Star Trek 101 - Philosophy

Star Trek 101 - Philosophy
"Star Trek"'s original values are a bit different from what’s considered fashionable today. Rather than a dystopian or post-Apocalyptic future, with monsters of some type that must be killed, creator Gene Roddenberry theorized an optimistic future. Humans have evolved. They are enlightened, and good, and their Federation is a utopian organization. They try to understand other species, almost all of which are humanoid, rather than just shooting them. Basically, "Star Trek" championed "infinite diversity in infinite combinations."

There is no racism, no religious war - no differences based on gender, or skin color, or the fact that you have antennae while I do not. War doesn’t exist on earth. Neither does poverty. While some have argued that the show actually depicts a Westernized paradise in which other cultures have been...well, assimilated, Earth is a world we want to live in. It's a secular, humanistic society where people help each other - and many of the episodes played out as morality tales rather than shoot-'em-ups. Action wasn’t a huge part of "Star Trek" while Roddenberry was alive, but intelligence was.

Roddenberry reportedly said, "The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms....If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there."

In the "Star Trek" universe, the Prime Directive is key. Basically, the Prime Directive prohibits Starfleet personnel (like Kirk, and Spock, and Picard, etc.) from interfering in the natural development of a society. This causes all sorts of problems, of course, because basically it means that sometimes, Enterprise crews must allow people to be killed for the greater good.

After the death of Roddenberry, one can argue that some of this philosophy became diluted. And some fans of the various TV series will tell you that the two J.J. Abrams-helmed reboot films completely butchered it - not least because "Star Trek" was about rationality, and the new films didn’t exactly stay true to physical laws. The new films have been indicted as less sophisticated, less subtle, without a message - they focus on the action and caricatures of the main characters. Some pop culture pundits have used the new movies to show how far we, as a people, have fallen when we can no longer appreciate the original "Trek"'s mentality. 

In "Into Darkness," for example, the main theme seems to be exactly counter to the Prime Directive, although sometimes it’s hard to tell. Kirk spends the first 10 minutes of the film breaking the Prime Directive, and the impression we’re left with is that it’s okay to break this cardinal rule of Starfleet, as long as the cause is just. 

Others will argue that "Star Trek" didn’t get good until Roddenberry was gone, freeing the show from the strict storytelling limitations his vision put on it. After all, conflict is what drives drama, and some say that there wasn’t enough of it in the original "Trek." Roddenberry died in 1991, just before "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" came out, during the run of "ST: NG" and before "ST:DS9." "Star Trek," being possibly more influenced by its contemporaries from that era such as "Babylon 5" and "The X-Files," took a darker, more complex turn with ongoing story arcs and wars and epic battles. These people may also point out that intellect and bravery are as important in the new “Star Trek” films as the classic series - and with the secondary characters given more significant screen time than before. 

Nevertheless, what this has all proved is that "Star Trek" is capable of evolving to suit the current zeitgeist. It can stay pertinent in a changing world - if not staying exactly true to the optimistic future that Roddenberry envisioned, at least championing imagination and adventure; in short, encapsulating these words from Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) in the "ST:NG" episode "Rascals": "That's the wonderful thing about crayons. They can take you to more places than a starship."

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