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Jun 18

Does tolerance go both ways?

It absolutely does. That lesson has been imparted throughout the Star Trek universe in rather clever ways. More to the point, what one side in a conflict says about the other side should be taken with a grain of salt. One should take care to be skeptical of someone who claims to be a victim of persecution are subtly illustrated in numerous episodes.

 
“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (TOS): Lokai, a member of an unknown alien race comes aboard the Enterprise after the ship intercepts him in a stolen Starfleet shuttlecraft. He is to be tried for theft of Federation property, but not if Bele, another member of this race distinguished as literally black on one side and white on the other, has anything to say about it. Bele claims Lokai has committed numerous crimes against his race. Simple enough if the Federation respects a foreign judicial system. But not so simple when the question of what crimes Lokai has committed comes up. From a human perspective, Lokai’s only “crime” is being different, different in a manner Kirk and Spock don’t realize until it is pointed out.

The only “resolution” to the story is the Enterprise arrives at Lokai and Bele’s home planet to find that the two sides have destroyed each other over their petty hatred. We don’t learn once and for all who was right and who was wrong. One particularly telling scene (that was removed from syndication) depicts Lokai speaking to crewmembers about his experiences with being part of an oppressed ethnicity. Spock overhears this and becomes concerned that maybe Lokai is attempting to garner sympathy from third-party observers in order to cover up the fact that he is guilty of universally criminal behavior. The overall moral of this story is what can happen when mutual hatred can spin out of control–a very valuable one when the United States was in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and the world was in the midst of the Cold War.

 
“Transfiguration” (TNG): Commander Sunad of Zalkon claims that the individual aboard the Enterprise known only as “John Doe” is a criminal. Despite Beverly’s insistence that “Doe” hasn’t committed any crimes by Federation standards, Picard still invokes a duty to respect Zalkonian law whether they agree with it or not.
In these circumstances, we can clearly see that the criminal offenses these individuals are guilty of—raising awareness of societal injustice in Lokai’s case or spreading “lies” that turn out to be true in “John Doe’s” case—are not considered criminal offenses in Federation society. But why should Starfleet tread carefully when mediating these issues and not be too quick to take sides?

 
“Nemesis” (VOY): Chakotay is seemingly rescued by the human-looking Vori after his shuttle was shot down. He begins to sympathize with the villagers, who have been victims of horrible atrocities at the hands of the hideous reptilian looking Kraydin. Back on Voyager, Janeway has been conferring with an ambassador of one of these warring parties. In one of the more shocking plot twists, we do not see Ambassador Treen until the end of the episode’s penultimate act (he is a Kraydin, not a Vori). Chakotay has been subjected to a very elaborate and persuasive form of propaganda. He is set straight when he encounters a Kraydin solider who is really Tuvok in holographic camouflage. That is not to say that the Kraydin are the “good guys” and the Vori the “bad guys” instead of the other way around. When Chakotay asks if the allegations of the Kraydins’ war crimes are outright false, Janeway’s only answer is that the Kraydin accuse the Vori of the same crimes.

 
“Night” (VOY): Voyager is forced to travel through a stellar void over the next two years to the annoyance of the natives. These aliens crash the ship’s systems, send a representative aboard who then assaults a crewmember. These are clearly hostile acts, yet the intruder is still treated humanely out of an understanding of their fear of the unknown. When another vessel comes to their rescue, its captain has accounts of his race’s, the Malons, experience with the natives of this void. Further investigation reveals, though, that the Malons have been dumping lethal amounts of radioactive waste in the stellar void with no regard for the safety of the natives, an atrocity Janeway and company cannot abide.

So we can see the benefits of not quickly taking sides since one might eventually see that a person who claims to be persecuted only has a persecution complex (the aforementioned Voyager episodes provide more concrete examples).

But what about intolerance of intolerance? Is that the same as intolerance of an alternative lifestyle? Yes and no.

“Rights. Rights. I’m sick to death of hearing about rights! What about my right not to have my life’s work subverted by blind ignorance?” Commander Bruce Maddox, “The Measure of a Man” (TNG)

Recent events have demonstrated that even those who call themselves Star Trek fans will accept only the most limited of integration only in theory by demanding the “homosexual agenda” needs to stay out of all things Star Trek. After all, Christians have the right to their beliefs that homosexuality is a sin. It’s about time someone drew the line against gay rights activists bullying anybody who dares to disagree with them. IDIC, man! Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, not Infinite Diversity in Approved Combinations.

Whoa, let’s back track a little. How is George Takei being a bully by pointing out the injustice or potential injustice of Indiana’s newest “religious freedom” law? He is merely one man expressing an opinion on how to respond to what he considers an unjust law. Nobody is forming no go zones along Indiana state lines. I personally do not care one way or the others who does and does not set foot in the state of Indiana, or for what reason. I applaud the Indiana governor’s effort to reach out to gay rights’ activists and explain how this “religious freedom law” does not conflict with established anti-discrimination statutes and to try to make the letter of the law clearer for all concerned parties. Discrimination, in and of itself, is not a civil right. On the other hand, the rights of private businesses are a much greyer area.

Patrick Stewart is among those who have weighed in on the gay wedding cake debate, even opining that a private business should not be compelled to cater a same-sex wedding if that conflicts with the employees’ personal beliefs. Even if courts are ruling otherwise, nobody is flogging anyone in the town square for refusing to cater a same sex marriage (despite what some episodes of South Park would have you believe). Nobody is forcing the most devout Christians into attending same sex weddings or burning down any churches.

In the words of Patrick Stewart’s own Trek character: “It is not our place to impose Federation standards on others.” On many occasions, Star Trek has depicted Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, Bajorans, and even Vulcans being intolerant of differences and expressing backwards beliefs. But how do our Starfleet heroes respond? Do they say, “You will reform your society to fit our ideals, or else”? No. At worst, they only give speeches about how wrong that alien government is. Benjamin Sisko is still entitled to his opinion that Gul Dukat is a sociopath. If he’s being intolerant of Cardassian intolerance, so be it.

The Federation’s highest law still prohibits more direct interference in the affairs of alien societies. The overall reasoning is to let these oppressive societies reach a Federation level of enlightenment on their own. The Klingons evolving from a race of thuggish brutes to a warrior culture with a more enlightened code of honor (but not because of direct Federation intervention) are one such example. “But what if they never do?” was the question posed by an immortal guardian of the now extinct Tkon Empire. In reply, Will Riker said that is a chance we must take. And that is, unfortunately, the drawback of a free society. We can only hope that whether or not gay couples have as much right to marry and patronize public places as straight couples won’t even be an issue a hundred years from now. It shouldn’t even be an issue now, except activists on both sides of these social justice issues can over-complicate matters.