Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Politics of Trek: “Balance of Terror”

Let’s talk about Episode 14: “Balance of Terror,” which introduces the Romulans! Patterned on submarine films, this episode involves a tactical game of chess between Kirk and a Romulan commander with a galactic war hanging in the balance. It’s also an allegory for dealing with aggression and it’s firmly conservative.
The Plot
As the episode begins, Kirk is about to perform a wedding, when the Enterprise goes to red alert. An unknown alien craft is attacking a manned Federation outpost along the Romulan neutral zone. The Federation and the Romulans fought a war a century earlier, before the advent of warp power. The treaty ending that war and establishing the neutral zone was negotiated over subspace radio, and neither side ever saw the other. The Enterprise arrives at the scene of the attack to find the outpost destroyed and a sensor blip leaving the scene. Kirk and Spock immediately suspect the blip is a Romulan “Bird of Prey” (warship) and that the Romulans have developed a cloaking device. Kirk decides to destroy the Romulan ship before it can slip back across the neutral zone.
Why It’s Conservative
Liberalism and conservatism have fundamentally different views about the nature of aggression. Liberals believe aggression is the result of fear, by the aggressor, that others intend to do them harm. Thus, the aggressor turns to aggression as a means of preemptive self-defense. Hence, the liberal solution to aggression is to assure the aggressor that the victim intends the aggressor no harm. This was why liberals advocated disarmament in the face of Soviet aggression, to show the Soviets we meant them no harm, and why it advocates appeasement in the face of Islamic terrorism.

Conservatives reject this. Conservatives believe aggression is the result of envy combined with the aggressor believing they have the power to seize what they desire because the target cannot successfully resist. Thus, showing an aggressor weakness, either by disarming or by demonstrating a lack of will to fight back, will encourage the aggressor to become more aggressive because it makes aggressor more confident of success.

This episode comes down firmly on the side of conservatism. Consider the debate over what to do about the Romulan:
MCCOY: You're discussing tactics. Do you realize what this really comes down to? Millions and millions of lives hanging on what this vessel does.
SPOCK: Or on what this vessel fails to do, Doctor. . . .
STILES: We have to attack immediately.
KIRK: Explain.
STILES: They're still on our side of the Neutral Zone. There would be no doubt they broke the treaty. . . . These are Romulans! You run away from them and you guarantee war. They'll be back. Not just one ship but with everything they've got. You know that, Mister Science Officer. You're the expert on these people. . . .
SPOCK: I agree. Attack.
KIRK: Are you suggesting we fight to prevent a fight?
MCCOY: Based on what? Memories of a war over a century ago? On theories about a people we've never even met face to face?
STILES: We know what they look like.
SPOCK: Yes, indeed we do, Mister Stiles. And if Romulans are an offshoot of my Vulcan blood, and I think this likely, then attack becomes even more imperative.
MCCOY: War is never imperative, Mister Spock.
SPOCK: It is for them, Doctor. Vulcan, like Earth, had its aggressive colonizing period. Savage, even by Earth standards. And if Romulans retain this martial philosophy, then weakness is something we dare not show.
MCCOY: Do you want a galactic war on your conscience?
KIRK: . . . Prepare to attack.
Spock and Stiles represent conservatism. Spock argues that aggression is part of human nature and that showing weakness will feed that aggression rather than cause it to abate: “weakness is something we dare not show.” Indeed, he notes that for some people, aggression is simply a way of life, e.g. countries premised on a “martial philosophy.” This is directly opposed to the liberal belief that aggression is the result of fear and can be tamed by showing weakness. Stiles backs this up by noting that the Romulans have historically responded to demonstrations of cowardice with increased aggression, which mirrors our own history. Thus, they argue that the only way to stop aggression is to stand up to the aggressor, or as Kirk puts it, they are “suggesting we fight to prevent a fight.”

McCoy, the show’s liberal, is aghast that they are considering attacking the enemy vessel. He believes that using force against an aggressor will lead to a larger conflict, a “galactic war,” and he dismisses Spock’s view as prejudice, i.e. based on “memories of a war over a century ago” and “theories about a people we’ve never met.” He would rather let the Romulans destroy the Earth outposts and presumably sue for peace. This is appeasement. And the fact that he’s an appeaser is clear from his statement that “war is never imperative.” Indeed, if you never reach the point where war is “imperative,” then logically you are suggesting that you are always ready to make compromises to avoid war. That’s a statement of perpetual appeasement and ultimate surrender.

Kirk, true to his conservative form, rejects the liberal position and decides to stand up to the aggressor. His decision is validated by the Romulan commander:
COMMANDER: Danger and I are old companions.
CENTURION: We've seen a hundred campaigns together, and still I do not understand you.
COMMANDER: I think you do. No need to tell you what happens when we reach home with proof of the Earthmen's weakness. And we will have proof. The Earth commander will follow. He must. When he attacks, we will destroy him. Our gift to the homeland, another war.
CENTURION: If we are the strong, isn't this the signal for war?
COMMANDER: Must it always be so? How many comrades have we lost in this way?
CENTURION: Our portion, Commander, is obedience.
COMMANDER: Obedience. Duty. Death and more death. Soon even enough for the Praetor's taste. Centurion, I find myself wishing for destruction before we can return. Worry not. Like you, I am too well-trained in my duty to permit it.
There are several interesting aspects here. First, note how the Centurion believes the time to be aggressive is when you are strong. The Commander confirms this view of aggression when he says the Praetor will attack when he learns of the Federation’s weakness. This runs counter to the liberal belief that aggression is borne of desperation and instead shows aggression as being opportunistic. Note also the subtle anti-concentration of power argument, as the Commander observes that the Romulan people are trapped in a series of never-ending wars because their absolute ruler is bloodthirsty. And he even notes that he disagrees with this policy so much that he almost wishes he would die rather than succeed at his mission, but his own desires do not matter.

Note also the subtle anti-concentration of power argument, as the Commander observes that the Romulan people are trapped in a series of never-ending wars because their absolute ruler is bloodthirsty. He even disagrees with this policy so much that he almost wishes to die rather than succeed at his mission, but his own desires do not matter.

This dovetails with another conservative message in this episode: the importance of the individual. Unlike collectivism, which sees people like the Romulan as tools of the state, classical liberalism favors the individual. So does this episode. We see this both in the fact that the Romulan Commander obeys the collective against his better judgment and is destroyed, and in a fascinating speech where McCoy points out the value of the individual human life and how unique we are:
MCCOY: But I've got [an answer]. Something I seldom say to a customer, Jim. In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don't destroy the one named Kirk.
But even more, we see it in a subplot about guilt by association. No human had ever seen a Romulan before Spock manages to hack into the Romulans’ viewscreen. At that point, we learn they look a lot like Vulcans. Because of this, Stiles begins to view Spock as a traitor. Some interpret this as a message about racism, but it’s really not. If it was about racism, Stiles would have hated Spock from the beginning. Instead, it’s a message about guilt by association. And Kirk will have none of it on his ship: “Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There's no room for it on the Bridge.”

This is a conservative message, though liberals won’t like hearing that. Conservatism, like classical liberalism, rejects the concept of group guilt and judges individuals on their own merits.

Modern liberalism, on the other hand, divides people into groups by race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., and then assigns rights and obligations, and assumptions about guilt/innocence to people through their groups. Indeed, this is the theory behind affirmative action, that people should bear the collective guilt for the historical actions of “their group” whether they partook in those actions personally or not. Similarly, liberals tar Christians for centuries old abuses, tar Catholics for the crimes of a few Catholic priests, seek to take the rights of all gun owners for the misuse of the product by a few, destroy the internet to stop a handful of pirates, etc. In each case, guilt by association underpins the policy, as liberals seek to inflict group punishment rather than just punishing the specific individuals who did the wrongdoing.

Kirk rejects that kind of thinking and makes it clear that Spock is an individual and will not be made to answer for the crimes of his distant cousins the Romulans.

Once again, conservatism prevails.


Tennessee Jed said...

nice review, Andrew. "The Enemy Below" and "Run Silent, Run Deep" were both stellar films, and the movies on which this episode was based. It qualifies as one of my very favorite episodes of them all. Plus, the introduction of Mark Leonard to the canon. And, I think your analysis of how liberals vs. conservatives consider aggression captures much of the difference in the philosophies of the two camps.

Joel Farnham said...

Great Points. Notice that Kirk does not deny Stiles his bigotry. He just does not allow it on his bridge. Another Conservative Viewpoint.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Thanks! And great point! I thought about mentioning that but was just running out of room. Despite being only about 50 minutes of television time, these shows were packed with many themes and each of these discussions could be another 3-5 pages easily.

Tennessee Jed said...

The writers were probably "progressives" and, once again, championing classic liberalism without actually realizing. Note how, in the dialog from your post, Spock talks about how both Vulcan and Earth experienced violence and ruthlessness in their histories, associated with the "colonization" periods, a fairly clear shot at American and British "Imperialism."

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Jed! I think we see that difference continuing today where liberals want to appease Islamic terrorists and then think they will stop being terrorists, whereas conservatives understand they are terrorists because they hate.

This is probably my all-time favorite episode as well because this episode more than any other made the ship feel real and it showed the crew in a truly high stress situation. Plus, the fact that Kirk earns the respect of the Commander is totally cool.

Also, as you note, the introduction of Spock's (soon-to-be) father who is one of my favorite actors in the series.

Everything about the episode clicked perfectly.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, My guess is that they were all thinking about WWII and Nazi Germany when they made this episode. The Praetor sounds a lot like Hitler and the moral here comes right out of Chamberlain lore.

I'm not sure that any liberals hated America yet at that point.

In fact, at the end (another point I couldn't fit in size-wise), Kirk explains to the fiance of the guy who dies that there she has to know there was a reason why he died, which implies a sense of duty to defend the Federation. He also interestingly suggests that the reason is a divine one, which runs counter to the claims of many people who say that Star Trek rejected the idea of God.

All that said, there is a bit of utopianism in the idea that Earth is no longer "aggressive."

Doc Whoa said...

This is my favorite episode. Kirk kicks butt! Excellent breakdown of the difference between liberal and conservative thinking. I think Joel's point is an excellent one. If this had been a liberal show, Kirk would have wanted to find a way to change Stiles' mind so he was no longer bigotted. Instead, he did what conservatives do. He said you have the right to think that way on your own time, but not when you're working for me.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I think that's exactly right. Conservatives don't believe in trying to control other people. They will however, demand certain standards with the people who want to deal with them. So Kirk is again being conservative when he says that the guy has the right to his beliefs, except when he's on the job. I suspect a modern version of this episode would be very different, which Kirk having to give various speeches until Stiles learned the error of his ways.

Stiles does learn how stupid he's been at the end of the episode, but he learns it on his own, not as a result of being forced into a re-education program.

DUQ said...

Cool episode and excellent breakdown! I am stunned at the number of liberals who always go for appeasement. It just boggles my mind. But you've done an excellent job explaining why that is and I think you're right. The do see aggression as a matter of fear. That's why they constantly want to assure the Islamic terrorist that we aren't going on a crusade, as if that even made sense.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I think that's true. As always with liberalism, you get a lot of obfuscation of their real motives, but when you break it down, you get appeasement. Just like in the second part discussed above, liberals claim to oppose "bigotry," but they actually use it because they groups people into groups and then inflict group punishment on them. They love to talk about the individual because they know that sells, but they don't really care about individuals, they care about groups.

DUQ said...

Andrew, I am amazed how often liberals claim to believe on thing but do the exact opposite. It almost seems a habit for them.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, It does seem to be a habit. In fact, when you compare the rhetoric to the action, it's always 100% reversed. I can't think of a moment where it isn't.

Ed said...

Great introduction to the Romulans! Not to get too geeky, but this history is entirely inconsistent with First Contact!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Yep. That film so completely ignored the history of Star Trek that it should be banned for that very reason. But by that point, it was obvious they didn't care about the history. To the contrary, they seemed to revel is being as contradictory as possible to the history.

Jimbo said...

Great review on this one. This is one of my favorite episodes as well. It's interesting that the Romulans were introduced in the series before the Klingons, but didn't fall in place as real villains until much later in the franchise.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Jimbo!

It is interesting that the Klingons became the big bad guys even though the Romulans came first. I suspect that's because the Klingons were easier to deal with because they were more like we view the Russians -- boastful, gregarious, but evil. The Romulans, by comparison, were more sinister. I'm not sure sinister was "in" yet at this point in science fiction?

This is one area where it would be interesting to go back in time and see how the series was received as the episodes rolled out. That might tell us how the Romulans were perceived at the time, i.e. were they seen as big villains or just another single-episode race?

I honestly can't answer that.

tryanmax said...

If this episode were done today, rather than attack the Romulans, the Federation would attempt to impose sanctions against Romulus while the Klingons increase trade with them. When the Romulans come back to attack again, the Federation would start disabling its fleets and would withdraw to smaller borders.


I think one can work too hard to "prove" that the Trek writers were still leftists. Yes, Earth is routinely described as having put its aggressive past behind, but what does it take to achieve that? A whole galaxy opened up with hundreds of other planets and species, some friendly, some not.

It doesn’t strike me as utopian, nor does it strain credulity to think that with the realization of a much larger universe, the conflicts on Earth could take a back seat to the conflicts in space. Besides, by "aggressive" all that is really meant is a propensity to dominate others, as the Romulans do. Much is also often made of the fact that humans' "barbarian" past is not too far behind them.

Individualist said...


You know if you want a version of "liberal" themed Star Trek that is at 180 degrees to TOS I think that Enterprise fits the bill.

There is an episode where they come accross a freighter attacked by Pirates and the freighter personel find out hold one of them captive.

In the episode the pirates attack the freighter becuase they have there man and when Bakula shows up maintain the attack on the superior Enterprise. Bakula talks the freighter folk into handing ofver the prisoners and wala the pirates discontinue the fight. IT was so unrealistic that it seemed goofy.

You ask yourself questions like:

1) If these are murderoues pirates and the Enterprise does outclass the pirate vessels why does not Bakula press the attack to capture them to bring them to jsutice.

2) If the Pirates knew they could not defeat the Enterprise wehn it showed up why continue the attack. Would the pirate really care that much for mercenaries they hired on? If the priates thought they could prevail why would Pirates stop once the prisoners were released? Why not pressm the attack and take the Enterprise?
3) Why would Bakula threaten the freighter group and lecture them for holding priates that have been attacking merchant lanes for decades? Why are they at fault for essentially defending themselves from criminals?

I guess a liberal would understand this but I don't. This episode could be considered the liberal answer to Balance of Terror or non-answer as teh case may be.

Individualist said...

PS Balance of Terror is my favorite Star Trek Episode of all the Star Treks..

Great Choice and good analysis

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That would indeed be how this episode would be remade today... or... sanctions, internal wrangling within the Federation, the exposure of a war-mongering Admiral, and then peace would suddenly spring up once the bad Admiral was gone.

On your second point, I both agree and disagree. First, I disagree to the extent that the dialog suggests that somehow aggression is no long part of human nature -- this, by the way, is something they do reject in other episodes, so it's probably not fair to infer it here. But Roddenberry was a utopian so it's hard to say what exactly this was meant to imply and I could see him injecting a bit of utopianism?

I will further disagree in that we know these writers were liberals because they've said so. That liberalism overlapped with conservatism briefly is the only reason there's a question.

I agree, however, that it's not utopian to think that man can put the idea of war aside. In fact, if everyone subscribed to conservatism, then there would be no war because conservatives aren't into controlling other people. Thus, the idea of starting a war doesn't make much sense in a world of conservatives because nobody's looking to impose themselves on others. A world of liberals, however, is the exact opposite and war is inevitable because liberalism is about forcing others to conform to your will.

And I could easily see the Earth one day being unified either by a single government or de facto. So I don't consider that utopian. I only see it as utopian to the extent he's suggesting that human nature has evolved away from violence.

tryanmax said...

Indie, that sounds abysmal. I might have to watch it just to see the train wreck.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, Thanks! This is one of their best episodes.

On Enterprise, I have only vague memories of that episode, but it sounds like you're absolutely right. That is the liberal world view in a nutshell.

1. The pirates stop being pirates once they are shown the respect they crave. Plus, now they know they might be caught by the Enterprise and then released again... "a punishment too terrible to contemplate!"

2. The guys trying to defend themselves are the bad guys.

3. The Enterprise acts as the universe's policeman simply because they are stronger than the locals.

Yep, that's liberalism.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I had the same thought. This one might be worth checking out.

tryanmax said...

I will further disagree in that we know these writers were liberals because they've said so.

That actually agrees with my statement that we needn't work to hard to prove their liberalism. They are out with it.

AndrewPrice said...

Ah... I'm sorry. I misunderstood your comment. I read it backwards, like you were suggesting that they weren't really liberals. My mistake.

ScyFyterry said...

Interesting point about this episode being about guilt by association. I always took it as just a racism episode, but you're right. That wouldn't be the case unless Stiles hated Vulcans from the outset, which he doesn't. He only hates Spock after he sees a connection between the Vulcans and the Romulans. And even then, it's not racism so much as anger at what they did in the prior war.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, I can see the racism angle absolutely. He seems to be attacking Spock on the basis of his race. Plus Kirk talks about bigotry, which is usually a "race" word. Also, with the Civil Right Movement going on and the recent desegregation of the military, it's a reasonable assumption. But in this case, they really aren't talking about pure racism so much as guilt by association. And in either event, the message is strongly conservative.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Great review, Andrew!

This was among my favorite episodes.

Obama, of course did the exact opposite of what Kirk did with his recent apology over inadvertant quran burnings.

Qurans that were marked up and, one copuld say "desecrated" by imprisoned Islamic fundy terrorists who clearly don't understand that Islam is the religion of peace (neither do the rioters for that matter).

In fact, Obama has gone one step further in appeasement that by saying he will prosecute the "offenders."

With what crime? Well, I'm sure he'll think of something.
Perhaps Hilary, Pannetta, Gen. Allen, etc., can help in that regard when or if they stop grovelling to the good intentioned rioters who are outraged over this "offense."

Um, why are they outraged? I thought they didn't support the terrorists.

Kind of OT, but I couldn't help from thinking of the comparison between Obama the appeasor and Kirk kick ass and take names.

Obama is an imbecile because his actions will have the opposite effect of peace and lend legitimacy to the murderous actions of the rioters.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Thanks! I'm glad you like the episode! And as a Navy man, I assumed this would be one of your favorites!

You're 100% right on Obama. He has taken the standard liberal approach of appeasement. He thinks that by showing weakness/submissiveness, that will make the Islamic terrorists want to stop fighting us. But it won't. As with all bullies, it will only encourage them and make them more determined because they think they're winning.

Kenn Christenson said...

Excellent analysis, as usual, Andrew.

What we see in modern liberalism is an ignorance of the natural world. They tend to segregate humans from nature - like we are some alien race, planted here.
I tend to think of us as part of nature, and in nature there are lessons to be learned - the most basic of which, is summed up in this question: which animals are usually attacked first - the weak or the strong?

AndrewPrice said...

Kenn, Thanks! And very true. I don't think liberals get that. They really do think that weakness is the key to preventing others from wanting to attack you. But that's insane. It doesn't fit human nature, it doesn't fit nature-nature. I just doesn't make sense. Yet, they base so many of their policies on this fundamental misunderstanding of reality.

Loyal Goatherd said...

I have lurked long enough. Really enjoying the series on Star Trek. This episode borrows so much from "The Enemy Below" with Curd Jurgens and Robert Mitchum, I think some of the respect for that motion picture has transfered to this episode. The two captains in either version are exceptionally good at their craft, in deadly earnest of their duties to their respective homelands. But when the issue is resolved and proper duty is discharged, the brotherhood of warriors, despite nationality, is embraced. The respect shown for an enemy as a warrior, worthy of respect, is in sharp contrast to today's video game culture (and movies). I just hate the whole "Yes!" celebration of victory of today. When Grant accepted Lee's surrender, there was no celebration, indeed, there was a brief cheer from the union troops that was silenced by their officers. The rebels are your countrymen again, do not relish their downfall.

Also appreciate the religous inference made about the sacrifice of the crewman, Rodenberry was an athiest many claim. It is hard to hold that opinion in view of this and other episodes. Brotherhood of the Son episode comes to mind, and I'm sure it is on deck.

Loyal Goatherd said...

Bread and Circuses was the episode I referenced.

AndrewPrice said...

Loyal Goatherd, Welcome from the shadows! :) I've seen your comments at Threedonia on occasion.

I'm glad you've enjoyed the series!

I think you're absolutely right about the tone of this episode. What I think makes this episode stand out so much is not only the tension they generate, but the fact that these are obviously two top-notch commanders and they earn each others respect before it's either. There's a real nobility there. And that is missing in so many modern movies.

For one thing, modern movies often make the bad guys into fools. I think that's a mistake because it weakens the challenge for the good guys. Indeed, how hard is it to beat a fool? It also robs those films of the emotional impact that an episode like this has when you realize just how much these two respect each other. It also turns killing into a mindless videogame, whereas it should be the most dramatic thing on film. All of that is a mistake in my opinion. It cheapens modern war movies and the sacrifices of modern warriors.

On the atheism, I've heard a lot of people simply accept that too -- "oh, Roddenberry was an atheist and Star Trek presents a world without God." But that's not true with the original series. There are several episodes where they deal directly with God, and then there are repeated moments like the end of this episode where Kirk clearly is making a religious statement: "You have to know there was a reason."

So I too have a hard time seeing the original Star Trek as promoting atheism. I think, to the contrary, it very clearly accepts that the Christian view of God will prevail.

AndrewPrice said...

Right, Bread and Circuses where they realize that the other planet also had a Caesar and a Jesus.

Also, don't forget Kirk's line in Who Mourns Adonis where he is asked to worship all the old gods and he says, "we find the one sufficient." Note that he doesn't go off on a tangent like Picard will and talk about Earth being a place of many faiths, etc. etc.

If the old Star Trek was atheistic, Kirk never would have said lines like this.

Commander Max said...

Good points Andrew. It would be difficult to add more to your points.

It is interesting to see how entertainment changes with the experience of those producing it.

If this story was in the STNG era, Picard would be trying to talk his way out. While waiting for orders from Starfleet, while we get 45 minutes of everybody agonizing about a war(while Worf is saying blow them up, NOW). Then the whole episode gets wrapped up in the last 2 minutes, and everything is wonderful again in the STNG universe. Am I glad I grew up on classic trek.

It is nice to be around other Conservative Trekkies.

Loyal Goatherd said...

Nice to know my fame proceeds me... I'm at a disadvantage on this, I've seen each TOS episode at least 25 times, but not in about ten years. It's too bad some upstart cable channel won't fork over the cash to keep this available to the masses. So I have memories which get mixed with other episodes. I guess I'll have to look around again and see what I can see.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Commander Max!

I think your summary of how STNG would handle this is absolutely right. Picard would give some speech. The crew would spend the whole episode complaining about how evil war is. And then the Romulans would inexplicably learn the error of their ways and the war would be called off because Picard lectured them about how they once had war on his planet but now they've learned that war is never the answer... binding arbitration is the answer! Argh.

I too am glad I grew up on the original Trek and not the later stuff.

As for meeting other conservative Trekkies, I'm thrilled there are so many of us and that people have in fact seen these episodes for what they are!

AndrewPrice said...

Goatherd, As for being at a disadvantage, don't worry about it. We're all friends! :)

Personally, I've got them all on DVD, and I like to watch them now and then. It is amazing though that someone like... oh, the Sci-Fi Channel isn't showing these every day, isn't it?

I hear Netflix is streaming them, but they are the retouched ones and I prefer the originals.

Anyway, thanks for commenting!

Commander Max said...

I can confirm Netflix is streaming all of the ST series(last time I checked), But not the movies.

Yes, there is a bunch of conservative Trekkies out there. Like I said on Big Hollywood, there are those who have worked on ST, who would not be thrilled that so many Republicans/conservatives love ST.

AndrewPrice said...

Commander Max, I recall you making that comment and I have to admit I was indeed nodding my head when I read it. I would imagine that a lot of the people associated with TOS would be rather upset that conservatives see the show as conservative.

It would be interesting, however, to hear what they say about the analysis I'm providing? I wonder if they would acknowledge that they created a conservative work (even if that wasn't the intent) or if they would argue this is actually liberalism somehow or if they would just say I missed the point? It would be interesting to find out.

Commander Max said...

Andrew, that would be hard to say. Time has a way of obscuring things, especially in a town where what you say may have an effect on your career. Retired or not.

But keeping in mind the times, people were much more professional in those days. They understood you don't insult the audience, regardless of political views. Most likely your reviews would be considered normal observations, at least in this case(I haven't read all of your ST reviews). But I'm sure they would shout and/or laugh you out of the room, if your political views were stated.

I do have a funny thought, imagine what might happen if a bunch of conservative Trekkies got toghether and had a small convention. That is if you have been to a ST convention.

AndrewPrice said...

Commander Max, I think it would be great if we had a conservative Star Trek convention! I would imagine that would drive a great many people insane. LOL!

On the plus side, however, that might wake up science fiction, which seems to be in a rut, and encourage it to start expanding its mind again rather than closing its mind. Right now scifi seems to be repeating the same old tropes over and over and it's begun substituting romance for drama to try to give their stories any sort of interest.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I know that's an over-generalization, but it feels that way these days as I no longer see much in science fiction in the way of interesting philosophy or envelop-pushing thoughts. It all seem to have become romance and action.

Commander Max said...

I'll bet we would get the 99% protesting a conservative ST/Sci-Fi con. They have to demonstrate the tolerance and understanding of the sci-fi community.

The last series that really had me excited was Babylon 5. After that nothing really grabbed me. I have been watching series in the anime world which are quite interesting.

I've been observing that we are in a dark age of entertainment. That includes all areas, movies, music, etc. As far as American offerings go there really is very little that I find interesting. The newest movie I own is Real Steel, I was surprised by it being much better than I was expecting. So there is some hope.

I think we are in for a huge change in entertainment. Once people realize that you no longer need the studio system to put movies out there, and the equipment/software is really inexpensive. Couple that with streaming and you have a direct pipeline to the audience. All it's going to take is one of those projects to take off. We will see all sorts of material that would make the time after Star Wars came out look like nothing happened.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I think you're right on all points. I can definitely see a protest of the ST Convention, which they will no doubt call a protest against "hate" or other nonsense like that.

I also think we're at a real low point entertainment-wise. Most of what is produced right now is just horrid and even the few shining moments wouldn't hold a candle to the better films of other decades.

Lastly, I absolutely agree that things are about to change. Every day I see people finding new ways around "the system" and there will come a point where the momentum of that just becomes undeniable. Then we'll see what the creative forces of millions of new people going their own way can achieve!

Peregry said...

A bit late to the party here, but I feel the need to point out that later Trek series did approach the idea of an aggressive and hostile outside power that sought to expand and conquer all their neighbors. Hell, they even set up the "well the bad guy leadership is just scared of everyone else" and instead of reassurances actually working, the entire attitude was a ploy set up to lull the Federation into complacency and peace-seeking (since the Federation dislikes war and was not in the condition to fight one at the time).

I am speaking, of course, of the later seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the Dominion War which was build up early on blew up at the end of Season 5 and completely dominated the last two seasons of the show.

At first the Federation did play the "liberal" method of conflict resolution, believing that if they just showed the Founders that they had nothing to fear from the Federation war could be avoided (this view was pushed by Odo for a long time). The Founders themselves? They basically laughed at the idea and believed themselves to be better and know better than the "Solids." The Federation got it's hands very dirty and used close to every means necessary to win the war. And it was a full scale war, not a series of minor skirmishes, the sides were throwing fleets of thousands of ships at each other and it was one of the few times in the series where you could actually see that Starfleet was pretty badass and understood why all these militaristic empires surrounding the Federation actually took them seriously.

Why? Not because the Federation were a bunch of pacifistic do-gooders, sure they were, but if you pushed them to hard for to long they would blow you up and turn around and go back to being pacifistic do-gooders, and if they couldn't do it by themselves, they'd get all your enemies together, make friends with them and bring them into the party too.

The truly liberal and political-correct series was TNG. DS9 was decidedly Conservative and Voyager was... bipolar, sometimes excellent, often terrible, sometimes TNG level politically correct and sometimes even more Conservative than DS9.

AndrewPrice said...

Peregrinus, Late isn't a problem! People drop by these all the time and many people use the e-mail notification so they know when new comments are made. :)

That is an excellent point and several people have suggested getting into DS9 and Voyager as comparisons to TNG. TNG really is the outlier in all of this. It was liberal to the core and it set itself in an unrealistic world where liberalism worked even when it shouldn't have. The others were much more true to human nature and human experience and that led to much more conservatism.

Interestingly, most of what the Federation types did in the Dominion War would have set the TNG crew whining about how evil they were. Indeed, the first thing I noticed about Sisko was his willing to see the world in ways which Picard never would have considered. And that made the show more interesting and Sisko a more interesting commander. That's not to say that TNG was bad, but it lacked the punch it should have had.

I agree with you about Voyager being very bipolar. Sometimes they really hit a stride and other times I just shook my head wondering what they were thinking? It was like they 2-3 teams of writers and each group had a different view of the show.

Anonymous said...


Just found your site thanks to Big Hollywood. I've seen very few episodes of original Trek, but after reading your excellant analysis of this episode I think I'm going to have to change that. I do, however, have the James Blish adaptations of the original series. In his version of this story, which is strictly from Kirk's viewpoint - the Romulan exchange is not in the story, there is this interesting (to me anyway) bit about the Enterprise's chapel:

"Designed by a groundlubber in the hope of giving offense to nobody (or, as the official publicity had put it, "to accomodate all faiths of all planets," a task impossible on the face of it), the chapel was simplified and devoid of symbols to the point of insipidity; but its very existence acknowledged that even the tightly designed Enterprise was a world in itself, and as such had to recognize that human beings often have religious impulses."

I like the fact that Blish took the time in what is basically a short story to reaffirm religious faith isn't something that goes away as society moves forward in time, despite what some people would like to think. Taken in context with the rest of the story and Kirk's temperment, it also comes across as something of a swipe at people who would try to make all religions one.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Anon! And welcome!

Interesting! I haven't read those.

A lot of people claim that Star Trek has done away with religion and presents man as having cast off Christianity (in particular) and religion in general and is not Godless-socialist modern man. But that's absolutely not true of the original series. Several episodes specifically affirm religion and the show also has many minor moments which do the same.

In this episode, you have the very existence of the chapel, plus you have the wonderful speech by McCoy about how stunningly unique each human is in the universe. These indicate belief in a higher power. Then you add in the more direct reference by Kirk as he sits in the chapel and comforts the fiance of the dead crewman by saying, "you have to understand, there was a reason." That speech is a clear reference to God.

There is another line in another Star Trek episode involving Apollo, where Kirk is told that they can now worship many gods and Kirk responds, "we find the one to be sufficient."

These moments are strewn throughout the original series. They are virtually non-existence in the Next Generation, but they are abundant in the original series. So I think the characterization many people make that Kirk's universe is Godless is simply incorrect.

Mike Zimmerman said...

I'm relatively new to these sorts of discussions, and much more familiar the TNG than TOS. I like looking for contradictions (hypocrisy?) in TNG, and one thing that gets me is when Picard pontificates that humans don't believe in God/the supernatural anymore. (I don't know the name of the episode, it's the one where the anthropology team's cover is blown while observing a developing Vulcan/Romulan-like culture. Their presence is revealed at this developing society thinks Picard is God/a god.)
When Picard makes his declaration, I immediately thought, "Really?! After all you've seen and experienced traveling around the galaxy(ies?), you're not willing to concede that there might be some form or level of being/existence that goes beyond what we can see, perceive, measure, or even fathom? You're that sure there's nothing that exists beyond the material world that we inhabit?"
I would think it would be more of a case of, "The more you know, the more realize how much you don't know." Instead it's, "we got it all figured out." What is Q, for instance, if not a "supernatural" being, one that exists outside of the scope of our human perception? I suppose you could get into a big debate about the definition of "supernatural," and what the proper noun "God" really means. But the point is that human beings in the 24th century seem to have gotten less open-minded instead of more so.
Circling back around to this post, after reading it yesterday I watched the "balance of terror" episode last night, and one of the first things I noticed is that the original Enterprise has a chapel (I'm certain Picard's version does not), and by the fact that the "widowed" bride-to-be seems to be praying at the end.
I also recently watched the TNG episode "Devil's Due," in which Picard encounters a being claiming to be, in essence, the Devil. At first, I almost didn't want to watch, because I was afraid it would tick me off by being condescending. Ultimately, I enjoyed the episode more than I thought I would, though I was hoping it would end differently. Instead of getting the planet inhabitants out of their "deal with the Devil" by proving Ardra (is that the right name?) to be a fraud and a charlatan, I was hoping he would get them off the hook on a technicality (perhaps by pointing out that the peace didn't really last quite the full 1,000 years -- it actually ended a tiny bit prematurely in the mere anticipation of Ardra's return), while leaving some ambiguity about who or what she really was.
I thought it was interesting that in the early discussions, it was even suggested, by Dr. Crusher, that she might in fact be a member of the Q species (if that's the right word - sorry, I'm a newbie!). But this possibility was not even given serious consideration.
Thanks for the posts. I've been looking for some discussion of these sorts of themes since I've re-engaged (heh) with TNG on Netflix.
Oh, and I thought that "Balance of Terror" was excellent!

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, Thanks for the comment and welcome! We talk about Star Trek every Tuesday so please join us and share your thoughts!

You are right about the original Enterprise having a chapel. I hear people claim all the time that "Star Trek rejects God." But that's not at all true, only TNG has done that. TOS very much wove faith into several episodes.

TNG is definitely condescending about religious belief. They seem to accept mysticism and think that's real but somehow can't accept the idea of a deity. Very hypocritical. I also think they fail to consider the implications of their anti-religious stance -- just as they fail to consider the implications of much of what they do. Wouldn't people act a little differently if they thought there was no right and wrong in the universe? Basically, they are free-riding by keeping the world as it is, only removing the idea of God without ever asking what would change in a world where there is suddenly no meaning except random chance. It's dishonest.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Well said Andrew and Mike!
If there is no absolute truth there is no truth.
And if there is no truth we cannot know it.

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