If there was one show I had been looking forward to this year, it was Star Trek: Discovery. Sadly, I won’t be able to watch the rest of the season until it makes its way to Netflix or DVD, but I did catch the pilot, and I was extremely happy with what I saw. The Star Trek television shows have in the past proven themselves to be more than capable of giving us a diverse cast with thoughtful character development. As a new first for this universe, we’ve got a woman of color as a lead in our new series, and she’s kicking ass.
Trigger warning for depression, mental illness, and suicidal ideation up ahead.
Lately I’ve been watching Star Trek, which I feel I should have gotten into years ago, but for whatever reason did not. On top of that, I finally started medication for my depression, but as I’m still on the long road to recovery, I’ve been reading a lot of fics about characters struggling with problems similar to my own. A lot of those fics can be upsetting—they feature panic attacks and suicide attempts—and while they do show the recovery process, I wanted to find a fic that was nowhere near as triggering. Enter Guidance by Alara J Rogers, a Star Trek: The Next Generation fic about Q and Picard.
March 22nd is the future birthday of Captain James T. Kirk, and while this post is a day late, I felt the need to honor the Star Trek: The Original Series captain. I have always asserted that James. T. Kirk is actually a feminist despite the caricature that people have made of him in both the new movies and the fandom. In the new Star Trek movies, Kirk is often portrayed as a scandalous womanizer. He sleeps with Uhura’s roommate, then leers at Uhura while he changes on her bed. He also never backs off when Uhura tells him that she isn’t interested in him. Then he watches Carol Marcus change clothes when she specifically tells him not to. This is not the Kirk of TOS! I’m convinced that those who think he is a womanizing sexist have either never watched the series or are possibly projecting their own beliefs onto the character, because Kirk is most assuredly very pro-women and there is a ton of evidence to prove it.
Recently, I have started watching Vsauce3, a great YouTube channel that discusses a lot of interesting philosophical and scientific theories. It’s really cool, and if you have never watched it, definitely check it out. I became particularly intrigued by one video that discussed four logical paradoxes about what really makes you, you.
The Theseus Paradox considers Theseus’s ship as an example. Say you have this ship, and after a while you replace the sails, then the mast, and all the rope, and eventually you even replace all the wood so that none of the elements of the original ship are there anymore, even if it looks exactly the same. So then the question is: Is it the same ship anymore? Furthermore, it also states that if you took all the parts you removed from the first ship and used them to build a second one, is that actually the original ship? Or are they both entirely new ships?
Another paradox discussed in this video is the Sorites Paradox, which asks: If you have a heap of sand, and you keep taking away one grain of sand until there is only one grain of sand left, at which point during this process does it stop being a heap of sand?
Then, if you combine the Theseus and Sorites Paradox and apply it to a person, we ask the question: when do we stop being ourselves? If your leg is cut off, yes, you are still you, but think about how most of your cells have replaced themselves since birth. You look different, act different, maybe even have different opinions and a different personality since you were a baby or even a little kid. Is the you who was a baby the same person as the you you are now?
Finally there is the Teletransportation Paradox, which discusses being in a transporter where you are broken down into little pieces and then rebuilt somewhere else. It would essentially kill you and then put together different atoms in order to remake you. The last you would remember is stepping into a transporter and then coming out the other side. You would have all the same memories and same personality, but we wouldn’t know what happened in between moving from one location to another. And really, how can you even be sure you do have the same memories and personality? So then the question becomes, is the person who walked into the transporter the same as the person who came out?
I started to wonder about these paradoxes in relation to the soul and religion. Most religions believe that there is more to a person than just their body; their soul is also a key part of who they are. In some religions the body takes second place, and the body is viewed as an illusion or a prison for the soul, while other religions see the soul and body as very much linked and equal in value. For example, in Christian sects, gnostic Christianity views the body as less important than the soul, but most mainstream Christians view the body and soul as equally important. Because I am Christian, I will talk about the mainstream Christian view of the soul and body, but I would love to know what other religious belief systems have to say about this issue, so please let me know in the comments! Are any of the Star Trek characters still the same person after having been broken down and rebuilt in the transporter? Is Voldemort still Voldemort even after he split up his soul and then basically built himself a new body? Let’s dive in!
When I first watched Star Trek: The Next Generation as a kid, I was struck by how strongly I connected to the characters. For many of us, I think, it was one of the first shows to really inspire. Not only as a bold continuation of Roddenberry’s vision for the future, but as role models for how to live our lives. Picard, Data, Dr. Crusher, even Wesley all served as early examples of what we aspire to be and how to start living up to that aspiration. But as I grew older, I realized that one character in particular was causing me to think about gender roles and romance in ways I wouldn’t fully understand for years: Lt. Commander Geordi LaForge.
In rewatching those episodes, I have come to understand the character of Geordi LaForge as, among other things, a parable about how easy it is to fall prey to toxic masculinity and how genuine confidence and respect rather than bravado and entitlement are the keys to avoiding it. This was something that takes years for many people to understand, and fortunately, we have years worth of TNG to see Geordi’s masculinity evolve as he begins to understand these things as well.
Without getting into depressing (and obvious) specifics, I’ve been thinking about fascism lately—specifically the concept of “utopian fascism”. As is often the case when grappling with such issues, I turned to science fiction for a guide. Fortunately, there is a fictional government perfectly suited to explore the question “can democracy and universal prosperity ever be successfully combined with fascism?”: Star Trek’s Federation.
The Federation’s exact political structure is sometimes difficult to pin down, but it seems to be a combination of a democratic interplanetary parliament, a massive military alliance, and a totalitarian bureaucracy.
Now don’t panic! This isn’t going to be super depressing nor is it going to be about space Nazis (unless you count the above-pictured episode TOS episode “Patterns of Force”). When I talk about fascism, I’m talking about the philosophical concept as it dates back to Rome, not the actual horrific reality of modern-day fascism. I am not about to ruin all of our moods by writing some anti-Starfleet propaganda… at least, not too much of it. What I will do is take a look at how the Federation is utopian, how it’s fascist, how (and if) the two can be combined, and what that all says about our vision of a perfect government.
Hello, dear readers. It feels strange to be back in the driver’s (poster’s?) seat after a month away, but I am glad that the reason for my return is Star Trek Beyond.
Despite its flaws, I dearly loved the first Star Trek reboot film. It wasn’t particularly Star Trek-y, and it was full of weird nonsense science, but it had heart. Then they made Star Trek Into Darkness, which, well… the nicest thing I can say about that was they could only go up from there. (I actually had to go back and reread reviews of STID to remember what happened besides like, sexist racist garbage.) The first trailer for Star Trek Beyond didn’t really reassure me that the people behind the movie knew anything about the franchise, but I figured maybe it would at least be a return to the original: a space action movie that accidentally had Star Trek characters as its cast. Instead I am delighted to report that the actual movie was probably the Star Trek-iest thing Hollywood has gotten close to in quite some time.
Major spoilers for Star Trek Beyond after the jump.