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What we should have learned from Star Trek: "Patterns of Force"

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

What we should have learned from Star Trek: "Patterns of Force"

The Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force" delves into the role of political leaders and the perils of unchecked power, drawing parallels with real-world political dynamics. This article will explore the similarities between the Star Trek episode and historical examples and contemporary events, such as the actions and motivations of leaders like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Donald Trump. By examining these instances, we can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of governance, the importance of upholding democratic principles, and the dangers of authoritarianism and propaganda.

The Power of Alignment

An image of The Vulcan Neck Pinch - Subduing Nazis since 1966.
Kirk and Spock from Star Trek, Patterns of Force, 1968, Star Trek, and Related Marks are Trademarks of CBS STUDIOS INC. All rights reserved. Edited by GoFigment - Photoshop CC 11.17.2023

In the aftermath of World War I, Germany was plagued by economic misery and social chaos. Adolf Hitler capitalized on this deep well of anger and discontent. However, it is crucial to note that he did not create these circumstances but aligned himself with the prevailing sentiments of the time. Similarly, in the Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force," we see the character John Gill trying to restore order to the planet Ekos by emulating postwar Germany. Gill believed that by adopting the efficiency of the Nazi regime while eschewing its sadistic and xenophobic aspects, Ekos could achieve stability. However, his plan ultimately backfired when Melakon seized the opportunity to take over.

The comparison between Hitler and Gill is notable. Both leaders exploited the prevailing sentiments of their respective societies and used the existing anger to further their own agendas. This highlights the crucial role of political leaders in understanding and addressing the grievances and aspirations of the people they govern. It is essential for political leaders to work towards reducing the anger rather than encouraging it, regardless of their political ambitions. By aligning their actions with the desires of the people, leaders can cultivate support and wield significant influence, ultimately serving the greater good rather than their personal interests. A good political leader prioritizes the needs of the people over their own.

We continue to observe how Donald Trump's anger reflects the sentiments of many Republican voters. His voter base feels betrayed by the Republican party and is profoundly dissatisfied with "establishment" candidates. Trump frequently expresses his indignation towards Obama, Biden, the Affordable Care Act, crime, border security, the Iran deal, the microphones at his rallies, and anyone who attacks him in general. His rhetoric often contains elements of propaganda, racism, and xenophobia.

The Language of Fear

Image of Kirk and Daras
Kirk and Spock from Star Trek, Patterns of Force, 1968, Star Trek, and Related Marks are Trademarks of CBS STUDIOS INC. All rights reserved. Edited by GoFigment - Photoshop CC 11.17.2023

One of the most chilling aspects of Hitler's rhetoric was his use of dehumanizing language to instill fear and rally his followers. Trump, too, has been accused of using similar language, referring to his political opponents as "vermin" and suggesting that they represent a "threat from within." This type of language is reminiscent of the tactics employed by dictators to strip their opponents of their humanity and justify their persecution, echoing elements of fascist ideology and systemic oppression.

In "Patterns of Force," we witness the consequences of such rhetoric as the Ekosian society adopts the language and ideology of the Nazis. The Zeons are continually referred to as "Pigs," "Swine," and "Defilers." The dehumanization of the Zeon people and the persecution that follows serve as a cautionary tale of the dangers of divisive rhetoric. The Star Trek episode reminds us that leaders who resort to dehumanizing language are undermining the principles of democracy and risking the peace and stability of society, highlighting the dangers of propaganda, racism, and xenophobia.

The Role of Bureaucracy

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy behind the scenes on the set of Patterns of Force.
Kirk and Spock from Star Trek, Patterns of Force, 1968, Star Trek, and Related Marks are Trademarks of CBS STUDIOS INC. All rights reserved. Edited by GoFigment - Photoshop CC 11.17.2023

Both in the real world and in the Star Trek universe, political leaders must navigate complex bureaucratic systems that shape their actions and influence the outcomes of their decisions. Hitler and Stalin, despite their immense power, were still constrained by the bureaucracies that supported their rule. They had to rely on subordinates to carry out their orders and were often unaware of the full extent of the actions taken in their name. Similarly, leaders in liberal democracies must work within the confines of bureaucracy, appointed by previous administrations, and often resistant to change. These dynamics reflect the realities of political corruption and the importance of the chain of command.

In "Patterns of Force," Kirk and Spock find themselves immersed in a society that mirrors Nazi Germany. They quickly realize that even the influential figure of John Gill is limited by the bureaucracy that surrounds him. The episode serves as a reminder that leaders cannot unilaterally impose their will on society but must work within the broader apparatus of governance, highlighting the complexities of authoritarianism and the importance of adhering to Starfleet regulations.

During his campaign, Donald Trump's team ran numerous television ads that strongly criticized Democrats, the media, and career politicians, portraying them as his "opponents" and "enemies." While it may seem like typically heated campaigning, it's essential to recognize the potential impact of referring to Democrats as "the enemy." With half of the country identifying as Democrats, this rhetoric effectively labels a significant portion of the population as adversaries, reflecting elements of propaganda, racism, and xenophobia.

Grasping the Needs of the Country

The ability to grasp the country's needs is a crucial skill for political leaders. In the Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force," Gill's attempt to solve the anarchy on Ekos by emulating Nazi Germany initially appears successful. However, the charismatic Melakon seizes the opportunity to exploit the situation for his own gain. Gill's failure to fully understand the complexities of the society he sought to mold ultimately leads to disastrous consequences, underscoring the dangers of political corruption and the importance of a clear chain of command.

We can draw a parallel to contemporary politics, where leaders must navigate complex social, economic, and political landscapes. Understanding the needs and aspirations of the people is essential for effective governance. By grasping the country's needs, leaders can make informed decisions that benefit society as a whole.

What we should have learned from Star Trek: "Patterns of Force" is that our leaders must focus on unity and empathy rather than animosity and hostility.

It can be disheartening to see political leaders focus solely on representing those who voted for them, regardless of party affiliation. It's crucial for our leaders to remember that they represent all members of their community, and their decisions should benefit everyone. Referring to political opponents in derogatory terms only serves to propagate racism and xenophobia, dehumanizing and dividing citizens.

The Danger of Unchecked Power

The Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force" serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of unchecked power and authoritarianism. Leaders like Hitler and Stalin wielded significant authority, symbolizing political corruption. Still, they were also prisoners of the circumstances that propelled them to power. The actions they took were shaped by the reality they faced, whether it was Hitler aligning with the anger of post-war Germany or Stalin attempting to industrialize the Soviet Union.

It's disheartening to see leaders in the real world who become seduced by the temptation of unchecked power, such as Hitler and Gill. Even in modern-day democracies, we see politicians like Donald Trump accused of using fear-mongering language that echoes the tactics of dictators. This is a sobering reminder that the pursuit of power can lead to a disregard for democratic values and a loss of trust in essential institutions.

The Importance of the Prime Directive

In the Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive serves as a guiding principle for Starfleet officers. Its main objective is to prevent interference in the internal affairs of other civilizations. It emphasizes the importance of non-interference with developing societies. "Patterns of Force" episode in Star Trek highlights the possible consequences of violating this principle. The episode shows how Gill tries to shape Ekosian society in the image of Nazi Germany.

The Prime Directive, a fundamental principle in the Star Trek universe, serves as a crucial reminder of the significance of respecting the autonomy and self-determination of other planets. It cautions against the imposition of one's values and ideologies on others. This lesson can be applied in the real world. In the realm of political relations, leaders must be mindful of the potential unintended consequences of their actions and prioritize the perspectives of other political parties and the people. It is essential to recognize and appreciate the diversity of beliefs, cultures, and traditions and to engage in constructive dialogue that promotes mutual understanding and cooperation. The Prime Directive highlights the importance of treating others with fairness, empathy, and compassion and recognizing the value of every individual's unique experiences and perspectives.

Learning from Star Trek

What can we learn from "Patterns of Force" and the Star Trek universe? The episode serves as a powerful reminder of the dangers of unchecked power, the importance of understanding the needs of the people, and the consequences of divisive rhetoric. It highlights the role of bureaucracy in shaping the actions of political leaders and the need to respect the autonomy of the citizens.

By drawing parallels between the fictional world of Star Trek and the real-world dynamics of political leadership, we can gain valuable insights into the complexities of governance and the importance of upholding democratic principles. We must learn from the mistakes of history and remain vigilant to ensure that we do not repeat the dark chapters of the past.

In conclusion, the world operates on rationality but remains resistant to persuasion. Geopolitics is founded on the principle that effective leaders acknowledge the realities of their environment and adapt to them to secure their positions. The Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force" is a poignant reminder that the Prime Directive has been the correct approach. By honoring other nations' autonomy, empathizing with their populations' needs, and refraining from divisive rhetoric, we can aspire to a world characterized by peace, collaboration, and inclusivity. Let us heed the lessons of Star Trek and strive towards a future in which political leaders uphold the tenets of democracy and prioritize the well-being of their constituents, much like our "Prime Directive," the "U.S. Constitution."

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