Star Trek and the Unending Quest for Human Freedom

[The following was posted on Facebook, and the original source is unknown.]

What’s your favorite line from Star Trek?

There are two different lines from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Drumhead” which I have always really loved. Not because they are particularly brilliant rhetorically, but because of the underlying message they convey.

To quickly set it up for those who haven’t seen the episode, there is an explosion aboard the Enterprise and an investigation begins, headed by Admiral Norah Satie, a very well regarded Starfleet officer who has uncovered many conspiracies in her career.

She determines that a visiting Klingon officer was, in fact, a spy, and suspects that he — helped by members of the crew — was responsible for the explosion. Her investigation grows more paranoid and she starts to see conspirators everywhere, including a junior enlisted crewman who had lied about his supposedly Vulcan grandfather on his applications to Starfleet, in order to hide the fact that he was in fact Romulan.

The witch hunt completely spins out of control, and Captain Picard, who was at one time working well with her, decides to actively fight against her increasingly irrational investigation. After this, Satie calls him into her hearing and ends up accusing him of treason with no evidence.

Her outburst at the trial humiliates her in front of the Chief of Starfleet Security, who walks out of the hearing. She eventually leaves the ship in disgrace, and the Enterprise returns to normal.

The title of the episode comes from the concept of a “drumhead trial” where soldiers would dispense summary justice on the head of a drum, with no due process or respect for the rights of the accused. Satie, in this episode, was attempting to do the same thing.

Now that I’ve set this up, my first, and probably most favorite line comes from the end of the episode when Worf is talking to Captain Picard in the aftermath of the trial.

Worf: I believed her. I, I helped her. I did not see what she was.

Picard: Mister Worf, villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.

Worf: I think… after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.

Picard: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.

Not only is that statement true, but what a wonderful way of putting it. And of course, the delightful Patrick Stewart’s Shakespearian delivery of the lines makes the whole thing all the better.

My second favorite line from this episode, and with it the franchise, is Picard’s speech at the trial itself.

After Satie says that she “questions [Picard’s] loyalties,” he calmly and quietly responds:

“You know, there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged.”

After which she goes absolutely bonkers and starts ranting and raving about her father (who spoke the words Picard recited) and how she has “brought down bigger men than you, Picard!”

In this speech, Picard delivers a broadside against the disregard for personal liberty and human freedom, directly challenging the idea that society can tolerate abridgments in that freedom in the name of security.

And, might I say that both of these remarks, spoken in the early 1990s, proved to be eerily prescient about the coming societal debates we would be having less than a decade later, and beyond. Really top quality stuff, there.



Follow Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Charleston SC). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1, drmichaelhurd on Instagram, Michael Hurd Ph.D. on LinkedIn, @DrHurd on TruthSocial