Star Trek, Syria, and Social Justice
By Mark Rodgers"Captain's log, stardate 5730.6. In a deliberate act of sabotage, Commissioner Bele has burned out our destruct mechanism and, through the power of his will, has again taken over directional control of the Enterprise."In Episode 15 from season three of the original Star Trek series, entitled “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” a senseless feud between two races is explored. Each half-black and half-white but reverse from the other, the races have fought to extinction through a cycle of violence and vengeance.This episode came to mind over the weekend as I left the newest Star Trek film, Into Darkness, and came home to read a Time Magazine article about the role that posted videos of atrocities committed by both sides in Syria have played in the conflict’s spiral into darkness.The penchant for violence is deep in the human psyche, and remakes itself in every society, subculture and century. Over the years, I have found Science Fiction a uniquely well-equipped genre to explore topics of meaning and social injustice, but especially where every man has gone before … the “bent” of the human condition. Star Trek series writer David Gerrold addressed this when he wrote, "[t]he stories are about twentieth century man's attitudes in a future universe. The stories are about us."Throughout its short-lived series, the original Star Trek did not shy away from the conversations of the culture, and considering the times it often explored militarism, war, conflict and peace. The premise behind the new film visits the same terrain, and in doing so, invited us again to look at our bent toward evil, particularly violence and vengeance.A key premise of the film is that a power constructed to ensure peace can be used to promote violence. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The theme comes closer to home, however, when it reveals that even the hearts of the most noble are “bent” toward vengeance. It is Mr. Spock who is Captain Kirk’s conscience and tells him it is “immoral” to use violence in an unjust way, but as the film comes to an end, Spock himself succumbs to the temptation.Importantly, even our heroes were unable to truly seek peace and justice while allowing their dark side to drive them. They needed to either confront, or be confronted by the truth to prevail.This is pure science fiction: removing a universal truth from its familiar context and in doing so, making it more relevant and immediate than headlines from half way across the globe can do. C. S. Lewis observed that “reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” How true.He goes further to say that "At all ages, if [fantasy and myth are] used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experience we have never had and thus, instead of 'commenting on life,' it can add to it."The film, as did the series at its best, invites us to hold the mirror up to our hearts, and explore the dark places where hatred and violence hide.Though the search for peace and justice is impossible without examining what horrific acts we are truly capable of, it is also impossible if we don't realize our capacity for love. Throughout the film, men and women are willing to literally lay down their lives for others, with Captain Kirk as the exemplar, and as we have been told there is no greater love than this. Everyone has the tools to create great works of lasting effect. Whether these works are productive or destructive relies on our willingness to face the best and worst parts of ourselves, and our ability to affirm the merciful angels of our nature.