L. Neil Smith's
Number 300, December 12, 2004

Bill of Rights Day December 15

What Is a Syrannite?
by William Stone, III

Exclusive to TLE

I'm a lifelong Star Trek fan. It was much easier to be a Trekkie (a politically correct term when I became one—I'm barely First Fandom) when I was a communist actor.

Star Trek portrays a small-c communist utopia in which humans have evolved beyond the need for material wealth. A wise, omnipotent central government sees to the needs of every individual. We are led to infer that even in a galactic government, the activities of every individual are closely monitored. There is no Federation citizen about whom the various crews of the franchise cannot obtain instantaneous, detailed information. Firearm ownership is tightly controlled. In almost every instance, only government operatives are allowed the right of self-defense. In 24th-century-era Star Trek, individuals' weapons are removed automatically by transporter before they can even materialize. Capitalism is portrayed as either evil or ridiculous, particularly as embodied by the Ferengi.

It's easy to enjoy this when you're a communist actor. It became increasingly difficult to do so as I embraced the Zero Aggression Principle. So much so, in fact, that I ultimately found it impossible. A year or two ago, when the current series' Captain Archer actively participated in institutionalized slavery, I stopped watching the series altogether.

Well ... almost altogether. In fact, being the Trekkie that I am, I couldn't help but watch a handful of episodes. However, last year's Xindi story arc (which started as a parallel to 9/11 and quickly devolved to the usual hackneyed crap) left me so disinterested that I can count the episodes I watched on one hand.

I wasn't alone. Star Trek: Enterprise's ratings declined throughout the season as more longtime fans left the show; while simultaneously the catsuit and two-cupsize-padded-bra of the series "chick character" failed to capture the high-school/college males. It wasn't about philosophy for the majority of viewers: over the last ten years, the franchise has steadily devolved into formulaic A/B plots and last-minute technobabble rescues. This doesn't make for compelling drama.

As a lifelong fan, one of the bothersome things about Enterprise has been its portrayal of the Vulcans. Given the dignified, intelligent, and almost ruthlessly ethical character of Spock, the Enterprise versions were a shock. They are uniformly portrayed as deceitful, power-hungry, manipulative, prejudicial, intolerant, and outright racist.

This year, faced with plummeting ratings, Trek franchise owner Paramount Pictures hired writer/producer Mannie Cotto to undertake fixing Enterprise's little red wagon. One of his first chores was to clean up the Vulcans. For the last three weeks, a story arc aired that was intended to reconcile the Spock version (embodied in the story in the Syrannite group) with the deceitful, power-hungry, manipulative, prejudicial, intolerant, racist version (the non-Syrannites).

The following bit of Star Trek trivia may not be of interest to everyone. However, as a Zero Aggression Principle philosopher, I beg your indulgence, because there is a point that directly relates to the ZAP.

According to Star Trek lore, Vulcans weren't always logical, unemotional pascifists. In fact, they were more emotional than human beings, almost entirely ruled by their passions. As a consequence, about two thousand years in Star Trek's past, they nearly succeeded in destroying themselves via nuclear war.

Enter the Vulcan philosopher Surak, who advocated ... well, something. It's never stated precisely what. We're told he's the father of Vulcan civilization, which infers that he brought logic, reason, and emotional suppression to his people.

Yet, particularly as I embraced the ZAP, it seemeed to me that there would have to be something even more philosophically tangible to make it actually work. Logic is nice, but how would that actually reform a society? One can use forms of logic to justify almost any action: Hitler no doubt found extermination of the Jews entirely logical.

During the last three weeks, in the course of attempting to reconcile the Enterprise Vulcans with those who come chronologically later in the franchise, viewers were introduced to the 1800-year-dead Surak.

Actually, they were introduced to Surak's Katra. Hang on tight, because this is where it gets a little wierd:

In an original series episode entitled "Return to Tomorrow," it was revelaed that Vulcans (who are exceptionally psychic) can literally remove an individual's consciousness from his or her body. In that episode, the minds of Kirk, Spock, and Dr. Anne Mulhall (Diana Muldaur) are swapped with those of three aliens. And that's not all: one alien later appear to have killed Spock. It was revealed that at the last minute, he transferred his consciousness to the body of semi-regular Nurse Chapel.

On the surface, this kind of plot device might appear to be nothing more than the usual alien mind control so common in low-grade "skiffy," but over the years, Star Trek used it to good advantage. In 1985's Star Trek III: The Search For Spock it was revealed that the Vulcan consciousness is called a Katra—and is nothing less than their immortal soul.

What Star Trek has studiously failed to address are the implications of this: if Vulcans have a Katra, and if we have seen human minds manipulated the same way as Vulcans, then humans have Katras as well.

In other words, in the Star Trek universe, Vulcan psychic abilities have scientifically proven the existence of the immortal human soul. By extension, this should apply to every other sapient race—and possibly even lower animals. There is, after all, no logical reason for Vulcans to be strict vegetarians unless they know that animals also have Katras.

This is a fairly Earth- (or Vulcan- ) shattering revelation. It should have been central to the story arc just completed on Enterprise, yet all three episodes managed to mention it only in passing.

What we learned in this cycle of episodes was that what differentiated Syrannites is that they embrace their psychic abilities and learn to control and master them. Non-Syrannites shun such abilities.

Without taking into account the spiritual aspect of these psychic abilities, this seems to be a fairly minor difference. It's even less important when one considers that the Syrannites are portrayed as no less decietful, manipulative, power-hungry, prejudicial, intolerant, and racist as their non-Syrannite counterparts.

In fact, given what we've seen of Vulcan psychic powers, the Syrannites are vastly more dangerous. They're decietful, manipulative, power-hungry, prejudicial, intolerant, and racist—and they lack any social injunction against the use of their psychic abilities to nefarious ends.

In one particular case, Sybok (the antagonist in the movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) is shown to be capable of using his psychic abilities to cultivate an army of fanatical followers ready to obey his every whim. This isn't portrayed as an unusual ability, but rather a misuse of the psychic powers common to all Vulcans.

Imagine what might happen should a group of Vulcans use their psychic abilities to bring Surak's teachings to the galaxy at large? They could create converts of world leaders between courses of a meal at a state dinner.

Unfortunately, Manny Cotto didn't succeed in providing the Vulcans with a workable ethical construct that would make them anything other than horrifically dangerous.

As a Zero Aggresion Principle philosopher, the answer seems obvious. I doubt Manny Cotto or any other Hollywood statist could possibly understand, but what the Vulcans need is really quite simple:

They need the Zero Aggression Principle, which states:

No human being has the right—under any circumstances—to initiate force against another human being, nor to threaten or delegate its initiation.

If, after almost forty years, it were to be revealed that in addition to preaching logic, Surak also taught non-aggression, Star Trek would become something that it has not been for at least ten years:

It would be exciting again.

Unfortunately, if past performance is any indication, Star Trek will not only fail to address this issue, it will also continue to side-step anything remotely resembling relevance. It was one thing in the late 1960s to raise such tantilizing issues on a TV series but never examine them. It's impossible to imagine a TV network in 1966 willing to suggest that initiation of force rather than force itself is immoral. Certainly the presentation of the immortal soul as independant of a Judeo-Christian God concept would have been potentially disasterous on 1960s television.

As bad as Star Trek has been over the last decade, it's almost painful to admit that yes, I'm still a Trekkie. I'd like to enjoy the show again. If Star Trek is to continue, these are exactly the kinds of issues it needs to address. If the franchise wishes to prosper beyond the end of the 2004/2005 TV season, it needs to boldly go where no TV show (with the possible exception of the not-quite-gone-but-sorely-missed Firefly) has gone before:

It needs to embrace the ZAP.

Unfortunately, post-Babylon 5, post-Firefly, post-Farscape, post-any modern TV SF, the failure of Star Trek to take innovative approaches to science fiction is precisely what defines the franchise a remnant of the past rather than a herald of the future.


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