Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Politics of Trek: “The Conscience of the King”

Let’s continue the Politics of Trek series with Episode 13: “The Conscience of the King”! This is a fascinating episode about a man who executed thousands of people to save thousands more. What conservative message could this send? How about, the ends never justify the means.
The Plot
As the episode begins, the Enterprise has been diverted to Planet Q by Kirk’s friend Dr. Thomas Leighton. Leighton claims to have discovered a new food source, but he’s lying. He really wants Kirk to investigate a visiting actor, Anton Karidian, whom Leighton believes to be Kodos the Executioner. Kodos was the governor of Tarsus IV, where he executed 4,000 people, including members of Kirk’s family. He did this because the colony was running out of food and Kodos hoped to save half the colonists by executing the other half. Kodos was believed killed when he was overthrown, but his body was never found. Kirk initially refuses Leighton’s request. But when Leighton is mysterious killed, Kirk arranges events so the Enterprise gives the acting troupe their ride to the next planet. One thing leads to another and Kirk confronts Karidian, who is in fact Kodos.
Why It’s Conservative
A fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals involves the question of whether motives can excuse behavior. With rare exceptions, e.g. self-defense, conservatives judge people on their actions, not on what motivated those actions. Liberals, by comparison, take motives into account. This is why they consider things like root causes, the relative economic power of the parties, and whether the person’s goals outweigh the tactics they use to achieve those goals, i.e. do their attempted ends justify their means. Conservatives reject this and look only at the means you have chosen. This episode comes down firmly on the conservative side.

For example, Leighton lies to bring the Enterprise to the planet and Kirk reprimands him for it, despite the extreme importance of his request. Kirk then engages in trickery himself and thereby alienates and endangers his friends and crew. Both times the message is that the ends, no matter how important, did not justify the chosen means. But the real focus is on Kodos. Here Kodos tries to justify his crimes to Kirk:
KARIDIAN: Kodos, whoever he was—
KIRK: Or is.
KARIDIAN: Or is. Kodos made a decision of life and death. Some had to die that others might live. You’re a man of decision, Captain. You ought to understand that.
KIRK: All I understand is that four thousand people were needlessly butchered.
KARIDIAN: In order to save four thousand others. And if the supply ships hadn’t come earlier than expected, this Kodos of yours might have gone down in history as a great hero.
KIRK: But he didn’t. And history has made its judgment.
KARIDIAN: If you’re so sure that I’m Kodos, why not kill me now? Let bloody vengeance take its final course! And see what difference it makes to this universe of yours.
KIRK: Those beautiful words, well acted, change nothing.
Kodos is walking through standard liberal arguments here. First he argues that he acted with the best of intentions. This is the argument liberals use to excuse abuses of power: that the ends were very important and justify the means. Then he argues that he deserves “understanding” because he was charged with making life and death decisions. This is moral relativism because it asks that he be judged under a different standard than others because of the circumstances he faced. This is the idea behind the liberal root-causes argument, which says that criminal behavior should be judged in light of a person’s economic circumstances or personal history. Finally, he argues that punishing him will not undo the crime. This is the liberal impulse to dismiss all aspects of criminal justice except reformation. Kodos essentially presents liberal criminal law in a nutshell.

Kirk rejects these arguments with disgust and derision and doesn’t even bother to refute the logic: “all I understand is that four thousand people were needlessly butchered.” That is conservatism: all that matters is what Kodos did, not why he did it. Guilty.

So what about punishment? McCoy, the show’s bleeding heart, suggests there’s no point in punishing Kodos because his victims are dead:
MCCOY: What if you decide he is Kodos? What then? Do you play God, carry his head through the corridors in triumph? That won’t bring back the dead, Jim.
KIRK: No, but they may rest easier.
Kirk rejects this because he sees justice as a matter of principle and asserts that it must account to the victims even if they are dead. Liberals increasingly see this view as “vindictive,” which is why they oppose long sentences, victim’s rights laws and so-called “victimless crimes.”

Kodos then suggests he has suffered enough when he says he no longer treasures life and he laments how he has been haunted by his crimes:
KARIDIAN: Blood thins. The body fails. One is finally grateful for a failing memory. I no longer treasure life, not even my own. I am tired! And the past is a blank.
Actor Arnold Moss does a tremendous job of conveying how this has tormented Kodos even with only these few words, but Kirk dismisses this idea out of hand. Unlike liberal Captain Picard in “The Survivors”, Kirk does not accept the idea that self-imposed suffering is sufficient. Instead, Kirk takes the conservative position that crimes must be punished objectively and cannot be overlooked just because the criminal thinks the punishment is too harsh.

So what does Kirk do? Interestingly, he tells Kodos that he won’t kill Kodos despite wanting to:
KARIDIAN: Did you get everything you wanted, Captain Kirk?
KIRK: If I had gotten everything I wanted, you might not walk out of this room alive.
This is the conservative answer, though it is frustrating. This is Kirk returning to conservative form after his earlier abuses of power. This is his declaration that he will not use improper means to achieve his desired ends, i.e. he will not repeat Kodos’ mistake. Instead, he will let the system extract justice, which dovetails with Kirk’s law-and-order / rule-of-law conservatism.

So Kirk has acted conservatively. But merely arresting a man who thinks he was justified in killing 4,000 people isn’t enough to establish the complete conservative moral, which requires the imposition of a proportional punishment. Since there’s no time to show Kodos’ trial and execution (plus television is about drama), the writer imposes a little proportional cosmic justice and in the process makes the dual points that great crimes require great punishments and evil begets evil. Indeed, it turns out Kodos’ daughter has been killing the witnesses who can expose him. Kodos thought he had shielded her from his past and it destroys him to learn his deeds have poisoned her.
KARIDIAN: What have you done?
LENORE: What had to be done. They had to be silenced.
KARIDIAN: All of them? All seven? More blood on my hands?
LENORE: No Father, not anymore. I’m strong, Father. It’s nothing. . . . Don’t you see? All the ghosts are dead. I’ve buried them. There’s no more blood on your hands.
KARIDIAN: Oh, my child, my child. You’ve left me nothing! You were the one thing in my life untouched by what I’d done. . . Murder, flight, suicide, madness. I never wanted the blood on my hands ever to stain you.
She then kills her own father while trying to kill Kirk. The punishment is complete, justice is had, and the moral is clear: evil means are never justified and evil will receive the punishment it deserves. And that is a strong conservative message.


Joel Farnham said...

Excellent choice. I do believe you nailed this.

If Kodos/Karidian was an honorable man, he would have had himself executed to set the example. As it is, he killed people because he didn't want his family or himself to die by starvation. Once the supply ships showed up, he disappeared probably by killing a "friend" who resembled himself.

If his actions were so honorable, he would have presented himself to the supply ships. He did not present himself to the supply ships. He escaped with at least his daughter and then showed to the world a different face pretending to be a harmless actor.

I don't care if his conscience bothered him.

Individualist said...

It is funny but liberals are all to willing to accept genocide if it is for the correct reason.

There was a short stroy I read which was a liberal science fiction utopia. Everything was perfect because people had to live in modern underground complexes so that the land could be given back to the animals.

In order to have this Utopia the population had to be controlled and there were only five million people alive on the planet. The story had a completely different moral, something about a guy who wanted to live above ground that I don't remember.

What I did remember was the opening to the story where they explained how much better the world was because everyone was so environmentally friendly, there were only allowed enough people on the planet so that resources were plentiful and therefore there was no crime.

I remember asking myself the question as I read (I was 16 I believe). what happened to the excess people. Essentially I can see a metaphor for abortion in this episode of Star Trek.

T-Rav said...

Yeah, I got nothing as far as this episode goes. It sounds pretty tragic, though.

But on a related note, since you point out Kirk's refusal to take the law into his own hands by killing Kodos/Karidian, what do you think this says about the vigilante movies sometimes championed by conservatives (Death Wish, the Dirty Harry movies, etc.)?

Tennessee Jed said...

this was a great episode. well acted. and a great topic. Ultimately, I have never believed the end justifies the means. On the other hand, I'm firmly understand the notion of situational ethics, and the challenges/dilimma we face when confronted with trying to choose between two unsatisfactory choices.

The example is the mother with a baby hiding 40 people from Nazi death squads. The baby starts to cry out. Does one kill the baby to save the 40? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? One clue is that Spock voluntarily gave his life to save his comrades and friends. The baby, alas, has no choice.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Joel! I agree with you 100%. If he really thought he had done right then he would have been presented himself "to the authorities" and stood up for what he'd done. But he didn't.

But even more so, he would have tried to convince people this was the way rather than forcing it upon them. The conservative way is to show people why you are right, not to force them to act according to your wishes.

And I don't care either that his conscience bothered him, that is not enough of a punishment for murder.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, It is interesting how often liberalism leads to the idea of "if we could just get rid of the people who disagree, then everything would be perfect." You hear that suggested by liberals of all stripes, often in a "(sigh) if only" sort of way.

And of course, that is the justification always given for socialist purges when they start rounding up and usually executing people who don't fit the system.

Even in things like Climategate it comes out where they may not be talking about killing people, but they are talking about killing careers and getting rid of the people who won't toe the line.

I hadn't thought about the abortion metaphor in this episode, but I can see it -- though it's not as obvious as in later episodes.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, It's an excellent episode and one of my favorites. It's well written and rather tragic. And, as I note, it's highly conservative. :)

I've actually been thinking about Dirty Harry for the conservative book and why it actually is conservative despite the seeming anti-rule of law content. As strange as it sounds, I don't think Dirty Harry is anti-rule of law. There are two reasons for this.

First, the point to the film is that Harry is following the spirit of the law, it's just that the law itself has gone off the rails. So in that regard, he's not a vigilante throughout the film, he's in compliance with the law, it's the crooks who find a way around the law.

Secondly, when he does finally shoot the bad guy, he's acting in self defense... it's not cold blooded.

Death Wish I'm not so sure is conservative. What Bronson is doing is closer to what Kodos did here.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, The issue of situational ethics is a tough one because you can always keep pushing the example until the choice becomes die or act dishonorably... and most people will choose not to die. So there is always that.

But the Star Treks aren't that grim. They are a morality tale and thus present very clear scenarios which outline the moral questions in big bright lines because I believe the idea behind this show was to pass on simple moral principles.

They could have let the supply ships not come and thus Kodos would have saved the other 4,000 colonists to make this a more complex question, but that wouldn't have served the purpose of providing a clear moral... or at least they would have needed to re-write the whole episode to re-adjust Kirk's response. And then it might not have been as obvious to viewers (especially kids) that Kirk was right.

I think they kept it simple and straight forward because the idea is that once people grasp the simple/obvious moral questions and build up their own set of moral rules, then they can use those to interpret the harder cases. But it's very hard to teach someone when you jump right in to the complex and ambiguous scenarios.

Also, as an aside, while some people may say "liberals don't believe the ends justify the means, because they say they don't believe that all the time" -- the fact is they do. They grasp how wrong the concept is in slogan form, but their thinking really does show a tendency to excuse the means if they agree with the ends... over and over and over.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, even the objection that liberals don't believe the ends justify the means in the face of contrary evidence illustrates the thinking!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, It shows the lack of clear thinking that encapsulates liberalism:

1. We know X is wrong and we absolutely reject X. In fact, we get self-righteous about X because we know it's so wrong.

2. Oh look, in this situation I believe in Z, which is X rephrased.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, "Do the ends justify the means?" was the theme of my bar mitzvah Torah portion! But since I'm too lazy to look in my closet for my Hebrew school paperwork, all I can say is my answer to the question was probably something to the effect of, "Sometimes." (I was 13!)

Yeah, it's a tough issue and I agree with Jed re: situational ethics.

If you want to tackle a Trek episode that treats the issue with a few more shades of gray, I suggest DS9's excellent "In the Pale Moonlight" in which Sisko lies (and Garak kills) to get the Romulans into the Dominion War on the side of the Federation.

Individualist said...


I agree with you that many liberals think they should just geet rid of people who disagree but this story was a black and white morality tale but using liberal mores (or morays I get them confused - ask Lawhawk).

Essentially the whole thing revolved around whether it was right for this guy to move to the surface of the planet becasue his lone presense would unbalance the ecosystem they put in place for the poor little animals.

The pint was that the population was maintained at five million because that was all the humans the planet should be forced to support. It was written in a way that the reader was supposed to take this for granted as natural and right.

Even at 17 I was asking the question OK so if someone has an extra child what do they do. The story ignored this question altogether because evidently the real moral dillema was some guy deciding to live on the surface.

There is a lot of scifi that has these weird liberal memes. I read them in anthologies of scifi stories that I get for Christmas. They really don't seem to make a lot of sense to me but they are interesting in that the midset of the writers at times seem to be from some other world.

Any rate your discussion made me think of this.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, that's an interesting analysis. I'll have to go back and take a look at them to see what I think. I generally like Clint Eastwood, so it would be good to see a genuinely conservative message in his work (aside from Million Dollar Baby, that is).

On situational ethics and ends-justify-the-means issues, there was an episode of one of the reboots of The Twilight Zone which dealt with this (maybe the only truly interesting episode in these lame reboots). It starred Katherine Heigl as a nurse who went back in time somehow and became a maid/nanny to an infant Adolf Hitler, c. 1889. Now there's a difficult question. If you kill this newborn, World War II and the Holocaust will probably never happen. Millions of lives will be saved. So what do you do? I don't remember how the episode ended, but the topic always stuck with me. (For the record, I think the answer is no, you don't kill baby Adolf, because he hasn't done anything yet.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The thing not to forget about situational ethics and the ends sometimes justifying the means... is that sometimes people just do wrong because they calculate it will make things better off in the future. That doesn't make them right -- they are still wrong.

But Kirk is meant as a moral compass. Thus, he cannot act wrong even if he thinks it will lead to a good result. This is because Star Trek is a morality play. Thus, he could not kill Kodos nor could he do what Sisko did because the show requires him to provide the perfect example.

By comparison, DS-9 is a drama. Dramas and morality plays play by different rules and therefore the characters in DS-9 are allowed to act immorally whereas Kirk is not.

Also, going back to the first point above, don't confuse the fact that Sisko was still wrong even though what he did helped the federation. He did wrong and he knew it, it just resulted in a good result. And indeed, no one would want a moral principle to be derived from his actions. So why don’t we condemn Sisko? Because we aren't judging Sisko on his morality -- we are judging him on his effectiveness and we excuse his immorality for the sake of the drama.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I'm not surprised that the story you're talking about has these liberal ideas. Science fiction often trends into promoting very nasty liberal ideas as utopian. That's one of the reasons I am doing the Politics of Trek series, to point out that this is a deeply conservative show. (Though the later shows were the opposite.)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That's an old science fiction/moral question and a good one. From the morality question, can you punish someone for a crime they haven't committed yet? Good question. And does it matter how big the crime is? From a science fiction aspect, you get the question of could you make things worse?

For example, Hitler and Stalin exhausted each other on the battlefield. What would have happened had Germany never risen? Would the Soviets have taken over the world?

I think you're going to like the book I'm working on. It talks about a lot of conservative films and Dirty Harry is one of them. That is a deeply conservative film. Not coincidentally, it's written by Republican John Milius (uncredited), who has produced some of the best conservative work in Hollywood.

ScyFyterry said...

I haven't had a chance to read the comments, but I love this series. Excellent break down both of "Star Trek" and of conservatism!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Terry. Feel free to share your thoughts when you get the chance.

rlaWTX said...

I don't remember this specific episode. [I haven't seen the reruns in years.]

But to T-Rav's vigilante question, I think these movies/shows are liked for 2 reasons: [1] we know we can't actually "fix" things in the real world the way the protagonist does despite wanting to sometimes ("Payback" I think fits this), so it's a kind of fantasy; [2] generally, rule of law has gone haywire and the vigilante is more of "law enforcement" than "kill who I want because I want" ("Roadhouse" comes to mind).

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I think that's right. What these movies provide conservatives is a sense that when the law has gone wrong, i.e. people find a way to become beyond the law through power or technicalities, the vigilante hero comes along to re-establish the law by imposing it themselves. That's why Dirty Harry goes out of its way as a film to stress that Harry can't get this guy through the system because the system doesn't work. Ditto with Roadhouse (excellent example by the way) because the bad guy controls the town.

Neither film would have "felt right" for conservatives if that setup hadn't been made first -- that the rule of law no longer worked. Without that, these guys would just be out of control cops/thugs.

And taking this back to the episode, we see again that Kirk can't kill Kodos because the rule of law is intact and functioning in the Federation.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Road House. I saw it for the first time last year and absolutely loved every second of it. :-)

Andrew, when it comes to labeling something a "morality play" vs. a "drama," or even labeling in general, it would appear that there is a thin line to walk (i.e. who says the show is X and not Y, what if I disagree, what about the creator's intent?, etc.). This might be fodder for another conversation but I never made the distinction between that different series.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, in regard to the specific example you raise, I don't think so, because a) the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II was malfunctioning and may very well have collapsed without Western aid, and b) prior to Nazi aggression, the Eastern European nations such as Poland and Czechoslovakia were doing fairly well for themselves and would have been an effective barrier to the Soviets had they not been ravaged in the course of the war. So no, the Soviets probably would not have taken over.

But as to the general question you're asking, it is a problem. As much as I occasionally daydream about going back and rewriting history, it's one of those things that falls under "the law of unintended consequences." You may have changed one event, but you won't be able to control or even foresee everything that follows from that change. Not to mention the fact that it strips the individual of all agency.

For these reasons, I think time travel, however cool it may seem in our imaginations, is not only impossible but probably undesirable.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It can be a fine line, but it's usually not. Morality tales are a subset of drama, hence the appearance of overlap. But morality tales have specific requirements. They typically involve one person who is placed in a moral dilemma where the choices are (1) doing the right moral thing versus (2) some personal reason not to do the right thing. There is typically only one simple moral principle at play. And if the character does the right thing, they will be rewarded. If they do the wrong thing, they will be punished. And the point is to impart the idea of how moral decisions are made.

Dramas can be much, much broader. In a non-morality tale drama, there is no need to set up the right and wrong dynamic. Instead, you can have all kinds of shades of gray. Moreover, there is no need to punish/reward the character when they make their decision because the point to the drama is simply to entertain you with the character's struggling rather than imparting a specific lesson.

Star Trek, like The Twilight Zone is a morality play. The difference between the two is that each Zone is set up as a different story involving different characters. In Star Trek the focus is on Kirk, who is repeatedly called to make the right moral decision in each episode, despite reasons he is pulled in other directions.

The later Treks are not morality tales. They are dramas and are focused on the plots rather than imparting moral guidance. They may include some liberal ideas "be nice to each other" and "don't discriminate," but they rarely get into the struggle between doing the right thing versus doing what you want to do. In other words, in the later show, any question of morality is used to enhance the plot, but in the original series, the plot is centered around the point of morality.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Road House is truly a fun movie.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think you're right that time travel (if it is possible) would be a mess. Look at how hard it is to do even simple things. Raise taxes and the whole economy changes. Block an intersection and someone dies in an ambulance... or not. etc. etc. The world is just too complex with too many variables for anyone to be able to know how a single change in the past would re-write history.

CrispyRice said...

Great episode! And good analysis, Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Crispy!

Individualist said...


You know while at first read I completely accept your premise that the plot of this show is a morality tale that conservatives support and has many memes liberals now reject there is just one thing that bothers me.

At the time of the writing of this series no one democrat or republican I think would have had any issue with what was in the show. The moral of the show was considered just what was right and it reflected what people should focus on.

It is not until you get into the recent deconstructionism of the left that started in counterculture movements whose genesis was the same time Star Trek was airing but had not yet become mainstream. It seems to me that the criticism that we now expect from the left regarding this is something that is a product of this ideological movement gaining ground.

I find it interesting.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, What's interesting about this show is the timing. It was written at a point in time when liberalism was influx. Prior to this point, liberalism was the liberalism of FDR -- largely classical liberalism with a bit of a bleeding heart. But starting in the 1960s, liberalism became radical and become modern liberalism, which is akin to progressivism. Thus, while both liberals and conservatives would have accepted the morality in Star Trek in the 1960, by the 1970s, liberalism was already rejecting the morality of Star Trek in favor of a nearly opposite agenda.

Also, backing this up, the writers were mostly liberals who wrote these episodes and I don't think they were intending to write a conservative show, but this is what happened because liberalism has turned it's back on the themes within this show.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I have a response to the article that I will write later, but for now I wanted to respond to a few of the comments.

RE: Situational ethics - those who push examples to the extreme tend to be utilitarian. Their extreme examples can only manifest if bad or no ethics are employed in every step leading to the extreme. If situational ethics can still result in extreme situations, that should set off alarm bells.

I see ethics as inherently situational, but I am no situational ethicist as the term is understood. Like Kirk, I don’t believe in the no-win situation, but I will expound to say that if you find yourself in one, it is because somebody has already erred to arrive at it.

RE: Vigilantes - Another good example is Batman. Gotham City is an archetype for political corruption. I'm very eager to see the last installment of the current trilogy. I've been toying with the idea of penning an article about the genius of the Batman/Catwoman dichotomy based on the contrast between the good and bad vigilante.

RE: Time Travel - Why is it that the approach is always to go back in time and kill Hitler (or whoever)? Why is the approach never to go back and reform Hitler? Let me know if there is anything like that.

RE: Retrospect - I think it serves a purpose now more than ever to show the conservatism of Trek. If there is one political party that has fallen away from the message of Trek in the years since its filming, that just shows how much that party has fallen away from the mainstream. Because of the staying power of Trek, it also bolsters the argument that the converse is NOT the case, that the mainstream has shifted.

Mike K. said...

"Time Travel - Why is it that the approach is always to go back in time and kill Hitler (or whoever)? Why is the approach never to go back and reform Hitler? Let me know if there is anything like that."

Last year's Doctor Who special, "A Christmas Carol."

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think it is a good thing to show the conservatism of Trek for that very reason -- it exposes how twisted liberalism has become since the 1960s. Also, from a film perspective, I think it's good to show people example of solid conservatism.

I have to think that reforming Hitler would not make for a great film, but who knows?

Ethics are by their definition dependent on the situation, but I don't think the underlying principles change... it's just which principle should be applied that changes.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, I missed that one. I had it on dvr and everything and then we had a power outage and my dvr crashed. So I haven't seen it yet.

tryanmax said...

Well, maybe not Hitler, but the point I was trying to make is that the preventative approach in time travel is always one of preemptive revenge rather than simple prevention.

AndrewPrice said...

I don't have any examples off the top of my head, but I'm pretty sure there have been films where they only tried to change the past rather than kill anyone.

Individualist said...


How about this for a tinme travel plot. A group of scientists invent time travel and of course the democ4rats in congress put a bucnh of Berlely educated bureaucrats in charge of regulating it.

They immediately plan to go back in time to kill Hitler but the scientists warn them that such a drastic change in the timeline could cause the universe to wink out of existence.

They accept this but not to be detered instead device a plan to go back in time and "annoy" Hitler. So starting in Hitler's early childhood they go back and using their technology give him wedgies while invisible, play weird music at night only he can hear and many other things like this.

The stress of this causes Hitler to join the Thule society because he is convinced there is some supernatural element at work and he ends up becoming the psychotic raving mad man that cuased the Berkely types in the future to go back in time to "annoy" him.

I dunno maybe it is not fiction. Hmmmmm........

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, LOL! That sounds exactly like how the government would use a time travel machine.

tryanmax said...

As promised, here are my thoughts:

“With rare exceptions, e.g. self-defense, conservatives take the position that motives are irrelevant.”

I understand that you are trying to unpackage the phrase “the ends never justify the means” but this doesn’t quite capture the essence. Conservatism doesn’t really make exceptions, so we need a way to express the idea that does not require the exception. It comes somewhat closer to say that motives do matter, but they are on equal footing with outcomes. Thus, a bad outcome cannot be justified by good intentions anymore than bad intentions are justified by a good outcome.

Of course, that still leaves the matter of what is “good” and what is “bad” open to discussion, and there are many ways to go about that. As it pertains to this episode, I would offer that “good” is consistent and creative, whereas “bad” is self-contradictory and destructive. Murder is an inherently destructive action. But Kodos employed it in an attempt to preserve lives. The very idea calls derision on itself.

Now consider if Kodos had and attempted a more creative solution; a rationing system, a search for undiscovered resources. Some would still have died, he might still have been vilified, and he likely would still have regrets, but he could not be called “Executioner.”

Something to consider: was Kodos placed in a Kobayashi Maru scenario?

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, In truth, self-defense is not really a motive, it's an exception carved out for an otherwise illegal act of violence on the basis that it is forced upon you and thus you cannot be blamed for something which wasn't your choice. It's the same thing with killing on a battlefield. It's just easier to call it a motive in an article like this because readers will think of it but I don't have the room to go into depth on why it doesn't disprove the theory.

And whether Kodos is in the no-win situation, that's possible. Morality doesn't guarantee you a great result or always a great option. But he made it worse with his actions. A more moral course would have been (as Joel says above) to ask people to kill themselves or to let nature take it's course.

tryanmax said...

I don't want to disagree but I will suggest that there may be more than one understanding of "motive." I don't have a law background, but between studying Maslow and studying theatre, I am in possession of several.

And, of course, there is the matter that some brands of morality urge the suppression of impulses. That could be extended to include the impulse for survival and, indeed, it sometimes does.

Forgive me, I'm being overly-analytical. But it does make one appreciate how neatly packaged "The ends do not justify the means" is. Because even in self-defense, one's survival is not the justification, but repelling the unjust aggression of the antagonist.

Individualist said...

I think we need to have an understanding that there is a difference between Kodos selecting four of the eight thousand colonists to survive by only giving them rations and outright exterminating 4000 people.

I guess I keep going back to that article I read and the pro abortion arguments that are reflected in our society because I think this is a key point of liberalism.

That being that the collective is the only thing that is important. Individuals matter but only to the extent that they promote society at large.

Picard as written by the mordern leftists in TNG would have gone along with forgiving KODOS. Why? Because KODOS did what was right for the collective.

We all know we should not murder and that we should protect life. We educate our children, build roads and infrastructure and teach morality to ensure there are the resources and ordered processwes in place to support the next generation and to grow.

Liberals understand that when societies run into scarcities that there is a potential for war. so do conservatives. Conservatives feel that people should go along with what they have do the best they can, fight the war if they have no other choice but try to live free and do what is best for each individual.

Libberals don't think this way. If there is a war the collective as a whole is in peril and it must be stopped. Thus they want one world governments and centralized control. So what happens when there is a scarcity of resources. Well the collective has to systematically perform the fucntion of culling the herd that would have organically occured with a ware or famine. They kill members of the population.

The presumption in the science fiction story is that the earth is allowed 5 million people no more so naturally the controlling one world government has to euthanize the 5 million and first.

The presumption of the abortion argument is that society cannot afford to have children born to unwed mothers that cannot take care of them. So let's convince those in that situation that killing the unborn child is not just a viable option but maybe the best choice.

If the collective matters you make the choice to kill the unwanted that you cannot support. If the individual matters you do your best to protect people but require people to support themselves as well.

I have read stories by way out there liberal scifi authors where the KODOS solution is appluded. Oddly enough they tend to be the lightest in the science portion of the science fiction.

Just my two cents, now worth $0098 after Obamacare.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I'm just talking in the broadest sense of "what conscious act you set out to do" because that is what questions of morality are usually based upon.

And in that regard, self-defense doesn't generally fit in the category because it's usually only an unthinking reaction to someone who is acting well outside the bounds of morality themselves. (At least that's the case until liberals get a hold of it. That's when ideas like pre-emptive self defense rear their heads and cause all kinds of havoc.)

But you make a good point that this single line packs a heck of a punch -- which is usually true with these little nuggets that have stood the test of time.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, Sorry to hear about the loss of value of your two cents! :(

I think you're right that there would be a difference between his just abandoning the 4,000 and executing them. This goes back to an old question in philosophy about the difference between omission and comission, i.e. are you at fault for not stopping bad things as well as for causing bad things.

That issue isn't decided and has been at the forefront of much debate. In general, I think most people accept that you can't generally be blamed for failing to act, but they also see many exceptions based on proximity, ability and the severity of the consequences.

tryanmax said...

Indie, though not the crux of your last comment, there is an interesting point raised in it. That is, that the individual and the collective have very different responses to evil. In the case of the individual, all evils are closer to equal footing because any injury is perceived by the whole. But the same is not true of the collective. Parts of the collective are absolutely numb to other parts, so evils become more categorical, even to the point of allowing self-immolation.

War provides a particularly stark example because that is about the only thing which can threaten collective as a whole (widespread natural disaster being the only other coming to mind). Meanwhile, many things threaten the individual in ways similar to war. This explains the higher tolerance for war among individualists than collectivists. To the individual, it merely represents a different manifestation of an otherwise familiar risk. To the collective, it is a more unique threat.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent post, Andrew!

Also, good points, Joel and Indi!

Still reading the comments so I'll probably have more later.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's an interesting distinction that a country/collective and an individual have different concerns when it comes to evil. That may explain a good deal of the disconnect between government policy and individual preference.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ben! Feel free to comment at your leisure.

Individualist said...


That point is brilliant and I completely missed it.

I think you might be right. The Individual has as there primary motivation the survival of each individual. Wars are the worst part of an economic struggle. You avoid them by finding ways to produce more.

The collectivist has as his primary motivation the survival of the collective. Wars are a breaking apart of teh collective. Even if one side wins there will be a break in unity. Thus they want to solve the economic problem with macheiaveelian solutions such as population control.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew: I disagree that FDR was a classical liberal, at least not in the same sense our Founding Fathers were.

FDR was more pro(re)gressive which started with Teddy but FDR took it to a much higher level.

That being said FDR was still much more conservative than the modern day leftists.

rlaWTX said...

it's kind of amazing the conversation that comes out of a TV show... the fact that it's a great show probably helps.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Speaking of the collective-minded, they always make simple(minded) statements that everything is finite, ergo, insert apocalypse based on overpopulation, lack of resources, lack of food, global warming/cooling, etc., etc..

Most of that is so shortsided and not based on science.

For instance, food production is not a problem today (although it doesn't always make it to people that need it in third world countries but that's not due to a lack of food).

Peak oil is now a debunkable myth, particularly since there are new ways to get it (shale).

World population is stable and never met the dire predictions of the past, weather has short and long term patterns, we can recycle a lot of what we use, etc., etc..

And yet, many collectivists still believe a lot of this BS.
They still don't realize that although they are static not everyone else is.

Innovations are always being made and new resources are being discovered all the time.

Collectivists never take into account even the known variables, let alone the unknown ones so it's no wonder they are always in the full on apocalypse now mode.

rlaWTX said...

Ben, if you take any Psych class, they will tell you that the collectivists are better - more caring, more stable, less individualistic, etc... - and that you must appreciate their culture.


AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I think it's fascinating the kinds of discussions people get into out of a quality show like this. That's one reason I wanted to do the series, to give people a chance to think in bigger terms than just the news of the day and to ponder what conservatism really is and how it fits with their beliefs (or doesn't).

tryanmax said...

Another part of the collectivist thinking problem is that, while I do believe in such a thing as a collective mind, it cannot be accessed individually. Adam Smith called this the Invisible Hand. In other words, the collective will make the best decisions even if the individual does not--but only if the individuals are left to make decisions. Since we are all individuals, none of us is equipped to think for the collective because none of us can think like a collective. Bringing it back to Trek the genius and the horror of the Borg is that it does consciously think like a collective and that is wholly foreign to our existence.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I should probably clarify that. FDR was only a classical liberal by comparison to modern liberals. He was, as you note, an early progressive.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

No doubt the majority of Psych professors consider anyone with my views insane, lol.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew: In that case I concur. Relatively speaking. :^)

This series is a great idea! There was a lot of philosophy and even metaphysics to be had from Trek if one explores many of the themes and questions raised deeper.

Another good thing as a result of having it here is we don't hafta waste time with debating whether or not right and wrong exists or if truth is absolutely relative or just relative with no possibility of absolute truth (absolute truth must be if there is to be any truth at all).

It's difficult to see why some folks forgo reason and logic but apparently it is appealing to them.
Perhaps due to the illusion of a reality they can micromanage.
Maybe that's conforting somehow.

I dunno. I guess I can't deny that they feel good about their denial of reality. I just can't relate.

rlaWTX said...

Ben, I keep my personal opinions quiet in grad school classes for that reason. [Nearly done!] Although in WTX there are more of the non-traditional students (AKA older)who lean my way.

and I agree fully about Commentarama being a "safe space" where one can avoid most of the trolls and enjoy the conversation - I'm sure that we have enough differences of opinion among us to fulfill the modern diversity requirements!

tryanmax said...

rlaWTX, not only is Commentarama a safe place, it is also a consistently smart place. Before I found it, I spend a lot of time at a centrist site that did a fair job of discussing most issues, but went absolutely brain-dead when it came to Israel or the notion that Keynes and Smith are incompatible. (O, the elusive dream of compromise!)

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ben! I think it's been fascinating to read everybody's comments and see what angles they have taken.

I agree that it's nice not having to argue about whether truth exists or whether there is right and wrong. Why people believe that? I guess because it's easier to not worry about your own morality and that's easiest when you think there is no right and wrong.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX and trynamax, Thanks! I love the community we've created. I think we have a lot of very smart people with interesting opinions and great senses of humor. I wouldn't trade our audience for any other. :)

darski said...

Interestingly, I found "In the Pale Moonlight" to be the most disturbing episode in all of Trek - to wit it marked the end of Trek as we know it. The good guys - us - had become just as evil as the evil.

The entire point of Trek and its success was that humanity would move into a better place - there was hope and we should not give up the good fight. sisko said - screw the good I want to live.

I found this TOS episode to be very powerful when it first aired. I grew up when the CBC would regularly show Shakespeare plays so the "set" was comfortable. I liked the larger than life aspect of Trek and all its people and villains. it seemed to me that the punishment did indeed fit the crime.

AndrewPrice said...

darski, That's an interesting take and I certainly can't disagree. Trek has always been about the Federation being the good guys -- the shining example of how to live. And yet, by that point in DS-9, they had become the bad guys in many ways. The other bad guys (Dominion, Romulans, Borg) were clearly worse, but that didn't change the fact the Federation had become rather evil itself.

Annabelle Spencer said...

I remember the original Star Trek airings-they scared me but soon won me over. I haven't seen on in years.

In that time I've struggled personally to portray the difference between liberalism and conservatism. With your article I learned I lacked a deeper understanding of both.

As a deep conservative I've virtually become a hermit to avoid meeting the local liberals who infuriated me, cause a migraine, make me anxious, and wreck havoc with me. (Not just liberals but the local idiots too!)

AndrewPrice said...

Annabelle, Welcome!

You'd be surprised how many people actually don't fully grasp the differences. People know in a general sense that liberals favor big government and conservatives small government, but beyond that many get hazy. Stick with the series and we'll eventually walk through most of the differences between conservatism and liberalism and hopefully give everyone a framework for understanding all the nuances. :)

In terms of liberals, I have to say that I am honestly getting to a point that I am finding it pointless to talk to liberals because they seem to have lost their ideology and are now just repeating nonsensical (and very angry) bumpersticker thoughts. That's too bad.

In any event, feel free to ask any questions that come to mind.

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