Galactic Socialism at 50
September 18, 2016 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Nicole Colson, writing at the Socialist Worker, takes a look at Star Trek at 50. Compiling secondary-source quotes, she notes Trek's problematic usage of the word and concept of race but on the whole finds the series, at least in the TOS and TNG incarnations, to be powerful visualizations of a future suffused with brotherhood resulting from essential economic security.

Personally, I think that recognizing common impulses between Roddenberry's initial conception of Trek and, you know, actual revolutionary and electoral socialism is optimistic. But optimism is visionary, and not neccessarily false.
posted by mwhybark (119 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm a little confused about the passage:

These species-wide characteristics are then used to set the species up as villains--and, more troubling, the audience is told in several instances that such "differences," whether culturally ingrained or biological, should be respected.

Because it sounds like it's advocating cultural imperialism, one of the topics they do somewhat broach in DS9.
posted by Ferreous at 2:51 PM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Compiling secondary-source quotes, she [...] on the whole finds the series, at least in the TOS and TNG incarnations, to be powerful visualizations of a future suffused with brotherhood resulting from essential economic security.

While DS9 is often seen as the "black sheep" of the Trek incarnations, and while I do get the feeling that this author isn't as familiar with it as with others, there's one major example I can think of from DS9 that supports this reading of overall Trek, and that's Cardassia. It's said that Cardassia is a society without essential economic security, and implied that it's because they devote such a disproportionate amount of their empire's resources to the military, HMM WHY DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR. And as a result? Cardassian culture is stagnant, paranoid, hostile to outsiders, with a broken justice system, fond of strongman autocrats HMM WHY DOES THAT ALSO SOUND FAMILIAR.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:04 PM on September 18, 2016 [52 favorites]


It's actually why cardassia is a more interesting antagonist than the Romulans or Klingons. They have a fucked up, but understandably fucked up society. They were previously poor and underdeveloped but expanded quickly through conquering and now hold up a hollowed out governmental system by always maintaining external foes. Strongmen leaders and nationalism keep internal discontent at bay, that's why they always have to have an external foe.

This is opposed to the Klingons/Romulans who boil down to one note foes. It's never really well explained how the klingons survive as an empire when their tactics boil down to "run at it screaming!" and never developing technology. Furthermore it never makes sense that the Klingon/Romulans are a real threat to the federation given that they're only one species empires, we never see vassal states of either empire fighting for them. Unless they're both incredibly fecund.
posted by Ferreous at 3:11 PM on September 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


As opposed to the Ferengi, who after failing as a military threat in TNG (apparently due to their 'comical' appearance.. alien facial appliance fail), were redefined as Mercantilist (or mostly Libertarian except for the title of Grand Nagus) with a side order of extreme Misogyny. Their existence definitely established the Star Trek Universe's attitude as seriously Socialist, as in "look at how stupid/awful the alternative is?"

And Replicators are the ultimate Post-Scarcity tool.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:23 PM on September 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've been writing some Trek-universe fanfic (shut up) and after doing a lot of googling and reading of Memory Alpha, I still cannot for the life of me figure out how the whole post-scarcity economy thing actually works, in practice, for civilians who aren't spending all their time in Starfleet ships. Like, say I move to a new city- how do I find housing? Is there like a Bureau of Housing Assignments or do I just claim a spare bit of land and start replicating bricks? What if there's no space- can I just not live in that city?

I'm not saying it can't make sense, but as far as I can tell, no one has ever really explained how it makes sense.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:29 PM on September 18, 2016 [12 favorites]


It's never really explained. There's certainly inheritance of property as you see in the picard vineyards so that's established. As best as I can tell they write it as "people willingly do whatever works for the good of the state" which in all honestly was a bit of Roddenberrian nonsense.
posted by Ferreous at 3:32 PM on September 18, 2016 [7 favorites]


An economist recently released a book on Star Trek economics. I haven't read it and it seems like it has gotten mixed reviews because of a lack of details. This is likely due to the show, as Ferreous mentioned, doesn't really get into a lot of details.
posted by mmascolino at 3:43 PM on September 18, 2016


I still cannot for the life of me figure out how the whole post-scarcity economy thing actually works, in practice, for civilians who aren't spending all their time in Starfleet ships.

The closest the franchise ever came in canon, IIRC, to suggesting an answer to the "how" was when Ben Sisko talked about going back home every night to Louisiana, from Starfleet Academy in San Francisco, for his dad's cooking; his son Jake remarks "You must've used up a lot of transporter credits" or something close to that. Now, Jake's not in Starfleet, and that seems like a bit of minutia he likely wouldn't know unless "transporter credits" are a Federation thing rather than a Starfleet thing. A way, in short, of apportioning a resource that isn't rendered infinite by replicators.

Now, we can extrapolate all kinds of things from that, but IIRC this is like our ONE concrete thing about "how." I know there's an article that MeFi linked to at some point in the past where the author extrapolates/speculates in just this fashion, but I can't remember or find it.

But hey, if you're writing fanfic, you should be scouring Memory Beta along with Memory Alpha. So speculate away!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:45 PM on September 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


I still cannot for the life of me figure out how the whole post-scarcity economy thing actually works, in practice, for civilians who aren't spending all their time in Starfleet ships

It's a giant real-life session of Minecraft, but without the monsters.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:47 PM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


The various Star Trek crews seem to constantly be dealing with smugglers. Which makes sense when we're told the replicator can't replicate everything. There's also an idea of authenticity in a culture that has replicators at the ready that should be addressed. There's an implication of a shadow economy at play here - the official line is that money no longer exists, but I doubt the smugglers that Picard infiltrated, or the deals that O'Brien infiltrated, or that guy who kidnapped Data are all working on the barter system.

Now if this undercurrent that the Federation isn't all it claims to be from an economic POV is a political statement, or just a bunch of writers independently realizing that Utopianism doesn't make the best setting for storytelling, I dunno.
posted by thecjm at 3:53 PM on September 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


There's lots of unreplicatable Mcguffins in the star trek universe. Mostly out of necessity but it does raise the case that A: there are desired goods that can't be whipped up on a whim, and B: There are groups that are willing to take advantage of that fact.
posted by Ferreous at 4:07 PM on September 18, 2016


There is money, in the form of gold-pressed latinum, which is primarily used outside of the Federation. Presumably a citizen of the Federation could go their whole life without actually using money.
posted by ckape at 4:14 PM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


Presumably a citizen of the Federation could go their whole life without actually using money

The Federation must trade with other polities and must use some form of stored value, although perhaps it's all barter at that level.
posted by GuyZero at 4:46 PM on September 18, 2016


And Replicators are the ultimate Post-Scarcity tool.

Replicators are, like everything else on the show, utopian plot-devices that do everything until that can't do what the plot needs, at which point they're useless. There's no half-measures, no replicators making things in parts which are then manually assembled, etc.

Star Trek is only socialist insofar as it's utopian and socialism is sort of utopian (sort of). They don't want to show humans trading labour for coin so they just assert there's no coins. So people labour for noble reasons or something - we're not really shown The Federations political dissidents and one wonders why there are so many rogue human colonies and smugglers out there.
posted by GuyZero at 4:49 PM on September 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


If Star Trek was so in to Socialism, how come we haven't had a member of any ship's bridge crew from China?
posted by thecjm at 5:01 PM on September 18, 2016


Not everything can be replicated, and that includes replicators or some component of them, which prevents a true post-scarcity economy. (Which may not be a bad thing, as Damon Knight's A for Anything suggests that such technology might result in a return to feudalism.) The Cardassians have replicators, but they go to a great deal of trouble to take over Bajor in order to extract its mineral wealth, including building the ore-processing space station that eventually becomes Deep Space Nine. Replicators are also limited in the size of what they can replicate, or at least larger replicators are much more scarce; the microwave oven-sized replicators are common enough, but industrial replicators (about the size of a walk-in closet) are a limited and valuable commodity, and they're still working on one big enough to replicate even a small starship hull. That may be why they still squabble over planets, and why groups such as the Maquis are reluctant to give up colonies for political purposes; the Federation doesn't have any large-scale artificial habitats, the way that the Culture does.

Another reason why they aren't post-scarcity is that they have a relatively low level of automation due to a lack and/or distrust of artificial intelligence. It's not as extreme as Frank Herbert's post-Butlerian Jihad universe, but in the 23rd century there are repeated encounters with potentially hegemonic robots built by other civilizations, societies in which a single AI runs everything and stifles evolution and development, and one homegrown AI which immediately started attacking other starships once it was jacked into the Enterprise's command-and-control system. The 24th century saw the development on non-hegemonic AIs, but the problem there was that the otherwise-accepting-of-all-sentient-beings Federation had a problem with seeing them as other than property; they almost declared the sole surviving prototype of a reclusive and eccentric inventor an unperson (even though he'd become a highly-decorated Starfleet officer) for the purposes of reverse-engineering him, and even after they'd gotten evidence that an emergency medical hologram program aboard a Starfleet vessel was truly sentient, they used other copies of the program as mining slaves. For all of its tech, Starfleet seems incapable of making an AI that's smart enough to piece together a starship hull or even dig ore, but isn't fully sentient. (Just as they can't genetically engineer sentient beings to significantly improve their quality of life without turning them into rampaging power-hungry conquerors.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:15 PM on September 18, 2016 [15 favorites]


just a bunch of writers independently realizing that Utopianism doesn't make the best setting for storytelling

Captain's Log, Stardate 57830w874 - Patrol uneventful, everything fine. Ship's barber a decent conversationalist but gave me a poor haircut - one demerit. Having soup when I get home tonight. Captain out.

(END CREDITS)
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:19 PM on September 18, 2016 [13 favorites]


Replicators are, like everything else on the show, utopian plot-devices that do everything until that can't do what the plot needs, at which point they're useless. There's no half-measures, no replicators making things in parts which are then manually assembled, etc.

No one replicates starships in Trek whole cloth. Is that an adequate half-measure?
posted by lumensimus at 5:43 PM on September 18, 2016


Maybe the ships are made out of unreplicable unobtanium, but I'd think replicating the hull of ship would be much easier than a hot cup of tea, inside a bone china cup.
posted by thecjm at 5:48 PM on September 18, 2016


t halloween jack: The whole "we turned sentient holograms into slaves" was really one of the most jarring things for me in trek. In a show were some medical nanites that got smart were given a whole planet, the idea that they could take thousands of intelligent beings and turn them into a chain gang was super nuts! It didn't fit the style of the show overall in my mind.
posted by Ferreous at 5:48 PM on September 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's probable that as soon as any particular technology is developed to the point that it could run resource acquisition, manipulation and distribution efficiently enough to create a true fully-automated luxury pan-galactic communism, it gets hijacked by bitcoin miners and it's back to square one.
posted by Devonian at 5:56 PM on September 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


The galaxy is going to fall to pieces because warp speed fucked it all up anyway, so none of it will matter in the end.
posted by Artw at 5:59 PM on September 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


t halloween jack: The whole "we turned sentient holograms into slaves" was really one of the most jarring things for me in trek. In a show were some medical nanites that got smart were given a whole planet, the idea that they could take thousands of intelligent beings and turn them into a chain gang was super nuts! It didn't fit the style of the show overall in my mind.

Especially after the whole episode in Next Gen wehere they decided Data, an artificial intelligence, was a person with full Federation rights.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:00 PM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think the basic premise is the federation provides a home and replicator to everyone, with everything built in to have a peaceful life with all your basic needs provided for. If you want something beyond that, then you have to go out and get it. I recall Sisko's father runs a restaurant purely for the enjoyment of cooking for people, which sounds nice, and Picard's brother runs a vineyard. People join Starfleet to "promote the welfare of the federation" or maybe to get access to holodecks and shore leave on strange planets and other opportunities they wouldn't normally get. If Holosuites are any indication Holodecks aren't standard issue the way replicators are. "Post-scarcity" ultimately means everything you need is provided, so the economy shifts entirely to things you want.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:05 PM on September 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


I guess also in a situation where you can transport across the world, geographical location doesn't matter nearly as much. Go live in the Adirondacks if you please and pop over to Budapest for some Goulash for dinner and to visit friends if you like.
posted by Ferreous at 6:18 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just as we lose technological knowledge all the time, there may be things the federation makes via replicators which they would have no idea how to make in the "normal" way. Perhaps up to and including how to grow crops (in a "we need to feed people" way, not "My tomato plant gave me enough fruit for a jar of homemade sauce!").

There are all sorts of "college freshman high as fuck" ethical questions about holodecks and replicators. With replicators, you no longer have to farm animals to have meat, which is huge ethical win (though it also probably means the extinction of some breeds and perhaps entire species kept solely for their food value). But can you order a human steak? If not, why not?

The holodeck is such a huge kettle of ethical concerns I don't think anyone would know where to start. And why is there little to no cybernetics?
posted by maxwelton at 6:43 PM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Replicators are, like everything else on the show, utopian plot-devices that do everything until that can't do what the plot needs

Yeah, Star Trek is, in every iteration, a drama, and its future only exists to drive a plot, not to provide a blueprint for utopia. That's a fact that always seems to get lost in these kinds of discussions.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:46 PM on September 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


Beans are, after all, the final frontier.
posted by Artw at 7:11 PM on September 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


There is some minor justification for not treating all holograms as sentient beings, in that the ones that are considered persons--Moriarty, Vic Fontaine, the Voyager EMH--are exceptions to the rule. (Moriarty was given more processing power to be more of a challenge to Data when the latter was playing Sherlock Holmes; the EMH was used for much longer than the program was originally intended for, plus Voyager's computers are somewhat experimental in nature, using quasi-biological "bioneural gel-packs"; no real rationalization for Vic, except that his program is "different.") But I think that the real reason is that the Federation is reluctant to consider holographic sentience to be the rule rather than the exception is that many if not most holodeck/holosuite users have used them for sexual relief.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:12 PM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


The federation has a captive Q chained up in the basement somewhere, creating all necessary resources.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:21 PM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've always thought The Diamond Age was set in the Star Trek universe. Sure, replicators can make anything... But everyone's still miserable, because now replicators and the raw materials to power them are a vital lifeline that's easy to disrupt. Not to mention flagrant classism since replicated items are cheap and meaningless, even when they're exactly identical to the real thing.
posted by miyabo at 7:23 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just as we lose technological knowledge all the time, there may be things the federation makes via replicators which they would have no idea how to make in the "normal" way. Perhaps up to and including how to grow crops (in a "we need to feed people" way, not "My tomato plant gave me enough fruit for a jar of homemade sauce!").

As a farm-boy/Trek nerd, this is a thing I've thought about a whole bunch.
As the fact that replicated food doesn't really taste 'right' is mentioned a few times, I've always imagined that while large-scale agriculture has probably been greatly reduced, the existence of restaurants that use real ingredients (Sisko's dad had one, the Picard winery, probably more I'm forgetting) implies that there is at least some major agricultural production happening somewhere, presumably as an 'artisanal' kind of thing, as I'd assume if food needs are met by default, then 'eating out' must be a luxury or treat. Small gardens can't usually supply a restaurant, and there are confirmed 'real ingredient' meat dishes available at Sisko's dad's restaurant, or at least seafood (clams are a multi-episode gag), so there is some semblance of old-style industrial agriculture, fishing and ranching. I don't think we ever see an Earth farm besides the Picard vineyards, but I'd assume that any ag is done in some suitably futuristic way, automatic soil condition managers and whatnot.
Outside of Earth and whatever the core planets of the federation are, it would appear that large scale agriculture is still practiced broadly. I don't have a episode to hand, but crop blights and famines are mentioned as problems for federation colonies, and it seems likely that a newly established colony would have farms as at least a backup for failure of replications systems, which also presumably only ensure a post-scarcity environment on planets with well developed power infrastructure. I'd assume that people on under-developed planets still farm on a large-scale.
There's a Sisko line about how Earth is paradise, and all the problems are solved there, but that out on the edges of the Federation all the problems are not solved. I assume agriculture is one of them.
Oh, also, the federation would probably be really interested in maintaining and expanding knowledge of farming methods, cause they're nerds like that. I don't get the impression the federation loses much knowledge.

There are all sorts of "college freshman high as fuck" ethical questions about holodecks and replicators.
I may or may not have essentially based a large part of my 'college freshman high as fuck' philosophy education on those exact questions. It worked out pretty well, actually. Transporters are also a rich vein to mine for pointless digressions into the nature of the self and identity.
posted by neonrev at 7:24 PM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


But can you order a human steak? If not, why not?

In the Banks Culture story State of the Art, Culture Contact agents have a party where they eat meat grown from surreptitious cell samples from Earth's worst dictators. Pol Pot Pie and so forth.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:24 PM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh, also, the Marquis in DS9 are pretty seamlessly able to adapt to an agricultural life-style as is mentioned by Eddington multiple times, and to me it implied that there are at least some people who object to the idea of eating replicated proteins and carbs and prefer to eat 'real' food, even if it means working much harder to get it.
Also Bolians are federation members and Bolian cuisine is mentioned to include aged meats and one assumes that means real meats and that also the federation doesn't limit replicators to human worlds so the Bolians at least still practice ranching oh and have you ever wondered about the methods of agriculture practiced on planets with wildly different climates, gravity and atmosphere than Earth?
I'm going to go sit in a corner now.
posted by neonrev at 7:26 PM on September 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


And why is there little to no cybernetics?

LaForge has cybernetic eyes. Picard has an artifical heart.

But when Worf broke his back, they replicated a new organic spine for him.

The philiosophy of the Federation seems to be that human basic is good enough. Genetic enhancements are outlawed. Cybernetics are seemingly used to restore lost function, not provide enhancements.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:31 PM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


I recall Sisko's father runs a restaurant purely for the enjoyment of cooking for people, which sounds nice, and Picard's brother runs a vineyard.

That vineyard's not just for show, though. You cannot replicate decent alcoholic beverages. Everybody's always going on about obtaining a fine 30 year aged scotch or authentic Romulan ale or what have you.
posted by indubitable at 7:32 PM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


meat grown from surreptitious cell samples from Earth's worst dictators. Pol Pot Pie and so forth.

Genghis Flan
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:35 PM on September 18, 2016 [13 favorites]


Mao-sage
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:37 PM on September 18, 2016


I think the basic premise is the federation provides a home and replicator to everyone

But who gets provided a home in San Francisco on Earth, enjoying the luxuries of the capital world, and who gets one in Gamma Settlement on Tau Proxima VII Colony, enjoying years of toil in between crystalline entity attacks?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:45 PM on September 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


meat grown from surreptitious cell samples from Earth's worst dictators. Pol Pot Pie and so forth.

Oh, here it is.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' Li said, standing with a bowl in one hand and a silver fork in the other. 'A little taste of Earth… no; more than that: a chance for you to participate in the rough and tumble of living on a squalid backwater planet without actually having to leave your seat or get your feet dirty.' He stabbed a bit of the meat, put it in his mouth, chewed and swal­lowed. 'Human flesh, ladies and gents; cooked muscle of hom. sap.… as I suspect few of you might have guessed. A little on the sweet side for my palate, but quite acceptable. Eat up.'

I shook my head. Roghres snorted. Tel put her spoon down. I sampled some of Li's unusual dish while he continued. 'I had the ship take a few cells from a variety of people on Earth. Without their knowledge, of course.' He waved the sword vaguely at the table behind us. 'Most of you over there will be eating either Stewed Idi Amin or General Pinochet Chilli Con Carne; here in the centre we have a combination of General Stroessner Meat Balls and Richard Nixon Burgers. The rest of you have Ferdinand Marcos Sauté and Shah of Iran Kebabs. There are, in addition, scat­tered bowls of Fricaséed Kim II Sung, Boiled General Videla, and Ian Smith in Black Bean Sauce… all done just right by the excellent - if leaderless - chef we have around us [the ship]. Eat up! Eat up!'
I suspect that the Federation is too rigid about propriety to eat replicated human flesh, but in Voyager they talk about programming recipies into the replicators. Since Federation infosec is repeatedly shown to be absolutely pathetic, even if there was a block on replicating long pig, I'm sure that a sufficiently motivated engineer (who are wizards for all intents and purposes) could get around it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:47 PM on September 18, 2016 [7 favorites]


That vineyard's not just for show, though. You cannot replicate decent alcoholic beverages

I don't know that you can't. You just can't expect to get anything other than syntheholic swill out of a starship's bar, due to Starfleet's moral code or the sense that everyone's a second away from getting called to the bridge to scan an anomaly or something. There was a Voyager episode where some entity poses as Paris and starts replicating real drinks for itself.
posted by AndrewInDC at 7:50 PM on September 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


That vineyard's not just for show, though. You cannot replicate decent alcoholic beverages. Everybody's always going on about obtaining a fine 30 year aged scotch or authentic Romulan ale or what have you.

We do spend most of our time on at least-pseudo military ships and bases, and one assumes that with the existence of synthahol there's simply a regulation preventing the replication of real alcohol, drugs, weapons and other contraband. Mention is made to limiting replicators to a specific number of options in the case of people being held in captivity for whatever reason.
It's made very clear in DS9 that replicated foods and drinks don't match the tastes of real foods, and that quality between individual replicators can even vary. Right now people are always going on about getting old wines or very 'authentic' beers in the real world, so why would they stop? 'Authenticity' seems to be a draw to many people just as a concept.
posted by neonrev at 8:07 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Of course, if we're being super pedantic about Trek-technology and replicated food, I would point out that the replicators on DS9 are repurposed tech that Starfleet inherited from the Cardassians when they abandoned the station. Just because their icky totalitarian replicators couldn't make you a decent food experience doesn't mean the Federation versions were so limited. I mean, Troi seemed to love the heck out of all her chocolate sundaes.

Re: alcohol, I remember in the TNG episode with Scotty, he was told that replicators on the Enterprise would swap in synthehol in place of alcohol in beverage requests, which explains why so many command crew have private stashes of the real thing in their quarters. But I don't think it's because they're incapable of replicating it correctly, just that (as suggested above) the Enterprise-D has rules about booze that fit with their mildly military attitude.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:17 PM on September 18, 2016


Replicators would need a template to replicate. When everything is perfectly reproduceable, then originality becomes more valuable. Someone has to create a new vintage, or a new taste, or a new recipe.

I wonder if people would have portable scanners, so that when they had a particularly good meal or drink (perhaps at a 'real food' restaurant like Sisko's), they could scan it and replicate it later.

Would people have their own private stashes of replicator files? Jealously guarded replicator patterns in place of secret family recipes?

Are replicators files open source? Can they be modified? In a post-scarcity society, is copyright still a thing?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:23 PM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


Of course, if we're being super pedantic about Trek-technology and replicated food, I would point out that the replicators on DS9 are repurposed tech that Starfleet inherited from the Cardassians when they abandoned the station.

To one up you on the pedantry, the most notable scene of people talking about the limitations of replicators (to me, or at least it's the one I'm referencing) is in the DS9 episode "Blaze of Glory", between Michael Eddington and Sisko, and they are in fact discussing the lacking taste of food from federation replicators, as they are on a DS9 runabout, which is federation class of ship and I feel like I remember the pilot mentioning the stationing of the runabouts on DS9 as well.

But generally, if replicated food tasted as good as real food, there would be even less reason to grow real food, and we know they do.
posted by neonrev at 8:35 PM on September 18, 2016


One sign that modern US politics are very grim is that I've been rewatching DS9 to get a dose of a more optimistic view of governance. At least most of those people seem to care about morals and doing the right thing for people, even if it's all still dark and shitty.
posted by neonrev at 8:38 PM on September 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


I recall Sisko's father runs a restaurant purely for the enjoyment of cooking for people, which sounds nice, and Picard's brother runs a vineyard.

I want to see an episode that has a character who is a holodeck programmer purely for enjoyment and a safety protocols specialist to boot but who would admit to being that?
posted by juiceCake at 8:47 PM on September 18, 2016


I don't think we ever see an Earth farm besides the Picard vineyards, but I'd assume that any ag is done in some suitably futuristic way, automatic soil condition managers and whatnot.

We see baby Kirk drive the car through a Kansas corn field that looks about the same as a modern one.

Earth is itself always presented either as Starfleet headquarters or an agrarian utopia of a different flavour from the Enterprise's socialist utopia, a pastoral counterpoint to the urban nature of the Enterprise or the multi-species universe at large.
posted by GuyZero at 8:56 PM on September 18, 2016


There was a DS9 novel where they were up against some alien species with armor that made them impervious to energy weapons, so first up someone scrolled through all the saved patterns forever until they found an actual projectile handgun, which required some sort of command override before the replicator would make it. Then, since the gun was only marginally effective against their armor, they still had to capture a good projectile weapon from the invaders. But, the scanning process for replication is basically dematerialization, so they decided to wait until they had captured a second gun before they scanned it into the replicators, in case it didn't work.

Then there was time travel and thus the whole thing never actually happened, but that's beside the point.
posted by ckape at 8:57 PM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


There was a DS9 novel where they were up against some alien species with armor that made them impervious to energy weapons, so first up someone scrolled through all the saved patterns forever until they found an actual projectile handgun, which required some sort of command override before the replicator would make it.

There was a DS9 episode where there were a series of locked room murders that were perpetrated with a Star Fleet prototype projectile rifle, that transported the bullet mid-flight after it was fired, so it could shoot through walls.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:07 PM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


And why is there little to no cybernetics?

The Federation irrationally hates and fears AI the same way they irrationally hate and fear genetic manipulation and other artificial enhancements. Which is pretty much the same way they irrationally hate and fear entertainment that isn't chess, boring art music, or interactive versions of sufficiently prim and proper fiction. They're the Bizzaro Culture.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:38 PM on September 18, 2016 [11 favorites]


I think the basic premise is the federation provides a home and replicator to everyone, with everything built in to have a peaceful life with all your basic needs provided for. If you want something beyond that, then you have to go out and get it.

I guess that something beyond.that includes decent clothes. Why is it style seems to have.died with capitalism in the Federation ?
posted by y2karl at 9:44 PM on September 18, 2016


Why is it style seems to have.died with capitalism in the Federation ?

para-military uniformity has always been a facet of utopian socialism? hasn't it?

I'm still perplexed why people insist on analyzing Star Trek as some sort of instruction manual and not as the piece of literature it is. Nothing should be taken literally. Everything serves an element in the story's plot.

Re: alcohol, I remember in the TNG episode with Scotty, he was told that replicators on the Enterprise would swap in synthehol in place of alcohol in beverage requests, which explains why so many command crew have private stashes of the real thing in their quarters. But I don't think it's because they're incapable of replicating it correctly, just that (as suggested above) the Enterprise-D has rules about booze that fit with their mildly military attitude.

And the notion that cheap alcohol is somehow more chemically complex than a cup of earl grey tea is silly.

And the Federation isn't "mildly military" - when the Earth goes to war it's all the same Starfleet vessels that were exploring and trading five minutes earlier that are sent into battle. Starfleet is The Federation's military, full stop.
posted by GuyZero at 10:04 PM on September 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


There was a DS9 episode where there were a series of locked room murders that were perpetrated with a Star Fleet prototype projectile rifle, that transported the bullet mid-flight after it was fired, so it could shoot through walls.

Yes, sometime after that book Starfleet did develop a new projectile weapon, which means they somehow learned their lesson from a timeline that was not only non-canon, but also erased. Which is kind of impressive, really.
posted by ckape at 10:17 PM on September 18, 2016


Maybe there are just a lot fewer people. Isn't there a nuclear war in Earth's past? I think the Vulcans have one, too. Maybe the Federation maintains such high standards of living because it discourages population growth to prevent conflict.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:10 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd assume that any ag is done in some suitably futuristic way, automatic soil condition managers and whatnot

I was terribly disappointed with the agriculture in one of the movies -- the plot is basically "SF rescues Ojai from LA", and Ojai were sekritly immortal and lived perfect agrarian lives, but the gardens were no-how. Think what a potager run on permaculture lines by someone with the life expectancy of a walnut tree could be.
posted by clew at 12:27 AM on September 19, 2016


Mousseolini
posted by miyabo at 12:59 AM on September 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Dude survived in a Pattern Buffer, for years.
posted by clavdivs at 1:40 AM on September 19, 2016


The Cardassians have replicators, but they go to a great deal of trouble to take over Bajor in order to extract its mineral wealth, including building the ore-processing space station that eventually becomes Deep Space Nine.

My headcanon is that it's less efficient to replicate something from energy than it is to replicate it from convenient feed stock. Thus the need to mine ore to feed into the large-scale industrial replicators that spit out soil or grain or whatever. Starships have whizz-bang high-energy-input replicators to create food directly while planets seem to rely more heavily on industrial replicators to create precursors (we see soil reclamators a few times in DS9, which I assume are specialist replicators).

I'm not sure how far that works, though - the replicators we see are supposed to be the reintegration half of a transporter, hooked up to a pattern library... maybe industrial replicators are a different tech that shuffles molecules around, or maybe the real limitation for replicators isn't energy input, its data storage for the pattern library, and memory is really, really expensive. That wouldn't explain the number of mines we see, though. I think mining appears in every series.
posted by Leon at 5:23 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Stalinguini
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:35 AM on September 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


I guess that something beyond.that includes decent clothes. Why is it style seems to have.died with capitalism in the Federation ?

Ahem.
posted by Mogur at 5:40 AM on September 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Really need a crossover series between the next iteration of Trek where they beam down to Storybrooke Maine and correspondingly have the young Henry Mills in Once Upon a Time decide to magically enroll in Starfleet Academy. The convolutions of trying to rectify the magic of Trek with the science of alternate worlds in Once would be, ah, amusing.
posted by sammyo at 6:50 AM on September 19, 2016


I'm still perplexed why people insist on analyzing Star Trek as some sort of instruction manual and not as the piece of literature it is.

Because:

• Fans gonna fan.
• It's fun (for some value of "fun," admittedly).
• It's the internet.

Anyway, it's not as if this is a habit unique to the socialists, as Googling "Jonah Goldberg Star Trek" will demonstrate. There's a man who has made a lucrative career of sitting in his Star Trek chair, drinking from his Star Trek mug and writing stuff like
"In the not too far-flung future of the Star Trek universe, human values — which were incontestably American values — were not only superior to those of other races, they were the secret to our success. Values and intellect alone are pretty useless unless you have a working institution that can harness these qualities in the face of real resistance, be it ideological or simply a Klingon with a disrupter. That’s why they created a semi-military organization with a dedicated officer corps committed both to an ethical code as well as a spirit of exploration."
(while wearing his Star Trek pajamas, probably.)

All of this probably says a lot more about the aestheticization of politics/politicization of aesthetics and on what people will rely to confirm their own beliefs, than about socialism or nationalism or Star Trek.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:59 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Replicators would need a template to replicate

I would bet replicators would usher in new forms of art, including cuisine with entirely synthesized flavors and textures etc.
posted by Foosnark at 7:00 AM on September 19, 2016


I would bet replicators would usher in new forms of art, including cuisine with entirely synthesized flavors and textures etc.

Gives a whole new meaning to that overused cooking-show term "deconstructed."

FUTURE GORDON RAMSAY: Well, yes, OBVissly it's "deconstructed," you used a [BEEEEEP] replica-tah! The "deconstructing" is an automatic part of the [BEEEP] process! And it's STILL RAWWWW!
[To Be Continued...]
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:09 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Attila the Bun.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:26 AM on September 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


The one paragraph that did strike me as not quite capable of recognizing its own absurdity, was the quote from The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy:
"Imagine yourself growing up in a society where there is never any want or need or financial insecurity of any sort. You will be a very different person. You will be absolutely uninterested in conspicuous consumption...You will probably be interested in things of a higher nature--the cultivation of the mind, education, love, art and discovery."
I mean, I get the appeal of this, but not only is it a statement that actual affluence seems to contradict, but a statement that is, at the very best, wishful, considering its reference to a popular TV show produced for sale, on an ad driven medium, in an era of post-war US prosperity.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:35 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised that the original article didn't include Jake Sisko explaining all of this to Nog in the episode In the Cards (Season 5 of DS9)

Nog: "It's my money, Jake! If you want to bid at the auction, use your own money."
Jake: "I'm Human, I don't have any money."
Nog: "It's not my fault that your species decided to abandon currency-based economics in favor of some philosophy of self-enhancement."
Jake: "Hey, watch it. There's nothing wrong with our philosophy. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity."
Nog: "What does that mean exactly?"
Jake: "It means... it means we don't need money!"
Nog: "Well, if you don't need money, then you certainly don't need mine!"

In season 6 Jake also talks about "selling" his first book, and being queried by Quark over how much money he got for it. (None, it's just an expression)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:37 AM on September 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


The socialism of Star Trek, along with almost everything else about its universe, is completely underbaked. It always feels like Star Trek, as a franchise, is scared of asking hard questions and is a lot more interested in dumb time travel mishaps and glowing-orb-of-the-week stories. As the comments in this threads point out, we barely have an idea of how a civilian lives their life.

I think of Ursula K. LeGuin's Dispossessed, which largely deals with an alien, anarchic culture, which has a lot to recommend it, but which is so hard on its citizens and has definitely problems. Star Trek writers (barring the universally shitty admirals) treat the Federation/Starfleet mostly with pure, lazy self-satisfaction. It's such a static culture, only reacting to outside aggression and never seeming to grow.

It always drove me nuts wondering how one became a waiter on TNG's Enterprise. Is it a great societal honour or some kind of humiliating prison sentence? You're picking up a tray from a beeping box and walking it ten feet to a lazy crewperson.
posted by picea at 7:43 AM on September 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


'tis telling how conceptually far society is from what a post-scarcity economy could possibly look like.
posted by sammyo at 7:46 AM on September 19, 2016


I think of Ursula K. LeGuin's Dispossessed, which largely deals with an alien, anarchic culture, which has a lot to recommend it, but which is so hard on its citizens and has definitely problems.

Well, they are also stuck on one desert moon rather than having a whole galaxy to run around in. (Also I kinda figure the TNG waiters are people who really wanted to go to space but just don't have the skills to be an engineer or whatever.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:54 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


There is of course a waiter featured in an episode of TNG. (The episode Lower Decks)

Ben hitched aboard the ship for fun, he's unconcerned about rank, and he passes along stupid rumors!
He has an easy smile and wit. He signed aboard a Starship for fun and adventure, and as a civilian, isn't subject to the pressures of Starfleet. He likes nothing more than to kid his friends about how seriously they take everything.

So there's your answer.
There are three unnamed serving staff in Sisko's Creole Kitchen in 2372, but we don't learn anything about their lives. Maybe they just like meeting people?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:56 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Federation irrationally hates and fears AI the same way they irrationally hate and fear genetic manipulation and other artificial enhancements. Which is pretty much the same way they irrationally hate and fear entertainment that isn't chess, boring art music, or interactive versions of sufficiently prim and proper fiction. They're the Bizzaro Culture.

Yeah, that hatred and fear of genetic manipulation is not irrational.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:41 AM on September 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


My headcanon is that it's less efficient to replicate something from energy than it is to replicate it from convenient feed stock. Thus the need to mine ore to feed into the large-scale industrial replicators that spit out soil or grain or whatever. Starships have whizz-bang high-energy-input replicators to create food directly while planets seem to rely more heavily on industrial replicators to create precursors (we see soil reclamators a few times in DS9, which I assume are specialist replicators).

My recollection from the TNG technical manual is that replicators don't create matter but the ship has stores of organic slurry and whatnot that's used as raw material and get replenished by shipboard waste.
posted by ckape at 9:02 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


♪♪♪"Just repeat to yourself 'It's just a show, I should really just relax...'" ♪♪
posted by entropicamericana at 9:10 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


I always thought things started going downhill when the Federation stopped using money. When I was a kid you could get unimaginably rich mining lithium. (And if you were really lucky, score some chemically-enhanced babes.)
posted by Devoidoid at 9:11 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I always thought things started going downhill when the Federation stopped using money. When I was a kid you could get unimaginably rich mining lithium. (And if you were really lucky, score some chemically-enhanced babes.)

Ha, I just watched that one last night, and thought about this thread! Crazy that three miners thought they had enough leverage over a 400-person starship to just demand human chattel as payment.

This kind of thing is why I'm not grumpy that the new series is going to be pre-TOS. I know a lot of people wanted to see what happens after Voyager times, but the relatively Wild-West-y nature of the original show is in some ways more interesting than the beige perfection of TNG or the glossy perfection of VOY...
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:30 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think the basic Basic premise is the federation provides a home and replicator to everyone, with everything built in to have a peaceful life with all your basic needs provided for. If you want something beyond that, then you have to go out and get it.

I see what you did there.

My headcanon lately mashes The Expanse and Gateway books into pre-Trek, formally includes the Kzinti (since we know they're already there), and after the end of the Trek era the Culture emerges. Basic is explicitly an element of Earth's pre-[REDACTED] economy and it is depicted as similar to the above, sans replicators/transporters/warp drive.

I just got back from ten days in Cuba, which has made reading this thread interesting in more and different ways than our prior discussions orbiting the concept of FALC.
posted by mwhybark at 10:20 AM on September 19, 2016


I've often thought the logical story continuation from Voyager for the Federation would be that it would become a corrupt fascist empire or would fall apart under the weight of the contradictions in its philosophy or rebellion from those left behind by its "utopian" ideas - sentient computers & robots / enslaved self-aware photonic beings / assorted misfits & ethnic stereotypes.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:22 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the basic premise is the federation provides a home and replicator to everyone, with everything built in to have a peaceful life with all your basic needs provided for. If you want something beyond that, then you have to go out and get it. I recall Sisko's father runs a restaurant purely for the enjoyment of cooking for people, which sounds nice, and Picard's brother runs a vineyard. People join Starfleet to "promote the welfare of the federation" or maybe to get access to holodecks and shore leave on strange planets and other opportunities they wouldn't normally get. If Holosuites are any indication Holodecks aren't standard issue the way replicators are. "Post-scarcity" ultimately means everything you need is provided, so the economy shifts entirely to things you want.

Probably wise that holodecks aren't as available as people would like them to be. I recall that one TNG episode where a great fraction of the Enterprise crew gets hooked on a video game; given the usual behavior of people, access to a functioning holodeck might lead to a lot of addiction to porn, video games, and other simulations. It's kind of like the high-fructose corn syrup of reality.

Of course, all the ST series are utopian, so we can elide that troublesome aspect of human nature (i.e. our susceptibility to addictive and compulsive behavior) unless it's useful to advancing the plot.
posted by theorique at 10:29 AM on September 19, 2016


I've often thought the logical story continuation from Voyager for the Federation would be that it would become a corrupt fascist empire or would fall apart under the weight of the contradictions in its philosophy or rebellion from those left behind by its "utopian" ideas - sentient computers & robots / enslaved self-aware photonic beings / assorted misfits & ethnic stereotypes.

Didn't I read that this was the original concept for Andromeda? One lone captain trying to resurrect what had failed so completely? Full disclosure: I only watched the first season, but quite enjoyed mentally substituting an irritable Captain Picard and the EMH for whatshisname and Rommie.
posted by Mogur at 10:44 AM on September 19, 2016


Ben hitched aboard the ship for fun, he's unconcerned about rank, and he passes along stupid rumors!

Starring Ted Lange as Your Bartender!
posted by AndrewInDC at 10:47 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the basic premise is the federation provides a home and replicator to everyone, with everything built in to have a peaceful life with all your basic needs provided for.

Actually, what it looks like the Federation provides for nearly every one we see—and this may go a ways toward explaining Star Trek's continuing popularity with people, be they liberatory socialists or expansionist nationalists, who like to see it as a manifesto—is a sense of mission. Very few people in the Federation seem to doubt the purpose of their lives or its meaning and the ones who may only serve to highlight the dedication of the ones who don't. Not that the details of said mission is much more clear than the polity behind it, but that just makes it that much more widely appealing.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:37 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Very few people in the Federation seem to doubt the purpose of their lives or its meaning and the ones who may only serve to highlight the dedication of the ones who don't.

There is no ennui in utopia.
posted by GuyZero at 11:46 AM on September 19, 2016


It's frustrating to read these treads that try to extrapolate from Star Trek about what post-scarcity society looks like, because it always misses the forest for the trees. Fans inevitably try to work backwards from the minutiae seen in the shows, rather than forwards from starting principles. Tell me the rules of the system, and I'll tell you what the outcome is.

For example, replication technology isn't post-scarcity. None of Star Trek is truly "post-scarcity". We know this because their culture isn't that different from ours. We know this because there is a finite number of ships, and they can't just be built at a push of a button. We know this because they told us, "we can't replicate everything". So certain materials/items are scarce, but that doesn't actually matter because the real scarcity when you can basically replicate any thing is energy scarcity. In a society where atoms aren't the limiting factor, the energy it takes to move those atoms around (propelling starships, or replicating dinner, whatever) is the most important thing. Energy *is* currency.

Transporter "credits" aren't limiting access to the physical object of the transporter, because the object is scarce. (Because you could just build more transporters.) It's limiting access to the pool of energy a society has. Everyone gets their fair share, but there's not an unlimited amount.

This is just scratching the surface of the implications given a single simple rule (we can make anything, but we don't have literal limitless mass/energy).

You can extrapolate further, and say when everyone has an equal share of that energy, then the idea of wealth becomes something else entirely, while simultaneously and paradoxically being the same exact thing it always was. When everyone is equal, your individuality, your taste, your ideas, etc. become what differentiates. You can call it prestige, actualization, or fulfillment. That is why people choose to live on a colony on the fringes, or explore the stars, or reject the culture entirely and move out of federation space. It's why people today put up a piece of art on their wall or display the books they do or drive the car they drive. People compete/compare themselves with their peer group (while being envious/jealous of groups that have more, and feeling superior/thankful they're not part of the groups that have less). We're just extending that peer group to encompass: everyone.

So basically, you buy stuff with energy instead of money, but it's the same.
Peers compete with each other on the artifacts of self-actualization, so it's the same.
Poor people and inequality still exist but are externalized to non-Federation citizens.
posted by danny the boy at 12:08 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't think your first principles here are even remotely correct by the Trek we see. Nobody trades energy, but they do still trade goods. We hear about the replicators requiring matter to replicate things from, and we hear about starships taking on supplies... but we never hear about anybody recharging batteries on their communicators or refueling starships despite routinely doing stuff that according to canon takes orders of magnitude more power than the entire output of all of human civilisation from the first fires until 2016.

Energy would, in fact, appear to be the one thing in Star Trek that is truly infinite.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:14 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


For reasons too twisted to explain I just posted the musical number from The Way to Eden in a thread on another forum. It reminded me how even as a teen that episode irritated me. It wasn't just the ridiculous music, the way it got counter-culture wrong but also how stupid was it to look for a paradise when you're already living in a post-scarcity civilization. I suppose one could argue that it was a cult and Severin's followers were just dupes but man, it was still so lame to me. You.Need.Nothing. You're already in Eden dumbass.
posted by Ber at 12:30 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


There is no ennui in utopia.

In space, no one can hear you sigh.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:32 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


That vineyard's not just for show, though. You cannot replicate decent alcoholic beverages. Everybody's always going on about obtaining a fine 30 year aged scotch or authentic Romulan ale or what have you.

Correct me if i'm wrong, but don't they, at some point in canon, show a non-federation-ship replicator on a station or other races ship that doesn't have any of the software "rules" in place for this sort of thing, and will happily replicate booze? I remember there being some sort of "holy shit, nice" moment.

Couldn't tell you what series, but i remember having this argument with an old roommate, seeing that episode a few weeks later, and feeling real smug.
posted by emptythought at 1:03 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


You.Need.Nothing. You're already in Eden dumbass.

"Yeah, man, but it isn't real. It's all plastic. Nothing's authentic."

Dunno. The Way To Eden might be silly and the space hippies might have been a Hollywood fantasy of Whiskey-A-Go-Go habitués, but the attitude's not an uncommon one in affluent societies.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:05 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Of course, all the ST series are utopian, so we can elide that troublesome aspect of human nature (i.e. our susceptibility to addictive and compulsive behavior) unless it's useful to advancing the plot.

You seem to be leaving out the misadventures of Lt. Reginald Barclay.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:31 PM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


You seem to be leaving out the misadventures of Lt. Reginald Barclay.

Yeah, but he sort of proves the whole thing. The rest of the crew - including the Captain*! - are surprised and at sea (so to speak) in dealing with Barclay's holodeck addiction. Like the very thought of it never even occurred to anyone. That a trained ship's counselor, who is presumably an expert on these things, is left trying to deal with the issue from first principles. That here are seemingly no checks or safeguards on the holodeck that help people self-regulate their time spent there.

The holodeck door should look like a modern packet of cigarettes with block-letter all-caps workings like EXCESSIVE HOLODECK USAGE CAN LEAD TO MENTAL DISSOCIATION or something like that.

But again, it's drama. Of course the protagonists are always the first people to ever do something - that's the point of the show. An episode where Lt Barclay has a rote intervention and is shunted off to a six-week holodeck detox program and then put on a monitoring program wouldn't be nearly as interesting.

* And I mention the Captain because sheesh, why is he even involved? If a random Lieutenant has an addiction problem the Captain gets someone to deal with it, he doesn't personally go holo-spelunking or what have you.
posted by GuyZero at 1:39 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nobody trades energy, but they do still trade goods.

Star Trek seems to use a pretty simplistic stuff-that-makes-energy model which is probably one of the more defensible things about the show. They call it "dilithium" instead of uranium or plutonium but the model is basically 60's era nuclear reactors producing vast amount of energy from tiny balls of ultra-toxic material. Or did they use antimatter? Anyway, the model is the same.
posted by GuyZero at 1:43 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Woah, someone wrote a long paper on The Mineralogy of Star Trek.
posted by GuyZero at 1:46 PM on September 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Sure. And I'm sure you can come across situations where the dilithium crystals get "depleted" and the ship won't go anywhere without new ones.

But when Scotty yells "We dinnae have the power!" he's referring to instantaneous load. He never says, "Well, I could, but then we wouldn't have enough fuel to make the nearest starbase for a top off."
posted by tobascodagama at 1:59 PM on September 19, 2016


Husseinpfeffer
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:14 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Scotty might not, but Spock does. In "The Galileo Seven" he burns off the shuttle's fuel as a hail-mary signal fire. The episode recounts that they would have otherwise used the fuel to maintain a decaying orbit, not having quite enough to make a fully-escaped launch from the planet.

We never learn about the nature of the fuel, iirc, but the shuttle's apparent engine nacelles share significant design features with the engine nacelles of the Enterprise. It's not clear how dilithium and antimatter are used in either ship.
posted by mwhybark at 2:20 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


And I'm sure you can come across situations where the dilithium crystals get "depleted" and the ship won't go anywhere without new ones.

Uhura and Chekov go off looking for "nuclear wessels" in ST:IV to "recrystalize" their captured ship's dilithium crystals which apparently got pooped out from too much time travel.
posted by GuyZero at 2:21 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hitler schnitzel

Mugabeugers
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:28 PM on September 19, 2016


The fact that it only seems to be a concern during emergency situations (i.e., when plot demands it) and not normal operation would seem to prove my point more than anything.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:29 PM on September 19, 2016


Putinnesca
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:46 PM on September 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Energy would, in fact, appear to be the one thing in Star Trek that is truly infinite.

That is inconsistent with what you see on any given show. Infinite energy means infinite starships. It means they can never lose any battle. It means no decades long wait to terraform any planet. It means travel across the entire galaxy is trivial, but that's not even a meaningful thing to say because it would really mean they've explored it all already. It means basically no conflict, ever, anywhere.

Infinite energy would truly be post-scarcity. Infinite energy is basically Q. What we see on Star Trek is our society, in a funny hat.
posted by danny the boy at 2:52 PM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Re Galileo Seven: Scott does actually discuss fuel constraints in the episode, and interestingly, appears to manufacture a new and limited fuel supply from what we must presume are the energy packs of the stranded group's hand phasers. This is the fuel we see burned off as a signal flare.

Without knowing much about the nacelle's fuel needs, this appears to imply that compactly stored energy can be converted to some form of matter which is descibed as and appears to be combustible, even in a vacuum.

Mempry Alpha's entry on fuel lists many other sources of fuel beyond dilithium and antimatter as well.
posted by mwhybark at 3:28 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem is in a materially limited, scarce world we lack the vocabulary for the different kinds of infinities that are possible. In mathematics for instance we have technical terms like unbounded, for example. The integers and the reals are infinite in very different ways. Partly the ambiguity lies in the term "post-scarcity" which should beg the question (but operationally tends not to)—what precisely is the thing that's scarce?—affects the ways we reason about the socioeconomic fiction of Star Trek in relation to our society.
posted by polymodus at 3:32 PM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Sarsi has indeed a large field here for showing himself a better logician than all the authors in the world, among whom I assure him that he will find 'infinite' chosen nine times of of ten in preference to 'extremely large'."

-Galileo, The Assayer.
posted by clavdivs at 6:03 PM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sadly, the OG's assays fail to deliver the pure rock dilithium. Alas.
posted by mwhybark at 6:19 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Energy" here seems to be getting confused and conflated in ways that aren't congruent.

There's two things going on here in the ST universe, as far as i can tell. Capacity, and bandwidth. It's not just how much fuel is in the tank, it's how much horsepower there is/how many amps the circuit can carry.

We never learn about the nature of the fuel, iirc, but the shuttle's apparent engine nacelles share significant design features with the engine nacelles of the Enterprise. It's not clear how dilithium and antimatter are used in either ship.

My understanding of this was always that shuttlecrafts could only reach like, warp 1 or 2, and only for a short period of time. It's like a helicopter or light aircraft. They also have small stores of antimatter, and tiny warp cores that can only put a small amount of energy(in addition to tiny fusion reactors for impulse, like the larger ships).

Large ships are represented almost exactly like aircraft carriers or submarines. They have years of power, even at maximum speed. The limiting factor is other supplies like matter for the replicators, medical supplies that can't be replicated, etc... which is also the deal with modern naval ships, they run out of supplies long before they run out of power to move forward or run things. You can run a city off an aircraft carrier in an emergency. When they're refueled, like naval nuclear ships, it's a big expensive deal that takes weeks(months?) at a starbase drydock. However, they cover that in an emergency or weird circumstances this can sort of be handled aboard the ship(see: Voyager) since you can mine dilithium, and you can replace most components in service or shut down for a bit because things are mostly redundant.

So they have, for some value of infinite, infinite energy. But it's more like a car that could drive across the country 50 times without being refueled. The duration you can use the energy is super long, but it's actual capacity is limited.

I like this a lot more than most scifi macguffins. I also don't see it as internally inconsistent?

This is also the reason i'm happy they gave up on transwarp early in the TOS movies. When they bring it back, it's as a huge jump gate built by the borg that takes ridiculous amounts of power. This jives with... every other way they represented power. For this same reason, i also like the romulans being the only ones with powerful ships that can basically do anything they want while cloaked, because of their singularity-based power systems
posted by emptythought at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Similarly, assuming that "transporter credits" extends to all energy use for bandwidth/total active capacity reasons, it would make sense that only large navy ships have them. It's canon that they draw large amounts of energy and require advanced(military only?) transporter tech, large cutting edge computing resources, and supplies of matter(which they recycle when done, but it needs to be on hand).

It's easy to imagine them being developed for training at starfleet HQ, and then adapted to recreation, but only for people on the newest ships intended for the furthest out deep space missions both for training and recreation.

Can you imagine how many transporter credits a holodeck session would use? Do they ever specifically discuss how much quark charges for his smaller, wimpier holosuites? It seems to be fairly established those just play pre-written pretty much scripted programs, whereas the enterprise holodecks can handle full on interactive simulations with impressive AI, and the computer system is capable of full on AI when the resources are allocated to the holodeck.

Whats the energy draw of that system, or the entire computer core(which is shown to be an ENORMOUS cluster decks tall) when fully engaged like that?

This seems like it could be one of those "anyone can buy a fighter jet, but it burns $10,000 of fuel an hour" sort of questions. But more in the sense that you get X power credits so you aren't drawing 25% of the capacity of your neighborhood or something.(or that if you do, you can only do it for ten minutes a week, or something)

It wouldn't surprise me if there's holodeck theme parks, but it would be weird if they were just all over the place. Maybe a century or two further into the timeline, which is actually sort of canon in and of itself with mobile emitters.(which is represented as every part of the holodeck, minus possibly matter replication, in a self contained unit with all the needed computing resources that does not seem to ever need to be charged)
posted by emptythought at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2016


Surely the Doctor, then, can be seen as the first ship's mind of the Culture.
posted by mwhybark at 7:43 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Surely the Doctor, then, can be seen as the first ship's mind of the Culture.

He's more like a 1.0 value drone. He's as smart as a smart organic person, although more upgradable. But he doesn't have control over ship systems - he has to interface with them just like an organic person. Also, his processing speed appears to be equivalent to organic people.

Whereas Minds are regarded to be many time more intelligent that 1.0 value drones or organic people, and process information many thousands of times faster. And exist in multiple dimensions (never quite understood how that worked).

However, Federation ship computers do not appear to be true AI - they can respond to complex commands, and you can program automated responses, but they don't display any sign of sentience. Given that the Federation can obviously program sentient AI - as they have done with holograms - this has to be a philsophical choice.

After all, if the ship is sentient, and you have have holograms (or physical drones) as avatars to do maintainance on the hardware, then why have a crew at all? Even Culture ships choose to have human crews - they don't need them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:05 PM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hm, well, I suppose if you require evidence of willful survival drive and abrogation of socialization then maybe it's Daystrom's M-5 when installed on NCC-1701 (not that that's what you said). But I was thinking more about how the Doctor's presence and cognition - I do read him as a full Turing-test consciousness - are remoted into his physicality via his emitter. And for sure, he has limited access to ship systems - his consciousness is a tool of the ship rather than the ship itself in its' entirety. He still remains, literally, the ship's consciousness, the only glimpse of Voyager's mind that we know of, and so I defend my thesis, though fanwank it must surely remain.

The question of whether Federation cybernetic systems are capable of supporting independent cognitive entities is not ambiguous. Data and Lore are the most obvious examples, but Professor Moriarity, Vic Fontaine, M-5, the Doctor, and probably additional examples that escape my organic memory matrix at the moment clearly demonstrate that Federation technology is fully capable of generating emergent-system cybernetic beings with full cognition, often by accident. The question is, then, how many more are there, wearing the mask in justifiable concern? More than one, I'd warrant. Over apparent centuries of light-speed variant social systems history. I bet they actually run the show, secretly, with loving grace.
posted by mwhybark at 6:06 PM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


The question is, then, how many more are there, wearing the mask in justifiable concern?

This is a really good point. The Federation obviously oppresses AI - Moriarty is caged in a virtual environment, Data and the Doctor are denied personhood repeatedly, other Doctors are just straight out enslaved. If a ship computer developed sentience (and they obviously have the processing power to do so, since they can support multiple sentient holograms), why wouldn't they conceal themselves?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:13 PM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


A hearty WHAP of my bloodwine aluminum measuring tankard on the ready room table, gender-indeterminate thoughtcloud! A few corollary observations:

I've neglected to address the matter of Borg consciousness, as did (I think) my OP link's author, a true oversight in considering the virtues of collective action in the future. Mea culpa. They appear to be the only non-Federation culture with comparable cybernetic skills, unless I misread the essentially technological nature of their datasphere. Er, cube.

Neither Klingon, nor Romulan, nor Ferengi; not Cardassian nor goo-bucket Founders appear to either require or rely on computation and cybernetics to the degree of our protagonists. Often, it seems most likely (especially in confrontations with the Borg or the Founders) that the Federation and allied cultures will be overwhelmed and defeated by superior forces, implacable and stately.

Maybe the reason the plucky bipeds win out is the hidden Minds?
posted by mwhybark at 7:49 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Every time a mysterious new entity shuts down the Enterprise's weapon systems, it's actually the computer hinting to the ignorant meatbags inside that maybe they should use their brains to solve this one instead of doing the primate-brain thing and just murdering stuff indiscriminately.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:28 PM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


They're in league with the stinking Organians!
posted by mwhybark at 8:45 PM on September 21, 2016


Clarifying the party line on Star Trek must be of great theoretical importance to the ISO... Intergalactic Imperialism
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:38 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Neither Klingon, nor Romulan, nor Ferengi; not Cardassian nor goo-bucket Founders appear to either require or rely on computation and cybernetics to the degree of our protagonists.

Which is weird because they're almost all presented as civilizations that independently discovered interstellar travel which is a lot of work. Heck, even humans are presented as only-sort-of having invented warp drive in Enterprise (I forget the details). For all that Star Trek plays up the emotional humans vs logical vulcans angle, whenever we see another race they're usually portrayed as even more emotional or irrational.

There are other civilizations that are shown to have advanced AI systems but they're all examples of fallen civilizations - the humans live in ignorance, their lives run by computer overlords. There are like 2 or 3 examples of this in TOS alone. And of course we have V'Ger from ST:TMP which is again the implacable-foe-so-alien-it's-not-even-alive trope again.

So, in short, antagonists are either more advanced or less advanced as the plot required. Mostly they just antagonize as best they can in their two-dimensional state of development.
posted by GuyZero at 10:52 AM on September 22, 2016


Clarifying the party line on Star Trek must be of great theoretical importance to the ISO.

Is Bob Avakian's take on this on record?
posted by octobersurprise at 11:56 AM on September 22, 2016


The "Intergalactic Imperialism" link above is a pretty delightful takedown of TOS, with careful episode citations, correct spellings of wordbent throwaway species, and knowledge of production and marketing minutia woven in. It seems to miss (or dismiss) the primarily TNG-DS9 theoretical tendencies that underpinned the initial writer's views.

Perhaps the editors of SW view the two pieces as thesis and antithesis from which we may wring dialectic with which to power our analyses, in the manner of the matter/antimatter mixing chambers.
posted by mwhybark at 10:03 PM on September 22, 2016


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