We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The trouble with the Federation

You may be wondering ‘which Federation is that?’ Russia? Mexico? No. Star Trek’s Federation. What is more, my problem is more with the Star Trek shows than their fictional interstellar political entity.

It is not the stories I object to, which are adequate though often highly derivative. It is not the acting, which is generally satisfactory and occasionally quite good. It is not the dialogue, which is adequate for the most part with only intermittent trips into the creative quicksand. It is not the special effects, which are seamless and superior (no, not the first series). All these things are okay for the various Star Trek shows such as Next Generation, DS-9, Voyager (I have not seen Enterprise yet), which are collectively the Sci-Fi ‘franchise’ that more or less defines the qualitative median line through the genre.

Like any long running series, the Star Trek shows have had their ups and downs: The first few Next Generation were embarrassingly badly acted but they eventually pulled together as a company of actors. Voyager was for quite a while the ‘lemon’ of the franchise (Trek Fan One: “You wanna hear a Star Trek joke?”   Trek Fan Two: “Sure”    Trek Fan One: “Voyager”). Yet once they added the sublime Jeri Ryan and gave their script writers a firm kick up the arse, it belatedly became quite a good show (yes, I admit it: Jeri Ryan’s unusually named ‘7 of 9’ pushed pretty much all my buttons in all the right ways).

Other shows do the genre better for sure (Stargate absolutely, Babylon 5 for the most part, Farscape & Earth: Final Conflict intermittently) whilst still others do it worse (Andromeda) or far worse (SeaQuest DSV)…and of course there is the demented Lexx (imagine Voyager, but while stoned on peyote) which is in a class all its own that transcends mere notions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

So what do I have against the Federation? Well simply put, it is an authoritarian collectivist quasi-communist society (the government is clearly paramilitary) with a totally non-monetary command economy. That they have invented a state like that is not my grouse. I do not doubt there will be authoritarian states in the future just as there are now and so why not posit them? Fine… my problem is that somehow the Federation are held up to be the good guys!

There is little sign of any counter-culture within the Federation and what there is are mostly shown as being violent unreasonable terrorists (the Maquis, who in reality are just fighting to prevent their land being occupied as a result of a Federation sell-out). Also, aspects of their military culture are frankly beyond belief (particularly when compared to shows like Stargate or Babylon 5, which actually understand the essential logic underpinning the military mindset). Do these guys ever fire first? And how often has Jean Luc Picard surrendered his ship in various episodes? That is the Star Fleet Flagship we are talking about! Likewise it seems that insubordination, even under fire, is almost the norm! Sorry but with a culture like that, the Klingons, the Romulans , hell, the Tellytubbies, would have smashed the Federation long ago.

Yet it is clear that the Federation’s agents are the very essence of violent interaction under other conditions. Most striking was one episode of Next Generation called Unification, Part II. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) enters a saloon seeking information. He encounters a female piano player whom he suspects might know what he needs to discover. She suggests he might like to ‘make it worth her while’. In a voice dripping with disdain, he says “I don’t carry money”. He then falls back on sweet talking her and eventually she reveals a Fenegi merchant nearby may actually have the information (the Ferengi are little arch-capitalist gargoyles with large ears. Good little Von Mises fans that they are, they insist on payment in ‘gold-pressed latinum’, none of this fiat money crap for them!) . As charm is not going to work on a Fenegi merchant, Riker roughs the puny unarmed merchant up and threatens him in order to extract the information. Now keep in mind that we are being told to regard Riker as the good guy. A Feregi will sell anything yet rather than even try to buy or barter for the information, Star Fleet’s armed uniformed thug just resorts to violence. This is just one of the more stark examples of why it really bugs me to hear Sci-Fi fans hold Star Trek’s Federation up as some sort of ‘better society’ in the future.

And yes, I really do always cheer for the Klingons.

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