Star Trek

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Cogito, Ergo Suck

« October 2007 »

Memo to the National Review: I KNEW THERE WAS AT LEAST ONE.

Again, because everybody* loves a theme week, we're continuing our five-day mission to explore the depths of the National Review Online's "Star Trek Weekend", a veritable Khanucopia** of Trek-themed conservative writing.

With any project like this, you know there has to be at least one guy at the National Review who got the assignment over their series of tubes and said, "I have to write WHAT?". And unless I miss my guess, that man was Ilya Somin. Because he's the one that produced the column that smells most like a desperate fallback position - a semi-scholarly analysis of the Federation's economic and political structure.

As a National Review writer, of course, he measures those two things against his two golden idols, Pure Unmitigated Capitalism and Federalism, and finds the Trek universe woefully lacking. Shock and horror. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"On the one hand, the Federation seems to have a socialistic economy with a massive welfare state and no currency, which would require a high degree of centralization and planning incompatible with meaningful federalism. The Federation is not just 'socialist' in the sense that some conservatives denounce any big-government policy as 'socialistic.' It’s socialist in the classic sense of the word: government control of all or most major economic activity."

This is, of course, wrong on both the nerd and the wonk levels. On the nerd level, there's little to no evidence that the Federation controls all or most major economic activity. Yes, Roddenberry had the Utopian idea that human civilization had moved beyond it. And yes, the fact got mentioned from time to time through Deep Space Nine. But it's also clear (from looking at the extensive research of people with more time on my hands than me) that there are plenty of other instances where the writers forgot that, or didn't give a shit, and had people gambling and paying for shit.

And from a wonk standpoint, Somin's analysis falls woefully short because if there's one thing that's patently and utterly obvious throughout all of Trek, it's that Earth, and Starfleet, exist in a situation where technology has eliminated shortages. You can't have a "welfare state' where diamonds and caviar are as cheap as the energy it takes to make them, and there's no shortage whatsoever of energy.

Since Somin doesn't take abundance into account, his incredibly thick blinders force him to assume the "no money" thing is some kind of horrific, government-imposed mandate, which leads to a flight of fancy so wild it makes bombing Iran seem borderline practical:

"The human-dominated Star Fleet military is the only visible Federation military force, and is perhaps tasked with collecting tribute from the nonhuman planets for redistribution to Earth. But as long as they pay their taxes, which subsidize Earth’s welfare state and Star Fleet itself, they are largely left alone to govern their domestic affairs as they see fit. The Federation is essentially a big protection racket. Like the Mafia, it provides 'protection' in both senses of the word: external security, and also 'protection' against its own depredations.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like the THICK SKULL OF A GODLESS TOTALITARIAN COMMIE! Why am I not surprised that a National Review writer can't help but see things in terms of the imperialist exploitation of less economically viable peoples. Which is bad. At least when socialists do it.

Having already contorted himself for the majority of his article, Somin goes for his dismount. It's a tricky one, because it requires him, over the course of three paragraphs, to claim that:

  • It's just a TV show, and shouldn't be taken as an economic treatise,
  • That the writers should have used their incredible power and reach to promote something other than a socialist utopia, and
  • That you can still enjoy the show, and show it to your kids, even if it has overtones of the dreaded socialism in it.

Or, in shorter terms: "I don't mean it. Well, OK, I mean it. But that's OK, because I don't really mean it." It would have been better for everyone involved if Somin had skipped Star Trek Weekend altogether. But I suppose there's no other way he can pay for his diamonds and caviar in our superior capitalist society.

*Meaning me.

*Nerdier version of this joke: Dornucopia.

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