The Trial Never Ends

Star Trek: The Next Generation

-"Encounter At Farpoint,"

Season 1 episode 1

-"Q Who?"

Season 2 Episode 16

In the pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” the trial begins. The Godlike being known as Q appears on the bridge of the Enterprise, saying to Captain Jean Luc Picard and humanity writ large,

“You are a dangerous savage childlike race. Go back where you came from. You're not ready.”

The purpose of Q isn't to judge them as savage. To be unsavage isn't to be non-violent. It's to understand the proper application of violence. The Federation at 'Encounter at Farpoint' have the understanding of a child that grew up in a rich neighborhood. They function well in societies, but once the social contract falls away, they seem unprepared.

Picard, commanding an intergalactic battle cruiser, tells Q that humanity has evolved beyond violence. But maybe they just have different uniforms? Who you are is dictated by your circumstances. Morality is easy if you have a vested interest in buying into the group morality. Does it buy you acceptance and prosperity in the group to behave in moral fashion? Leading up to Picard taking command of the Enterprise, humanity wasn’t so concerned about being seen as evolved.

-The Eugenics War, which is first mentioned in The Original Series, and then continued into The Wrath of Khan, was fought from 1992 to 1996.

-World War three happens from 2026 to 2053. This is an intense nuclear conflict that wrecks the planet and kills 600 million people in the following century.

-Romulan War goes from 2156 to 2160.

-Klingon war goes from 2256 to 2257.

At the end of Encounter at Farpoint, Q attempts to goad Picard into attacking a mystery ship. Troi says, "It saved us." Q responds "She lies! Kill it while you have a chance!" This is the real test. To see if they'll strike out like a child in fear, to act without thought. Farpoint shows they know when not to attack. That's important, but only half the battle.

There's a binary aspect to Picard's thinking in farpoint. Either they're evolved non-violent explorers, or they've regressed into savage behavior. The middle ground there is to speak softly but carry a big stick. Kirk knew this. Pike knew it. Archer knew it. But they all came up during wartime. Picard is running the enterprise during peacetime.

Besides the Maquis rebels stirring up trouble, nobody is at each other's throat. Humanity isn't staring down the barrel of Armageddon. They hadn't evolved into better humans. They were just in between conflicts. To describe humanity as dangerous a savage childlike race because they get into a cataclysmic war at least once a century isn't that far from the truth. Picard lives in the peaceful utopia of the future, but it took centuries of bloodshed to win that level of peace and dominance across the Galaxy.

You're afforded the ability to be good, upstanding, moralistic members of society and spreading the good news of the Federation Gospel if your ancestors spend centuries fighting and securing the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity. Because with those blessings of liberty, prosperity with power amassed, it has turned them into one of three great empires, and the only problem with their empire Is that they're ashamed of it. They believe their own hype, that they’ve “evolved beyond money and war and conflict.” No, you won. Your grandparents won. Societies gain dominance one of two ways.

  1. Money, as in you can just buy the place you out, earn another culture you out produce another culture. You understand the raw engine that is capitalism, and you use it too crush your enemies.

2. Brute military force.

That's how winning is done on a cultural level, and they don't use money in the federation. Picard and the rest of the Federation grew accustomed to peacetime. Q reminds them how hard life is by introducing them to the Borg in the Season 2 Episode “Q Who?” Q knew they would meet the Borg eventually, and if you got a ship full of stuffy, neoliberal philosophers flying around in space and evangelizing the universe with pretentious socialism, they're gonna get killed in seconds. After Q flings The Enterprise 7,000 light years across the Galaxy, Q says "the hall is rented. The orchestra engaged. Now it's time to see if you can dance." After the Borg beam into Engerineering, they just watch. Picard says "Mr. Worf," so then Worf without missing a beat says "ensign," and then the ensign gets flung across the room against the wall. Worf knew what was up. Picard tells the Borg drone to leave and is ignored like the stuffy professor he is. A wartime commander would know that if a potential hostile boards your ship, you cut his head off and send it back as a message saying, saying “Go away.” Instead, they look like the deck officers of a cruise ship trying to get rid of a seagull.

The Next Generation of the Federation inherited a great fleet of Starships. They kept the trappings and traditions of their military. They salute each other, and they'd call each other, ‘Sir’. But it's a military that's ashamed of being a military in the first couple of seasons of Next Generation. Seeing this as a teachable moment. Q takes Picard down several pegs to where he audibly says in front of his crew. “I need you, please help me.” Because the Enterprise was so entirely unprepared for what was coming. They hadn't faced hardship like that up to that point, not a civilization ending hardship that the Borg represented. Humanity got to feeling pretty good about themselves, and rightfully so. They're on top, but if you're not careful when you're on top, you'll get real soft. Q took that iron and sharpened, and they lost eighteen crewmen from the Borg. But as Q says, “if you're going to be out here, you're going to get your nose bloody. Be ready for what's coming.” Just like when he called them a dangerous savage child race, Q was right. The Trial Never Ends.

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