Monday, January 10, 2005

Modern Aesop’s Fables: The Ethical Relevance of Star Trek PART 6 of 7


Having not even completed a full season (reminder: this was written in 2002), Star Trek’s newest series, Enterprise, set a mere hundred plus years in our future, has not yet had time to fully develop its ethical wings. Yet, we are assured that it will indeed have wings and that, while reflecting the moral heritage of its predecessors, it will no doubt have focal points all its own. We see a situational world much like that in which Voyager found herself—here Captain Jonathan Archer leads his crew truly where no man has gone before. Already the characters are starting to stretch and flesh themselves into three-dimensional entities. They are, perhaps, even more than DS9, our closest cousins. They are overly emotional like we are, curse when angry like we do, and, while straining for human betterment like we do, quite often fail. They do not have the morally advanced lifestyles that their more evolved successors would take for granted. For Archer and his crew, each day is a struggle to define their worldviews while holding true to those things they believe to be right. One can vividly see this struggle to define themselves and the universe they occupy in the angering and poignant "Dear Doctor".

Summary: When the Enterprise comes across a life pod with several ailing crewmembers, the occupants are brought on board to be treated by Dr. Phlox. The aliens are dying, but from what, they and the doctor do not know. In fact, they claim their entire race is on the verge of extinction. Captain Archer agrees to divert the Enterprise to their home planet and charges Phlox with finding a cure. Upon arrival, the crew discovers that the planet is inhabited by not one, but two distinct humanoid races—one plagued, the other, a far less advanced race, not. Phlox works around the clock, incorporating the other race into his research, certain that they hold the key. His conclusion is shattering. The culprit is not disease, but evolution. The planet’s technologically advanced and dominant species is in fact dying, because evolution has deemed their simple and primitive co-inhabitants the fittest of the two. Upon this discovery, Phlox cannot in good conscience continue treating the dying race. Over Captain Archer’s fervent objections, he refuses to mettle in and subvert the natural biological progression of the planet.

As controversial as it is profound, this episode forces the viewer to decide which laws (of both man and nature) can and cannot be broken. Where is the line at which action must slow and end in inaction? What evils should be eradicated and what things that may only appear to be evil deserve to be left alone to continue in their course unabated? Who decides? Phlox refuses to proceed with treatment because he feels he cannot interfere in the planet’s natural evolution. He feels it is not his decision to make, or more specifically, the decision has already been made for him by nature. And yet, he interferes with nature all the time. Nature dictates that some people develop atrocious diseases, yet doctors such as he work vigorously to abolish them. If the maxim truly were, “Never work against nature,” doctors would do little more than reset broken bones and give routine physicals. Is Phlox not still playing God by encouraging genocide by neglect? To come to the decision that a species would be better off extinct is callous enough, but to actually implement it, or in this case do nothing to stop it, amounts to little more than genocide. The character of Phlox follows his internal moral compass and sticks to it despite the protestations and possible reprisals of his fellows and superiors. In the end, the character is true to what he believes is right and refuses to waver, even if that belief has ramifications for billions of souls. Once again, Star Trek presents a complicated and multi-layered storyline, and in doing so forces its audience to abandon complacency and see things from an angle they would otherwise never have been able to observe.


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