots. Oddly, that’s not mentioned in Star Trek — although the tech is there (as seen in “Next Gen’s” Data and the holo-doctor in “Voyager.”

      Star Trek never takes the next step to ask about the morality of enslaving sentient robots: Will we enslave robots? If so, prepare for their inevitable revolt. I’ve heard that it hints at this issue in the last season of “Voyager.”

    2. More stuff B5 has dealt with. You see methane toilets. Maintenance workers grousing about how many credits they work for and what the hell is Spoo, anyway? The commander quotes Tennyson and one race has an entire Religious Caste, complete with a Prophet named Valen. There are homeless people living in Down Below. And don’t screw with the Post Office!

      Business deals involving commercial grade telepaths, who are there as corporate lie detectors (great takeaway line from the one who wanted to cheat, “I’d like to punch the guy who suggested using telepaths in formal negotiations.” Lyta: “Somehow I knew you were going to say that.”)

      One show was all about a dock strike. The senator from Earth Gov who oversaw B5 said he had a longshoreman grandfather in San Francisco (before it was nuked, obviously.) One major player became a religious holy person (G’Kar? Seriously? Sure. If Ghandi smoked meth.) And fantastic future stuff, too.

      The future… Where have you gone?

    3. Jon,

      I agree on all points. Although telepaths in biz discussions seems to me like a great idea!

      I discuss this a little in “So many of our hit films show dystopias. This shows how we’ve changed.” But there is a larger issue here.

      Most classic sci fi assumes little or no social progress. We go out in space with better tech, but all the same problems. I don’t see that as a good thing. That was one reason I like the original Star Trek and Enterprise. They show us growing as we go out into space, and making a big contribution to making the Galaxy great. Fumbling, but fumbling forward. It’s the internationalist New Deal vision for the world, which America decisively abandoned under President Bush Jr. — something I’m certain we will regret in time.

  10. Larry, that’s true. Though would you like a Teep sitting across from you at a poker table? Or on a first date? Consequences! Scifi, such as Metropolis, took old mythology and wrapped it in new cloth. Metropolis was the Buddha story of the privileged, spoiled rotten, royal son who saw the poverty around him and became a martyr to it. Metropolis represented one political movement in 1920’s Germany.

    I liked the original ST because it challenged some social and gender norms. It was the logical succesor to Metropolis. Or maybe the Twilight Zone. Only this time there was no overarching political evil. Despite the fact that they were portrayed by aliens, the evil was in us. We are the only ones who can overcome it, no matter what star systems we colonize. The fault is not in your stars… OK. It was a weekly morality tale.

    It was a start. And it represented a political movement in 1960’s America. In Metropolis there was a machine like oppressor of the proletariat. In ST there was a weekly drama between good and evil within our own minds.

    Later it got too much ‘In your face.’ I think maybe we are reluctant to challenge either the machine or the mind.

    1. Jon,

      Good point about telepaths! They would upend society.

      “Later it got too much ‘In your face.’”

      Agreed. The original series and Enterprise had their moral lessons, but mostly kept the preachiness to a tolerable roar. But the Next Gen and Voyager were over the top Leftist Sunday school lessons. Hard dogma, every week. But there is an audience for that.

  11. Larry, Teeps in the future are forbidden from gambling. They are basically kidnapped at birth and forced to live in a prep school called PsiCorp where they learn to control their gift. The Core is mother. The Core is father. Then they have to wear special badges (Greek PSI.) When they first appeared there was chaos because us ‘Mundanes’ couldn’t tell who was who. Sounds familiar.

    B5 is good at exploring consequences to things. If we really had teeps, how would society react? That’s one thing I never liked about Trek. At the end of each episode, no matter how many rules Kirk broke, there was a big reset button pushed. No consequences. In B5 species are constantly compromising, cheating, playing both sides against the center, waiting for a chance to get revenge, lying, etc. It’s realistic.

    Also on the religious side. In one episode an alien family somehow comes to the station. Their race had never been there and they had no ambassador to help them. They had a child who was sick. The station head doctor diagnosed him and said he had some blockage in his esophagus, a simple operation would fix it but he would die without it. The family’s religion forbade cutting into them like ‘meat animals.’ Since there was no ambassador to get advice from, the station commander ruled that the operation couldn’t be done. After all, if he overrode these aliens’ religious beliefs, what message would that send to the rest? The doctor did it anyway and saved his life. The family was horrified and took the boy back and killed him. If he had lived he would have been an outcast from his people and would have to live with some sympathetic others. Tough choice.

    Jon.

    1. Jon,

      B5 ran for 5 seasons. I enjoyed the first season, but thought it went off the rails in S2. I recognize all episodes you mention!

    2. That’s a shame. You missed the Shadow war. What happened to B4. The Mars revolt. G’kar beating the crap out of Londo, and ending up in the brig, where the other inmates thought they were torturing him because he was singing Narn opera. The isolationist movement that beat up aliens. Antial, I suppose. The telepath war. Basically, every character in season one was transformed into his/her exact opposite by the end of the story arc, Dellen more than others! They let the characters be fragile, bigoted, alcoholic, ambiguous, redeemed. Definitely no cookie cutter characters, I thought.

      Jon.

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