Risk Is Our Business
Happy New Year! I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas filled with a family and friends, much love and a bare minimum of political combat… for my part, right before Christmas, I got sucked into a really dumb social media political vortex…
Yeah yeah, I know…
But this kerfuffle was exceptionally stupid… In this case, some terminally online Leftist went to Twitter to announce that they (it almost had to be a they/them right?) couldn’t imagine why any Conservative would enjoy watching STAR TREK, since there’s nothing about a science fiction future which values diversity and civil rights that the fascists of the modern Conservative movement could ever appreciate, much less understand.
Much like the idea that “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is rape culture, or “ZOMG you guys, Jesus Christ was not white!”, we have to repeat these same stupid cultural fights every few years… roughly every time a new crop of college freshman emerges from the chrysalis of their very first Intersectionality class with their eyes fully opened and their minds completely blown.
It’s unclear whether this “persyn” was referring to the original Star Trek series which aired over the course of three seasons in the late 1960’s, or one of the more modern Trek-ish series where it’s just as likely that a transgender alien is going to show up to tell you how rewarding their gender confusion is for them, as it is that there’s going to be a good old fashioned phaser fight… (and if you think I’m kidding about that transgender alien bit, I can assure you that I am not).
Whichever the case, it’s impossible to discuss the politics of Star Trek without focusing on the original 1960’s series, which is where the entire ethos of the Star Trek Universe received its DNA. No series produced since then could exist without the context, the canon if you will, that this first series provided.
So first, let’s be clear about what the original Star Trek series, Gene Roddenberry’s first creation, actually was… it was a smart, muscular and unapologetic defense of the power of Western Civilization to change the world (universe) for the better… and it was a series which celebrated courage and risk taking as among the most important of all human virtues.
If any of that sounds like something that would send Conservatives fleeing for their lives like vampires before a runaway garlic truck with a busted brake line, well then you’re probably a BLM activist… or at the very least you are admitting that you’re entirely ignorant of the things that modern Conservatives actually believe.
The problem, in my experience, is that most Progressives have not actually seen much of the original series (TOS), and have only a very rudimentary understanding of the show’s ethos. To the extent they are familiar with TOS at all, it is often through modern media “criticism” of the show which focuses on what mainstream critics, which is to say Leftists, have concluded… that the show’s politics were proudly and unapologetically Progressive.
The problem is that this conclusion just ain’t true… it’s a misunderstanding often based on a single episode… “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, which has become the most famous episode of Star Trek precisely because it is about race… our modern culture’s most fraught, most talked about, most obsesssed-over issue.
“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (S3; EP15): In this most broadly well-known episode of TOS, Kirk and his crew stumble on two aliens, one of whom is a criminal being pursued across interstellar space by the other. These two men’s faces are split down the middle, one side is black, the other white. The intractable problem, these aliens explain to a befuddled Captain Kirk, is that while the right side of one man’s face is white, the other man’s face is white on the left side.
Other than that, they are identical in every way… the only thing that differentiates these two men is… the color of their skin.
It’s fair to assume that in the story Commander Bele (the pursuer) represents the white power structure in America of the 1960’s and that Lokai (the man on the run) represents oppressed American blacks of the same period, and that probably was the writers’ (Oliver Crawford/Lee Cronin) surface intention. But to stop at this most shallow interpretation is to miss the broader point of the episode, because this interpretation adopts what has become the greatest and most unfortunate shibboleth of Critical Race Theory in America… that in this country of ours there are only Oppressors and the Oppressed, and that anything the former does is evil, while everything the the latter does is noble and good. Further, that the only way to differentiate the latter from the former, is by skin color alone.
But that is not the full story of “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”
Yes, Bele’s people have all the power on the planet which both men are from. And yes, Bele’s people do indeed use that power to oppress Lokai and his people. But it is not Lokai’s intention simply to right these wrongs and to live in peace with Bele and his people, but rather to sieze power and flip the script… to become the Oppressor and visit the same horrors upon Bele that Lokai’s own people have suffered for generations. Lokai seeks vengeance, not justice. And why? because Lokai too, is a racist. He hates Bele as much as Bele hates him… simply because the wrong side of Bele’s face is white.
In the end, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” is not an argument for modern Progressive obsessions like CRT, Race-based preferences, Diversity and Equity programs, reparations or any other form of racial remuneration… the episode makes a much larger, and oppositional point. It makes the case that our obsession with race is unworthy of an intelligent advanced species, that it is terminally corrosive to any pluralist society and that, in the end, this unhealthy obsession will doom us all… just as, in the episode’s final twist, it dooms Bele and Lokai’s entire planet.
“Listen to me… you both must end up dead… if you don’t stop hating…” Kirk implores them both as the two men careen towards an entirely avoidable tragedy…
I do not know a single American Conservative, white black or other, who would object to that message.
And while “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” dealt specifically with the issue of race, the original Star Trek series tackled a broad range of political hot button issues week-in-and-week-out, beyond just race, over the course of its three seasons…
“A Private Little War” (S2; EP16): In the same way that the network series M*A*S*H (1972-1983) explored some of the political and social issues surrounding our misadventure in Vietnam via its characters and setting (doctors drafted into the Korean conflict against their will), the original Star Trek series dealt obliquely with the Cold War via the Federation’s interactions with the Klingons. Throughout the series, the United Federation of Planets acts as a stand-in for the Democratic West, while the Klingon Empire exists as a stand-in for the Communist East.
In “A Private Little War”, the USS Enterprise visits a primitive tribal planet where Captain Kirk spent time as a young officer thirteen years ago. There he discovers that one of the tribes has come under attack by a rival tribe bearing flintlock rifles. This is a mystery since flintlock technology is well beyond the capabilities of these primtive tribes. Kirk eventually discovers that the Klingons have been arming the other tribe in exchange for minerals rights should “their” tribe achieve control over the planet.
Kirk makes the difficult decision to break the Federation’s “Prime Directive” against interfering in the natural evolution of any developing world by providing the tribe friendly to the Federation with flintlock’s of their own in order to create a “balance of power” between the tribes. In this way, Kirk begins what is essentially a proxy war between the Federation and the Klingons… much like any number of proxy conflicts during our own Cold War period.
The genius of this episode, from a writing perspective, is that this is not some random tribe Kirk has decided to help… it is a tribe with whom he lived for a time as a young officer. The Chief of the tribe, Tyree, is his close friend. This complicates Kirk’s decision making and forces him to constantly reconsider whether what he’s doing is best for the evolution of the Planet, best for the Federation, or simply the best thing for himself and his friend.
Because politics and war are never simple. The arguments that Kirk and his close friend Doctor “Bones” McCoy have over the decision Kirk makes to arm Tyree’s tribe are some of the most intense, and overtly political of the series.
“Balance of power… the trickiest most difficult dirtiest game of them all… but the only one that preserves both sides…”, Kirk says, sounding more like W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Lindsey Graham or Dick Cheney than Barack Obama.
This was always the genius of the writing on Star Trek… the answers were never easy. And they always made you think.
But Progressive? Not in this life… “Classically Liberal” in the spirit of a JFK Democrat perhaps, but certainly not what we think of as a modern Progressive foreign policy.
As to the question at hand… how a modern Conservative might react to the political message of “A Private Little War”, well… here in 2024 we just happen to have a term for politicians who believe in a strong military, and in a national defense posture which includes generous financial and military aid to those countries who would fight proxy wars against our global adversaries on our behalf… and, spoiler alert, that term has the word “Conservative” in it.
“Patterns of Force” (S2; EP23): Sticking, for the moment, with the theme of TOS episodes that are evocative of modern American politics…
In this episode, while searching a distant planet for a missing historian who was one of Kirk’s favorite instructors at the Academy, Kirk and the Enterprise crew discover that this planet (much like the planet in “A Private Little War”) has advanced well beyond what should be possible… something that turns out to be a common theme in TOS.
Kirk and Spock beam down to discover that the inhabitants of the planet have adopted a society and government that mirrors the German Nazi Party of Earth’s 20th Century in every way, right down to the uniforms, and that they are ruled by a Fuhrer who happens to be the very same historian for whom they have been searching.
In the end, what they learn is that when Kirk’s old friend landed on this planet, he discovered a society that had been crippled by anarchy. In order to pull them back from the brink of destruction, he gave the inhabitants of the planet an example to organize around as an ideal… the Nazis… hoping that they could embrace Nazi efficiency and institutional effectiveness without indulging in the sadism and xenophobia that were the hallmarks of Earth’s own Nazi movement.
But this was not to be, as ambitious men within this alien society instead went full Nazi. They arrested the historian and turned him into a figurehead, heavily drugging him and forcing him to read prepared speeches, while they ran the planet from the shadows and committed many of the same attrocities committed by our own Earthly Nazis.
Once you get past the obvious comparisons to Joe Biden and his bizarre personal appearances where he often seems confused and/or drugged, and speaks of people and places and things which never existed or never occured, while shadowy unelected Deep State figures actually run the country without our expressed consent… you can begin to see, once again, that the “patterns of force” on display in this episode have no real counterpart in modern Conservative politics.
We are constantly assured by the Progressive-controlled media that the spectre of totalitarianism is always descending on the Conservative Right while, in reality, it keeps landing squarely on the Progressive Left.
Certainly the Trumpist Right sometimes plays footsie with fringe elements of Totalitarianism in a way that feels like unfocused edglord trolling, but throughout my lifetime it has always been the Progressives who have openly admired oppressive collectivist regimes like the Soviet Union, while Conservatives have opposed them at every turn. And now, as then, it is primarily men and women of the Left like Justin Trudeau, Paul Krugman, The Democrat Party and most of the players, coaches and owners in the NBA, who continually express their admiration for the Chinese Communist Party and who fantasize about a day when western governments might achieve that same CCP-level of control over their people who, damn it all, simply won’t do as their told.
One of the most consistent themes in TOS is the idea that the human spirit cannot abide totalitarianism in any form… that it is anathema to a thriving human soul… that we will not be dictated to… that we will resist… violently if necessary… even when the form of the totalitarianism is a pleasant one.
After the crisis on Planet Nazi is resolved and the population is set back on the proper course of societal development, Kirk, Spock and McCoy summarize what they’ve learned…
Kirk: He drew the wrong conclusions from history. The problem with the Nazis wasn’t simply that their leaders were evil, psychotic men… they were… but the main problem, I think, was the leader principle…
McCoy: What he’s saying, Spock, is that a man holds that much power, even with the best intentions, he just can’t resist the urge to play God.
Spock: Thank you doctor, I was able to gather the meaning…
To return, once again, to the purpose of this essay… to glean whether or not there might be anything about the philosophy of Star Trek that would appeal to a modern Conservative, it’s fair to ask which side of the American political ailse worries about the increasing power of our Chief Executive and that of the unelected Deep State which he commands… and which side of the ailse seeks to expand the powers of that same Chief Executive, to weaken the federal judicary which acts as a check on Presidential authority, and to further empower the President’s Deep State minions who always seem to pursue Progressive policy goals even when Conservatives are nominally in charge of the government?
I will leave it to you, dear reader, to answer that question for yourself, but note that as I was writing this essay the Colorado Supreme Court removed Donald Trump from its Presidential ballot over a crime for which Trump has not been tried, much less convicted (a deranged Maine functionary would later follow suit in her own state). There are distressingly few honest brokers on the Left who are willing to admit that this is, at best, inconsistent with American Democracy. For the most part, the move was supported, and was cheered on by large majorities of Democrats, including party leaders in the White House, the Congress and the Senate.
“The Omega Glory” (S2; EP25): Just two weeks after “Patterns of Force” premeired, TOS did another “parallel evolution” episode. This time, Kirk discovers a planet where the human population very closely followed the same evolutionary path that our Earth did, including something very much like our own Cold War. Except that on this planet, the inhabitants actually fought the great extinction level hot war that we managed to avoid in the 20th Century here on Earth.
On this planet, the two opposing tribes of post-war primitives are the “Yangs” and the “Kohms”, which Kirk and Company will come to learn are bastardized versions of “Yankees” and “Communists.” (One can only assume that it is a combination of military decorum combined with a sense of self-preservation which prevents Spock from pointing out that only two weeks ago, as they gazed upon a perfect recreation of Nazi Germany, Kirk marveled that the chances of this kind of parallel evolution ever occuring were “fantastically small.”)
In any case, from here the parallels between our world and this alien one begin to pile up very quickly. During the climactic final scene, Kirk observes a sacred Yang ceremony in which the Yang Chief recites the “Greatest of Holies”… words only the Chief may utter… and finds that the words are familiar in a way he can’t quite put his finger on. Kirk finally puts it all together as Yang warriors enter the chamber carrying a tattered American flag and… well, let’s stop here and let Kirk tell the rest of the story…
“Wherever we have gone… no words have said this thing of importance, in quite this way.”
Well, I’m afraid I can’t add much to that…
However, putting aside that this is perhaps the greatest example of what came to be known as William Shatner’s tendency to dramatically overact his part, this is a scene that would bring any Conservative I’ve ever met to his or her feet. A few might even salute while they were at it.
On the other hand, I look around at our broadly Progressive media and culture, and I don’t see a lot of love for the country as founded. Rather, I see a lot of statues being torn down in fits of iconoclasm and plenty of arguments that the the Constitution was written by old white men and is, therefore, no longer applicable to this diverse, Progressive modern society we live in.
But sure, random 85-pound internet purple hair with your pronouns tattoooed on your forehead… there’s absolutely nothing at all in this TV show for those of us on the Right to enjoy…
Look, I could go on and on, citing episode after episode which mirror aspects of our current political moment and which advocate for a modern Conservative (or at the very least a classically Liberal) point of view, but in the end that’s not even really the point, because STAR TREK: TOS has the ultimate trump card hidden in its deck… one singular thing that stands as an unimpeachable argument against the idea that Star Trek represents a modern Progressive ideal that has no appeal whatsoever to the average American conservative.
And that thing is the show’s main character… the iconic and incomparable Captain James T. Kirk himself.
Captain Kirk is everything that the broader Progressive dominated culture has been teling us for years that we are supposed to hate. He is the very definition of what is now called “toxic masculinity” by our Progressive “betters.”
Kirk is a total stud… he’s handsome, he’s unabashedly heterosexual, he has absolutely no confusion about his gender identity and he doesn’t hesitate to take his shirt off.
In his career, as in his life, Kirk is an aggressive Alpha Male… and while he certainly has the guts and skill to fight his way out of just about any situation, he’s also smart, charismatic and clever enough to talk his way out of trouble whenever he recognizes that his is the weakest hand at the table.
Star Trek, and in particular its iconic lead character, celebrated those things about Human nature from which Progressives, and our participation trophy culture in general, tend to recoil like slugs from salt... courage, risk taking, steadfastness, self-sacrifice and confidence in one’s culture and principles. One need only to have survived the COVID pandemic and its concomitant lockdowns and mandates to understand that Progressives no longer admire these things, that indeed they often seek to use their political advantage to suppress or even eliminate them altogether.
The courage to face risk has become something of a lost art here in America of the early 2020’s, to our country’s great detriment. It is our culture’s multi-decade project to decouple risk from reward that has softened the population to the extent that the COVID lockdowns were greated, not the with rage, indignation and resistance they deserved, but with a quiet un-American acquiesence… almost as if large majorities of the population were eager for Government to remove risk from their lives, regardless of whatever rewards might be thrown overboard right along with it.
But once upon a time, Star Trek and Captain Kirk stood athwart this corrosive “safety first” instinct for risk aversion at all costs and tried to remind us of an America where risk was a necessary part of achieving the things we wanted most in our lives… love, adventure, career success, victory… all those things that make life worth living.
And that is a Conservative impulse to its core.
Try to imagine someone like the WaPo’s Taylor Lorenz, the Left’s chief COVID Karen, the Maestro of Masking, the Veep of Vaccinations, the Doyenne of Social Distancing, the Lord of the Lockdowns, the Boomer of Millenials… a woman who actually went to Twitter last month to announce she was skipping her fourth family Christmas in a row over fears of a new COVID variant… imagine Taylor Lorenz watching this classic scene and reacting with anything other than abject horror:
“Risk is our business”… absolutely goddamned right.
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