Now is When We Decide Our Future: Mad Max or Star Trek

Most want an optimistic future, and some even have seen it: Star Trek. In that World of Tomorrow individuals are valued for both their uniqueness and their ability to contribute to group efforts. As Captain Picard noted, “If there is one ideal that the Federation holds most dear, it is that all men, all races can be united.” Scarcity is a thing of the past. “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” Optimism prevails, even in the worst of circumstances. Science is embraced. War, violence, and conflict are shunned. Force is a last resort.

Try to imagine a future based on Republican Party policies, propelled as they are by the Trump cult, Tea Party selfishness, and NRA paranoia. What future do they conjure when they condone cruelty, weaken safety nets for the poor and elderly, reject science, vilify foreigners, and run a government based on favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism?

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 1.47.43 PM.pngRepublican policies move us away from Star Trek’s humanist ideals and more towards a “Mad Max” hellscape. Regulations are stripped away, leaving Thunderdome economics. Selfishness is praised. Our environment is exploited rather than preserved. ”It could be horribly prophetic, ‘Mad Max,’ if we’re not kinder to each other, and if we don’t stop polluting our atmosphere, so you know, it could happen,” Jenny Beavan warned, accepting the Oscar for Best Costume Design in 2016. Gleefully Republicans careen down Fury Road, ordaining a future fit only for preppers, survivalists, and those eagerly awaiting the End Times.

But as Captain Kirk advised, “There’s another way to survive — mutual trust and help.”

We are all moving toward the future. Each step takes us onward, and our destiny becomes more clear. Each Civil Rights march was a step towards racial equality. Each Woman’s March was a step closer to gender equality. Every March for Our Lives footfall was another towards safety. Our strides create our distant future, and we must carefully choose our path. Do our choices move us towards Mad Max or towards Star Trek?

Sometimes its difficult to imagine a better future at the end of the day — now typically filled with Tweeted threats, Fox attacks, Russian trolls, and senseless shootings. But Star Trek’s creators imagined a better, more inclusive, and kinder future, even though they experienced horrific war, riot, and uncertainty. Their optimism inspired future scientists, engineers, and humanitarians. And despite our troubles today, we are better for their vision.  We too should remain optimistic, and make our optimism real. We must, as Star Trek heroine Edith Keeler prophesied, find “ways feed the hungry millions of the world and the cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way give each other hope and a common future. And those are the days worth living for.”

She was right. And those days are now.


Deep State 9

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“Go ask HR for some initial interview questions,” my supervisor directed.  This would be my first time to help evaluate an agency applicant.  I wouldn’t have asked to join the interview; these days, like most other employees, I slept-walked through my duties.  But our agency’s ranks were thinning, and so I was voluntold.  We had lots of billets to fill, with too few applicants.  Who’d want to work here, with him in charge?  The constant attacks, the chaos and corruption, the destruction of norms.  Rule of law under threat.  Darkness permeated the building even with the shades pulled wide open.  Melancholy thickened the air, making each step a struggle.

While clutter and chaos marked most desks, our HR officer’s was neat and tidy.  The office lighting even seemed brighter.

I glanced at her desk, and noticed her coffee cup.  I caught myself before I laughed out loud, but eventually cynicism got the best of me.  As she handed me sheets of suggested questions, I ask, “And any questions for a potential Starfleet cadet?”

She looked at me a moment, turned and bent down to her drawer, and came up holding a small blue sheet.  “Why yes, I do.  Give these a try.”  She smiled kindly and returned to her work, ignoring my sarcastic tone.

As I walked back to the office I glanced over the sheets.  I shuffled to the blue sheet, and soon found myself standing in the middle of the hallway reading the questions printed below a United Federation of Planets logo.

The interview seemed to go on forever, and as a junior officer I had to wait until last for my turn to ask questions.

I looked at my papers, and placed the blue sheet on top.

“If the acquisition of wealth was no longer a driving force in your life, what would you do?”

“If there is a primary directive that is fundamental to this organization’s essence, what reasons might justify its violation?”

“You are assigned to lead a team against a problem which you believe is unsolvable.  What do you do?”

“Describe your experience working with people from cultures vastly different from yours.”

My boss glared at me, annoyed. Behind him a young employee raised one eyebrow and silently mouthed “Fascinating.”

The answers to my questions were illuminating.  We offered the applicant the position.  I went to inform our HR officer.

“Those questions were quite useful,”  I admitted.

“I’m so glad to hear it,” she said.  “If you need anything else, I’m sure we can find something to help you.”

Walking back from HR, I scanned the other desks. A few were discretely marked with Starfleet logos. Some even had a “pip” or insignia representing rank.

There were other communities as well.

Pinned above a desk, a quote from “The Book of G’Kar.”

The security officer’s desk housed a copy of “The Baker Street Journal.”

A wand was visible in an Admin officer’s slightly open drawer.

Rebel Alliance logos graffitied several computers.

Employees had imagined higher ideals to strive for, rather than something lower to grab at. Create a better future.  Be morally courageous.  Build an Ethical Culture.  Was it like this in Vichy France, an occasional “Journal des Voyages” tucked away at desks of bureaucrats, its stories reminding the readers of possibilities, but only if they worked together to get there?  Were there subtle acts by groups who, even while working under the slogan, “Country, Family, Work,” battled inconspicuously for liberty, equality, and fraternity?

I got to my office early the next day.  I shoved my desk 90 degrees to remove the chain-of-command portraits from my line of vision.  I then cleared the piles of papers off and washed the top clean.  When I was done, I turned to the pristine partition delineating my cubicle and pinned a single symbol on it.

I heard my supervisor mutter, “What a nerd,” as he strolled by.

I smiled and returned to my work.  There are things we need to do—and undo.  Resistance is never futile.

Occasionally a “pip” appears on my desk for a job well done.  I never know who leaves them, but I know we’re on the same voyage.


A Philosophy of Culture Wars Guides the White House

Despite initial acts that revealed an undisciplined president, the philosophy guiding the Trump election victory and Administration came into clearer focus.  The philosophy was, however, not provided by the President but by Stephen K. Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the President.

Bannon’s Background

Stephen Kevin “Steve” Bannon (born 1953) grew up in a working-class Catholic family in Virginia.  Bannon graduated from Virginia Tech in his early twenties and thereafter entered the Navy. His service occurred while Americans were held hostage by Iran, and when Reagan initiated a military build-up.  Bannon left the Navy and worked as a successful investment banker at Goldman Sachs and his own company. 

In the 1990s Bannon entered the world of media and edged towards political productions and activism.  He successfully led the Right-wing media outlet Breitbart News to become a major influence in American culture. As the Virginian-Pilot newspaper stated, “The site has been blamed for fueling a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist fringe of conservative voters calling themselves the ‘alt-right’ who have taken credit for helping send President-elect Donald J. Trump to the White House.” Breitbart News, Bannon explained, alerted the Judeo-Christian West that it was at war for its very existence. Bannon sees Trump as a vessel to implement his vision rather than as an ideological partner. Trump is a “blunt instrument for us,” Bannon told Vanity Fair’s Ken Stern in 2016. “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.”  Bannon does not seek power for the Republican Party (the US conservative party), but instead seeks to upend the establishment which he believes works against its own citizens. 


Stephen K. Bannon, far left, listening to President Trump at a meeting of Republicans in New York City.  (Image: The New York Times/Damon Winter) 

 Bannon Worldview

Bannon’s worldview, voiced during a 2014 conference at the Vatican and elsewhere, echoes a thesis proposed by American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington (1927 – 2008).  In both articles and book Huntington proposed that “The most important distinctions among peoples  [after the end of the Cold War] are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural.”  Bannon echoes that view, with the “Judeo-Christian West” in a battle with militant Islam and China. “You have an expansionist Islam and you have an expansionist China. Right? They are motivated. They’re arrogant. They’re on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian west is on the retreat,” Bannon said during a February 2016 Breitbart News radio show.


“Civilizations” based upon Huntington’s conflict theory.  Map Credit: Wikipedia

Islam in particular poses, in Bannon’s view, the real threat to the Judeo-Christian West.  “Supremacist” Islam in his view cannot be integrated into the West. It will be repelled or conquer.  As Breitbart author James Pinkerton wrote in 2014,  “In other words, if present trends continue, the green flag of Islam – bearing the Shahada, the declaration of faith, ‘There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God’ – could be fluttering above Athens and Rotterdam in the lifespan of a youngster today. If so, then the glory of Europe as the hub of Greco-Roman and Christian civilization would be extinguished forever.”  This viewpoint explains the immediate travel ban by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.  No citizens from these nations have been involved in fatal U.S.-based terrorist attacks.  They do provide a substantial number of our nation’s new Muslim refugees.  And it is Islam itself, not terror, that Bannon see as the primary threat.

Aside from external threats, Bannon believes the West is internally weakened by Atheists, secularism, and crony capitalism.  Bannon rejects Cosmopolitan views that cultures enrich each other, and instead views cosmopolitan ideas, and people to be “fifth columnists” for radical Islam.  The Washington Post reported that in 2007 Bannon sketched a film treatment that warned against “front groups and disingenuous Muslim Americans who preach reconciliation and dialogue in the open but, behind the scenes, advocate hatred and contempt for the West.” Apart from Muslim groups the outline describes as “cultural jihadists,” the sketch also lists other “enablers,” including mainstream media outlets, “Universities and the Left,” the “American Jewish community,” civil rights groups, the (then-George W. Bush) White House, State Department FBI, and CIA.

What is the “Judeo-Christian West”?

“Judeo-Christian West” is a term Bannon uses frequently.  Based on comments by various Conservative pundits, the concept seems to encompass several aspects: A Christian culture influenced by classical Greece and Rome with a strong foundation rooted in the Old Testament; God as the source of universal moral values; and equality before God and the law, but not necessarily material equality. Indeed, Socialism and Communism are anti-Christian since they enable individuals to “fail to honor their Divine privilege and duty to work creatively.” Bannon and others believe the Judeo-Christian West has been deliberately debased by the removal of God from schools, the acceptance and legitimation of immoral sexuality, moral relativism, and the demeaning of religion by the Leftist cultural elites living in Hollywood and other urban centers.

Bannon’s vision of a potential Judeo-Christian Utopia are suggested by his initial comments at the 2014 Vatican conference:  “It’s ironic, I think, that we’re talking today at exactly, tomorrow, 100 years ago, at the exact moment we’re talking, the assassination took place in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history. Just to put it in perspective, with the assassination that took place 100 years ago tomorrow in Sarajevo, the world was at total peace. There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer, the High Church of England and the Catholic Church and the Christian faith was predominant throughout Europe of practicing Christians.”


Mary and the Patron Saints Protecting Europe. (Painting by John Armstrong) 

From this and other comments, Bannon seems to favor Nationalist-focused independent states managed by enlightened Christian leaders aided by the “church militant” defending traditional hierarchy and customs.  Theologically, church militant refers to those Christians on Earth who war against evil and the enemies of Christ. The enemies of Christ, according to a traditionalist Catholic (and pro-Bannon) website named, aptly, “Church Militant,” include globalism, immigration, social-welfare programs and abortion, radical Islam, and “malevolent, cutthroat, cunning clerics” supporting Pope Francis I.

Bannon claims that “enlightened capitalism” rises from the West’s Judeo-Christian foundations and will provide wealth and freedom for all citizens. Bannon rejects state-sponsored capitalism found in China and Russia (the centers of two other cultures described by Huntington), and Ayn Rand capitalism.  In the former, “crony capitalism” is conjoined with corrupt governments to only benefit insiders.  In the latter case, Capitalism becomes divorced from morality and makes the individual another commodity.

“Enlightened capitalism” is not defined by Bannon, he could be imagining faith-centered small merchants unfettered by regulatory “burdens” dedicated to their community’s prosperity and larger religiously active capitalists striving to morally and materially uplift both employees and the culture.  Bannon’s views somewhat echo ideas of Neo-Confederates, individuals who envision greater local autonomy or outright independence of America’s Southern states where a socially stratified, paternalistic society could be maintained under deeply conservative (if not outright racist) Christian governance.   

Global Vision 

Bannon, who helped create and guide the American “Tea Party” movement, sees it as a global phenomena.  “If you look at the identity movements over there in Europe, I think a lot of [them] are really ‘Polish identity’ or ‘German identity,’ not racial identity. It’s more identity toward a nation-state or their people as a nation,” he told Mother Jones magazine in August 2016.  And, indeed, the “Identitarians” share similar views, according to the extreme Right, pro-Trump American Free Press website:  “. . ..” “The birthright of these young people has been plundered morally and financially by aging leftists and capitalist robber barons, who have sold entire continents into debt slavery to the banksters. Identitarians reject the pseudo-compassion of the cultural communists, who dump a huge pile of redistributed wealth onto foreigners, at the cost of their own fellow citizens.”


UK women protest the right-wing UKIP.

Bannon denies being either racist or anti-semitic and dismisses the threat of Anti-semitism and racism within his movement (and the other Nationalist movements, such as UKIP), by claiming extremists get “washed out” over time.  History, however, suggests extremists tend to be singularly focused on their goals, are uncompromising, are willing to use more ruthless tactics, and tend to drive out more moderate voices from movements.

A Dangerous Threat to the World

Ideas promoted by Bannon pose a serious threat to modern society.  They reject both secularism and cosmopolitanism, and instead see the world in a global war that will end in the West’s total victory or annihilation.  Since the world is already perceived to be at war, Bannon will likely not refrain from promoting violence against peoples he sees as enemy armies.  The last century witnessed mass slaughter by Nazism and Communism, two ideologies that also saw conflict as both ongoing and necessary. We cannot ignore or dismiss the danger Bannon and his like-minded counterparts pose to global peace.

Last Letter, Spring 1915


I have to write swiftly, we’re going to go
The barrage is lifting, the whistles will blow
The fields laid before us are Satan’s design
Your letter brought cheer to this man on the line. 

Tell our daughter I love her and give her a kiss
I’m sorry her birthday that I’ll have to miss
Tell her tales of adventures both grand and sublime
But don’t say that Dad is a man on the line.

My darling, I miss you with all of my soul
Returning to our home is my single goal
I was carried away by their flag waving lies
There’s no glory here when a young soldier dies.

Now don’t fret my dearest for all will be well
My trench mates and I will have stories to tell
We’ll come home to greet you with ribbons and wine
Now over the top goes your man on the line.

And I’ll be fine.

Trump and American Authoritarianism

The leading candidate to carry the Republican Party banner for the 2016 Presidential campaign in the United States is Donald Trump. A man who says that if he is elected he will authorize torture, because “they deserve it.”  A man who would exclude people of one religion from entering our country.  A man who would deliberately kill innocent people on the battlefield.  A man who encourages violence against protestors and threatens people, almost daily, for speaking out against him and his views.

Trump’s rise to infamy in the Republican primaries surprised many political observers.  But Trump, Cruz, and the Tea Party have roots in a set of common experiences that echo the causes of European Fascism a century ago.  Trump is an American Authoritarian.  American Authoritarianism has some similarities to European Fascism, but it has purely American attributes as well.

What is American Authoritarianism?

American Authoritarianism differs from European Fascism in one critical way:  European Fascism demeaned the individual and elevated the state–or (as in France) the family–while American Authoritarianism demeans the (current) state and elevates (in theory) the individual or family.  This difference, however, is more rhetorical than real.  American Authoritarians are not in control, and if they ever seize the government they would likely use the power of the State to enforce their cultural vision.  Both European Fascism and American Authoritarianism are anti-Enlightenment, anti-cosmopolitan, chauvinistic, nationalist, pro-business, anti-socialist, demean civil equality, and extol militarism and violence.

There are four cultural conditions that have given rise to American Authoritarianism which echo the conditions that allowed European Fascism to metastasize a century ago.


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The German soldier, stabbed in the back.  Right-wing groups claimed Germany was betrayed in World War I by “Jewish-Bolshevik traitors” who had worked to ensure  defeat.

European Fascism grew from the upheaval resulting from World War I.  Germany, which lost the war, saw civilian morale collapse, domestic chaos, and Leftist uprisings.  Some German soldiers, including Hitler, believed that a military victory denied them and concocted a “stab in the back” theory (Dolchstoßlegende) to explain their defeat.  It was, they believed, not the military but the Left and non-Aryan traitors who lost the war.  Italy was victorious in The Great War but did not receive the territorial gains or colonies they expected as a result.  Nationalists considered this a mutilated victory (vittoria mutilata) and supported Fascism to restore Italian military power and prestige.


Editorial cartoon by Ken Catalino.

America’s military has been at war for over a decade with very few positive results.  The Obama administration followed the aggressive Bush Administration with a less interventionist military doctrine and withdrew ground troops from combat.  Instead, the President emphasizes stand-off military operations in support of local ground forces. The Right claims Obama allowed what little success the Bush Administration had on the battlefield to be lost through appeasement and military withdrawal.  The Right continues to believe that American military might, if unleashed from humanitarian rules of engagement, could defeat the country’s adversaries swiftly and decisively.  Many on the Right openly laud Putin’s strongman behavior and his use of military might–without regard to civilian casualties–to achieve political goals.



A Nazi sword kills a snake marked with a red Star of David.  The snake radiates the words usury, Versailles, unemployment, war guilt lie, Marxism, lies, betrayal, inflation, prostitution, terror, civil war, and more.  Image courtesy of the Nazi Propaganda Archive.

Communist revolutions and Soviet expansionism terrified the European civilian after World War I.  Advancing Soviet forces were stopped at the gates of Warsaw, and Communist revolutions in Germany were suppressed with the assistance or right-wing paramilitary forces.  Many Germans saw the Communist as outside (non-German) agitators whose goals were the destruction of German independence and German traditional virtues.  The Nazis exploited this fear by linking Jews to Bolshevism in their propaganda.  Catholic nations, such as Austria and Italy, also felt threatened by Communisms’ materialist views and its often violent opposition to religion.

Similarly, many Americans view Islam as a totalitarian ideology bent on the destruction of their country.  Unable to distinguish between everyday Muslims and the most violent Islamic offshoots, bills have been passed (unnecessarily) to outlaw the use of Sharia law in various states, and some Americans view even outward expression of Islamic faith as threatening.  Hate crimes against Muslims are increasing.  Armed militia have stationed themselves outside of mosques and harassed congregants.  Republican Governors reject Syrian refugees fleeing that nation’s civil war claiming they are terrorists in disguise.  Right-wing leaders  spread rumors that the President and his advisors are secret Muslims.  Nearly half of all Republicans believe the President is a Muslim. Others on the Right claim he is Gay, an Atheist, a Communist, or a combination.


Fascism was also partly a response to economic conditions that left people fearful could never recover, or even survive, economically.  Post-World War I Europe was severely damaged by the Great Depression and war destruction, and Germany was further burdened with reparations that were impossible to repay.  Much of Eastern Europe, once united in the great Austro-Hungarian empire, was divided by new borders making trade and economic growth more difficult.

The American economy had little competition after World War II. Most other western industrialised countries were devastated by occupation, bombing, and combat.  From 1945 to about 1970 the U.S. worker had security within a powerful manufacturing base. After 1970, the American middle class lost ground as companies, seeking cheaper labor, exported of U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas  and denuded whole regions of employment opportunities.  Medical costs soared, and housing–marketed as both a social virtue and a good investment–collapsed in 2008.  Costs for an education that would have helped the next generation climb the economic ladder increased. Personal debt rose, and senior members of the middle class were left without pensions and in many cases sufficient savings.

Meanwhile, demographics and economics were putting unique pressures on the White lower and middle classes.  White Americans were slowly losing their majority status to Hispanics and other minorities, groups they often associated with crime and social ills.  They feared the increasing influence of minorities and resented social programs that they believed benefited minorities over their own families.  Illegal immigrants, they believed, competed for their jobs and depressed wages and benefits. With stagnant or declining wages, many in the White middle class perceived they were being deliberately left behind while the “undeserving” gained through government programs.  The despair and hopelessness felt within this cohort may in part account for the “epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.”


U.S. society has another attribute that, like Europe, pushed it towards an authoritarian response:  A culture that glorifies violence.  Postwar Europe was inundated with youth who had become inured to brutality at the Front.  The postwar periods of chaos encouraged violence in reaction to political opponents, and it was not unusual for lethal street battles to break out.  The military, however, retained the respect of the general population.

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An Armed demonstrator at  at a Phoenix mosque. The activity was organized by veteran Jon Ritzheimer, a militia member who also participated in the occupation of Federal lands.

The U.S. has similar attributes that encourage violence.  The National Rifle Association has promoted a weapons culture with everyone armed.  Disgruntled veterans have joined extremist right-wing groups.  Laws have been passed making it difficult to charge individuals using to weapon with a crime if they claim self-defense.  Media abounds with narratives that extol violent action to achieve security and political goals.  Trump supporters and others critical of the current administration are not shy about threatening opponents and even the Federal government.


Freikorps, (Free Corps), private paramilitary groups typically composed of veterans that formed in Germany after World War I. These nationalistic and radically conservative militias were the precursors to the Nazi SA.

How to Respond

The U.S. should heed the lessons of Europe.  American Authoritarianism poses a genuine threat to American democracy.  However, it is exploiting several strains within American culture that can, and must, be addressed to remove the foundations of the movement.  These issues–immigration reform, redevelopment of former industrial regions, providing the middle class greater economic security, education and healthcare affordability, promoting civility, fighting bigotry, and reducing America’s obsession with violence–must be addressed by both parties effectively if our institutions are to retain legitimacy.  Most of all, the middle class must perceive that the existing political structure will ensure a brighter future for themselves and their children.

The Four Fan Tribes and Star Trek’s Future

Opinions about Star Trek and its recent reboot by J. J. Abrams are strong within the Star Trek fan base, and it made me wonder why. Why were so many not only disappointed but truly angry about the new movies? And why do the fans maintain their vision of Trek so well on their own in brilliantly produced works? Why are we as excited by the fan-support projects as we are about the next official series?

There is no one typical Trekker. Fans approach Trek in several ways which I have grouped into four broad tribes. These groupings are admittedly artificial and fans often have attributes of more than one tribe (I’m strongly like the fourth tribe I’ll describe, but I also have attributes of the first and second tribe). By grouping the fan base into these tribes, we can see that the reboot satisfied only one fan segment and left others justifiably feeling ignored, dissatisfied, or deliberately rejected.

Our Tribes

Star Trek fans may be divided into four broad groups:

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Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge

Futurists: Star Trek showed a believable future based on real and theoretical science, technology and engineering. Scientists and engineers were treated realistically — even heroically. Futurist fans are inspired by that future, and have used its imagined technologies as goals for actual engineering and scientific projects. Indeed, some Futurists became leading engineers, physicists, astronomers, and astronauts because of the show. Futurists openly acknowledge Trek inspired their achievements. The rebooted Trek has shown little interest in science, technological solutions, or goals.


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Historian Marla McGivers

Historians: These fans treat Trek as a historical future, and like archeologists unearth more and more details from each episode. It is these fans who carefully map out sets, create starship blueprints, argue over uniform development and incongruities between adventures, and are the defenders of The Canon. As Historians, they carefully expand their understanding by inferring facts and discovering implied events. Historians are active fans and strongly believe precedence must be respected. Other fans seek their opinion on trivia, timelines, and subtle series details. The rebooted Trek deliberately cut out the Historians, who in turn feel the rebooted Trek is heresy against Canon.

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James T. Kirk

Adventurers:  From space battles to hand-to-hand combat, Trek provides action and excitement. Adventurers enjoy the energy and dazzling special effects. The Adventurers accept the rebooted films as much as the older shows, and equally enjoy other action-packed movies and games. Adventurers expect amazing, realistic visuals and cliff hanging plot devices. Their emotional bond with the Trek universe may be less than other fans.


Leonard Nimoy  'Star Trek' (1966) 1.0

Mr. Spock

Humanists: The Trek universe created by Gene Roddenberry is an optimistic one with individuals acting in concert to achieve humane goals. Humanists cherish that philosophical vision. Humanists are the show’s evangelists, bringing its stories into philosophy classes, juries, and editorials. Their interest is on character interaction and ethical dilemmas, and while they may enjoy action and special effects, dialogue and plot are central — a bare set would do. Humanists found little to appreciate in the rebooted Trek with its emphasis of special effects and action, and its superficial treatment of characters and issues.

The rebooted Trek only satisfied one fan type. The adventurers enjoyed the movie, but they may have less allegiance to its unique aspects than, say Futurists or Historians. The next Transformers or Bond film may get their equal attention. The reboots rejected the Historians completely: the producers instead created an alternate timeline, deliberately abandoning Historians to reruns and fan films. The Humanists were willing to join the reboot but found nothing amidst the weak dialogue and action-driven plot to ruminate over. Some Futurists might still be aboard the rebooted Enterprise, but barely. Science was not emphasized, and engineering (in the form of a cartoonish Scotty) was used for comic relief. If the next iteration fails to adjust its perspective, Futurists may abandon ship as well.

For any Trek to succeed it must take all the fans into account. That means it must incorporate solid science and engineering speculation, but be about the human condition. It must treat the existing Trek universe with respect and not casually disregard precedence. While enhanced by special effects, the plot should focus on the meaning of the action rather than the action itself. Like the original series, it must confront ethical dilemmas and social issues. But most of all it must show us the vast, wondrous universe. It is Trek’s great promise that we will one day explore the starry unknown together. The Trek producers need to take all the tribes along if their efforts are to succeed.

The Strange Rise and Demise of the “Soviet Negro Republic”

The Comintern’s call for American Negro self-determination (1928-1935), an idea formulated to support Soviet foreign policy goals and based upon Russian historic experiences, was disastrous for the Communist Party in the United States. This post will cover Soviet views of the Negro question, the events leading up to the call for Negro self-determination by the Comintern, Soviet foreign policy goals in supports such a call, and the American Communist Party’s response to the call.


In an effort to increase their influence over other Communist parties the Soviets created the Communist International, or Comintern, in March 1919. The Comintern became a Soviet-directed body with authority to decide principles and determine tactics for Communist Parties worldwide. The tactics decreed by the Soviet-dominated organization, however, were frequently based on Russian experience and unfit for conditions elsewhere.1

While the Soviets had clear-cut foreign policy goals for the tactics they demanded, implementation of the tactics could destroy the local Party’s gains and even lead to its ruin. It was impossible for the Russian leaders of the Communist International, five thousand miles away, to appreciate the unique racial and economic situation in the United States. The Russians themselves lamented their poor understand of U.S. condition; nevertheless, they decreed disastrous tactics for the country’s Party, and among the most bizarre was the promotion of a “Soviet Negro Republic.”

Most documents used for this paper originated during the period when African-Americans were referred to as Negroes. The post will use the term of the period to avoid using multiple names for the same ethnic group. Similarly the Communist Party, which was known during this period and the Communist Party of America, the Workers Party of America, the Communist Party, U.S.A., and the Communist (Workers) Party of America, will be referred to as the Communist Party, U.S.A., or simply, CPUSA.

CPUSA Party Position on the Negro Question Before 1928

Before 1928, the CPUSA viewed the Negro problem in the context of the social and political struggle for the working masses, not as a racial or nationalist issue.2 Indeed, John Reed, after discussing the Negro problem with Lenin, wrote during the Second Congress of the Communist International (1920) that Negroes considered themselves “first of all Americans at home in the United States.”3 Similarly the CPUSA declared Negroes an inseparable part of the American nation.4

The CPUSA position on Negroes self-determination reflected, at that time, both American White and Negro sentiments. Negro self-determinations movements did not have a wide following among the American population, and most separatist groups (such as Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association) were opponents of communism and saw capitalism as an engine of progress.5

Soviet Foreign Policy Goals in Recruiting Negroes into the CPUSA

Soviet leaders believed racism in the United States was a weak thread in the national fabric. They believed that Negroes, who constituted the poorest minority of the United States, with the least chances of upward mobility, could constitute the vanguard in a Communist revolution. With this in mind the CPUSA, under Soviet pressure, created a special Negro department, built special Negro organizations, issued Negro papers and periodicals, and attempted to recruit Negroes into the Party. American Negro political sentiments, however, tended to remain mainstream; Communist recruits therefore reflected neither the Negro working class nor broad Negro attitudes. Of the five original Harlem Negro Communists, four were foreign born intellectuals recruited from a small (3,000 peak membership) Negro nationalist movement, “The African Blood Brotherhood.”6 The influence of this fringe group was to cause the Party serious problems later.

Soviet Solutions to Ethnic Conflict

Soviet policy toward ethnic minorities during the period 1928-1934 was represented by the 1930 slogan, “National in form, Socialist in content.”7
When the Bolsheviks took over the Czarist Empire they formulated a nationalities policy to meet the requirements of a strong central government while addressing the desires of non-Russian nationalities that wished to retain cultural and linguistic identity. The Soviet government created autonomous republics, regions, and areas based on ethnic groupings. The constitution of 1924 contained the treaty by which the partners to the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics united as “one union state” consisting of many nationalities.8 In reality, the local Communist Party, while professing to represent local interests, was subordinate to Moscow.


Soviet poster, “Long live the USSR, model of brotherhood among the workers of world nationalities.” (1935) .

The Soviets nationalities solution cobbled together by Moscow was probably seen as the best answer to their own ethnic conflicts and as a potential model for other nations. The Soviets also probably perceived that ethnic separatism in capitalist nations would only increase Soviet power and weaken world Capitalism. Oppressed national minorities in capitalist nations would, it was thought, support the Soviet Union against their traditional exploiters.

Stalin and Negro Self-Determination

As early as 1922, Stalin had shown interest in the question of Negro self-determination. Why, he asked five Negro CPUSA students in Moscow, weren’t there more Negroes in the Party when they were the most oppressed of the American working class? He then stated, “The whole approach of the American party to the Negro question is wrong. You are a national minority with some of the characteristics of a nation.9

His audience sat stunned as they listen to a call for “Jim Crow” in revolutionary guise. In 1925, Stalin again met with American students, this time accompanied by Russian professors, who read a long thesis in support of Negro self-determination. Again, the Soviet solution met with American hostility.10

From Stalin’s perspective, Negro self-determination was a rational solution to America’s Negro problem. Stalin apparently failed to heed Lenin who argued that, while American Negroes could be considered an oppressed nation, national differences in the United States disappear faster than anywhere else into a single “American nation.11

The Comintern

By the end of the twenties in was clear that, despite great efforts and much Comintern money, Communist success in radicalizing the Black worker was negligible. Coincident with this recognition of failure, Stalin began to argue that the capitalist countries were in a period of crisis and ready to attack.12

It was in this atmosphere that a special commission was constituted at the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International (1928) to study the “Negro Question.” The commission’s conclusions, issued as a resolution, “On the Negro Question in the United States,” brought about radical changes in the CPUSA’s Negro policy.

The commission, “persuaded” by Soviets nationality experts and influenced by American delegate Harry Haywood, former member of the African Blood Brotherhood, argued the Negro policy in the United States should be redirected to a movement of national liberation with the ultimate objective of a Soviet Negro Republic in the southern “Black Belt.” As described in the 1932 book, “Towards a Soviet America,” by William Z. Foster, Chairman of the Communist Party, U.S.A.,

“The status of the American Negro is that of an oppressed national minority, and only a Soviet system can solve the question of such minorities. This is does, in addition to setting up real equality in the general political and social life, by establishing the right of self-determination for national minorities in those parts of the country where they constitute the bulk of the population.13

Haywood was the only Negro delegate to support the idea; in fact the remaining delegates spoke against the idea. Eventually, the opponents of self-determination either changed their minds or found no place in the Party.14 Non-Americans made all speeches favoring the resolution.

Self-Determination and Wider Soviet Foreign Policy Considerations

Evidence indicating the call for self-determination was a tactical action and not a moral argument was the instruction that, if the United States as a whole were seized by Communists, “The Communist Negroes will not come out for but against separation of the Negro Republic from the United States (emphasis added).15

The call for Negro self-determination occurred during the same Comintern Congress that also declared war was inevitable between capitalism and communism, called the colonial masses a powerful auxiliary for the Soviet Union, and called for the creation of a World Union of Soviet Socialist Republics through violence. Presumably, the Negro fight for self-determination was seen as part of the colonial people’s struggle for socialism that would lead to their annexation by the World Soviet, led by the Soviet Union.16

This analysis by the Comintern caused the Negro students from the United States to be sent to the Communist Universities of the Toilers of the East, which was less prestigious than the International Lenin School, which most Caucasian Communists from the States attended. The Toilers of the East was founded for students from oppressed colonial nations and for students of the Soviet Union’s Asiatic regions. Since the American Negro students did not see themselves as distinct from other Americans, they perceived only segregation and a “white chauvinistic attitude” of the Party.17

It was also hoped that a Soviet Negro Republic would be the vanguard for nationalist movement in the colonies of the Soviet Union’s closer enemies, England and France. A Negro nationalist movement in the United States, if successful, would inspire colonial peoples around the world to rise up and expel their imperialist oppressors, in effect becoming Soviet allies in the combat against World Capitalism.18 Imperial states starved of raw resources would collapse. Said the Comintern resolution:

“The extent to which the Party succeeds in developing a strong revolutionary Negro movement in the United States, it will also be able to exert a decisive influence upon the revolutionary movement of the Negroes in all parts of the world.”

Soviet Definitions Versus American Realities

The Soviets perceived the very different racial problems in the United States were similar to their ethnic problems. It is possible the Soviets truly believed a separate Soviet Negro nation, bound to the larger Soviet State, was the best solution for the Negro’s problems. Indeed, Gorbachev was said to have asked an American journalist in 1987 why the Negroes had no autonomous republic, since that would be the solution to America’s racial problems.

The Comintern’s call for Negro self-determination was based upon a failure to understand the American social fabric. According to Soviet concepts, a nation was a historical community of people, based upon a commonality of language, territory, economic life, culture, and some features of character.19

While Blacks are ethnically different from the majority population, they cannot, under this definition, be described as a separate nation. The Black population speaks the same language as the White majority; and while Negro economic life was often segregated, it remained integral to the greater economic activity. Nor did the Negro population live within a compact territory where they could constitute a majority of the population. In fact, Negroes were not a majority in any state. In 1940, Negroes accounted for over 25 percent of the population in only seven Southern states.20

Furthermore, the Soviet Communists overlooked one important development: the migration of the Negro population from the “Black Belt” (which typically refers to the soil, not the population) to the industrial north, where they were emerging as industrial workers. The call for self-determination ignored the Negro industrial working class, the very class the Communist claimed they represented!21

American Communists Try to Deter the Proposition

Many American Communists understood that the policy favoring Negro self-determination would destroy any chance for the CPUSA to influence either working class Blacks or southern Whites. They saw the demand for self-determination as not only unrealistic, but suicidal for Negroes in the South. According to Benjamin Gitlow, CPUSA’s Vice Presidential Candidate in 1928, he never mentioned Negro self-determination during his campaign stops. Aware the Communist position was destructive to the Party, he confronted John Pepper, Comintern emissary to the United States and author of the pamphlet “American Negro Problems.22

“What do you want to do with this policy? Create a situation in the South where you will bring about a civil war between the whites and the blacks? Do you realize where that will lead to? Do you not realize that such a policy will lead to the butchery and massacre of thousands of Negroes? . . .Remember the tragic experience following immediately after the close of the American Civil War, which clearly indicate that against any such Negro domination the white people of the South, irrespective of class divisions, would rise like one man. If you advocate that policy, you are certain to close the South to the Party and inflict great harm upon the Negro masses, for which they would indeed not be responsible.”

Pepper calmly replied:

“Comrade Gitlow, there is much truth in what you say, but we could not help ourselves in Moscow. The Russians on the commission could only see the American Negro question in the light of the minorities questions which existed in Russia before the Revolution. Had we not fallen in line, we would have been severely condemned as deviators and ‘Khvostists’ who neglect work among the Negro masses.23

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William Z. Foster and Benjamin Gitlow, 1928

The Communists Lose the Black Masses

The vast majority of the Black community never seriously considered the CPUSA’s proposal for self-determination in the Black Belt. The push for national self-determination was not something the American Negro worker typically wanted. He wanted equal pay and fair treatment, not a separate nation. In fact, the idea did not have the support of most Negro American Communists. When twenty-five American Negroes were sent to the Soviet Union for training, they were ordered home after demonstrating against the concept of self-determination.24 Nevertheless, the Party continued to advocate self-determination in their propaganda.

The most famous of the Soviet Negro propaganda pieces is an extraordinary pamphlet crafted by James W. Ford and James S. Allen called the Negroes in a Soviet America. Drawing upon Russian history, the authors claimed the republics of the Soviet Union had the right of self-determination as representatives of their own nationalities. The pamphlet condemned the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Booker T. Washington, the Roosevelt Administration, and called for the establishment of the Negro Republic in the South with ambiguous borders but containing the great cities of the Confederacy. Amazingly, the pamphlet held out the possibility of the separation of the republic from the rest of the Soviet America, just as the Confederacy tried to depart the federal capitalist system. The authors held up the post-Civil War Union Occupation of 1867-1868 as a model of revolutionary dictatorship. This comparison could only alienate both southern Blacks and poor Whites who could remember the murderous reactionary terrorism of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Ku-Klux Klan.


The Negroes in a Soviet America, a pamphlet by the Workers Library Publishers.

It would be an exaggeration to blame the Party’s failure to influence more Negro workers solely on this one issue. The Party’s position of self-determination was just one of many policies that convinced the Negro worker the Communist Party could not help improve his condition. The Communist Party’s attack upon the New Deal, which clearly improved conditions for the poor, was a major tactical error. The Party’s description of the NAACP as a “treacherous Uncle Toms” co-opted by the white ruling class was observably false by any potential black recruit.25

The Republic’s Quiet End

Even as The Negroes in a Soviet America was being written, the concerns of the Soviet Union had changed. Instead of a threat from the colonialist powers (Britain and France) or the United States, a National Socialist Movement strode onto the world stage with explicit goals of Soviet destruction and war. In January 1934, the Comintern, alarmed by Nazi Germany’s rise, abandoned it most radical positions and pressed for anti-fascist solidarity.26 The Soviets could not promote the destabilization of countries it needed to battle the more dangerous foe.

The results of the Seventh Comintern congress ended the call for self-determination. At the November 1935 meeting of the CPUSA Central Committee, Party leaders formally abandoned “self-determination in the Black Belt” and returned to organizing workers. The Party dissolved their nationalist front groups, such as the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, and moved the organization’s propagandists to the Daily Worker27 Haywood and other supporters of self-determination were either demoted or expelled. The CPUSA quietly pushed the episode into the darkness, and it was rarely mentioned.  The episode, however, provided propaganda fodder for  racists, anti-semites, and opponents of integration and civil rights for years.


Harry Haywood during the Spanish Civil War. Haywood remained a dedicated Communist and nationalist even after parting with the CPUSA.

Russians controlling the Comintern had failed to understand that the “Negro Question” — how the African-American would be incorporated into the greater American society — had been answered long before Lenin. The answer was written in the slaughter amidst the corn and tobacco fields of Northern Virginia, in the blood-filled trenches surrounding Vicksburg, and at the hallowed ground of Fort Pillow: The Negro was to be an American citizen. Their full emancipation could be delayed by nooses, attack dogs and fire hoses, but not stopped.

The Soviet nationalities policy eventually helped destroy the Union. The last Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, never understood that increased local autonomy–real autonomy–would end Moscow’s control.  In the chaos of the attempted coup d’état against Gorbachev on 19 August 1991, the nations quickly scattered from the Union. Russia has since battled fierce ethnic forces in Chechnya, invaded Ukraine, and remained unwelcome in nearly all of the former Union Republics.  The Putin regime now promotes a chauvinistic nationalism that will likely drag Russia into more conflicts with its remaining internal minorities and its neighbors.

1. Draper, Theodore. American Communism and Soviet Russia, p. 123. Vintage Books, New York, NY, 1986. Paraphrased criticisms by Scott Nearing, and independent socialist economics teacher, made in 1924.

2. Draper, p. 321

3. Draper, p. 339.

4. Mikhailov, B.Y., et al, editors.  Recent History of the Labor Movement in the United Statesp. 170. Progress Press Publishers, Moscow, USSR, 1977.

5. Pinkney, Alphonso.  Red, Black, and Green, p 55. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1976. Although this book could be considered revisionist, it does not dispute the fact that the Communist call for self-determination came from Moscow. It does argue, however, that the black participants in the call were not stooges. This author disagrees. Mr. Haywood, the original voice for self-determination, was banished by the Party to lower responsibilities when he was not longer useful. He was later called back in 1948 when self-determination was again considered. By 1949, however, he was again out of favor.

6.  Naison, Mark.  Communists in the Harlem During the Depression, p. 5. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Il, 1983.

7. Keefe, Eugene K., et al, authors.  Area Handbook for the Soviet Union, p. 402. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1971.

8. Draper, p. 336.

9. Draper, p. 334.

10. Draper, p. 334.

11. Keefe, p. 381.

12. Naison, p. 17.

13. Foster, William Z., Toward Soviet America, p. 303. Elgin Press, Balboa Island,CA, 1961. A reprint of the original 1934 book. The Party apparently later suppressed the embarrassing text, one of the most self-damning documents ever published by the CPUSA. Today the book is most frequently cited on websites containing complex right-wing conspiracy theories.

14. Draper, pp. 352-354.

15. Haywood, Harry.  Black Bolshevik, pp 331-333. Liberator Press, Chicago, Il, 1978. See also Ford and Allen, p. 32.

16. World Communist Movement — Selective Chronology, 1818-1956, Volume 1, pp. 85, 87-88. Committee on Un-American Activities, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1961.

17.The Soviet World of American Communism, pp. 202, 206. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 1998.

18.I Confess, p. 479-481. E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc. New York, NY, 1940.

19. Lazutka, V.  National Relations in the Soviet Union, p. 12. Vilnius Mintis, Vilnius, Lithuania, 1979.

20. Ford and Allen’s The Negroes in a Soviet America state that the territory of the Soviet Negro Republic “would include such cities as Richmond and Norfolk, VA.; Columbia and Charleston, S.C.; Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, and Macon, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; New Orleans and Shreveport, La; Little Rock Arkansas, and Memphis Tennessee. In the actual determination of the boundaries of the new Republic, other industrial cities may be included. The actual settlement of the question of boundaries will depend largely on the steps taken to assure well-rounded economic development to the Negro Republic (page 39).” One cannot but read the cities listed, however, and not visualize the Confederate States.

21. Mikhailove, p. 176.

22. Johnpoll, Bernard K., and Klehr, Harvey, editors.  Biographical Dictionary of the American Left, p. 312. Greenwood Press, New York, NY, 1986.

23. Gitlow, 479-481. Pepper wrote, “The ‘Black Belt’ of the South . . . constitutes virtually a colony within the body of the United States of America. The Communist Party recognizes the tremendous revolutionary possibilities of the Negro people…. The Negro Communist should emphasize the establishment. . . of a Negro Soviet Republic (John Pepper, “American Negro Problems”, Communist, Vol. 7. No. 10, October, 1928.)

24. Brown, Anthony D., and MacDonald, Charles B.  On a Field of Red, p. 362. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY, 1981

25. The Negroes in a Soviet America, pp. 4, 13. Workers Library Publishers, New York, NY, June 1935.

26. World Communist Movement, pp. 115-121.

27. Naison, p. 172

Solstice (SciFi, Fan Fiction)



Fan fiction is new work based upon existing characters or shows and typically written by enthusiastic fans of varying skills.  

Star Trek was a television science fiction series first broadcast 50 years ago. It still inspires artists in diverse genre for several reasons. The show’s creators occasionally addressed contemporary social issues in unique ways. Science was taken seriously by the writers. The series depicted a future when humanity, however flawed, progressed and joined with other races to explore the universe. 

The below short story is inspired by the characters in the first series pilot, “The Cage.” Captain Christopher Pike was commander of the space ship ENTERPRISE. As depicted by Jeffrey Hunter, Pike was quiet, thoughtful, and burdened by his leadership responsibilities. His second officer, Number One, was a mysterious woman of considerable self-control and discipline. The Science Officer, Mr. Spock, was a Vulcan (with one human parent) who had not yet been given the the emotionless facade seen in the later episodes. The ship’s physician, Dr. Boyce, was an older worldly man who tended to speak bluntly.  

Only Spock carried over to the Star Trek show as broadcast, although “The Cage” was eventually used to create a two-part episode “The Menagerie.” These characters remain intriguing to Star Trek fans who are contributing to an effort to depict them once more in Star Trek:  Captain Pike.  


Pike focused his binoculars on the nighttime celebrations brightening the valley below. The reptilian tribe slowly swayed and twirled in unison about a great fire, each motion accompanied by throat bellows or loud jaw snaps that echoed up the ridge.

“I think we’ve landed during a festival,” Pike whispered, more to himself than to the other Away Team members on the hillside.

“A Winter Solstice celebration I believe, Captain,” Spock replied. “Every planet with a tilted axis hosts primal celebrations as seasons change. Fires represent the sun’s warmth and light. Even on Vulcan our ancestors participated in such crude revelry.”

“You should give crude revelry a try, Mr. Spock,” Pike teased his young officer. Number One loudly cleared her throat. She knew the Half-Vulcan was all too aware he was neither fully one thing or another, and quietly mentored him in his struggles to balance his passionate human and analytic Vulcan sides.

Boyce prepped the Away Team’s vaccination kit. “Yes, there sure are some wild parties out there. Did I ever tell you about the tattoo I got during Spring Equinox on Orion? Can’t really show it; it’s in an indelicate spot as it were. You’ll find similar tattoos in the computer banks if you research what were called ‘tramp stamps’ in early-21st century. . ..”

Pike cut him off. “That’s enough, Doctor.” But even Number One couldn’t entirely suppress a laugh. Boyce was a great ship physician, not least because his wayward youth enriched him with tales about what you should never do. “Keep your bacchanalia story for another time. Let’s concentrate on saving this species.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Captain. I can’t recall a thing about the festivities. They were THAT good.”

Spock looked at Pike. “Captain, are we violating the Prime Directive by helping these creatures?”

Number One interjected, “The Prime Directive was violated when that Federation research ship broke up in the atmosphere, Mr. Spock. The ship’s Saurian crew carried a disease that could wipe out this planet’s emerging sentient species. The dispersal model showed the disease vector settled into this region. If we inoculate just this region’s tribe we can prevent a fatal pandemic. It’s a Federation disease, so we’re obligated to provide a cure.”

Boyce started rolling his vaccine injector carrying bag. “I’m ready, Captain. Uh, they might be somewhat inebriated — more malleable — right now, if you’d like us to crash their party right now.”

Pike thought a moment. “No, Doctor. Let them recall a happy night rather than one with aliens leaping out and jabbing them with needles. We’ll go in early tomorrow while they’re sleeping it off. In the meantime, get some rest.”

Boyce and Number One were quickly asleep. A blessing, Pike thought, granted to souls at peace with themselves. Pike observed the festivals unwind below, the reptilians dancing ever more slowly, some nodding off near the warm central bonfire.

Spock seemed lost in thought as he studied the starry heavens that encompassed and embraced them.

“It’s Winter Solstice, Captain. The days to follow are sure to be more sunny. A prediction consistent with both Vulcan logic and human sentiment.” Spock dropped his head slightly, embarrassed by his own smile.

What Pike knew of their next mission made him doubt Spock’s optimistic forecast.

“To sunny days ahead, Mr. Spock.”

They settled down together to await the dawn.

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I Have Seen the Future

As the saying goes, the future isn’t what it used to be.

Science Fiction imagines a future like an architect imagines a new city.  The architect uses the existing features — the environment, roads and utilities, and designs a new creation upon them.  Buildings and transportation are delineated in the design to guide the engineers and builders who will make the vision practical.

The architect’s vision of the completed project informs the actions that make the vision real.   Ideas precede action.  So too it has Science Fiction inspired engineers and builders to create the envisioned future.


The 1936 motion picture, Things to Come.  The future is depicted as a struggle to achieve technological feats and social harmony.


Optimism was a feature of major science fiction forecasts.  Nineteenth century authors such as Jules Verne and Edward Bellamy depicted futures where technologies were harnessed to improve humanity’s material condition.  Society could be organized to raise up the poor and reduce violence.  Many twentieth century science fiction depicted similarly optimistic visions.  H.G.Wells’ Things To Come depicted on screen humanity growing beyond internecene war and reaching for the stars.  World War II pit two great factions whose visions of the future could not be more dissimilar:  The Fascist movements used technology as weapons to annihilate undesirable outsiders.  Their Western opposition ultimately thought of technology as a way to bring people closer and collectively achieve a better world.  While post-war science fiction was darkened by the wartime experience, the future nonetheless was still often a shining city on a hill just a short distance yonder.  German V-2s that rained death on London evolved into rockets that could carry people into space.  Both the small and big screen showed humanity conquering space and often their human foibles as well.


The main characters of Star Trek (1966-1969) (now referred to as “The Original Series” or TOS.  While action-filled, the episodes often resolved conflict through negotiation and compromise. The show inspired engineers and scientists to make manifest the technology depicted in TOS.

Star Trek’s USS Enterprise had a multiracial crew composed mostly of Earthers who were part a United Federation of Planets seeking knowledge and other civilizations.  Human frailties of bigotry and greed existed but were overcome.  Lethal violence was a last — and deplored — resort.  Star Trek depicted a humanist challenge we could accept: Build a better society, a new and better life for ourselves and others.  It is no wonder that the series inspired numerous engineers and scientists and that its core optimism is preserved and cherished through fan-supported productions.

There have always been pessimistic visions of the future as well, warnings about technology and social engineering.  Now, however, they have driven out nearly all optimistic visions leaving us only with apocalyptic despair and self-destruction.  The decline in optimistic futures seem to have coincided in America with the Watergate scandal of the Richard Nixon Administration (1968-1974) and the inglorious end to the Vietnam war (1955-1975).  Environmental threats, mistrust of government, and fear of emerging technology were often a major component in these features.


A scene from the motion picture The Road (2009) which depicted a near lifeless future Earth where cannibalism and brutality were the norm.  Similar depressing future visions were offered by other major pictures, such as Mad Max (1979, 2015), Aliens (1979)and Children of Men (2006).  The Martian (2015) was a bright notable exception to this pattern, hopefully marking the decline of depressing period. The Martian showed a future with humanity overcoming difficulties through cooperation and reason.

The Twenty-first century’s science fiction stories rarely not show us future worthy of effort, or lovely to contemplate.  That future often is filled with shambling zombies, or shattered lands where savage tribes brutalize each other for scraps.  In space humanity is often hunted and on the verge of extinction.  Even the children’s movie WALL-E (2008) depicted an Earth as an abandoned trashheap.  In these visions there is no shining city that beckons us to greater feats, but terrors to avoid.  There is no peaceful future in the stars but instead struggle, death and terror.

This dark attitude has even poisoned our politics, with candidates depicting opponents as harbingers of doom rather than individuals with alternative ideas.  An entire subculture has arisen of individuals who fear  — or hope — for civilization’s collapse.  They surround themselves with firearms, bury gold, and prepare to fend off their neighbors.  Had they been more optimistic they might have invested for the future rather than in AR-15s and ammunition.

The future is not what it used to be, and that is to our great detriment.  Where is the inspiring vision, the architect’s dream, for us to build towards?  Where are the characters that can inspire us, the technology that we seek, the society we envision?

Ideas precede action, and the ideas shown to us these last decades have been blood-clotted dead ends.  We must reject them.

A bright future is possible.  A universe of wonders awaits.  Who will be the architect that shows us what can be, if we only build it?

Who but us?

Pick up your drafting pencil.  It’s time for all of us to design a beautiful vision to strive for.

War and Humanist Ethics

The measure of a person’s or a people’s character is not what they do when everything is comfortable. It’s what they do in an extremely trying and difficult situation. If we want to claim that these are our ideals and our values, then we need to hold to them no matter how dark the situation.

– Captain Ian Fishback, United States Army 82d Airborne Division

062-hans-holbein-1523-death-letter-w-q75-100x100 hile Humanist opposition to war is laudable, Humanists often surrender the intellectual field after battle commences. Calls for “Peace Now!” provide neither policymakers nor warfighters Humanist concepts on how to conduct ethical operations or to achieve military goals. Humanists must become a relevant voice during conflict. This article discusses war within a Humanist ethical perspective.

Humanist Ethics

Modern Humanism is not a set doctrine but rather a philosophical viewpoint. Bob Berson, leader of the Ethical Society of Northern Westchester in the United States explained, “Humanism affirms that we have both the freedom and responsibility to make a more humane world, to be actively engaged in the endeavors that improve human existence.” Humanists select a course of action by attempting to anticipate how it might affect other individuals and the greater community. Individuals should be viewed as each having inherent worth and dignity, according to the American Ethical Union. Berson also emphasized that Humanism is “deeply committed to freedom of thought and conscience; free inquiry; the use of reason, dialogue, and discussion; democracy; and the scientific method. Humanism abhors bigotry, recognizing that all people are one species; part of one human family, and Humanism strongly advocates the democratic process and the concept of human rights.” Similar views are found in the various Humanist declarations and manifestos.

These concepts suggest that Humanists have specific ethical approaches to war.  Humanists ethics applied to warfare would typically reject war as an option short of self-defense and emphasize dialogue even during combat operations.  It would see warfare as an effort against specific individuals rather than an anonymous enemy, and would identify and focus efforts on people who promoted the conflict. Simultaneously, individuals having no say in the conflict would be unharmed and protected. In all cases possible, Humanists would seek to remove opponents through dialogue and negotiation. Actions that would inflame nationalist or sectarian attitudes would be rejected, while democratic ideas and human rights would be promoted.

War Defined

War is physical violence by one nation-state against another to achieve a political goal or set of goals which may evolve during the course of the conflict. Wars may also involve a nation-state against a non-state adversary, but war’s general definition mandates that both belligerent have organized units to defend and/or attack. Violence by nation-states against defenseless or disorganized groups is not war, and may under specific circumstances be a crime under international law.

The Costs of War

Humanists justifiably oppose war in nearly all cases. The costs of war are typically high. Wars divert resources from productive economic action to useless production. Equipment constructed for the battlefield typically has no peacetime use and is often disposed of at considerable loss. Industries designed to produce war goods often find themselves incapable of building competitive peacetime products. Surviving war veterans often return injured or psychologically maimed.

Extremists often gain greater control in countries at war as moderates withdraw or are excluded from the decision making process. Extremism poses an even greater danger post-war. Radical groups often have war veterans as core members. Arab youths who joined the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan returned home with skills valuable to extremist Islamic factions.  Even U.S. extremist groups are bolstered by disaffected veterans with combat skills.

Wars rarely proceed as planned, and even the victor can find the cost of war high. World War I witnessed nearly an entire generation disappear along with an international structure. Short of victory, extricating oneself from a war is rarely easy. U.S. withdrawals from conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq took years and thousands of lives. Occupations are almost never successful and often lead to hatred, xenophobia and resentment that lasts for generations.

There are few justifications for war beyond self-defense from a Humanist perspective. Even in such a case, Humanists must carefully gauge a proportional response to aggression and avoid vengeful retaliation. Humanist empathy compels many to advocate humanitarian intervention in foreign conflicts to protect threatened minorities. But while intervention is sometimes necessary, cultures are complex, and intervention by outsiders frequently makes conditions worse. Humanists should take care advocating intervention on humanitarian grounds but must, as an ethical necessity, strengthen emerging democratic institutions, build international coalitions and organizations that can respond to crises, and aide refugee and humanitarian relief efforts.

War and International Law

Modern Warfare is constricted by international conventions and traditions referred to as the Laws of War. Most developed countries understand the laws of war and have signed the relevant treaties. However, abuses still occur for a variety of reasons — the heat of battle; lack of training; immaturity of soldiers; and sheer desperation. Each military also has traditions it brings to the battlefield, and many armies lack any Humanist traditions. Humanists should help ensure that their side recognizes their international obligations, support efforts to train foreign forces in their obligations, and fund non-governmental organizations that monitor wartime behavior.

Humanist Ethics and the Conduct of War

Humanist ethics put high value in reason and dialogue. A Humanist wartime goal should be to move from violence to negotiations. This means remaining open to a negotiated solution for the duration of the conflict. Democratic countries (where most Humanists reside) typically find themselves at war with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.  These regimes often discourage accurate reporting of information upward inconsistent with the leaderships’ prejudices. It may therefore be necessary to provide the adversaries’ decision makers (through secret, informal family, tribal, media, or formal diplomatic channels) accurate assessments of the battlefield and strategic situation, and to encourage the leadership at every opportunity to accept a negotiated settlement.

Humanist ethics should influence wartime alliances. Each belligerent comes to the battlefield with specific objectives in mind, and while allies may have the same enemy, they may have opposing long-term goals. Extremist allies (national, ethnic, or religious) will have anti-Humanist and anti-democratic priorities that make wartime alliances expedient at best. Radical groups should be rejected as allies whenever possible, but there may be cases where such alliances become inevitable. In such situations, every effort must be taken to quietly weaken their position in favor of more moderate or cosmopolitan allies.

Justifying the Specific Target

Nation-states that go to war consist of numerous population segments radiating out from the power center and influencing policy decisions.  Influence lessens the more distant the group is from the centers of power (A somewhat similar model was used by Col John Warden, USAF during the First Gulf War to design the air campaign). A notional adversary’s strategic-level “Power Influence” model might look something like this:

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Force—not only military, but political, economic and psychological—is most ethically justified against members of the political elite and leading regime supporters that are near the center of power.  These individuals, ironically, often emerge from conflict unscathed despite their high moral culpability, and therefore may be more willing to continue combat operations.  Humanists would identify (possibly publicly) and target specific pro-war decision makers, their advisors and their supporters. However, these individuals should also be assured safety if they alter course or remove themselves from the system. No person, regardless of their position, should believe they are without alternatives.

Elite units, (such as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or the Nazi Waffen SS), typically consist of rabidly loyal personnel. Such units gain greater influence during war, receive better military equipment, are often willing to accept greater losses, and are used even to punish unsuccessful or hesitant conventional units.  They should remain significant targets for military and other action until they become ineffective.

There is considerably less ethical justification for attacking individuals outside of the decision making and power elite circles. An anti-war slogan from the 20th century remains true: A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at both ends. Most conventional military units are composed of young soldiers who face great danger but lack any influence on policy. If war is just these youth should have a chance to survive the war. While force may necessary for defensive purposes, the goal should be to neutralize their capabilities and encourage them to surrender.  In the documentary The Ritchie Boys, an American linguist in World War II stopped a U.S. rifleman from returning fire declaring, “We don’t shoot people in this outfit, we talk to them!” He then convinced the enemy to surrender.  Soldiers should, whenever possible, be given opportunities to remove themselves from the battlefield.  Effective psychological warfare and propaganda will spare both enemy and allied lives.

A safe conduct leaflet dropped on German forces during World War II.

A safe conduct leaflet dropped on German forces during World War II.

Humanist ethics are deliberative and slow and in the chaos and rush of battle mistakes will be made. But shortcuts that violate international norms or Humanist ethics must be rejected, and individuals involved in violations must be held accountable. The enemy should perceive the Humanist-influenced forces as more ethical and merciful than his own leadership. He should view his battlefield counterparts less as a merciless enemy than as potential guardian angels who offers sanctuary from danger.

Irregular Warfare; the Regular War

Most modern conflicts actually involve one uniformed side against irregular forces (rebels, militias, etc.). These wars are often the most brutal since irregular forces often fail to treat prisoners humanely, conduct operations against civilians, and are unlikely to be treated humanely by their opponents. Irregular forces pose serious challenges for any military, including legal and ethical challenges. Irregular combatants need to be identified either as lawful combatants (thereby falling under the relevant conventions) or as criminals subject to domestic and international law. A major problem with U.S. responses to 9/11 remains the ambiguity of the enemy’s status in the eyes of the U.S. government. Are they enemy combatants, unlawful combatants or simply criminals? Neither the Bush nor the Obama Administration has clarified the status of Islamist personnel under our laws.

Given the development of travel and information technology that allows individuals to assemble either virtually or physically to battle nation-states, it may be necessary to consider new concepts that can clarify their status. It may be necessary, for instance, to divide irregular forces into categories based on their accessibility by law enforcement. Individuals inaccessible to law enforcement might still receive legal reviews “en absentia” that would authorize military action should they fail to deliver themselves to law enforcement.

The Humanist Albert William Levi warned that modern anonymous warfare depersonalized the enemy. Humanist ethics and emerging technology re-personalizes the violence of war, making the enemy a specific person and forcing those holding the trigger to make terrible, irreversible and personal judgments. Will this person’s death shorten the war? Are the potential collateral damages too high? Can this person be convinced to exit the battlefield peaceably?

Humanist Ethics is sure to make every combat decision a painful ethical dilemma. Just so.