Friday, November 18, 2005

What Star Trek Can Teach Us

As if there were any doubt that Star Trek had something to say about the world in which we live, I happened to see another object lesson in that very subject yesterday. My sinuses in an uproar, I called in sick, and after groggily getting up around 2:30 in the afternoon, watched an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation on Spike. This was an episode I had seen during its original airing, but when I saw it then, it didn't have the same context as it does today.

In the episode, Jean Luc Picard is captured by evil Cardassians, and tortured. The first time I saw it, I was much more preoccupied by the character that Ronny Cox played, trying to weasel his way into Picard's captain's chair and dissing No. 1 along the way.

However this time, I was much more interested in the story of the evil Cardassian interrogator Gul Madred, played by David Warner and how many lights Picard could see behind him. If you haven't seen that episode (Chain of Command II, Episode #137), Warner keeps asking Picard how many lights Picard sees--the camera clearly shows four--which answer Picard gives. Warner's response is always to punish Picard for giving the wrong answer. The theme then, is that torture results in coerced information which is largely useless. But there's an even deeper level of futility, as exposed in the last scene, between Picard and Counselor Troi, in which Picard says that not only did he want to give the interrogator the information he wanted, but that Picard wanted to believe it himself. The information being sought is thus two spaces removed from anything real or useful. It was a devastating moral to a drama which is being acted out in our names even as we speak.

But I'm not going to think about it anymore. It just makes me too sad to even continue to type.

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