I love the way the writers used science fiction to address ethical and moral dilemmas. They can take a contemporary issue, dress it up and talk about it in a very open way. Such as Let That be your Last Battlefield where they explored the notion of racism and discrimation. In the storytelling it seemed absurd, but that absurdity was in fact from the racism and hatred that exists today.
Whilst TOS was about fighting for good over bad, right over wrong, the next generation challenges some of the apathetic liberalism and tolerance. In our desire to be good, well functioning people who help others, TNG reminds us to respect other beliefs and cultures.
Having Worf as a member of the crew helped tremendously. In the episode ‘Ethics’ all crew members have their tolerance tested when they have to respect Worfs wish to commit suicide. Picard explains it to Dr Crusher (always the voice of humanity)
“You want him to go from contemplating suicide to accepting his condition and living with the disability. But that’s too far… the road in between covers a lifetime of values and beliefs… he can’t do it.”
I’m very fond of the TNG episode Who Watches the Watchers. I like it from a personal standpoint as an atheist but also because it demonstrates that by treating others with respect and honesty through open dialogue, you have the best chance of success. The Enterprise could have swooped off and left those proto-vulcans scratching their heads. But the crew had an awareness of their impact on this culture and even though they weren’t long living out of caves, Picard held up his hands admitted the truth and trusted that they would do the same (and yes he got shot!)
DS9 and to an extent Voyager, shows the next stage in human development. How we behave when things go bad. And for this I need to sidetrack slightly.
I often hear others say that Star Trek is too Utopian, that it would be nice but it’s not realistic that Earth will never be that peaceful or humans will not be able to overcome their shortcomings. I believe that Roddenberry’s vision of the future is very achievable (not that it won’t be easy and I hope there won’t be a third world war costing billions of lives to get there). But like a lot of liberals, humanist and trek fans, I believe humans are inherently good and that a healthy functioning person is driven to be happy and fulfilled. This is possible only when certain needs are met (eg Maslow hierarchy of needs). In the 24th century, these needs have been met which is why Humans behave the way they do.
DS9 and to a lesser extent, Voyager, demonstrates how this can be undone when desperation kicks in. Quark once said
Let me tell you something about Hu-mons, Nog. They’re a wonderful, friendly people as long as their bellies are full and their Holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers. Put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people will become as nasty and violent as the most blood thirsty Klingon.”
Now, I like Enterprise but I struggle a bit to put it in this context of human development because it went back so far, we already knew the answer. So in every instance where they interfered with an alien culture, you could piece together the story line and direction in your head before it happened.
But in some ways it is closer to how we are today. The Xindi attack on Earth created a climate of fear. This fear was used by political powers to meet their own purposes (ENT: Terra Prime always sends shivers down my spine for it closely parallels some political ideologies that exist today).
That’s just one of the main reasons I love star trek. I also love that it is one great big universe, that characters are well developed and inspirational. I love the modern day culture that it has spawned and how it has inspired technology, science and social progression.