I was just watching the DS9 episode ‘The Abandoned’, and it’s great how Odo makes a 180-degree switch, from a hardcore disciplinarian to being some hippie weirdo. It’s really great.
More interesting is the line drawn in this episode. For the most part, Star Trek is willing to have a liberal and sometimes reductive view of species difference. There are definitely counter-examples, but much of Trek chooses to emphasize humanoid commonalities rather than difference. (In line with the rest of Star Trek’s concerns, earlier TNG and DS9 are more optimistic and the worldview becomes steadily more pessimistic) A lot of early Star Trek has this sunny humanism, this oh-isn’t-that-funny take on species difference. Humanoid variety is seen as benign, differences are vestigial attachments, and religion seldom and fleetingly interferes with the happy workings of the secular world. Even violence, in the case of the Klingons, is largely ceremonial. You might call this The Roddenberry Vision.
But there’s a caveat to this. Humanoid difference can be dangerous or threatening if there has been tampering with nature’s design. The jem’hadar and the borg are reviled because they are genetically violent (through no fault of their own) and cybernetically degraded. This is a really weird distinction to make, and it interestingly mirrors the prime directive.
Calling it nature’s design, is fair, I think. The underlying faith is that, left to itself, a given population/race/species will evolve to realize the benefits of liberalism. And if they don’t, they’ll only be hurting themselves, e.g. the weak Cardassians and Romulans.
I think Star Trek is willing to largely eschew racial/species essentialism. I’m unclear whether the case with the young jem’hadar is an exception, or whether Star Trek has a prevailing belief in genetic essentialism. If the latter is true, one wonders whether the 24th century has found a solution for the human(oid?) male gender’s predilection for violence, and whether making an effort to correct that would be compatible with the Roddenberry Vision.