Star Trek and Moral Judgment

by John Holbo on December 23, 2009

Kevin Drum is amused, and rightly so, by this bit from the Corner’s Mike Potemra:

I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era – peace, tolerance, due process, progress (as opposed to skepticism about human perfectibility).

Kevin notes it is not every day you get conservatives to admit they oppose (or at least dislike) peace, tolerance, due process and progress. But the hole Potemra digs is deeper, and I think there’s actually a (semi) serious point to make here. Poterma forges on: “I asked an NR colleague about it, and he speculated that the show’s appeal for conservatives lay largely in the toughness of the main character: Jean-Luc Picard was a moral hardass where the Captain Kirk of the earlier show was more of an easygoing, cheerful swashbuckler. I think there’s something to that: Patrick Stewart did indeed create, in that character, a believable and compelling portrait of ethical uprightness.”

But surely the proper conclusion to be drawn, then, is that being an ethically upright and generally virtuous person is, however surprising this result may be, consistent with being tolerant, peace-loving, even with upholding due process. And there is no particular difficulty to the trick of being in favor of progress while being skeptical about human perfectibility. I say this is a semi-serious point because I think, for some conservatives, the main objection to a somewhat vaguely conceived set of liberal values really is a strong sense that they are inconsistent with a certain sort of hardassery in the virtue ethics department. End of story. But then Star Trek TNG ought, by rights, to be the ultimate anti-conservative series. At least for the likes of Potemra.

Potemra then pens a sort of Hail Mary follow-up post in which he asserts, if I have understood him aright, that basically Burkeanism is equal to a kind of (Spinozist?) view sub specie aeternitatis, all of which again redounds to the credit of conservatism and the good captain. And they all lived happily ever after in an old village in France. (I remember that episode.)

{ 121 comments }

1

ben a 12.23.09 at 12:46 pm

Picard: Soft on the crystalline entity. Soft on Borg extermination. Vote Nechayev!

2

tomslee 12.23.09 at 12:59 pm

Conservatives can also rejoice that the ST TNG future is a universe in which women continue to take the names of their husbands (including Beverly Picard in one of the final episodes) and continue to take on the nurturing roles in society (Doctor, Counsellor).

3

Jacob T. Levy 12.23.09 at 1:27 pm

25 years after the show went off the air, and after a decade or more of being a participant on a group blog that loves to talk about Star Trek, he’s just now discovering that Roddenberry’s vision was kind of hazy-lefty?

4

JoB 12.23.09 at 1:34 pm

The serious point is that you cannot but imagine the future to be rather left-wing if you want to avoid the typical tale of Last Judgment. & vice versa: any future imagined to be ending in some kind of Armageddon is one which at some point in time turns right wing.

It’s merely a matter of conceivability; possible worlds & all that.

It’s the happy end that forces the hand of the screenplay writers ;-)

5

NomadUK 12.23.09 at 1:48 pm

But surely the proper conclusion to be drawn, then, is that being an ethically upright and generally virtuous person is, however surprising this result may be, consistent with being tolerant, peace-loving, even with upholding due process.

Perhaps. But I feel that the proper conclusion to draw is that Mr Potemra and his ilk are utter fuckwits.

(And anyone who thinks that Kirk is just a cheerful swashbuckler and not a moral hardass is — oh, right, point already made.)

6

Cool Bev 12.23.09 at 1:53 pm

I’m as liberal as they come, but couldn’t watch ST:TNG, partly because the plot template. Every conflict was resolved when it turned out that the monster/alien/bad guy was merely misunderstood, more frightened of you thant you are of them, or actually wronged by evil colonial earthmen. And if people/aliens just learn to tolerate others and share their toys, everything will work out fine.

Very good advice for living, not so good for dramatic tension.

7

John Holbo 12.23.09 at 2:00 pm

“it turned out that the monster/alien/bad guy was merely misunderstood, more frightened of you thant you are of them, or actually wronged by evil colonial earthmen. And if people/aliens just learn to tolerate others and share their toys, everything will work out fine.”

Whereas in the original, the lesson was usually more like: that double shoulder-chop move Kirk favors is a lot more effective than you would think. da-da-DA-da-da-da-da-TA-da-DA-da.

8

kid bitzer 12.23.09 at 2:01 pm

#6–

right; it is always a mistake to think that rules for drama can be read as rules for living. the neo-cons seem to believe that “civil society” requires a lot of scenes of our heroes back-lit by explosions. they are wrong.

there’s a reason why the old chinese curse says “may you live in an interesting narrative arc.”

9

Steve LaBonne 12.23.09 at 2:04 pm

that double shoulder-chop move Kirk favors is a lot more effective than you would think

AND, surprisingly, can be executed without your toupee falling off!

10

Kadin 12.23.09 at 2:07 pm

any future imagined to be ending in some kind of Armageddon is one which at some point in time turns right wing.

Oh, I don’t know, there are a few hilarious novels written by a few paranoid people involving hellish futures where Al Gore, gay marriage, and rampant abortion have all but destroyed the world. The comic book “Liberality for All”, featuring Sean Hannity and Oliver North as freedom fighters against they tyranny of tolerance, is a neat example.

11

DJ 12.23.09 at 2:11 pm

Conservatives can also rejoice that the ST TNG future is a universe in which women continue to take the names of their husbands (including Beverly Picard in one of the final episodes) and continue to take on the nurturing roles in society (Doctor, Counsellor).

That episode was a flash-forward to a possible future, where Beverly had married — and divorced — Picard, and had become captain of her own ship. And I suppose they’d have to strain to ignore the Voyager series, which starred Kate Mulgrew as Katherine Janeway, captain of the title vessel.

12

Michael Bérubé 12.23.09 at 2:14 pm

It’s also mildly funny that Potemra misses the fact that Jean-Luc Picard was modeled on Michel Foucault, right down to Foucault’s favorite catch phrase, “make it so.”

13

NewsCat 12.23.09 at 2:14 pm

Not to get into an old-style usenet Trek flamewar but I would think conservatives would be fonder of Deep Space Nine. It’s been a while since I watched the series but I recall it being much murkier on the concept of the noblitity of human nature (I mean, in the concept of alien nature). There’s probably some really great Shapeshifters-as-Al-Queda analogy that someone already has made. However I never forgot the episode where a shapeshifter says there are only 9 of them on Earth and yet the humans/Federation will turn themselves inside out in fear.

14

CJColucci 12.23.09 at 2:15 pm

I’ve wondered for years why conservatives are so obsessed with whether some person or policy or whatever is “conservative” when damn few liberals of my acquaintance are similarly obsessed with whether something or someone is “liberal.”

15

r€nato 12.23.09 at 2:15 pm

Has anyone yet bothered to inform the rightards that “Star Trek”, like “24”, is a TV SHOW?

any resemblance between a TV SHOW and REALITY is purely coincidental.

16

kid bitzer 12.23.09 at 2:21 pm

#9–

it was seeing this that moved smokey robinson to remark, “what a prize toupee!”

17

Led 12.23.09 at 2:28 pm

That’s because when you conceive of your job as heroically standing athwart history yelling “stop”, you are inherently defining yourself in opposition to the rest of the world, which is default liberal. Conservatism is and always has been equal to “not liberal/progressive.” It has no other content.

18

John Holbo 12.23.09 at 2:29 pm

“make it so!”

Ah, the gift to Star Trek slash fic that keeps on giving.

19

rea 12.23.09 at 2:42 pm

At a fundamental level, conservatives are all about preserving traditional social structures, while progressives are about changing them for the better. Star Trek is a progressive view of the future; a conservative view of the future is either dystopian or features a regression to social institutions of the past–not a Federation of Planets, but a Galactic Empire.

20

DanD 12.23.09 at 2:49 pm

Well gee between the one-world government, and the actual lack of money or desiretherof, I am shocked to find out that there is liberalism going on in the casino.

It’s not exactly subtle about this stuff. STTNG is a liberal freaking utopia.

Oh, and the depiction of the Ferengi (sp?) should have sealed the deal if nothing else. Considering STTNG started in the 80s, and ran through the 90s it’s amazing how liberal the show is.

21

JoB 12.23.09 at 2:53 pm

10- indeed, the Armageddon is required as the context for the appeal of the Empire.

Or: 15.

22

Mr. Conspiracy 12.23.09 at 3:02 pm

Oh, please. Conservatives liked ST:TNG because they like to beat off to Troy.

I always felt TNG was infuriatingly wishywashy. They jumped the shark with Hugh the little wooden Borg boy.

23

Ropty 12.23.09 at 3:07 pm

Michael Bérubé ! You nearly made me spill my coffee! And I know no one I can share your insight with–people I know either seem to know who Jean-Luc Picard is or Michel Foucault, but not both.

Thank you, you made my morning.

24

MattF 12.23.09 at 3:16 pm

It’s actually even worse. One of the sort-of hidden plot engines in ST-TNG is that all the major characters in the series acquired an assortment of family members– even the android ended up with a mother, a father, a brother, and a daughter– and many of the stories in the series were about how space warfare was really a kind of domestic drama. And, it generally turned out that ‘family values’ are really quite consistent with tolerance, rule of law, due process, progress, etc. Not your favorite wingnut message, one would think.

25

charles pierce 12.23.09 at 3:17 pm

Prof. Berube is surprised that this cluck didn’t pick up on thinly veiled references to Foucault? Judging from the post, this guy wouldn’t have caught on if Michel his own self took over the late shift from Whoopi Goldberg tending the Enterprise bar.

26

dkxkee 12.23.09 at 3:21 pm

Because, CJ, in the words of their once infallible leader, they must know if the person in question “stands with us or against us.”

27

Jacob T. Levy 12.23.09 at 3:33 pm

Oh, come on, everyone. There’s plenty of non-apocalyptic SF that just emphasizes a different set of virtues and values and features of the human experience from those emphasized by ST:TNG. Have we really come so far from the years when the knock on SF was precisely that it was relentlessly right-wing that we can no longer even imagine such a thing?

28

Sufferin' Succotash 12.23.09 at 3:33 pm

I’ve wondered for years why conservatives are so obsessed with whether some person or policy or whatever is “conservative” when damn few liberals of my acquaintance are similarly obsessed with whether something or someone is “liberal.”

Labels grow in importance in proportion to the person’s ignorance of the principles behind the labels.

29

calling all toasters 12.23.09 at 3:35 pm

The real conservatives are all Klingons.

30

Cannoneo 12.23.09 at 3:37 pm

Thankyou ch.p. for reminding me that Whoopie was the bartender on the Enterprise. At the time for some reason this was not hilarious enough, either as an allusion to the Love Boat or on any other level.

MattF also reminds me how much the show was about the Galactic Triumph of the Therapeutic. Everybody needed the talking cure, all the time, even the androids and arguably the Borg.

31

Nathan 12.23.09 at 3:43 pm

Star Trek are TV series about a fictional interstellar federation’s military. And as “progressive” as the Federation may be, it’s military retains the same conservative militaristic values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. And the episodes themselves are about how those values stand the test of time despite the difficulties that comes from adhering to them. Case in point: In the TNG episode “The Pegasus”, Riker struggles between his sense of loyalty and honor for Admiral Pressman and his duty to Captain Picard and the Federation. In the end, Riker shows personal courage and selfless service by exposing Pressman’s violation of the Treaty of Algeron, despite what it might mean for Riker’s career.

If Star Trek were a “progressive view of the future”, it wouldn’t be Star Trek. It would be the “West Wing” of the Federation Presidency with various presidential sycophants pacing around whining about how the Lunar inhabitants should have more transporter credits than those who live on earth because they regularly have to travel from the moon to the earth.

32

Bill E Pilgrim 12.23.09 at 3:47 pm

Michael Bérubé 12.23.09 at 2:14 pm
wrote:

It’s also mildly funny that Potemra misses the fact that Jean-Luc Picard was modeled on Michel Foucault, right down to Foucault’s favorite catch phrase, “make it so.”

________

In his update he also claims that Picard is a “Gaullist”.

I’m going to search my old VCR tapes of that series to find the one about the war in Algeria that got Picard run out of office and started a near-revolution, I think I missed that one the first time around.

Rilgeria-five?

33

exposito63 12.23.09 at 3:51 pm

In STNG, Roddenberry deliberately flipped the Kirk (headstrong) and Spock (logical) roles so that the logical (Picard) was in command and the more headstrong character (Riker) was his subordinate. Riker was also never as swashbuckling as Kirk because the times had changed in the 23rd century and such behavior was much less acceptable. The galaxy of The Original Series may have been liberal in a Cold War fashion, but the galaxy of STNG was liberal in a more 1980s fashion: Inclusive and actively practicing cultural relativism (to use a right-wing term).

I do agree, however, with tomslee (#2) that the recurring female characters in STNG were cast in more care-taking roles. In later series, however, there were recurring female characters who had command roles: Kira and Jadzia Dax in DS9, Janeway and Torres in Voyager, and T’Pol in Enterprise. Star Trek was getting more progressive over time until the recent highly-reactionary movie.

34

alex 12.23.09 at 3:52 pm

“conservative militaristic values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.”

I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here but I reject your premise. In fact I reject it up your ass with a splintery wooden stick, m’kay? Last time I looked, the values of ‘conservative militarism’ included lying your way into wars of aggression and skulking behind the lines while other, better men and women who understood the difference between militarism and military service died for those lies.

35

Nathan 12.23.09 at 4:01 pm

It’s funny because you look at Star Trek and think “what is it about Star Trek that makes conservatives enjoy it”, when you should really be thinking “what is it about conservatives that make them enjoy Star Trek”.

In other words, I don’t think you quite understand conservatives or their values as much as you seem to think you do.

36

kid bitzer 12.23.09 at 4:02 pm

alex, would you consider relaxing a bit if it were pointed out to you that “x’s values” can mean “the values espoused by x” as well as “the values practiced by x”?

i mean–i think we can agree that marital fidelity is a conservative christian value while at the same time noting that they espouse it a lot more often than they practice it.

37

DanD 12.23.09 at 4:05 pm

Nathan:
Star Trek are TV series about a fictional interstellar federation’s military.

This is a simplification. Star Fleet is more like NASA and the Coast Guard combined. Their mission is to “seek out new life” etc. The military stuff is always secondary. The ship has children and science labs, and tons of recreational space. The Klingons complain that it has that silly saucer detracting from its combat power.

I will admit one illiberal thing about the ST universe that has bugged me: The absence of media. Picard is saving the universe week after week, and no one bothers to do even so much as an interview with the guy? In one of the newer movies there are journalists following Kirk as he visits some new ship, but generally the absence of people reporting on this remarkable crew and its remarkable feats is pretty glaring. I’m not that keen on how Babylon 5 saw the media (almost solely as propaganda) but at least they didn’t ignore them.

38

Mitchell Freedman 12.23.09 at 4:06 pm

Of course, the ST show conservatives most loved to hate was Deep Space Nine. There, you had a black leader, and worse, the subtext included a wry and witty attack on capitalists in the form of the Ferenghis. Their “Rules of Acquisition” were an ironic take on Ayn Rand’s principles of “selfishness” and they were always in fear of workers revolting or striking for more money against them. Socialist sensibilities ruled happily with freedom of thought and speech, and due process against the dictatorial capitalist mindset…

Of course I loved that! ST:DSN was also unique among the ST shows because the others were a space version of Wagon Train, and DSN was Gunsmoke…Am I dating myself too much here? :-)

39

JoB 12.23.09 at 4:10 pm

Jakob-19, give us an example. Robots taking over the world counts as apocalyptic but that may be a matter of perspective (more specifically: my perspective).

40

actor212 12.23.09 at 4:30 pm

Seriously? Picard? Conservative?

Potenta (sic) must not have reached the arc where the Federation suspects traitors in its midsts (allegory for terrorists/commie bastards) and Picard refuses to join in with the neocon warmongers counter-terror forces, who actually turn out to be the real aliens in disguise.

Too…there’s this:

Picard is deemed the ultimate delegator of authority, knowing “how to gather and use data better than any other Star Trek captain.” His leadership style “is best suited to a large, process-centric, either geographically identical or diverse team”.[13]

41

Walt 12.23.09 at 4:31 pm

Let me also suggest to you Nathan that you don’t understand liberals as much as you seem to think you do. Your notion of a “progressive view of the future” demonstrates this quite clearly.

42

Delicious Pundit 12.23.09 at 4:32 pm

conservative militaristic values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

But wait, what makes them militaristic? Or conservative? I resent the idea that I have no call on them. (Take this poem, for example. Here we see an exhortation to, I think, all of these virtues. And yet Zbiginew Herbert was not a soldier. )

43

handy 12.23.09 at 4:57 pm

Please trekkers don’t hurt me if I’m wrong about the technicals of this, but I always thought ST couldn’t be conservative because money no longer existed in their universe.

44

Nathan 12.23.09 at 5:02 pm

Militaristic in that they are presented in a militaristic setting. Star Trek is very much a military story, presented in probably the most favorable light you can present the military. One might ask why so many liberals enjoy TNG when it casts the military in such a favorable light. But to do so would be to paint liberals with as large a brush as many of you have painted conservatives. But I digress.

Walt; how precisely do I seem to understand liberals?

45

Nathan 12.23.09 at 5:14 pm

Star Fleet is more like NASA and the Coast Guard combined.

More like those things than they are like the military? The Coast Guard is a military service. And many of NASA’s astronauts come from the military. As for the science labs, they seem to be more for collecting data than actually doing science. The Genesis device was not created in a Starfleet lab.

@Mitchell Freedman; Your insinuation that conservatives dislike DS9 because of the black leader is offensive. The Ferengi/objectivism thing is interesting, and there are some holes in that comparison, but I can’t say I really care to discuss that given your previous comment.

46

billmon 12.23.09 at 5:22 pm

It’s also mildly funny that Potemra misses the fact that Jean-Luc Picard was modeled on Michel Foucault, right down to Foucault’s favorite catch phrase, “make it so.”

The Foucaultian implications of phraseology in Star Trek TNG? Sounds like the topic of a paper at the next meeting of the MLA.

47

Keith 12.23.09 at 5:32 pm

If Star Trek were a “progressive view of the future”, it wouldn’t be Star Trek. It would be the “West Wing” of the Federation Presidency with various presidential sycophants pacing around whining about how the Lunar inhabitants should have more transporter credits than those who live on earth because they regularly have to travel from the moon to the earth.

This makes sense, if we completely ignore the fact that this “peacekeeping armada” works for a coalition of one world governments who have abolished money and scarcity. The Federation is pretty much a socialist utopia: everyone gets whatever they need, and is encouraged to redirect their creative and personal impulses towards goals that benefits society. Sure, they got rid of all the poor people (a very conservative notion) but they did it by addressing the underlying cause of poverty (a very liberal idea) and abolishing the social constraints that create poverty in the first place: scarcity caused by capitalist supply and demand ideology. Also, they are pretty much entirely secular, except for some cultures with ceremonial religions that don’t otherwise interfere with the generally progressive attitudes about personal space and the pursuit of happiness (you can believe in your Space God, but aren’t allowed to go from planet to planet, spreading the word of space Jesus).

48

geo 12.23.09 at 5:34 pm

FWIW:

“In one memorable episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Enterprise encounters a derelict starship full of twentieth-century humans in suspended animation. One of them is an ace investor and dogmatic libertarian capitalist. As soon as he is revived, he demands that the Enterprise turn around immediately and return him to Earth, where his large fortune (compounded annually for four hundred years) awaits him. Captain Picard demurs, explaining gently that wealth and poverty, luxury and want, became obsolete on Earth long ago; in the twenty-fourth century, each person has enough resources to live a full life and no one’s life is wasted.

“It is Picard’s tone that speaks across the centuries to us viewers — the same tone that an educated twentieth-century person would use in explaining to a visitor from an earlier era why, for example, we no longer burn widows or expose girl babies on mountaintops or torture captives or enslave other peoples. We have outgrown all that, we would explain patiently to our visitor; we can no longer, with a good conscience, inflict or ignore suffering on such a scale. And the still more grown-up humanity of the future, Picard seems to be saying, will consider the accumulation of vast wealth and power by some, while the lives of many others are stunted, to be equally benighted. I suspect that a great many Star Trek viewers were converted that evening to a belief in the comprehensive welfare state.”

http://www.georgescialabba.net/mtgs/1998/04/economic-justice-by-stephen-na.html

49

Uncle Kvetch 12.23.09 at 5:37 pm

In his update he also claims that Picard is a “Gaullist”.

Hot damn — this guy’s going places. Jonah Goldberg better watch his back.

we no longer burn widows or expose girl babies on mountaintops or torture captives or enslave other peoples

Three out of four ain’t bad.

50

daelm 12.23.09 at 5:40 pm

…and the troll arrives

51

Dan Drezner 12.23.09 at 5:49 pm

“Whereas in the original, the lesson was usually more like: that double shoulder-chop move Kirk favors is a lot more effective than you would think. da-da-DA-da-da-da-da-TA-da-DA-da.”

Don’t forget his shirt being ripped off. Kirk was bare-chested more often than Matthew McConaughey.

52

Dr. Squid 12.23.09 at 5:50 pm

If conservatives are so enamored of Picard, I can think of a few things that will get them all head-explodey…

1) Picard was a French cheese eating surrender monkey.

2) His role in the Drum Head episode.

3) His torture at the hand of the Cardassians presented it as bad and ineffective.

53

P O'Neill 12.23.09 at 5:58 pm

Just wait till Potemra discovers that Starfleet HQ is in San Francisco.

54

DanD 12.23.09 at 5:58 pm

The Coast Guard is a military service.

Yeah, Americans treat it that way, and group it under DoD but it isn’t really a military service (and I don’t intend to deride it with that comment). It’s law enforcement/search and rescue, whatever Department it falls under. In Canada, the Coast Guard is under Fisheries and Oceans. Perhaps there’s no bright line, but it’s definitely not the Marine Corps.

NASA is explicitly civilian, and though most shuttle pilots are military/ex-military for the flying experience, NASA’s missions are (publicly at least) scientific, and civilian scientists make up much (most?) of the shuttle and space station crews.

Anyway, others have questioned your premise that “military=conservative” so to the extent Star Fleet is a military org (and I don’t deny that it is to some extent) it is a liberal vision of what such an org would be like. Yes, it is hierarchical, but not needlessly authoritarian – people don’t salute, or come to attention every time they address a superior, there’s no anthem, no flag, no “hooah!” jingoism – it’s a real stretch to consider star fleet a conservative military vision.

55

bugmenot 12.23.09 at 6:01 pm

DanD: I’m not that keen on how Babylon 5 saw the media (almost solely as propaganda) but at least they didn’t ignore them.

Babylon 5 did not show the media this way. Before and after the totalitarian regime that took over Earth, the media was an information source, nothing more. When the Earth did (briefly) become a dictatorship, the media was used as government propaganda, but only then. Re-watch the third season episode ‘Severed Dreams’ and the fourth season episode ‘Endgame’ to see this.

56

darrelplant 12.23.09 at 6:04 pm

I thought the reason conservatives liked Picard stemmed from that whole bald head fetish that people like George W. Bush exhibited (see also Jeff Gannon).

“Make it so,” indeed.

57

darrelplant 12.23.09 at 6:06 pm

That, and the fact that the Holodeck was the only place in the universe you could go to make Randian theories of society seem real.

58

Anil Petra 12.23.09 at 6:12 pm

We have a President who walks around barking “Make it so!” without ever leading.

Yep, sounds like Picard to me.

59

Michael Bérubé 12.23.09 at 6:47 pm

The Foucaultian implications of phraseology in Star Trek TNG? Sounds like the topic of a paper at the next meeting of the MLA.

Just for that, billmon, I’m going to trot out Foucault’s other favorite catch phrase: engage.

60

Keith 12.23.09 at 6:49 pm

Of course I loved that! ST:DSN was also unique among the ST shows because the others were a space version of Wagon Train, and DSN was Gunsmoke…Am I dating myself too much here? :-)

Nope, not at all. I loved DS9 as well, as it was the first show of the post-Roddenberry era and so could get a little more into the gray morality of some of the Federation tactics and explore the logical end to some of its more fluffy ideals.

They don’t have currency but Gold Pressed Latinum was a limited wealth commodity in itself, treated like a hard currency by the Ferengi and by Star Fleet as well (though they used it mostly for gambling and to finance Quark’s ill-advised schemes).

They also introduced the concept of Star Fleet having a black ops division, which puts a not-so nice face on your utopia. Why do you need a dirty tricks brigade if everyone cooperates? Well, sometimes not everyone wants to cooperate and so they need some persuading.

They also got a bit more into the sticky ethical issues left over from the Eugenics wars, that even though transhumanist genetic tinkering is illegal and generally considered abhorrent, some people still did it.

And then there was the whole Dominion War, which would give the Neocons nightmares, what with the bad guys being the imperialistic assholes who hire mercenaries to do their dirty work and the Federation winning through diplomacy and hard work rather than just neat tactical tricks.

61

Kaleberg 12.23.09 at 7:04 pm

This talk about Star Trek really points out the big difference in liberals and conservatives in their attitudes towards collectivism. I can’t remember a single reference to a limited liability corporation of any sort in any of the series. Was there a brand name anything? Conservatives tend to idealize authoritarian collectives such as corporations and the military where the individual has to obey a chain of command or face sanctions. Liberals are more fond of democratic collectives such as democracies, unions and food co-ops which are noted for their factional fighting and problems dealing with recalcitrant individuals who none the less have their rights.

Having recently watched the entire original series on DVD, I can’t help feeling it was impressively liberal. One episode argues that mankind has outgrown gods who were probably just egotistical aliens anyway. In another, a violent alien is misunderstood, but all ends well thanks to Spock’s mind meld. In yet another, the working caste is horribly exploited, and social justice proves more important than dilithium crystals. Even the Vietnam allegory was from a mid-60s liberal viewpoint. The wretched Spock’s Brain episode could be seen as a feminist allegory to get women out of the hair salon and to work with men as equals.

62

Mario Diana 12.23.09 at 7:17 pm

NewsCat @ 13 & Keith @ 54 (Subject: DS9)

This is loosely related to the moral universe of Star Trek: specifically, Deep Space Nine. It’s something that occurred to me a few years ago, and I just want to throw it out there for anyone familiar with the show.

Is it just me, or has anyone else been struck by the similarity between the characterization of the Ferengi and the stereotypes of medieval Jewry?

Now, as I am an infrequent commenter and in any case among the newer commenters on this blog, rest assured that I am neither defending nor seeking to encourage antisemitism of any kind. (This is the Internet, so I just want to be clear.)

Take a look at the conception of the Ferengi. Physically, they’re short and ugly, with big noses and ears, and weak chins. They’re greedy, conniving, untrustworthy, and have made a religion of money. If I recall correctly, they’re not actually part of the Federation of planets; instead, they exist as outsiders who are tolerated because they offer services that no good Federation person would offer — even though plenty of good Federation people make use of these services.

Now, the above picture is pretty distasteful when considered in light of my argument; but, please tell me where the above differs from the historic stereotypes in European culture — most especially the middle ages? The “high concept” during the middle ages was that money, usury, and materialism were all part of the sullied, earthly pursuits. (Of course, the reality was much different.) This is essentially the same religiosity of the Federation. I can understand the Ferengi being somewhat demonized, in light of this conception; but the actual characterization seems to be a strange coincidence.

Am I off base? If I am, please tell me. I like Star Trek, and I’m actually a big fan of DS9. But, when this similarity first occurred to me, my reaction was WTF?

63

miasmo 12.23.09 at 7:18 pm

Potemra’s use of “sub specie aeternitatis” (I had to look it up) to support his view of Picard as meta-conservative superboy rests on an assumption that conservative values are eternal and liberal values are merely temporal. Perhaps Potemra doesn’t understand the literal meaning of the word “eternity.” Why doesn’t he just admit that conservatives worship manly hard-asses and spare us the laughably botched attempts at comprehending basic philosophical ideas. Maybe we’re just supposed to see a reference in Latin and be impressed.

64

philo 12.23.09 at 7:26 pm

I always felt that the plot themes and dramatic irony played out in ST:TNG were a weekly themes that expressed philosophical paradoxes that revolved around questions such as, ethics, morality, human condition, etc. Of course if you are the type of person who filters everything through a liberal/conservative lens frame then of course that’s what you would discern. I always enjoyed the plot lines for working out scientific and philosophical quandary. If you take a good look the plot is thick with this. The representation of the Q and his obsession with human or the Borg as a collective consciousness without an ethic outside of there own race. I could come up with a million examples

65

Keith 12.23.09 at 7:30 pm

Mario Diana@56:

Yeah, they kinda are, but filtered through late 20th/early 21st century phenomenon of the free market fundamentalist. If there’s a sliding scale of economic/racial stereotypes, with medieval Jewry on one end and pious unsullied Good Christian citizens on the other, the Farengi are definitely tipping towards the Jewish stereotype.

What’s interesting is, they didn’t start out that way. Roddenberry wanted them to be more like the Reavers from Firefly, but executive meddling and makeup effects of the period made it impractical, so they started out as weaselly little shits and then quickly evolved into the evil money grubbing capitalists they are on DS9. It is weird that they fall into that same basket with the stereotypes of medieval Jewry, but I think that’s more a coincidence brought about by two decades of story telling choices by dozens of people, than a conscious decision to Shylock the whole character/race for some larger Aesop.

66

Keith 12.23.09 at 7:32 pm

At least, that’s my guess. I’m sure Armin Shimerman would have noticed if he had spent a decade playing Space Shylock.

67

Walt 12.23.09 at 7:35 pm

Mario: The comparison was widely remarked-upon when the Ferengi were first introduced on TNG.

68

Substance McGravitas 12.23.09 at 7:36 pm

In preparing to take the role of Quark, he said, he drew heavily on his study of Shakespeare. He saw a parallel between Quark, the Ferengi bartender on the “Deep Space Nine” space station and Shylock, the Jewish merchant, in the Christian society of Italy.

69

liberal 12.23.09 at 7:38 pm

Nathan wrote, “One might ask why so many liberals enjoy TNG when it casts the military in such a favorable light.”

One might ask where you got the idea that liberals dislike anything military, as opposed to what we see on our particular planet (viz, abuse of military power).

70

ignoreland 12.23.09 at 7:45 pm

In one memorable episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Enterprise encounters a derelict starship full of twentieth-century humans in suspended animation. That dogmatic libertarian capitalist also tells Picard that the military is the last refuge for incompetents who are afraid to take risks. I always wondered why Picard didn’t jettison him for that.

71

Gene O'Grady 12.23.09 at 7:47 pm

This isn’t germane to most of the comments but takes off from the original post — my late father was sufficiently hardass to survive a Japanese suicide plane hitting his rather small ship at Okinawa and to be appointed a judge by Ronald Reagan, but the very first thing I remember him teaching me, ca. 1954, was (in connection with the Chessman case) the inviolability of due process even to benefit a not particularly lovable human being.

Since I’m back in the fifties, I might also note that my best friend from that era became a career military officer, and when I visited him last year I discovered that the one politician he most hates, with a rich unrepeatable military vocabulary, is none other than Dick Cheney.

72

bianca steele 12.23.09 at 8:00 pm

Oh no Michael Bérubé you had me going on that whole Slavoj Zizek was in Slapshot thing, you aren’t going to fool me again.

@28
Arguably ST:E devolved toward the end into T’Pol psychoanalysis, so I wouldn’t include her in that list–she was only a couple of steps more together than Hoshi Sato (who nearly had a breakdown a day or two out of port IIRC).

73

Keith 12.23.09 at 8:02 pm

Never understood the myth that military personnel love Republicans/Conservatives and hate those pansy Liberals/Democrats. Conservatives gleefully throw warm bodies at explosions for dubious reasons, while Liberals tend to be more judicious with the use of military force. As such, were I a military man (rather than merely the son of one) I’d vote for the one less likely to try and kill me for fun and profit.

This, I think, is why liberals like the depiction of the liberal military of Star Fleet: it’s a necessary evil used optimally. They spend 90% of their time exploring and doing science and diplomacy but will, reluctantly, and with all human compassion, blow the ever loving fuck out of the Borg, if it comes to that.

Star Fleet is what we liberals want the military to be: compassionate, judicious, strong and above all, humane.

74

Keith 12.23.09 at 8:02 pm

But whoever’s idea it was to put civilians on the Enterprise D needs to have their head examined.

75

Keith 12.23.09 at 8:06 pm

bianca steele @63:

The less said about ST:Enterprise, the better. That series goes in the “woke up to find JR in the shower” bin with Star Wars Ep. 1-3 and the Matrix sequels.

76

Michael Bérubé 12.23.09 at 8:10 pm

Oh no Michael Bérubé you had me going on that whole Slavoj Zizek was in Slapshot thing, you aren’t going to fool me again.

Oh you are so silly. Zizek was never in Slap Shot. Everybody knows Pierre Bourdieu was in Slap Shot. Zizek was in The Big Lebowski.

77

JoB 12.23.09 at 8:12 pm

66 – wasn’t that Bobby? Otherwise no qualms with your assessments.

(doesn’t a Star Trek thread have to degenerate into talk about Q?)

78

Mario Diana 12.23.09 at 8:18 pm

Walth @ 59 & S. McG. @ 60

It seems I’m always late to the party.

79

monboddo 12.23.09 at 8:23 pm

This thread could have ended at 48.

80

Mrs Tilton 12.23.09 at 8:32 pm

What NomadUK said @5.

81

Pliggett Darcy 12.23.09 at 8:48 pm

A serious question: What is it about American conservatives that makes them constantly discuss whether, e.g., ELO’s early albums evince a bias toward collectivism?

82

Mark 12.23.09 at 8:57 pm

Wielding paralipsis in a way that would do any superficially clever but unpleasant 15 year old proud, Nathan writes:

One might ask why so many liberals enjoy TNG when it casts the military in such a favorable light. But to do so would be to paint liberals with as large a brush as many of you have painted conservatives.

I’m guessing that you gained your knowledge of how liberals regard the military (and vice versa) from your years of service, am I right? Me, I see things a bit differently. But then, I served in the same infantry division as Markos “Kos” Moulitsas, so obviously some ACORN subversive was slipping something funny into our MREs.

Anyway. For your edification, allow me to present you to MajGen Smedley Butler, USMC, twice recipient of the Medal of Honor. I’m sure it would have been important to him to know that someone like you “admires the military”.

83

Steaming Pile 12.23.09 at 9:15 pm

“Oh, and the depiction of the Ferengi (sp?) should have sealed the deal if nothing else. “

More the general attitudes of the Enterprise crew toward the Ferengi. As for whether the show being liberal ought to surprise anyone, that’s a reflection of Gene Roddenberry, so no. Not surprising at all.

84

TheSophist 12.23.09 at 9:31 pm

@ #67:

I assume you know that “Lebowski” is Slovenian for “other”. Which means that Zizek’s presence in the movie refutes his entire philosophical edifice.

(And maybe this was the point all along and I’m just dense but, don’t MF and PS actually look (superficially) alike – tallish, slender, and bald-before-it-was-hip?)

85

Keith 12.23.09 at 9:32 pm

Pliggett Darcy@72:

They’re desperate for cultural validation of their ideology. It’s a strange loop: they have to convince themselves society backs up their ideology, since the basic tenant of their ideology is that they are the defenders of society. They must mine popular culture, that ever changing dialog of fluctuating tastes, transient ideas and evolving concepts, and find artifacts that show it to be a locked system of traditional values that resist change. So, they take snapshots of the river with their digital camera and compare it to the tintypes their great grandfathers took, all to prove that there’s still water there (ignoring the fact that it’s not the same water, it might be polluted and the river was damned up and diverted decades ago).

86

Substance McGravitas 12.23.09 at 9:37 pm

They’re desperate for cultural validation of their ideology.

This can be shortened in many cases to “They want to be cool.”

87

anon 12.23.09 at 9:49 pm

When, on any episode, of any incarnation of the series, have you ever seen the characters take a vote on any decision?

Conservatives love it because it is an hour-long promotional advertisement for autocracy.

88

Jason 12.23.09 at 10:05 pm

Actually, an impressive review of the film suggests, the major topic of the film is that of inheritance, which one can argue is also a major topic for conservatives.
The review is here http://www.pandalous.com/topic/star_trek_the

Another issue, which is mentioned in a different review in the same discussion is one of emotions, where in a way is also problematic for conservatives.

89

steveinCo 12.23.09 at 10:06 pm

FWIW, The Coast Guard is under the DOT, not the DOD.

90

Keith 12.23.09 at 10:22 pm

ean-Luc Picard was a moral hardass where the Captain Kirk of the earlier show was more of an easygoing, cheerful swashbuckler.

Reading this bit again, it makes me wonder which Star Trek he’s watching. It certainly isn’t the one where Kirk, faced with the prospect of letting the Klingons as a species die because their planet is undergoing ecological collapse says, “let them!” all because one killed his son. If that’s not a moral hardass talking, then I don’t know what is.

(On the flip side, Picard was known to buckle a swash or two, going off on a whimsical archeological dig with a con woman while on vacation and mowing down Borg with a holographic tommy gun).

91

AJ 12.23.09 at 10:27 pm

Let’s remember that the entire raison d’etre (ooh, French again) of the United Earth (and later, by extension, the Federation) was that they had crawled out of a devastating, apocalyptic World War III, much as, say, Marshall Plan Europe and Japan rebuilt after a devastating, post-nuclear (in Japan’s case) war. Roddenberry’s backstory predicted that if there was another Big One, the continental US would not be spared, and it too would have to rebuild itself with the same necessary impulses – collective solutions to problems of healthcare and poverty, broad egalitarianism, democracy, and strongly allergic to imperialism. Of course, in his allegory it was the Vulcans who helped humanity rebuild (after the events of First Contact), and those guys are robe-wearing longhairs.

92

AJ 12.23.09 at 10:33 pm

Oh, and Michel Foucault looks much more like either a) Gunter Meisner, who played Mr. Slugworth in the 1971 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, or b) Peter Swanwick, who played The Supervisor on the 1967 Prisoner series…

93

magistra 12.23.09 at 10:42 pm

Isn’t one of the things about ST-NG that even though the overall social values are progressive the actual gender/racial politics are pretty conservative? It’s still straight white men as the main heroes, women in ‘nurturing’ roles and no gays at all. (DS9 and Voyager changed the first two, but not the last). So when Picard (as a straight white male) makes speeches about the nobility of humanity, isn’t it possible that some conservatives hear it as speeches about the nobility of humanity as embodied in straight white men? I think in some ways this is even more prominent in NG than in the original version: the original version has Spock as a wry commentator on the follies of humanity as embodied in Kirk, while NG has Data hero-worshipping humanity as embodied in Picard.

94

Celo 12.23.09 at 11:03 pm

Conservatives like TNG because it is about a ship that runs with almost perfect military doctrine, regardless of the values of the Federation. The ship is under the complete, unquestioned control of the Captain. This is what they like. Discipline.

It’s authority porn for them.

95

B arry 12.23.09 at 11:42 pm

Dan Drezner 12.23.09 at 5:49 pm
(re: Kirk)

“Don’t forget his shirt being ripped off. Kirk was bare-chested more often than Matthew McConaughey.”

Perhaps you poli sic/IR types should hit the nautilus machines more, and ‘accidentally’ lose your shirts a lot more :) One advantage is that the flabby neocons would visibly boil in their own juices when you strut in, wearing only tight leather pants, knee-high boots, and a great set of ‘guns’ (or they’d make a pass at you, but you could laugh scornfully, whilst slapping them off with a loud smack).

And it’d save on suits – who needs suits when a skin-tight silk shirt would do just as well?

And it’d be good in foreign relations – which Kirk had more of than the UN :)

96

Nick 12.24.09 at 1:25 am

Samizdata stands with the ferengi on this issue: http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/2001/12/the_trouble_with_the_federatio.html

Outside of utopia, I am sure the ferengi are much less warlike than the federation and much more likely to have been raising the universe’s average standard of living by trading with whoever, rather than pussying about with that so-called “prime directive”, that left sentient life mired in war and scarcity until they reached the morally arbitrary technological barrier of warp speed.

Much as I love ST, especially DS9, I prefer Firefly for its grim scepticism of government intervention and utopian dreams. Pity it proved a little too out of step with the mainstream to survive more than the single season that it did.

97

Joaquin Tamiroff 12.24.09 at 1:58 am

In the original ST the Vulcans were the Jews. Nimoy’s hand gesture was rabbinical in origin, and so was the sense of emotional distance and irony (irony being often a logical response without being strictly speaking logical.) In the new version, the Jews were the Ferengi.
Two portrayals of outsider status but the second still a step backwards.
Minstrelsy for Jews,

98

EWI 12.24.09 at 2:11 am

Magistra @ 77:

It’s still straight white men as the main heroes, women in ‘nurturing’ roles and no gays at all. (DS9 and Voyager changed the first two, but not the last).

Not so. Dax and Kira both appeared as ‘gay’ (Dax hooked up again with a wife from a former host, and evil-mirror-universe Kira was certainly toying with the idea of non-consensual intercourse with her ‘real’ counterpart).

99

bianca steele 12.24.09 at 2:18 am

Face it, TNG really isn’t that good. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of what comes off as especially liberal (including casting the captain as French and the personnel chief as Greek) was an attempt to ward off militaristic and imperialistic impressions left by TOS.

Another annoying thing about it was that Geordi was prone to saying things like: The tolerance of the instruments we have won’t let me make so fine an adjustment to our sensors, but I think I can do that if we really need to! Torres, at least, was willing to say a thing was impossible.

100

tomslee 12.24.09 at 2:24 am

The tolerance of the instruments we have won’t let me make so fine an adjustment to our sensors, but I think I can do that if we really need to!

Are we starting a silly TNG quote thread?

Wesley – “I can’t solve the equations!”
Traveller – “Begin by letting go of your guilt”

101

peej 12.24.09 at 3:26 am

FYI, the Coast Guard is now part of Homeland Security.

102

SFAW 12.24.09 at 4:05 am

In the new version, the Jews were the Ferengi.

Or, as Jonah would say, “The Ferengi are the Jews of Federation Fascism.”

Or something like that.

Also.

103

JoB 12.24.09 at 10:49 am

OK then, coming close to 100 somebody has to say it: Stargate is the real sequel to NG. The annoying thing about DS9 really was the entry of New Age – you cán be too lefty at some things (I guess they had Penrose as a counsellor at some point).

104

a.y. mous 12.24.09 at 11:11 am

105

John Kozak 12.24.09 at 1:41 pm

“Ferengi” is a common middle-eastern term for westerners (back to the Crusades, from “Frank”). Would love to know who snuck in that chunk of occidentalism.

106

j7sue 12.24.09 at 5:15 pm

I have never heard of “make it so” being a favourite phrase in the Foucauldian discourse – and I’m also a bit surprised at the idea of a well known French intellectual gay man as role model for a US straight military hero – albeit fictional. But life is surprising – damn – beam me up Scotty.

107

Kaveh 12.24.09 at 5:16 pm

When you also consider that Ferengi society is hyper-patriarchal and they don’t allow their women to wear clothes, the Shylock aspects of the Ferengi make them resonate a lot more with the shady Middle Eastern carpet merchant stereotype. Lots of shady carpet merchants in mid- to late-20th c. action/adventure movies, not a whole lot of Shylocks. I wondered before if the name “Ferengi” wasn’t meant to compensate for that. Of course, while we would now see these as two completely different stereotypes, I think they either share the same origin, or merged temporarily in the 19th century with the discovery of “Semitic” as a racial category.

108

Natilo Paennim 12.24.09 at 7:11 pm

88: slapping them off with a loud smack
Watch it mister! This is a family blog.

There are plenty of other plausible interpretations for the “races” of various ST aliens. Given that TNG premiered before the end of the Japanese Bubble economy, I think the “Ferengi=Japanese” correspondence is very reasonable. Klingons as Russians, Romulans as Red Chinese — those are totally reasonable as authorized readings. While I’m certainly not going to argue that this is “reading too much into” pop culture, I think there are some resistant readings that make sense as well. Ferengi as US corporate culture makes sense to me. And the later Klingons as the more bellicose varieties of US tradition-bound conservatives is hard to gainsay. Ultimately, in the context of an episodic narrative with many different writers, and in which individual characters each have their own narrative arc, it seems a little silly to try to pin down any facet as a perfect correspondence.

109

Master Mahan 12.24.09 at 7:50 pm

Case in point: In the TNG episode “The Pegasus”, Riker struggles between his sense of loyalty and honor for Admiral Pressman and his duty to Captain Picard and the Federation. In the end, Riker shows personal courage and selfless service by exposing Pressman’s violation of the Treaty of Algeron, despite what it might mean for Riker’s career.

That’s an interesting episode to bring up. “The Pegasus” has Riker being ordered to ignore an illegal act, which he eventually chooses to disobey. The message is that the government is not above the law, not even in the name of national security.

Is that a conservative message? Well, I don’t recall many neocons arguing against Geneva convention violations in Guantanamo or illegal wiretapping .

110

Kaveh 12.24.09 at 9:16 pm

@99 I don’t think that’s quite a resistant reading (if I understand you right). I’d say the Shylock, shady carpet-dealer, Japanese, and greedy capitalist readings of the Ferengi all go together, because those stereotypes resonate deeply with each other. There’s a certain habitus that the first three, as anti-Semitic or Orientalist caricatures, share with that of the greedy capitalists–the juxtaposition of hyper-patriarchalism, shameless greed, and a short (weak), and ugly physical form. The illegitimacy of capitalist greed/power is emphasized by juxtaposing it with physical weakness and ugliness (if they were tall and broad-shouldered and had more human-like faces, we would just see them as “powerful”, not “greedy” or “cunning”).

111

bianca steele 12.24.09 at 9:23 pm

@92 Okay obviously the Correct(TM) interpretation is that the whole thing is an allegory, Geordi having transcended the bodily (those prosthetic eyes), and realized that the laws of physics only matter for mundanes. Torres should follow orders better.

112

bianca steele 12.24.09 at 9:38 pm

IIH, to a first approximation: Mundanes ~ Muggles

I do think it’s fascinating which topics people have latched onto as interesting to them. I have little wish to watch these episodes a second time, and at this point I’m more interested in what people think about what really amounts to a paint by numbers kind of writing. Evidently nobody is interested in any of the questions regarding spirituality that are raised in the later series, for example, and only vaguely interested in the heavy handed use of therapeutic language in the earlier ones.

113

novakant 12.25.09 at 6:38 am

Star Trek is for geeks.

114

NomadUK 12.25.09 at 9:55 am

Hey, all I really need to know I learned by watching Star Trek.

Frankly, if more non-geeks took some lessons from it, the world might be less of a shithole than it is.

115

Kent 12.26.09 at 2:47 am

ST TNG = San Francisco Democrats in space.

116

Sage Ross 12.27.09 at 8:03 am

On the subject of heroes and villains and the politics of Star Trek, I humbly point you folks to this blog post I wrote a few years ago:

http://ragesoss.com/blog/2007/02/24/human-identity-and-science-fiction/

Rereading it after this discussion, it strikes me that maybe one thing conservatives find appealing about ST:TNG is that the Federation is Western civilization triumphant, with Euro-American values forming the basis of not just all human civilization, but of all the alien species of the Federation as well. It makes [libertarian SF author and critic] David Brin proudly proclaim “I am a member of a civilization.”

My friends in high school were all Trekkies, and the ones who now identify as conservatives definitely tend toward the libertarian rather than authoritarian end of the spectrum. I wonder if that’s true in general of conservative TNG fans.

117

ejh 12.27.09 at 9:35 am

Similar demographic, I imagine

118

anne 12.27.09 at 10:37 pm

What has “Hail Mary” got to do with anything?

119

John Holbo 12.28.09 at 2:29 am

I meant ‘hail mary’ to capture the delightfully desperate optimism of Potemra’s follow-up play. He’s on his own 4 yard line, philosophically, and he’s going for it ALL. All good things – down-to-earthness, cosmic expansiveness, the whole banana. A more prudent person would have punted after that first post.

120

anne 12.28.09 at 11:00 am

There is more than a touch of Humpty Dumpty about this entire exchange of comments. You can’t say “I meant ” something to capture something when it doesn’t convey any such meaning, and blithely flinging around words like “liberalism” and “conservatism” without any sort of definition isn’t political comment but just an exercise in feeling good about yourselves. If a plot in Star Trek or any other fiction shows up an action as good, viewers of any political persuasion are expected to accept it as related to something they themselves believe- this is called “making a popular programme” . To adopt the terminology temporarily for the sake of argument, only a very few, if any, extreme liberals or extreme conservatives are downright evil, and it is worth bearing in mind the possibility that the rest are trying to work towards something they believe to be good. Identifying the nature of this good would be preferable to dismissing huge swathes of the population with imperfectly understood epithets.
A further point: whether or not Foucault was given to saying it I have no idea, but “make it so” has been a naval command for centuries.

121

Kaveh 12.28.09 at 4:27 pm

@112 Those things (spirituality in later episodes and heavy-handed use of therapeutic language in earlier ones) sound very interesting. Of course things we can comment on are limited by how much STTNG we’ve seen recently.

@116 I’m reading your post, and I agree with your point about ST and STTNG and Western civilization, and I’d go further to say that ST(TNG) develop their own brand of ethnonationalism (Western culture). This sounds a lot like what Tolkien said he was trying to do with LOTR–iirc he said he was trying to develop a mythology for the modern British. ST and I think at least the earlier STTNG (until you get to the Borg, I think) doesn’t take the trouble to really develop and give depth to any culture other than the Federation one. Most of the alien races are recycled from very familiar Euro-American representations of the Other, so it’s not surprising that they look like stereotypes.

What’s interesting is which particular stereotypes the writer(s) were able to combine into memorable characters that the audience immediately “gets”. The hyper-patriarchal, greedy Ferengi can read as Shylock, Oriental, and ultra-capitalist badguys, with little or no inconsistency. That is interesting. I don’t think it would have been obvious to most people my age that those three stereotypes could fit together so seemlessly. And especially the last two of these stereotypes are looming pretty large in “public consciousness” lately. (I wonder, would the Ferengi still make so much intuitive sense to 17-year-olds who had never seen STTNG?)

@30 Picking up off the point about therapeutic language, the politics of STTNG isn’t so much in taking a hard stand for or against empire or capitalism, but in how the persistent problems of empire/capitalism are mapped onto conflicts arising from cultural difference, which are then treated with the talking cure as if they were repressed psychological needs. Cultural practices different from those of the Federation characterize, and are caused by, repressed psychological needs. Instead of nurturing your inner child, you pacify your inner Mongol/Klingon.

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