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Star Trek’s Prime Directive – A lofty idea with a few wrinkles

Image FET-OPEN call deadline via Twitter

In the fictional world of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is a core regulation of Starfleet. To understand what the Prime Directive means, we have to know how Star Trek depicts its moral universe.

Star Fleet officers usually see themselves as an alliance of “good guys” belonging to the United Federation of Planets, as opposed to the “bad guys” made of up species like the Cardassians and the Borg.

Starfleet is concerned about right ethics, so the Prime Directive stipulates noninterference with other species’ planetary development.

This applies to space exploration through normal time¹ and to time travel. Violating the prime directive results in court-martial, except in extenuating circumstances.

The Prime Directive sounds like a great idea but, we could ask, what exactly does “non-interference” mean?

Extreme causal loop time travel paradox animation

Extreme causal loop time travel paradox animation – Wikipedia

Religious and New Age people, for instance, tend to say that humanity is invisibly guided by advanced beings residing in the universe, astral realms, heavens and throughout time.² If so, a Federation starship crew might have a moral responsibility to help primitive but eligible species develop better ways of living.

Despite its lofty ideal of non-interference, the Prime Directive is often breached. Moral dilemmas are key to dramatic storytelling and, it goes without saying, TV ratings. In real life, St. Paul says that moral dilemmas are best solved by following the spirit instead of the letter of the law.³ So it’s not surprising that the Prime Directive is often messed with.

As any good popcorn popping cultural studies or phony entertainment critic will say, art follows life and life follows art.

A relatively novel mystery arises with The Prime Directive’s treatment of temporal paradoxes. For obvious reasons, Star Trek’s writers never fully answer the tricky question: Could a time traveler going back in time be certain what choice out of many possible choices would be best? Or, for that matter, is there a single, best choice?

English: Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as Borg Locutus...

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as Borg Locutus – Wikipedia

Possible answers to these conundrums lead to notions of a plethora of potential outcomes and universes (to include parallel universes) and a multiverse (which differs from parallel universes).

Tantalizing cosmological questions have been posed by both mystics and subatomic physicists, but no universally agreed upon answers have been found due to their speculative nature.4

But one thing is certain. The Star Trek mythos is no silly fantasy but, rather, provides us with some of the best imaginative thinking in 20th and 21st century science fiction.

Related » Aliens, Angels, Jane Roberts, UFOs

¹ Technically, Star Trek might be at odds with reality because warp speeds are faster than the speed of light but travelers experience no time dilation. But being good sci-fi, fans are obviously willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  They weren’t as forgiving with Space 1999, which was visually interesting but a bit of a bomb.

² For some, demons try to get us off track.

³ Usually associated with St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:6, the idea has other applications. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_and_spirit_of_the_law

4 Sometimes the speculation is forwarded as a hypothesis, which is good, healthy science or mysticism. But other times it is not, as with those claiming to have advanced knowledge that others lack. In religion and the New Age, these mentally unwell characters may be ego-inflated holy men and women or, from my experience, some religious studies professors who do their esoteric “thing” under the cover of academia. In both cases, these half-baked manipulators are blind to their own prejudices and do everything possible to convince you that they know better. Watch out!

 Star Trek Continues, The Trek Show That Fans Wanted (ansionnachfionn.com)

 Star Trek spat: Why did one Starfleet captain block another on Twitter? (mashable.com)

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The Q – Star Trek’s mythic gods

Q (Star Trek)

Q (Star Trek) – Photo Wikipedia

The Q is a fictional group entity in Star Trek TOS spin-offs and films. Members reside in an eternal field of space-time called the Q-continuum. Like the avatar in Hinduism, the Q appear in specific moments of space-time to apparently regulate the ebb and flow of events in the universe.

The manifestation of Q that usually appears in the Star Trek franchise is male and played by actor John de Lancie. Simply called “Q,” he conforms to the trickster archetype.

Like most mythological deities, the manifest aspect of Q uses supernatural powers to baffle, vex and test human beings to the point of distraction. And like most otherworldly pantheons, there is a faction of rebellion within the Q-continuum. The rebels are tired of being “good” and politically correct at the expense of enjoying their free will and vitality. These dissenters are prohibited and disciplined through punishment by the Q moral majority.

Here’s how I put it in my entry for Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series in which he first appears:

And then there was “Q,” played by actor John de Lancie, who was something akin to a classical Greek god in that he had powers and knowledge extending beyond our normal conception of space and time. Also like the Greek gods, he often abused these powers in childish ways and even challenged the authority of the Q Continuum (the ruling body of the Q, representing its status quo), resulting in his frequent punishment.

More recently Wikipedia notes that:

The similarity between Q and Trelane, the alien encountered in the Star Trek episode “The Squire of Gothos“, inspired writer Peter David to establish in his 1994 novel Q-Squared that Trelane is a member of the Continuum, and that Q is his godfather.¹

Trelane - with harpsichord (under his arm...)

Trelane – via startrek.com

I’m not sure if this interpretation of Trelane (one of my favorite characters in the original Star Trek) is endorsed by those who define the Star Trek canon. But the literary device of retroactive continuity certainly has become a mainstay in the Star Trek universe.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_(Star_Trek)

Related » Dreamtime


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Romulans – Star Trek’s Nasty Vulcans from Ancient Rome

Romulan fights Andorian for Vlad

Romulan fights Andorian for Vlad by GizmoDoc via Flickr (costumers, not professional actors)

Romulans are an alien, imperial race in the original Star Trek TV show, sharing common ancestry with the Vulcans.

Instead of using their considerable intelligence for the promotion of peace, as do Vulcans, Romulans are bellicose and at perpetual war with the Federation (an interplanetary organization that includes humanity).

The Romulans are notorious for being able to “cloak” their ships with a device that renders them invisible. This makes for dramatic battle scenes similar to the contemporary naval destroyer and submarine.

The creators of the original Star Trek chose the name Romulans to resemble Romans, which subconsciously resonates with ideas of power, military intelligence and forceful acquisition.

As screenwriter Paul Schneider says:

It was a matter of developing a good Romanesque set of admirable antagonists … an extension of the Roman civilization to the point of space travel

The Romulan home world is actually two planets in the same solar system: Romulus and Remus. Again, this is a direct borrowing from Roman mythology .²

In a humorous vein, Romulan ale is a blue, illegal drink that many Federation officers mention during moments of lively banter.

A female Romulan Commander in 2268 via Memory Alpha

A female Romulan Commander in 2268 (via Memory Alpha)

In this image (immediately right) we see a Romulan Commander whom Captain Kirk seduces in order to gain freedom from captivity. When she finds out their mutual affection was a ruse on the part of Kirk, she’s hurt and he feels a bit badly.

Interspecies love is no big deal in the Star Trek universe. People with a true eye as to what sci-fi is all about tend to be less concerned about things like gender, age, sexual orientation and race.

However, some sci-fi buffs still seem to be hung up on these conventional categories. Maybe they like to fantasize about a better world but are not mature enough to put their fantasies into reality.

¹ See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulan This reminds me of an arrogant man I once knew who felt that North Americans lacked “culture.” He (somehow) physically escaped the grip of his communist country to benefit from living in our free society. But ideologically, he was still imprisoned. He had no appreciation, other than his visible excitement at the mere mention of scanners and computers, for the depth and innovation of North American culture.

² Read my notes for more: http://marker.to/anwBFm


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Religion – As diverse as peoples of the Earth?

What is religion? With so many different religions out there can we come up with a concise or, for that matter, comprehensive definition? It seems not.

In fact, there are many different definitions of religion in encyclopedias and other educational works. In the simplest sense, some writers focus on the afterlife component, others on the inspirational.

Here’s a brief (and by no means comprehensive) survey:

Religion has been defined as any belief or activity that moves the soul, activates, energizes or inspires. For example, Marxism, sciencescientism and athleticism have each been portrayed as religions. Some scholars argue that the TV show Star Trek is a religion, which adds science fiction to the list.

The Economist published an article suggesting that Google is like a religion.¹ Others maintain that religion must refer to ideas like God, gods, goddesses, spirit beings, transcendence, the miraculous, the numinous and the afterlife.

Follow the Star by Michael Clark via Flickr

follow the star by Michael Clark via Flickr

Meanwhile, some insist that religion refers to a group, not a mere individual. Western jurisprudence outlines that a religious group must exhibit some degree of organization and be legally registered for legitimacy.

Other scholars insist that religion needs scripture, rites, ritual obligations, representatives, leaders, as well as a path to transcendental – no just social – liberation or salvation.

William James, Max Weber, Rudolf Otto and several other classic religion scholars suggest, each in their own way, that religion differs from magic.² This distinction is complicated by the recent move toward being open to whatever one believes in, and seeing these diverse beliefs as “new religions.”³

Just today while driving home from Mass I happened to hear a radio talk show about the new face of religion. A representative from the United Church said:

Some believe in God, that’s great.
Some do not believe in God, that’s great.

For the person on the radio, the essence of religion was respect and kindness towards others. I have to admit, when he said not believing in God was great I quickly changed the station to some pop hits. This was more spiritual for me that listening to someone say that it was “great” to not believe in God.

My bias, admittedly. But hearing him say that felt like being dumped on. I briefly wondered if I was being narrow-minded and should switch back. But I was driving and didn’t want the voice on the radio to bring me down. So I stuck with the pop hits.

Cate Storymoon - Nothing short of everything will really do - via Flickr

Cate Storymoon – Nothing short of everything will really do – via Flickr

¹ Now a dead link, this was active for the previous update of this entry (2009/11/23) »  http://www.ipdemocracy.com/archives/001018google_as_religion.php . It seems any new thing, if it gets big enough, is described as a religion or, at least, discussed in the context of religion. Today, for instance, it’s about kids staring into their phones. But instead of being described as a religion, the Vatican actually warned in 2008 that this was bad for the soul! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/3531418/Vatican-warns-mobile-phones-are-bad-for-the-soul.html I find this silly. New technologies should be integrated with spirituality, not demonized.

² Some argue that religion and science share a distinction from magic. See:

³ Articles about religion at Earthpages.org


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Star Trek: Voyager

Kathryn Janeway

Kathryn Janeway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Star Trek: Voyager is a spin off from the original Star Trek TV program in which a Federation ship, Voyager, is transported to the distant delta quadrant, far from Earth. The plot centers on the crew’s attempts to return home.

The show ran for seven seasons (1995 to 2001) and contains significant innovations from previous series (Star Trek: The Original SeriesStar Trek: The Next Generation), most notably the woman captain, Kathryn Janeway; the holographic doctor who gained freedom from the holodeck by obtaining a mobile emitter from his future; and Seven of Nine.

Originally a human girl (Annika Hansen), Seven of Nine was transformed into a semi-cybernetic entity when assimilated by the Borg in her childhood. Seven’s humanity is restored when Commander Chakotay stimulates her human memories through a technologically assisted mind-link.

Actress Kate Mulgrew (Left) Stars As (Captain Kathryn Janeway) And Susanna Thompson Stars As (The Borg Queen) In United Paramount Network’s Sci-Fi Television Series ‘Star Trek: Voyager.’ Episode: ‘Unimatrix Zero, Part Two.’

Although Janeway is fully human, the doctor and Seven each try to learn what it’s like to be human through different means. The doctor receives new programming giving him more spatial freedom or, alternately, which allows him to feel human emotion. Seven learns about her human roots through trial and error and is rewired to feel emotion without the usual Borg constraints. This makes for interesting viewing. We learn afresh what it means to be human, vulnerable, and to take risks.

Janeway’s import lies in her character, played by actor Kate Mulgrew. A strong captain, she has moments of doubt where she relies on the counsel of her male Commander Chakotay. When the show first aired, the time was ripe for this inversion of traditional sex-role stereotypes.

Deutsch: Titel der Sci-Fi Serie Star Trek:Raum...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not unlike William Shatner (who plays Captain Kirk in the original series), Mulgrew’s acting is a little wooden here and there. What’s different, however, is that wooden acting was more common on TV in the 1960s than the 1990s. So this might have been one factor preventing Voyager from becoming a full-fledged pop phenomenon like The Original Series and The Next Generation.

By the time the Voyager makes it home, however, Mulgrew puts in a solid performance as her older self who travels back in time to ensure the safety of her crew as they jump through a Borg infested wormhole. In fact, I felt she played her older self far more convincingly than her present self.¹

¹ For some years there were rumors that Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan were at odds on the set. These have recently been confirmed. Apparently Ryan would feel nauseous just thinking about having to do a scene with Mulgrew. See http://trekcore.com/blog/2014/11/ryan-mulgrew-feud/ This is surprising because Janeway often plays a concerned “mother” figure to Seven, and does so quite well.


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Sulu (Star Trek)

Promotional photo of the cast of Star Trek dur...

Promotional photo of the cast of Star Trek during the third season (1968–1969). From left to right: James Doohan, Walter Koenig, DeForest Kelley, Majel Barrett, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sulu is the fictional helmsman aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise in the original Star Trek TV series. The character is played by actor George Takai.¹

Takai was one of very few Japanese Americans to hold a significant role in 1960s American television and his character was devoid of all the usual stereotypes present of that era.

With the inclusion of an international crew, Star Trek’s creators directly challenged racism.

In 2005 Takai made public that he had been and still was gay. In the very first episode of the first season, “The Man Trap” (1966), we find an interesting, perhaps, prefigurative dialogue between Sulu and Yeoman Janice Rand in the Botany department of the starship about the gender of a plant called Beauregard (traditionally male) / Gertrude (traditionally female).

RAND: Where are you, Sulu?
SULU: In here feeding the weepers, Janice.
RAND: I’ve got your tray.
SULU: May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless your planet.
RAND: Thank you. Hello, Beauregard. How are you today, darling?
SULU: Her name’s Gertrude.
RAND: No, it’s a he plant. A girl can tell.
SULU: Why do people have to call inanimate objects she, like she’s a fast ship.
RAND: He is not an inanimate object. He’s so animate he makes me nervous. In fact, I keep expecting one of these plants of yours to grab me [italics added]. ²

¹ Sulu was originally known only by his last name. The full details at Wikipedia:

Hikaru Sulu is a character in the Star Trek media franchise.[1] Originally known simply as ‘Sulu’, he was portrayed by George Takei in the original Star Trek series. Sulu also appears in the animated Star Trek series, the first six Star Trek movies, one episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and in numerous books, comics, and video games.[2] Sulu’s first name, ‘Hikaru,’ appeared in a 1981 novel well over a decade after the original series had ended. John Cho assumed the role of the character in both the 2009 film Star Trek[3] and its sequels, Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond. See » https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikaru_Sulu

² http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/6.htm

Related » Gene Roddenberry


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Sargon

Image via memory-alpha.wikia.com

In the original Star Trek TV series Sargon is a forceful, intelligent mind residing in a glowing orb. Sargon abducts Captain Kirk and plans to inhabit his body.¹

This fictional Sargon is named after two ancient Sargons who walked this Earth. Sargon I was a Akkadian king (2400 BCE) said to have built Babylon. Sargon II was an Assyrian king (around 700 BCE). Both were successful militarists.

More and more people are saying that the Star Trek franchise has created something of a modern myth. One of the ingredients for Star Trek‘s lasting success is the recasting of elements from history, myth and legend within an optimistic, socially progressive future.

King Sargon II and a Dignatary by Sharon Mollerus

King Sargon II and a Dignatary by Sharon Mollerus via Flickr

Depth psychologists and cultural theorists say that the use of history in storytelling sets off a subconscious resonance, giving a story charm, fascination and, as religious studies scholars would put it, numinous allure.

The use of Sargon in this episode is a good example of calling up the past, injecting it into the present while imagining the future.

¹ Excellent outline of the story » http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Return_to_Tomorrow_%28episode%29