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I originally did this a twitter thread, so it might inherit some of its problems. My thesis is that a solid theory of geopolitics, with a couple idiosyncratic side comments about other mechanics, could, in the future, after the already made DIS 3, inform future Treks in a way that renders them all consistent, perhaps a bit corny, but, also informed by real life social science, history & philosophy. As part of this, I’m going to discuss what I think Picard, Discovery, Short Treks, Lower Decks etc did Right & wrong, how future seasons & Treks could account for these.
A note on definition:
For the record, Geopolitics is often used somewhat colloquially to simply refer to international affairs, the structure of the international arena, and sometimes as conflict over resources. The term arises from MacKinder, and, although it comprises all of those topics, it is about the way the structural, spatiotemporal, energetic, ecological, military fields, & related aspects of politics interrelate. Specifically, he was concerned with water vs. land warfare, and the importance of holding Eurasia as the fulcrum of the world. The reason I choose it in this context, is that the central conceit is understanding how states seek to control space, and absorb or defeat those enemies on their spatial borders, while gaining key resource & tactical advantages in the process. On Treks Past and Future, and What they Did Right and Wrong
NOTE: This is NOT a bashing post. I actually happen to love Discovery, Picard, Short Treks, and Lower Decks. The Abrams movies are not my favorite, but I am glad they introduced Trek to a whole new generation. Personal Subjective Assessments
By and large I like the new Star Treks more than most purists, but I do think there were a lot of missed opportunities, specifically as pertains to geopolitics which as a thematic, social scientific & robust framing could have brought open ended coherence to the shows, and made them more obviously relevant to our contemporary era.
As of now there are several confirmed Treks to be coming to order or in existence
- Discovery 3+
- Picard 2+
- Section 31
- Strange New Worlds (Pike & Spock)
- Lower Decks 1+
- Short Treks 2+
- Untitled Kids Show
There are also several unconfirmed ones—a Khan Miniseries, Star Trek IV Which has been flip flopping, a Tarantino Trek Which seems confirmed dead, and a few others.
The Abrams Treks are not my favorite but they did revive the series and got a ton of new people involved, a new Abrams’ Trek, a Tarantino Trek in the Abrams universe, and a new prime universe film would all probably be similar, generating new buzz, and fans so I support that.
All that said, i simply do not agree with the idea that the new Treks are not ‘true’ to Roddenberry, too grimdark, too canonically inconsistent, too spectacle focused, too fanservice (or not enough), or that they are bad TV. In fact, I am frankly sick of people saying this, especially when people claim there are no philosophical themes in the show, or that ‘The Orville’ is better.
I do agree that their rapid shifts in focus in the shows are annoying, that many of their A & B plots are mixed weirdly, that too much serialization needs a counter balance, that the writers missed some opportunities, & that they switch their writing staff too frequently. I mean we almost got a Walter Mosley Star Trek until a white writer got uncomfortable with his use of a racial slur in a script about race relations (Mosley is the author of the Easy E Rawlings PI stories, most famously perhaps resulting in the movie Devil in the Blue Dress) But that was symptomatic of a broader phenomena where writer staffs were switched wholesale, which is why there are roughly 4 arcs in Discovery, rather than 2 season arcs & one broad meta one. It also accounts for aspects of Picard. Where we Know the Show is going, both from in universe and supplemental information to use as the basis of cautious inference.
We know from Picard, from the Short Trek ‘Calypso’, from DIS season 3, from the aborted ‘Star Trek Federation’, from the notes that got turned into Earth Final Battle & Andromeda, & from time travel in ENT, & VOY That the future Federation falters & fragments
Like Babylon 5, Trek’s vision becomes more cyclical, and reminds me of Le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed’; the message is how sensitive the future is to the present, how utopias need to be continually revolutionized or else they stagnate, and we must build the better future in the present. This is what the main themes of Discovery and Picard were, and, in this sense, are definitely still in the ‘Trek’ spirit. Picard and Discovery, far from not engaging in enough philosophy & engaging in too much spectacle all 3 address real philosophical problems.
But, how they could be firmed up, but first some very broad based lumped ‘achievements’ by the end of DS9, Voy and Nemesis.
- Yudkowsky’s box
- The struggle of nationalism against liberalism
- The problems with unaccountable security agencies
- The demoralizing effects of war
- The sensitivity of utopia to its design,
- The conflict between ideology & reality
- Problems of consciousness
- The nature of rights & dehumanization
- The arc of bureaucracies
- The nature of self fulfilling prophecies,
- The way technology & social institutions are dialectically related,
- The power of solidarity & mutual aid,
- The dangers of totalizing technological perfectionist ideologies
- The nature of trauma and prejudice,
- The cycle of oppression,
- The dynamics of dehumanization,
- The culpability of individuals in evil power structures & war machines.
- Broad, contemporarily based political, social & philosophical themes for 30 episodes or so of TV isn’t bad, especially when many are two parters, or are devoted to plot, humor, and/or characterization.
All that said, Picard’s plot lines could have been more or less the same, especially the beginning and the end episodes, and the explanation for the turn to authoritarianism, as well as how the authoritarian future of Trek comes to be, if they just paid attention to geopolitics and used it has a frame.
At the end of DS9 the Federation had:
- Allied with the Romulans, and S31 had installed a pro federation leader
- Allied with the Klingons, put a Starfleet agent, Worf, directly with the seat of power, and had started to basically merge their two societies
- Absorbed Bajor
- Absorbed other random planets like in insurrection
- Defeated the Maquis
- Defeated the Dominion, almost killed their leadership, and installed a pro Federation agent (Odo) in their power structure
- Defeated the Cardassians, then allied with them, then installed a pro Federation person (Garak) and helped them to rebuild
- Explored a substantial portion of the Gamma quadrant, alpha quadrant & beta quadrant
- Allied with the Ferengi, and put a pro Federation reformist in charge (Rom)
- Defeated the Breen
- Implied to have normalized relations with Gorn, Tzenkethi, & even Tholians
- Made unparalleled gains in technology
- Control the Wormhole, one of the most important regions in space
- Had absorbed a lot of the Orion’s planet and became more aware/in control of the Syndicate
- Acquired cloaking device, advanced holography, and so on By the end of Voyager and Insurrection they:
- Beat the Borg, and destroyed their Transwarp Hub
- Documented an entirely new region of space & made many allies, & defeated many empires
- Gained massive impressive new technology, integrated Borg science & tech, infiltrated the Borg, created a Borg resistance movement
- Got multiple points of assistance, technology & info from the future and closed multiple temporal loops
- Discovered subspace corridors, mobile emitters, new kinds of holograms, nanites, anti Borg technology & cloaks, several kinds of transwarp, the space cannon, United With Maquis & figured out cross galaxy communication.
- Made absurd advances in medicine, technology, computation, life extension, and so on
- Established diplomatic representation in the quadrant, found 3 connections to humanity (the 38s, Voth, and Spirit people) & learned about the Sikarians and their tech
- Mastered self piloting & hologram piloted ships
- Learned a lot about time travel, wormholes, sub space, and so on
- Encountered the Species 8472, helped defeat them, then forged an alliance
- Outwitted, allied, or defeated the Hirogen, Observers, Krenim, Kazon, Viidians, Ocampa, Devore, Malon, Vaudwaar, etc
- Were instrumental in the liberation & saving of dozens of cultures
- Learned the outcome of several older missions like that probe, the missing astronaut, the Equinox, That Klingon ship, those Ferengi, the Hansens, and so on
- Learned how to survive long distance away missions and stressful trips and ration resources
- Got an absurd amount of new data on astrometrics, communication, subspace, astronomy, time, physics etc from all 4 quadrants
- In TNG they installed a human in the Q, in DS9 they gave Q a human companion (& Sisko whooped his ass), and in Voyager they revolutionized the Q, caused a civil war, raised a new generation of Q, helped them change their philosophy on suicide & so on
- By the time of Voyager Starfleet had gone to another galaxy, to the ‘end’ of the universe, to the ‘beginning’ of the universe, to many alternate dimensions, to fluidic space, to many timelines, to the mycelial network, & so on giving them unparalleled knowledge
- Revolutionized fuel efficiency, long term survival, ablative armor, shielding, photonics, temporal mechanics, communication, relays, wormholes, alternative fuel sources, teleportation, shuttlecraft, weaponry, cloaks, positronics, self replicating tech, shields & weapons etc
- By the end of Insurrection, Nemesis, First Contact & Genesis, they’d integrated dozens of new species, discovered that field that heals people, discovered the Nexus, guaranteed First Contact in a closed loop (also the Borg Loop arc in Enterprise)
- Spock’s reunification movement gained steam among the Ronulans, the entire Romulans senate was wiped out, they teamed up with the new guard to defeat them, while also still helping the Remans, and so on
I should add that I missed some things with DS9 such as defeating the Pah Wraiths once and for all, integrated the Skreea, put Sisko among the Prophets, made absurd discoveries in xenoarchaeology such as the solar ships & Iconian gateways, became friendly with the Karemma
And also helped overthrow the dictatorship in the dark universe for the 3rd time, assisted their revolution, and became tentatively more friendly with them and able to cross between them at will.
All in all then, by Nemesis they had quite literally defeated or become allies with every major enemy, had installed leaders in basically every opposed society save three, but nornalized relations with them. Between the Dominion war, Cardassia, Bajor, the Romulan civil war, the Klingon war, the Romulan Supernova, and more, the Federation was providing active aid to all of their enemies, had diplomatic ties with all of them. By Picard they’d basically overseen the Romulan relief effort, saw them fragment and be destroyed, revolutionized synthetic life, biocomputing & holography, mastered the Ex Borg process and had studied a Borg cube in detail. This was a verifiable Pax Federationalis, and if irl a major war ended with every enemy defeated, a mass relief effort to every broken society, and pro government people installed at the head of each of them or mutual aid treaties signed, wed all assume it was intentional. They had, in more than one sense, literally conquered the space around them, and politically absorbed the resources, critical tactical routes & empires they needed to achieve security.
The fact that Section 31 and Starfleet intelligence played a role in so many of these lends further credence to the idea that these were basically long run CIA style regime change OPs, and a post on Daystrom Institute today argues Voyager is a section 31 op. If true this would make the entire Dominion war, the events of the four TNG movies, the Vouager’s stranding & return, and the events leading up to Picard all very plausibly a long run op by Section 31. Key Point:
The explanation for the events of Picard, set up thematically by Discovery, Enterprise, and DS9, as well as the arc ending up in Calypso and Discovery season 3 can therefore be reframed as what happens when an unaccountable imperialist NatSec agency takes over a liberal democratic republic. What’s more, because it ends successfully, the Federation is able to absorb or ally with nearly all its enemies—Klingon, Romulans, Bajor, Cardassians, Ferengi, the Maquis, and so on. The ones they don’t take over or explicitly ally with—the Borg, Dominion, Breen, etc—are totally defeated and have been internally infiltrated or destroyed. Other like Gorn, Tzenkethi, & Tholians are normalized. Even the Q, the Dark Universe, the species of the Delta Quadrant, and occupants of Fluidic Space were revolutionized or defeated by the Federation.
They now had unparalleled knowledge of Borg, Dominion, time travel, warp, transwarp, synthetic, photonic, posironic, biocomputer, teleportation, subspace, communication, long term survival, cloak, hologram, and other technology. They also, between the events with Q time travel, First Contact, the Voth, Sargons species, The Ancient Humanoids, the Admonition, ‘Past Tense’, Futures End, the Iconians, All Good Things, the Preservers & others, they have unparalleled knowledge of their origins & past
Not to mention they have available but classified knowledge of many kinds of time travel, the Mycelial network, the Omega particle, transwarp, Borg teleportation, wormholes, Iconians gateways, subspace corridors, alternate dimensions, etc.
They clearly therefore have the technological, scientific, diplomatic, cultural, historical, intellectual, communication, logistics, goodwill, knowledge, political, navigational, synthetic, holographic, intelligence & other advantage over all other species in the galaxy . The question is thus NOT “why they’d become authoritarian, after having stagnated and ossified?” but “why did it take so took so long to do so?”, especially when you consider that in absorbing all these former enemies they introduce alternate cultures less committed to liberal democracy. Picard had the perfect opportunity to address all of this.
And ‘Picard’ dropped the ball on this. All of the events in it could have been told in the above arc. The Romulan supernova, the failure of the relief effort, the synthetic ban, the Ex B project, the admonition, and so on. Very simply, it could have been Section 31 who stopped the relief effort because they wanted to see the Supernova happen so as to destroy Romulus and more easily absorb them afterward. Since we know they work with the Tal Shiar, their participation is easily explained, and their motives could be a mix of the ones in the show, and repeat of the ones from ‘Undiscovered Country’—a desire to maintain war & power
The synthetics then could have just been a convenient scapegoat, or an agreement by both section 31 and the Tal shiar that they don’t want them coming to power. What’s more, that the Federation was so opposed to the Romulans relief effort could be explained by their merging with the Klingon, and absorption of the Bajorans, Cardassians, and other anti Romulan species.
The transition away from liberal democracy could be explained by the above absorption, the increasing influence of Section 31, the Federations hegemony, the experience of the Dominion War, and bureaucratic bloat. And, what’s more, between the experience of war & insecurity, the fact that Section 31 & militaristic tactics saved the federation & guaranteed hegemony, people probably wouldn’t mind ceding rights & liberal democracy for the comparative position & security. Specific Elements that Don’t Really Work, Classified as Personal or Political
Here’s what I would have changed in Picard aside from all of the above
- Not killing all the cool Borg for no reason (personal)
- Explicitly emphasized the politics (political)
- the Cardassians, etc would have been explicitly absorbed and the Romulan absorption plan would have been in the background (political)
- At the end, the admonition would have actually succeeded, and the synthetics would have breached space time, then, once S31s & Tal Shiars role were made clear, the Federation, Romulans, Klingons all the absorbed species etc would have teamed up to fight the super creatures (Personal & Political)
(Just Spitballing Now)
Picard, through influence, and through Data, manages to convince the synthetics to switch back to the good side, and the Synthetics, freed Borg, and so on, would help them fight back.
Using Borg technology, Picsrd’s status as Locutus, and with the help of Data and The Twins would have directly petitioned the advanced synthetics for peace and got them to call it off.
While admittedly, his would be like a mix of the ends of Undiscovered Country, Matrix Revolutions, Discovery Season 2, Star Wars 9, and so on, it would have actually worked well here.
What’s more, instead of just attempting, Picard would have actually killed himself, with some other Q ex Machina, to save him. Picard would then end with the apparent destruction of the S31 Tal Shiar--S31 conspiracy. The enemies and allies would have been fully absorbed, the synthetics would have their rights back, and the enemy synthetic species would leave the Federation alone, but all of the elements i discuss that push the Federation to authoritarianism would have been intensified, not solved, under the appearance of resolution.
And this makes it eminently more plausible that the fascist future of Discovery 3 could come about. Idk what they’re doing in Dis3, but whatever they do, all of the above could be somewhat feasibly retconned in Picard 2, S31, Short Treks, DIS4, and so on.
Indeed, even with the missed opportunities the reality of the events is close enough to this that most of the main points could be saved, and basically all the arcs of Star Trek tied together in a down and Pat way flexible enough to allow novel contributions
Suffice it to say, we’re going to have some 7 Treks on at once in the future, and maybe more of the movies, other timelines (a Klingon show, etc), more political shows and so on, arise. It would be nice to tie them all together.
As far as a convenient retcon, it *also* has the ability to explain perceived inconsistencies between TOS, TAS, DIS, Picard, TNG, ENT and so on. So much can be chalked up to false narration, partial information, and deceit.
(As a side note personal gripe:
Also, instituting an official temporal mechanics & alternate dimension theory would do so too. We basically know there are at least 4 alternate dimension types in Trek—adjacent dimensions like dark universe, classic Everett MWs, time travel splits, and just totally different types of dimensions (fluidic, Q, Mycelial, sphere builders). We also know that Time is multidimensional in Trek—altering the past takes ‘time’ to catch up to the future, and works in weird ways. Officially formalizing all of the above resolves some of the sillier science & also gives good explanation for divergences of timelines. Anyway this is hands down the nerdiest thread I’ve ever done. But I think that whatever issues it may have, I think it’s the best way to tie together the shows, make them more coherent, and explain away inconsistencies. End Side Note Gripe)
This theory, however corny, also has the distinct advantage of being based in real analysis of history, political economy, IR, and social science, and therefore allows Trek’s socio-political allegory to work much more smoothly. Conspiracies are played up, but geopolitics & unaccountable authority are not.
Any sort of thing could be posited, and there even could have been some tacit unspoken awareness of these facts at many levels of the Federation.
One of the nice things about structural analysis of political economy, and geopolitics is that it actually technically doesn’t need a specific agent, and, indeed, it usually doesn’t, not as we think of it. Most actors in the world historical stage are not like conspiracies, cabals, presidents or great men,
but structures, that have a logic unto themselves. The problem is that this makes for poor writing--just look at the introduction of the Borg Queen!
But, in reality, simply the dynamics of having relative superiority, the potential of collapse & invasion, several massive powers on one’s borders, about whom one is uncertain, and, at issue, key aspects of the control of space, time, resources, tactical routes, the heart of the empire, and their space of operations, means that, if this were real world history, no posited agent like Section 31 would be necessary--the structural dynamics of international politics would suffice
. But, alas, this is hard for most people to grasp, which is why conspiracies are posited. What’s more, I do not see this as threatening the optimism of the show, as it reveals the society in question to be contradictory not evil, at least until the point after which authoritarianism becomes irreversible, but that’s exactly that for which we must look out. Instead, the show would enjoin us to think like LeGuin or Mieville or Banks, and focus on the ways that utopia must be continually renewed, and simply relying on technology & ossified bureaucracy to do it, especially when military, state & imperial structures still exist, just doesn’t cut it.
Here’s my original thread, I’ve obviously cleaned it up since then: https://twitter.com/yungneocon/status/1296600469213773826?s=21