Trek Epicureanism

The last couple of days I’ve been playing around with the idea that Star Trek is epicurean, that the plots of its episodes and its larger plot arcs illustrate the importance of sticking to modest pleasures and eschewing emotional extremes.

As an example, I just watched the DS9 episode ‘Business As Usual’ (the one where Quark becomes an arms dealer). The episode is framed by scenes of Quark and Jadzia Dax playing tongo. What that suggests to me is a quasi-moral exhortation to eschew the pursuit of great happiness or success in favor of spending time relaxing with your friends– very epicurean. (Though I don’t know how historical epicureans felt about playing games)
To make this claim really convincing, it’s important to separate the morality of Star Trek from other considerations. For one, Trek is dramatically conventional; you know that when Quark is rejoicing, Odo isn’t far away (e.g.). Furthermore, as a serial TV show with a stable cast of characters, Trek graduates towards stasis– the Simpsons thing. But I think the moral concern goes beyond these considerations.
I don’t know that Trek strictly follows the epicurean party line on love. There are a number of episodes and plot arcs where love is a mistake, where it just causes pain for all involved (the majority of love affairs, I think). My gut feeling, though, is that Trek has more of a ‘Tis better to have loved…’ attitude towards love than an epicurean one. The biggest counter-example for me would be Paris and Torres, who are a great love affair.

I still think the rubric’s useful, though. Pon farr is a negative example, suggesting that unattached sex, that indulging physical needs in a small way is better than great swings of emotion.

There are other funny coincidences. Trek doesn’t spell out where it comes down on the mind-body distinction, but there’s some sort of basic atomism at the soul at work, at least from the standpoint that non-corporeal entities can be affected by various physical phenomena, e.g. pah-wraiths and chroniton beams. I think this lines up with the epicurean belief that the soul is comprised of atoms which dissipate upon death.


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