Good Storytelling Enlightens

[Comment #1 by Robert Watson to the post "Bush ethics adviser gets her principles from Star Trek" and "Update on trekkie ethics adviser " on Enterprise Ethics, March 21, 2005.]

Though I disagree with her positions on cloning and stem cell research, I applaud Ms. Schaub's courage to divulge something more widespread than anyone realizes -- the influence the Star Trek stories have had on our society.

The science fiction genre of story telling exists to explore the unknown… to play "what if" on a grand scale. Unlike most of its predecessors, Gene Roddenberry and his collaborators patterned their stories after the great works of authors like Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. They used science fiction to explore the human condition. To ask tough ethical questions too highly charged to be confronted directly. But when faced by fictional aliens on another planet, or even fictional humans in the far future, could be considered with the reason and compassion necessary to formulate beneficial and lasting solutions.

Having followed all of the Star Trek series' since September of 1966, I find Star Trek: The Next Generation to have been the biggest shaper of my own ethical center. The thoughtful and honest appraisal of each ethical dilemma while making every effort to respect even personally repulsive views and values of others is a philosophy usually ignored and even denigrated these days.

In a 1991 interview with Gene Roddenberry (, he makes a chilling observation…

Alexander:You made a statement about 15 years ago: " I think television is one of the most dangerous forces in our lives today." Do you think that situation has changed?
Roddenberry:Certainly there is a great deal of danger from anything as powerful as television; its imagery can affect us with such power. But it’s no more dangerous, in its own way, than a car is over a horse and a wagon. I think now that I was saying, "Let’s be careful of it". In the hands of a Hitler, yes, television could change and turn society backwards.
That Ms. Schaub and I have arrived at entirely different ethical positions based in significant part on the influence of Star Trek, I believe says much for the balance and thoughtful consideration given by those stories to such questions.

Throughout the various series as well as many of the novels, there is clearly a general uneasiness with the practice of cloning sentient beings. The principal characters often express repulsion on a personal level but that it's a personal choice (much like most people today view abortion) and thus to be tolerated when the DNA of others is used with their consent.

I personally have no problem with human cloning for I believe that what makes me "Me" is what is in my mind. Spiritually, that would be my "soul". The physical body, which is all that is being cloned, is just a container. To have several or even thousands of genetic "twins" would be no different than having twin brothers. It does not diminish my uniqueness in the least.

The controversy over stem-cell research is of course the abortion controversy from a different angle. Logically, the growth of a zygote into a baby is a progression from being a part of the woman's body to being an independent organism. Deciding when this mass of cells becomes independent from the mother is partially based on science and partially based on ramifications to society. Thus, it must be acknowledged to be an arbitrary approximation… good enough to cover most situations but more subject to exceptions and amendment than most laws. Stem cell research and its use to treat Alzheimer's and other diseases is beneficial to society with no harm to any sentient being. The donor embryos are not sentient and never would be.

Related Links:The Ethics of Star Trek
Make It So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek, the Next Generation
Interview of Gene Roddenberry, The Humanist, March/April 1991

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