Star Trek and (my) Humanism

It is no secret that I am a massive Trekker, my love for all things Trek probably approaches religious devotion. On much reflection, I think that this fanatical addiction is rooted in a deep cognizance between the ethical values portrayed on Star Trek and my own.. It’s also no secret that Gene Roddenberry was a humanist, and he was not shy about openly portraying his (admittedly) idealized version of what humanity could look like if they embraced these principles.

We are a young species. I think if we allow ourselves a little development, understanding what we’ve done already, we’ll be surprised what a cherishable, lovely group that humans can evolve into.

-Gene Roddenberry

Paul Kurtz has come out with the Neo-Humanist Manifesto, the latest in a long line of Humanist manifestos. If you’re really curious what is meant by the term ‘humanist’, check out that link, because the explanation is quite exhaustive. Upon recently reading this manifesto, I found that all of the ‘core principles’ are readily found on Star Trek, which may explain my heartfelt endorsement of the document and the tenets within.

Including:

Aspire to be more inclusive by appealing to both non-religious and religious humanists and to religious believers who share common goals

Star Trek has depicted the Federation with a willingness to work with religious believers towards common goals (such as the Klingon-Federation accord signed with the religious Klingons at Khitomer. In some cases, the unique needs of particular religious (or at least ritualistic) aliens drove Kirk to take the whole ship to planets, as seen in Amok Time.

Yes,  this ritual involves fighting, and sex and eventually Kirk losing his shirt, but damnit, that’s why Star Trek is great

Neo-Humanists are critical of theism

If there is one thing that Star Trek does well, it’s being critical of theism. Kirk in particular, manages to stick it to omnipotent or near-omnipotent creatures, like in The Squire of Gothos, Arena, The Return of the Archons, Errand of Mercy, and particularly Who Mourns for Adonais, where the crew actually meets Apollo from Greek mythology. In that episode, he offers them a perfect life, where all they must do is worship him. Kirk delivers this line:

Apollo: I can give life or death. What else does mankind demand of its gods?

Kirk: Mankind has no need for gods.

BAM! Of course, this trend continues well into The Next Generation, where there is an omnipotent character named Q (played by the ineffable John Delancey).  In one particularly awesome episode, Picard dies and meets Q, and remarks:

I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by you; the universe is not so badly designed.

-Picard

In Who Watches the Watchers, the Enterprise crew is mistaken for gods by indigenous peoples they had been anthropoligcally observing. Picard, desperate to not be mistaken for a god, exclaims:

Look at me…feel the warmth of my hand, the rhythm of my pulse. I’m not a supreme being. I’m flesh and blood, like you. Different in appearance, yes, but we are both living beings. We are born, we grow, we live, and we die. In all the ways that matter, we are alike.

Horrifying… Dr. Barron, your report describes how rational these people are. Millennia ago, they abandoned their belief in the supernatural. Now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement, to send them back into the dark ages of superstition and ignorance and fear? No!

Star Trek pulls no punches. When the humanistic worldview is opposed by gods, religion or institutions in the narritave, Star Trek will speak out against the injustice and for the good of all humanity.

Are best defined by what they are for, not what they are against

The United Federation of Planets, which is the democratic organization that is the basis for the Star Trek world, has an affirmative charter that meets this description:

We the life forms of the United Federation of Planets determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and to reaffirm faith in the fundamental rights of sentient beings, in the dignity and worth of all life forms, in the equal rights of members of planetary systems large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of interstellar law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of living on all worlds…

Lest we not forget the mission of every Star Trek series we’ve ever seen: “To explore strange, new worlds. To seek out new life, and new civilization, and to go boldly where no one has gone before.

[A humanist] accept responsibility for the well-being of society, guaranteeing various rights, including those of women, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; and supporting education, health care, gainful employment, and other social benefits;”

Gene Roddenberry was incredibly progressive in this respect, especially considering the extremely divided society in which Star Trek first appeared. In the original pilot, (later seen in the two parter episode The Menagerie) he had a woman as a first officer, but that was shot down by the execs. Despite this hostility from the management, Roddenberry fought for his inclusive vision of the future, because he knew that our world would soon move beyond the petty differences that so defined the early sixties.

Diversity!Roddenberry also added the proud Russian character Chekov in the second season, which was ballsy considering it was the middle of the cold war. Roddenberry wrote a cast that transcended politics, gender, social, regional, national and even planetary divides. Star Trek is often cited as inspiration for an entire generation of people who would create a world with much less disparity. Take, I don’t know, Mae Jemison, who had a cameo on TNG.

Mae Jemison also happens to be (the first) female, African-American person in space, just over 25 years after Star Trek first aired. Aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor’s second flight, she performed as a medical mission specialist on the fledgling Skylab. In space, she even greeted NASA  with “hailing frequencies are open”. Jemison also  said her inspiration for joining up with NASA was Nichelle Nichols, playing Uhura on Star Trek.

She got the Star Trek gig in part from my Close Personal Friend(TM) Levar Burton, who I think we can all agree is a wonderful human being.

NASA named one of the early space shuttle prototypes after the ol’ NCC-1701, thanks in part to a very dedicated fan letter writing campaign.

No, Seriously

Say what you want about NASA, (and I’ve said some things), but the type of ‘big think’ projects that NASA does are a step in the right direction. Who knows, maybe those steps might take us closer to a world like Star Trek, a world that has fully embraced the ideas represented in humanism.

I know, I know, naive. But that’s what you get for being a Trekker.

Not Pictured: Mr Spock (my cat)

We’re the same. We share the same history, the same heritage, the same lives. We’re tied together beyond any untying. Man or woman, it makes no difference, we’re Human. We couldn’t escape from each other even if we wanted to. That’s how you do it, Lieutenant. By remembering who and what you are: a bit of flesh and blood afloat in a universe without end. And the only thing that’s truly yours is the rest of Humanity. That’s where our duty lies. – Kirk

~ by Andrew on April 3, 2010.

6 Responses to “Star Trek and (my) Humanism”

  1. Great blog. Enjoyed your take on the relationship between humanism and Star Trek lore. Why Trekker and not Trekkie? I call myself a Trekkie only because that’s what I’ve always called myself. What do you consider the difference? Thanks.

  2. A bit of a discrepancy between the first and second half of this post, you only pay lip service to tolerance before adopting the posture of a militant atheist.
    I think in the interest of honesty, one should either march along the drumbeat of the likes of Dawkins, or else get serious about respect and humility when dealing with believers. Get serious about humanism.

    • I’m going to have to disagree with you on that. I think there is a fundamental difference between respect and tolerance; one must earn respect through right action regardless of whether they believe a god exists or not. If you are doing action to improve the human condition, I have no qualms with your choice of deity. I may personally disagree with their conclusions on that belief, and will defend my position if asked to, but I don’t go around attempting to ‘de-convert’ these people. Live and let live!

      However, if an organization (religious or non-religious) is failing to meet this criterion, I see no contradiction in calling them out on it. It is when religions wrap themselves in respect and humility without earning either (I’m looking at you, Popey-boy) that I have a problem. There are billions of tolerant, admirable theists out there, but they have never been at issue.

  3. I don’t doubt you mean that, I just think the rhetoric doesn’t always keep pace with the belief.
    PS: It took me a moment to figure out what you meant by Popey-boy. I spent five minutes perplexed by trying to see what possible connection Popeye the Sailor-man could have to the subject!

  4. [...] Mary-Sue: Inspired or Insipid? Among the many notable things that my favorite show Star Trek brought into the world comes from a 1973 fanfiction in which the young lieutenant [...]

  5. [...] the many notable things that my favorite show Star Trek brought into the world comes from a 1973 fanfiction in which the young lieutenant [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: