Updated: Jul 31
In the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation “Encounter At Farpoint,” the trial begins. The God like 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 Federation at “Encounter at Farpoint,” function well in civilized society, 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, because who you are is dictated by your circumstances.
At the end of “Encounter at Farpoint,” Q attempts to goad Picard into attacking a mystery ship. Consoler Troi says, “It saved us!”
Q responses, “She lies, kill it while you have a chance!” This is the real test. To see if they strike out like a child in fear, to act without thought. To be savage. “Encounter At Farpoint” showed that they understand the importance of restraint, but that's only half the battle.
Because there's this binary aspect to Picard's thinking. Either they’re evolved, non-violent explorers or they've regressed into a savage behavior. The middle ground there is to speak softly but carry a big stick. Kirk, Archer and Pike knew this, but they all came up during wartime. Picard is running the Enterprise during peacetime. Humanity isn't staring down the barrel of Armageddon, they hadn't evolved into better humans. They were just in between conflicts.
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 if your ancestors spent centuries fighting and securing the blessings of liberty. Because with those blessings of liberty, prosperity with power amassed, it turned them into one of the three great empires of the Galaxy. 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 one. Societies gained dominance one of two ways.
Money; just buy the place.
Brute military force.
That's how winning is done on a cultural level, and they don't really use money in the Federation. Picard and the rest of Starfleet grew accustomed to peacetime and Q reminds them just how hard life is.
In Episode 16 season 2 “Q Who?” Q flings the Enterprise 7000 light years across the Galaxy. Q says to Picard, “The hall is rented. The orchestra engaged and now it's time to see if you can dance!” Then the Federation is introduced to the Borg. After they beam into engineering, 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 off his head and send it back as a message saying go away and never come back. Because the Enterprise was so entirely unprepared for what was coming. They had not faced hardship like that up to that point, not as civilization ending hardship like the Borg represented.
Because humanity got to be feeling good about themselves, and rightfully so. They were on top. But if you are not careful, you get soft. The Enterprise didn’t realize how soft they were, because they lost 18 crew members 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, childlike race, he was right.
The trial never ends.