April 24, 2013

The fantasy society of western liberalism

A couple of decades ago there was a popular TV series entitled Star Trek: The Next Generation. Superficially, it was a spin-off of the original Star Trek series of the mid-1960’s. I found it moderately entertaining at the time. There were good episodes and bad episodes. What I did not notice, perhaps because I was more left-leaning then, was that it was not merely a TV show, but rather a long set of parables about how western liberalism imagines society not only will be – but should be.

I will skip the silly exercise of quoting characters and episodes. If your life is so empty of content that you care, you can, I’m sure, watch the whole seven seasons on demand. Since I’m merely using Star Trek: The Next Generation as an illustration of an ideology, I’ll just highlight the salient points from memory.

The series centered on the adventures of a nominally military vessel, whose modus operandi was to seek out hostile aliens and avoid fighting them at all costs. The ship was a kind of “community” vessel, with children and teenagers in evidence, and probably a Montessori school on board somewhere. A few specific passages have stuck in memory. In one, I recall the captain noting, with obvious astonished contempt, how in earlier times the people of Earth had been willing to go to war with one another “even over economic systems.” In other words – Communism is just a different way of doing things! Get over it!

In various episodes it was revealed that, in the brave new world of the 23rd century, work had become an entirely optional thing. You could have a job if you wanted one, but those who didn’t were free to just aspire to whatever higher calling they happened to be interested in. Somehow, in this society, although there were bad apples here and there to advance the storyline, no one simply degenerated into an idle, whiney, de-socialized couch potato. Given the opportunity to aspire to liberal avocations, almost everybody did.

The Federation – the centralized, federal government depicted in Star Trek: The Next Generation, could only be characterized as a humane, consensual, collectivist state. Not only weren’t there any couch potatoes, there weren’t really many misfits or dissenters either. Everybody agreed that the faux-multicultural monoculture of the Federation was the best thing for everybody, and that freedom meant that everybody could wear their own unique ethnic clothing, have their own tastes in food, and sleep with whoever or whatever they wanted to. Here and there an alien race might depart this perfect way of thinking, but that was OK too. To be a citizen of the Federation was to exercise practically unlimited tolerance toward outsiders – one is tempted to say, to bumpy-headed aliens of color. In later seasons, this extended to accepting a parasitic race that sucked the consciousness out of a succession of human hosts and used their bodies merely as vehicles. Well, one mustn’t be judgmental about other, uh… people and their cultures.

There was at least one episode dedicated to advancing the gay and lesbian cause (by thinly disguised alien proxies). There were other episodes, generally less disguised, dedicated to portraying the conservative faction of some planet’s population as paranoid, dishonest, or dangerous. In all respects, the western liberal worldview – complete with its self-righteous monologues, its dewy emotionalism, and its impossible contradictions.

It was only a TV show. Still, let’s not pretend that the messages that people absorb from the popular media don’t mold them in part, particularly during their youth, and more particularly in a culture in which parenting is often a sort of afterthought, and in which established authority has largely discredited itself. I have to wonder if we don’t have mid-level diplomats right now who were Star Trek NG fans as kids. “Kim Jong Un just doesn’t seem to understand our patient, infinitely tolerant response. Maybe we should apologize again, or lay down our weapons or something. WTF!?” Maybe the love that the rest of the world has long had for American TV hasn’t been about their love for us, but about every human’s prurient curiosity regarding the behavior of idiots. Perhaps we aren’t the role model we like to think we are – but just another of history’s traveling freak shows.

The larger liberal narrative, the one of which outdated science fiction programs are only the smallest and most petty examples, is indeed quite like a freak show – and not completely unlike the fantasy regime of Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. We don’t have all the totalitarian trappings yet, but our internal surveillance technology is already far better than his. We – or they, as I can no longer even recognize, let alone identify with, my own government – are certainly obsessed, like North Korea, with defining and redefining reality to meet political need. Our government is now a tiny circle of ideologues in a shrinking ideological bubble. Or perhaps even to call it a bubble is overly optimistic. Bubbles, at least, are transparent. It is, I think, more like a citadel. A fortress that sees the outside world only through the lens of what its occupants already know – and know a priori. A truth which is ultimately measured against the liberal narrative itself – in which every opponent is a racist; every non-Caucasian is a liberal; every corporation is deliberately evil; every expansion of government is good; and everyone one outside the citadel is ultimately too stupid to be allowed any decisions beyond the color of his or her cell phone case. It is a movement desperately re-enacting its own history – the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement – in the absence of any real opposition to those causes. What could be more freakish? What could be more tragically entertaining?

1 comment:

  1. I'm not going to defend Star Trek:TNG. I hated the show for both its moral emptiness and the sin of being boring.

    However, I find myself quite struck by your phrase: "at least one episode dedicated to advancing the gay and lesbian cause."

    What, exactly, is the "gay and lesbian cause?" The idea that homosexuals are fully functioning human beings entitled to the same rights and respect as any other? Is that really something that TNG needs to be called out for?

    The other thing that stands out is that you decry the security state and the nanny state in the same breath. They are not the same. I currently live in a nanny-state far more nannified than the USA, but it lacks the security state apparatus. This leads to the obvious conclusion that the security state is not a product of Leftism, no matter how compatible it may currently be. The true source should be patently obvious: simply look to see which political party first endorsed the erosion of civil liberties (such as the Patriot Act). Check to see which party most strongly advocates suspending the Constitution - not in general principles, but in specific ones, such as the 14th Amendment, or the recent calls for the Boston Bomber (an American citizen) to not be given a civilian trial. Which side - left or right - did all that?