Archive for the ‘Star Trek’ Tag

The Importance of Being Morally Fit for Triumph   1 comment

Above:  The Confession of Captain Benjamin Sisko in In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

A Screen Capture I Took Via PowerDVD

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Or, What Reinhold Niebuhr Has to Do With Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine

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So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log.

–Captain Benjamin Sisko, In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

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Recently I completed my rewatch of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), the best of the Star Trek series.  I had recorded most of the episodes from 1993 to 1999, but I had not sat down and watched the series from beginning to end, skipping certain really bad episodes.  DS9 was the last great Star Trek series–certainly heads and shoulders over Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-2005), two series notable for, among other faults, playing it safe and ignoring continuity much of the time.  DS9 did not play it safe, especially after its troubled first season.  The Dominion War arc certainly took the series into dark and morally ambiguous territory, only part of which I consider in this post.

The Neo-Orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), a Cold War liberal, had a strong moral compass and an awareness of human sinfulness.  He opened The Irony of American History (1952) with a statement of the possibility that the means by which the free world, led by the United States, might have to win the Cold War might leave the victors morally unfit to govern.  The use of atomic weapons would not only endanger civilization, kill many people,  and cause much physical destruction, he wrote, but lead to moral complications for the victors:

The victors would also face the “imperial” problem of using power in global terms but from one particular center of authority, so preponderant and unchallenged that its world rule would almost certainly violate basic standards of justice.

–Page 2

As Commander William Adama stated in Resurrection Ship, Part II (2006), an episode of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2003-2008),

It’s not enough to survive; one must be worthy of surviving.

In the story lines of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine the Dominion War raged for years and endangered the great powers of the Alpha and  Beta Quadrants–the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the United Federation of Planets.  (Aside:  The scripts tended not to mention the Beta Quadrant, but, according to official Star Trek lore, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and much of the Federation were in the Beta Quadrant.)  Forces of the Dominion, an empire presided over by the shape-shifting Founders, fought to conquer the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.  The body counts were staggering and the Dominion seemed to be on the verge of victory.  Times were desperate.

In In the Pale Moonlight (1998) Captain Benjamin Sisko, with the approval of the Federation Council, conspired to trick the Romulan Star Empire into abandoning its non-aggression treaty with the Dominion.  The plan was to convince one Romulan senator, Vreenak, that the Dominion was plotting to invade the Romulan Star Empire.  There was no evidence of this, so Sisko, with Federation approval, arranged for the forging of evidence.  Certainly the Dominion would invade the Romulan Star Empire in time, given the nature of the Dominion and the Founders’ sense of superiority to solids.  Furthermore, the Federation needed for the Romulans to enter the war on its side.  Vreenak recognized the forgery as such, but Elim Garak, who hired the forger then killed him or had him killed, planted a bomb on Vreenak’s shuttle craft.  The leadership of the Romulan Star Empire blamed the Dominion for Vreenak’s death and declared war.  The Federation had a new ally.  Sisko admitted his crimes in private and confessed that he could live with his guilty conscience.

As I have pondered this episode and others, all the way through the end of the series, I have realized that, as the writers presented the story of the Dominion War, Sisko was correct; his crimes were necessary.  The Romulans were crucial to the defeat of the Dominion, after all.

In The Maquis, Part II (1994) Sisko analyzed the difficult situation of a group rebels-terrorists succinctly:

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!

However, later, in For the Uniform (1997), Sisko poisoned the atmosphere of  Maquis colony world and prepared to do the same to other Maquis colonies.  A vendetta against one Maquis leader, Michael Eddington, inspired this plan.

Above:  Dr. Julian Bashir Confronts Admiral William Ross in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Sisko, the greatest of all the Star Trek captains, did not live in paradise, neither was he a saint.  Neither was Admiral William Ross, as in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999).  In a story reminiscent of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,  a great Cold War thriller, Admiral Ross plotted with Section 31, the Federation’s black operations agency that officially does not exist, to frame an innocent and  patriotic Romulan senator and thereby improve the political standing of a double agent.  After all, as Ross said in Latin, quoting Cicero,

In time of war the law falls silent.

Later in the series Dr. Julian Bashir, who takes his Hippocratic Oath seriously, learns that Section 31 was responsible for infecting the Founders of the Dominion with a fatal virus–that the Federation was responsible for attempted genocide.  The Federation, as Gene Roddenberry conceived of it in the 1960s, was a noble and idealistic organization.  DS9 did more to expose the dark underbelly of the Federation than did any other filmed incarnation of Star Trek.  DS9 gave us Section 31, for example.  The writers seemed to present Section 31 in such a way as to make plain its moral dubiousness as well as its practical necessity.

Roddenberry’s Federation is an analog for the United States of America, just as the Klingon Empire is an analog for the Soviet Union.  Thus, in Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991) the two powers begin to end their cold war.  Since the Federation stands in for the U.S.A., the moral questions the Federation faces during the Dominion War might remind one of morally questionable policies of the U.S. Government over time, especially in the context of the Cold War and events since September 11, 2001.   Overthrowing democratically elected governments that are merely inconvenient to U.S. business interests and installing military dictatorships that victimize their own citizenry for decades contradicts U.S. ideals, does it not?  Supporting brutal regimes–whether fascist or military dictatorships–because they are not communist should trouble one’s conscience, should it not?  Also, committing and condoning torture makes one morally unfit.  Whom would Jesus torture?  As Niebuhr reminds us down the corridors of time, we must be morally fit, not just victorious.

All of this brings me to a point:  How can we defend ideals that are in peril by violating those ideals?  We cannot, of course.  Yes, we might have to get our hands dirty, so to speak, but, if we get them too dirty, we compromise ourselves morally and render ourselves morally unfit to serve the interests of justice.   How we treat others is about our character, not theirs.  We may not live in paradise, but how close to the standard of sainthood can we live?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Adapted from this post:

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/the-importance-of-being-morally-fit-for-triumph/

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The Man from Earth (2007)   2 comments

Above:  John Oldman

(A Screen Capture)

THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007)

Starring

David Lee Smith as Dr. John Oldman (a historian)

Tony Todd as Dan (an anthropologist)

John Billingsley as Harry (a biologist)

Ellen Crawford as Edith (a historian)

Annika Peterson as Sandy (a secretary)

William Katt as Dr. Arthur “Art” M. Jenkins (an archaeologist)

Alexis Thorpe as Linda Murphy (an undergraduate student)

Richard Riehle as Dr. William Gruber (a psychologist)

Written by Jerome Bixby

Screenplay rewritten slightly  by Emerson Bixby

Directed by Richard Schenkman

1 hour, 27 minutes

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Science fiction, when done properly, is a genre of ideas.  Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry placed social commentary into the mouths of space aliens in 1960s television programs.  To have mere humans say such things would have been too controversial, but for extraterrestrials to utter them was somehow acceptable.  Yet, what passes too often for filmed science fiction consists of nothing more than explosions and plot hole-ridden stories designed for young men afflicted with ADHD.  The Man from Earth is not that kind of movie.

This movie, set a rustic cabin in southern California, is the tale of a farewell party some college faculty members and a secretary throw for a departing colleague, Dr. John Oldman.  People have begun to notice that he looks just as young as he did ten years ago.  So Oldman is moving along.  The faculty members are:

  1. Dan, an anthropologist and the guest most sympathetic to Oldman;
  2. Harry, a biologist and a generally annoying person;
  3. Edith, a historian and a devout Christian not a Biblical literalist;
  4. Arthur “Art” M. Jenkins, an archaeologist and the main protagonist; and
  5. William Gruber, a psychologist whom Art calls in to evaluate Oldman’s mental state.

Sandy, a secretary at the History Department of the unnamed college, also attends.  She has a platonic love relationship with Oldman.  And Art brings along his student and girlfriend, Linda Murphy, who is young enough to be his daughter.  Art clings to youth in other ways; he wears his hair long, in a ponytail, and rides a motorcycle.

Pressed by his colleagues, Oldman tells them that he is a Cro-Magnon and that he has lived at least 14,000 years, although he does not look a day over thirty-five.  He has had to move along many times because of his perpetually youthful condition, which people notice about every ten years, as they look older but he does not.  Oldman has loved many times, seen many friends and lovers die, and has had to leave some families behind.  Now he lives alone.  And he has had a variety of aliases (often puns, as in Oldman for “old man”), but usually calls himself John.

Oldman’s colleagues (except Dan) react with disbelief.  Oldman must be either lying or delusional, they say.  To claim that he knew Hammurabi, the Buddha, Christopher Columbus, and Vincent Van Gogh (who gave him a painting) is certainly odd.  Yet, when Oldman says that he was the historical Jesus, reactions become truly mixed.  Edith, labels it blasphemy while others take the opportunity to quote ancient comparative religion gleefully without claiming to accept Oldman’s claim.  Dan, an anthropologist, reserves judgment throughout the film, and Sandy, the secretary, accepts Oldman as he is.  So she believes his version of events.

The proof of Oldman’s claims comes from small details which only Gruber and Sandy hear after everybody else has left.  Gruber overhears Oldman reveal one of his previous aliases, Professor John T. Partee, a chemistry professor at Harvard University sixty years prior.  Then Gruber knows that Oldman is his father, who left the family behind when he (Gruber) was three years old.  It seems that Partee had a a beard, and Gruber never suspected previously that Oldman, who looked look a clean-shaven Partee with a different haircut, was his father.  But, sixty years ago, in Boston, people had begun to notice that Professor Partee looked just as he had ten years prior.

And what about Sandy?  Oldman drives off into the night with her.  She loves him, accepts him for who and what he is, and is willing to take all the time he can give her.

The Man from Earth, although the last script by Jerome Bixby (died 1998), grew from a concept he had been exploring for decades.  It is an intelligent script, one which calls for much talking and no special effects.  Characters discuss philosophy and religion at length.  And, even if some of them add 2 and 2 only to arrive at a sum of 5, that fact does not negate the validity of the facts they quote.

As a classic Star Trek fan I noticed a similarity to another Jerome Bixby script, Requiem for Methuselah (1968).  In that episode, one of the last of that series, Kirk and Spock meet Flint, a human over 6,000 years old.  Tissue regeneration has granted him extraordinary long life, as it has John Oldman.  Flint was Methuselah, Solomon, Alexander the Great, Lazarus (friend of Jesus), Merlin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Johannes Brahms.  And Flint knew Moses, Socrates, Jesus, and Galileo Galilei.  In The Man from Earth Oldman mentions having met another man like himself in the 1600s and seen him again from a distance in the 1800s.  This man was supposed to have been Flint, although I suppose they might have met in first century Judea.  But Oldman claims never to have raised anyone from the dead.  Of course, if Flint was Lazarus, he did not die.  And Oldman, in the movie, does forget certain details.

As for the central premise of The Man from Earth–that the historical Jesus was really a long-lived caveman who went on to earn ten doctorates in seventeen decades–it is only a story–a work of fiction, albeit a well-written and well-acted one.  There is no need to raise one’s hackles or to become angry, as some of the professors in the film did.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 21, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL FAITHFUL MEMBERS OF THE CLERGY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, JESUIT

THE FEAST OF HENARE WIREMU TARATOA OF TE RANGA, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN JONES AND JOHN RIGBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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