Boldly Going to a Bad Place

Once upon a time, I was a trekkie, with a little “t.” The original Star Trek made a huge impression on my friends and I, and after cancellation we’d tune in to whatever station happened to be running it in syndication. That proved interesting at times, such as the Saturday a station aired an episode dubbed in French. Then I discovered the James Blish novelizations of the episodes, very handy in those pre-VCR days, and ended up reading and re-reading them. There was enough groundswell of fandom that NBC aired an animated series, some episodes which were in turn novelized by Alan Dean Foster, then finally the first movie. Alas, by then I was no longer a trekkie, little “t” or otherwise, so I settled for the novelization and sound track and didn’t bother to see it.

The issue wasn’t so much the franchise as the seriousness of some of the fans. The watershed moment was when, miracles of miracles, a fanzine showed up on the local newsstands. I was eagerly reading the thing when I came across an article that tried to reconcile the distances between stars visited by the Enterprise with the episodes in original broadcast order. This was taking Star Trek way to seriously. My exact thought was this is just a TV show!

That pretty much wound up my trekkie days. I ended up getting rid of my novelization collection. It was all gone by the time Shatner did his “Get a Life” skit on Saturday Night Live.

Which isn’t to say I never watched any of the Star Trek: The Next Iterations. Like the last line in John Wayne’s The Train Robbers, “It’s something to do.” When it was good it was very, very good, but when it was bad I ended up doing Mystery Science Theater 3000 impressions. Enough of a small “t” trekkie crept back that I’d watch it at all. Being older, I was more tolerant of those who take their fiction seriously, taking a “If it floats your boat” attitude. I started dropping out with Star Trek: Lost in Space, and watched maybe five minutes of a couple of episodes of Enterprise. I watched about as much of the reboot before turning to something interesting.

While I never cared if someone likes a particular line of fiction (see “If it floats your boat” above), I still cringe when someone takes their entertainment a bit seriously. So when I saw a link to How Star Trek Explains the Decline of Liberalism on The Federalist, I winced, and promptly clicked on it for the same reason most of us stare when driving past a wreck. While I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Sandefur on all points, and the article gives me a “This is just a TV show” feeling, he does have a point. Writers bring more to the table than they realize. Part of that is your world view of what is right and what is wrong. What Mr. Sandefur points out is that the writers of Star Trek brought to the table their particular world view. How that world view changed over almost fifty years is interesting.

I think Mr. Sandefur does a good job of describing different flavors of liberalism, although Gene Roddenberry might not have been the Cold Warrior he thought he was. Here is a link to an ad in a 1968 issue of Galaxy where Science Fiction authors line up in support or opposition of the Vietnam War. Gene Roddenberry was in the opposition group. Regardless, he does have a point. Roddenberry was an older style of liberalism, replaced by another style, only to be replaced by another, and finally replaced by nihilism.

From this Christian’s point of view, the liberalism that councils forgiveness lifts the concept directly from Christianity while trying to remove it from the moral aspects and the belief in God. Roddenberry came from an era steeped in Christian thought regardless of whether one was a Christian or not. The next came from an era that took a cafeteria approach toward Christianity, picking those they liked, such as forgiveness and compassion, and rejecting things they didn’t, such as morality, repentance, and restitution. The group of writers next came from an era of increasing moral relativism. Finally, if there is no absolute right or wrong, what’s the point? That gives us the nihilism Mr. Sandefur sees in the Star Trek reboot. All three are an expression of the culture the writers live in.

Whether someone subscribes to this interpretation or not, a person’s world view is shaped roughly a generation earlier. If Mr. Abrams’ generation is one of nihilism, what is the world view of the generation of today?

I have the uncomfortable feeling that Mr. Sandefur hit on it in his analysis of the conflict between Mr. Abrams’ Kirk and Khan. If there is no absolute and nothing really matters, then the only driving difference is whether one belongs to your tribe or not. As I’ve pointed out before, humans seem hardwired toward tribalism, so this may well represent a fallback when there is no guiding principle. The scary thing is this may well explain the ongoing balkanization of western civilization. If we, as a whole, no longer believe in an absolute right and wrong, then we identify not by moral or civil code, but by who is our group and who is not.

It’s worth noting that even in Christianity steeped Medieval Europe, strangers were regarded with suspicion because you knew nothing about them. Much of the ideas of chivalry was introduced by the Church as a taming influence. This will set the Christian haters in a tizzy, but the Church has a huge role in curbing some of the baser habits of our ancestors. Now that we’re essentially in a post Christian age, Western culture, in turning its back on God, as also turned its back on what made life a good deal less brutish.

That being the case, it doesn’t bode well for the future. If nothing really matters, then nothing is really forbidden. While Mr. Sandefur doesn’t specifically mention it, the latest incarnation of Star Trek seems to lack the forgiveness and compassion found in the post-Roddenberry liberals. That, too, is a reflection of the world view of the writers. Is this what lies ahead? A culture shaped where these things are alien concepts? Will the next version of Star Trek resemble the brutal alternate universe of Mirror, Mirror more than Roddenberry’s original? If so, it will mean the world view of the writers will be closer to that as well. Since world views are heavily influenced by culture, that would not bode well at all.

Star Trek was only a TV show. The world view behind it, though, was shaped by our culture, as was every subsequent version. I’m not concerned much about Star Trek; it’s only fiction. Where our culture is going, now that’s enough to keep you awake at night.