Is Star Trek a Fascist Society?

On the World Transhumanist Association discussion list, the topic came up, “is hard science fiction fascist literature?” Dr. James Hughes pointed out the following:

“Hard science fiction generally isn’t fascist, but one can make a
plausible case that Star Trek being fascist.

A) They have no politics. It’s a military dictatorship.

B) They have no money. It’s a command economy.

C) All conflict is racial. Humans v. Klingons v. Romulans etc.

D) The races have intrinsic cultural personalities which make them less
attractive than the humans. Attractive members of alternate races try to
become more human: Spock and Worf trying to get a sense of humor. Data
trying to get emotions.

E) Something terrible happened to Asians, Africans and Latins, because
90% of all humans are English-speaking whites.

F) Cognitive enhancement and life extension technologies are outlawed,
or at least all R&D towards those goals have been stopped.

G) Everyone apparently has some kind of mind-block against realizing
that the transporter beam could make copies of all the crew and keep
them young and immortal.

H) The Prime Directive maintains human (and allied) supremacy over the
hapless lesser peoples who are denied political and technological
progress in order supposedly to respect their cultural “difference.”

However Kirk does go back to 1939 and stands aside to let his pacifist
girlfriend to get run down by a car instead of allowing her to convince
Roosevelt to stay out of WWII. So at least Star Trek wasn’t Nazi.”

See Brian Wang’s response here.

Comments

  1. The Star Trek Canon Database is worth looking at: plenty of Star Trek episodes have been analyzed in the detail, looking at the implications, which often turn out pretty fascist-like. Just do a search on all items classified under “culture”, and the evidence becomes pretty overwhelming.

  2. Some of those are perfectly valid points. However, as a trekkie I’d like to correct a few things:

    A. This is just plain false. Google “The United Federation of Planets” – it’s a democracy.

    B. All service is voluntary. Starfleet officers occasionally resign, and for an extended period of time Tom Paris did no work whatsoever.

    C. The Maquis.

    G. They have some techno-babbly reason why that won’t work, something about a pattern buffer.

    I’m not going to claim that the Federation isn’t anti-transhumanoidist, but it’s a far cry from being fascist.

  3. G. I think they don’t like to think about what the transporter does too closely, since every time they step on it, one copy dies horribly and a new one is made.

    “Mommy, I don’t want to step on the transporter.”
    “Don’t be afraid son, it’s only death. Plus your new copy will have no idea what happened to him.”

  4. I unsubscribed from wta-talk a year ago next month. I hope that list in that time has had a higher point than the thread you describe here.

  5. A. This is just plain false. Google “The United Federation of Planets” – it’s a democracy.

    In name, yes. But in practice the military seems to hold nearly all the power, at least by the time of the TNG era. (TOS was far less fascist.)

  6. I think that the focus of the trek universe shows and movies is on the “military part”. They have had shows in TNG (next generation) where they show the civilian side. The billions and I think trillions of people in the federation are actually mostly civilian. It is just that they are mostly useless to the stories. DS9 and TNG had shows talking about many civilians having a somewhat negative view of starfleet. Sarek did not want spock to be part of starfleet. Sisko dad during the military emergency etc… Pickard after best of both worlds considered civilian life.

    All of the technology is under utilized. All the technology that they have and that they should have. The phasers are weak relative to the kinetic energy weapons that they could have.

    Parts of the economy have some money. (gold pressed latinum – is used by some humans and races beyond just Ferengi).

    They have to have a big universal guaranteed income and medical care.

    Star Trek is not hard science fiction and it carries the legacy of the fact it was conceptualized in the late 1960s at the height of the cold war. It is a western in space with cold war overtones. It is space opera with technobabble.

  7. Jason Adams Says: ” “Mommy, I don’t want to step on the transporter.”
    “Don’t be afraid son, it’s only death. Plus your new copy will have no idea what happened to him.””

    You need to read Reasons and Persons by Derek Parfit
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reasons_and_Persons#Personal_identity

  8. In name, yes. But in practice the military seems to hold nearly all the power, at least by the time of the TNG era. (TOS was far less fascist.)

    Umm… not so much, really. TNG isn’t a very good example of this, it being focused on a floating military colony. DS9, on the other hand, had a demonstrably powerful economic center presence, and demonstrated that there were still shipping lanes & intellectual trade that had absolutely nothing to do with people.

    As to the races thing; there’s a couple of extrapolations here.

    1) It is presumable that any sufficiently advanced culture will have at least a planetary unity. This for the same reasons so many transhumanists worry about surviving to/through the Singularity.

    2) There are at least two sequences where the Starfleet characters are faced with human opposition: TNG’s Orion syndicate and the Maquis. When you consider that this was within a 12-year period, and compare that to the in-nation military dilemmas faced by the US Military in the last 12 years, you can see that this is a disproportionately high presence. It’s all about your axioms going into the observation, I guess.

    But, then, I’m not that much of a fan of ST, anyhow. I like it, which is a good deal more than you can say about SW, though.

  9. Dangit, missed something. DP again… sorry!

    I don’t think it’s accurate to call the ST economy a command economy. I think it’s better to call it distributed. They go literally //on// and //on// about how replicators destroyed the /need/ for an economy. “We grew beyond money.” Think about what a Von Neumann manufactory would be capable of. Then give it a Trekky twist.

  10. Also, a lot of the “power” is concentrated in a few exceptional individuals each of the set of 7 or so primary characters with a focus on 3 or 4 of them. Similar observations could be made of Jack Bauer, Rambo, Chuck Norris, Spy Kids, Bugs Bunny etc… and their “universes”

    They have politics and some form of economy, they just have more taboos about referring to them and they all like to lie to themselves that they are post-XXXisms. There is a President and Council for the Federation, they have shown some of the covert activities around those political bodies. They have diplomats etc… There are groups working together within ships. There is plenty of prestige and Karma based stuff going on.

    There was the Klingon civil war, internal Romulan conflicts. They have shown many more human on human conflicts. For humans, they had a third world war history, Eugenics war, another nuclear war in 2050 etc…

    They indicated that is where they got the anti-transhumanism, because of Khan Noonien Singh.

    Eugenics Wars

    Julian Bashir, a main character on DS9, is the enhanced individual who turned out good

    It seems also that all the major races in Star Trek are of one species by the definition of being able to interbreed and have productive offspring.

    I think the ST politics is upleveled. Just as civic and county and state politics sometimes matter less now than national and global politics. So ST has “alpha quadrant politics”.

    Star trek timeline

  11. This is one of the most ridiculous discussions I’ve ever seen come up on WTA-talk. I narrowly avoided responding with a vicious polemic only because I knew it would merely prolong and already goofy and overwrought topic.

    The simple truth of the matter is: Star Trek is horrible science fiction. It’s not even science fiction–it’s pure fantasy. Television sci-fi is universally awful (with very, very, very, very few exceptions) and the Federation as described was manifestly NOT created by anyone with half a clue as to how interstellar societies would work, but by television writers–the lowest form of writers on the planet–who are simply trying to create an exciting, pseudo-futuristic milieu in which to set a variety of silly 1-hour adventures.

    That someone of Hughes’ obvious intellectual caliber would even think of bringing up Star Trek in relation to “hard” science-fiction is mind-boggling. There isn’t a lick of real science anywhere in the entire Star Trek universe–and if a common hard sci-fi concept such as, say, Artificial Intelligence or wormhole transportation is brought up, it’s so watered-down and mutated by the scriptwriters’ absolute incomprehension of real science as to bear no relationship to the original idea.

    The Federation is not a futuristic fascist state: it’s a bunch of TV writers’ silly attempt at creating a pseudo-multicultural/multi-species civilization. Unfortunately, casting has hired mostly white actors to fill the rolls, and the show’s bottom-of-the-barrel FX budget supports only humanoid aliens that differ from one another only by the number of wrinkles on their foreheads.

    That anyone could take Hollywood’s space operatics as having ANY sort of political or social connotations beyond a sort of kneejerk multiculturalism mixed with elements of exciting, frontier colonialism is beyond me.

  12. IConrad wrote:

    Umm… not so much, really. TNG isn’t a very good example of this, it being focused on a floating military colony. DS9, on the other hand, had a demonstrably powerful economic center presence, and demonstrated that there were still shipping lanes & intellectual trade that had absolutely nothing to do with people.

    Well, DS9 may have given a different image, but if you look at some of the things that were implied in TNG… for instance, the following two excerpts (script and commentary courtesy of the Star Trek Canon Database – Google it, I provided links in my first comment but they apparently triggered some anti-spam protection and are awaiting moderation):

    TNG Season 2, Ep# 45: “Manhunt”

    WORF: Captain… we’re being hailed by a small transport vessel just coming into range.

    TROI: Oh, my God!

    PICARD: What is the problem?

    TROI: What can she be doing here?

    TRANSPORT PILOT: Starship Enterprise, come in!

    RIKER: We have you on our viewer, Pilot.

    TRANSPORT PILOT: Enterprise… I have a passenger — a V.I.P. passenger — who I’m ordered to —

    MRS. TROI: Let me talk to them, Pilot. I’m much more articulate.

    TROI: Mother!

    DATA: Captain, we are now receiving Starfleet orders granting a Lwaxana….

    MRS. TROI: Lwaxana Troi, daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Riix, heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed.

    DATA: … full ambassadorial status, sir.

    Commentary: Culture: Ambassador Lwaxana Troi, daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Riix, and heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed must book passage on a transport instead of using her own personal vessel. The paucity of personal starships in the Federation is even more serious than I had previously thought. Also note that they’ve received Starfleet orders granting her ambassadorial status, which is curious since civilian governments normally grant ambassadorial status, rather than military organizations. This makes more sense when you consider the degree to which Starfleet controls the government.

    TNG Season 4, Ep# 76: “Suddenly Human”

    RIKER: Our position has not changed. We are returning him to Starfleet.

    ENDAR: I regret your stubbornness. Much will be lost.

    PICARD: Jono will return home — to the only home he has ever known. To the father that he loves. To you, Endar.

    Commentary: Culture: Culture: Captain Picard can singlehandedly decide whether Jono, after being kidnapped by the Talarians as a child, should be returned to his adopted parents or his natural grandmother? Custody cases involving child abductions are a thorny issue at best, but since when does a starship captain get to make that decision on his own? The concentration of Federation power in military hands is even greater than I thought.

    Derek C. F. Pegritz wrote:

    That anyone could take Hollywood’s space operatics as having ANY sort of political or social connotations beyond a sort of kneejerk multiculturalism mixed with elements of exciting, frontier colonialism is beyond me.

    You never watched Babylon 5, did you? :)

  13. Okay, I’ll bite.. What does “They have no money. It’s a command economy” have to do with fascism?

    =:o)

  14. Stephen

    I’ve always thought that with replicators and the like, that they were in an age of true abundance and money wasn’t needed for necessities. However, there are many instances, DS9 mostly, where mediums of exchange are used in interactions between people and beings for coveted items and services that, supposedly, could not be replicated.

    Perhaps the argument could be made that virtually every government displays fascist characteristics to some degree.

  15. Bob Mottram

    It’s fascism Jim, but not as we know it

  16. Here is a posting [without links] that I made that is awaiting moderation:

    Also, a lot of the “power” is concentrated in a few exceptional individuals each of the set of 7 or so primary characters with a focus on 3 or 4 of them. Similar observations could be made of Jack Bauer, Rambo, Chuck Norris, Spy Kids, Bugs Bunny etc… and their “universes”

    They have politics and some form of economy, they just have more taboos about referring to them and they all like to lie to themselves that they are post-XXXisms. There is a President and Council for the Federation, they have shown some of the covert activities around those political bodies. They have diplomats etc… There are groups working together within ships. There is plenty of prestige and Karma based stuff going on.

    There was the Klingon civil war, internal Romulan conflicts. They have shown many more human on human conflicts. For humans, they had a third world war history, Eugenics war, another nuclear war in 2050 etc…

    They indicated that is where they got the anti-transhumanism, because of Khan Noonien Singh. [links to Khan, eugenics wars, Julian Bashir and trek timeline in wikipedia]

    Eugenics Wars

    Julian Bashir, a main character on DS9, is the enhanced individual who turned out good

    It seems also that all the major races in Star Trek are of one species by the definition of being able to interbreed and have productive offspring.

    I think the ST politics is upleveled. Just as civic and county and state politics sometimes matter less now than national and global politics. So ST has “alpha quadrant politics”.

    Star trek timeline

  17. Jonathan

    “Everyone apparently has some kind of mind-block against realizing
    that the transporter beam could make copies of all the crew and keep
    them young and immortal.”

    There was an episode where the doctor suddenly aged and they made her young again via the transporter. They restored her original DNA and magically her entire body was young again. I pointed this out to my friends that this episode didn’t make any sense unless anybody could become young again very easily. But this flies in the face of many other episodes where anti-aging medicine is considered very secretive and unknown.

    I have to agree with one of the comments mentioned earlier: Star Trek is simply written very poorly.

  18. >Everyone apparently has some kind of mind-block against realizing that the transporter beam could make copies of all the crew and keep
    them young and immortal.

    I blame the Q continuum, the aliens of Talos IV, Gary Seven aliens, and the Organians for the mindblocks. They must have their own version of the Prime Directive to keep the Federation, Klingons etc… down. There should be a movement to “lift the mindblocks. lift the mindblocks”.

    Nazi fascist aliens are keeping are fictional Star Trek humans down. Which already were episodes of ST Voyager and ST Enterprise (Nazi holodeck aliens and Nazi aliens)

    d) less attractive aliens ?
    Green orion women, .

    726 episodes across 6 TV series and 10 (and soon 11) movies and X books, two Vegas rides, etc…
    Their continuing mission (not always successful)to have high ratings, sell movie tickets, dvds and books and merchandise and to boldly make a buck where ever they can.

    Most writers do not know how to write to deal with the consequences of future tech in a logical way and to then enable the story to continue in an engaging way for 4 decades of shows.

  19. Warren Bonesteel

    heheheh.

    Thanks fer the grin, Brian.

    I maintained my dignity (as a good entilekchual dillietante should…) until the part about, “Nazi fascist aliens are keeping fictional Star Trek humans down.”

    Well, fascism is as fascism does, as the saying goes.

  20. I put a complete compiled and extended response

    on my site

  21. Khannea Suntzu

    Try and create a somewhat realistic TV movie representation of the life of Paris Hilton, translate it to a culture seperated from us in time and paradigm and DAMN we would come to peculiar conclusions about earth in 2008.

    On the other hand, pay Cameron, Scorcese, Paul Verhoeven, Ridley Scott or Tarentino to make THEIR interpretations of the Star Trek universe. Let them make several movies ignoring events that touch upon the star trek series, or events completely unrelated. You would be left stunned and probably highly amused.

  22. It’s widely confirmed throughout the Trek franchise that Starfleet has broad powers to make decisions on war, peace, and civil affairs that would be in the domain of civilian leadership and the courts in most societies. This is indicative more of military rule rather than fascism as we know it.

    Beyond the repeatedly demonstrated political power of Starfleet, there’s no consistent picture of how the UFP is supposed to operate politically or economically. There are indications of fascism here and there in the franchise, but there are also indications of communism, capitalism, and some form of post-scarcity economics. It’s impossible for all three to be true at once, but that’s what a literal reading of the canon requires.

    The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Trek’s writing teams just haven’t thought through their ideas well enough to paint a coherent picture of how the UFP is supposed to work beyond the limits of a single military post. It’s an exercise in futility to attempt a (semi)serious analysis of how the UFP ‘actually’ works based on the mess created by writers who don’t themselves know about UFP’s political basis.

  23. It’s an exercise in futility to attempt a (semi)serious analysis of how the UFP ‘actually’ works based on the mess created by writers who don’t themselves know about UFP’s political basis.

    I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call the analyses at the ST Canon Database and sd.net futile at all – they’re very entertaining, surprisingly coherent, and fascinating as exercises in thought. :)

  24. Kaj: I’m surprised that someone hasn’t mentioned sd.net already. Here’s the essay on how the Federation is a communist society: http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Essays/Trek-Marxism.html

  25. I have to disagree with the idea that the “ST” world is communist. Communism is an economic arrangement where the means of production are owned by the laborers.

    In ST, the means of the majority of production are owned by the consumers; there are no laborers.

    In a very real sense, the majority of the ST world has //NO// economy.

  26. As I noted Jack Bauer has broad powers to make decisions on war, peace and civilian matters. what is the larger system then of 24 ? when Rambo or Bauer commit unilateral acts of war then what is the conclusion about the system and reality that they are in ? It is wish fulfilment writing. there is no military or security agency dominance. It is hero of the story dominance.

    He has a weak form of the Wiley Coyote/Bugs Bunny ability to easily have access to the appropriate device to help in difficult situations.

    there is also situations of being able to utilize common place things in usual ways ala McGyver. Myth Busters have been testing the reality of some of these stories.

  27. A couple of relevant biases and logically fallacies.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

    Godwin’s law is that the larger a usenet discussion group is then the higher the likelihood of Hitler and Nazi comparisons.

    Godwin’s Law is often cited in online discussions as a caution against the use of inflammatory rhetoric or exaggerated comparisons, and is often conflated with fallacious arguments of the reductio ad Hitlerum form.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_Hitlerum

    Reductio ad Hitlerum, also argumentum ad Hitlerum, or reductio (or argumentum) ad Nazium – dog Latin for “reduction (or argument) to Hitler (or the Nazis)” – is a modern fallacy in logic. It is a variety of both questionable cause and association fallacy. The phrase reductio ad Hitlerum was coined by an academic ethicist, Leo Strauss, in 1950. Engaging in this fallacy is sometimes known as playing the Nazi card.

    The fallacy most often assumes the form f “Hitler (or the Nazis) supported X, therefore X must be evil/undesirable/bad”. An inverted variant can take the form “Hitler was against X, therefore X must be good.”

  28. jack

    Did any of you even watch the show. First the show is set in a starship in a navy setting. Because that where the ADVENTURE part of the show comes from. What do think the show would be as watchable every one sat in the lawn chair all day talking about how bad those damn Klingon’s are. Gee. Plus the actions of the Federation to be Fascist.

    “Fascism, is a political ideology that seeks to combine radical and authoritarian nationalism with a corporatist economic system”

    The UFP hardly seems authoritarian to me. People can do whatever they want. Plus theres no Corporations and no economy.

    The reason star trek focas on the Space Navy is because thats where the story is at. If focas on all the happy people on earth. It would have been super boring. U People just take the so to seriously.

  29. And you know what a holiday today?

  30. R.J. Moore II

    “What does “They have no money. It’s a command economy” have to do with fascism?”
    Fascism involves total regulation of the economy and subverting it for the ends of the state. ‘Money’ and ‘property’, under such circumstances, is in name only; fascism, Nazism and Communism (as well as, to some extent, the welfare state) are all subversions of money-economies and private enterprise.

  31. R.J. Moore II

    However Kirk does go back to 1939 and stands aside to let his pacifist
    girlfriend to get run down by a car instead of allowing her to convince
    Roosevelt to stay out of WWII. So at least Star Trek wasn’t Nazi.”
    Also, if you take the tack that many in the 1930s did (sometimes in a positive light) that Nazism and the New Deal had a lot in common, this isn’t so convincing. Also, the idea that Nazis could have conquered the world is retarded.

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  69. epk

    About point G: Try
    “Everyone apparently has some kind of mind-block against realizing
    that the transporter beam _doesn’t_actually_transport_you_, it disintegrates you (= you’re dead, bye bye), then creates another person just like you at the destination.”

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  72. DrCruel

    The old Federation has been subsumed by a Federation for a “new generation”, which is Left fascist – and proudly so.

  73. Mike Fulton

    It appears Dr. Hughes is not as familiar with Star Trek as he might like.

    A) Saying the Federation is a military dictatorship is pretty much like saying the USA is a military dictatorship on the basis of having watched old episodes of McHale’s Navy. (Granted, it would be a hilarious dictatorship in that case.)

    Each member planet of the Federation has it’s own government. Each member planet submits members to the Federation Council. The chief executive is the President, and the head of Starfleet reports to the President. not the other way around.

    B) Of course they have money. This misconception is based on an early episode of TNG in which Captain Picard tells a time-displaced person that the pursuit of money is no longer the primary concern in life. And of course, as members of Starfleet, the crew of the Enterprise has no daily need for cash as their material needs are taken care of. So their own personal need for and concern with money is somewhat less than the average person’s.

    The “Federation Credit” is the standard currency, and gold-pressed latinum is used as a form of cash.

    C) First of all, you don’t mean “racism” so much as “speciesism” since the examples cited are not different races within the same species. Second, there’s no shortage of examples of conflict within most of those species.

    Not sure how this point intersects with the notion of fascism.

    D) Worf trying to get a sense of humor? Worf always had a sense of humor. He simply finds different things funny than his crewmates.

    E) Star Trek has always been applauded for having a diverse cast, but I guess you can’t please everybody.

    F) Not really true. Yes, genetic manipulation is mostly a no-no, but other things not so much.

    G) It’s a shame the writers liked transporter tricks so much because most of them simply don’t make a lot of sense. Like this one.

    H) Way to not understand the prime directive!

    The counter-argument here is that the Federation should visit new planets with primitive people and drop all the technology they can on them, bring ‘em up to speed quick! Don’t worry about how these people had never even known there was life among the stars, let’s suit ‘em up and put ‘em on a starship! What’s that? Merely revealing ourselves to them disproves their religion, which is the basis of their economy, and now they’re all committing suicide? Geez, that’s a bummer. Hope the people on the next planet don’t do something so stupid.

    The prime directive is about avoiding cultural contamination, not maintaining technological superiority. And it only applies to cultures whose technology isn’t at the point of competing with the Federation in the first place.

    And Kirk’s adventures in 1939 had nothing whatsoever to do with the Prime Directive. That was all about undoing accidental changes to the timeline.

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