Star Trek, Brexit, and Togetherness

In a July press conference by the cast of Star Trek Beyond, Simon Pegg, who portrayed Mr. Scott and co-wrote the story, said,

"The social commentary in this iteration of Star Trek is, "We're better together." That's what it's about. It's about collectivism. And in this era of Brexit, and talking about building walls in certain places, you know, now more than ever we should be thinking about the value of collectivism, about cooperation, and, you know, unity. That can be and is our strength, and the more fractured we become, the less secure we all feel... The villain in Star Trek is like... we could have called him Brexit."

I respect Simon Pegg both as an artist and as a human being who cares about other human beings, but these sentiments about unity and collectivism are vague, contradictory, and as fantastical as any Star Trek screenplay.

Forced Unity?

What exactly is the unity that any two individuals or political units "should" have? How is Sean in Ireland supposed to be "unified" with Mihály in Hungary to Mr. Pegg's satisfaction? Or how "should" Ireland be unified with Hungary? Is it not enough that any two people or political units co-exist peacefully and that any interactions between them are also peaceful? (No, President Lincoln, I'm not asking you.) Conversely, in what sense is the EU actually unified now—aside from the word "Union" in its name? Do common traffic signs and banana classifications create respect and solidarity between Sean and Mihály?

Whatever "unity" actually is, Mr. Pegg suggests that collectivism is the means of attaining it—not altruism or some other personal drive, butcollectivism, which is a top-down arrangement of society, devised by people who don't share common values, shaped by political interests, funded involuntarily, and enforced with physical and/or financial coercion. Is that brand of togetherness really best for society? Can any two parties be forced by a third party to "improve" their unity?

The EU

If the EU was merely a free trade zone, I might actually expect strengthened ties among some countries because, to put it simply, markets tend to make friends. But the EU doesn't engage in genuine free trade. A free-trade agreement would be one sentence of legislation along the lines of, "We, the government of X will no longer restrict or tax goods imported from Y," and it wouldn't require a centralized bureaucracy to administer it. No, the EU is a managed trade zone that brings with it a mountain of conditions in the form of regulations. The regulations are allegedly for the good of the collective, but bureaucrats and politicians choose what that "good" will be, who it will benefit, and at whose expense. And the mountain grows in perpetuum. As most Britons know, the majority of new British laws in recent years have originated in Brussels, not Britain. 

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
—C.S. Lewis

By submitting political power to Brussels, every EU member country has effectively silenced the voices of its citizens. Even if all a country's citizens and members of EU parliament want EU legislation to go one way, it can go the opposite way. "Don't be so self-centered Britain—it's for the good of the collective, you understand." Right, right... but tell me again how this imposition improves the unity of Sean and Mihály? 

Some naively think that collectivism is peaceful and reinforces peace, with every individual voluntarily supporting the whole in love and a spirit of togetherness. Maybe on New Vulcan, but not on Earth. Collectivism demands that people give up individual power to politicians who, in turn, sell and/or exercise it to political ends. 

"All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."
—John Dalberg-Acton

The sale of political favor pits citizens, regions, industries, and countries against each other as they compete for those favors. That's hardly a recipe for unity.

Star Trek

Does Star Trek really preach the good news of collectivism? Certainly not in Star Trek Beyond. When Captain Kirk and company risk their lives to save Uhura and the rest of the crew, they don't do it because of any Federation regulations or Starfleet oath. They do it for loyalty to fellow crewman, for friendship, and for romantic love. That is, they do it for personal reasons. Surprise, Mr. and Mrs. Bureaucrat: good things cancome from individuals pursuing their own ends! 

Star Trek: The Next Generation was remarkably skeptical of collectivism, and strongly advocated individual freedom. In the episode,"The Drumhead," for example, Rear Admiral Satie is hellbent on making "sure that this extraordinary union be preserved"—individual rights be damned. Captain Picard challenges her injustice and later finds himself a target in her inquisition. While on the witness stand, he delivers one of his greatest lines of the TV series—a line that makes Star Trek fans proud: 

"With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably. Those words were uttered by [your father] Judge Aaron Satie as wisdom and warning. The first time any man's freedom is trodden on, we're all damaged." 

In the episode, "Journey's End," the Federation relinquishes ownership of a planet to an alien empire, and demands the planet's human homesteaders of 20 years leave the planet. Again, Captain Picard expresses repugnance for this very collectivist decision.

"Once more, they're being asked to leave their homes because of a political decision that has been made by a distant government."

And what was the most dire threat to the Enterprise D and all humankind? The Borg: a collection of drones, each of whom had been assimilated by force into "the Collective". Their famous phrase, to which any EU citizen can relate, was, "resistance is futile." 

Granted, Star Trek has its political contradictions, but if it has anything to say about collectivism specifically, surely the message is, "That would be illogical." 

Genuine Unity

Unity is not only an ambiguous concept, it's a deadly and destructive one when pursued as a political idol. Individual liberty and peaceful coexistence is the more humane goal and, perhaps ironically, the best path to friendship and solidarity. When governments get out of the way, people of different neighborhoods, cities, regions, and countries naturally do things (travel, relocate, buy second homes, conduct business, intermarry, etc.) that, in time and with minimal mess, turn into healthy and productive friendships. The only thing governments can do is hinder it, either by crippling relationships via regulations or by forcing integration by decree (I'm looking at you, Germany), causing strife and violence. 

Pegg is halfway correct. People are better together, but only when the form of togetherness is left to individuals and communities. 

Brexit is not about rejecting relationships between the UK and the rest of Europe; it's about the UK calling its own legislative shots and forging friendships on its own terms, and nobody (outside the political class) should be threatened by that. 

Live long and prosper.

ArticleMichael Clark