Friday, December 15, 2017

ST:TNG - The Human Conviction

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.
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Seriesdate: 3.13
Deja Q

That episode where Q orders ten chocolate sundaes and Guinan stabs him with a fork.
As I've said, I've never much liked Q. If the holodeck was eventually integrated somewhat coherently into Star Trek's universe (or as coherent as anything's on Star Trek) I doubt Q ever was, even in the series after TNG. A science fiction story has little room for a Rumpelstiltskin monopolizing the action with non-sequitur nose-twitching and finger wiggling. Everything Q does stretches so far out of bounds as to make his antics utterly irrelevant. He's a walking deus ex machina, and sure enough everything he does is either superfluous or has to be put back exactly the way it was to end the story. Q strewed gaping black holes in TNG's already loose continuity, and even the episodes featuring him couldn't be reconciled.

Here, Q gets mortalized by the other Q as punishment for being an asshole to less advanced sentients. Except this was the same Q continuum which approved the deification of Riker for no apparent reason in the season 1 episode "Hide and Q" so there goes that hope for consistency. Of course nobody even mentions Riker's little flirtation with Q-dom for these entire 45 minutes. Nor does anyone think to take advantage of having Q as a prisoner to ask him to trade some Q-level information about the universe in exchange for sanctuary while he's vulnerable. Start with "hey, remember that all-devouring cyBorg swarm you fed us to and which you hinted is about to annihilate us? Please elaborate."

Strangely, while the overall plot is crap, the minute-by-minute interactions in Deja Q definitely entertain, thanks largely to some very tight, snappily penned one-liners, usually with Worf as straight man.
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Q: "What must I do to convince you people?" [of being mortal]
Worf: "Die."
Q: "Oh, very clever, Worf. Eat any good books lately?"
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Worf: "Be quiet! Or disappear back where you came from."
Q: "I can't disappear. Any more than you could win a beauty contest."
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Worf: "You have fooled us too often, Q."
Q: "Oh, perspicacity incarnate. Please, don't feel compelled now to tell me the story of the boy who cried 'Worf'."
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Q: "Jean-Luc, wait!" Tries to run after the captain only to be zapped back by his cell's force-field. "This is getting on my nerves - now that I have them."
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Crusher: "- he has classic back trauma. Muscle spasms."
Q: "I've been under a lot of pressure lately. Family problems."
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Q: "What're you looking at?"
Data: "I was considering the possibility that you are telling the truth. That you really are human."
Q: "It's the ghastly truth, Mr. Data. I can now stub my toe with the best of them."
Data: "An irony. It means that you have achieved in disgrace what I have always aspired to be."

That last one's crucial, addressing one of the core flaws not only of Star Trek but of SF as a genre: unduly flattering the audience via anthropocentrism. Humanity is a hive of mindless vermin. We know it. Look around you. The mere words "president Trump" should prove that most humans are incapable of handling any thought more advanced than pointed sticks and loincloths. In order to advance, humans must transcend humanity, must become inhuman. Such beings capable of functioning amidst a world of teleporters, matter replication and weapons which can kill without leaving a trace would necessarily seem as inhuman to us as we awkwardly tall, poetic, polite, flabby nebbish sitting in front of glowy buzzing square rocks all day would have seemed to our meter-tall nomadic mammoth-hunting ancestors.

Yet every SciFi hero's always an all-too-human plains-ape wanting nothing more than to enslave itself to its codependent reproductive and social instincts. Even among the great SF writers, few attempt to create posthuman heroes. Frank Herbert toyed with the idea in the form of Leto II, god-emperor-worm of the universe, but his mentality remains human overall. The Pandora novels edge a bit farther. Martin's Haviland Tuf drifts pleasantly farther from the human norm, as do many of Clarke's short stories like The Wire Continuum or A Meeting With Medusa.

Overall though, pulp SF reinforces the status quo, and here Star Trek's vaunted utopianism falls hopelessly into the mainstream. Even the godlike super-beings on Star Trek spend all their time masquerading as monkeys. Though this is largely explained by cheaply inserting actors where expensive special effects might be warranted (especially in eras when special effects meant cardboard and flashlights) it doesn't explain these superior beings' abysmally low aspirations, on par with a human wanting to live in an anthill.

Q should have broken out of that pattern with his misanthropic rhetoric, a superbeing cursed with filthy humanity as a cruel and unusual punishment. Instead the last third of Deja Q stumbles into a trite little snoozefest tale of redemption. The Enterprise resolves the B-plot about a planet about to get mooned to death by... getting nothing much done until Q nose-twitches everything right. With Zeus having descended, invalidated the entire preceding 45 minutes and departed, we return to business as usual.

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Seriesdate: 3.16
The Offspring

That episode where Data births a 1950s department store mannequin.
He kicks off its education by calling that lazy, uninspired abstraction on the wall "artistry" which should immediately disqualify him as a parent. Then again, his attempt to qualify as a parent and classify the new droid as a child is basically everything wrong with this episode.

Humans are vermin. We are at best a bridge and not an end, as Nietzsche put it, and to reiterate one of my past rants, our only value lies in creating some sort of intellect free of the slavery of biological imperatives, of limbic, endocrine and other such systems of oppression. Data is a superior being and his quest for humanity makes absolutely no sense, even less so for centering on attempting to inflict himself with the disgusting mammalian manipulative apparatus termed "emotion."

Worse yet that two superior beings should waste their time aping our inane congenital prison, the family unit. Again, on a line-by-line basis, the episode progresses quite well from intrigue through humor, conflict and finally tragedy. The common trope of an innocent unveiling the human condition serves Star Trek's writers almost as well as it did Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land (read it!) and I dare you not to chuckle at lines like "he is biting that female!" or:

Wesley: "Data, she can learn a lot by being with children her own age."
Data: "She is only two weeks old."

- or not to sigh a bit at the corny, overextended yet still touching scene of Lal's demise, successfully exploiting the audience's protective instincts:

"Thank you for my life. Flirting... laughter... painting... family... female... human..."

But there's that "female human" bullshit again, and I must now amusingly argue from the opposite political angle in which I found myself not even a month ago, railing against the self-aggrandizing snowflakes trying to impose personalized pronouns on the rest of the culture. The current political trend of solipsism has gravely damaged Western society, no less so when it comes in the form of denying biological reality by facetiously demanding that others address you as whatever sex you imagine yourself. Most of the moronic, whiny scum setting themselves up as moral guardians are either insane, or more likely just attention whores playing the martyr for fun and profit.

I said "most" because I cannot exclude the possibility of cases in which the designation of male or female truly would not apply, so I can't help but condemn Lal's first task: gender assignment.

Lal: "And I am gender: neuter. Inadequate."
Data: "That is why you must choose a gender, Lal. To complete your appearance."

Yeeeesh. The snowflakes must be steaming over that line, and for once I agree. Unlike our contemporaries claiming to be precious, unique categories unto themselves just because they's feelin' it, Lal is objectively, verifiably non-binary. Well... ok, technically it's entirely binary, but you get my drift. Robots don't do Xes and Ys. Forcing a being which is above such things to choose an inferior biological designation is outright criminal. "Gender: neuter" is not inadequate. If would likely constitute a state superior to the pattern of enslavement and betrayal which defines gender relations for the human ape.

You just don't get to pretend you've reached nirvana simply because you say so when you're obviously still just rotting meat. When you get reincarnated as an immortal, unemotional, superintelligent mechanoid like Data, then we'll talk.

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Humans are vermin, and anti-intellectualism is their detritus.
When superior beings come up in science fiction, it should be as rightful successors, improvements on our bestial stupidity. Star Trek failed in this as almost all SF does by pandering to its audience's undeserved conceit, painting our simian status quo as a desirable state. For all the show's been held up as a main reference point of Utopianism, a truly advanced society would either be rid or be dedicated to ridding itself of its shameful plains-ape sequelae.

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