Today’s episode is my favorite conservative episode. In addition to a bunch of other conservative ideas, this episode cuts to THE key difference between how liberals and conservatives view human nature. Let’s talk about episode No. 24, A Taste of Armageddon.
The PlotAs the episode begins, the Enterprise is en route to star cluster NGC 321 to open relations with the locals. The Federation wants a space port in this sector because the lack of facilities has cost thousands of lives over the years. As the Enterprise approaches, it is warned away by the planet Eminiar VII. Kirk, however, is forced to continue his approach by a Federation diplomat. When Kirk beams down, he discovers that Eminiar VII is at war with neighboring planet Vendikar. However, this war is fought by computer simulation with casualties accounted for in suicide booths. And while Kirk speaks with Anan 7, the leader of Eminiar VII, the Enterprise is “destroyed” in one of these simulated attacks. Now the locals want the Enterprise crew to beam down and kill themselves. Before everything’s over, Kirk destroys the computers that are fighting the war, risking a return to real war.
Why It’s ConservativeThis episode starts with several conservative themes. First, Kirk rejects the idea that the Federation is the universe’s policeman. We see this when Kirk makes it clear he believes the planet’s wishes to be left alone should be honored and when he makes no attempt to jump in and stop their war. This is consistent with the conservative belief that one person or society should not impose themselves on another, and it fits the conservative foreign policy view that we should not get entangled in the affairs of others except where our interests are directly involved. Liberals, on the other hand, have no qualms about trying to control countries just like they have no qualms about the government trying to control the lives of citizens, and they believe a benign superpower or similar organization (like the UN) should force peace upon smaller countries for their own good.
Next, Kirk rejects out of hand the idea that some members of society should be killed so the rest of society may continue. This oft-repeated Star Trek idea is expressed here:
MEA: Don't you understand? Our duty--This goes back to the conservative respect for the sanctity of the individual and individual life. Conservatives simply do not believe that the collective should be allowed to decide who lives and dies for the benefit of the collective. Liberals, on the other hand, do think it is appropriate to let the government (or individuals by proxy) make such decisions. That is why they favor abortion and euthanasia, and why their support for those issues is premised on the idea that the unwanted child or adult would be a burden on society.
KIRK: Your duty doesn't include stepping into a disintegrator and disappearing.
MEA: I'm afraid mine does. . . Don't you see? If I refuse to report, and others refuse, then Vendikar would have no choice but to launch real weapons. We would have to do the same to defend ourselves. More than people would die then. A whole civilization would be destroyed. Surely you can see that ours is a better way.
KIRK: No, I don't see that at all.
Kirk also rejects the idea that Eminiar VII can impose itself on his crew: “My people are not responsible for your agreements.” Kirk is staking out the very conservative position that people can only be punished for their own individual actions, i.e. human beings do not bear group guilt or group responsibility. Compare this with liberals who support group punishments, like reverse-discrimination against innocent whites/males to atone for the prior discrimination of other whites/males, or the banning of speech or guns for all because of the crimes of the few, etc.
But the real conservative homerun in this episode comes after Kirk destroys the computers which are waging the war:
ANAN: You realize what you have done? Kirk has outlined the conservative view of human nature: our nature cannot change, but we are not slaves to it. Indeed, notice that he says that killing is instinctive, i.e. part of human nature, and it has been that way for “a million savage years.” Conservatives believe that, liberals don’t. Liberals believe that humans are malleable and human nature can change with education. This is the fundamental flaw in socialism, that it relied on the idea that humans could be taught not to covet, not to want. Conservatives know better, and Kirk makes this clear. Had this been Picard instead, he would have lectured Anan 7 how advanced the Federation is now that humans have evolved beyond violence. His solution would be to reeducate themselves to lose their violent instincts (an impossibility). Kirk’s solution is to use their brains and simply decide to ignore the instinct (very doable).
KIRK: Yes, I do. I've given you back the horrors of war. The Vendikans now assume that you've broken your agreement and that you're preparing to wage real war with real weapons. They'll want do the same. Only the next attack they launch will do a lot more than count up numbers in a computer. They'll destroy cities, devastate your planet. You of course will want to retaliate. If I were you, I'd start making bombs. Yes, Councilman, you have a real war on your hands. You can either wage it with real weapons, or you might consider an alternative. Put an end to it. Make peace.
ANAN: There can be no peace. Don't you see? We've admitted it to ourselves. We're a killer species. It's instinctive. . .
KIRK: All right. It's instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes. Knowing that we won't kill today. Contact Vendikar. I think you'll find that they're just as terrified, appalled, horrified as you are, that they'll do anything to avoid the alternative I've given you. Peace or utter destruction. It's up to you.
This is a key difference in how liberals and conservatives see humanity. This is why liberals believe in reeducation, because they think they can brainwash away your worst traits. Conservatives know better. They know those traits can only be controlled. That’s why they advocate laws to contain those traits or make them unprofitable.
And Kirk goes further too. He notes that despite human nature not changing, it can be controlled: “We can admit that we’re killers, but we’re not going to kill today”. . . the coolest quote in the whole series. This is again a highly conservative understanding of human nature. Conservatives understand that all of our actions require conscious effort before we can take them. In that moment, we have the power to overcome what our instincts tell us and to act rationally. . . “that’s all it takes.”
Liberals actually don’t believe this. They believe that our instincts are taught to us by our experiences and, once learned, they overwhelm us and force us to act. That’s why they speak of cycles of violence and root causes and why they consider those excuses to crimes, i.e. because they think it is beyond our control. In other words, if you were beaten as a child, then you will be forced to beat your child by your instincts, and we should not hold you responsible because it was beyond your control. Conservatives reject this because we understand that humans are perfectly capable of controlling their actions.
There you have it, a highly conservative message: human nature cannot change, but it can be controlled, and we are all responsible for our own actions, but none of us should be responsible for the actions of others. Every piece of that is fundamentally conservative and complete anathema to liberals. Indeed, this belief is the very building block from which all other conservative ideas will sprout. And that makes this my favorite conservative episode.