The thoughts that were thunk and the goings on of my life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Star Trek was Right All Along

Thanks to my step-mom generously giving us her copies of Star Trek (Seasons 1-4), we have slowly been working our way through the seasons as the ripples of the writer's strike continue to cause our television to suck even harder than it normally does. Now your median episode of Star Trek is probably a 3.5 out of 5; however, there are some amazing episodes of where you wonder how they were able to spend that kind of money on the script, where the characters show honor or disgrace, where the plot is strange and familiar at the same time.

Recently we watched an episode The Drumhead, which could have been written based off of the political headlines of this past week. Essentially the plot follows a situation in which a person on-board the ship is found to have committed espionage. But it is known that there is likely another traitor onboard...and that's where suspicions start to rise, rights start to shift towards conditional privileges, and individuals are presumed guilty without trial.

I love this dialog between Picard and Warf about the importance of security versus the importance of protecting an individual's rights:

Picard: The 7th Guarantee (info) is one of the most important rights granted by the Federation. We can not take a fundamental principle of the constitution and turn it against a citizen.
Warf: The Federation *does* have enemies. We must seek them out!
Picard: Ah yes. That's how it starts. But, the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mr. Warf. I do not like what we have become.

What I love about this, is that the issues looked at in that episode are such pressing issues even today. Just this week even there's been a very interesting case of the FISA bill. Essentially you have a piece of legislation that looks to protect those who were complicit and willing to assist in the denial of an individual's rights. Now granted, the rights were only violated in a mild way. And there was the looming doom of 'terrorists'. However, once you start to give in to these fears and infringing on rights for protection's sake, you lose the very essence of what makes the rules, the system of government so great. You lose a piece of your collective soul when you give into fears like these to perpetrate a crime against another. Or in the words of Picard, we are taking a fundamental principle of the constitution and turning it against our citizens.

Picard: With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censored, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably. ...The first time any man's freedom is trodden on, we're all damaged.

What makes me even sadder is that we have elected officials that are meant to represent what we believe, who are there to make sure that our voices are heard. But they too are on the site of poorly-thought action. They are willing to give up whatever possible to make us 'safe'. As a great example, look at how hard my local congressman (who is elected only because of shady districting) fights to ensure that the rights of individuals are trumped in the name of security.

McCaul's Statement on FISA: "America [is] in its greatest time of need, in a time of peril, in a time of war."

If you read through 'Representative' McCaul's statements you'll see so much partisan pandering, illogical argumentation and complete avoidance of the real issue at hand. In this case the reason for that is because while it may feel right and you can even word the position to sound right, the truth is it's not right. You should never infringe on our rights, even if what the person does is scum...you have no right to violate their privacy unless subject to proper judgement that that is the call that needs to be made. I understand the world has changed, that progress needs to happen, that our current system goes the speed of a 19th century process when we're in the 21st century. So address those issues. Make a law stating that information needs to be retrievable for 1-7 days (in volatile, easily erasable memory). If the information is important then a warrant could be obtained in that amount of time and enacted. But don't overstep boundaries, don't allow one person to hold all the control, don't give some 'benevolent' force the power to choose right and wrong, don't throw away all our rights because somebody makes you feel scared, don't give people that knowingly did wrong a get out of jail free card, and don't pretend that nothing is in skirting our freedoms.

It's sad that these sorts of issues will continually crop up. But part of freedom is uncertainty. Part of living in a truly free world is that there are more than our friends walking amongst us. Part of living in a land of liberty means that somebody will choose poor associations, bad allies, and perhaps even harbor ill will. But to run around assuming the worst in people and seeking guilt is a dangerous proposition with dire consequences. In closing, I'll let Picard sum up my thoughts:

Picard: We think we've come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, is all ancient history. Then, before you can blink an eye, suddenly, it threatens to start all over again.
Worf
: I believed her. I... helped her. I did not see her for what she was.
Picard
: Mr. Worf, villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged.
Worf
: I think... after yesterday people will not be so ready to trust her.
Picard
: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us. Waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. […] Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we must continually pay.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

I totally watched that episode a few weeks ago. You know, I got into an interesting discussion with my grandfather once (a life-long civil servant and conservative, who worked for the air force during the cold war) and he said he was ok with warrantless wiretapping, etc, etc. I actually managed to change his mind a bit though... The founding fathers of this country had to decide between whether they wished to value their lives or live their values. They chose to live their values, and codified those values into the bill of rights. Our rights and freedoms are always at a cost - and I would be willing to pay that cost rather than "feel a little safer". FISA may be a small scale, but it is indicative of a broader problem in our american society: The desire to feel safe no matter what freedoms we would give up to do so. I'm sure you've seen the Ben Franklin quote before - those who do so deserve neither security nor freedom. I think it takes a great amount of strength as a nation to stand up and say "We will defend our rights, even if it means we are less safe as a people." Too bad so few are willing to do so.