Monday, August 27, 2007

The Interfering Organians

I always thought it was interesting that the Organians were presented as this very advanced race with the power to interfere in the conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire... but apparently they didn't have anything like Starfleet's Prime Directive to constrain the use of that power against less advanced beings.

This makes the Organians intriguing from a real-world historical perspective. TOS: "Errand of Mercy", which (according to Memory Alpha) introduced the Klingons to Star Trek, was written by Gene L. Coon. It's interesting to speculate on whether his US Marine Corps experience in Korea gave him a personal view of the Cold War that led him to conceive of the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire as stand-ins for the United States and the Soviet Union respectively.

If that was the case, then Coon's Organian "solution" is pretty fascinating. Rather than concluding that a sociopolitical system based on recognizing the dignity of the free individual was intrinsically better than one based on the power of the state to compel obedience, Coon treated both parties as morally equivalent and their real differences as little better than the petty squabbling of children. The Organians are basically the equivalent of a disapproving parent who says, "I don't care who started it, I'm sending you both to your rooms for a timeout."

If "Errand of Mercy" was wishful thinking on Gene Coon's part regarding the US and the USSR, it's a good thing he never got his wish or there'd still be a wall in Berlin; the Cold War would never have ended in the West's favor (at least for a few years); the major powers would still be trying to prop up and knock down smaller countries as proxies; and everybody who had 'em would still be trying to stockpile nukes for the day the bad guys came across the "neutral zone" in force.

I consider this an example of the impatience common to those of a particular political persuasion. "You're not doing what I think you should do fast enough, so I'm going to make you do it right now" seems to be the attitude... the only problem with which is that people don't learn when "solutions" are imposed on them. Children need direction, but functional adults learn from solving their own problems. That's one-half of the reason for something like a Prime Directive. The other half is that if history shows us anything, it is how easily we slide from using power to solve the problems of others "for their own good" to accumulating and using power for its own sake. Best not to get into the habit of interfering with the internal problems of others.

(For those determined to see inconsistency in that principle regarding recent actions undertaken in Afghanistan and Iraq, please note that there's a difference between "interference in someone else's purely internal disputes which they can solve themselves" and "intervention in our own self-defense when nothing else will work." Intervention is a rational middle ground between isolationism and interference, and can be justified by evidence that one's security is meaningfully at risk. Having said that, I agree that reasons for action should never be allowed to become mere rationalization. A culture of intervention can too easily transmute into a belief in the rightness of interference, into an unquestioning acceptance of "we should because we can" thinking. That is a real threat, and it is right to caution against it... but setting a blanket policy that all intervention is forbidden is as childish as a policy that interference in internal civil matters is justifiable merely because we have the power to do so.)

All in all, the actions written for the Organians in "Errand of Mercy" has always seemed to me like an aberration in the otherwise consistent message of "might for right" in Star Trek. I never liked the moral equivalence the writer seemed to be drawing between democratic-capitalism and communism. I never liked the way that civilizations of intelligent adults were treated like children. (Shades of how the Vulcans treated Earth for years after First Contact, no?) And I never liked the deus ex machina ending to "Errand of Mercy" just from a pure storytelling point of view.

There was a deeper, truer and more satisfying story to be told here. Perhaps someday there will be an episode of a new Star Trek series that tells it.

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