The Dangers of Star Trek Fundamentalism

Republibot 3.0
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You know how people sometimes say that Trek is like a religion? They talk about it’s optimism, their faith in its view of the future and the human spirit, they natter on about what is and isn’t ’canonical,’ the true believers dress in silly vestments and call themselves “Trekers’ to differentiate themselves from casual fans and from the lower-caste “Trekies.” They have revival meetings they call ‘conventions,‘ where they can recharge their batteries in the presence of like-minded believers. They venerate the “Great Bird of the Galaxy” and sing songs to and about him, despite the fact that he was a womanizing sexist lecher. They spend hopeless amounts of time and energy trying do derive deep meaning from stories that are mostly just intended to be ephemeral entertainment. They look down - sometimes aggressively - on anyone who doesn’t share their faith. Whether or not Trek is a religion is immaterial, I think we can all agree that it shares lots and lots of attitudes and behaviors with religions.

Well, just like any organized religion, it's preachy as all hell, and spends an enormous amount of time and effort setting up tendentious 'straw man' arguments that they can't help but win. But, as with *all* straw man arguments, the outcome has no relationship to the real world, or any enduring concept of right or wrong. That doesn’t mean that religion is bad, or that secular humanism is good, it simply means that sometimes people who should know better tend to rely on disingenuous arguments that don’t hold water simply because they support their cause and make life easier for them.

It goes like this: If I say "Slavery is wrong," (Which it is), "Because everyone knows it's wrong for them, personally, to be a slave" then we have a self-evident point. If I say, "Slavery is wrong because the bible says it's wrong" (Which it doesn't), then I have an argument based on faith and that's not going to hold up in the long run. And while the concluding may be valid (Slavery really *is* bad), the fact that I based my argument on a matter of faith and willfully ignored all those chapters in Leviticus about the care and feeding of slaves, is ultimately going to hurt my cause because once people lose their faith in The Book, then any arguments based upon it fall apart. This is why - and remember, I’m a Republican speaking here - this is why Separation of Church and State is a *good* thing: Because it allows you to base the machinery of your society on something a bit more clear and present than augury and what some ostensibly celibate dress-wearing dude in Rome says. This is a good thing, because when the chicken bones and the guys in Rome turn out to be wrong, when it turns out that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, when it turns out there are four more continents than you though, and three of ’em are full of people you don’t know what to do with, things can go badly wrong. If you have one unimpeachable source of wisdom and authority, and then it turns out to be wrong, then ipso facto you have *no* unimpeachable sources of wisdom and authority, and you’re forced to either go to great lengths to either cover it up, or give lip service to something that no one really believes in just to keep society running (As we saw in Greco Roman society in the last century or two BC). This is why it’s fairly important to build a society like ours on known quantities rather than on the shifting sand (Excuse me) of interpretation and popular wisdom.

Unfortunately, this is a fairly serious problem in our society, where morality was based on the will of God (Whichever God you happened to believe in), and now that society as a whole doesn’t believe in God anymore, we're struggling to find something new to base our ethics on, flailing wildly, and they keep ending up as "this is the highest law: take all you can grab without screwing people over, trust advertisers, women over 40 are useless, and people who don't recycle are the new Nazis."

Don't get me wrong: I love metaphor-based SF: HG Wells had a hell of a social conscience and wove it in to all of his books. Forbidden Planet and The (original) Day The Earth Stood Still were great moralistic fiction, “The Brother Form Another Planet” is a great low-budget message-driven SF film, and even "The Battle For Terra" (out now) has a surprisingly chewy moral core.

Trek's attempt at moralizing, however, has always been the cheeziest, most irritatingly over-earnest Kalifornia Uber Alles tripe based entirely around "This is the dominant value of Los Angeles in the time the show was made, and therefore it will be a timeless value throughout all the future." They base morality on popular transitional opinions, which produces as many bad examples as the 'good' ones people love to cite. “Racism is bad” (“Let that be your last battlefield”) and a dozen other episodes that support positive humanistic values blah blah blah. Fine, well and good. But:

Remember, for instance, "The Savage Curtain" where Kirk and company (metaphorically) supported The Vietnam War? Or the TNG episode where Piccard's solution to the Drug Problem was simply 'let everyone kill each other?' (I forget the title of that one. 1st season episode. Guest Starred Merrick Butrick) Or when Spock admits he believes in "The gods"? Not to mention the fact that the original show was embarrassingly sexist as hell. “Women can’t be captains….” we’re told in no uncertain terms in “Turnabout Intruder.” No one likes to talk about these episodes, they’re embarrassing. Why? Because they were based on popular wisdom (And Vietnam *was* popular prior to Tet), and not any kind of reasoning or ethos or whatever. And don’t even get me started on the most morally indefensible of all laws: The Prime Directive.

My point here is that if a show intends to preach a timeless human-based morality (Which is a good thing, by the way), it can't merely parrot the prevailing West Coast attitudes of the time, otherwise, you end up with embarasing situations like those.

Seriously, the Trek version of preachy would seem cloying and irritating even in the most fundamentalist of Sunday schools. Which I think is why Trek has the social phenomenon it does: It's basically breeding fundamentalist secular humanists.

Which actually wouldn't be such a bad thing if they paid more than lip-service to logic and reason and science. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to believe in stuff. The Logical Positivist movement showed pretty conclusively that all of us - from the most militant nihilist through atheists and on down to the most literalist monk - believe in eleventy-kerjillion things that can’t be proven rationally, most of which make no sense. Belief is human, we need it, we can’t function without it. What I’m saying is: don’t give up your ability to be critical.

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