My previous review Of Star Trek Discovery talked about how Trek had finally allowed it’s characters to be really human; to not care about other probable sentient beings, and to focus solely on their main mission, winning the war against the Klingon Empire. For me it was an acknowledgement that humans of the future, were well human, not some superhuman version of perfection that no one is ever going to be able to live up to.
However, one of the issues that bothered me was the way the humans of the future thought of what they considered non sentient beings. I find it rather incredulous that in the future, humans would care less about other living things than how we think of them today. The issues of the rights of animals, not PETA inspired, but the real issue of living a moral diet, and the effects that corporate agriculture has on livestock, on these animals used for our food, is something continually discussed in our world at present.
The ethical question of medical, or any scientific experimentation on any animals, causes quandaries as animal sentience is revealed. Many companies are trying to balance these issues today, and movements are pushing the need for a more humane way of treating animals. From better zoos, to endangered species laws, to animal rights and jailing of those guilty of animal abuse, our society sees that we are required to treat those who are more innocent, and more vulnerable with care. A future society that suddenly negates humane animal treatment simply because of a war seems rather backwards. In fact, a cause celebre is how the US Military treats retired War Dogs. and the outcry it caused.
Well, this latest episode of Star Trek Discovery finally lived up to the Star Trek ideal about concern for other living creatures, and Michael Burnham got her way. The Tardigrade was released, but not before it nearly died. (Spoiler alert) Captain Lorca was captured by the Klingons, and the only way for the Discovery to save him was to use the Tardigrade to jump into Klingon space, and then jump out before being destroyed.
Michael was completely against using the animal and in fact, Stamets and Tilly tried to help her in finding a way to spare the animal. Saru, whose mission was to save Lorca, did not care about the animal in the greater scheme of the moment. If the Tardigrade provided what they needed, then the animal was to be used, especially since the scientists could not prove that the she was sentient.
Now, of course, we all know the Tardigrade was sentient. If it wasn’t, there would have been no real controversy. Interestingly, our three engineering heroes found a way to incorporate Tardigrade DNA into another host in order to propel the machine. That it was Stamets who went above and beyond, by injecting himself and using himself as the guinea pig, actually reminds us of those scientists who when stymied by legal or ethical convention, experimented on themselves, usually to deleterious effect.
And this time was no different. (Future issues to come)
In the end, of course, this meant though that it was time to free the Tardigrade and Michael made sure to follow through. Happiness and joy is what kept this animal alive, and it found its joy in its freedom. So free it became, sent off into space to ride the spore highway into the great unknown of the universe.
Again an issue, the freedom and depression of captured animals, so prevalent in our modern day discussion of Sea World and the forced capture of Orcas, was presented in a very visceral way. Something we need to continue to ask ourselves about how we treat those in our captivity: is it truly in their interest, or are we simply trying to make ourselves feel better because we are are using the excuse of being humane (conservation, breeding programs, circumventing nature, forbearing extinction), to mask our own inhumanity?
This episode of Star Trek left me with many questions:
Are humans so inept that at the moment of terror, or war, would we devolve our ethics and morals? Is it ok to abuse others so that you can survive? Is it always such a zero-sum game, or is that the easy way out?
Does the concept of leadership mean that you have to make the hard questions, but ignore the reality of what you are doing? Saru had to make the call on the Tardigrade. He had to choose between Lorca and the animal. He didn’t ignore the ramifications of his choice, but that left the issue of whether leadership, devoid of moral and ethical considerations is part of our reality? Our modern Laws of War and the Military Code of Justice says no. So what then is going to happen in the future? What does Saru’s choices actually say about humanity’s future?
Then finally, in a nod to past Treks, Harcourt Fenton Mudd, was an informant for the Klingons on the prison ship where Lorca was taken. He did it so his imprisonment was made easier. Is that simply a characteristic of many humans that no matter what, they have no honor, no morals and no ethics? That no one but themselves matter. Are we to understand then the traitor who betrays others in time of war, if they are captured? Are we to forgive the kapo who helped the Nazis?
The imprisoning of Bowie Bergdahl for desertion says no. The derision we hold towards those who collaborated with Nazis says no. Those who collaborate with totalitarian governments are not considered the better of the human race. The honoring of John McCain, and the acknowledgment of his moral and ethical leadership while a prisoner of war, says no. But it seems that even in the future, there will be humans that think of nothing but themselves. They live without honor. They live without a shred of ethics. They have no care or thought for anyone but themselves.
So perhaps in the future, even though this despicable side of human nature still exists, it is not excused. Lorca frees another star fleet officer, who has been held prisoner. He leaves Mudd behind to let him stew in the situation he has created for himself. He didn’t deserve rescue because of how he betrayed others to their torturers.
We know Mudd survives. So even though Lorca was right in his punishment of Mudd, it doesn’t really seem that Mudd gets his just desserts in the end. Not really. Ok, if you watched the Mudd episode in Star Trek the Original Series, you do see that Kirk and Spock do get even in a very small way with Mudd, for another crime. But in today’s world, the awakening of a shrewish wife as punishment seems a bit misogynistic, as well as not just slightly unsatisfying for all the true pain that the man caused.
Incidentally, the balance between law and justice, coupled with the fact that even justice is not necessarily just, is the final realization of what it means to live in human society. Not everyone gets the life they deserve, not everyone gets the punishment they deserve either. Life in the end, is not always fair.
Yet, if we are to live a life with meaning we strive to be the best, the most moral, the most ethical, the most valiant that we can be. It is also why we are instructed in the Bible to seek “justice,” not law, for consequences of actions. For ultimately justice, letting the punishment fit the crime, acknowledging the rights of the vulnerable, and our obligation to care for those less fortunate- both human and nonhuman- is something society has been striving for, for millennia. We fall short of the mark. But it is hoped that future human society will do better. That has always been the draw of Star Trek, until now.