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 >Star Trek

2: STAR TREK RACES

Section Index


  1. Humans
  2. Vulcans
  3. Romulans
  4. Klingons
  5. Cardassians
  6. Ferengi
  1. Bajorans
  2. Borg
  3. Dominion
  4. The Trill
  5. The Q
  6. Organians


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2: Star Trek Races
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caveat: As can be inferred from the date of publication, this article may no longer represent my current views and style. It remains here for archival purposes to provide a sense of documentation and should be treated as such.

Introduction

Star Trek has always been a piece of philosophy, its mission being much more than just entertainment. There are obvious elements of Star Trek that are dealing with issues of society, with history or ethics. Episodes like CL 1.03 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' and 3.15 'Let That Be Your Last Battlefield', TNG 2.09 'The Measure of a Man' and 4.21 'The Drumhead', DS9 2.15 'Paradise' and 4.06 'Rejoined', VGR's 1.15 'Jetrel' and 2.14 'Death Wish' are shining examples.

But Star Trek also operates on a more subtle level, integrating certain elements of story, certain innate ethics which reveal its moral code. Something I've always considered a crucial element are the different species of intelligent beings portrayed in Star Trek, the major species which accompany the viewer and reader throughout the series, some originating from the early days, some being new additions. The races of Star Trek are an open system; in the following some will be explored which I consider central for the series; new ones may be added over time.

PJK
November 28th, 1999







1. Humans

There are a lot of different intelligent species in the Star Trek Universe; but they aren't called species but races - a difference that matters a lot: Intelligent life is (philosophically!) considered as a species itself; all intelligent life forms belong to one another. The introduction of the "race" term says that there are some minor biological differences, but they do not matter in terms of some ideological superiority.

This might be undermined by the fact that the Star Trek races are not really different species at all. They are meant for storytelling, but the major races seem to represent typical human properties - this may be attributed to the allegoric nature of Star Trek since the beginning. I just want to remind that, with so much new SF stuff around, one should never forget that Star Trek is in many ways much different from other concepts.

Star Trek's Humans are of a more emotional kind. Even Picard fits into this scheme after some time; he just can control his feelings better on the surface level, but deep down everything looks different.

There is no need to say that Star Trek always wanted to introduce various human races and genders, this is an obvious element which can guarantee that the Star Trek philosophy is preserved within each facet of the story.

PJK
May 1st, 1998







2. Vulcans

The importance of Vulcans seems to have faded away within TNG and DS9 a bit, but that might just account to the extraordinary position Spock has had within Star Trek since the beginning. With Tuvok the Vulcans are back again.

The Vulcans do not lack emotion, they just control it with logic. This might appear as if they really did not have emotions at all - but that's not true. However, their inability (resulting of the unwillingness) of showing emotions seems to betray them sometimes, they really think they wouldn't have an emotional life until they are confronted with it (CL's "The Naked Time" and "Amok Time", TNG's "Sarek", VGR's "The Meld").

Vulcans represent our yearning and need for logic, but they also show us how important it is to have emotions - and to learn using them. The Vulcans may be our next step in evolution - having survived the terror of war and cruelty, choosing a way of life that is determined by the search for answers, not money, and developing telepathy (although the Vulcans have been telepaths since perhaps the beginnings).

PJK
May 1st, 1998







3. Romulans

There is no need to ask why "Romulans" seems to sound like "Romans". In fact, they are Romans - even their Vulcan origin ("The Romulan Way" by Diane Duane, TNG's "Unification) seems to fit this.

The Roman philosophy was a pragmatic one. To rule and to conquer, to obey the orders of the father (paterfamilias) and (since Augustus) the Emperor. They ruled the Mediterranean world via an ancient kind of intelligence and diplomacy network, controlled the weaker states and fought the larger ones (Carthage, Parthia, Pontos).

The Romulans are in a way the stepchildren of the Romans, this might explain their uneasy relationship with the Federation. They aren't allies, they are rulers. They cannot really accept new ways - that's why Rome had to fall after more than thousand years of reign. That's why the Romulans first joined the Federation/Klingon fleet (DS9's "In Purgatory's Shadow" / "By Inferno's Light"), but then signed a non-aggression treaty with the Dominion ("A Call To Arms").

The Romulans can fight, but they prefer to use secret diplomacy instead. They in a way represent the older kind of Earth states.

PJK
May 1st, 1998







4. Klingons

In some respect, Terrans are Klingons. Just think of ancient wars, ancient leadership, past and present martial arts, some of today's wars that are not fought with high-tech arms. The Klingon way is not a way of bloodlust or terror, not of illogical choices and overcome philosophies. The Klingon way is in fact a most honest philosophy - honor and success are combined. There is no success without honor.

Even the seemingly chaotic character of the chain of command on a Klingon vessel is governed by strict rules - it may be bloody, but this would be determined by the requirements of war itself. The human system of a court-martial could be compared to this - court-martial decisions differ sometimes a lot from those of civil courts.

Klingons are in a way similar to Vulcans as they try to hide their emotions. The difference is that they would not be pacifists. But considering prominent Klingons like Worf, Martok, K'mpec and Gorkon, less so Gowron, there are always reason and logic behind their actions.

The Klingons represent the warrior within us, as well as they should remind us of what honesty and honor are. Of all Star Trek races they are the ones which are related to humans the most closely.

PJK
May 2nd, 1998







5. Cardassians

The Cardassians are in some respect similar to the Romulans, that's why I at first chose not to include them. They are a very military race, also somehow specialized on secret service matters. But then they are a bit different concerning some other aspects.

It is not only by chance that they were the ones who conquered Bajor, it is not only by chance that there were labor camps on Bajor, it is not by chance that Dukat's a leader whose leadership was based mainly upon national propaganda, upon a propaganda that wanted to rebuild a defeated empire, defeated by the Klingons, and with an uneasy peace treaty with the Federation.

There is some sort of national and fascist ideology within the Cardassian state. But then the similarities with Nazi Germany end with the Dominion alliance like all attempts to find comparison have to fail at one point.

Cardassian philosophy is a dark one, always expecting the worse, always having to think of caring for a seemingly poor homeworld. The Klingons would face the same problem, but they have their honor - which would not be the Cardassian way. Cardassian politics is like Romulan or Roman or fascist politics a way of silent killing and intrigues. It seems not to be necessary to care for motives or means, what counts are results. Cardassians are masters of logistics, the same kind of "logistics" that seems to enjoy the "efficiency" of a labor camp - which only interest seems to be to kill and exploit as "efficiently" as possible.

But as in every totalitarian state, there is also some kind of resistance within the Cardassian system, thinking of Dukat's daughter, Kira's "father" and even Garak, who might have changed a bit under Federation influence.

Is Dukat evil? Sure he is. But it's also sure that even evil has wife and children, that even evil has needs and dreams and some kind of humor, and that evil people can change for the better. Well, maybe. But that would be a topic of The X-Files or Millennium.

PJK
May 7th, 1998







6. Ferengi

We are definitely the Ferengi, at least us who live in the western world. The need for money, no, the addiction to it, and the need to make profit wherever and whenever possible seem to be symptomatic for societies based upon the European model. Of course, one could say, it is not the addiction to money itself but to all the things money can buy. But then: Is it not somehow dramatic how our society and the Star Trek Federation differ?

Federation economy is not based upon money but upon the urge to improve oneself. Does this make any sense? Of course: It is in a way some kind of communism, but without the elements of dictatorship, world revolution, discrimination, state-atheism and anti-intellectuality (I have lived in the GDR, so I definitely have an idea of what communism based on Marx, Lenin and Stalin would be like). Federation ideology is pure communism paired with individualism: "Logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." But also vice versa: The needs of one single individual are as important as the needs of the community, because a community consists of individuals. This would be a model of society that is much more complex and difficult than that of today, but it would be much more effective. In a way it parallels the foundations of Christianity.

We have not arrived at this point yet, today's economy is based on greed and it is not really trade but war, fought with other means, but business is war, nothing else. It is aggressive and does not care if there are losers in the society, and we pay a high price: Unemployment, poverty, destruction of the environment, discrimination against minorities, racism, sexism, a constant need for lawyers and therapists...

Star Trek Ferengi often seem to be a little bit silly (except for Rom and even Quark, who have been in contact with the Federation and Starfleet for much too long), but isn't that true for today's industrialized humans? We do not even care what wonders might wait for us, we do not even seek exploration and discovery all the time. We have potential, as shown in the ensuing Borg article, but we still have much more work to do to stay true to our own self.

PJK
May 3rd, 1998







7. Bajorans

The Bajorans are a very spiritual people, and the introduction of Bajor and the concept of the prophets within DS9 was a significant change of Star Trek policy regarding to religious topics. Roddenberry tried to avoid them and dealt with them in a scientific way, but DS9 as well as Babylon 5 and The X-Files draw a much more complex picture of human nature than other shows.

What is religion? Basically, it is about belief, strong belief, some sort of trust into someone or something. Even natural sciences can be a religion, as well as the belief in the continuing life of Elvis. Even philosophies can be a religion when there is a true believer.

Belief is not theology. It is not about doctrines, not about history, not about obeying orders from some highest instance. Those are secondary aspects which are in no way important for the personal question of belief. Belief is always some sort of search for the truth - a search which will always be futile. The belief in the absolute and undeniable and complete truth will ultimately lead to some kind of deity or world formula. So Stephen Hawking would be wrong when he states that there would be no need for God within the universe, concerning his calculations and theories. He just hasn't defined God (by the way, how can one de-fine someone who is in-finite?) - for him mathematics and a mysterious Theory of Everything would be the center of belief.

We have to face our personal truths and try to enlarge and un-define them. We have to grow in knowledge and conscience. It is not about mental powers or body strength, it is about some much more important truth - "To Thine Own Self Be True" (Hamlet Act One Scene III).

Bajorans are an old and proud people who had to endure Cardassian rule. In a way their history seems to contain certain elements of American Indian and Jewish history. Their belief is the only thing that's keeping them and their society and culture together. It is belief and calmness of mind and soul that would fit us well sometimes.

PJK
May 3rd, 1998







8. The Borg

We are the Borg. We may not look like them, we may not yet have these cyborgian body implants, but science is developing very fast. Just recently there was some report on future medicine, which would grant the opportunity to implant electronic sensors to monitor body functions. And with genetic engineering also developing, there might be some chance that the appearance of humans could change a lot within the next century.

Would we have a common mind? With futuristic computers operating with neural networks, computers integrated into small devices implanted into our bodies, instant access to some kind of internet, this might be the case. Future technology seems to have no limits.

We are even the Borg today: European colonization successfully destroyed or assimilated native cultures wherever it succeeded, with often very drastic consequences. Resistance is futile. Western economy. Resistance is futile. Popular culture. Resistance is futile. The only barrier that hindered us from destroying ourselves by a nuclear war has been the atom bomb itself.

The Borg are successful but unproductive. They learn by assimilation - at least this is something we have not in common with them. Our imagination, passion and our role as explorers as well as basic morality and ethics might be the only things that would save us from really becoming like the Borg. Well, perhaps at last resistance is not futile.

PJK
May 3rd, 1998







9. The Dominion

The darkest of all alternatives. A race of arrogant and stubborn shapeshifters who want to imply order just to make sure they themselves are not discriminated against as happened in the past. Their history has not made them wiser - their way is a bloody way, some kind of revenge against the Solids. While their only real motive seems to be personal pleasure in their Great Link they have created races through genetic engineering: the Vorta as custodians and administrators, the Jem'Hadar as slave soldiers. They have even solved the problem human regents had: slave armies used to state independence when they finally recognized that it was them who were in command of power - but the Jem'Hadar are dependent on the Vorta because of Ketracel'White.

The Dominion is as ruthless as the Borg, but much more dangerous as it is powered by emotions, mostly by fear and pure aggression. It is fear of the Alpha Quadrant which made them start the war - it is some enlarged variation of the pax Romana - peace through control, control through military victory. Victory is life. Strong nations have to be controlled as they could become a risk in the future. And destroying strong civilizations or armies does always mean a psychological victory - smaller nations will surrender to an enemy who can match states that aren't weak at all (That's the same strategy that Alexander used during his command - always attack the fortified areas. When you win, you have gained the greatest victory possible. For further reading: John Keagan, The Mask of Command).

The Dominion attacks because it wants to. Not because it lies within its nature (as within the Borg's: VGR's "Scorpion") or because it faces danger. This is the cold-blooded philosophy of ancient Rome and of imperialism, it doesn't give room for personal freedom or philosophy, it is state terrorism par excellence.

PJK
May 3rd, 1998







10. The Trill

It is only late that I include this race of the Star Trek universe into this essay; and it might seem a bit strange. The Trill seem to be more or less human-like in all aspects but one: Some of them carry a symbiont, an intelligent worm, who can outlive the humanoid host by quite some time. So you can have seemingly unexperienced girls with the experience and memories of nine life times.

The symbiont is the long-lasting part of a joint trill, it is a part of eternity, of immortality even. It is the immortal aspect within us, our link to eternity. You might even go as far as to link this with reincarnation issues; and it is quite a nice illustration not of the Hinduist but of the Buddhist way: The new incarnation, the new joint trill, is neither the same person as the respective predecessor, nor a different one.

PJK
November 28th, 1999







11. The Q

What the heck has Q to do with humans? Nothing? Well, he's the arrogant SOB that wants to get everything he can, he's the brilliant thinker who understands everything in an instant, he's the yuppie who thinks of himself being some kind of god, he's the fool who tries to get to women with money and action and entertainment but doesn't have the heart. He's a child with toys that are weapons and could start wars, he's a rebel, rebelling against a boring and restrictive authority, he's the intellectual who rebels against himself because of boredom.

Q is an exaggerated picture of mankind, somehow even a distorted view of how mankind is seen in SF and Star Trek sometimes - the keeper of the universe (I very much recommend Peter David's "Q-Squared").

With TNG's "All Good Things..." he seems to have risen into a god-like sphere, but I think he can best be compared to species like B5's Vorlons or Shadows. Q is the kind of character that makes us laugh, but not always with him.

PJK
May 2nd, 1998







12. Organians

What will become of mankind in the future? The Q somehow seem to be something like Star Trek's answer to that question, and the Organians look quite similar in some aspects. However, there are differences. The Q represent an even higher detachment from the material universe - they are part of another dimension, they have no connection to matter anymore, they only assume material form when they need to get into contact with material life forms. Also, they seem to be much older, perhaps they have never really been material life forms.

The Organians are something like an earlier stage of entities, they have just completed the jump from material to spiritual life forms (cf. ST TNG ep. 3.25 'Transfigurations') - they also still have a much more humane moral agenda, unlike the Q with their superiority complex. Babylon 5 goes even further in exploring the futuristic development of humanoid species.

Like many aspects of the classic series, the Organians have been deliberated upon much more closely in the ensuing novels than in the series as such. The Pax Organia, for instance, is something originating from the cf. ST CL ep. 1.26 'Errand of Mercy', but having reached importance just in the novel series. However, they form an interesting contrast and anticlimax to the Federation-Klingon conflict.

PJK
November 28th, 1999







Conclusion

If there can be a conclusion it seems to be that to draw a conclusion is a difficult task as new species, new races, appear all the time. Also, my perception, my interpretation might be just that: a personal perception which doesn't need to be shared by everyone. Some might even think that elaborating on a TV show is a waste of time - I for myself would disagree strongly.

Star Trek has been and will be a phenomenon capturing an audience of millions; it will certainly change over time, just as it will stay the same. Throughout this essay I felt that continuity was the prevailing idea - that contrary to newer additions or refreshments, the philosophical tradition of the show itself, in all its incarnations, would prevail, and that it would develop over time into a grander institution. Star Trek has succeeded to deliver both entertainment and thought-provoking argument; in the way its races are being portrayed a part of that grander scheme can be sensed.

PJK
November 28th, 1999





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