Episode 3.12: Past Tense, Part 2

I really like how Star Trek approaches time travel.  In their world, time and history are mutable.  A time traveler could change the future, so Starfleet develops a Temporal Prime Directive so that any time traveler must strive to maintain the timeline.  In some other Sci Fi, time travelers ultimately can’t affect the timeline; their actions are already baked into what will happen, or somehow the outcomes are fixed.  In Star Trek, history is constantly affected by the choices of individuals.  Some choices may be inconsequential (red shirt vs a maroon shirt), but others are lynchpins.

With the death of Bell, the whole of history is changed.  The future of the human civilization literally collapses with that death.  The implication of this is profound.  Despite all the horrors of the 20th century, WWI, the Holocaust, WWII, nuclear threats, financial depressions, it is marginalizing the poor that destroys society.  Though not expanded upon, there is a cascade that proceeds from the sanctuary policies that ends humanity.  The social criticism being made is that these actions would end humanity as we know it.  Maybe not physically as in the show, but it is a defining characteristic of humanity that we live and operate in community.  This is how we accomplish the greatness of our race.  No one, literally no one, achieved greatness alone.  Consider the massive number of hands that forge great leaders, like Abraham Lincoln (teachers, mentors, critics, debate partners…).  It is our tremendous strength that we humans are, when we are at our best, collectively greater than the sum of our individual selves.  The sanctuary policies shear off part of our collective humanity and declare it worthless.  Once we start isolating communities, are we even still human?

The shadow to our capacity for community is our tribalism.  Richard Rohr is a theologian whom I respect.  He advocates something called shadowboxing; this is where we intentionally engage the worst parts of ourselves so that we may move past them; this reveals our best self, our truest self.  I think this concept applies to our collective humanity.  Our communal aspects are powerful, but they drive a tribalism that would rip us apart.  Tribalism, fundamentally, says that a community cannot be established between two groups.  Their tribe, our tribe.  In horrible irony, community creates something which would destroy itself.  What’s stopping that external, tribal attitude from turning inward and finding groups within our community to reject?  We must fight against that tribal attitude if our truest humanity (Roddenberry’s paradise) is to be revealed.  To get to paradise, we must go through hell.

How we engage that fight is not an easy road.  A key tension in this episode is the need for civil disobedience.  This episode was modeled after the 1971 Attica prison riot.  Ultimately, that riot brought about improved rights for inmates, despite the violence.  Countless other events (Rosa Parks, Boston Tea Party, etc) demand the attention of the public for injustices being wrought.  B.C. adds a violent element that I think is necessary: “If you treat people like animals, you’re going to get bit.”  He is utterly fascinating since he was pushed to his point by society; had he not been trapped by homelessness, he would have likely been a fairly stable individual.  The outside world must know the deep, deep pain that is felt inside the sanctuary, and B.C. serves as the focal point for the residents’ rage and exasperation.  His attitude must be kept in check though.  Violence is a blunt instrument, is a last resort, and should never be used on innocents.  Sisko plays a dangerous game.  He ensures the employees are safe, yet refuses demands from authority for their release.  He requires them to be in danger so that the magnitude of the tragedy within the sanctuary can be seen by the outside world.  Foiled against B.C. is Webb.  Instead of rage, Webb is filled with hopelessness.  He sees no path forward inside the sanctuary.  Where B.C. wants to use the hostages for his own gain (Tasmania), Webb wants more sweeping changes (Federal Employment Act).  Webb wants something that would end the sanctuaries.  I see B.C. as providing insight into the reality of the sanctuary: rage, disappointment, lack of direction.  Webb provides insight into how to end the sanctuary: stability, social policy, personal stories.

But ultimately, a violent resolution is the only ending possible.  What needs to change (policy and cultural awareness) can’t be negotiated with a cop.  The governor was unwilling to do anything; a committee is politico-speak for “nothing happens.”  And the residents cannot give up without their demands being met.  Both B.C. and Webb die in the assault.  B.C. dies for a cause he never wanted; Webb dies for something he believes in.  No matter their stance, violence doesn’t discriminate.  Thanks to Dax and Brynner, the public become sensitive to the death of so many regular people, and the change the residents wanted gets pushed forward.  The violent ending might have been senseless, but it wasn’t meaningless.  Without that kind of ending, the residents’ needs would not have been keenly felt by the rest of society.  As horrible as violence is, it can amplify the message being communicated.

Random Thoughts from Part 2:  1) The approach Star Trek takes to time travel can expand into a deep philosophical discussion on the nature of free will.  I firmly believe that if free will truly exists, then one must accept that the future is mutable.  Perhaps I’ll address that in an interlude.  2) I do not in any way condone the use of violence for a message or political statement.  But I do want to describe reality as it is.  Would civil rights protests of the 1960s had the same gravitas if authority didn’t use violence against the civil disobedience?  Without pictures of black men and women being shot with water cannons for standing in a street?  The beauty of much of the civil rights movement (particularly that associated with Martin Luther King, Jr.) is the lack of violence on the protesters part.  The use of violence by the authorities simply highlighted the injustices associated with racial civil rights.  3) Biddle Coleridge is a great name!  4) I love B.C.’s look of disappointment at not having a chance with Dax.  5) Not expanded upon, but the net becomes a megaphone for the people inside the sanctuary.  A central message that they have to communicate is that the residents are just regular people down on their luck.  Not some faceless drain on society.  6) Bell’s death before the riots thanks to Sisko and Bashir is quite plausible.  He was a man near his edge.  In the standard timeline, he was pushed over by the riots.  Sisko and Bashir gave him a cause too early.  7) I really enjoy how the riots were started by a fight with a dim.  It didn’t begin with any kind of grand plan.  Just a fight with a mentally challenged person in the wrong place at the wrong time.  8) The historical photo of Sisko as Bell returns in Little Green Men (Ep. 4.7).  9) When Kira and O’Brien beam into 1930s Earth, a poster is seen in the background advertising a fight.  These fighters are the same ones from a scene in TOS episode City on the Edge of Forever (Ep. 1.28).  The fight is different (TOS was NYC, DS9 was LA), but people the same.  10) The final refrain of the episode:  How did they let things get so bad?  I cannot express how much I love the way these episodes address homelessness and society’s response to such a social issue.


~ by Joshua Black on January 12, 2017.

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