Earth Date: 19th May, 2019
Although we have progressed greatly in achieving greater tolerance and acceptance for diversity since at least the release of the original series, today we are facing an amount of pushback against that tolerance from far-right politics, terrorists, and neo-Nazis.
This re-emergence from extremists is proof of three things: that we can’t afford to get complacent; that those who oppose diversity have been around us all along; and that we can’t afford to cede any ground. This situation may well have arrived due to complacency, or because we’ve won enough ground to trigger a counter-attack, or because public discourse transformed after 9/11 into one of black-and-white morality that lacks nuance and breeds intolerance of people and ideas. But whatever the reason, this is what the world has become, and now we must overcome the situation.
This is why diverse representation is so important. We are engaged in a war of ideas, and the winner is the one who convinces the most people; people are the ones who shape the world. Star Trek proved that, if the amount of people currently working for NASA is anything to go by; many of them joined because of Star Trek. So Star Trek is a force for good in the world, having encouraged diversity from the start and creating enough benevolence in scientists so they can work to better the world.
Part of this influence may lie in the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC for short). Vulcans honour diversity in all its combinations, and Vulcan IDIC pins are symbolic of this. Certainly, the Vulcan fascination with difference is explored with Spock in the original series. We also learn of their history that before the IDIC philosophy was embraced, Vulcans were at war with one another. But this philosophy is what united the Vulcans and eventually led them to seek out other forms of diversity. In universe, Vulcans also had a big influence on humans’ journey to the stars, as was revealed in Star Trek: Enterprise.
On the other hand, Star Trek also has representatives of the philosophical opponents to such diversity. What I find so fascinating about Cardassians is that they’re a dark reflection of ourselves. Gul Dukat, for example, is someone who shows that you can be evil and still persuade so many others to sympathise with you. That sympathy is dangerous: it can lead people down the path of hatred, superiority, and greed. It can allow so many others to agree with him that his actions were justified, for whatever reasons he happens to be spouting that day. But it is imperative that we not allow people like Dukat to persuade us to walk into that darkness with them.
Cardassians and Vulcans are my two favourite Star Trek aliens, and perhaps this is because of this opposition between them, of evil vs good, passion vs logic. Certainly there are other aliens that represent some aspects of humans ― Bajorans might seem like a group to emulate, but they’re also terrorists, and can be as prejudiced as humans, and Ferengi show us the greed and exploitation of capitalists ― but Cardassians and Vulcans most reflect who we can be in the future. If we allow ourselves to go the way of the Cardassians, that would mean remaining as colonisers whose leaders talk of nationalism while ruining the planet and stealing from others to maintain its peoples survival. If we go the way of the Vulcans, it would mean leading the way in working together with others, learning anything we can about other cultures, and doing what is best for the mutual survival of ourselves and others.
At any rate, the aliens of Star Trek are as relevant in issues we face today as any other representation in media. For example, the misogynistic attitudes embedded in Ferengi culture seems to reflect current trends regarding women today, such as the issue of abortion. Ferengi seek to control and subjugate, never giving women power; the recent abortion bills in America also seek to steal female agency.
Another example is the Bajoran occupation by the Cardassians, which among other things could be said to represent the Israeli/Palestinian conflict over land. The Israeli claim is that the land is their cultural heritage, and the Palestinians have no claim to it. The truth is that Palestinians have just as much claim as the Israelis, but the Israelis use this lie as an excuse to hold power over the Palestinians. Similarly, the Cardassians claim to be culturally superior to the Bajorans, and thus have a right to rule them.