Spoiler warnings are implied if you haven’t listened to the most recent episode of Podzilla, my kaiju-based side project. In our April Fools episode, we dealt with what I, to put in the gentlest terms possible, regard as the absolute nadir of the Star Trek franchise. Insurrection is the point for me where both the quality of the media and and the competence of the writing and the c0ncepts are at their lowest. So, if you will indulge me in a little ranting, I want to deal with these aspects of this abysmal film.
Given the wider circumstances of the Star Trek universe at the time, Insurrection feels very small. During a period of galactic war, the writers choose to tell the story of a petty squabble between a few hundred aliens whom we have never seen before and will never hear from again. As an early TNG episode this might have sufficed to waste 45 minutes, but as a feature length film the plot is lamentably thin. The new characters of the piece have zero depth. I could entirely summarise every one of them in a single sentence and have nothing more to say, so why should I feel any connection to these strangers? Even our familiar main cast have been Flanderised, barely showing any of the character development of the past decade. This is admittedly partially explained away by the “fountain of youth” McGuffin, regressing particularly Riker and Troi to horny teenagers who seem to end up together entirely due to age appropriateness and proximity. But the absolute worst character assassination, entirely without excuse, is inflicted upon Data, who goes from emotionless android struggling and somewhat succeeding to understand the human condition to a clueless comic relief ‘bot who can’t even grasp the concept of “fun”. Throw in a sprinkling of unfinished special effects and a soupçon of convenient sciencey magic. garnish with plot convenient time dilation, and you have a cinematic experience guaranteed to nauseate.
Conceptually, Insurrection falls at the first hurdle. At its core, we have a moral conundrum: We are faced with the choice between saving 300 lives and saving (even if we allow the only ~1% of the Dominion War casualties will be averted) billions. Simple consequentialist ethics demand that we take the latter option. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and all that. But simple consequentialism can lead to terrible consequences and cannot be consistently applied to moral questions. By this method we might murder a healthy person and harvest his organs to save five sick people. But a more complex ethical approach would take into consideration both the consequences of an action and the motive that led to the act. In this situation, 300 people will die, or 9 billion people will die. Given those choices, the only reasonable choice to to take the option with the better consequences and the purer motive – the drive to save countless lives from death and injury – and choose the billions. Either outcome is terrible, and so we are choosing an evil, but the much lesser of two evils. Really, after a little consideration, this is the only thing we could do. Is the moral high ground really worth the lives of numberless people? But I’m being a mite unfair. This is not actually an accurate description of Insurrection’s ethical dilemma. The option exists to relocate the Ba’ku, or even to use the vast tracts of empty space on their planet to heal the casualties of war. Yet even this is seen by our protagonists as more morally abhorrent than billions of preventable deaths.
This leads us to a deeply immoral and stupid part of the situation that is nowhere mentioned in the film; the treatment of the Ba’ku deprives them of all agency. Immanuel Kant implored us to treat people as ends in themselves, rather than merely means to an end, but the Ba’ku are nowhere asked their opinion or given a choice in the matter. They are simply pawns in a greater game between Picard and Dougherty. In fact, it is essential to the integrity of the film that they never be made aware of the whole situation and directly asked to voluntarily assist. Allowed agency, the Ba’ku either destroy the entire plot by resolving the central dilemma in a second, or become the film’s villains if they selfishly refuse to aid their fellow galactic citizens. It would be like a person refusing to donate their organs after death, writ large. So we can’t allow the simple alien folk to be morally autonomous or the film just collapses in on itself.
This is all so that this film can bill itself as a morality play on the evils of forced relocation and the merits of a simple, rustic approach to life. I don’t appreciate being preached to by a hypocrite. If your parable is riddled with inconsistencies and immoralities, I take that as permission to stop taking you seriously. In fact, I stop listening altogether. The Ba’ku are not moral exemplars. At best they are hapless, victimised straw-people. In reality, they are Luddites and hypocritical pacifists. I say “pacifists” as a pejorative because they claim to reject violence in all its forms and abstain from all armed defence, while being perfectly happy to allow the Enterprise crew to defend them with energy weapons and the high technology they claim to despise. “Luddite” is an easier claim to level. The Ba’ku despise advanced technology as tinkering with the natural order, but this is a prime example of the naturalistic fallacy. Essentially this states that is wrong to claim that something is good simply because it is natural, because being natural says precisely nothing about the morality of something. In a “natural” state, most of a person’s time will be taken up by finding food, avoiding predators and suffering under the assault of whatever microbes have taken up residence in their body. Technology frees us from this animal cycle, giving us free time to improve ourselves and our societies, curing disease and protecting us from the elements. But then most of us lack a magical healing planet to live on. To deny the utility and morality of technological progress entirely is not noble, it is the myopic view of those privileged by the protection from reality offered by being fictional constructs in an unreal dream world created by an idiot scriptwriter.
With much of the bile released, I feel I should stop now. I promise that my next posting will be less vitriolic. In conclusion, my co-called friend Ben did this to me, and I will have my vengeance in this life or the next. And please, if you’re interested, check out the sister blog, also titled Podzilla, and the accompanying podcast at Soundcloud.
[Reposted, with minor edits, from Podzilla! – The King of the Podcasts.]