Wednesday, December 23, 2009

To Boldly Go (But Not to the Right)

Yeah, it's more Star Trek blogging while waiting for the Senate to finish up.

I'm not sure if I can think of anything more foolish than a conservative attempt to claim Jean-Luc Picard as one of their own.  For those who have followed this, Kevin Drum had a great catch on this NRO post, in which conservative Mike Potemra conceded that "peace, tolerance, due process, progress" were things that conservatives actively dislike, but that Picard -- despite favoring such things -- was a good conservative hero because he's ethical.  See also, via Benen, this post by John Holbo further pointing out that Potemra's logic is entirely backwards.

Now, there's no point in taking seriously claims that only conservatives (or only liberals) are in favor of ethical behavior.  But I can add a few things.  First of all, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Captain Picard are not just fans of peace, tolerance, due process, and progress.  Picard is contemptuous of money-based economies, which he arrogantly (there's no other word for it) claims that humanity have outgrown (see "The Neutral Zone," along with any use of the Ferengi in the entire series -- the Ferengi within this series are a clearly inferior, money-obsessed people).  Second, Picard is, as far as I can tell, entirely dismissive of religion.  Religion, in the world of this Star Trek show, is nothing more than primitive superstition, and impediment to progress (which is pretty much always presented as a good thing), and impossible to take seriously beyond an anthropological curiosity.  Neither of these opinions, it seems safe to say, are conservative in any sense of the word.  Note that in both cases, the perhaps superior Deep Space Nine series is far more complex, with the Ferengi treated as essentially an equal, not an inferior, species, and religion taken far more seriously, and generally treated with respect. 

One more thing: about Picard's supposed love of France.  Picard loves his family, yes.  But he returns to France twice over the run of the series: once, when he's in full retreat from himself following his traumatic experience with the Borg, and again, when he's a doddering old man enfeebled by mental illness.  He has nothing but contempt for his brother's life, a life actually lived in the ancestral home.

The truth is that there's nothing Burkean about Jean-Luc Picard at all.  Unlike James T. Kirk, with his healthy (if a bit obsessive) suspicion of paradise, Picard's belief in progress is, as far as I can tell, undiluted.   He's no conservative.


  1. Re DS9: no 'perhaps superior' about it, Jonathan.

    TNG's politics are essentially the belief in 'human progress' taken to an extreme: that not only will living standards inexorably improve, and human happiness increase, but that human nature itself will move beyond the selfishness, materialism and short-sightedness that Roddenberry saw marking 'today's world'. And so to illustrate this point he filled his perfect world with perfect people. Certainly, Picard and co can be angry, infatuated, and sometimes make misjudgements, but they are fundamentally good, enlightened, thoughtful people out to make the universe a better place through sheer altruism. Except Worf, who likes to fight people.

    This is a noble ideal. It's a terrible basis for a TV show. So DS9 -- which examined the real consequences of a universe like that, where the Federation is at one point compared to the Borg, where the Federation needs a leather-jacketed secret police to make their idealistic policies workable, where the little colonies which get in the way of a tolerant, peaceful solution to the Cardassian conflict get squashed, where humans remain, more or less, HUMAN -- has more room to manoeuvre, and is, to me, a lot more dramatically satisfying as a result.

    Just one man's opinion, though.

  2. Thanks for the comment...

    I think what I'd say in TNG's favor as a show would be that compared to DS9, the writing was probably better. TNG has quite a few terrific episodes, in my view, that are based on really good science fiction ideas. I think both shows have more than their fair share of clunkers, but DS9 doesn't really have anything, I don't think, that compares to "Yesterday's Enterprise" or "Remember Me." Also, while neither cast is going to make anyone forget Gallactica, for me at least mediocre acting was always a much bigger problem in DS9.

    I did a Monday Movie Post about DS9 a while ago, BTW:


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