Rape, Violence, Shame and Cultural Relativism – The Continuing Adventures of The Next Generation

In this episode and alien seizes a child in the middle of a hallway, asks Deanna Troi, “What is this?” and then proceeds to offer the child candy, and everybody is okay with this. The exact scenario that your parents warn you about has just unfolded and it’s no big deal. Obviously the child is supervised, but nobody really knows what this alien intends. It’s a first contact. He might insist on stuffing the kid so full of candy that he dies. He may have worked up some kind of Willy Wonka nightmare treat using the replicator that will turn the kid into a blueberry. None of them knows! First contacts are always a little bit focused on certain points the writers with to make rather than believability.

We’ll learn later in this episode that one of the ambassadors was tasked with kidnapping Picard, impersonating a human female, incapacitating him and then attempting to rape him. Another specifically picks a fight with Worf and happily gets his ass kicked. There is absolutely no reason to believe that aliens have the same scruples and morals as we do. And is someone warning the crew that these strange, unpredictable aliens will be on board? Is there a memo so that this woman is not completely freaked out by a man she’s never seen, who’s not in a uniform, grabbing her child?

I had a lot of trouble with determining when things were wrong when I was a kid. Everyone who offered me candy was bad, even if I was in my house and it was a family friend. The nuances of boundaries I didn’t understand were impermeable. That might seem sort of obvious, but these were some affecting situations for me. I’d go to the doctor and refuse to take my clothes off. My parents had told me to not do that if someone asked. Then they said it was okay in certain situations and it all seemed pointless. I was supposed to never take my clothes off for someone, apparently unless they asked. Literally the first time someone asked me to get naked after I was told I shouldn’t I was told that it was fine and that this man was an exception. There was no way for adults to convey that I should wear clothes except for some kind of mysterious shame. I didn’t understand sex or the implications of nudity. It just seemed like I’d been given a rule and then immediately given a non-sensical exception.

Somehow this is what growing up is about. You learn to do and not do things, and you react emotionally to those conditions, but you don’t understand them until later. You trade what will hopefully become dim, rationalized, emotional pain for what would certainly become the bright, metallic pains of adult humiliation for innocently defying convention. Rage we might, and I occasionally do, at the false for/against dichotomies that life is often boiled down to, but innocence is a thing that few of us can tolerate.

Innocence is synonymous with ignorance, and ignorance is no excuse. Only the most understanding and confident people are willing to give serious leeway to innocence. We trade the shame of childhood for the comfort of adulthood. Shame is bred by being told that we must do something for which we have no internal mechanism. It is the imposition of external force and often collective reason on an individual intellect that does not agree. We term this style of shame teaching, or more properly, cultural indoctrination, but it is nothing but the assertion of the primacy of the intellect over instinct and the community over the individual. How we react to this treatment will define our attitudes and issues throughout our entire lives.

Only the utmost master of this process can stand to see cultural divergence, and even be victimized by that divergence, and accept it. This is a knife edge that Star Trek walks constantly. Picard is inhumanly gracious because he is a master of his culture. He has fully internalized his indoctrination and it is no longer necessary for him to defend that which he recognizes as cultural moores.

It is insecurity that breeds aggression and judgement. Worf struggles with his Klingon philosophies and natural violence on a Starfleet vessel. Riker is uncertain whether he should move on from the Enterprise and take command of his own starship. Data, being a singular android, is almost devoid of culture and trying to assimilate. Deanna Troi has an entire set of sensory inputs available to her that the rest of the crew doesn’t really understand.

In this episode Worf, Troi and Picard will all be pushed by Iyaaran ambassadors to display the furthest reaches of some of their natural inclinations. Trek, true to form, will try to make these ambassadors look like innocents, but whether or not they entirely understand what they are doing they still take the opportunity of first contact to do experiments and add to their personal knowledge with no regard for the beings they encounter.

Worf is in a situation that a lot of boys find themselves in when dealing with challenges and violence. He is caught between the personal solution of violence and the appeal to authority and community. It’s a tension inherent in the Western, male upbringing. We must be self-sufficient, but we must also eschew violence. An appeal to authority is a weakness, but a resort to personal violence is childish. I internalized the appeal to authority early on. Violence was kept out of my early childhood. I wasn’t even allowed to roughhouse or wrestle with boys my age.

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