In these posts, we discuss a non-“Free as in Freedom” popular culture franchise property, including occasional references to part of that franchise behind a paywall. My discussion and conclusions carry a Free Culture license, but nothing about the discussion or conclusions should imply any attack on the ownership of the properties. All the big names are trademarks of the owners, and so forth, and everything here relies on sitting squarely within the bounds of Fair Use, as criticism that uses tiny parts of each show to extrapolate the world that the characters live in.
I initially outlined the project in this post, for those falling into this from somewhere else. In short, we attempt to use the details presented in Star Trek to assemble a view of what life looks like in the Federation. This “phase” of the project changes from previous posts, however. The Next Generation takes place long after the original series, so we shouldn’t expect similar politics and socialization. Maybe more importantly, I enjoy the series less.
Put simply, you shouldn’t read this expecting a recap or review of an episode. Those have both been done to death over nearly sixty years. You will find a catalog of information that we learn from each episode, though, so expect everything to be a potential “spoiler,” if that’s an irrational fear that you might have.
Rather than list every post in the series here, you can easily find them all on the startrek tag page.
Next Generation Season 1 Summary
We settle into a new century with this show, one that wants to seem to look ahead, while also borrowing from the past, in that many characters and plots bear a clear resemblance to work done for Phase II and The Motion Picture. At the end of The Next Generation’s Season 2, I’ll return to this idea—assuming that I remember—and talk about what the films might indicate about what would have happened in Phase II; I’ll wait until then instead of writing it up now, for reasons that may become clear as we work through the second season.
As I did with the original cast seasons, unlike the discussions of individual episodes, I’ll skip the judgment calls and instead break everything down by field of practice.
Before we get moving, as usual, I feel it worth a reminder that Star Trek doesn’t show our future. We see deviations in the timeline, especially when the writers try to predict their futures. I won’t collect them—many people have picked apart the franchise timeline and decided how to resolve the contradictions, including the studio itself—but I wanted to make that point clear early.
Training and Professionalism
Discipline on the ship appears to only apply to women, non-humans, and non-white humans, who receive reprimands for failing to show the proper deference to their superior officers1 2 3 4 5. White, male officers, by contrast, seem to suffer no consequences for making racist, sexist, insubordinate, or otherwise obnoxious comments2 6 5, and believe that they can demand that Starfleet’s leaders respond to unfounded rumors7. Those white, male officers also seem to frequently ask their reports questions as a pretext to reprimand them for their factual answers4 8 6 9 5 10 11. In some cases, the higher-level officers admit that they don’t believe in accountability for people with power8 12, or work to protect such people from prosecution6 13, sometimes placing flunkies in positions to do so12. In some cases, lower-level officers appear to do this in order to curry favor on their upcoming assignments12, and Starfleet appears to have a formal process to cover up unofficial ship activities7. Other officers show signs of rejecting this, however10.
Officers also argue with each other over the details of minor criticisms14 or really any other topic10 15 11. And in some cases, you don’t see much discipline at all, even putting effort into protecting colleagues16 or civilians12 17, even suggesting that saving lives should wait for a few days or weeks18. Nobody seems to object to telling dirty jokes on the bridge, either7.
Some officers also appear to have some exemption from wearing a uniform3.
We see a similar lack of interest in discipline from out teenage character, whose self-entitled attitude towards accessing secure parts of the ship, they treat as routine discourse3 or encourage him to push for more19 12.
Officers on the ship also don’t bother to learn anything about upcoming missions2 19 4 20 21, procrastinate when someone makes the study a central part of the mission5 10, or ignore information in front of them in order to speculate15 7. Likewise, at least one high-level member of the crew has no problem asking his colleagues to explain things that he could look up for himself, on his own time3 8, though he will study an entire series of novels for entertainment8.
Ship captains can blow off missions in favor of, in effect, social calls21.
Security seems lax, with children slipping into secure areas4.
A small minority in Starfleet see these issues on Enterprise as a potential problem12, possibly suggesting that what we see doesn’t represent the entire fleet.
Despite the lack of effectiveness, people obsess about the number of hours that they put into their work, actively avoiding facilities that others can use for recreation5. When managers take time off, they expect their subordinates to join them, and have no trouble interrupting important business to discuss their fun5 11.
Similarly, in the civilian world, workers on decades-long projects treat every minute as critical22.
We see a market economy1, possibly taking a step back from what we’ve seen, by buying closer to raw materials1, and some materials have an artificial scarcity imposed to preserve their high prices4. Many appear to prefer and advocate for unregulated capitalism4. Maybe unsurprisingly, this leads to a society with deep inequalities3 20 23.
In business, finalizing negotiations on price does not, apparently, imply acceptance of doing business at that price5.
Either Starfleet or the Federation in general routinely negotiates with Federation members for space to construct facilities1. Some planets go to the effort and expense of building full facilities to Starfleet specifications, in hopes of catching Starfleet’s interest in negotiating for it1.
The need for such facilities appears to override ethical concerns, awarding contracts to planets that enslave, torture, and lie to get that contract2.
The Federation still has fragile supply chains, which Starfleet shores up with deliveries19. They also carefully deprive poor worlds of critical technologies4. Scandals seem widespread, at least in terraforming organizations22.
People still have an interest in pre-1978 United States copyrights5.
They claim, however, that nobody has material needs or pursues power for its own sake18.
The Federation appears to expect a possible impending extinction event, and so expand their borders at least partly to preserve the various species14, though others (dishonestly) claim that they only care about the adventure of founding new societies14.
Colonies (still) often come to disastrous ends, leaving survivors to improvise for their needs until help arrives10.
Science and Technology
Doctors still learn from textbooks based on individual case studies3. By contrast, Starfleet doesn’t bother to review theoretical work before allowing scientists to experiments on Starfleet ships20. Society also doesn’t appear to have naming standards for astronomical bodies20.
We still have an anti-intellectual bend in society, laughing at the idea that Starfleet officers would voluntarily learn certain subjects3.
The Federation’s number system may see twenty-seven as a round number11.
As we’ve come to expect, Federation design makes no sense. Weapons tell the wielder whether they might kill, but suggest that the target will also know1. Encryption between systems doesn’t match1. Voice recognition requires stilted grammar despite implications of more sophisticated options1. They call process “manual,” when the automation might benefit from a person’s supervision, rather than having the person do anything1. Recreation facilities have ordinary settings that can kill people5. They can’t share a video without watching it13. The engine room has plenty of non-safety glass used for floors17.
Doctors still learn from textbooks based on individual case studies3. Those case studies include celebrations of what the writers consider perfection3. The medical system also encourages doctors to expect and accept painful, widespread death as routine19, and can drug patients without their consent6. And institutionally, they see no problem with conducting genocide to contain a disease, blaming the resulting death toll on the deceased23.
People treat those with disabilities like novelties or toys, having trite, pitying conversations with them and acting offended when they express fatigue from repeating the same conversation1 13. People also consider disability as grounds for dismissing what somebody has to say8 21 13 or identify the person as their disability17. We see hints that the Federation uses prosthetics only in cases where they can enhance a person beyond human limits and make use of them3 21 17, rather than providing devices that can simulate human limits, despite the stress that causes3. We also see some indication that they find it ridiculous for a person with a disability to know about something typically experienced in a way that their disability would impair24. People also don’t see a problem demeaning people with pejorative terms referencing disabilities13 15.
Science has greatly extended life expectancy, though they have little interest in the quality of life after retirement13, with an expectation of memory loss, rather than seeing it as a symptom of a problem13. They consider people “dead” long before they can revive them, though25 18.
People no longer take basic measures to protect themselves from possible infection or poisoning, putting a blind faith in decontamination processes3 14 15. They do, however, at least understand vaccines well enough to accept them16.
Psychiatric therapy exists2, though people—including its practitioners—don’t appear to take it seriously2 9 13 12, even comparing people to a therapist as an insult13. They also dismiss people who could benefit from such therapy as broken3 12 15, consider the secrets aired in therapy sessions as open to share with others3, or imagine psychological disorders to excuse lapses in judgment6 15. They do find psychology useful in manipulating or harming people13 10 7, however, and Starfleet does so in its recruitment process12. Otherwise, they expect people to identify and deal with their emotional problems on their own in a few hours11, or die trying12.
Few people seem to consider mass death to qualify as an emergency, at least in terms of motivating them to move faster or make minor sacrifices to accelerate processes19 8 9. Despite this and inevitable delays, Starfleet often serves as emergency first responders9.
We see some indications that people in the Federation object to spending a lifetime paying for medical treatment15.
Education in metaphysics exists, though people seem dismissive of it3. Other people learn the symbols and iconography of major nations in the galaxy4, and calculus has become an elementary school topic26. They have such little respect for non-technical subjects that young people feel comfortable cheating on those examinations12.
We see a deep anti-intellectual streak, where they dismiss critical information, because the presentation doesn’t excite them19. They also don’t believe that anybody should learn something that doesn’t already interest them8 26 or directly apply6, nor should children pursue skills that they can’t already perform well26. And they don’t analyze data for patterns unless they see an immediate need14, nor do they show any interest in preserving historical artifacts18. In many cases, people believe that future knowledge will come from simplifying what they already know, rather than discovering new things or performing more difficult analyses9, though they take legends at face value23, or that they retroactively come true26, rather than growing around a kernel of fact.
Meanwhile, Starfleet claims to prioritize knowledge acquisition ahead of everything else, without seeming to consider how that might lead to bad decisions8.
However, we also see the flip side of not wanting to learn, in how dismissive the feel about the value of recording information6, nor do they give any consideration as to how best to present information16 26. In some cases, this shifts to spending more time explaining why they don’t have time for an explanation than they would have by straightforwardly answering posed questions22.
People look at novel, “primitive” foods as disgusting7.
The Federation loathes drug use, with people viewing substance abuse as more troubling than violence1. Alcohol has joined the ranks of socially inappropriate drugs3, though people still drink champagne to celebrate milestones21.
Government, Law, and Corrections
Overall, the Federation appears to exist as a series of treaties that at least partly serve to outsource planetary defense to Starfleet23.
The Federation monitors young people, and subjects the suspicious to medical procedures that they believe remove the impulses leading to crime14. However, they also heavily police population centers, despite believing that they’ve solved crime14. However, they also show a hatred of strict laws, and believe that they should break those laws on principle14.
Starfleet doesn’t appear to have a duty to protect civilians, though they may do so in response to people criticizing their indifference2.
People in this century treat the Prime Directive as almost a religious mystery. At various times, they interpret it to mean various things.
- They may not rescue non-Federation lives, without a compelling political benefit2, though they may provide aid to victims after the attack ends2.
- However, they may abduct and interrogate a foreign head of state2.
- They can largely do as they please when interacting with a new culture, except for conquering them19.
- They can engage in casual sex with locals14.
- For the most part, they shouldn’t prevent local authorities from enforcing their laws14.
- However, they may upend local religions and can advocate for changing laws14.
- The law shouldn’t inconvenience anybody too much, but should still take it seriously14.
- Civilian groups may interfere with civilizations however they please16.
- Starfleet may offer to interfere with a civilization, provided that it doesn’t bring them into conflict with any civilian groups from the Federation16.
- Starfleet may, however, threaten a civilian for potentially endangering living creatures, though the penalty for that pales dramatically in comparison to that for a human murder22.
- They can arm a political faction of a planet, provided that they arm all political factions equally13.
- They may not interact with a culture, when that culture has formally asked for help13.
- They may attempt genocide against a civilization, in cases where they have kidnapped a population from that civilization, which then endangers Starfleet lives trying to escape22.
In some cases, they treat the Prime Directive as an unfair, bureaucratic obstacle to overcome19 14. Towards the end of the season, though, they finally seem to have a stronger grasp of it and why they should honor it15, indicating that humanity has botched many attempts to interact with less-developed cultures15.
The Federation at least claims to have no death penalty14, though the previous shows made a similar claim that they then undermined. They attempt to resolve major crimes with odd or novel motivations with legal hearings24.
As discussed in prior shows, people of the Federation seem to primarily speak English19. They seem to expect aliens to learn English to speak to them4, apparently twentieth-century English with identical spelling5, and also use obscure idioms and terms that non-human colleagues don’t know14 9 5. They find it shocking when a new culture demands that the Federation learn their language5, despite many planets in the Federation not using English5. The Federation also measures time based on Earth’s references13.
Human languages other than English, such as French, have vanished from public discourse, except among specialists and hobbyists19.
The crew seems highly dismissive of the idea of someone even learning about metaphysics3. They also laugh at believing in at least one religion where they have met, fought, and had a conversation with its god14.
Despite this, they teach that subjective experiences—sensations and emotions—have objective reality, and that blocking those experiences doesn’t really change the experience6. They also believe that legends become true, if you don’t look at them too skeptically23.
Forced marriages occur, and though humans think of it as a backward practice, they have no issues leaving the practice to other cultures23.
At least some people think of marriage and sex in terms of increasing the productivity of participants by producing future workers23, suggesting that men fall in love with fictionalized women before getting to know their actual partners24. They seem to consider children a liability, and exploit that liability to block women from doing their jobs21, though they claim that humans have an unusual attachment to children26.
Those children often feel so pressured to achieve that, if they fail to achieve career goals, their lives have no value12.
At least some people see families as groups with “similar talents and interests,” rather than biological or emotional bonds26.
Names generally follow ancestral lines, though they apparently make exceptions for naming their children for tyrants21.
People have an expectation of censorship on topics relating to impolite behavior1 and existential threats1. They also, in general, look at supporting the underdog in a fight as an intrinsically moral thing to do, regardless of what that underdog party stands for14.
At least in the abstract, and when they can lecture another culture, they support gender equality16.
A minority of people take opportunities to stand up against racism and to support people with non-binary genders24, trying to educate others.
At least once, they seem to imply that undocumented people only grudgingly receive rights, and that military officers can determine their long-term fates18.
People apply double-standards to women1, and obsess over how well women perform their friendliness1 or interest in sciences8, treating the latter as casual conversation. In some cases, this manifests as open sexual harassment2, even from children6. They also see no problem in using a woman as an instrument for political advantage19 or dismissing their concerns as irrational16 15. Of possible interest along these lines, they code the main computer as female, but the engineering computer as male24. People vent to the female-coded computers22.
Society sets women against each other as adversaries19 and largely expects them to act as homemakers16 11. It also expects them to perform emotional labor for people, without any concern for their own preferences or needs23 22 15.
By contrast, they’ll treat a man’s jealousy as at least as important as disrupting the political process, even when he has no interest in commitment23, or men can negotiate with each other over who has “possession” of a woman11. However, men also feel a strong need to prove their virility and strength23 25, and people believe that men should find it demeaning to wear dainty clothing for any reason16.
Maybe unsurprisingly, some women see sexism as pervasive4 18, identifying it as a symptom of obsessive machismo in the culture4. We sometimes see this sexism in men pursuing women regardless of age differences and power imbalances, and in talking to female colleagues about their beauty9. We also see it in people finding sexist comments by outsiders amusing18.
However, they love to boast about sex, including making lewd comments about colleagues19 14 6 5 16. They fear people actually wanting to have sex with them, however14 23. Moreover, respecting someone who engages in sex work carries a strong stigma5. However, they might use holographic characters for sex, without bothering to ensure privacy24.
Forced sex also doesn’t seem taboo, with sex-slavery3 and androids programmed for sex3 discussed. They don’t seem to have much interest in learning how people think of consent, seeming surprised when they volunteer that information14.
Race Relations and Nationalism
Federation citizens consider themselves perfectly evolved, with a moral superiority to other cultures1 8 14 9 13, and holding no biases8 14 16 18, and seem to believe that this entitles them to not treat others with respect14 18, insisting that societies that differ from theirs have an artificial or nonsensical quality to them16 18. Despite this, we also see a distinct fear and hatred of appearing weak or submissive to aliens1 19 6 26 22 17 25 18.
Additionally, the Federation appears to have serious internal problems with racial justice. We consistently see Klingons1, androids1 2 21 11, Vulcans1, and dark-skinned humans1 3 21 10 15 treated with double standards1 3 10, discussed/addressed with terms that bring racist tropes to mind1 24 10, treated as fancy tools3 21 22 11, reduced to stereotypes12, or otherwise treated as lesser21 24. Other aliens work to assure people of their “normality” and loyalty to the Federation2 12 15, sometimes bashing their non-human heritage2 23 7, training to suppress any non-human abilities to appease the humans23 7, dismissing the value of non-human cultures23 17, and thrilling over the possibility of acceptance1 21 7. Sometimes, they’ll associate perceived outsiders with disease21 or ignore clear signs that a non-human made a joke17. In many cases, they believe that non-human heritage should go into determining one’s job24. In Data’s case, they consistently ask him for information so that they can angrily demand that he stop19 4 8 6 9 5 21, deny that he should claim any ownership over his memories and personality21, and carefully redefine words like “emotion” to deny his pain21. They don’t set environmental controls to the comfort of non-humans, even important guests23. Some non-humans report people harassing them with ethnic slurs17.
We also consistently see humans demand that non-humans prove their loyalty, including Betazoids2 and androids2, Klingons17, and other non-humans20 24, and may dismiss learning non-human names24. People also broadly assume that everybody has an ill-defined duty to their species23. Various cultures fight over which of them should receive credit for originating popular legends26.
They “defend” Data’s rights by suggesting that he doesn’t have enough value for someone to buy him6. When they discover that the computer can create characters who seem to have rich internal lives who they identify as peers, they treat them like instruments, and show no hesitation in terminating the program and destroying those characters5 24.
Starfleet doesn’t seem to place any importance on diversity in the ranks, failing to publish statistics on the fleet’s demographics17, and many people seem to believe that new diversity in the Federation might damage it7.
At least some humans find it important to emphasize their heritage in countries that apparently no longer exist, defending it when someone treats it as obscure19 4, sometimes suggesting a superiority to even Federation culture4. However, cultures from the Global South serve as targets, associated with disease16.
At the other extreme, humans have a stereotype of alcoholism23.
Maybe unsurprisingly, people don’t find it notable when fictional characters make racist comments5.
From what we see of Klingon culture, they have a self-consciousness about a different form of toxic masculinity than we see in Vulcans, obsessing over violence and tallying up marks of personal honor1 17. They insist that they have such virility that human women wouldn’t survive sexual intercourse14.
Much as the original series hinted about Vulcans, we hear at least one hint that the Federation conquered the Klingons9. In another case, they imply that the Klingons haven’t joined the Federation, and in fact want to return to war17.
We see a belief that other cultures should serve the Federation and humanity2, though seeing them do so competently raises suspicions1 20 6. The Federation also considers territory unknown to them as places “where none have gone before,” failing to acknowledge natives20, show a complete disinterest in the loss of life among foreign groups6 22 17 7, entertaining letting murderers run free17, claiming in official logs that new creatures forced them to violence6 7, and treating non-human people as entirely interchangeable6.
Large starships include a full warship inside them, suggesting that Starfleet believes in a military stance, but wishes to conceal it from casual view1, and similarly use routine missions and contrived accidents to cover for secret missions16 17 10; they also romanticize vicious battles6. They often resort to force as their first option1 2 19 4 9 24 22 17 10 25 7 18, or taunting potential adversaries6 25, while assuring prospective victims that they come in peace1 4 22 25, and denying that they mean the threat of violence as a threat2 4 22 25. They have extreme difficulty following rules of interaction imposed by other cultures5 25 or tolerating perceived insults22. In some cases, they admit to each other that they don’t respect these cultures, and want these threats to push them into unfair negotiations19 4 22, obsessing over dominance in relationships6 22.
In cases where they narrowly avert a war and nearly commit genocide, they classify that (and one murder) as a “near-tragedy”22.
The Federation spreads ugly propaganda about designated enemy cultures, such as the Ferengi, often reflecting racist comments in our history2 4 20 8 17 18. In other cases, they’ll spread rumors about alien individuals, and shame people for associating with them20. Many also wish that the Prime Directive didn’t forbid them from invading alien cultures to take what they want19. In some cases, they appear to lure foreign powers into legally gray actions as a pretext for treating them as criminals4 6. They excuse poor treatment of cultures by dismissing their claims as irrational, a result of either insufficient development or excessive development14 6 9.
When respect for other cultures arises, it usually occurs after the opportunity to show it presents itself, mourning the lost opportunity to learn22.
This may stem from fears about humans losing status—or discovering that we never had much real status—among the assorted creatures of the galaxy20.
Unless Picard lied, Starfleet has a regulation that forbids the organization from accepting a surrender without a video of the surrendering party’s face4, suggesting that non-visual societies may not receive much consideration.
Beyond its borders, the Federation has a reputation for using telepathy in negotiations to squeeze their adversaries, something which the Starfleet officers avoid denying2. The Romulans consider the Federation expansionist and dishonest18. Starfleet does seem to have something to hide, though, as it treats a foreign power trying to read their library as a worse offense than a military attack4. Yet they don’t show much interest in diplomacy, preferring to play around on the holodeck, when they have important meetings to prepare for5. And when they engage in diplomacy, they present disorganized arguments with the crew chiming in whenever they feel like it22.
We see a vague hint that the days of live-action entertainment may have ended1. Some people place a high value on paper books6, while other watch interactive desktop holograms that may have a voyeuristic level to them23.
People don’t seem to understand participatory entertainment, even while participating, thinking it odd that the simulated characters see them as their characters or not understanding how the adaptation can follow the original plot5.
Limericks appear to exist, but not in a sensible form, retaining the structural constraints, but abandoning the humor and rude ideas in favor of merely making them an excuse to use slightly coarse language3.
Nostalgia for childhood affects many people6, though they also appear to have developed an obsession with the 1930s5 10, possibly leading to a belief that they feel more comfortable with twentieth-century concepts than those of their native twenty-fourth century16. Baseball5 and bingo16, however, have become obscure. Skiing does persist16, and new sports exist, such as parrises squares24.
The Federation appears to (still) have a status-obsessed culture1 3 19 4 20 9 13 26 22 12 10 15 25 11 7 18, with leaders openly demanding respect from their reports1, tasking subordinates with managing their images1, worrying about people dishonestly acting as if they have the same status3, selectively deciding who deserves a professional address on the job and who should accept their given names3, worrying about how aliens see their authority19 4, and demeaning people for agreeing with their mothers or changing their mind with new information9. They seem to consider not immediately answering an unexpected call highly insulting22. In some cases, this extends to worrying about the collective status of humans in the galaxy20.
People insult each other based on height4.
Despite the insistence that humans and the Federation have achieved perfection and their obsession with status, powerful people would gladly abandon their lives to live in a cloud8.
Arguments at social gatherings carry some sort of taboo, though they have no problem with someone provoking them as an experiment23.
We see at least parallels to toxic masculinity—though we don’t know how it correlates with gender—such as focusing attentions on attractive people, waiting to hear gratitude for minor tasks, denying gratitude for significant actions for non-attractive recipients, worrying about showing weakness, and praising violent threats made to colleagues12. They also believe that nobody should stop them from walking around Starfleet spaces armed7.
However, they believe that they don’t care about status and power18.
People also seem strangely unaffected by the deaths of friends and peers10 7, have little concern about the morality of murdering colleagues on suspicions of foreign influence7, and for the most part, they don’t seem to socialize, except with people who put in the effort to draw them out25.
People still celebrate Kirk’s missions in broad strokes, continuing to suggest that Starfleet has turned those missions into propaganda3.
Based on occasional cited cultures, people may learn a more inclusive history of Earth19. However, they also assume that other cultures have deep familiarity with Earth’s history19, yet don’t appear to do their research correctly19.
Humans, at least, have become accustomed to generational surveillance18, used in the twenty-fourth century for genealogy.
Come back in a week, when the “prominent women in the cast becomes mysteriously pregnant and then that threatens everyone” cliché comes to the franchise, in The Child. In all fairness, they did produce it without any professional writers…
Credits: The header image is Hubble Space Telescope by NASA Goddard, in the public domain by NASA policy.
Tags: scifi startrek closereading