As a Trekkie I’m of course indebted to Gene Roddenberry for creating the universe of Star Trek. However my favorite Star Trek series is Deep Space Nine and it contains many elements that Roddenberry would have hated.
The Star Trek universe is supposed to be ideal. Humans are supposed to be perfect. He saw a world without hatred, racism and war. That’s a fantastic vision of the future but it may not be terribly realistic – and creating a story without conflict is difficult bordering on impossible.
‘Things are only impossible until they’re not.‘ – Captain Picard.
Racism was present in TOS. Most notably in Balance of Terror. How this episode came to be written is something of a mystery to me. In this episode the Enterprise becomes the first ship to get a visual of the Romulans. They find out they look like the Vulcans and Lt. Sties starts to think that Mr. Spock is a spy.
‘Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the bridge.’ Captain Kirk.
I realise its odd to praise an episode for bigotry but let me explain. I firmly hope that we can one day come to a ‘perfect’ future. We may well be able to do away with war and famine in the years to come. We all know that there is enough food to feed everyone. Also, and I know its hard to believe, we are in the most peaceful period in history.
However the instinct that lead to prejudice won’t magically evaporate. I’m not an anthropologist but it seems fairly clear that for a lot of history anyone not like you was a threat. Britain has been invaded many times not to mention the countries we’ve invaded. You only need to look on Wikipedia at the pages for various countries to see how many of them have had to gain, through conflict or diplomacy, their independence. Thus even if we have a ‘perfect’ world those instincts would remain – and would show themselves in extreme situations.
“There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy” Alfred Henry Lewis.
The thing about Star Trek is that only humans seem to have achieved this perfection. Its great to have such principals but if others in the galaxy are ruthless you might need to be too. The Klingons in TOS were written as an evil empire that killed civilians. It was perhaps for that reason that Section 31 was created.
Section 31 was introduced in Deep Space Nine but retconned to have been their from the beginning of the Federation. This doesn’t really present a continuity error as they are a secret organisation. They are the self appointed guardians of the federation. They are prepared to do whatever it takes to protect Federation principles. Sloan, one of their agents, describes it to Doctor Bashir.
Federation needs men like you, Doctor – men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night. You’re also the reason Section 31 exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn’t share your sense of right and wrong. Sloan
Roddenberry would have hated the idea of Section 31, especially after you know what, and I’m not defending that. However its hard to imagine the Federation without some form of covert group. The questionable history of the CIA is well known but spying can also be of use.
...tonight I know how many missiles the enemy has and…our guesses were way off. And we were doing things that we didn’t need to do. We were building things that we didn’t need to build. We were harboring fears that we didn’t need to have. President Lydon B. Johnson, 1967
Section 31 are extreme in places but their existence isn’t unbelievable.
Let’s make a deal, Doctor: I’ll spare you the ‘ends justify the means’-speech and you spare me the ‘we must do what’s right’-speech. You and I are not going to see eye to eye on this subject, so I suggest we stop discussing it. – Sloan
In Roddenbury’s mind humans will always do the right thing. This however presents a problem. The no-win scenario. The Kobayashi Maru. What do you do when faced only with bad and worse choices. Neither action or inaction is acceptable.
You were The Doctor on the day it wasn’t possible to get it right. – The Doctor
In that case we have to make the best of the bad choices. Most of us won’t ever have to face that situation. In Star Trek though we’re talking about Starfleet personal its part of the job. This brings me to ‘In The Pale Moonlight‘.
“I was going to bring the Romulans into the war.” – Sisko.
In this episode Sisko faces that choice. In his mind he either brings the Romulans into the Dominion war or the Federation is defeated. That defeat would lead to millions, maybe billions dead. In one episode we see Weyoun casually mention irradiating Earth’s population. Sisko didn’t hear that but its safe to assume he knew what the Dominion would do if they won. Sisko tries to bring the Romulans into the war legitimately but when that fails he is prepared to use any means necessary.
I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing – a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. – Sisko
In the Pale Moonlight is my favorite episode of Ds9 and maybe all of Star Trek. It is extremely well executed but of course Roddenberry would have hated it.
Here’s the thing. I don’t know what Roddenberry saw when he first thought about Star Trek. Lets say it was the perfect society. The crew of the 1701 represent all of Earth. They show us that we can all work together and that things will be better tomorrow than they are today. How much did he see other than that? He wouldn’t have bothered to invent all the nuanced details. He wouldn’t have known about Section 31 because no-one did at the time of TOS. Roddenberry saw the perfect future but perhaps that was just the outside. The side that the Federation shows. At the end of the day although these humans are ‘perfect’ they still carry weapons wherever they go, they have a ship that can render a planet uninhabitable, and every week a crewman is killed by an unforgiving galaxy.
I realise I’m describing this as if Roddenberry had a vision. As if he saw the universe and wrote it all down. It is like that sometimes with creating fiction. You don’t see everything though. The Federation may be largely the ideal place to live but every society is going to have its less savory aspects. I believe that Roddenberry saw the dream society but didn’t think to look behind the curtain. We can strive to be good but there are times when its not possible. Captain Kirk doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario but they do exist.
I never took the Kobayashi Maru test. What do you think of my solution? Spock.
I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.
One response to “Gene Roddenberry: Section 31 and the Perfect Human.”
Regardless of whether or not Section 31 is true canon, is debatable. I think he could have been pitched on 31, and he shelved it. We may never know. Starfleet Security seemed very up to it’s task, in ST:III.
I’ve never been a big fan of DS9, or Voyager. They felt wrong, after TNG.
I’ll watch. Critically. Personally, I think it was abundantly clear that this slimy underworld was introduced into Trek, after Gene’s death, for a reason.