Is it for better or worse that Star Trek has (mostly) avoided transhumanism?

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by eschaton, Sep 9, 2019.

  1. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    I don't disagree with your points. Star Trek could have gone deeper. And you're right, TNG and later shows sort of dropped off the transhumanism elements as a general theme (though specific stories did pop up occasionally). Their focus seemed to move onto other things.

    You and Christopher make good points. And TMP is my all time favorite Star Trek film--which deals a lot more with pure sci-fi than any other films, including having a human join with a machine.

    However I think we have to look at the business end of things as well. As much as I love TMP, I have no illusions that is a common feeling among fans and the general public. TWOK was many times more popular than TMP and that became the model for many of the future films (save for maybe TVH--which also didn't deal with transhumanism so much as ecology).

    And the first season of TNG, which seemed to deal with transhumanism a bit more was also generally regarded as one of the poorer seasons of TNG. TNG didn't reach the height of it's popularity until about the 3rd to 4th seasons, by which time the regime had changed largely to the one we are familiar with during the Berman era and they obviously had other priorities.

    Now I don't necessarily blame transhumanism for the how season 1 is perceived--that had more to do with specific stories that were just poorly written or executed. But different producers/writers were at the helm by season 3 that just had different stories they wanted to tell and focus on. And as TNG became more popular, like anything in life, you want to continue to do what works.

    Perhaps it's a pity they didn't explore transhumanism more during the Berman era...but I still loved all those shows for other reasons. There were some excellent stories and threads during those years that had nothing to do with transhumanism maybe, but were still entertaining for other reasons and sometimes had other meaningful messages they portrayed. And I realize your critiques of those shows doesn't necessarily mean you didn't like those shows. But I look at the whole product. And as a whole I still loved TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise. There are things they could have done better. But the beauty of Star Trek is it's still being made...and it sounds like the current producers are more open to exploring transhumanism nowadays.
     
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  2. Prax

    Prax Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    :rolleyes: Ironically, Voyager was exploring aspects of transhumanism through its exploration of the Borg, Seven, etc. Seven wasn't "de-borged" like Picard. She was a legitimate cyborg. It was constantly touched upon. Whenever we saw inside her body or skull, it was revealed to be mostly mechanical. She had superior strength, vision, intellect, et al. There was also the Borg children, and there was the ex-drones in "Unity" who had gained their freedom, but wanted to be "linked" again, and didn't want to go home. Also(and ironically), Voyager, unlike DS9, to continue to do sci-fi "what if" stories, like TOS and TNG, throughout their run.
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2019
  3. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Granted, but the underlying concept of the Borg is basically anti-transhumanist because it paints the merger of humanity and technology as an evil, dehumanizing thing rather than something with the potential to enrich us as a species. Seven's perspective did counter that somewhat, but the Borg were still portrayed as fundamentally wrong. It would've been good to have more good-guy cyborg characters to balance that out, as we finally have in Discovery.
     
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  4. Nyotarules

    Nyotarules Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Unfortunately the character got the 'Kill 'The other' trope, having just the one token transhuman as a main character and getting rid of her was not a long term balance.
     
  5. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    The problem with the Borg though was never really transhumanism specifically. It was the forced coercion and collective mentality. If I have a perfectly functional arm, do I really want a mechanical arm? Maybe I do, but the choice should be mine. But with the Borg it is forced on you. Also your identity is taken from you. So it's more the coercion and forces collectivization that makes the Borg evil, or bad. Not the mechanization or the AI itself. Now of course the Borg are portrayed as 'creepy' on top of it for dramatic effect. It's likely perfectly healthy people wouldn't have the significant amount of modifications the Borg have. And there would be great variations among the population of just how much we integrate with machinery---but it would be our choice.

    Another plus for the novels--particularly the relaunch novels that portray the Choblik (I believe I spelled that right) that did find a good balance between the biological and artificial without the coercion or collectivity of the Borg.
     
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  6. Prax

    Prax Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    They aren't portraying the merging of man and machine as negative, but the taking over of someone's will. If transhumanism is to be explored on Star Trek in a Star Trek manner, it shouldn't be positive or negative, but simply exploratory, neutral, and giving both sides.

    I'm not sure what DSC has "balanced out," or what that even means. Seven's cyborg-ness is depicted as both a positive and negative. Her superhuman abilities save the heroes on several occasions, and they are often praised by other characters, while at the same time, her cybernetics need regular maintenance, and they occasionally malfunction. Sometimes, the malfunction is caused by her own human immune system rejecting certain implants, or other times, the opposite, with her "nanoprobes" overwhelming her immune system. There are plenty of other issues brought up about the merging of man and machine in the character of Seven(NTM other Borg characters on VOY) such as eating, sleeping, human relationships. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much ST has actually explored through this character.
    Has Discovery explored any of this?!

    Edit: As an aside, I'm not sure why DSC season 3 would need to delve into this stuff at all anyway, since it seems to be a major component(if not the major component) of the upcoming Picard series.
     
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  7. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Admiral Admiral

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    But, it was highly deconstructive of its exploration. Even though Seven wasn't fully "de-Borged" she also was working to reconnect with her humanity, which meant a slow removal of those Borg parts. Despite having a lot more cybernetics than Picard did (artificial heart aside) Seven's journey and even the Borg children saw more of a removal of their parts, rather than an embracing of that Borg piece.
    A little bit, though certainly not like Seven, since none of the main characters on DSC are cybernetic.
     
  8. Prax

    Prax Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    In the show, they fully promote that Seven will never be fully, organically human, and that her uniqueness, and finding her own balance, is what makes her special. If her status began as fully automated machine-person, then naturally her goal is to become more human. The doctor only removes the implants that her human immune system rejects. Also, along with her goal to become more human, it was never about becoming fully organic, but learning to be an individual.

    There's never any plan to take away her superior strength or vision, or give her an organic brain, or anything like that.
     
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  9. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I was referring to Keyla Detmer as well as Airiam. Recall that Detmer spoke at Airiam's funeral about how Airiam had helped her adjust to her bionic implants and learn to see them as a new beginning.


    Nobody stays perfectly healthy forever. The flesh deteriorates and dies. Just being alive is ultimately a terminal condition. A lot of SF portrays humans abandoning the flesh altogether for cybernetic or digital immortality.


    Of course, but extrapolate it forward generations into the future. The more advantages there are to being transhuman, the more disadvantaged baseline humans would feel and the fewer people would be willing to lag behind the competition. New ideas have a way of eventually reaching a critical mass of acceptance and coming to be seen as essential. I mean, there was a time when people resisted widespread literacy or electric lighting and insisted it would never catch on with the masses because it would be too destructive to our way of life.


    I actually created the Choblik for my own original SF universe back in the '80s, before the Borg even existed. They looked quite different in my original concept, but I always saw them as a race of engineers who'd embraced technology and invention to the fullest, including applying it to their own bodies and minds. When I decided to rework them as a Trek species, I saw an opportunity to explore their contrast with the Borg, to show that there could be a benevolent side to cyborg existence.


    That's my point. Historically, it's been a common trend in fiction to portray the two as one and the same. The theme of technology as something fundamentally dehumanizing has been part of science fiction for ages. You can see this in TOS episodes like "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" and any episode about a computer god enslaving its people, or in Doctor Who's Cybermen, or in countless B-movies or anthology episodes where any experiment to transform humans into something different turned them into uncaring monsters who lost their humanity. What's changed in recent decades, what defines transhumanism as a literary trend, is that more and more SF has shifted to portraying human augmentation as a neutral or positive thing rather than something automatically evil and oppressive. But Star Trek has been slower to make that shift.


    Through Detmer and Airiam, it portrays bionic augmentation as something humans do voluntarily (albeit to repair severe injuries) and accept without condemnation, rather than something forced on them by evil aliens and seen as a source of fear and dehumanization. For all that Seven was able to find positives in her cyborg nature, the fact remained that it was forced on her. It was a violation that she had to turn into a positive, rather than something positive from the start.
     
  10. eschaton

    eschaton Commodore Commodore

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    My original point in bringing up the Borg was not to discuss transhumanism, but how it was an example of how Voyager repeatedly "demystified" aliens, taking a lot of the potential interest out of them.

    I mean, I guess First Contact began the process by establishing the Borg Queen to begin with. But Voyager leaned into it heavily, with the relationship between the Borg Queen and Janeway taking on almost a personal nature. It robbed the Borg of their original existential menace and ultimately made them - as an antagonist - not really much more interesting than the Kazon. Good work was still done involving Borg identity, but it always basically showed Borg individuals (once separated from the collective) as comprehensive, human-like individuals with their own minor quirks.

    Species 8472 is another great example. They were this terrifying extra-dimensional alien race in Scorpion. Then Voyager fucked it up with In the Flesh, showing them (when impersonating humans) to be psychologically identical to bland Voyager humanoids (or late 20th Century Californians - take your pick).

    You can even argue that the over-use of Q by Voyager falls into this, as Q seems less of a trickster god and more and more just a running joke as the show rolls on.

    Basically, Voyager really lacked the imagination to actually present is aliens as...well...alien. And unlike DS9, they didn't have a setting which allowed revisiting them over and over again, which meant they couldn't even elaborate on them with cultural variation which fits within the human norm. So they just tend to be bland, interchangeable, and generally speaking at just around the right technological level to not be particularly challenging to the crew.
     
  11. Nyotarules

    Nyotarules Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    So do I have you to thank for the Torvig character? He is great, such a sweetie!
     
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  12. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Admiral Admiral

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    Yes, that is one of my biggest gripes against VOY is their ability to take way the alien natured of aliens.

    Yes, but rarely were the Borg implants a part of her journey. They could be seen as an impediment to that process, since they impacted her ability to get in to personal relationships, or even her ability to function as they malfunctioned.

    My point being the implants were rarely shown as a benefit to Seven as a person.
     
  13. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    That process was underway long before Voyager, and it was part of the fundamental problem with the Borg, the reason I think they were intrinsically a bad idea to start with. An impersonal foe can't really be a recurring foe. You can only tell so many stories about battling a force of nature. So as soon as they brought the Borg back for a second appearance, they already had to start changing them to make them more character-oriented. In "Q Who," they had no interest in individuals, only technology, but BOBW retconned that so they suddenly wanted to assimilate people, particularly the star of the show. And subsequent Borg stories were mostly centered on drones who'd been removed from the Collective in one way or another and developed individuality. The only way to tell more than one story about the Borg was to find ways to make them personal.

    And the problem with "existential menace" is that it doesn't work well as a recurring threat. I mean, if you keep surviving the menace over and over, it's not that big a threat to your existence, is it? So that was kind of the inevitable result of reusing the Borg on a frequent basis. The problem was that neither TNG nor VGR was all that successful at creating effective Big Bads other than the Borg.


    That ship sailed well before then, right into Sherwood Forest. People keep blaming VGR for problems that weren't it's fault or weren't exclusive to it.


    They certainly did when it came to widespread interstellar cultures like the Kazon and the Hirogen. In theory, they had a great opportunity to explore such far-flung nomadic societies and how different branches of them diversified in separation from each other. But it's an opportunity they didn't really try to build on, because Trek has always had trouble overcoming the lazy tendency to stereotype entire species as having only a single culture, behavior, government, religion, fashion sense, hairstylist, etc.
     
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  14. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    Right, that's probably true. The differentiation I was making was with the Borg it was coerced. It's one thing to choose enhancements. I was just making the argument that the Borg were bad guys not so much because of the technology, but because they conquered people--I mean, I know that's stating the obvious but I was just trying to make the argument that it wasn't necessarily anti transhumanism. Just anti-forced, well, transhumanism.

    Awe, the Borg (and the Dominion) were two of my favorite villain races in Star Trek. I loved their portrayal in "Q Who?"--I mean partly that's because I love horror movies and they were damn creepy in "Q Who?". I do agree they were demystified as time went on. And you're right, part of that was necessity--if they were going to re-appear they needed to add some complexity to keep them from becoming too one dimensional. So BOBW added the assimilation element--though in some ways that actually made some sense. It seemed the Borg liked efficiency even in "Q Who?" and it would seem inefficient not to make some use of the biological life forms. Actually even in Voyager we learn they don't assimilate every being they come across---like the Kazon were deemed unworthy of assimilation---so it's not wholly inconsistent with "Q Who". Maybe they found humans worthy of assimilation after studying them.

    I loved the Borg in "First Contact". As creepy as they seemed in "Q, Who" something about how they were filmed in the movie made them appear even creepier, chill down your spine creepy. And I actually approved of the Borg Queen idea because it sort of made sense that there would have to be some central control apparatus to control the Borg. The Collective would need something at it's core so it manifested itself as the Queen. And I have to say they did a great job making her sensual and revolting all at the same time---not an easy feat.

    In Voyager they became a bit overexposed. I liked "Dark Frontier" and "Scorpion" but some of the other times they appeared were ho-hum.

    Yes, I agree, that was a failing I saw in Voyager. It comes in last place for Star Trek shows IMO--I still found many things I liked, or even loved about the show. But it wins the award for failing to live up to its full potential. And it's the failure to fully develop the alien species that comes to mind (along with the seeming ease the Maquis had in assimilating back to Starfleet norms with little conflict). They would start off ok. The Kazon were one of my least favorite villains, they reminded me of alleyway bullies more than anything---but they had some interesting ideas--the fact that there were different sects, and that they overcame their own oppression by the Trabe. They just never really got past being alleyway bullies. The Vidians started off with some promise--but they didn't seem to move past the idea of the plague and organ harvesting (at least until Voyager was well past their space and we found out the plague was cured). The Borg we already talked about---the Hirogen--same thing, started off with some interesting ideas, a hunter species--and they even brought in a more complex Hirogen, the one who used the holodecks, who seemed to understand the Hirogen needed more than just the hunt, but then fell back to the hunt, just in a different way. The Malon--well, I guess they would fall into your polluting villains. The Heirarchy--same unfortunate pattern.

    In essence, Voyager would have a good premise for their villains. Each villain they came across had different motivations and cultures and different levels of villainy. But they just didn't develop beyond that one thing that made them a villain. Kazon=Bully, Vidians=Organ Thieves, Malon=Polluters, etc. I liked that they would encounter new aliens and leave some behind on their voyage. That makes sense. But it would have been nice to add some complexity to each species.
     
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  15. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    And the point I'm making is that older SF rarely made that differentiation. Stories about technology changing humanity were often specifically meant to be allegories for the dehumanizing effect of technology and industrialization, a theme that's been widespread in society ever since the Industrial Revolution (and still prevalent with concerns about automation taking people's jobs away from them). So their creators saw no distinction between it being technological and it being coercive. Even in stories where it was voluntary, it usually still turned out to be dehumanizing and destructive.

    The point is, it was more common to see stories where transhumanism (whether technological or biological) was a negative, like Roger Korby's android conversion or the Eugenics Wars supermen or the Cybermen or the Borg, than where it was neutral or positive. There weren't many stories that bothered to make a distinction between transhumanism and evil. What you're saying is more the way it's treated in more modern fiction, where transhumanism can be portrayed either positively or negatively depending on how it's used.


    It's not that worthwhile things weren't done with them, it's just that the original conception of them was ill-suited to series television, because you can only really tell one story about fighting an impersonal force of nature that doesn't even acknowledge the existence of individuals. The only way to tell more stories about the Borg was to abandon that original intent and make the stories more personal.


    Does it? The Internet doesn't have a single central controller. Its operation is distributed across many nodes. Even an ant colony isn't really "ruled" by its queen; individual ants' actions are governed by strictly local rules, reactions to immediate stimuli, that add up into a more complex emergent pattern.

    I see the Queen as analogous to the frontal lobe of the human brain -- not so much a "ruler" as just a coordinating node. It's the entire Collective that does the thinking as a single shared consciousness, the drones thinking collectively like the neurons in a brain -- that's the whole point of the concept of a hive mind, after all -- but the Queen is the part that coordinates all the different segments and judges where to direct their attention or action.


    But my point was that it wasn't specific to Voyager, that it's unfair to blame the show for issues that are inevitable results of using a recurring villain on a frequent enough basis, and that TNG had some of the same problems. As I said, TNG wasn't that good at coming up with villains either. The Ferengi were supposed to be TNG's Klingons, and they turned out to be a joke -- they didn't work as a recurring species until the writers embraced the joke, and then they weren't really villains anymore. Other than that, TNG mostly just used the Romulans a lot, but they were just one-note devious baddies most of the time.
     
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  16. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    Yes, that's probably a better way to put it. She was cryptic. When Data asked her if she was the leader she noted he implied a disparity where none existed. She said she was the Borg. It's a bit hard to wrap your mind around it but it makes sense for the Borg. I give the writers credit for creating that added dimension while maintaining the Borg were very much a collective consciousness. Was it a retcon? I'd actually argue no. Their collective consciousness wasn't ever changed. They just added something to the mix but it still fits what we knew of the Borg up to that point and seems a logical addition.

    Perhaps that's not entirely a bad thing. Star Trek wasn't just about fighting the bad guys. They could have developed their villains better, but Star Trek was about much more than just good guys vs. bad guys. There were episodes that didn't have villains at all--just problems or issues they had to solve.

    I sort of liked the adjustments made to the Ferengi. Instead of becoming the new villain of the week they were the focus of area not usually seen in prior Star Trek--that is greed. Now perhaps they too became the embodiment of one single element--that being greed--but DS9 did add some added layers of complexity to Quark, Rom, Nog and the other Ferengi we see. And, well, they had some fun, and funny episodes. Sometimes you have to let loose :lol:

    I think the reason Voyager sometimes gets flak is there was an opportunity to do some new things since they were in a far flung corner of the galaxy and they failed to develop those ideas to its fullest potential. I was excited about the premise but a bit disappointed they left a number of things on the table.

    I think like many things they got too comfortable. I'd hesitate to even call it lazy. At least in the sense of wanting to take the easy way out. There were plenty of good Voyager episodes that explored other aspects of science fiction and human relationships, characterizations, ecology, etc. that were well done. But they just seemed to hesitate to push things too far outside that zone. It may not even have been a conscious decision. It might just be there priorities were elsewhere at that time.
     
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  17. Nightdiamond

    Nightdiamond Commodore Commodore

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    Ironically, there's one viewpoint out there that says human would never even get to the culturally advanced society without some type of transhumanism like genetic engineering.

    Humans have been struggling with things like war, intolerance, racism, sexism, greed for a long time, and some think it's genetic.

    Trek is saying that the future, all humans have evolved out of all of them completely. Insults don't hurt any more. People are all open minded and accepting. Greed and selfishness are gone. Humans are for the most part, pacifist.

    The skeptics say "bullsh-t!" "Humans spent the last the last 2 million years being programmed to act like this, and then suddenly in the future they're going to evolve and wipe all this out?"

    So they think some type of scientific assistance like engineering might have to be involved with it .
     
  18. Kor

    Kor Admiral Admiral

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    They dropped the ball, especially with that DS9 retcon about this genetic engineering ban after the Eugenics Wars, when TNG had already demonstrated that stuff like that was okay in the Federation.

    Kor
     
  19. Nightdiamond

    Nightdiamond Commodore Commodore

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    However, because of whatever was added the canon of the show, you got two scenarios; the Federation funded scientists at Darwin station were ignoring an existing ban on genetic engineering;

    Or the ban was inserted after the events of Unnatural Selection. But when Bashir was a child, genetic engineering was already outlawed. The Darwin incident happened when Bashir was a child.

    These scientists weren't trying to repair human frailties, they were creating their idea of perfect humans from scratch. If the ban didn't allow genetic engineering for defects, it certainly wouldn't allow creating super children.

    Another problem is what they were shooting for in Unnatural Selection was borderline eugenics- the idea of the perfect human. These were like beautiful, super-fit wonder children in colorful future clothes. They even had "paranormal" abilities that were simply biologically engineered into them.

    Then again, this was the "utopian era" trek where perfectionism tended to be preached a lot.
     
  20. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    In my TNG novel The Buried Age, I posited that Darwin Station was a test case at a time when the laws on genetic engineering were being reassessed and relaxed. Implicitly, they were tightened up again after the mishap in "Unnatural Selection."


    I'm not sure it technically counts as eugenics, since that means selectively breeding or otherwise "improving" an existing genetic lineage. In the episode, Kingsley said that the Darwin children were "not engineered, created" -- suggesting that they weren't genetically modified humans but synthetic humans, created from scratch without any donor parents. So it wasn't about altering existing human genes but about creating an alternative to them existing in parallel.

    Still, it's highly unfortunate that the people responsible for casting the episode chose to portray the "perfect" humans, as well as their designers, as exclusively white. That does have some ugly implications the producers and director probably failed to think through. At least Khan's Augments were claimed in "Space Seed" to be multiethnic, though the actual casting didn't live up to that and TWOK then ignored it.