Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Plato's Stepchildren

I've been watching series six of the original Star Trek and as well as being very good entertainment it is also as clear cut an exposition of American ideology as you are likely to get, as the multiracial, multinational Starship Enterprise under the leadership of Captain James T. Kirk, modelled on President John F. Kennedy of course, traverses the universe representing the post-ethnic, post-national United Federation of Planets spreading the virtues of equality, compassion, fairness, multiculturalism, tolerance, human rights and individual liberty – through example if possible, but through brute force where necessary.

Star Trek also displays an interest in the culture of ancient Greece, and, indeed, the adventures of the Enterprise are in the tradition of The Odyssey, The Voyage of the Argo and even Herodotus' Histories, its fascination for other civilisations, not so much for their intrinsic merits but for their ability through their otherness to expedite self-definition.

Of the 12 episodes in series six of Star Trek, three have explicitly Greek titles or themes: Whom Gods Destroy, about a revolt on a prison planet holding the criminally insane; Elaan of Troyius; about a beautiful princess from the planet Elas – who bears a striking resemblance to Queen Cleopatra – who refuses to marry the ruler of Troyius to seal a peace pact between Troyius and Elas; and Plato's Stepchildren, the episode above (also watch it here), which is about the philosopher kings and queens of the planet Platonius, who have established a Republic after Plato, and through meditation and study developed extraordinary mental powers but at the cost of having become lethargic, indolent, vain, cruel, selfish and arrogant, neglecting feeling and emotion, which are far more important to American ideology, better ways to access truth in American culture, than intellect and intellectual endeavour, and whose way of life the democratic, egalitarian Captain Kirk finds obnoxious, contemptible and wishes to dismantle.