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February 04, 2004

Q & DS9: Keys to Star Trek

There's some interesting back and forth about the political economies of the Star Trek galaxy over at Matthew Yglesias, Pandagon and TheCorner.

What nobody has mentioned is what the Q represented. These absolute masters of the galaxy became bored with just about everything. They alone had the power to defeat the Borg and Species 8475. They regard the conflict between the Federation and their enemies as an amusing curiousity.

The personnage of Q itself posed philosophical questions of various starship captains that involved some questions of morality, but Q's meddling was never quite clumsy or malicious. Q could be seen as a philosopher-king bored with his empire. So the Q become responsible for introducing the Federation and humanity to the Borg. The entrance of the Borg coincided with the exit of Q.

Unlike previous master races, the Q were never interested in zoological study of humans or other species. So in all of Star Trek, it is presumed that the ultimate of power doesn't corrupt, but makes one irrelevant. Thus it is not power and economy that are at the center of the Star Trek dialectic.

What is at the center? It's always been race wars in space. The Federation, more than anything were assimilationist. They were essentially a populalist pluralism overseen by a military tribunal. The primary raison d'etre for the Federation was to slowly assimilate species into its multicultural interplanetary stew and beat off any other race of creatures more bellicose than itself in this quest. Very American. Going back to TOS, much was made, though people forget it, of a black female officer on the bridge (Uhura), of an Asian pilot (Sulu) and a Russian whatever Chekov was.

I think this becomes most clear in the DS9 series which more than any other put the conflicts not only of the human centered Federation in relief but that of the Bejorans who were clearly the Jews of space. The Federation represented the struggle of diplomacy at the edges of known space, and so the existence of the Wormhole put them at that very boundary and showed them struggling with their values even more.

DS9 continued and detailed the internal struggles of their characters issues with self-realization. I think DS9 lost a lot of the bumpy-faced kid aspects of the cowboy in space attraction of Star Trek in this evolution of diplomacy.

OK I'm going to shut up now, I'm starting to scare myself.

Posted by mbowen at February 4, 2004 05:13 PM

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That's odd, the Bejorans always seemed to me to be the *Palestinians* of space...

Posted by: Marc Ramsey at February 4, 2004 10:57 PM

I think the Bajorans started out as the Palestinians of space (in their early TNG appearances) but by DS9 had sort of morphed into being the Bosnian Muslims with the Federation as NATO and the Cardassians as the Serbs in a late-nineties Balkan allegory.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias at February 5, 2004 11:29 AM

Damn... You folks are going to ruin it all for me. I own the complete seasons of both TNG and DS9. I don't know if I can watch anymore with you intellectual types MESSIN' IT UP! I just like all the space stuff and fancy words.


Posted by: S-Train at February 5, 2004 11:50 AM

One could argue that Q also had enough humor and guile inside himself to be quite a person who both attracted and repelled humans simultaneously.

The Bajorans as Jews of space? Never thought about them that way...and the way that the last Kai played an evil empress struck me as a person who believed that she was a goddess herself. Yes, DS9 rocked the house and rocked it well.

And yeah, I'm a trekkie. Owning all of TNG and buying up DS9, you know I can't help it. Crawling to the bed now...

Posted by: ej at February 5, 2004 08:54 PM

Franks has some good comments about the Ferengi. When he brings Maslowe into the picture it suddenly gives me another reason to consider the nature of the Federation and why it's military in nature.

I believe it's tied to the human value of honor. The essence of honor as expressed by the Federation and humanity splits the difference between the intellectuality of the Vulcans and the red-blooded gusto of the Klingons. Star Fleet is how and why the Federation avoids the masturbatory oblivion of the holosuites.

Indeed what are billions of humans doing at all anywhere in the Star Trek galaxy? They're probably all figuring ways to get off the rock and cramming for Star Fleet Academy placement exams. Well, except for Jean Luc Picard's older brother who's just getting sauced at his vineyard.

Posted by: Cobb at February 6, 2004 11:05 PM