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The Center of Pragmatism
Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’ and the Star Trek The Next Generation’s, episode ‘Q Who,’ gives us a glimpse into three different political structures. Two of them have concepts of centeredness and capitalism while the other one does not. Capitalism is based upon competition where there are always winners and losers. This means that a measure is marked as the core of the political system. That is why political systems that employ capitalism usually have a hierarchical structure. All hierarchical structures need centers. The Contrast between communism and capitalism lay in the very argument of a center verses a non center.
There are systems that do not use centers or hierarchical structures and use a collective way of governing. We refer to these concepts as communism. In theory, communism practices that all people are equal and all institutions are formed for this purpose. In addition, communism has in its concept of creating the perfect society, but usually the fallible nature of humankind makes this concept an unreality causing the system to be termed an ideal. We are first introduced to the Borg by a trickster named ‘Q,’ an enigmatic person in his own right, when the captain of the Enterprise is forced by this superman figure to deal with him and a crisis. Q, a person who has God like powers, forces the Enterprise to face a far technologically superior race of people who the Trekkers have never encountered or heard of before. Danger appears when the captain, Picard, of the Enterprise, cannot establish diplomatic contacts with a huge cube-shaped craft that has engaged the ship with a tractor beam.
Strange looking creatures have boarded the Enterprise. After boarding the ship, the creatures, without acknowledging the Enterprise contacts, take surveillance of the interior mechanism of the technology of the Enterprise and it quickly becomes noticeable that any form of establishing a center point of communication to bargain, reason, or establish relations is impossible. The leader Picard has an emergency and has decided to send a boarding crew to the Borg ship to make contact. This is after the creatures took what they wanted and left. They have learned the name ‘the Borg’ from a refugee who was once a victim of the Borg’s doings. She is important in the episode because she represents what capitalism will be all about.
When a boarding crew radios back their findings on the Borg ship it becomes clear that this is civilization has no central control and no leader and is set up in such a manner as to mimic pure communism in its designs. That is all the living compartments are the same, and the beings all look the same. Also, the boarding crew observes the Borg as appearing to think, act, and conduct in a collective manner. The word collective is a standard terminology when discussing the subject of communism. Furthermore, we learn that the Borg are introduced as a civilization without a central control. This brings up the notion that if diplomatic solutions are to be conducted the other side must have a representative though which to address the opposing side. The crew finds none and is forced into a war by the Borg’ true purpose - assimilation – the Borg will eat the space ship.
Before the chase scene occurs we find out the Borg are programmed from birth with artificial intelligence and form a mindless civilization appearing like robots. A pure communist civilization conducts themselves upon preconceived ideologies. This is opposite a pragmatic capitalist society. They are trained from birth to obey the ideology. There are non-flexible notions that make measure and reasoning obsolete in this type of society. In the ideology of communism everything has been done for you and you just follow along. Measure of individual decision is taken out of the institutions. This is opposite of capitalist systems where the individual is left to his or her own ability to make decisions on behalf of their own for their own destiny.
The Enterprise is formed up by a hierarchical structure and has a leader as the center of command named Captain Jean-Luc Picard. He has various underlings who are at his command. This is a type of a kingship, but with a more representational aspect employed in modern democracies. That is, modern democracies have a leader, and form councils, committees and inner cabinets to talk things over, employing the notion of the best representational talents available are called for from the individual pool.
Picard relies on consensus of his crew members even in times of tough decisions. The Borg is about to swallow up the Enterprise in a fierce chase and Picard as the temporal king of the star ship calls an emergency meeting. Here he employs people he thinks will give him the best information and possible solutions. The refugee is called into the meeting and provides the best information of the Borg, because she knows from her own experience when she was with her family having to deal with this race before. This is a capitalist system because the leader employs the best person he can find to provide vital information for a solution to the crisis.
We also learn that this is a capitalist system in the beginning of the episode when a new recruit for the engineering department has been told she was selected because she had the best results on an entrance exam for the position. This is vital and a key in a capitalist system structure. This implies competition where the best is chosen for the intended task. This is not unlike Prospero, in the Tempest, who enlists Ariel, who is a talented magical trickster, in order for Prospero to achieve his goals. We further find prime examples of capitalism in Star Trek in the finally of the episode. For example, when the shields of the Enterprise are finally out of operating power and one fire of a proton missile at the Borg ship would also destroy the Enterprise, instead of making the decision himself, the Captain gets positive feedback from Riker, his second in command, first before his decision. This is a prime example of the center, in what the Captain represents, as relying on positive feedback from one of his peripherals, Ricker.
It is these non-equality positions that measure talent and gives us free will. Riker is like a viceroy of the king, or a vice president of a president. The government of the Enterprise shows us that people are left to their own devices, especially when interaction is shown in meeting rooms to discuss ways into which to battle the alien threat. Both the Sultans, spoken about in the Tempest and the Enterprise, used common sense in measure to understand the best way to solve solutions. This contrasts the Borg civilizations that have no measure in their political system, and are closer to pure ideologies, like pure democracy or pure communism in theory. Both are extreme and both are disastrous in that there is no leader figure, usually no unifying consensus in times of great crisis.
The centeredness of politics is allegorically referenced to in Act III scene III in a few lines of The Tempest right before Ariel, the magical entity controlled by Prospero, forces the conspirators to face their guilt of evil deeds. Alonzo, Antonio, Sebastian, Gonzalo, Arian and Francisco are at a banquet-scene, which Prospero magically prepared and also is magically cloaked, observing a discussion of traveler tales. Prospero as a magician conjures up spirits that also come into play into the observation of these men. The spirits vanish and the men speak about what they saw:
That there are unicorns ; that in Arabia
There is one tree, the phoenix’ throne’ one phoenix
At this hour reigning there (Tem. III. iii. 22-24).
The Ottoman Empire was still a very centrally powerful state in world affairs at this time in the world. They ruled vast regions in the Northern Hemisphere in the old world. They literally controlled Europe’s destiny by setting a roadblock on trade to the east. There was much awe and aspiring in the Renaissance to the great leaders of this state, whom were called Sultans. In the Ottoman government, each governor was like a ruler over segmented regions of the Empire and were called Sultans. Yet, there was a Supreme Sultan that lived in what is called the ‘White House’ in the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Unicorns are plural and represent the many Sultans ruling much of North Africa and the Middle East. When Sebastian says that “There is one tree, the phoenix’ throne’ one phoenix” he is implying that although there are many Sultans, there is one centralized throne where the Supreme Sultan establishes his rule from ( Later a Borg Queen, the Star trek would establish so a center in which to destroy the procreation could be accomplished) .
This is important, at that time, because Italy was bitterly divided into three regions. The lower regions were ruled by the French, Greeks and sometimes the Germans. The middle of Italy was ruled by the Papal States and Florence and Naples while the Northern areas where Milan resided were all endlessly fighting amongst themselves. There was in fact no center of control for Italy. One can take it a step further and say that Shakespeare was commenting on the entire disunity of the west in Europe compared to the strong unity that travelers related to when sojourning to the vast Ottoman Empire.
Prospero runs an authoritative government on the island. For example, he usurps Caliban, a local from the island, and makes him a servant. Other examples are Sebastian and Antonio’s plot to take Alonzo’s crown; Prospero’s’ hope that Miranda, his daughter, will marry Ferdinand which would give him more lands and power, as well as the many other plots and twist so indicative with Kingship. Furthermore, Kingships are similar to modern forms of modern democracies in that they both use a center and a hieratical structure of command to run their systems. This is obviously when looking at the totality of the opposites presented. The contrast between pragmatism (Capitalism) and idealism (Communism) is evident. One system knows that it is imperfect, the other does not. It is dangerous that a political system can believe it can reach perfection in an imperfect universe.
Therefore, The United States of America in its establishment of the ‘American Creed’ decided that its theme was ‘pragmatism.’ The American founders made it perfectly clear in their notes on writing of the Constitution that they knew that this government and system they set up had flaws, but they held to the best of their beliefs that they created the best system humankind could establish. The Enterprise and Tempest both employ pragmatic systems of governments, and the king or president is at the center. The Borg employs an idealistic system of government and do not have a center or leader.
William Shakespeare: The Tempest. Act 3. Scene 3. Lines 22-24.
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Copyright © 1999 - 2013 Michael Johnathan McDonald