Star Trek promises a future of peace and scientific exploration. It’s a world where humans live without internal warfare and are armed with nothing but a list of directives that supposedly encourage human advancement. There’s no money or want; replicators provide all the sustenance anyone desires.
It all sounds terribly nice, and somewhat far removed from the world of war, corruption, and institutionalized surveillance we currently thrash about in.
But what made the tomorrow people of Star Trek put aside their differences so humans could live long and prosper without hindrance? Certainly, the draconian practices we see governments employ today, in real life, are not noticeable in the Star Trek canon. Or are they?
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra
The position of power we see most often in the Star Trek world is that of commanding officer (like Picard and Kirk), and they act with total impunity and without any boundary. For example, there are many instances where officers override locks to enter personal quarters, without any judicial process, warrant, or, sometimes, even cause. Privacy, it seems, is not a concern in the 24th century.
There’s also the blind devotion that is expected to be shown a captain. A commanding officer’s every whim must be followed, for fear of court martial or death, even if said whim places people directly in harm’s way.
As already mentioned, there’s no money in the Star Trek world or any need for a reward — the replicators see to that. Which means people must follow a captain’s orders for no other reason than the fear of repercussions if they don’t.
And what repercussions there could be. A starship is a weapon of total destruction, more than capable of disintegrating an entire planet, should the captain deem it necessary. Is it any wonder that the masses play ball, then?
And as if succumbing to the complete authority of a captain weren’t enough, there’s also a secret organization that exists purely to manipulate, control, and ensure the continuation of the Federation. And no, it’s not ‘just like the NSA’. Oh no, it’s far, far worse than that.
Section 31 Is the NSA at Warp Factor 9
Section 31 is an autonomous and clandestine organization entrusted with protecting the security interests of Earth and the Federation. They operate separately from Starfleet and are officially-nonexistent, with very few having even heard of them. The organization is not accountable to anyone, and has been described as having granted itself the powers of judge, jury, and executioner.
Section 31 has existed at least as long as Starfleet and has a license to kill anyone they deem “a threat to Federation interests”. That’s quite some power, more so than anything proven to exist in the real world, though it’s certain some governments would very much like such an all-seeing dissident truncheon at their disposal.
Temba, His Arms Wide
Don’t be fooled into thinking Section 31 exists just to “protect” humans from aliens. “Federation interests” is an incredibly broad term, and has often been interpreted as a means to allow the organization to subjugate even those they are supposedly protecting.
Notably, Starfleet Doctor Bashir was taken, tortured, and interrogated by Section 31, so that they might ascertain his loyalty to the Federation. The organization was able to acquire the use of a holodeck for a few days to test Doctor Bashir, uninterrupted, and no one questioned how they managed to do this.
It seems that despite the general lack of awareness of Section 31, they are still able to command vast resources within the Federation. This hints at a presumably thorough network of spies, or absolute authority over their domain.
Whatever the source behind their power, one thing is certain: anyone Section 31 deems a security threat is dealt with “quietly and quickly”. Indeed, Section 31 is known to act with such brutal force they have been compared to the notoriously nasty Romulan Empire’s secret agency, the Tal Shiar.
That’s right, there’s more than one clandestine, authoritarian regime in the Star Trek universe, and humans don’t have the monopoly on them.
Unhappiness and Murder: The Tal Shiar Make It So
The Tal Shiar is the highly feared intelligence agency of the Romulan Empire. Though created to guard the security of the Empire, Tal Shiar also deals with traitors in the Romulan population.
“Traitor” is the go-to excuse any time a regime wants someone to be punished or disposed of and is as ambiguous as it is terrifying. Who’s to decide which acts, even the innocuous, are treacherous? It’s a term created by power, to keep power.
The secretive Tal Shiar keep the Romulan people in a constant state of paranoia, and dissension is met with immediate and severe punishment. Worse, some dissidents are known to disappear completely.
Unpleasant as they seem, though, the Tal Shiar are a box of kittens compared to the Cardassian order of manipulation and control.
There Are Four Lights! The Obsidian Order
The Cardassians are a humanoid species, known for being particularly ruthless and controlling. What might their interpretation of a ruthless regime of control be, then?
Quite a jolly one! At least to its members. Agents of the Order are equipped with a cranial implant that releases a substance called promazine, which is designed to allow Obsidian agents to better resist torture. In fact, the drug makes the experience of torture pleasurable.
On top of reveling where most would be repulsed, the reach of the Obsidian Order is undeniably absolute. It’s been said that a Cardassian citizen couldn’t sit down to a meal without each dish being duly noted and recorded by the Obsidian Order.
The practical omnipotent surveillance of the Order has led to the swift elimination of numerous “traitors”, and all Cardassians live in constant fear of the organization.
What a time to be alive.
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night… Can We Avoid Star Trek Dystopia?
Well, the future sounds like a thoroughly nasty place to live. It’s a universe where people are expected to toe the line or be disappeared.
Massive government organizations control everything and don’t even reward people for being part of it. The universal motto is do or die. It’s less dangling a carrot on a stick, and more hammering sharpened sticks into people’s brains.
But how do we stop such a nasty future of control and oppression befalling upon us, here in the real world? Perhaps it’s time to act. ExpressVPN works with many organizations that fight for privacy and stand against governmental tinkering.
Most recently, ExpressVPN sided with the EFF to curtail Rule 41 amendments. A directive that could increase government’s powers to hack thousands of computers, anywhere in the world, all with a single warrant — which seems like something Section 31 would be proud of.
Time to step up, before your descendants are trapped in a hellish prison floating through the darkness of space, at the whim of a flighty dictator in possession of an unfathomably powerful photon cannon.
What do you think, how can we avoid the terrifying future of a Star Trekesque regime of fear and terror? (Or has Johnny 5 got this all completely wrong? – Editor). Would a Star Trek VPN solve everything? Leave your comments below!
Also published on Medium.