Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 11

Jean Luc Picard can do nothing right. Well, sometimes he’s right. But sometimes he’s wrong. Today, Scott takes Picard down for making the wrong moral choice.

Question from Andrew: Scott, name an episode where you felt Picard made the wrong moral choice.

Scott’s Answer: I know we’re fond of breaking the rules here and since we just discussed “I Borg,” I will instead call out Star Trek: Insurrection. I know it’s not the first time this film has come up but even as a know-nothing 15-year old, I disagreed with Picard’s decision in the film. Picard finds out that the Federation and an alien race called the Son’a plan to relocate the Bak’u from their world. Picard objects, despite the fact that it’s only 600 people and that their planet’s regenerative powers can help billions of people. Remember, at this point in Star Trek history, the Federation is at war and these powers would no doubt help the cause. In addition, the Federation has approved of the relocation and not only that, the Prime Directive doesn’t even apply since the Bak’u aren’t indigenous to the planet in the first place! I’d call this a good case of “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” There is, however, one point - and just one - in Picard’s favor. Andrew and I have wondered why they couldn’t simply relocate the Bak’u to another part of the planet but I’d forgotten about the line of dialogue that mentions that the process used to harvest the regenerative particles will render the planet inhospitable. So there’s that, but I still think Picard should’ve considered the big picture.

Andrew’s Response: Hmm. I disagree. That’s right... I’m siding with Jean-Luc! I am a firm believer in private property rights and I don’t think it’s morally acceptable for a government to seize property, even if the wants of the many outweigh the wants of the few. Indeed, let me be clear on that point -- it is noble for Spock to sacrifice himself to save the rest of the crew, but it is evil for the government to sacrifice Spock to help others. The government, i.e. the Federation, simply should not be allowed to place itself in the position of redistributing other people’s lives, liberty or property.

Further, letting the Federation weigh which action will result in the greater good strikes me as a formula for abuse. This is a very slippery slope which power abusers, who are drawn to power, will be quick to exploit. Where do you draw the line? How much harm is too much? And how little benefit is enough? How much greater must the benefit be? Would we allow the Federation to kill the 600 people to improve the health six trillion or must it save at least 600 lives? Would we allow six million murders to save six trillion? Kirk says no (LINK). He was even faced with this exact same problem in Mirror, Mirror, where the leader of the Halkans refused to give Kirk some crystals and then reminded Kirk that Kirk had the power to just take. Kirk said, "But we won't... consider that." He was right then and Picard is right now. Even adding the war doesn’t change this analysis. For one thing, maybe the Federation should try harder to end the war rather than using it as an emergency pretext for taking the Bak’us’ rights? Maybe they just need to find the Bak’us’ price? If they are moral people, then wouldn’t they be inclined to help out the six trillion?

History has shown that government gets lazy because they have eminent domain powers and they just don’t want to pay a fair price. Private companies without eminent domain powers have achieved all the same things government has done, and have done so through genuine negotiation with nobody being stripped of their rights. Picard is right. The needs of the many are no excuse to screw the few.

Scott's Reply: Good answer, and I can't entirely disagree. I think the problem is two-fold: a.) the writer gives the villains an "out" so to speak (the non-applicability of the Prime Directive) which makes the issue less complicated than it might've been otherwise, and b.) the Bak'u are written as a bunch of holier-than-thou prigs which makes them difficult to sympathize with. Besides, not to go off on a tangent, but wouldn't the idea of private property rights also apply to Avatar? Or should we simply forget that film ever happened? [smile]

65 comments:

tryanmax said...

I have nothing to offer in response to the article. I think it is a well-reasoned argument that comes to a sound conclusion.

However, I must call Andrew out on the carpet for his change of phrase, altering "the needs of the many/few" to "the wants." That switches the argument and sidesteps the issue of identifying "needs." I'll give credit to the fact that you tangentially addressed it anyway, but I'm keeping my eye on you! LOL

DUQ said...

Heavy intellectual thought... too early in morning... will be back... help me Spock!

Doc Whoa said...

I'm siding with both. Andrew is right philosophically, but I say take the planet anyway. These people suck -- damn hippie commune!

Doc Whoa said...

tryanmax, "needs" and "wants" are the same thing economically. And if they were truly needs, you'd think others would have stepped up as well. Just saying.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Needs and wants are just a matter of degree. And the philosophical effect is the same because otherwise anyone can define any of their wants as needs -- as is happening now with people demanding things like college and cable television as "needs."

You say you have nothing to offer, but would you take the planet from the Bak-u or not?

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, We're all about putting your brain to work, even this early in the morning!

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, It is tempting to consider that a mitigating factor.... that they are smug wastoids. But that doesn't make it right. And if they are indeed a moral people as they claim, then they should voluntarily agree to move. Especially as nearly identical land could probably be found somewhere in the universe for them.

Kelly said...

I grudgingly concede that Andrew is right, though I want to throw them off. Maybe we could move in a tannery or pig farm next door and convince them to leave?

rlaWTX said...

I have to agree with Kelly! Which apparently means I agree with Andrew too. Sorry, Scott.

Scott, when I go to the end I had this temporary blue haze appear then fade away - any ideas?

I think this is the key point: "History has shown that government gets lazy because they have eminent domain powers and they just don’t want to pay a fair price."
But I think that there might be a point where it tips the other way - gov't has tried to negotiate in good faith for a requirement, the Baku (or whoever) know they have the upper hand and try to gouge instead of be fair, and the govt has to go to the extreme in order to obtain it. [more extreme than tanneries and pig farms]

AndrewPrice said...

Kelly, Now that's thinking! LOL! A pig farm!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I think that's very true -- when you give someone an easy out, they will take it. And government is very quick to use the easy outs. Compare that with companies who have come up with all sort of ways of getting what they want through negotiation, i.e. finding a price that makes both sides happy, because they can't just take. The government doesn't do that because it can just take. And there is no limit on what government will take when given the chance.

I think giving the government these kinds of powers is both unnecessary and dangerous.

I do see the point about "what if they are unreasonable," but again, how do you define unreasonable especially when we aren't even talking about life and death -- this is just better health for some.

Kelly said...

rla, Yay! Someone agrees with me! :D

ScottDS said...

First, I want to say that I'm also pro-private property rights, too! :-)

Having said that, I suppose part of me expected Andrew to agree with me, given the subpar execution of the film itself. But that goes back to the difference between form and content.

The reason the Bak'u aren't willing to give up the planet is because, if they did, they would start to age and eventually die. The particles in the planet's rings keep them young. Again, on one hand, they were never meant to be immortal (which would've made a great episode: dealing with sudden immortality)... but on the other hand, they live there now.

I suppose the cop-out - at least from a storytelling point of view - is when the admiral says they can't duplicate the Son'a technology that harvests the particles. Oh really?

ScottDS said...

rlaWTX -

Blue haze? I'm not sure what you're referring to. (Unless it was a joke, in which case, I really don't know.) :-)

darski said...

Since I know nothing about this movie I will return next week. I don't know enough about what happened to comment.

AndrewPrice said...

Kelly, You sound surprised? LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Don't get me wrong, I don't care for the film at all. I just think that for once they got the philosophy right. I don't like government's having the power to take property just because they think they have better uses for it.

In terms of the "cop out," that's the key to the problem in reality. There is almost always an alternative. Indeed, there is nothing I can think of that a government needs which it can't do some other way. Want to buy a highway? Build it next door, not on my land -- someone will sell when the price gets high enough. Want some code I've designed ? Buy it or develop your own. I can't think of anything in real life that is so unique that it can't be gotten in some other way or by some other substitute.

BUT the government gets lazy when it has these powers. And when it decides to do something, it wants to do it in the easiest way possible. Thus, when it wants your land, it takes it -- it doesn't matter that it could buy other less convenient land. If it wants your code, it takes it, it doesn't matter that it could do something similar given a little time.

In other words, it's not a cop out at all. The real problem is that the government uses this power rather than exploring alternatives, as private business must do. And in the process, it tramples everyone's rights and becomes a danger to its people.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott and rlaWTX, Yeah, I missed that one too?

AndrewPrice said...

darski, No problem! :)

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I agree with the conclusion that the conversation arrived at, that the Bak'u are entitled to their private properly and the use of eminent domain by the Federation is an overreach. Matters such as the war are irrelevant and are only introduced to create a sense of urgency where there is none. The prime directive merely establishes jurisdiction over the matter; it does not suggest a resolution. Finally, the restorative particles may be eminently beneficial, but the existence of the rest of the galaxy without them belies their necessity.

I agree that needs vs. wants exist on a sliding scale of sorts. I only brought it up because it seemed a little slippery to change the terms without any hint of a warning.

tryanmax said...

"property" not "properly" though I think there may have been an underlying thought peeking through.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I was being a little facetious when I said that because if there is a "need" it is "continuing to live."

But in this day and age, I get sick of hearing people describe wants as needs: cable, college, public transportation, etc. And even in things like "food" they aren't talking about "enough to sustain you," they are talking junk food, red meat, etc. Our society has really lost its perspective and that clouds this debate. And once you let the government define "wants" as "needs," then suddenly you've opened an incredibly slippery slope with literally no end.

Ed said...

Can't we just say they're all wrong and leave it at that? ;D

Ed said...

Also, I wonder how this debate would go at a liberal site? They must be really conflicted because on the one hand they support government power to take what they think needs to be taken and "redistrubute" it. On the other hand, they alway side with whoever is weakests, even if they are jerk. This film must tear them apart! Lol!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I'm fine with them all being wrong. Let's proceed to sentencing! LOL!

I suspect you are right that liberals will have a hard time solving this one, except that they have an easy out -- "why can't you just move these people?" Without some stronger special hook, like this being ancient tribal burial ground or orphans dying in transport, they will simply see a bunch of well-off whites who want to keep their resort town. That makes them rich and white... and evil.

Ed said...

Andrew, You think race matters? (I agree with that, I just want to hear your explanation.)

ScottDS said...

I've been looking at writer Michael Piller's book, looking for a point in the film's development when things may have gone wrong but it looks like everything we've talked about was there to one degree or another in the first draft.

Instead of the Son'a, the first draft had Romulans but that wouldn't make much of a difference. Originally, it wasn't Data who causes a ruckus at the beginning, but a classmate of Picard's (who would be revealed to be the same age as he was at the Academy, thanks to the particles). But even that wouldn't make a difference.

Many of the changes are more cosmetic than anything else. Originally, it wasn't so much a "Fountain of Youth" as a rare ore (NOT unobtanium!) that needed to be mined.

Dougherty: We gave the Romulans the Briar Patch and they agreed to split the ore with us.

Picard: Without any consideration for the inhabitants of this world...

Dougherty: On the contrary, after realizing there was no alternative to stripping off the planet’s surface, I negotiated the agreement myself with the Romulans to move them safely. Every effort was made to take care of them... including sending Data here to survey their living conditions to help prepare for the move.


Etc.

ScottDS said...

Andrew and Ed -

That's the thing. In this film, the people can't be moved at all, otherwise they'll die.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Yes it does. Liberalism lacks a philosophical core. It basically grades each side in a dispute according to preconceived criteria and then it sides with the biggest "victim."

Thus, taking the home of a white dude is not as bad as taking the home of an old white dude, which is not as bad as taking the home of an old black dude which is not as bad as taking the home of an old black woman.

So if the Bak'u had been presented as black simpletons or as American Indians, then liberal sympathies would have been with them no matter how unreasonable they were behaving in wanting to keep their land. It's all a very fluffy way of "thinking" (emoting actually) and it results in strange and contradictory results which depend on who you are more than what you did.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, They won't die. They'll just age like the rest of us and then die. People don't see that the same as "dying."

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think the concept was flawed from the get-go. I think they wanted to do an American-Indian story and show how Picard would have stood up to the evil United States if he had been alive back then. This is standard liberal fantasy: "I would have been different from everyone else, I would have still used modern sensibilities."

You see the same thing when they talk about how they would have freed slaves, tried to kill Hitler, etc. It's a way to make yourself feel morally superior to others, to judge the past using the standards of the present and to pretend that somehow you would have been the first person to see the wrong they were doing.

I think that was the base of this story the whole time and the rest is just details.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Scott, They won't die. They'll just age like the rest of us and then die. People don't see that the same as "dying."

You're right. I stand corrected. :-)

As for the genesis of the story, I don't disagree with you but from everything I've read, the road from concept to film was a tad more complicated than "Picard fights with Indians and stands up to the U.S.!"

For what it's worth, Piller came up with the Fountain of Youth concept first and everything else was the result of simply asking questions, as all screenwriters do.

I'm not saying there was never a political component but I've said it before: there's a difference between films that end up with political overtones in them versus films that were designed that way from inception.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott,

In this case, the politics are so blatant and so dominating that I can't see them not being the foundation of the story. This is a "Trail of Tears" story right down to the flight to the caves. The idea of the fountain of youth is just the add-on. I'm not saying it didn't come first, but it's a MacGuffin in this story and it could just as easily have been Unobtainum. At its core and in its structure, this is first, foremost and entirely a Trail of Tears story, all the rest are just details hanging on that plot.

Nancy Grace said...

I'm fine with them all being wrong. Let's proceed to sentencing!

Hey! You're stealing my schtick! Off with your head!

Tennessee Jed said...

I think I might have chosen to use the time portal to have them relocated to California in late November, 2012. Didn't Scott mention something about the Bak'u being self-righteous prigs? Well, there it is. Question answered, problem solved. I think California doesn't recognize individual personal rights (particularly property rights) except for the right to abortion, the right to occupy violently, and the right of environmentally endangered insects..

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, LOL! A solid solution. We'll move them somewhere where private property rights don't exist and then we can feel good about taking their stuff! That's "thinking outside the box"!

AndrewPrice said...

Dear Ms. Grace, You cannot base you schtick on something which is common to many human beings. Sorry.

ScyFyterry said...

I saw this as an America-Indian story as well. They did several of these in the series and this was just so obvious.

ScottDS said...

I think it's gotten to the point in our pop culture where any story involving a bunch of natives against "The Man" can be seen as an America-Indian story.

We need new cliches! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, This one was particularly obvious -- as are the ones where they whip out a medicine man.

Joel Farnham said...

Whorf and Whorf's foster-brother transported a primitive people in Homeward. Picard had no real problem with it. Also, Data was sent ahead in Ensigns of Command and actually destroyed a people's aqueduct to induce them to move. Picard didn't have a problem with that. Why would he have a problem this time?

Commander Max said...

Sadly the arguments posted here seem moot.
Since the movie made no sense.

As far as Insurrection goes I'll quote Mr. Plinkett.

Plot Convenience = Movie Suck

http://redlettermedia.com/plinkett/star-trek/star-trek-insurrection/

NSFW

Relocating the Bak’u so they could do something to make the entire planet uninhabitable?
Why not set up a resort on the planet? Or have ships cruse the Briar patch? If they went to all of the trouble to set up a facility to spy on the Bak’u, wouldn't it have been just as easy to set up a resort somewhere else on the planet. You wouldn't even have to hide it from anybody. The Bak’u looked like they could have cared less what went on elsewhere on the planet. As long as they were left alone.

That's right, if they did anything logical in this film there would be no need to make the movie. But I did like the soundtrack.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I agree. I think this film suffers from huge plot holes left and right.

In fact, since they're hiding from these people, I wonder if they ever even bothered to ask them to move? I would think not. So scratch that from the list of "we tried everything."

Scott has said that somehow the process they use to extract the particles would make the planet uninhabitable, but that sounds like more "quick answer/plot convenience" to me. Indeed, we saw the effects on Picard and he was only there a few minutes. I would think a couple weeks there every so often would be good enough. But then we wouldn't have a movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Even worse, in Journey's End, Picard gets all bent out of shape because Wesley tries to stop him from moving a bunch of American Indians who have moved to some planet which the Cardassians now own by treaty.

Native American cliche said...

So tired... So very, very tired...

AndrewPrice said...

Come on cliche, you've brought joy to millions of mindless moviegoers... anyone who doesn't really want to think and you've warped the minds of young liberals everywhere. Congrats.

ScottDS said...

Max, et al -

I haven't seen the RLM clip in a while but you're right. The planet would be rendered uninhabitable after the Son'a extract the particles... but why couldn't Starfleet send more ships to the planet instead? Why not establish a base of operations on the other side of the planet to continue working on the problem? Admiral Dougherty says they can't duplicate the Son'a technology but I'm sure it only would've been a matter of time before they did.


Joel -

Another thing that bothers me about this movie is that they steal the holoship plot device from "Homeward," an episode that had aired only four years earlier! Very original...

As for "The Ensigns of Command," I believe another alien race (the Sheliak) had legal claims on the territory inhabited by the colonists. Of course, it didn't help that the Sheliak were written so that they'd simply kill all the colonists as opposed to negotioating with them. And the leader of the colonists was a total dick, too. :-)

Commander Max said...

Remember gentlemen, we are not supposed to use logic while watching movies.

We should only hand the movie makers our money. No matter what shlock they serve us.

The Federation cannot duplicate the technology?
Give me a break, they have transporters, warp drive(keep an eye on my site, I'll be posting about those very things, shameless plug;)), holodecks, and first officers that can use a joystick. You bet they can duplicate the technology, it's just they can't because some writer said so.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, True. We are not supposed to ask questions, just empty our wallets when we see the big shiny lights.

I can't believe the Federation couldn't duplicate the technology now that they know what it does. Once you know that something can be done, it's usually a lot easier to figure out how to do it. But as you say, this is just a plot convenience meant to set up the story.

Commander Max said...

When it comes to engineering there really isn't anything that can't be figured out(within the laws of physics). After all they portrayed the Federation as the highest tech of the newer space-faring cultures. If the Federation can't excite and collect particles, then what's the deal.
After all that's in essence the concept behind "bussard" collectors. On the TOS E they are the blinky light spinners on the front of the warp nacelles. If a ship has warp drive it has a set of bussard collectors. So they have had the tech for quite a while.

So it looks like somebody overlooked something.
I think the writers didn't have a clue.
Plus it was Berman's job to police this sort of thing, so again to quote Mr Plinkett.
"F-You Rick Berman".

I hope you don't mind the profanity reference Andrew, it just seems fitting in this situation. Since that's all we can do at this point. After all we can't sue these people(as much as we might want to).

AndrewPrice said...

Max, Nope, I don't mind.

I have to say that asking Berman to remember the technical details of what the Federation can do is a little unrealistic. Heck, they can't even remember big chunks of the character's history -- like that Kirk had a brother. I don't think anyone associated with the show ever cared about the consistency of what they were producing.

And in truth, I can even accept the idea that for some reason the Federation can't master this. It doesn't really change my philosophical issues.

Commander Max said...

One thing this sort of thing does illustrate(IMO). The inconsistencies of the material is why the fan base is so anal.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, That's probably true. If the show was more consistent, then people would probably be more forgiving of mistakes. But right now they feel like insults in the sense that the producers don't really care that the show's history means anything to the fans.

Of course, that said, there are always crazy fanatics who complain about everything. That's life.

rlaWTX said...

Out of the office yesterday afternoon...

Blue haze comment was a (pathetic) joke based on this line: "also apply to Avatar? Or should we simply forget that film ever happened?"

Now reading rest of comments...

Cameron The Mighty Director said...

Tired Indian Cliche - buck up! I only have a few more movies for you!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you brought up Avatar, because both films suffer from the same flaw: from a moral perspective, the film's "hero" and the people he's defending don't seem to care about the bigger picture. Do the Ba'ku even care their relocation would help billions of people? They don't seem to.

Likewise in Avatar: at no point does Jake Sully simply tell the Navi, "listen, I know you guys love your Big Honking Tree and all that, but my planet is dying. Billions of lives are at stake here. Isn't that more important?" You'd think all those innocent lives would matter to them, since we keep hearing about how noble and decent they are.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Ah. Blue Smurf smoke! ;)


Dear Mr. Cameron, Please stop. Seriously. No more. Bad director.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, That's true. Plus, in both films the "bad guys" don't even try to work this out peacefully. In fact, I get the sense that in Insurrection, the Federation never even spoke with the Ba'ku at all, and in Avatar, they seemed to have a deal in place when the military decided for no reason whatsoever that it was time to start slaughtering Smurfs. That makes both scenarios really fake.

Commander Max said...

Andrew, those fans got me out of costuming Star Trek. If they showed at least a little care about the product, instead of just giving it lip service. Most likely our attitudes would be very different.

I figure the best way to handle it, is just watch the old stuff. STTOS doesn't leave one asking questions such as, "Just what was that episode about?". Leaving us to still discuss the subject 20 years later(and still not knowing what the episode was about, lol).

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I can imagine those types of fans would pretty quickly drive people away.

Ken said...

When are they going to have Crusher coming out of the Badlands and destroying the all powerful nanny state the of the Federation?

Shawn said...

A big problem with the movie is that neither the Ba'ku or Son'a are a part of the Federation. Where the Prime Directive is concerned, Picard should have stood by while the Son'a either moved the colony by force, or blasted the crap out of it.

AndrewPrice said...

Ken, That would be hilarious! "I am Wesley Crusher. . . I have come to show you the way to freedom and the promised land."


Shawn, I think Prime Directive didn't apply because they aren't a pre-warp society. But in truth the Prime Directive seemed to apply randomly, so who knows?

Chris said...

Just found this blog and have been enjoying the Trek articles.

Insurrection is among my least favorite of the Star Trek films for a host of reasons, but I do think Picard made the right call here. What struck me more though were the lengths the Federation was going to in order to uproot the Bak'u, and in such an underhanded manner. It didn't seem like a "Federation" thing to do in the first place.

And don't get me started on questioning why Data was even there to begin with, lol.

AndrewPrice said...

Chris, Welcome. I agree. The Federation was acting in a very underhanded and not-typical for the Federation way. The whole thing is kind of nonsense from the get go in that regard.

And yeah, I have no idea why Data would be there except that it introduces the plot. What mission could they possibly there that they needed him for? It struck me as entirely a plot-convenience.

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