“The Federation is an act of war”: Knowledge and Violence in Star Trek

Last month was Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, so I made a video essay looking at Star Trek through the lens of postcolonial theory, asking the question, is the Enterprise‘s standing mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations” inevitably violent?

So, I think, yeah. It is. But maybe not in the way you’d think.

Here’s the video.

There are three central ideas here:

  1. The Federation commits what we could call epistemic violence (or, violence on the level of knowledge) by imposing its ways of knowing upon life forms that do not conform to them.
  2. That violence is tied up in a more general set of conditions for potential violence that the Federation creates for itself through exploration.
  3. The Federation effectively protects itself from confronting its internal contradictions through ideology, a sort of repression, which only builds pressure until ultimately violence breaks out again.

In the comments to the video, user Solomon St. John brought up the intriguing case of the Borg as regards this frame of knowledge, violence and ideology.

As a discussion I was listening to on the Overthinking It Podcast recently raised, the Borg can be seen as a sort of inverse image of the Federation, and it definitely plays out in the forms of violence discussed in my video.

In a sense, the Borg are far better (albeit dastardly) knowledge appropriators than the Federation, since they (it?) effectively and completely assimilate the “biological and technological distinctiveness” of the Other into the collective. The other thing is that the Borg don’t have any ideology; they don’t claim any neutrality or feel any need to suture some contradiction between its actual violence and some self-conception as non-violent, as the Federation seems to me to do. So, I guess in some sense the Borg are like the Federation’s embodied unconscious, enacting or fulfilling a [psychologically] “pure” sort of violence.

I’ll include the text of Solomon St. John’s conclusion here:

I like that image of the Borg as some sort of projection/specter of the federation; a version of the federation without the inherent tensions and contradictions of ideology. Instead they act as pure colonizing force functioning without any directives beside assimilation and reproduction. I think the Borg threatens the Federation because they crack simulacrum of the Federation’s ideology. They represent the functional super structure of the accumulation of power through empire. A version of empire stripped down to it’s axiomatic skeleton. The Borg threatens the suture of epistemological and real violence that you have described. I think that is why the Borg are such an effective villain.

What do you think about the Borg as an inverse counterpart to the Federation? Do you think this plays into the fact that Picard bears them such hatred in Star Trek: First Contact?

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Image: http://startrekgifs.tumblr.com/

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