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Star Trek and the Intergalactic Asshole

The Intergalactic Asshole is a staple of Science Fiction. Back from the pulp days to more modern versions like Poul Anderson’s Nicholas Van Rijn or George R.R. Martin’s Haviland Tuft or Star Trek. The Intergalactic Asshole travels around the galaxy, visiting new planets all the time and manipulating their society for his own purposes. Usually he takes an existing conflict or imbalance and forces the people and their leaders to rearrange their society to do things his way.

Sometimes the Intergalactic Asshole is an exploiter looking to cash in, like Van Rijn, often he’s looking to enforce his own idea of human captain kirkrights, like Captain Kirk, or animal rights, like Haviland Tuft. The Intergalactic Asshole has his own idea of how society should work. There’s often a determinism based on a simplistic idea of biology or economics or the environment which he believes makes people the way they are. What the Intergalactic Asshole does is rely on that idea to understand the aliens, their problems and turn their conflict on its head and impose a solution on them.

The Prime Directive of the Federation explicitly ruled out Intergalactic Asshole behavior, because it was a staple of galactic adventure tales. But Captain Kirk still played Intergalactic Asshole with a starship behind often enough for the Prime Directive to be an afterthought. With TNG the Intergalactic Asshole quota went down. Captain Picard would still occasionally play Intergalactic Asshole, but he was more likely to leave with a lecture and a disappointed look. Bad Science Fiction had plenty of stories in which aliens would arrive on earth only to decide that we were too primitive and violent to be worth including in their federation. In TNG we were the advanced aliens, visiting other races and punishing them with our disappointment. The alien visitors whose standards we couldn’t meet represented gods. With TNG we became the gods who were too good for them.

With Janeway the Intergalactic Asshole syndrome came roaring back. But Janeway was much more erratic than Kirk. Captain Kirk usually intervened because there were clear abuses going on. Janeway interfered randomly. Sometimes she walked away from oppression, other times she helped the oppressors. Sometimes she intervened, just because. She allied with the Borg, gave the Hirogen, holodeck technology and allied with them against the holograms. Archer stuck to the Intergalactic Asshole way, even though he didn’t have the firepower to back it up. He yelled at Vulcans and Andorians, either of whom could have swatted him like a fly. Because the habit was there from Voyager.

How viewers or readers react to the Intergalactic Asshole has less to do with the issue at hand and more to do with the character. Van Rijn nicholas van rijjn poul andersongot away with awful things, because he was entertaining and he sold his own libertarian spin on any issue. Haviland Tuft and his environmentalism appealed to an audience at the opposite political spectrum. But both were eccentrics who got a pass from both sides because they were more human, more personable, than their adversaries.

Captain Kirk could drag audiences into his Intergalactic Asshole approach to problems, because he seemed to really care and because he had senior officers who often disagreed with him and whose perspectives he took seriously. No Captain after him had that. Picard, Janeway and Archer did things their way and rarely bothered listening to anyone’s advice.

The Intergalactic Asshole is a power fantasy. He does the things that audiences would like to do. He’s a one man dictator setting societies to right by being smarter and tactically more powerful than them. He’s Batman with a starship, except he actually solves problems for good. He’s the authorial voice made omnipotent, lecturing, hectoring and telling readers how the world should be run.

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