Alexander Hellene

Hierarchies in Space

Art by Joe Peterson. Used without permission. If he has a problem with my use, I will gladly take it down.

Star Trek never made much sense to me. I’m not talking about the space travel and the aliens; that’s part of being a sci-fi show, and is honestly more believable than what I’m about to get into. Since I’m both a lover of fiction and a writer of it, I’m going to talk about some philosophical things that will hopefully help you to make your own writing more believable and real.

Before we go on, I’ve only watched the original series, the first six movies, a handful of The Next Generation and Deep Space: Nine episodes I don’t remember, and the 2009 Star Trek reboot. So this is my frame of reference.

What bothered me about Star Trek is not what happens in space, but about what, presumably, happens on Earth. The franchise’s framing story, that society somehow evolved to where everyone is a peaceful cog in a great peaceful machine that provides all material wants, needs, and comforts, while still somehow nurturing man’s exploratory nature to rocket off into space—and is atheist, of course—utterly ridiculous to anyone with even a remedial grasp of human nature and basic pattern recognition skills.

Such a utopian system, the type dreamed up by Marxists and Jacobins and Liberals and Libertarians and Globalists, never works. Because of humans. All you need is one defector for the whole thing to fall apart. It’s a ridiculous system that does nothing to mitigate the worst tendencies of human nature and funnel them to a positive end; instead, it just pretends human nature can be changed with the passing of magic laws. Any system like Star Trek’s global Earth government would not be filled with sunny skies, green grass, and happy people free from want and strife.

Better historians of sci-fi will be able to correct me, but I’m reasonably sure this tendency began in the 1930s and reached its apotheosis in the 1960s.

What is so laughable is that all of these utopian science fiction futures posit a world free of hierarchies, save for one: in this case, Starfleet. I think this reflects an unconscious recognition that any organization worth a damn, that wants to actually accomplish things, needs a clearly defined and delineated hierarchy with authority flowing from the top down.

Sometimes this is good. Many businesses and governments were able to make vital scientific and technological breakthroughs due to a dynamic structure that freed up individuals to exercise their talents in pursuit of a common goal while having strong—and good—leadership acting as the ultimate authority.

Of course, the Soviet Union and other “People’s Republics” throughout history also have a gigantic hierarchy which, if you’re one of the narrow slice of society belonging to it, will make for a very nice life. Otherwise, you’re one of the innumerable classless masses, equal in your oppression and immiseration.

The answer, therefore, isn’t hierarchy for the sake of hierarchy. It’s a hierarchy where everyone knows their part and has duties and obligations to those both above and below them. Except for the guy at the top, who answers to no one save God . . . and who faces the harshest of consequences for failure

At least, that’s the original formulation of a monarchy by divine right. But even if you’re not talking about kings and queens, the power of hierarchy is both undeniable and inevitable.

*     *     *

A chief executive needs to be able to make decisions after consultation with advisors while taking in information from and the needs of those under him whom he has a solemn duty to protect without any checks on his authority to do so. The other, necessary piece of this equation is that sole responsibility must rest on this executive. Win or lose, succeed or fail, live or die, it’s all on him. Great rewards are in his future, but so are great punishments. It is a position that requires greatness and fortitude.

If you want to be the boss, you’ve got to have balls.

This all sounds suspiciously like, oh, I don’t know, a certain famous starship captain.

*     *     *

In the 2009 Star Trek, the scenes back on Earth comprised of stiff, boring people speaking and acting stiffly and boringly. Only Kirk, really, had the fire of life, of vitality, in him. No wonder he was viewed as a maverick. This is paradise? Maybe it’s the Greek in me, but such a bloodless, lifeless, passionless society sounds like a nightmare.

I can’t tell if this “boring stiff sci-fi people of the future” trope is a deliberate Star Trek thing, or if J.J. Abrams is just a bad writer.

In any event, from what I’ve seen of the original Star Trek, Captain Kirk is the ultimate pulp hero, a man of action and passion who takes his duty to his crew so seriously he is consistently willing to die for them. Does this sound like a guy who could function on the society of the future dreamed up by Gene Rodenberry, et al.?

No wonder Kirk wants to be in space all the time.

Further, wouldn’t life on Earth have to be governed by an all-encompassing hierarchy? Who the hell makes decisions? Don’t tell me “Voters,” because in the Star Trek mythos we’re talking about, I think, a planet-wide government. And as we see from the repressive, tyrannical nature of the attempted One World Governments being attempted on Earth in real-life, the bigger they are, the worse they are. The more diffused the decionmaking, and the more staffed these bureaucracies are with the worst people who ever existed.

It make this Bible-believing Christian thankful that the nations are still prophesized to exist in the Book of Revelations. We just have to get through this current phase of madness first.

*     *     *

For there to be any type of space exploration, real or fictional, there need to be hierarchies. And I mean hierarchies both on the ships themselves and within the spacefaring organizations creating, commissioning, and commanding them; and on the terrestrial governments who create and rule such bodies. If you think I’m being hyperbolic, take a look at how this country, the supposed most technologically advanced ever, has “lost the technology” needed to return to the moon, something it did over fifty years ago. Maybe it’s both a people-problem and a system-problem.

For my money, Frank Herbert got it right in his Dune series: if mankind is going to accomplish anything great in the future, these gigantic, sclerotic bureaucracies have got to go. For us to have any hope, we will need to get over our ahistorical, anomalous aversion to authority and allow for systems where:

  • Not everybody gets an equal say.
  • Having skin in the game and/or a certain level of intelligence is a requirement for participation in civic life.
  • Where “freedom” and “liberty” are not nebulous ends unto themselves, but where the questions “freedom of what?” and “liberty to what?” are actually answered.
  • Where smaller, more homogenous nations are led by those who actually care for their people and face dire consequences for dereliction of duty.
  • Where society is stratified—before you jump down my throat, it is now, and America 100 percent has a class system and an aristocracy. What it lacks is an aristocracy made of virtuous people who actually deserve to remain in their privileged position. What I would prefer is that we stop lying about our class system and create one actually calculated to channel people to where they can both be productive members of society and live meaningful lives, with options for mobility for those who are proven to be capable.
  • Where a single executive sits on top of the hierarchy and can make the necessary, hard, and unpleasant decisions that benefit the people he actually cares about without worrying about a disgusting news media, outside foreign influences, gigantic multinational corporations and banks, and various conflicting voting blocs. In other words, no cobbling together Frankenstein-monster-like coalitions to get the fifty-plus-one percent of the vote needed to playact at legitimacy.

In Dune, Baron Harkonnen is an example of a bad chief executive. That happens, and it stinks. But we have had a long line of bad chief executives in the supposedly self-governed United States. “Vote the bums out” doesn’t really work when the bums are not the ones really making the executive decisions. And it doesn’t work period, because nothing ever changes in our system; Republican or Democrat, everything gets lamer by the year.

However, Leto Atreides is an example of a good chief executive. His son Paul is another, even though he makes the necessary decisions despite knowing his people will hate him for it. And if Paul had it bad, read on through the series to see what happens to his son Leto II . . .

A minor spoiler for the later Dune books: the Atreides family has correctly determined that comfort and material overabundance has made humanity soft. In order to counteract this, planets need to be prevented from deep space exploration until the wanderlust, resourcefulness, and vitality return. We see shades of this in the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons, the greatest living sci-fi author: a monumental work heavily inspired by the equally monumental Dune.

Hierarchies are inevitable because they work. Science fiction stories of sexy secular utopias controlled by democratically elected plebiscites or whatever are more unbelievable than the space travel and alien monster stuff. The future is the past. Our way is not the acme of human organization. It will collapse. It must collapse. For if it does not, we will forever wallow in the dirt and never again soar among the stars.

– Alexander

14 thoughts on “Hierarchies in Space”

  1. The franchise’s framing story, that society somehow evolved to where everyone is a peaceful cog in a great peaceful machine that provides all material wants, needs, and comforts, while still somehow nurturing man’s exploratory nature to rocket off into space—and is atheist, of course—utterly ridiculous to anyone with even a remedial grasp of human nature and basic pattern recognition skills.”

    The answer to the above is that Gene Roddenberry was a Class-A1, Pie-in-the-Sky Utopian dope. The “Great Bird of the Galaxy” was good at generating gigantic poops over people with better ideas. Gene L. Coon and Dorothy Fontana were the success vectors behind the original series.

    Kirk was a Pulp Hero in TOS. All other Star Trek captains (other than Commander Peter Quincy Taggart of the NSEA Protector — Best ST Captain) were just “Big Men with Screwdrivers”. End of story.

    1. Raymond, I disagree Sisko was a throwback sometimes to the Dirty dozen/action movies.
      My beef with the later Star trek’s was how classist they were. The working class crewmembers disappeared except for O’Brien.
      Also, there was never any political interference and the only bureaucracy was the diplomatic corps. C’mon!
      New generation disappointed me alot and Voyager missed an opportunity to have a dirtier/beaten up ship with high stakes. The new Battlestar galactic is what New generation/Voyager should’ve been.


      1. I never thought about the class dimension to the series, mainly because I watched precious few episodes of anything post-TOS.

        The lack of political interference is hysterical, and enough to ruin my suspension of disbelief.

        1. Just — being there — is interfering.

          TNG – “Hey, planetary government! We’re here to negotiate. Don’t mind the flagship of StarFleet orbiting above you with multi-bevawatt energy projectors and multi-megaton anti-matter bombs. Just want to talk to you. Seriously.”

        2. Alexander,
          If the Enterprise was the flagship, how come there was never an episode with the president or cabinet member bring ferried to some summit. Geez we saw more of Gow’Ron the Klingon chancellor.


      2. The vanishing crewmen were a Roddenberry moron move as well–and it was carried through to the other series. Gene speculated in the show development, as documented in his “Making of Star Trek”, that all the crew would be officers. This was based on modern-day astronauts often being military officers.

        Naive on so many levels, especially since he was once a military member.

        Enlisted military in the US are almost invariably the technical experts of the Services. Roddenberry was a classic idiot.

        1. Yup. Didn’t the Americans gave mustang’s? Sergeants flying planes

          Anyways, o’Brien was another missed opportunity. I’d like to have seen Colm bring out his British/Irish character coupled with the role as Chief of the boat. Been there, seen everything and got the medals and scars.
          Thst persona would’ve been awesome to put Picard’s prissiness in his place and restrain Riker’s horny dog temperament.


    2. Tell me about it! I’ve heard it said that Rodenberry was influenced by the more progressive elements of his circle to push the series more towards this bloodless and unrealistic utopian direction. It’s so ridiculous even when compared to faster-than-light travel, aliens, and wormholes.

      Kirk was the best captain in my eyes, though you are correct: Peter Quincy Taggart might be even better!

      1. I can accept the FTL, aliens, etc sooner than I can Gene’s assumption that merely going into Space would change basic human nature.

        1. The next generation often greeted me. The Borg arc culinstingvin Wolf 365 was awesome. The next generation should’ve continued with the pulp adventure with some spiciness. Instead it was the UN in space but without the sex and corruption scandals.

          The mirror universe episodes were fun. They were so campy.


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