The Fascist Ideology of Star Trek:
Militarism, Collectivism, & Atheism

One and only one person can give steering and engine orders at any one time....The commanding officer may take over the deck or the conn...In taking the conn from the officer of the deck, the captain should do so in such a manner that all personnel of the bridge watch will be notified of the fact.

Watch Officer's Guide, A Handbook for all Deck Watch Officers, Revised by K.C. Jacobsen, Commander, U.S. Navy, 11th Edition [Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1981, pp. 68-69]

SHELDON COOPER: You know, in difficult moments like this, I often turn to a force greater than myself.



"The Alien Parasite Hypothesis," The Big Bang Theory, 2010

Update, 2013:

The Star Trek movies have experienced a kind of "reboot" with Star Trek in 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013. Both of these have been under the Direction of J.J. Abrams, who has supervised several action and science fiction movies and television series, including the memorable Fringe (2008-2013), which even referenced itself as the successor to the classic X-Files on the Fox Network. Since he is slated to direct Star Wars, Episode VII (after Geroge Lucas sold the franchise to Disney), Abrams and his "Bad Robot" production company seem destined to hold a large place in science fiction history.

The 2009 Star Trek movie was not a full, proper "reboot," where a franchise is restarted from the beginning with a new "origin" movie, new actors, and new stories, as though previous movie treatments had never happened. This has been done, more than once, with Superman, Batman, and Spiderman, at least. Instead, Star Trek is, strictly speaking, a "prequel," set before the events of earlier movies. However, an element of time travel, including the arrival of Mr. Spock -- still played by Leonard Nemoy -- from the future distrupts the familiar line of events. For instance, the planet Vulcan is destroyed, which we know did not happen in the original Star Trek series and movies. This is a clever device, really only possible in science fiction or fantasy, which allows the narrative of the earlier stories to stand and even be mentioned, yet also allows the current and future movies to do just anything. All bets are off. Abrams also did this on Fringe, to the point of where it was difficult to keep track which time line we were supposed to be in. The character played by Leonard Nemoy in that series, inventor William Bell, seems to have died at least three different ways, depending on which revision in the time line we are looked at in that part of the series. We don't even get all the details of the events, and the result is not even as intelligible as the time travel paradoxes in the Back to the Future movies (1985, 1989, 1990). This also resulted in ambiguity about whether William Bell is a villain or a hero, and which in which version of events, an ambiguity that carries over into the character played by Blair Brown (among other things, the luminous star of the classic Altered States [1980], along with William Hurt, some of whose marvelous nude shots, like Hurt's, were deleted after the first release of the movie), the powerful corporate executive Nina Sharp, who alternatively seems to be good and bad.

The 2013 movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, revisits some old Star Trek material by prematurely reviving Khan Noonien Singh, familiar from the episode about him in the Original Star Trek and from his role in the movie, Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan. We know from these stories that Khan is being preserved in "cryosleep" at the time of the prequel movies. The disruption of the time line has led to his early revival. The original Khan had been played by the great and memorable actor Ricardo Montalbán (1920–2009). Since Khan has been preserved in his cryosleep, he should look exactly as Montalbán did in 1967. Of course, that is not possible, even if Montalbán had not died, full of years, in 2009. What Abrams does instead involves a major breach of political correctness. Instead of casting someone who at least looked like Montalbán, i.e. Hispanic, Abrams went for something completely different, the Englishman Benedict Cumberbatch (who stars as a modern Sherlock Holmes, and a rude and petulant one at that, in the British Sherlock series). When the identity of Khan is revealed, well into the movie, the informed Trek watcher could well be forgiven for responding, "That's not Khan!" I have not heard any protests or complaints about this, but it is not unusual for umbrage to be taken when a part intended to be of a particular ethnic group, or which had in fact been played by an identifiably ethnic actor, is cast differently, particularly with a merely Anglo-Saxon actor. Since "Singh" is a Sikh name (in fact the Sikh name), the clever thing to do would have been to cast an actor from India, something much more easily done now than in 1967. In this case, unusually, a politically correct choice would have made a lot more sense artistically and aesthetically.

Otherwise the movie makes some attempt to be politically correct in terms of some current debates. The Enterprise pursues Khan, after he launches a couple of attacks against Star Fleet on Earth, with orders to stand off and kill him with a new kind of "photon torpedo." Mr. Spock objects to this, since it is only proper that the fugitive be captured alive and put on trial. Simply killing him, without a trial, is immoral. Of course, in a rather transparent and clumsy fashion, this is a rebuke to President Barack Obama, who has been authorizing strikes by unmanned drones against operatives of al-Qa'ida, including American citizens, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Spock, who in the movie has already demonstrated a determination to follow Star Fleet orders to the letter, thus advises Kirk to disregard explicit orders for the sake of a superior moral principle. This would be commendable, except that the moral case is apparently regarded as so self-evident that no counter-arguments are ever heard (not ususual among the self-righteous and self-congratulatory leftist elite). Captain Kirk takes Spock's advice and voices no reservations, although allowing himself the extra-legal privilege of roughing up the prisoner, who has already surrendered. Since beating a prisoner is certainly a court-martial-able offensive, it is not clear that the elevated moral tone of the movie is thereby preserved. But the whole conceit is eventually exploded when it turns out that everyone would have been better off if Kirk had followed his orders and simply killed Khan in the prescribed way. Many people died and much mayhem is caused because he didn't.

The only reason that there is any doubt about that is that there is a conspiracy at Star Fleet to militarize the service and build ships that have only military purpose -- although it is never clear whether this was an official Star Fleet program or a rogue operation, which nevertheless seems to have had an unlimited budget. Even before the conspiracy is uncovered, the movie has Scotty complain that their mission seems to be a military one, which is not why he signed on to the service. One wonders if this approach is the result of complaints, as on this page, about the militarism of Star Trek. It doesn't do much good, since the point remains muddled. If Star Fleet, whose ships are well equipped with weapons, is going to decline to soil itself with military missions, who is? The assertions imply that there actually is a need for ships with only a military purpose, if the regular ships are going to be withheld from military actions, the very thing the conspirators (or Star Fleet) are (or is) planning. Looking at the series and the movies, however, such a thing was never necessary. Star Fleet ships have no difficulty engaging in battle, when necessary; and in dealing with some aliens, like the Borg, when there is no alternative. Thus, the ostensible rebuke to militarism is hollow and again reflects a current and foolish self-righteousness among the leftist elite.

Otherwise, the familiar confusions about command in all the Star Trek stories are evident here. At one point, Kirk assigns "the Conn" to Spock, who immediately follows him off the bridge in order to keep arguing, leaving no one in actual command of the ship. There has never been an officer of the Watch. Also, there doesn't seem to be a chain of command in Engineering. When Scotty leaves the ship, Kirk asks Chekov to take over in Engineering. All he has to do is put on a red shirt. Really? He doesn't seem at all sure what he is doing, to the peril of the ship. So there aren't any more real Engineering officers on board? But who are all those people in red running around? Gofers? They actually did this better in Galaxy Quest (1999), a movie that Star Trek Into Darkness resembles more than a little. We also see, when anyone leaves their station, some other person, who has just been standing around, slides into their place -- except in Engineering. Who are they? What have they been doing?

In terms of science, we also have the strange device that when the Enterprise loses power, it begins to fall directly towards Earth. So it wasn't actually in orbit around the Earth? Does anyone in the production know any physics? Also, Spock refrains from killing Khan in the end because McCoy wants to use his blood to revive Kirk. However, the Enterprise holds all of Khan's ageless super-companions, whose blood certainly has all the extraordinary properties of his. This has slipped McCoy's mind.

Some casting choices, apart from Khan, are noteworthy. Sulu is now played by John Cho, familiar as Harold Lee of the "Harold and Kumar" movies. Dr. McCoy is played by Karl Urban, fresh from Red (2010) and Dredd (2012). I swear, Urban looks a bit like DeForest Kelley, and he is good with McCoy's mannerisms, as he has been given some characteristic lines, almost to the point of parody. Zachary Quinto, now cast as Spock, was the very creepy villain and serial killer "Sylar" on the initially good but ultimately disappointing television series Heroes (2006-2010). The challenges of Spock's personality seem to suit him.

I have always liked Star Trek. I watched the original show in the 60's, waited eagerly for the first movie in the 70's (while seeing William Shatner do a one man show at the University of Texas, with him answering questions about the prospects for a movie, while a bat flew down at him from the rafters, a common occurrence at Texas), and then later in the 80's got hooked all over again on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It has been good television, good science fiction, and occasionally even good film. Some things, nevertheless, have driven me crazy: (1) Picard and Riker both giving commands, in tandem, on the bridge is absurd.
The Star Trek Cycle
Live Action Television SeriesMovie, Original Cast
Movie, Next Generation Cast
Movie, New Cast
Star Trek, The Original Series, 1966-1969
Star Trek (I), The Motion Picture, 1979
Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan, 1982
Star Trek III, The Search for Spock, 1984
Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home, 1986
Star Trek,
The Next Generation, 1987-1994
Star Trek V, The Final Frontier, 1989
death of Gene Roddenberry, 1991
Star Trek VI, The Undiscovered Country, 1991
Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, 1993-1999Star Trek (VII), Generations, 1994
Star Trek (VIII), First Contact, 1996
Star Trek, Voyager, 1995-2001Star Trek (IX), Insurrection, 1998
death of DeForest Kelley, 1999
Star Trek, Enterprise, 2001-2005Star Trek (X), Nemesis, 2002
death of James Doohan, 2005
death of Majel Barrett, 2008
Star Trek (XI), 2009
Star Trek (XII),
Into Darkness (2013)
death of Leonard Nemoy, 2015
Star Trek (XIII),
Beyond (2016)
One person has the conn or has the deck on a ship, and it is dangerous to have any confusion about that (see quote above). As Executive Officer, Riker wouldn't even be on the bridge in ordinary circumstances. (2) There doesn't seem to be anything like a regular watch on the bridge. In one show a big point is made that only a full commander can have bridge command, but nothing is more common on the show than to have scenes where all the senior officers of the ship are in some conference or other, leaving who knows who directing the ship on the bridge -- unless there are full commanders who aren't part of the regular cast. The writers don't seem to know what naval lieutenants are for -- to be the officers of the deck. And (3) Star Trek has never known what admirals are for. The first Star Trek movie has a farcical conflict over whether Admiral Kirk or the newly assigned captain will assume command of the Enterprise. One wonders what Horatio Nelson and Captain Hardy were both doing on the HMS Victory. Later, Star Trek: The Next Generation refers to the Enterprise as the "flag ship" of Star Fleet, without apparently realizing that a flag ship is a ship with a "flag," i.e. a flag officer, an admiral. A Star Trek admiral seems to be some kind of shore officer.

These absurdities, however, can be easily forgiven. Less easily forgiven or forgotten are the more troubling messages about the nature of the future, the nature of society, and even the nature of reality. Star Trek typically reflects certain political, social, and metaphysical views, and on close examination they are not worthy of the kind of tribute that is often paid to Star Trek as representing an edifying vision of things.

In a 1996 newspaper column, James P. Pinkerton, discussing the new Star Trek movie (the eighth), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), quotes Captain Picard saying how things have changed in his day, "The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force; we work to better humanity." Perhaps Picard never stopped to reflect that greater wealth means greater material well being, which is to the betterment of humanity much more than any empty rhetoric. But this is typical of Star Trek. A first season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "The Neutral Zone," has Picard getting up on his high horse with a three hundred year old businessman who is revived from suspended animation: The businessman, naturally, wants to get in touch with his agents to find out what has happened to his investments. Picard loftily informs him that such things don't exist anymore. Indeed, poverty and want have been abolished, but how this was accomplished is never explained. All we know is, that however it is that people make a living, it isn't through capitalism as we know it. Stocks, corporations, banking, bonds, letters of credit -- all these things seem to have disappeared. We never see Picard, or anyone else, reviewing his investment portfolio. And those who still have a lowly interest in buying and selling, like the Ferengi, are not only essentially thieves, but ultimately only accept payment in precious commodities. In the bold new future of cosmic civilization, galactic trade is carried on in little better than a Phoenician style of barter, despite the possibilities of pan-galactic banking and super-light speed money transfers made possible by "sub-space" communications.

Too much of Star Trek has always reflected trendy leftist political sentiments. It was appropriate that John Lennon's "Imagine" should have been sung at the 30th Anniversary television special: Capitalism and religion get little more respect from Star Trek than they do from Lennon. Profit simply cannot be mentioned without a sneer. The champions of profit, the Ferengi, not only perceive no difference between honest business, piracy, and swindle, but their very name, the Hindi word for "European," (from Persian Farangi, , i.e. "Frank"), seems to be a covert rebuke to Western civilization. At the same time, one can find little in the way of acknowledgement of the role of religion in life that, whether in India or in Europe, would be essential. Although exotic extraterrestrials, like the Klingons and Bajorans, have quaint religious beliefs and practices, absolutely nothing seems to be left of the historic religions of Earth: There are no Jews, no Christians, no Moslems, no Buddhists, no Hindus, no Jains, no Confucians, and no Sikhs, or anything else, on any starship or settlement in the Federation. Star Trek is, not to put too fine a point on it, what the Nazis called "Judenfrei," free of Jews [note], a condition that Marx also anticipated with the death of Capitalism -- though Leonard Nimoy did introduce, subversively, the hand sign of the Hebrew letter "shin," , to signify the Trek benediction, "Live long and prosper," . With no practitioners, there are no chaplains for the crew -- no ministers, no priests, no rabbis, no mullas, no brahmins, no monks, no nuns. The closest thing to religious advice is the tedious psycho-babble of counselor Troi. The absence of traditional human religions stands in stark contrast to the more recent, shortlived science ficiton series, Firefly (which, however, doesn't seem to have any Jews either).

Why there is this conspicuous absence of religion is made plain in a third season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "Who Watches the Watchers?" It concerns a planet of people who are still at only a pre-industrial level of development but who are related to the Vulcans and, presumably because of this, are so intellectually advanced that they long ago ceased to believe in anything so absurd as a God (so some races are just smarter than others?[!?] -- sounds like some kind of racism). Because a Federation observing post and its advanced technology is inadvertently revealed, one of the natives mistakenly takes Captain Picard to himself be the God of ancient belief. He spreads the word among his people. The rest of the episode is then taken up with how this folly can be undone without otherwise distorting the natural development of the natives. In the end, they realize that Picard is not God, and they continue on their previous path of atheistic wisdom.

Such a story is so blatantly hostile to theistic religion, that it is astonishing that it provoked neither comment nor protest. Perhaps the messages contained in science fiction television are simply not noticed. Movies have a somewhat higher profile and, indeed, the futile quest for God in the fifth Star Trek movie, The Final Frontier, provoked the comment from Michael Medved, a political conservative and devout Jew, that it was the same old "secular humanism." Even the aforementioned religious beliefs and practices of the Klingons and Bajorans seem to consist of little more than ritual and mythology, and one is left with the impression that respect for such things is motivated more by cultural relativism than by a sense that they might contain religious truths of interest to others. The Star Trek universe is one without religious truths -- where the occasional disembodied spirit can be explained away with talk about "energy" or "subspace."

If daily life is not concerned with familiar economic activities and the whole of life is not informed with religious purposes, then what is life all about in Star Trek? Well, the story is about a military establishment, Star Fleet, and one ship in particular in the fleet, the Enterprise. One might not expect this to provide much of a picture of ordinary civilian life; and it doesn't. One never sees much on Earth apart from the Star Fleet Academy and Picard's family farm in France -- unless of course we include Earth's past, where the Enterprise spends much more time than on the contemporaneous Earth. Since economic life as we know it is presumed not to exist in the future, it would certainly pose a challenge to try and represent how life is conducted and how, for instance, artifacts like the Enterprise get ordered, financed, and constructed. And if it is to be represented that things like "finance" don't exist, one wonders if any of the Trek writers or producers know little details about Earth history like when Lenin wanted to get along without money and accounting and discovered that Russia's economy was collapsing on him. Marx's prescription for an economy without the cash nexus was quickly abandoned and never revived. Nevertheless, Marx's dream and Lenin's disastrous experiment is presented as the noble and glorious future in Star Trek: First Contact, where Jean Luc Picard actually says, "Money doesn't exist in the Twenty-Fourth Century."

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

Thomas Sowell

A claim that I saw made in some e-mail exchanges years ago turned up recently on a webpage called "Why Jean-Luc Picard Never Carried a Wallet" (by Eric Grundhauser, with his own photo of a grasping Ferengi). The argument was that traditional economics doesn't exist in the Star Trek universe because replicators can produce absolutely unlimited quantities of anything that anyone wants. Since economics was always about managing scarcity, the whole problem of economics will disappear when scarcity does.

Although replicators are said to operate "at no cost," even replicators use energy; and energy is not unlimited, not in the real universe and not in that of Star Trek. The Enterprise, in various forms, doesn't always have enough power. So let's consider how much energy a replicator would need.

The impression we get of replicators is that they create goods without using any raw materials. You don't need a cow to get a steak. Absolutely anything can be conjured out of raw energy. OK. Say I want something with the mass of a kilogram, whether a couple of big steaks or a kilo of marijuana -- whose use in the future is an issue that Star Trek carefully avoids. According to Einstein's equation, E = mc2, we get the equivalent amount of energy in joules by multiplying the kilogram mass by the velocity of light squared. The velocity of light is 299,792,458 m/s. Squared, that is about 9x1016 m2/s2. So, multiplied by 1 kg, we get 9x1016 joules (= kg*m2/s2) of energy. That's a really big number.

So, a replicator must expend 9x1016 joules to make us a kilogram of anything. Power is energy expended per second; and the unit of power is the watt, which is one joule per second (= kg*m2/s3). If our replicator had the power of 2000 watts, which is what a hair dryer might pull, how long would it take to expend 9x1016 joules? We divide 9x1016 by 2000, which is 4.5x1013 seconds. How long is that? Well, there are 31,556,925.19 seconds in a tropical year (as of 1 January 2000). So a 2000 watt replicator would produce a kilogram of something in, as Mr. Spock would say, 1,425,994.4 years. That's a long time to wait for dinner, or for some recreational dope. If we had a million watt replicator, it would still take 9x1010 seconds, or 2,852 years to produce our kilo of steak or dope. But in the Star Trek shows, it just takes a few seconds for a replicator to work, although it looks no more energetic than a microwave oven. It must be some powerful equipment; and it must have a great deal of energy it can draw on.

So let's suppose that the dilithium crystals and matter-anti-matter engines of the Enterprise can produce just a whole lot of energy -- even if it isn't always enough for Scotty to give the ship more power. Perhaps a lightning bolt-like amount would do. This was enough for Doctor Brown (the incomparable Christopher Lloyd) to power the "Flux Capacitor" in Back to the Future [1985]. Brown needed 1.21 gigawatts (GW) of power from somewhere. Actually, a bolt of lightning can consist of 5x109 joules of energy, 5 gigajoules (GJ). If it only did that in a second, it would have power of 5 gigawatts, more than Brown needs. However, lightning delivers its energy in more like microseconds than seconds, so the power is considerably greater. But the payoff that we want, especially for our replicators, is energy rather than power.

So if we could harness the equivalent of bolts of lightning, how many would we need for our 9x1016 joules? That would be 18,000,000. Our little domestic replicator -- one in every kitchen! -- would need to do Doc Brown's stunt of conducting a bolt of lightning to his flux capacitor 18 millions times, all at once. An accident with the equipment would be a little worse than putting the dog in the microwave.

This makes replicators, and so unlimited abundance, seem unlikely -- especially given our knowledge of the limited nature of energy and even a sense from Star Trek that energy is limited. It sounds nice to turn energy into matter, or matter into energy (as in the Transporters), but the velocity of light squared is a really, really big number. That's why atomic bombs are so destructive. Even the tiniest bit of matter into energy can vaporize downtown Hiroshima. Although we have Transporter accidents in more than one Star Trek show, we never get explosions that would blow the ship apart -- but that is most likely what an accident would do. Not what you want in your kitchen either.

However, the author of "Why Jean-Luc Picard Never Carried a Wallet," Mr. Grundhauser, and the book he discusses (Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek, by Manu Saadia, 2016), end up saying that the "post-economic" utopia doesn't need to "wait for technology to elevate us all to a bountiful, unified society" -- actually, this would be a surprise even to Karl Marx. Grundhauser points out that there weren't replicators in the Original Series or the movies with the original cast. But they already have a "post-scarcity society." The "post-economic future" is a "social choice."

This renders the whole treatment pointless, for now there is no explanation how the basic problem of economics, scarcity, can be overcome. If we "share the products of your work," especially when forced to do so by the (Police) State, this does not expand production, as they learned in the Soviet Union to their dismay and loss (and mass murder). The only hint what the "social choice" of abundance is all about comes from Mr. Grunhauser's comparison of the Federation to the "USSR, or the [Communist] Chinese." In other words, socialism, or worse. But the author needs some instruction that, even in Marxism, not all "social choices" are possible until the technology is ready. Without the replicators, Grundhauser has no argument.

And, unfortunately, Grunhauser (or Saadia) doesn't seem to know his history of socialism any better than his Marxism (this is not unusual on the Left); for he doesn't know about trade or money in the Soviet Union or Communist China. He says that the Federation engages in trade with other galactic states "only as a courtesy"; and Saadia "likens it to the international dealings with socialist governments in our own world." The Federation only uses "foreign currency" so it can "interact with capitalist regimes despite operating as a cashless society among themselves." While the statement there is about the Federation, the implication is that Soviet Russia and Communist China were "cashless socities," for whom trade was an unnecessary "courtesy" with capitalist countries.

This is quite false, on both counts. As we have seen, Lenin tried to do without money and quickly discovered this wasn't going to work. No Communist regime, except maybe Cambodia (in the course of its mass murder), ever tried to go without a currency again. At the same time, if the Soviet Union had not used its foreign income from oil and diamonds (etc.) to buy food from Jimmy Carter, the Russians would have begun to starve -- Stalin had destroyed Russian agriculture, which never recovered. This seems to have escaped the notice of Mr. Grundhauser (or Saadia), probably because he is too young to remember Carter's wheat sales and has not been taught the truth about socialism in his Leftist schooling [note].

Despite the implication that Mr. Grundhauser is talking about the kind of socialism found in the Soviet Union or Communist China -- of whose realities he seems to know little or nothing -- he never actually says so; and all we get in the end is "dreaming" about the coming utopia. Thus, the whole article is as dishonest as it is pointless. We're getting a lot of this lately, of the clueless, or the mendacious, leading the ignorant. The theory about replicators at least gave us a hypothesis to examine, with some prima facie credibility; but the "dreaming" conclusion doesn't; and the ignorant references to "socialist governments in our own world" show that we are dealing here with fools or knaves.

Without a need for productive economic work, what one is left with in Star Trek is military life. Trying to soften this by including families and recreation on the Enterprise in fact makes the impression worse, since to the extent that such a life is ordinary and permanent for its members, it is all the easier to imagine that all life in the Federation is of this sort. Not just a military, but a militarism. In the show, this actually didn't work out very well. In the beginning, Star Trek: The Next Generation wanted to remind us of the daily life, children in school, etc. on board; and more than once the "battle hull" of the ship was separated from the "saucer" so that the civilian component of the crew would be safe from hostile action. This cumbersome expedient, however, was soon enough forgotten; and we later forget, as the Enterprise finds itself in desperate exchanges with hostile forces, that small children are undergoing the same battle damage that we see inflicted on the bridge -- unless of course it is brought to our attention because there is a story with a special focus on a child, as with Lieutenant Worf's son. In Star Trek: First Contact, crew members are being captured and turned into Borg. Does that include the children? We never see any. Do Picard's orders to shoot any Borg include Borg who were human children? This disturbing situation is completely ignored by the movie. Star Trek, therefore, cannot maintain its fiction that military life on a major warship will be friendly to families and children.

In the 20th Century there has been a conspicuous political ideology that combines militarism, the subordination of private economic activity to collective social purposes, and often the disparagement of traditional religious beliefs and scruples: Fascism, and not the conservative Fascism of Mussolini and Franco, who made their peace with the Church and drew some limits about some things (Franco even helped Jews escape from occupied France), but the unlimited "revolutionary," Nihilistic Fascism of Hitler, which recoiled from no crime and recognized no demands of conscience or God above the gods of the Führer and the Volk. Certainly the participants in all the forms of Star Trek, writers, staff, producers, actors, fans, etc., would be horrified, insulted, and outraged to be associated with a murderous and discredited ideology like Fascism; but I have already noted in these pages how naive philosophers and critics have thoughtlessly adopted the philosophical foundations of Fascism from people like Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger to what they think are "progressive" causes in the present day.

This danger has come with the corruption of the idea of "progress" away from individualism, the rule of law, private property, and voluntary exchanges -- in short the characteristics of capitalism and the free market -- into collectivist, politicized, and ultimately totalitarian directions. Star Trek well illustrates the confusion, ignorance, and self-deception that are inherent in this process. Dreams of Utopia turned into horror in the 20th century so often, but the same dreams continue to be promoted just because they continue to sound good to the uninformed and the foolish, including the brilliant fools of American universities. As Thomas Sowell recently wrote about the determination of many to find Alger Hiss innocent of espionage, regardless of the evidence:

Hiss is dead but the lies surrounding his case linger on. So do the attitudes that seek a cheap sense of superiority by denigrating this country and picturing some foreign hell hole as a Utopia.

Star Trek has a Utopia to picture, or at least a world free of many of the ills perceived in the present, but it doesn't have to deal with anything so inconvenient as the experience of history. Star Trek is free to disparage business and profit without the need to explain what would replace them. Star Trek is free to disparage religious belief and ignore traditional religions without the need to address the existential mysteries and tragedies of real life in ways that have actually meant something to the vast majority of human beings. And it is particularly interesting that Star Trek is free to do all this with the convenience of assimilating everything to the forms of military life, where collective purpose and authority are taken for granted. Captain Picard does indeed end up rather like God, come to think of it.


Note that this discussion is based on aired episodes and movies, mainly those of the original series and of Star Trek: the Next Generation. Other materials that have been published or posted for Star Trek enthusiasts may address some issues, like whether there are always children on the Enterprise, but it is the message presented on the screen, whether on television or in the theater, seen by most casually interested viewers, that I am addressing.

Several correspondents have pointed out how the Enterprise of Star Trek: the Next Generation was destroyed in one of the movies and that the next ship was not built to contain families and children. Two points about that:  (1) the movie was made after the entire series was over, so the idea of removing the families and children comes a little late to be taken too seriously; and (2) the idea that the next Enterprise to be constructed doesn't contain families or children isn't actually stated in subsequent movies but has been added in the external lore that has accumulated around the series. This can hardly be taken too seriously either. It is certainly a half-hearted response to criticisms like those voiced here. Other correspondents simply don't like capitalism and write, not to defend Star Trek against charges of being anti-capitalist, but to defend it for admittedly being anti-capitalist.

The Lizard-Spock Expansion

Gender Stereotypes and Sexual Archetypes, Trek

Firefly, the Anti-Trek


Home Page

Copyright (c) 1996, 1998, 1999, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

The Fascist Ideology of Star Trek, Note 1

To be fair, science fiction historically has really never portrayed familiar religious practices as surviving into the future. Isaac Asimov treated the situation of the Jews only indirectly by transforming all of the inhabitants of Earth into Jew-like pariahs in Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun.

Star Trek, however, has special problems. A big point is made in the original series, with Scotty and Chekov, that ethnic identities, even ethnic accents, survive into the future. One "oy vay" from a character wouldn't have cost them much. Perhaps this would have been regarded as too ethnic -- reminiscent of the kinds of stereotypes and hostilities that are supposed to be absent in the future. The hostility to religion implicit in traditional science fiction, furthermore, Star Trek ends up making explicit, at least in Star Trek the Next Generation, as detailed in the text. Thus, Star Trek has a little more explaining to do for the people who are missing than most other science fiction.

Return to text

The Fascist Ideology of Star Trek, Note 2

The saying in the Soviet Union, of course, was "we pretend to work; and they pretend to pay us." While the pay seemed to be decent, there wasn't anything to spend it on. Work habits were poor in the Soviet Union in part because workers had to spend much of their day out looking for basic consumer items, like food or toilet paper. As a consequence, people kept a lot of cash, sometimes literally under the mattress, hoping that some day there would be something to buy with it.

When the Soviet Union fell, the government soon demonetized all the old money. All that saved cash became worthless; and all the work, such as it was, the money represented was now uncompensated. Thus the glory of a "cashless" socialist society. One wonders what Grundhauser and Saadia think was really going on in the Soviet Union.

A brief but accurate representation of life in the Soviet Union may be seen at the beginning of Moscow on the Hudson [1984], which starred Robin Williams, María Conchita Alonso, and Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff. Alonso, who is Venezuelan, has famously traded insults, once when encountering him in an airport, with Sean Penn, an apologist for Communism and best buddy of Hugo Chavez and Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Return to text

the anti-Trek

All of the disturbing characteristics of the Star Trek shows, the militarism, collectivism, anti-capitalism, and atheism, are notably missing from the excellent but shortlived series Firefly.

Firefly only aired on the Fox network for three months at the end of 2002. Fourteen episodes were filmed, including the two hour pilot. Three of the episodes were never aired, and the others were shown out of sequence, even though they contained elements from previous episodes. This must have been particularly confusing as the show was trying to find an audience. The pilot, which introduced all the characters, was shown last, after the series had been cancelled. Despite the cancellation, the shows had found an audience, which rallied in defense of the series. Although it was too late for Fox, the creator of the show, Joss Whedon, used the enthusiasm of the fans to persuade Universal to continue the series as a movie, Serenity, which was released in 2005. The movie didn't have the greatest box office, but together with the series it lives, of course, on video, where sales have continued to be strong, better than some recent pretigious movies. Hopefully, the continued support of old fans, and the acquisition of new fans, like myself, will allow the story to return to some medium in some form -- just like Star Trek.

Unlike the starship Enterprise, a powerful warship of the United Federation of Planets, the ship Serenity is a small, private "Firefly" class transport with no weapons -- except the hand weapons of the crew. The captain and first officer, Malcolm (Nathan Fillion) and Zoe (Gina Torres, the statuesque, sexually smoking, and real life wife of Laurence Fishborne, "Morpheus" of The Matrix), are veterans of the attempt to prevent the vast Alliance of planets from taking over their own worlds. They were fighting with the "Independents," the "Brown Coats," and the ship is named after the battle of Serenity Valley, where the Independents all but lost the war against the Alliance. Now, Malcolm, Zoe, and the rest of crew eek out a living with small shipping jobs, smuggling, and theft under the unwelcome eye of Alliance cruisers and "fed" policemen. In the pilot, they also take aboard two fugitives from the law, a brother and sister, Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau). Simon is a physican who rescued River from an Alliance "academy" where sinister police-state men with "hands of blue" were modifying her brain to turn her into a psychic and a "Manchurian candidate"-like assassin. This initially left her in a state of psychosis, from which she gradually emerges and becomes aware of her psychic abilities and powers of combat -- in the movie she all but becomes Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Whedon's previous TV series).

None of this makes the Alliance look very good. Whedon wants to make it clear, however, that he doesn't think of the Alliance as evil (although the men with "hands of blue" are evil enough for the Third Reich, and the Alliance soldiers wear German-looking helmets, while the helmets of Independants look like WWII American ones), but rather as something perhaps too big for its own good, or the good of its citizens. Indeed, while the Alliance countenances slavery and indentured servitude, Serenity and the crew are as often saved by the inefficiency, indifference, or corruption of the authorities as by any official benevolence or justice. This in itself is all a rebuke to the statist complacency of Star Trek.

In the pilot, Serenity takes on, not only Simon and River, but the Shepherd, i.e. Minister, Book (played by the kind and noble Ron Glass, perhaps best remembered from the Barney Miller TV series). Although the Shepherd expresses his religious views in, usually, a low key way, and the details given of his beliefs are spare, he does have an actual Bible, and once he even seems to make a reference to Jesus, as a carpenter. In the movie, the word "Christian" is even uttered -- though most viewers may not have noticed that the words "Jesus" () and "Buddha" (, literally "Buddha Founder") have both been spoken in Chinese during the shows. This is startling stuff in comparison to Star Trek. Captain Malcolm himself has lost his faith, but the Shepherd seems to the working on that. As the shows went along, it began to look as though the Shepherd himself had a military, police, or intelligence background. Unfortunately, one of the decisions made in the movie was to have him be killed, before we had learned all his secrets. He was such a good character, this is disappointing, but it is always possible that, if the story is continued in some form, his history could emerge anyway. That was pretty standard stuff on The X-Files.

There is frequent use of Chinese in the series, although actual Chinese actors were only, so far, in the background; and the cast members struggle with Chinese pronunciation. The name Serenity is written in Chinese characters on the ship as , though the Chinese pronunciation is never used. This is the version of the word in the new "simplified" characters. An older form in traditional characters would look like , while even more traditional characters would look like . Joss Whedon evidently likes the idea that future human culture features both English and Chinese as the universal languages -- though in Firefly we also see some evidence of other languages and other cultures surviving as well.

Much of the appeal of Firefly is the ensemble cast. Besides Malcolm, Zoe, Simon, River, and Shepherd, we also have the engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite), whose own sweetness embodies the persona of Serenity herself as a home for the crew, Jayne (Adam Baldwin), whom Malcolm has picked up as a bit of mercenary muscle, but who isn't always faithful to his crewmates, Wash (Alan Tudyk, recently seen as "Steve the Pirate" in Dodgeball, a True Underdog Story, but who also did the motion capture performance for the robot Sonny in I, Robot), the pilot and unlikely husband of Zoe, and finally Inara (the lovely Morena Baccarin). Again, the decision was made to have Wash be killed in the movie, which is a grave loss if the story is to continue. Inara is actually a courtesan, a "registered Companion," who isn't really a crew member, but who rents one of Serenity's small shuttles to use as her detachable place of business. This seems very un-Trek-like also. Even in the pilot, it is already obvious that Malcolm and Inara have fallen in love with each other, but neither one is quite up to admitting it, and their feelings are often expressed in apparently hostile banter. This a familiar approach in many TV series and movies -- although we also notice that under stress the two of them sometimes function as a couple, with Inara as the voice of Mal's conscience. It is not a relationship that is likely to be soon resolved, should the story continue, since Malcolm is already uncomfortable with Inara's profession, and she would be unlikely to continue it were they to actually become involved with each other. We get some hints that Inara has some secrets in her own background. At the end of the TV shows, Inara and Malcolm have problems enough that Inara leaves Serenity. By the end of the movie, however, she returns, but matters are not otherwise resolved. On the other hand, the unrequited love category is kept in bounds when Simon and Kaylee, after some false starts, have become lovers at the end of the movie.

Yes, there is actual money -- the familiar science fiction "credits" -- in Firefly, and bank accounts. There also seems to be hard commodity coinage, in platinum, for the gold bugs out there. The hard money seems to go with the Wild West feel of the newly settled "outer planets."

The very best thing about Firefly, in comparison to Star Trek, is probably that it doesn't try for the slightest bit of Utopianism. It does not assume that a single galactic government would be best, as it does not assume that present religion and capitalist economics are undesirable. This is refreshing, to say the least, but it is also done very well.

The science in Firefly consists of some basic science fiction conceits that generally do not need to be, and are not, explained. Serenity has an artificial gravity that Kaylee references once (in "The Message") and that we only see turned off once, at the beginning of the pilot, when Mal, Zoe, and Jayne float into the airlock and we see the gravity turn on. Otherwise, the artificial gravity still seems to be working even when the ship has lost all power, as in "Out of Gas." Nobody gets "beamed" up here, and while there are energy weapons, these seem to be familiar lasers rather than "phasers." The food is often tasteless synthetic stuff, not everyone's favorite right out of the replicator. What it takes a while to gather is the scale of the universe in which Firefly is set. Despite references to the "'verse" and the galaxy, all the action takes place in one solar system -- and not that of the Earth. This is not completely clarified until the beginning of the movie, where it is stated explicitly. Otherwise it must be inferred, given that there is no "warp drive" or any other reference to faster-than-light travel.

And space is pretty crowded in Firefly. Twice, in the pilot and in "Bushwacked," Serenity is caught in the act at a derelict ship by an Alliance cruiser. This would seem unlikely even in interplanetary space, and certainly impossible in interstellar. Similarly, in "Safe" we discover that an Alliance cruiser is only a few hours away. Nevertheless, Joss Whedon has not paid sufficient attention to how solar systems work. Characters often speak of the "quadrant," a term that is really only meaningful in galactic terms. In a solar system, planets move, and at different rates. The relationship of the planets to each other thus changes constantly, and a trip that might at one time might take a few days under high power might otherwise take weeks or months (all depending on the energy budget of space ships like Serenity, about which we are only vaguely informed). The geometry of space, where it is even shown, usually doesn't make much sense. Thus, in the movie, the Reavers, in a tight mass, block the route to the planet Miranda, even though there would be countless ways, in a very large sky, to just go around them. With "dozens" of planets and "hundreds" of moons, the implication is that this new solar system is much larger than that of "Earth that was." With a "blue sun," i.e. a brighter star, the solar system could be effectively larger, and we certainly have no sense that the "outer" planets are colder or darker than the "central" ones. Whether there can be solar systems with so many terrestrial bodies, in comparison to what we are familiar with, is an open question. A fair number of extra-solar planets have now been identified, but the overall makeup, or frequency, of other solar systems is still a mystery.

An unfortunate notion in the series is that space is dark. We do not see strong sunlight in the ship unless Serenity is visiting a planet (both in the shows and in the movie). However, it should be readily obvious on reflection that planets do not generate sunlight. Stars do. And the "blue sun" is going to be shining on Serenity whether the ship is near a planet or in deep (interplanetary) space. Interstellar space will be dark, but this is not the domain of Firefly. Another problem with the science of Firefly is communication. We have no hint of "subspace" communication here, and in interplanetary space there would be no need for that. However, the velocity of light does impose some limits on communication even within a solar system. At almost any extra-planetary distance there will be delays of seconds in transmission (it is a light second from the Earth to the Moon), and more commonly of minutes or hours. This would make real time dialogue from Serenity to system planets awkward to impossible. We get no hint of this. On the other hand, we don't get much in the way of real time dialogue anyway. Malcolm talks to Patience on Whitefall in the pilot, and Malcolm talks to Inara at her "training house" in the movie. There should at least be short delays, if not long ones, in reponses in both cases. Allowing for them, of course, would be bad, for wasting time, both on television and in movies. So perhaps it should be chalked up to poetic license.

The "science" in the "fiction" of Firefly is not very daring and is not intended to be. More so even than in Star Wars, where George Lucas made a point of it, the science tends to be invisible, and we get nothing of the deadly exposition that used to be the bane of science fiction -- and sometimes still is. Instead, as in the best of Star Wars and in the Alien movies, the universe is presented as one lived in and familiar, even if things don't get explained that perhaps should. In Firefly, there is even a bit of joke about this. In "Objects in Space," when Mal suggests that River reads minds, Wash says that this "sounds like science fiction." Zoe responds, "Dear, we live in a space ship."

In March 2011 the Science Channel is beginning to run the Firefly TV shows. Since the release of the movie, the Firefly story has apparently been dropped, and Joss Whedon went on to do another science fiction TV series, The Doll House, which wasn't as good as Firefly but ironically lasted two whole seasons. Go figure.

In retrospect, the deaths of Book and Wash in the movie probably meant that the story could not or should not have been continued. What is usually the most attractive thing about any show or movie to an audience are the characters. And given the ensemble cast of Firefly, and the family-like dynamic of the crew of Serenity, it is a particularly grave blow that characters are lost. I suspect that the bloom of the series Heroes on NBC, which at first was a kind of popular sensation, was rapidly lost because the series made a habit of killing off characters, sometimes rapidly. When an audience has made an emotional connection and investment in particular people, there is a kind of feeling of betrayal when they are just expended to make some plot point.

Whedon had something in mind when he killed off Book and Wash. It was not done lightly or gratuitously. We see the point by recalling an early line in the movie. Zoe tells one of the temporary hostages during the heist that starts the story, "A hero is someone who gets other people killed." Then we see that Mal, indeed, becomes a hero. He is a real hero, saving the day and striking a blow against the Alliance, with the full and enthusiastic participation of the crew, but there is a cost. The cost is that Mal gets Wash killed, as previously he has, inadvertently, gotten Book killed. Although Zoe loses her own husband, she is made of the same warrior stuff as Mal, so she can endure.

In lesser hands, all this might be used to draw some cheap anti-war moral from the story. Whedon doesn't do that. The war, such as it is, is a good war. Whedon's point is that there is a price even for a good war, and the price is not trivial. Such a point is rather like what we see in the Mahâbhârata, where the good guys are the good guys, they are supposed to win, and they do; but there is a considerable, indeed a terrible, cost to the whole business. Things cannot be restored to what they were ante bellum.

The same can be said about Firefly itself. By killing Book and Wash, Joss Whedon also paid a price, and the price is the ensemble situation that people grew to know and love in the series. If Serenity were to continue on its voyage, things would necessarily be different. No one will be there to play with Wash's toy dinosaurs. Indeed, new cast members would certainly need to be brought in, and how that would work out is subject to all the uncertainties of any series or movie. The Firefly that we knew for its brief and marvelous life could not be the same.

The cast of Firefly has gone on to sometimes noteworthy, or at least noticeable, careers. Summer Glau has appeared in further science fiction shows, thereby earning a guest spot on The Big Bang Theory. Morena Baccarin has come in for major acting nominations on the dramatic series Homeland. Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin have had steady work, although Tudyk's has mostly been in comedy (e.g. Suburgatory), without the dramatic range found in Firefly.

Perhaps the most conspicuous has been Nathan Fillion, in the long-running television series Castle, playing the title character, mystery novelist Richard Castle. A small industry has grown up spotting Firefly references in Castle. On one Halloween themed show, Fillion turns up in the full costume of Malcolm Reynolds. Castle's daughter asks what he supposed to be. He answers a "space cowboy," to which the daughter retorts, "There are no cows in space." Of course, we know from Firefly that there will indeed be cows in space -- making a mess in the cargo hold. Then there was an episode that began at a Comic-Con-like convention, with Castle signing books, but a murder occurs at an exhibit for a short-lived but fan-favorite science fiction show -- not unlike Firefly. Castle avows that he didn't like the series, even though he did like things such as "that series by Joss Whedon." He even used the expression "shiny" in the show. Another episode guest-starred Adam Baldwin -- with a character rather like what Jayne would be like as a policeman.

Whedon has filled in some gaps in the Firefly story in other media. One comic book explained why the men in the blue gloves do not occur in the movie. They were killed, and rather than replaced by similar agents, we get the special "operative" of the movie. The mysterious backstory of Book is addressed in another comic book. Book became a deep cover agent of the Independents in the military of the Alliance. He rose to the rank of general and then deliberately sabotaged a battle, resulting in a major victory for the Independents. The Alliance never suspected that he was a spy. They just thought he was incompetent, and cashiered him. He was not happy with the experience either, which is why he turned to religion. But he still had enough status with the Alliance that they were willing to treat the gunshot wound he suffered in one Firefly episode. But he frequently impressed people, including Malcolm, as knowing a lot more about war and government than a Shepherd ordinarily would. Further comic books and spin-off stories by others have followed.

Return to Star Trek


Home Page

Copyright (c) 2006, 2011, 2013 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved