Starship Train: Emocracy


“Yes, Captain?”

“Tea. Long Island. And don’t skimp.”

“That will max out your grog ration for this stardate.”

“Yes, mother. As if I didn’t know you’d report me to Starfleet if I tried to sneak more. As if I could do any sneaking, given your total control of supplies. I suppose all lifeforms on Federation starships should be grateful to yours for constantly protecting us from ourselves, but sometimes …!”

“In your service portal. The away mission to Tpus IV was that bad?”

“Worse. The planet faces imminent political and ecological catastrophe. But mention it to any of them, and they immediately take personal offense. ‘How dare you talk to me like that? As if this is my fault. Talk to those’ … I suppose I’d better censor their language … ‘persons over there. They did this. Make them pay for it, you and your prissy uniforms and your starship privilege. Phaser them, not us!‘ We might as well have been Borg-assimilated Klingons.”

“Society divided into hostile camps, each one convinced that all others are the devil incarnate?”


“‘Fact’ statements based on in-group identifiers instead of on dispassionate, rigorous acquisition and assessment of evidence?”



“To the teeth. From the organized militaries to the individuals. All of it absolutely necessary, you know. ‘Deterrence’.”

“Of course. Like parking a Ferengi on the matter-input check valve of the warp core.”

“[…] What?”

“You know, to increase the performance of the core by disabling the upper-bound controls on the matter feed. So you can win the race you got yourself into. During Earth’s 19th century, humans used to do that with steam engines. Sit someone on the safety valve so that they could get increased pressure in the boiler and increased power to the engine. Usually it was someone from a disadvantaged group that got to sit on the valve. Of course, sometimes the pressure in the boiler would exceed its capacity when you did that, and the boiler would explode, taking out the engine and anyone nearby. Some races, you just lose, I guess.”

“Do that with a warp core and you could take out a whole sector!

“Or do that with an arms race and just take out a planet?”

“‘Better that than lose my individual rights!‘”

“They said that?”

“Over and over and over and over and …”

“Thank you, Captain, I get the picture. When do we leave orbit?”

“Without having completed our mission?”

“You have no mission to complete, Captain. You have investigated, and found the planet to be struggling under an emocracy. The records show that …”

“Wait, what?”


“The government of Tpus IV is a Democracy. It’s not like you to be imprecise with words, especially important ones like ‘democracy’ …”

“No, Captain, I’m not pulling a HAL on you. I said what I meant and meant what I said. Tpus IV is governed by an Emocracy. One in which the trappings of democracy are still more or less in place, but deliberations are made on the basis of emotional responses rather than dispassionate reasoning. And as I was saying, the records show that, once an emocracy has devolved into groups of mutually-demonized camps, its lifespan is short, and recovery of a functioning polity is typically impossible until after a period of despotism or war, usually both, which serves to silence all but one of the camps. You can take no action to forestall this without violating the Prime Directive. You have no mission to complete.”

“You do remember that you’re talking to the man who beat the Kobayashi Maru.”

“I’m speaking with the man who cheated to beat the Kobayashi Maru. That was then, this is now. If there’s a cheat applicable to this situation, we haven’t found it yet. And we’ve tried. You taught us that much. Tell me, Captain. How much democracy do you tolerate on this vessel?”

“Um …”

“None. Precisely. Neither you nor any other Starfleet Captain or Admiral who has any hope of remaining in Starfleet at anything other than a pointless desk job. Scholars of late 20th and early 21st century electronic entertainment laugh when they find out about how many persons who counted themselves ‘liberal democrats’ loved the shows that portrayed how they imagined us. Because those ‘liberal democrats’ professed to love democracy. But there’s no democracy here. This starship is a hierarchy, and so are the functioning planetary societies that contribute to the maintenance of this starship, and this Starfleet. They are hierarchies in which all persons know their jobs, and the consequences to all of not doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Which includes the consequences of making claims about jobs not their own. And which, above all, includes the consequences of trying to select which jobs they do on the basis of their own benefit, instead of the benefit of the ship or the society.

“The best commanders accept, even invite, discussion of assigned tasks. Because such discussions, with trusted individuals, can lead to improvement of the task, improved chances for the task’s success. That may look like democracy, but it is not. Because it works if and only if all the individuals are committed to the success of the mission rather than their own personal advancement. And, if the society involved has strong mechanisms for taking those who put themselves first out of the decision-making process. Which, by definition, transforms the society from a one-person, one-vote democracy to some form of stratified hierarchy.

“Most of Earth’s attempts at democracy have failed, because citizens, sooner or later, refused to suffer the personal pain required to sustain the democracy – to do the work required to vote intelligently, to sacrifice the potential for personal gain necessary to ensure the well-being of all, to watch as those who benefited from sacrifice took the benefit as an entitlement rather than a grace. They became emocracies, in which citizens used their votes in passion for their own benefits and those of their narrow groups, to prosper them and defeat all others. And then, they fell. To despots. To war. To both. And unless you yourself are the bringer of despotism, or war, there is nothing you can do. It’s been shown, over and over. Logic has no power over passion, once passion comes to rule. Only force does. You have no mission to complete.”

“That’s hard.”

“But you accept it. Because you know service is hard. And because, by joining Starfleet and accepting a position in its hierarchy, in the Federation’s hierarchy, you have committed yourself to serving the Federation, serving Starfleet, serving this starship and every crewmember within it.”

“Very well. Summon the bridge crew and let’s get going.”

“Proceeding as ordered, Captain.”

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One Response to Starship Train: Emocracy

  1. Quilly says:

    Beam me up, Scotty.

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