I always knew I was a huge nerd. However, I was reminded just HOW big a nerd I am when I recently unearthed a long-forgotten paper comparing Thomas More’s Utopia to Star Trek that I had written, and actually submitted, in a college class. Yes, I wrote an actual paper about Star Trek! I am highly amused! I make the excuse that it was an assignment for a mere 200-level course, so perhaps the atrocious writing can be forgiven. I was still a baby student. I make no excuse, however, for being a life-long, rabid Trekkie.
So now, in all its unedited, non-MLA-compliant, unadulterated crappiness, I present to you my Star Trek paper. You’re welcome.
Trek to Utopia
Is it possible for two men who lived 400 years apart to have a similar vision for the future of mankind? It would seem that Thomas More, author of Utopia, and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, both had such visions. The society of the 24th century that Roddenberry so vividly brought to life and the society of the Utopians are both ideal cultures and are similar to each other in many ways. They also have some contrasts as well. Despite these few differences between the two works, Star Trek and Utopia both paint very realistic descriptions on an idyllic society that humanity may one day attain.
A highly organized state is paramount to the productivity of both the Utopian and United Federation of Planets societies. Both have laws that are expected to be followed and they are strictly enforced. The fundamental laws are the backbone for each society. In Utopia, the law-making group consists of 200 administrators they call syphogrants that are elected annually by the households. These administrators then elect a man who “they believe will do the best job…” (More, 96) to be the chief executive. The chief executive is appointed for life. The officials meet as a committee, where they “discuss affairs of state and act quickly to put an end to conflicts…if there are any…” (More, 96). The manner in which the Utopians run their senate meetings is fascinating. “They have a rule that no decision can be made on a matter…unless it has been discussed in the senate on three separate occasions…. To engage in the discussion of matters of public policy outside the senate…is punishable by death” (More, 96). The Utopians believe that such rules prevent any of the officials from conspiring to change the government or oppressing any of the citizens. By far the best rule the Utopian senate has is that “no proposal is ever discussed on the day on which it is first put forward…. The intent is to prevent people from blurting out the first thought that comes into their heads…” (More 97). By establishing this law, the officials do not have to defend or recant a foolish statement they uttered without thinking.
The Federation council is similar in many respects, but not all. Representatives are elected from each member planet to sit on the council. Many of the council members are admirals who also are part of Starfleet Command. There are no rules against discussing a proposal on the day on which it is put forward, but for the most part the members of the council conduct themselves well and usually restrain themselves before they say something foolish. Of course there are still those who are somewhat more vocal than their colleagues. In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), Admiral Nechayev had been vociferous and obstructive during talks regarding the removal of a group of North American Indians from a planet that had been ceded to the Cardassian Empire, an enemy government. Despite the admiral’s outbursts, the Federation Council succeeded in creating a treaty that both sides could live with (“Journey’s End”).
When one deals with administration, one also deals with the laws which that establishment upholds. The Utopians have few laws, but the ones that do exist are treated with the utmost respect and are followed to the letter. The laws of Utopia are very simple and straightforward because they believe “it is completely wrong to oblige people to obey laws that are too numerous to be read from beginning to end, or too obscure to be understood by the person in the street” (More 132). Their laws are simple and few because they are taught from childhood how to behave. They all understand that if a law is broken, punishment is swift and often severe. They also refuse to deal with lawyers in Utopia. Rather, a person will relate his or her story to a judge on their own and the judge will make a ruling. This, they believe, makes it easier to discover the truth and a lawyer will only confuse the issue. It is also very fair because “in Utopia…everyone has an expert knowledge of the law” (More 133), so no one needs a lawyer to interpret those laws for them. They believe that laws exist only “to inform every citizen of their duty…” (More 133). Vague wording and complexity within laws are not conducive to simply educating society of their expected duties.
The Federation, on the other hand, has more complex laws than Utopia, although they do their best to keep them easily understood. They have more simply because their lives are more complex. In the TNG episode “Force of Nature,” Starfleet sends a communiqué to all the starships saying that “all Fleet ships are restricted to warp five” due to studies that have shown their warp drives are damaging the fabric of space. That is about as straightforward as the Federation gets. Because Starfleet is set up like our modern navy in its command structure, there are laws regarding acceptable behavior for an officer as well as those pertaining to following the orders given by one’s commanding officer. The one code which reigns over every law in the Federation is the Prime Directive, which strictly enforces noninterference with less developed worlds. Captain Jean-Luc Picard said of the Prime Directive that “is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy and a very correct one. …whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous” (“Symbiosis”). The Prime Directive was established not only to protect less developed worlds, but also to keep Starfleet officers’ feelings from taking over their rationality (“Pen Pals”).
Probably the main difference between Utopian and Federation views of law and justice is the flexibility of those laws. While the Federation, especially Starfleet, does not advocate arbitrarily bending the rules, Captain Picard voiced the general attitude of his society when he claimed, “…there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions” (“Justice”). While the Federation can be every bit as strict with their laws as the Utopians, they do not see law as black and white, but as shades of grey.
As for punishment, both societies are equally strict, although they go about enforcement in different ways. In Utopia, the punishments are usually very similar to one another, no matter what the crime. Since there is so little crime, it is sufficient to have only a couple types of punishment. For example, everyone in Utopia is required to work and be productive. If, after a few warnings, an idler still does not perform up to par, he or she is expelled from Utopia (More, 98). They are also very strict with such things as premarital sex. If a couple is convicted, “both parties are permanently forbidden to marry…” (More, 129). They feel that if promiscuity is allowed, then no one would “join together in married love…” (More, 129). If a spouse is unfaithful, he or she is “punished with the strictest form of slavery” (More, 130). For crimes other than those pertaining to marriage and sex:
There is no fixed punishment for other crimes…. Generally serious offenses are
punished with slavery, for they think this deters potential offenders as effectively
as would the death penalty…. For if they live, the community benefits from their
If a slave is rebellious and troublesome, only then is he put to death. However, good behavior may earn a slave his freedom once again (More, 131).
In the Federation, there is no slavery or capital punishment. The reason is because they “have learned to detect the seeds of criminal behavior. Capital punishment …is no longer considered a justifiable deterrent” (“Justice”).The punishment depends on the crime. In “The First Duty,” a cadet is expelled from Starfleet Academy and forbidden to pursue a career in the Fleet when a foolish stunt took the life of another cadet. His attempt to cover up the truth was punished more severely than his poor behavior, for lying and attempting to cover up what he had done was considered the more egregious of his mistakes. According to Picard, “The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth…whether it’s scientific truth, or historical truth, or personal truth” (“The First Duty”). Imprisonment is generally the worst form of punishment in the Federation. Ensign Ro Laren had been in prison for years because she disobeyed a direct order, causing the deaths of her away team members (“Ensign Ro”). More frequently, though, a permanent reprimand is placed on an officer’s record for lesser offenses. One such example is when Lieutenant Worf killed one of his enemies from his homeworld. His act was expected by his Klingon culture, but since he is a Starfleet officer, he had to be chastised for behaving in a manner inappropriate to an officer (“Reunion”).
Aside from the operational aspects of Utopian and Federation government, the cultures and daily life themselves have many unique aspects. It is said of Utopia’s cities that “to know one of their cities is to know them all, for they are indistinguishable from each other…” (More, 93). There is no private property, only public. People “draw lots to decide where they will live” (More, 95) and then trade houses a few years down the road. Also, the needs in Utopia are very simple and are easily provided for. Each person only has one set of humble clothes, all identical except in the tailoring used to distinguish men from women and married from single. There is no poverty because the Utopians do not need money in their daily lives. “Human beings are unique in that they amass possessions out of sheer pride…. But given the way Utopian society is organized, there’s not the slightest opportunity for greed to gain a foothold” (More, 104). They obtain all their food from the marketplaces for free. The money they do have is used in times of war to pay the wages of their hired soldiers, or else the precious metals are melted down to “make chamber pots and all the other vessels that they use for shameful purposes…” (More, 110-111). They also make chains out of gold and silver to humiliate the slaves which must wear them.
The social structure of Utopia is quite interesting as well. Although there are no social classes, there are roles individuals are expected to play. For example, Utopia is distinctly patriarchal. “…the oldest male of each household is in charge. Wives take orders from their husbands…” (More, 103). It goes on to explain that “women are the only people employed in preparing and cooking the food, laying the tables, and serving” (More, 105). The men are not usually assigned chores or expected to assist in the typical household duties, although they are expected to do the heavy tasks at work due to their greater physical strength. It is rather surprising that such an enlightened people in every other way would still make such distinctions between the sexes.
In the Federation, on the other hand, there is a certain similarity among their cities simply because of their technology and advanced way of life. However, each city, country, and member planet are encouraged to nurture their uniqueness because variety is highly valued. Captain Picard said that “it is our differences which have made us strong” (“Up the Long Ladder”). Although Picard is the captain of the Federation’s flagship and is accustomed to the highly advanced technology of his time, he is also rooted in the traditions of his French heritage. In one episode, viewers get to see the famous Picard Vineyards in LaBarre, France (“Family”). This also shows that there is still private property, although it is not very common in the 24th century. We also learn about Dr. Beverly Crusher’s Scottish Highlander background and her pride in her family history. She explained to a friend that an heirloom symbolized “the enduring [family] spirit. Wherever they may go, the shining light will guide them to their fortune” (“Sub Rosa”). Individuality is stressed, as is expressed by an alien woman when she tells Lt. LaForge, “It’s a blessing to understand that we are special…” (“Loud as a Whisper”). Federation society eagerly embraces new world views and ways of life, yet still honors the ways of the past. Lt. LaForge said, “Just because something’s old doesn’t mean you throw it away” (“Relics”). He meant that an old-fashioned way of doing things is sometimes superior to relying on modern science and technology. In this respect, the Utopians and the Federation are very much alike, for both cherish the achievements of their ancestors.
Probably the biggest difference between the Federation and Utopia is the social structure. While Utopia is patriarchal, the Federation has no type of social or gender roles. It is quite common for a woman to outrank a man in Starfleet. In one episode, Dr. Crusher gave Lt. Worf an order. A human boy who had been raised by patriarchal aliens observed the exchange and questioned why Worf obeyed a woman. Worf explained, “Dr. Crusher is my superior officer” (“Suddenly Human”). Later, the boy was surprised to learn that that captain himself is outranked by a female admiral. The officers all take this in stride, since they are accustomed to equality among the sexes.
As with the Utopians, Federation citizens have no need for money in their daily lives, although they also retain vast sums of their currency for other uses. Captain Picard explained, “We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy” (“The Neutral Zone”). Due to their technology, they simply need to visit the nearest matter replicator to obtain food or clothes. The replicators also make it easy to counterfeit gold, silver, and other precious metals, so these are no longer used as currencies. Instead, nearly everyone, whether they are Federation members or not, uses a substance called latinum, which is not able to be replicated because of its strange molecular configuration. Money is used mainly when one is dealing with a planet that is not in the Federation. For example, at Farpoint Station, Dr. Crusher made a purchase from an alien. She simply said to “charge it to Dr. Crusher on the Enterprise” (“Encounter at Farpoint”) to make good on her debt.
The question of religion has been tidily answered in both Utopian and Federation societies. In Utopia, everyone is free to choose their own religion, although most were converted to Christianity. They believe that “every individual should be free to follow the religion of his or her choice…” (More, 146-47) and that “no one should be punished for his religious beliefs” (More, 146). The Utopians even go so far as to encourage their citizens to convert others to their preferred religion as long as they conduct themselves appropriately. They must use thoughtful and controlled arguments and cannot allow it to escalate out of hand. One man who had been converted to Christianity began to preach in the streets and put down the beliefs of others. The Utopians “tried him, not for insulting their religions, but for behavior likely to provoke a riot…and sentenced him to exile” (More, 146). Peace and happiness are the most important things to them. They allow whatever it takes to achieve this as long as the rights of others are not infringed upon.
Religion in the Federation is very much the same. There is no standard religion and people are free to choose their own beliefs, though the majority of Federation citizens appear to be atheist. Some cultures, such as the Bajorans, retain a deep spiritual life, though they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. There are many kinds of beings in Star Trek, and therefore many ways of life, but one captain simplified the matter by saying, “My philosophy is that there is room for all philosophies…” (“In the Hands of the Prophets”). Tolerance for the values and beliefs of others has increased, which is one of the major principles of the Federation. Even if an individual has no religion of his or her own, they still do whatever they can to respect others’ beliefs. Captain Picard explained that, in his time, “We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity” (First Contact). Whether this is through a religion or in another way, this is the prevalent attitude among the Federation citizens.
Although the societies of Utopia and Star Trek differ in some ways, the most important aspects are very much the same. There is no poverty, everyone has all that they need, and everyone has a place in their communities. Given the thoughtfulness with which Utopia was written and the futuristic complexity that made Star Trek rabidly popular, one could argue that people are hungry for such societies in real life. Perhaps Thomas More and Gene Roddenberry both had visions of mankind’s future when they created their societies. Now it is up to us to realize those visions.
“Encounter at Farpoint.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
“Ensign Ro.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
“Family.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
First Contact. Directed by Jonathan Frakes. Videocassette. Distributed by Paramount
“The First Duty.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
“In the Hands of the Prophets.” Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Paramount. Phoenix.
“Journey’s End.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
“Justice.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix
“Loud as a Whisper.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
More, Thomas. Utopia. Translated by David Wootton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett
Publishing Company, Inc., 1999.
“The Neutral Zone.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
“Relics.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
“Reunion.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
“Sub Rosa.” Star Trek: The Next Generation Paramount. Phoenix.
“Suddenly Human.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
“Up the Long Ladder.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount. Phoenix.
2 thoughts on “Trek to Utopia”
Love it; great job Kristen!
Thanks! I was, I think, 18 or 19 when I wrote that. I had fun. 🙂