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Star Trek and the Ferengi problem

Posted on July 14, 2017 by Fred Allebach

Star Trek has been a TV and movie series, since the mid 1970s, that constitutes a major popular culture meme that explores human nature and possible futures for humanity. In this essay, I will explore the values of Star Fleet as compared to those of the Ferengi.

Earth, in the 24th century, is a member of the United Federation of Planets. Starfleet conducts explorations, research, defense, peacekeeping and diplomatic missions for the Federation. The original mission was by the USS Enterprise with Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, etc. Star Fleet is made up not only of humans but by other extraterrestrial races as well.

The Ferengi are an extraterrestrial race who were introduced in the third iteration of the TV series called Deep Space Nine. The Ferengi are obsessed with business and seeking profit. They are also major misogynists.

Star Fleet and the Ferengi problem

Today’s world, and that of the 24th century, can be seen as an amalgamation of competing, struggling forces. Such struggles are typically framed as that between the good guys and bad guys. The advanced, moral, good guys are the Federation Star Fleet actors, they don’t need money, nor an exterior incentive to do the right thing; they do it simply because it is right. They are freed from scarcity and primitive supply and demand edicts by having an unlimited supply of energy, in the form of dilithum crystals, the ability to replicate anything, and medical transponders that can fix all ailments.

As said Captain Picard in the movie First Contact, “the economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity… We’ve overcome hunger and greed, and we’re no longer interested in the accumulation of things.”

Star Fleet represents an idealized future combination of the current faith, social and environmental justice communities, as well as university professors, artists, musicians, philosophers etc. All the higher human capacities get realized. What we have in Star Fleet is a cultivation of the mind and discovery. Status here, is gained through self-actualization, by excelling in personal expression, by realizing the unique gestalt of capacities all are born with. This all leads to a freeing and liberation of our better angels.

Need a timeout or to be entertained, go to the holodeck, which is like a laptop to the 100th power. There you don’t need a huge GHG footprint to realize creative capacity. You could jam with Jerry Garcia on the holodeck! The point: all human growth is inside anyway, exteriors are just props for satisfaction, happiness and contentment. That stuff is not for sale.

In Star Fleet, it is no longer necessary to fall prey to the lower appetites and base desires. We have evolved, finally, beyond being glorified baboons in simple dominance hierarchies explainable by Machiavelli, Adam Smith, primatologists and behavioral psychologists.

The economic theory of our time now is based on Darwinian projections that competition and survival of the fittest are laws of nature. Before, justifying greed and social inequity was done by Divine Right. Now, in a nod to Star Trek, Wall Street power players are known as Masters of the Universe.

Star Trek represents a technological salvation. The dilithium crystals, replicators and transponders save us from our lower nature selves, and allow us to evolve and grow up in an evolutionary sense. But tech is not everything; we still need to deal with greed and possible dystopian futures. Our choice of utopia or dystopia, to collapse or not, is not merely a technological matter, but fundamentally a cultural, political and psychological issue about human nature. Tech, human potential, material security, Maslow had all the intertwined threads figured out, take care of food, housing and health, and let those better angels run.

The Borg represent a dystopian opposite view of Star Fleet and the Federation. With the Borg, all needs are met, but there is a loss of soul and individuality, no humanity, no angels.

Human nature does have high and low elements. We are descended from apes. Maybe humans will evolve to a Star Fleet state, from a Darwinian survivalism. Maybe this survivalism is just a meme after all, and we are equally capable of cooperation? Primatologists Jane Goodall and Franz deWaal both see our better angels in there somewhere. Maybe cooperation has been in us, and in nature, all along and the selfish gene and survival of the fittest was a wrong-headed idea to justify the Ferengi of the time, the Robber barons, Ayn Rands, Ted Cruzes, Roger Aileses and Donald Trumps. These seem to be the characters upon which economic theory is based, a rather limited view…

Trump and free market libertarians et al, represent Star Trek’s Ferengi, less evolved beings. Locally, we have our Ferengi. They would be bully developers, Wall Street values people, and their wannabees who constitute a community of exploiters who expound the benefits of their greedy behavior even while they and their 1% cohort take home all the profit. The Ferengi’s goal is to get control of the means of production and regulatory apparatus, create a monopoly, and spend their spare time counting money in luxurious castles built for their own hubris. Projects of actual public good are not contemplated, yet the Ferengi are smart enough to try and dress their behavior up as if it were a public benefit.

“That’s what we do in business,” said Donald Trump Jr. Which means: lie, and exalt greed and selfishness to the highest value, have no morals other than naked self-advancement, have a myopic obsession with accumulating more wealth and property, and construct an architecture of lies and deceit so as to appear normal and beneficial. Call the rest fake news.

The Ferengi are smart, give them that; they turn values, principles and morality on their head and say people realizing their better angels are illegitimate obstructionists to noble Ferengi goals. They learned this in Ferengi School, Public Relations 101, of the Masters in Business Administration. Who needs clean air or water, those are just stinking regulations that inhibit a quest for profit. When the Ferengi die, they hope to take it with them, and to go to the Divine Treasury.

Star Fleet is a utopian goal, for a society built all on better angels precepts and capacities. In order to get there, the Ferengi and lower impulses of the world have to be dealt with. Apparently, after years of contact with Star Fleet, the Ferengi moderated their brutish quest for wealth and money and started to have things like social security. It’s hopeful to see that beings centered on money can learn to grow out of it. There may be hope yet.



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