Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Politics of Trek: “This Side of Paradise”

Some claim Star Trek presents a communist utopian view of the world. That is true of the Next Generation, where they pretend to have fundamentally changed human nature to the point of eliminating greed, jealousy, and the other human vices. But it’s certainly not true of the original series. To the contrary, Episode 24: “This Side of Paradise” is a fundamental repudiation of the idea of the communist utopia.
The Plot
As our episode begins, the Enterprise makes orbit around Omicron Ceti Three. They are on a grim mission: to collect the remains of a 150 federation colonists who built a colony here before they realized the planet was exposed to Berthold rays, a newly-discovered deadly form of radiation which destroys living tissue. But as the crew beams down, they discover that the colonists are very much alive. The colonists have been given immunity from the radiation by spores from a seemingly harmless flower. The spores also give anyone they infect perfect health and happiness. But in exchange, people lose their own ambitions and become part of the collective community. Soon, the Enterprise crew is infected and Kirk must save them from paradise.
Why It’s Conservative
There are several ways you can look at this episode. The most obvious would be as a repudiation of hippy drug culture. The hippies saw hallucinogenic drugs as a way to escape reality and find utopia. This episode rejects that. Spock even refers to the spores as “a happy pill.” But there’s something more interesting going on in this episode.

This episode makes a fundamental point about human nature, and in the process, it rejects communism. To understand this, let’s examine the choice Kirk faces. The spores promise absolute health and a leisurely life where all of Kirk’s needs will be met. They even promise a deep sense of happiness. That sounds pretty good. But there’s a catch. The spores cause you to lose your own personal ambition and become part of the collective. Indeed, when Spock becomes infected, his new girlfriend Leila says, “Now, you belong to all of us and we to you.” This is collectivist dogma, the elimination of private property and the idea that the individual exists only as part of the collective. And later on, colonist leader Elias Sandoval tells McCoy that he’s been “thinking about what sort of work I could assign you to.” Notice that McCoy is not being offered a choice, he will do what the collective deems best. Again, this is a command economy.

Kirk rejects this paradise for the world he knows, a world where people must earn what they desire. His world cannot guarantee happiness or remove sadness, as the spores can, but Kirk believes it offers the one thing human nature requires: ambition (translation: individual achievement). Here’s the key dialog explaining this choice, as Sandoval and an infected Mr. Spock try to sell Kirk on the idea of joining them:
SANDOVAL: In return, [the spores] give you complete health and peace of mind.
KIRK: That’s paradise?
SANDOVAL: We have no need or want, Captain.
SPOCK: It's a true Eden, Jim. There's belonging and love.
KIRK: No wants. No needs. We weren't meant for that. None of us. Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is.
SANDOVAL: We have what we need.
KIRK: Except a challenge.
Notice that the spores promise the humans will no longer have needs or wants, and they promise a sense of belonging, love and contentment -- all things humans claim to want. But Kirk rejects this, claiming that “we weren’t meant for that.” In other words, that’s not real paradise. Why not? Because “man stagnates if he has no ambition.” This is the truly inspired point. Kirk is getting to the heart of human nature and the meaning of life: man has wants and desires because he is meant to strive to achieve those, he is not meant to merely exist. In fact, Kirk will go further at the end of the episode and actually reject the idea of paradise itself:
MCCOY: Well, that’s the second time man’s been thrown out of paradise.
KIRK: No, no, Bones. This time we walked out on our own. Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through. Struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums.
Kirk believes that humans can only achieve true happiness by striving to overcome challenges. It is in the struggle itself where humans find happiness. This is the conservative understanding of human nature and it’s similar to the Ancient Greek view that you cannot pursue happiness directly, but can only find happiness as a by-product of some other pursuit. This is the opposite of the liberal view. Liberals believe the struggle to satisfy wants generates unhappiness, and they believe that if you could give people everything they need, then they will be happy.

Now consider this in economic terms. Kirk advocates a world where people work to achieve their individual desires (“ambition”) rather than just satisfying the needs of the collective. That’s capitalism. And in his mind, a world where people only satisfy their needs and then turn to leisure is not a paradise but is instead a dystopia where the human spirit stagnates. But that’s exactly what the spores are offering. The Sandoval/spore position is the people will be satisfied once their basic needs are met and they can turn to leisure. This is Marxism: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Marxism does not recognize wants because those are considered consumerist and generate unhappiness because they inspire disparity. Even non-Marxist liberals actively disdain individual wants and try to stifle attempts to satisfy those wants through high taxation of success and regulation to bar things of which the collective does not approve.

Kirk rejects this communist paradise in favor of capitalism. And he does so not because he thinks communism won’t work -- it absolutely will work in this unique case as has been shown by Sandoval’s group -- he rejects it because he believes it is fundamentally at odds with the human spirit. In other words, Kirk believe capitalism is necessary for the human spirit to find happiness. That’s a ringing endorsement.

Naturally, the show agrees with Kirk. Once the colonists are freed of the spores’ influence and can make up their own minds, they immediately realize that their drug-induced happiness was fake, i.e. that the human spirit needs more than an illusion of contentment. Says Elias with a great deal of dismay: “We've done nothing here. No accomplishments, no progress. Three years wasted. We wanted to make this planet a garden.”

And therein lies the conservative message, that the socialist/anti-consumerist doctrine of fulfilling needs and then living in leisure may seem appealing at first glance, but it is destructive to the human spirit. Man is not meant for a world in which he only works to satisfy his needs and not his wants. Man must strive to fulfill his individual dreams.

Finally, it should be noted that this episode is Brave New World distilled down. In Brave New World, a world government controls people by offering them so much pleasure that they abandon their personal ambitions and become satisfied with what they are given. In exchange, the government gets to continue its existence. That is what the seeds are doing here. These seeds can only live inside a human host and they are offering happiness in exchange for their existence, but the cost is a fundamental loss of humanity. Kirk, like Huxley, grasps that a gilded cage is still a prison because it destroys the human spirit. Liberal don’t get that.

Indeed, one of the more disturbing moments in the Next Generation series involves every time questions come up like what humans do now that they no longer need money, i.e. now that all their needs are met. Picard and crew always mumble something about “self-improvement.” But they define this narrowly as essentially having “the freedom” to pursue hobbies. They live in Huxley’s Brave New World and they don’t even realize it. It’s no wonder they ALL keep volunteering for suicide missions.


darski said...

While reading your (excellent) overview I found myself remembering the episode of DS9 called "Paradise Lost" wherein we see how quickly Utopia turns to Social Fascism.

In a weird way, it demonstrates Kirk's point that Man is meant to strive and to achieve. Man will create the crisis in order to resolve it- i.e. achieve some end. The end to be achieved is never freedom though.

I await further information...
(I feel like I am at The Cube and awaiting The Party's Current Truth)

Joel Farnham said...

Nice job Andrew.

This is why I like the Ferengis. They are always in it for themselves. Unapologetic Capitalists.

Koshcat said...

I haven't contributed much lately, but I have been lurking in the shadows.

When TNG was on, I didn't fully realize the differences between the old and the new. I think for most of the episodes, especially early on, TNG was able to hide or make the underlying socialism a background plot. Take the Ferengis, mindless capitalists who keep their wives at home, naked. Seriously? It seems that as the series progressed they had a more difficult time keeping their nutty ideas down. You should have a blog of the most anti-capitalist episode from TNG. My choice would be the episode where they discovered that warp travel was damaging space. Some scientists were trying to warn everybody but they were ignored, until the Enterprise starting experiencing problems. Sort of like global warming and ozone hole all in one episode. Now the Federation has a speed limit in hopes that they won't cause more damage. I now they often stretch the laws of physics but don't they realize how small a single ship is to the size of the universe? It would be like a single virus on earth was causing earthquakes. So dumb.

Tennessee Jed said...

I suspect that the writer was, in fact, mainly thinking about doing a show about the perils of the hippie/drug culture rather than consciously considering the larger picture. Having not even looked at who was the writer or to what extent the script got massaged by others, it would be interesting to know if there was any kind of conscious effort to go the BNW route.

We have, of course, talked at length on this very subject; but I really believe a lot of "liberal/progressives" get this notion wrong because of they see BNW and dystopia resulting directly from corporate society which they equate with capitalism and "greed" or "self-interest." They see government as the force that helps even the playing field for the poor and powerless against the excesses of capitalism.

However, as we have often agreed, it matters little whether the controling entity is a corporation or a "government." In either case the real difference between the progressive and the conservative is suppression of the freedom of the individual to support the collective need of the group.

rlaWTX said...

I'm sure that over time I have seen most, if not all, of the original Star Trek episodes. However, remembering most of them is another thing (except for the ones with a "hook" - tribbles, the half-black/half-white guys, etc). So, this series of article is interesting in an academic way for the most part - and makes me want to see them again...

That said, and recognizing how much more "conservative" leftists were just 40 years ago, I still find it interesting that a group of "liberal" writers managed to come down on the conservative side of their morality plays on such a regular basis. Andrew, live long and prosper!

AndrewPrice said...

darski, LOL! Further instruction shall be forthcoming!

In all seriousness, one of the things I've enjoyed a lot about writing this series is trying to state precisely the difference between liberalism and conservatism. It's been interesting because I know it in a general sense, but haven't had to be as precise in the past until I started writing this series. And once you start having to be more precise, you start to see all kinds of nuances and how the two beliefs really do diverge at fundamental levels.

I remember the episode you mention and you make a fascinating point -- even in paradise, someone would create problems just to be able to solve them because it is human nature to keep striving toward something -- good or bad.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Joel! In a realistic universe, the Feregnis would have been good guys for the most part. But Roddenberry clearly hates capitalism, look at how he characterizes it: the Ferengis are clearly an anti-Semitic stereotype devoid of courage or morals. Roddenberry is a jerk.

Anonymous said...

Re: Koshcat's comment...

I had totally forgotten about TNG's "warp speed limit" episode! I think I've only seen it once. As usual, I did a little digging to see what I could come up with. It turns out the producers were interested in doing an environmental episode (not that there's anything wrong with that), but they had trouble making it personal. In other words, all that was left in the episode was the sermonizing, without the drama.

Producer Jeri Taylor: I've been on enough series and tried to do environmental issues to realize that they are so hard to dramatize, because you're talking about the ozone hole, and... it's so, so hard to make it emotional and personal...

Writer Brannon Braga: There were preposterous moments in that show. On the other hand, we knew the risks, but we felt it was real important to at least try to do an environmental show. We struggled with making it a personal story and in the end it just didn't work as well as we wanted it to. We couldn't find a personal angle. When you limit warp drive, the rug is being pulled out from under Star Trek.

And of course, after this episode, they quickly abandoned the idea of a warp speed limit! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, No problem! Chime in when you feel it.

I do plan to start doing some TNG episodes as a counterbalance to compare the two series. And that is definitely one I will hit. You're right that it's intensely stupid. Space is a vacuum -- a nothing. How do you damage a nothing? And think of how vast the universe is and how small a starship is. It's just impossible. But even more to the point, the whole episode does sound like a global warming diatribe, doesn't it?

In terms of the difference between TNG and TOS, I didn't realize it at first either. I found myself very disappointed in TNG, but it just seemed like poor writing at the time. It didn't hit me until later that the real problem was their foundation -- noxious politics defining their universe and a different focus for the show. I understand that now. And indeed, now that I do and now that I'm starting this series, a LOT has come into focus.

For one thing, I'm amazed at how much deeper TOS was than I ever realized. I understood "it was right" generally, but I never understood how right, or how consistently right. I also never understood how powerful the dialog was -- they pack whole philosophies into 3-4 lines of dialog.

I also now understand why Roddenberry was always so quick to denigrate TOS... calling it Wagon Train in space. And why TNG seemed to target TOS repeatedly. Indeed, almost every time they mention Kirk's era, they denigrate it as cowboy diplomacy.

I also understand now what went wrong with TNG and why even though they had some good episodes, the show overall never achieved what it should have achieved. It set itself up with its blatant liberalism.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I'm honestly not sure what was in the writer's mind or how clearly they saw the issue. In any event, this is what came out. I certainly don't dismiss the idea that they did intend to attack communist for several reasons. First, they have set up a commune here even if not a communist state per se. But for all practical purposes they are the same thing, one is just smaller than the other.

Also, anti-communist statements weren't uncommon in science fiction. Lot of 1950s films were anti-communist statements; The Body Snatchers being a prime example. Even at this point (late 1960s), communism still scared people in Hollywood because it was warlike and it seemed to be a hive mind.

Did they realize they were copying Brave New World? That I doubt. I think it is more a matter of the principles of Brave New World being so universally clear as a form of how humans can be co-opted that they appear over and over in political storytelling. Indeed, short of brainwashing, BNW and 1984 really present the two BIG ways to control people.

What I find interesting here though is that there is no government behind this. The spores aren't really imposing any sort of government, they have simple created a collective and let the people do what they want -- which in this case ends up being a commune because they have sucked out the part of the human spirit which makes capitalism work and which makes capitalism essential.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX! Thanks! Long live and prosper to you too!

I agree. This series fascinates me because these were liberal writers who created a series which today would have liberals screaming about hate crimes and burning down studios. It's fascinating that liberalism has drifted so far from what it was that today it's literally 100% opposed to what it believed only a few years before. They have become unhinged.

And just wait until we start doing the TNG series, you will be amazed at how bizarre, contradictory and hypocritical those episodes got.

In any event, I'm glad to hear you're interested in seeing these again! I recommend it.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Those comments point out the difference between the two shows.

1. The original series was a morality tale. It was about how Kirk made decisions. If an issue came up, the point wasn't the issue itself, it was how Kirk would resolve the issue.

2. By comparison, TNG was about issues. When they did a show about an issue, it wasn't to see how the Enterprise crew would respond because they would obviously endorse whatever issue it was the writers wanted. So instead, the issue would be about whining that the issue doesn't get enough attention in real life.

Now look at what that means. It means that when Kirk is confronted with a guy who is black/white and he hates a guy who is white/black, Kirk demonstrates how not to be racist. By comparison, Picard has no real function in the environmental episode except to speak for the writers. Instead, they create fake drama by suddenly making very PC Starfleet very un-PC to create dramatic tension.

Kirk could have done an environmental episode and it would have been much better... but the message would have been very different.

Anonymous said...

One of these days, we're gonna have to start talking about DS9. It's one thing to compare and contrast TOS and TNG but it's another to compare and contrast two shows that were on the air at the same time and employed many (but not all) of the same people.

DUQ said...

Andrew, Excellent breakdown. I am really enjoying this series. Not only does it remind me of a show I have loved but haven't seen in recent years, but it also makes me think hard about what conservatives believe. Bravo! :D

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That would have to wait until much later. I think it's easy to compare TOS and TNG because they are basically polar opposites using the same platform of a nearly identical spaceship with a similarly arranged crew on a similar mission. That's why comparing the two can be so fascinating.

DS9 is a rather different show as it uses a different format and it deals with continuing storylines and wars and spies, etc. It would be more like comparing Star Trek to Game of Thrones. It can be done, but it won't be as clear a comparison.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks DUQ! That's actually my point. This is an exercise in explaining conservatism and liberalism, more than a discussion of a television show. Hopefully, we'll all get a stronger sense of what we believe out of this and hopefully this will help any conservative writers who are paying attention get a better sense of how to inject their political beliefs into their work without being obvious. Indeed, at no point does Star Trek TOS ever say, "look at me, here are my political beliefs," but each episode is crawling with those.

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, I was curious where you would go with this one. My first thought that this was about drugs, but that does seem too narrow. If it was about drugs, wouldn't there be more to it? Then I thought it might be about how humans need to find their own happiness, but again, it seems like that would have been written differently. I did see this as a commune. And now you've brought it all together!

This has been an interesting series because it's got me re-examining these episodes.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, It's been a lot of fun. I just wish I could get these done faster -- they take a lot of time to write.

I think this one could definitely be seen as just about the drugs. It definitely has a message of "real emotions trump the fake reality of drugs." But I think it does go beyond that because this story is, at it's heart, about the rejection of commune living. If it had just been about drugs, it probably would have been about normal people escaping reality through drugs rather than people joining a commune. Also, I think the drugs would have featured more prominently than just being a content feeling -- they would have had other side effects like euphoria and changed perceptions of reality.

Patriot said...

Andrew, do you know if TOS ever did a show around "peaceniks" versus "true human nature?"

I'm thinking along the lines of a plot where a group of people (on a lone planet of course) encounter a war-like race like the Romulans, who promise them that they come in peace and will not harm anyone if they just accept them as their new leaders. Of course the peacenik race has its members who counsel caution (the conservative viewpoint.."trust but verify"), and others who proclaim that "they promise us they don't mean us any harm and will make life better for us!" (today's progressive/dependency perspective)

As the community is being led to slaughter, the peaceniks can't believe that people would lie so blatantly to them. "But they promised us happiness!" "Why can't we all just get along?"

It would show the true nature of liberal thinking of placing their own feelings and beliefs on others who think differently..... and of course the implied relationship to today's (and throughout history...think of the Huns, Mongols, any invaders who rolled through where the populace opened the gates instead of fighting) brain-addled "progressives" who think they have progressed human nature to the point where our true nature has been subsumed...due to their vastly superior intelligence and Ivy League education.

Hope I'm making my point here......in a rushed way (at work!)

Has there been an episode similar in approach?

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, I am not aware of any episode like that in TOS. The closest that comes to mind is Errand of Mercy, where the Klingons take over a planet while Kirk is on it. But that's not quite the same thing.

What you are talking about, however, fits the original Battlestar Galactica to a T. In fact, the introduction to the movie is the peaceniks deciding that if they just disarmed themselves, their enemies would stop trying to kill them. And as the Cylons destroy the colonies who have failed to defend themselves, the liberals are shocked at the betrayal. And then... get this... as they are fleeing, the liberals try it again claiming that if they just disarmed themselves and showed they are no threat, then the cylons would stop trying to kill them.

darski said...

@ Patriot... not that it is TOS/TNG but Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict did just that.

In that show the theme was to revolt against the friendly aggressor not to accept the enlightened help.

Ed said...

Excellent breakdown as always. I wouldn't mind seeing some DS9 discussion. Scott, you could do that?!

AndrewPrice said...

darski, That's true, they did do that as well.

What's funny is that I saw this occasionally in science fiction growing up, but I never put any credence into it. It seemed too stupid to be believable that someone would think that making yourself weak was a good idea when faced by an aggressor. In other words, it seemed like a fantasy idea and not something you would see in the real world.

... and yet, look at how our left has responded to the Soviets and to Islamic terror. Stunning.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed!

Scott might be the better person to discuss DS9. I don't have strong feelings about the series either way or a strong memory of the show.

darski said...

I was such an avowed Trekkie that I used to be able to tell you when (in a season) an episode aired and give a gist of the plot for TOS and TNG.

I remember one view of this episode was that "It was the episode where Spock got to be happy." That was not the raison d'etre of the ep but I also don't recall any place where Spock, though accepting his logical stance, ever renounced that opportunity to don't worry; be happy.

How does that small note affect your overall review? Would Spock really accept life with happiness without logic? That to me would be one place the liberals did get their point in. Happy is better than right. Spock was seen to have lost a great opportunity.

AndrewPrice said...

darski, I can still name all the TOS episode and outline them. I'm not as solid on TNG, though I remember all of them -- just can't name them.

I'm not sure that Spock's happiness affects the meaning at all because it's fake. In other words, Spock isn't truly happy, he is merely made to believe he is happy by the effects of the spores -- as evidenced by his unwillingness to either go get the spores again once he's released or by him not deciding to change his life afterwards. In other words, if he had decided that he need happiness, he would have said something to that effect: "I am incomplete without the happiness."

That said, don't forget that the message of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad is that you need to be balanced -- you need logic and emotion. Spock is incomplete, McCoy is incomplete, and neither can make all the decisions they need. Only Kirk, who has both logic and emotion is complete.

In terms of Spock's lost love, I think that is consistent with the tension within Spock -- the half-human, half-Vulcan tension, which keeps him from feeling entirely comfortable as either. I suspect that if he were either all human or all Vulcan or accepting of either side entirely, then this wouldn't have been a problem for him. After all, his father fell in love with an Earth woman (several actually) and he didn't seem to have a problem.

Anonymous said...

Andrew and Ed -

I could do some Top 5 lists for DS9 but I don't think I'm qualified to discuss the politics, which were much more complex than they were on TNG. Plus I'm more familiar with TNG on the whole than I am with DS9, simply by virtue of repetition. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's my problem with DS9 -- lack of familiarity. I'm not 100% sure I've even seen all the episodes (I think I have, but I can't say for sure) and I know I didn't see them in order and I certainly couldn't identify them all. At some point, I may rewatch the show and then I could discuss it in greater depth, but until then I'm not prepared to really say too much about the show.

darski said...

The major problem that I see with DS9 is that they started without a game plan but then they got caught up in the X-files need to have a sinister back plot running all the events of the Universe. It is difficult to reconcile the first seasons with those haphazard event shows and the later directed plot. They always seemed to be a plot in search of a location. They also got sidetracked by Voyager half way through.

I am a big fan of both DS9 and Voy but it did require some biting of the virtual tongue. I was more left-leaning during TNG but even I could not tolerate the libtard-iness. That warp speed ep was probably one of the worst ever done and they had some doozies.

AndrewPrice said...

darski, They did indeed have quite a few doozies, some of which really made me cringe.

I too felt that DS9 had an identity crisis throughout. At times it was a monster-of-the-week show. At other times it was a continuing series about strange conspiracies. At other times it seemed like a soap. And the excuses they went through to get these characters at the heart of everything in the Federation always bothered me. Here they are assigned to some minor outpost, yet they are the people who get involved in everything that touches the Federation. That never worked for me.

Anonymous said...

Re: DS9...

Yeah, it's weird watching some of the early episodes. They seem to alternate between TNG-style "alien of the week" and Bajoran religious stuff. However, once they introduce the Dominion and the Defiant, then the series really starts to find its identity. Of course, we have the business with the Klingons in the fourth season along with the occasional alien/virus/anomaly of the week episode but on the whole, I'd say the latter half of the series is a vast improvement on the former half.

Showrunner Ira Behr: Season 4 threw us for a loop, with the whole Klingon thing, and bringing Worf into the show. So the seminal thing about our fifth season was that we wanted to get back on the track we'd anticipated being on a year earlier. We were moving back toward making the shape-shifters and the Dominion our enemies. Not the Klingons. I didn't want to have the Klingons as our enemies.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That doesn't surprise me. It definitely took them a lot of time to finally find their identity and the later half of the series is much better than the early party.

darski said...

OK, flashback to the seminal moment of Trek 5. Kirk proclaims, "I need my pain!". I think I stood and cheered when he said that. (well ok, I was sitting on the outside but I was standing on the inside)

I agree with him on that and with our episode of the week. We are who we are because of what we have endured. I have literally saved lives because I could walk the same walk.

Just coincidentally, mindless happiness is not natural to Man. It took/takes drugs to make that so.

AndrewPrice said...

darski, I agree. That was a great moment! That moment was so typically Kirk -- he believes in human nature as it is and he believes that we are the sum of our parts. And if we start trying to take away the things that much us who we are, suddenly we stop being ourselves. That is definitely an anti-collectivist thought. Collectivists believe that man needs to be stripped of the bad parts so that all that is left is one big happy good part which fits nicely into society. Kirk understands that we are individuals.

ScyFyterry said...

I love this episode. I love the technical point that once they leave the ship, they can't return -- though I do think whoever is sent to look for them would find them. But I love how Kirk overcomes the spores with the power of his will. Excellent!

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, It's the magic of Kirk. And it's the message that if your heart, mind and soul are all lined up correctly, then you can overcome anything.

Commander Max said...

One of the things that was so good about TOS, was the show more cleverly wove current topics into the show. This is one of them, they poked a finger in the eye of the utopians. It couldn't be more obvious, especially when considering the times.
Back in that day the idea of whole planned societies was all the rage. Combine that with the hippy culture, I can only say that writer was really clever.

One has to wonder where Roddenberry was in those years. Considering how different STNG was from TOS, and STNG working hard to not make itself look to much like anything TOS.
There is an answer, Roddenberry complained about the network influence on the show. He didn't want any antagonists in the show. If it wasn't for the network the Klingons would have never existed.

tryanmax said...

I remember watching this episode a few weeks ago and thinking, "I wonder what Andrew would say?" mainly because I was having trouble finding the conservative angle. The repudiation of drugs and communism is obvious, and the ultimate argument is in favor of conservative values and free will. But the argument is weak. The root of liberalism is the fantasy belief that things which don’t work could if just executed in the right way. By creating a fictional environment where communism and illicit drug use actually work, the writers put the two philosophies on equal footing and actually undermine the conservative message.

“Human nature” is given as the reason to reject the paradise of Omicron Ceti Three, but even that doesn’t ring true. Listlessness is as much a part of human nature as is the pursuit of progress. Yes, the colonists set out to cultivate the planet and instead achieved nothing, but it appears to be without consequence: a choice that could have been decided either way. It is false to assert that the nature of man is in any way singular. By making such a declaration, this episode sidesteps any objective determination of the better side of human duality.

Kirk is, of course, righteous in freeing the colonists and the crew from unwitting bondage to a euphoria inducing plant. Yet no case is made against returning to Omicron Ceti Three with foreknowledge of the “happy spores.” The better argument in favor of conservatism is that it simply works in all times and in all places, no experts or special circumstances required.

The episode might have served the conservative theme better if it explored the broader ramifications of a singular place where communism appears to “work.” If knowledge of Omicron Ceti Three were spread, what happens then? Would it become overrun with those willing to exchange free will for bliss? Might it invite invasion? Would colonists lift a finger to protect their planet? Ultimately, it should become obvious that, even in pockets, communism still doesn’t work.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I think that's very true. I can't count the number of times where a creator/producer/director was "held back" by a studio or a writer by an editor, and the result was fantastic. But once the creative person got enough fame that they could move beyond the oppressor, they started turning out confused and self-indulgent garbage. Look at Lucas... and Roddenberry.

I think the writer here (and many throughout the series) was incredibly clever! Not only has the writer woven in contemporary themes, but they've done it in a way which no one can get upset about because it's not heavy-handed. In other words, when you see modern liberal writers go after some conservative idea, it's so heavy-handed and so biased that you just shake your head and get angry or change the channel. But these stories are so wonderfully subtle that you can watch this no matter who you are and take it at face value without ever feeling like you're being attacked. And that lets you grasp their moral without feeling defensive. That's brilliant.

Moreover, the dialog is truly special. They have packed entire philosophical theories into one and two lines. Imagine asking someone to explain what's wrong with communism in 3 lines of dialog, with none to exceed 20 words! That's one heck of a challenge and they did it week after week in this show. It's truly amazing when you start looking at it.

On Roddenberry, by the way, I suspect that Roddenberry evolved over time, like much of liberalism. Even in the past 20-30 years I've seen liberalism shift dramatically on issue after issue and be just as strident at both ends of the spectrum. I suspect that what we see in TOS is was what Roddenberry believed was good liberalism at the time and it is his views which changed before he wrote TNG.

And I'll bet you the young Roddenberry would have looked at the older Roddenberry as a fool and the older one would look at the young one as a fascist-capitalist tool.... and the real Roddenberry probably never realized that his views changed very much.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, This episode isn't meant to debunk communism or the idea of a drug-topia, it's a statement that those things are bad for the human spirit. I see that as a much stronger conservative statement than the idea that "communism doesn't work in practice and here's why." I see that as a declaration that communism goes against the human soul.

What Kirk and the writers are saying here is that even if communism worked and didn't fall apart, and even if people are told they will be happy as a result... they won't be genuinely satisfied because the essence of the human spirit is self-interested, personal achievement, i.e. ambition.

Setting this unique world up as one where communism does work and where drugs have no negative consequences doesn't concede that communism can work or that drugs are good, to the contrary it wipes out the evasive argument by liberals that "well, you're just saying communism can't work, but it can and you just don't see how it does work." This episode concedes, "ok, let's assume it can work" and then it tears into why it's bad even if it could work. That's not a concession, that gets over the defensive-hurdle liberals always use to avoid looking at the flaws of the system.

In terms of saying that some people like slacking, that's true, BUT... for one thing, even slackers eventually decide they want more, i.e. they eventually realize that slacking is a dead end. Indeed, there are very few people who have ever been satisfied just existing day after day. And two, even if there are many such people, the problem still remains that it's wrong to force everyone into that mold. In other words, while some people many just want to slack, the rest of us don't and WE are the ones who count because we are the ones who drive humanity. So creating a world that might be a slacker paradise and forcing everyone into it is not paradise, it's dystopia. And the message here is that if you want to be a worthwhile human being, then this is not for you.

So while I agree that the episode could have been a stronger repudiation of communism from a fact-based/technical perspective, I don't think that was the point. The point here was to declare that conservative beliefs -- individual freedom -- are essential for the human spirit to thrive.

tryanmax said...

I cede that I may have misinterpreted the point, but I still take issue with a weak argument.

As the sole man who is able to overcome the temptations of a false paradise, Kirk is obvious. In the context of Star Trek, it is a weak but forgivable choice. However, the only other character to affirmatively reject "paradise" is Spock. This is also weak because we fully expect this from the logical one. True, he had the romantic subplot and stood to lose something, but we already know that Spock will embrace the logical choice.

The stronger repudiation of "paradise" would have come from Bones. He is, after all, the ship's resident utopianist. He only finds discontent in paradise after the device which counters the spores is activated. If this had come before, it would have been much more powerful. Indeed, his argument is excellent! He is a doctor, nothing else, and no one can make him otherwise. BTW, I love this exchange:

ELIAS: Well, Doctor, I've been thinking about what sort of work I could assign you to.
MCCOY: What do you mean, what sort of work? I'm a doctor.
ELIAS: Not any more, of course. We don't need you. Not as a doctor.
MCCOY: Oh, no? Would you like to see how fast I can put you in a hospital?

Yes, after consideration, the script needs less retooling than I originally proposed. If it were McCoy who shook off the effects of the spore first and then launched the verbal assault on Spock, it would have strengthened the message of the show and a little fun could have been as McCoy relishes insulting Spock a little "for his own good!"

AndrewPrice said...

That's true, it would have made the story stronger if it had been McCoy. But don't forget, the real payout of the episode is the moment when Sandoval snaps out of the spore-induced state of happiness, looks around, and says, "we've achieved nothing."

There's where the writer concentrated the moral. Kirk simply provides the reasoning behind why Sandoval would make that discovery and the power to let him "see" the truth. It's Sandoval who actually discovers the punch by seeing the truth.

In effect, it's the equivalent of Karl Marx saying, "wow, looking back on this... we really blew it."

Commander Max said...

Andrew I'm not sure I would agree with the young Rod and old. If you look at one of his projects not long after ST there is definitely a utopian idealism there. Shows like Genesis 2/Planet Earth(the PAX).
I do agree with the ego part, having people tell you how wonderful you are for a decade or so will have a effect.
One other thing about Roddenberry, he came off a bit resentful of NBC. Not unlike how Lucas sounded.

Perhaps your analogy Andrew might be quite appropriate. What we don't know if there was a Lucas thing going on there. All of those around him made the show what it was. He took the money and the credit.

Anonymous said...

I've said it before but by the time he did TNG, Roddenberry had started to believe his own hype. He spent the 70s doing the convention circuit and college tours and people began to see him as this grand prophet. On TNG, I imagine he finally had the opportunity to do some things he'd wanted to do on the original series.

It's telling that the writers' room on the first two years of TNG was a revolving door since several writers had issues with Roddenbery. Even later writers like Ron Moore and Ira Behr had issues with Roddenberry's "Humanity is perfect" rule. No wonder they introduced more alien characters on DS9. If Starfleet officers were perfect, then what better way to introduce conflict than to have non-Starfleet characters?

AndrewPrice said...

Max, True, and I'm only guessing as to which parts of TOS are Roddenberry and which parts are network. It's possible that much of what we're seeing here is pure network influence. All I can really go with is the assumption that what we see in both instances is mostly Roddenberry.

Also, I do know that liberalism has changed dramatically over the years. In the 1960s, it was much closer to modern conservatism. Even in the 1980s, only the fringe was anti-American, racially/ethnically tribal, and hateful of business. But today, so much of what was their fringe has become their mainstream. Even if you look at Bill Clinton and his version and compare that to Obama and his version, it's like two very different ideologies. And I've seen this evolution in person as well with liberals I've known my whole life -- and they don't actually think they've changed even though I can prove it to them.

That's why I suspect that the real issue is that Roddenberry just changed over the years and has never thought back on what he was before.

But like I said, this is just an educated guess about Roddenberry -- I have no specific knowledge about him. And for the purposes of our series here, what ultimately matters isn't really what these folks actually believed but what ended up coming across on screen.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It seems to be a universal truism (and very fitting in light of this episode) that the less people need to struggle against, the lower the quality of their work. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if the problem with TNG was that Roddenberry spent 20 years coming to think of himself as a genius and holding a grudge against the NBC execs, and so when it came time to make TNG, he tried to make a statement rather than making a good show.

Indeed, from what I've read, half the rules he created are nonsense and make storytelling impossible, yet no one seems to have been able to tell him "no."

tryanmax said...

Andrew, fair enough. The crux is that the conservative message is there, rather than leaving it as TNG by declaring the two philosophies equal and "who are we to decide which is better?" Still, the episode lacks impact compared to the others you've reviewed so far. I think it comes down to this script simply declaring certain things to be true rather than proving them so.

Suggestion box: What if you named the next episode to be reviewed at the end of the article? Then those of us who are able can brush up before the post. I got lucky happening to see "Paradise Lost" a couple weeks ago, but it really helps to understand the article having the episode fresh in mind.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's a valid criticism. It's the old "show don't tell" idea. In the prior episodes, you see conservatism in action and conservative solutions at the heart of solving the problem. In this one, you are simply told "this is the answer." It doesn't make it any less conservative, but it doesn't make as clear/strong a point as the prior ones.

I like the idea of giving a warning. Let me see what I can do about that. Things have been a bit busy lately which is why these have been rather sporadic.

Patriot said...

That age old desire to "achieve" something, huh Andrew?

While not a Trekkie, I enjoy your insightful analysis of these episodes. To be honest, I never really looked that deep into any TV episode. To me it was always "entertainment" and nothing more. I do enjoy the interplay of the ancient battle between "conservative" thought and "liberal" thought. I believe this battle in humans has been going on since we lived in caves. There we probably cave teenagers who didn't want to go out and forage or hunt for food, and others who wanted to amass a hoard for lean times. Fascinating.......as our friend Spock would say.

Keep the good work coming!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Patriot! I hope people can enjoy this series of articles even if they aren't Trekkies because of the breakdown of conservative v. liberal and seeing how it is conveyed through a storyline or dialog. Star Trek in particular is good for this because it is trying to convey a series of lessons related to morality and politics. There are several other shows like this, but the vast majority of shows are in fact without any particular philosophical underpinnings.

And hopefully, before this series is over, everyone will have a better sense of the ways politics are inserted into films and television so they can better assess what they are seeing. One of the things that troubled me when BH got it's start -- and why I wanted to create this blog -- was the number of conservatives who really couldn't tell the difference between a conservative and a liberal show and would seem to almost randomly attack or defend shows. If we're going to take the politics back out of Hollywood, then we need to be able to identify it and understand what is really be presented.

Patriot said...

Andrew, have you devoted some thought to comparing Joss Whedons point of view about the space future with Roddenberrys? Firefly and Star Trek would make a fascinating universe to imagine versus the many liberal leaning universes that Hollywood has created over the years.

To get these two series out there, albeit for way too short of a run, must have been challenging. Would be interesting to hear how Hollywood viewed Whedon and his libertarian view of the space worlds.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, I haven't actually compared the two, but it would be a good idea for the future. Whedon clearly opposes big government. I've never stopped to consider how he interprets that or how much further he goes. I should do that. :)

Luckdragon said...

After reading the article and skimming over the comments, I want to discuss the possible impact that technological improvements may have on the age-old arguments between capitalism and collectivism. As a fan of the TOS and TNG I have seen a lot of subtle political messages regarding several issues. With regard to economic systems, I must point out that in the TNG world; we see a technological solution to the problem of satisfying a person’s material needs, replicators.

In the show, we see replicators turning energy into forms of matter to be used and/or consumed. Whether it be food, teddy bears or Picard’s favorite “Earl Grey Tea – Hot.” We also see this in TOS. In the TOS episode “Catspaw”, Kirk and his crew are tempted with bowls full of diamonds, rubies and emeralds, as a bribe. Yet Kirk dismisses them as common, stating that they can manufacture tons of them on the Enterprise. Korob seems surprised that these precious gems hold no value to Kirk and his crew. As long as energy is available, anyone can obtain from a replicator anything one may desire. So what value is there in something that is no longer, scarce (for lack of a better term?)

We can assume that in the 24th century, fusion and matter/anti-matter reactors supply the energy needs not only for starships but for cities, towns and individual homes. The incredible efficiency of these power sources are such, that the costs are negligible for all 24th century consumers. I would also have to assume that replicators are as common to all as microwave ovens are today. Based on these assumptions, and I have not seen anything to dismiss these assumptions in TOS or TNG, it is quite likely that cheap energy and inexpensive access to replicators, enable all in the 24th century to enjoy the best of what life offers in a material sense, regardless of income or social status.

In the movie “Star Trek: First Contact” Picard answers when asked whether Star Fleet Officers are paid, that 24th century economics are different and that the pursuit of money is no longer paramount in people’s lives.

In other words, if technological advancement means all have access to everything, then the pursuit of money, becomes secondary, if not dismissed altogether. If you consider this, then perhaps the ancient struggle between capitalism and collectivism becomes outdated with little relevance to life in the 24th century.

AndrewPrice said...

Luckdragon, You raise some interesting issues, but I don't think the pursuit of money will ever disappear.

First, several points on the issue of replicators. I don't think Kirk's people have replicators. Even in the 1960s we already knew how to make gold, diamonds, etc., it just takes too much energy to be worthwhile (though we do already make industrial diamonds). I always took that statement as proof that Kirk's federation had come up with a better method for making these kinds of things, but I never saw that as them having replicators because you never see or hear them replicate anything. To the contrary, they mention manufacture several times. Also, they do still have money as they constantly mention "credits." So I think the non-money, everybody-just-replicates-stuff world didn't exist until TNG.

If we ever do develop a genuine replicator, that will be a seismic shift for humanity because it will destroy manufacturing entirely, which will shift us to a services based economy -- a very small services based economy at that because most services are about delivering manufactured goods. So really all you would have left would be services like lawn care, maids, mechanics, healthcare, lawyers, dining-out experiences, etc. -- things that can't be shipped to you. I suspect the economic disruption would be massive.

That said, the concept of the replicator doesn't make scientific sense because of the principle of preservation of matter. They are creating something from nothing and that's a problem. So there still must be something on the other side of that equation and if they solve that, my guess is that is where the economy will focus.

In any event, even if we assume replicators do come to exist and are widely available, I still don't think that will wipe out money because money is simply a means of exchange. And there will always be things people want to exchange -- things which can't be replicated, e.g. land, houses, historical treasures, personal services, etc.

So all in all, while I agree there would be a huge shift in the economy making it possible for more people to not work, you would still have a need for money to exchange scarce resources.

Luckdragon said...

Your points are well taken. I would point out that references to money, federation credits, and gold-pressed latinum as symbols of wealth and means of exchanges are found throughout the ST universe. If I understand Picard's statement in TNG: First Contact accurately, he was making a case that pursuit of money is not a primary concern, at least for Star Fleet officers. I was not suggesting that life in the 24th century did not preclude the need for money as a means of exchange.

Putting aside the scientific validity of replicators, I do make the point that technological advancements such as this would enable all to have relatively equal access to material needs such as food, clothing, medicine, etc. In other words, the trappings of poverty would have been eliminated through technological advancement without the need to have authoritarian redistributionist policies.

You mentioned people not working. I would counter that humans in general need a sense of purpose. Relieved of the need to work meaningless jobs to provide for basic needs, they could pursue their heart’s desire. I am sure that people in the 24th century would aspire to be chefs, painters, horticulturalist, craftsmen, daredevils, or the action-packed life of being a Starfleet officer. In the TNG episode “Family” we meet Picard’s brother who makes a living by following his passion for wine-making. So even with replicators, people no doubt still prefer a fine vintage wine made with centuries-old techniques. I would hope that fine premium cigars are still made and enjoyed in the 24th century. Not to mention some good beer and single malt scotch.

As for manufacturing, I have not seen or heard of replicators being used to “create” starships and starbases. I am sure that a replicator could make a great steak dinner, a glass of Earl Grey or Klingon Rokeg blood pie, but not a Sovereign class starship. Manufacturing is certainly a major part of the economy of the 24th century. We can only imagine the effort, money and resources that go into building, maintaining and manning the Starfleet vessels that protect the Federation.

Perhaps, someone with lots of free time could dive into the ST universe to determine the political and financial structure of the Federation with an emphasis on the taxation schemes that member planets are subject to; in order for the Federation to function and provide services to its citizens.

AndrewPrice said...

Luckdragon, I have always understood that the idea behind the TNG universe was that the federation has done away with money. I believe they even say that in two episodes. But other races still use money. I just don't see that as possible though so long as scarce items remain.

You are correct though, that in a replicator world, people's needs could all be take care of. But there would still be scarcity of certain things and that is where money would come be necessary -- or barter, which is the same thing only with high transaction costs.

In terms of people continuing to work, I hate to say this but human experience says otherwise. SOME will continue to work because they need a sense of purpose, i.e. they feel compelled to create. Others turn hedonist and are content to exist and be entertained, as we saw in Ancient Rome and in today's welfare cultures. And others turn malicious because they lack the internal nobility that makes them want to "build" and they are just as happy destroying. So what you would find would be a real mixed bag in a world where people no longer need to work to obtain the things they want.

Luckdragon said...

I guess people will always be people. I am hopeful that technological achievement may alleviate some of society’s ills. Who can say for sure?

On the other hand, this could all be for naught. It may just be a TV show.

Thanks for the exchange.

AndrewPrice said...

Luckdragon, yeah, it could just be a TV show. :(

You're welcome, thanks for the comments! I too hope that people do change over time and become more noble. We've come a long way already and I'm sure there's more coming. So I wouldn't rule it out!

United Citizens Council said...

There may be no money but there will always be currency. People do not work for free.

AndrewPrice said...

UCC, There will always be some form of money, no matter what the utopians want to believe.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Outstanding review Andrew!

I would even go further and say man is meant or destined to surpass himself or herself.

Even if one is wealthy and has met all physical needs and wants their is still mental and spiritual needs and wants that money cannot take care of.
Many wealthy folks are downright miserable and we see many lottery winners who eventually wish they never had won.

If one can't find happiness and be grateful for what one has despite their financial situation no amount of money will make them happy or grateful.

In a shallow sense, money can give some transient joy but it will never last.

One finds joy in the journey and the sense of purpose of their journey, not in the end of their journey.

Some might wonder then: what is Heaven then?

Well, if heaven is better than we can possibly imagine as Jesus said, then it can't possibly be some place where everyone is just sitting around all the time without any sense of purpose.

Just because many folks imagine that is what paradise really is doesn't make it so and if we can imagine that it can't be heaven because again, heaven is better than what we can imagine which makes sense to me.

It's not like we suddenly cease being human.
I only offer that up for those who believe in it.
For those who don't, a free market and liberty will hafta be enough.

BTW that's not a knock at agnostics or atheists.
God promotes liberty afterall. :^)

However, this discussion is interesting and deep enough without going into metaphysics. I just thought I would throw that in for consideration.

Why do some of us wanna be free but others do not?
Why are those who prefer a nanny state never happy and never realize why (for the most part)?

Is it possible for some folks to be happy if all their perceived needs and wants are met?
Maybe. But they would no longer be human.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Very insightful! Humans are meant to struggle because it's the journey we enjoy. Having something is fine, but obtaining something is much better. We rot when all we do is sit around with nothing to do. Human nature just isn't made for that.

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