February 17, 2008March 23, 2008Meeting Report

March 7, 2008

Susan Sackett

Humanism in Star Trek

Susan SackettThis meeting, held at the Sacramento State University Alumni Center, drew a crowd of forty-five people. Susan’s presentation was very well received and was followed by a fair number of audience questions. Susan is the president of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, a member of the board of the American Humanist Association, and the author of several books.

Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was a Humanist. In 1974, he hired Susan Sackett as his assistant. It was while she worked with Roddenberry that Sackett fully realized her own Humanist worldview. Based on fifteen years of working on Star Trek, Susan shared her insights with HAGSA. 

Throughout her presentation, Susan emphasized how Roddenberry had to constantly struggle with the network brass to keep his creation free of religious influences. Their desire to have a ship’s chaplain was one of those struggles where Roddenberry prevailed. One of the best-known elements of Star Trek is the Prime Directive, which is a prohibition against interfering in the cultures of alien worlds not yet capable of warp-speed space travel. Susan pointed out that if the crew had actually adhered to this on a constant basis, there would have been no stories. Many episodes involved a violation of the Prime Directive, but only occasionally did it seem to pose a problem worthy of mention.

To demonstrate the ways in which Humanism informed the story line, Susan showed clips from two episodes. In “Return of the Archons,” the crew finds a cult-like population directed by a computer left behind by a long deceased leader. This illustrated the dangers of blind dedication.

In “Who Watches the Watchers,” the Next Generation crew, unseen, observes relatively unsophisticated people. An accident leads to their being revealed and to an injury, which they remedy using medical technology. The remedy fulfills Arthur C. Clarke’s maxim that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and leads the people to reconsider their long-discarded superstitious beliefs. Some of the inhabitants begin calling Captain Picard “The Picard.” This places the Enterprise crew in the dilemma of having to choose between leaving the people in a regressed state or divulging the truth to them, thus violating the Prime Directive, this time intentionally.

The advertising for the meeting attracted quite a few non-members.

Report prepared by Brian Jones, Recorder

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