Trekonomics – Work and what it means – by Amanda S. Green
Space. . . The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. . . .
Those words inspired a generation of TV viewers to a new love of science fiction. At the time, our country had a thriving space program. People could imagine NASA one day doing what we saw the Federation doing – sending out ships to explore those strange new worlds, to fight the good fight to protect those who needed it. To have adventure and Tribbles!
So what happened? Somewhere along the way, the adventure of Star Trek: TOS turned into The Love Boat in Space, er, Star Trek: The Next Generation. The opening lines changed slightly but that change turned into a good indication of changes we would see in the Trek Universe going forward.
Space… The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
It’s a subtle change but it signals a change in attitude, in philosophy in the franchise. That change in attitude is something we see come to full fruition in books like Trekonomics. In ST:TOS, we met characters like Harry Mudd. Mudd might not have been the most upstanding member of the Federation but he wasn’t “feared and loathed around the galaxy for [his] ruthless entrepreneurial drive and shady business practice.” That quote, from Trekonomics, is used to describe the Ferengi.
Think about it. Those little Ferengi with their bad teeth and follicle-challenged pates, were feared and loathed because they were good businessmen who wanted to make a profit. Instead of seeing those tendencies as a plus, the Federation valued “heroism, enlightened ethics and self-sacrifice.” Except heroism isn’t needed for the vast majority of members of the Federation. Only those joining Star Fleet might be required to possess that quality. After all, according to Trekonomics, there is no want and no need in the Federation. You have your handy-dandy replicators. Your sense of enlightened ethics means you will volunteer to work the mines if necessary to make sure there are enough dilithium crystals – or whatever else it might be. And self-sacrifice? Again, other than a very few in Star Fleet, where is the self-sacrifice in the Federation?
When Nog, a young Ferengi wants to join Star Fleet in ST: Deep Space Nine, Commander Sisko is more than a bit skeptical. In fact, he basically sets the kid up for failure. In doing so, however, he – and the show’s writers – prove the Federation isn’t as enlightened as it is supposed to be. First, Sisko fails to understand the cultural differences between humans in the Federation and the Ferengi. Now, a lot of folks will say this shouldn’t be held against Sisko. After all, we live in a day and age of cultural misunderstanding and cultural appropriation. Except DS9 doesn’t take place in today’s world. It takes place in a time and place where members of the Federation are supposed to be uplifted and enlightened. Sisko should know by the time Nog makes his request the process young Ferengis go through in becoming adults. He doesn’t and Nog proves his skepticism to be wrong.
More than that, Nog shows his work ethic is apparently better than that of Sisko’s own security forces. How? By finding contraband they failed to find. How did this kid, without the training and supposed knowledge of the security force, do this? By having the desire and determination to do his job well – something you would have thought the enlightened Federation personnel would have exhibited.
According to Saadia, author of Trekonomics, work in the Federation “offers the promise of finding one’s true calling, free of the shackles of tradition and economic necessity.” Why do I have visions of someone jumping from job to job, career to career as they try to find their “one true calling”. Screw those they are supposed to be doing the job for because that doesn’t matter. This is the Trekverse. You can do whatever you want because there is no scarcity of goods. You have your replicator to take care of your basic needs. Want to live in your parents’ basement all your life – you can do it. Want to make a lifetime career of studying the lint in your belly button, you can do it.
You are enlightened and uplifted.
So why work in the Federation? According to Saadia, it’s simple. “Because learning, making and sharing is what makes life in the Federation worth living.”
Life apparently isn’t worth living because you have a spouse you adore or children you love. It isn’t because you value yourself. Life is worth living because of the fact you can learn and then make and share the products of your labor. “Welcome, comrade, you need to produce for the good of the rest of us.”
According to Saadia, there is no money in the Federation, therefore, there is no salary work and no profit motive. The chips used in a poker game have no value. Guinan, the character played by Whoopie Goldberg, doesn’t “run” a bar on the Enterprise because she doesn’t charge for her wares. Royalties aren’t earned on inventions or other works of creation. You do all this because you want to give, to share.
Saadia goes on to say that someone could – and probably should – spend their lives walking around the beaches of Risa if that’s what they want to do. I guess bumming is okay because the state – sorry, the Federation – will take care of you. Does that mean the Federation is nothing more than an attractive-looking welfare state? It is certainly beginning to look that way, isn’t it? The only way to possibly escape is to join Star Fleet or to leave the Federation. But, as we have seen with the perpetuation of the welfare state in our own country, that might be a lot easier said than done.
“There is nothing particularly odd in choosing to work for free,” Saadia writes. To support this claim, he points out how we do so even today. Of course, his examples are where we volunteer on a part-time basis doing things like picking up litter on the beaches or volunteering at a hospital. He even points to Wikipedia as an example of our working and sharing our knowledge for free. All of that is his way of justifying working for free in the world of Trek. After all, in the Federation, work is essential but “for purposes of a higher order: increasing knowledge, perfecting technology, and promoting personal and collective self-improvement.”
Why don’t I buy it? Maybe because of the use of the phrases “higher order” and “collective self-improvement”.
Again, the lessening of personal valuation bothers me and it should you. The ideology in Trekonoics reminds me too much of what we’ve seen in the writings of Marx and Lenin, in the political speeches of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Collectivism. Socialism. “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, comrade.” Nope. Nope and oh, hell no.
In order to prove his point about work being something you do out of some “higher order” and because you want to promote “personal and collective self-improvement”, Saadia turns to Commander Sisko’s family’s restaurant back on Earth. Sisko’s Creole Kitchen doesn’t need to worry about keeping down overhead or paying wages because this is the new, improved Earth of the Federation. It doesn’t charge for its meals but puts out quality food because the only way to judge success is through its reputation and popularity. Hmm, I thought that was pretty much how success in the restaurant business was judged today. After all, if a restaurant doesn’t have a good reputation or isn’t popular, it isn’t going to be successful because people aren’t going to come. In fact, there are any number of restaurants that have garnered critical acclaim but that weren’t popular with the dining public and closed as a result. So what is the difference, other than the fact you pay for your meals now and you supposedly won’t in the world of the Federation?
And, buried in the text is the real limitation of the Federation when it comes to being able to do whatever you want. It’s something Saadia basically glosses over because it doesn’t really fit his narrative. “The only real limitations are one’s imagination and job availability.” So, that puts the lie to what he’s said earlier. You really can’t be anything you want. There are limits.
But let’s take that a step further. In this enlightened world of the Federation, in a world where you are expected to not have the ego that pushes you to be competitive with your fellow man, what happens if you want a job and you know you are better qualified for it than the person who currently holds it? Do you just shrug and pat your comrade on the back and go away? After all, that would be part of the collective self-improvement, wouldn’t it? You’d be letting that person improve himself by doing the job and learning from it.
And what about the employer who isn’t really an employer because they aren’t paying those wo “work” for them? Do they have to settle for someone in a job who isn’t as qualified as the next person to come along or do they have the ability to tell the lesser qualified person to move along? Even if they have the ability to do so, would they? After all, telling them to find something else to do just because they weren’t as qualified might damage their poor little egos and that doesn’t seem like something an enlightened citizen of the Federation would do, does it?
Now, I think this is where I completely lost it with Saadia and this particular chapter:
Work is another way to love and be loved and to express one’s unique sensibility.
What. The. Fuck?
You are only worthy of love based on your work, on what you produce? You can only express your “unique sensibility” (whatever the hell that might mean) through work? Nope, nope, and nope again.
Saadia sees the problem with this, and the reason some fail at it, because there can be a “constant striving for recognition and social currency.” You can push yourself, working without break. You can find yourself working on dead-end projects without getting out. You can develop performance anxiety, something he terms as a “mental illness”. Hmm, sounds like there really is a dark side to the glories of the Trek universe. You have everything you want but you are driven to continually “improve” – read prove – yourself as a productive and valued member of society.
Yep, I wanna be a Ferengi.
Now, after spending so much time telling us everyone in the Federation is basically equal because there isn’t that nasty little thing called money driving them, Saadia tells us the Federation is a meritocracy where the “highest crime” is cheating. Wow. I guess that means there is no murder, no treason, no theft of ideas (after all, you can’t steal money because there isn’t any). My mind simply can’t wrap around this. We know there are worst crimes. We’ve seen them in the various series. We’ve read about them in the books. But the new canon, not to mention the socialist blinders it adds, ignore them. Everything now must be for the good of the Federation with the individual coming in well down the line.
There’s more, much more. I’m going to finish up the book next week. Let’s just say ST:TOS is a much different show and a much different universe from the later shows. ST:DS9 isn’t the show this book tries to make it. The mental gymnastics Saadia goes through to try to justify the Federation’s so-called values and economic ideals (as identified by Saadia) are exhausting and infuriating. It also explains a great deal about why races such as the Ferengi were presented in the way they were. It all basically boils down to this: Capitalism bad, socialism good. Individualism evil, collectivism a virtue.
That is bad enough. But what we have to remember is this is the sort of thing we are getting from Hollywood and too many traditional publishers. This is the sort of brainwashing our children are being exposed to. We need to put our foot down. We need to make sure we counter this sort of thing with Thomas Sowell, with the founding documents of our nation, with common sense alternatives. This is a war and, if we aren’t careful, one that will claim our children’s minds if not their lives.
I’m up for the battle. Are you?