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A heretical thought I have had about Star Trek: the Federation has no need for Star Fleet. They're fantastically wealthy and cannot meaningfully gain from trade in physical items. They're not just singularity-esque wealthy relative to the present-day US, they're equally more secure. Nobody kills mass numbers of Federation citizens. That occasionally happens on poor planets elsewhere. Sucks but hey poverty sucks.

So why have a Star Fleet? Because Jean Luc Picard is a Federation citizen, and he wouldn't be happy as other than a starship captain. It's a galaxy-spanning Potempkin village to make him happy. Why would they do that? You're thinking like a poor person. Think like an unfathomably rich person. They do it because they can afford to. He might have had a cheaper hobby, like say watching classic TV shows, but the Federation is so wealthy that Starfleet and a TV set both round to zero.

This makes Star Fleet officers into in-universe Trekkies: a peculiar subculture of the Federation who are tolerated because despite their quirky hobbies and dress they're mostly harmless. Of course if you're immersed in the subculture, Picard looks like something of a big shot. We get that impression only because the camera is in the subculture, not in the wider Federation, which cares about the Final Frontier in the same way that the United States cares about the monarch butterfly: "We probably have somebody working on that, right? Bright postdoc somewhere? Good, good."




Yep. Aside from the fact that Star Trek economics make no sense simply because there have been several ideological shifts in its fundamental nature over the last 50 years, this is by far the best and most obvious answer to any question of why there are still people flying around in spaceships.

Post-scarcity doesn't mean post-danger. No one has to do luge in the Winter Olympics to survive, and not more than 4 years ago someone died doing it, and yet people continue to do so.


Yep. This means that when the Federation media covers the battle of Wolf 359 (11k dead, worst military disaster in centuries) it probably caused a brief flurry of controversy leavened with "Well at least they died doing what they loved: live-action role playing" and then it promptly went back to more interesting topics like which pop stars had just broken up.

It naturally follows that Earth was never in serious danger at any point because, hah, are you insane? We just didn't hit the Borg cube with the Lance of Judgement and instakill it from half a galaxy away because that would have been a terrible affront to Picard's character arc, and we really care about that sort of thing. Look at our Prime Directive: we'd rather genocide an entire race than interfere too much in the story. (Heh, psych, we're not total psychos. The Prime Directive strikes a few chords with our culture, because it needs to sound plausible to Starfleet officers, but isn't our main guiding principle any more than the US is based on not violating a shot clock. The Prime Directive is actually just there to provide interesting moral situations for Star Trek officers. We wargamed out several hundred generations of officers on a Holodeck simulation and they end up tremendously unfulfilled when doing the right thing is obvious, possible, and successful, like it always is in real life in the Federation.)


If there is some day in the future where wars/battles are fought because the people involved were doing what they love which is LARPing... I'd be a very happy and amused person.

That is a beautiful, beautiful thought and plot device for a Sci-Fi book. Thank you for placing that into my mind.


So basically the fleet is EVE, the LARP. With all that entails: breathless accounts of massive, important battles, which are completely incoherent to people outside the culture of the fleet.

I love it.


This seems very much like the military situation in Iain Banks' The Algebraist.


> Because Jean Luc Picard is a Federation citizen, and he wouldn't be happy as other than a starship captain.

There are strong hints in Iain M Banks' Culture series that a significant portion of the mission of Contact and Special Circumstances is giving humans with a pathological need for conflict and excitement something to do to keep them happy.


Thanks for this recommendation -- I'm a quarter of the way into the first book now and mostly enjoying it.


If you are just reading Consider Phlebas then that means you still have the awesome Use of Weapons to go... I'm jealous!


They're fantastic. I got (selfishly) really sad when Mr Banks died as it meant he'd have no more fantastic stories to tell.


I got that impression most strongly in The Player of Games. (Minor spoiler alert.) The Minds could have sent an avatar or SC agent to destroy The Empire of Azad, but they figured, "Hey, this Gurgeh guy is bored and he's pretty good at strategy games. Let's kill two birds with one stone."


Good take, but the Enterprises have save the Federation from destruction on multiple occasions. With out them the Federation would have been assimilated, enslaved by the Klingons, destroyed by meglomanic advanced alien AIs...


You know how high school football players think football is Really Important? Of course it is. Great sack, your team just won the championship, and the girls went wild about your heroic accomplishments. It was a terrible tragedy earlier in the year when that one kid died of a concussion, but that only underscores how Really Important football is.

In-universe evidence: despite being in a reality with infinite numbers of capricious demigods, Earth isn't dead yet. This is because Earthlings are essentially capricious demigods by the standards of more primitive cultures, but we really enjoy slumming it.


I'm really enjoying patio11's really irreverant take on the subject, but it's not really necessary that their work be completely useless to support the thesis. Self-actualized people may perform useful work as well.

But it's also possible that robots have saved the Federation as many times as human-captained ships. I'd rather believe this than that it's because of the spirit-killing Section 31 being sneaky assholes behind everyone's back.


Bringing up Section 31 is a good pull!

There are many enemies in the universe so Star Fleet is important. To name a few there are The Borg, The Makers, The Cardassians, The Romulans, And even the Klingons who are federation members.

War-like cultures would still exist even if the Federation believes they themselves have moved beyond that type of thing.


There are many enemies in the universe so Star Fleet is important.

Yes, but they're not enemies like Nazi Germany was an enemy, or like Al Qaeda was an enemy, or even like Bonnie and Clyde were enemies. They're enemies like a hornet's nest is an enemy. (If you're really cynical, they're enemies like the Protoss are an enemy, seen from the perspective of an American playing Starcraft. They exist to make your universe more fun.)

Think of how far ahead of the Klingon Empire the Federation is. They routinely have a single man with delusions of grandeur outwit the entire Klingon race and nobody thinks this is odd. We know that in the logic of the Trek universe if it's the entire Klingon High Command personally at the helm of 100 warbirds versus Wesley Crusher and his high school science project that Wesley is destined to win, right? You don't even need to see the universe from the outside to come to that conclusion. Ask a Ferengi to handicap that contest. He'd tell you "Rules of Acquisition #47: never, ever, ever bet against the humans. There's no profit in it. Ever."

Think of some power multiplier, X, for demonstrating the geometric mean between civilization's level of ability to effect their wishes on the cosmos. Multiplying the Aztecs by Xs gets you the colonial Spaniards. Multiplying the Spaniards by X gets you the US. Multiplying the US by X gets you the lowest starship captain ever depicted in the series. Multiplying them by X gets you to the Klingons. The Federation is still several powers of X beyond them.

This implies that the Federation could probably wipe out everybody else with a for loop, and probably consider that low-intensity conflict resolution. But that wouldn't be fun. Why hit the Borg with the Lance of Judgment when there are still so many stories to tell about how Picard proved that passion and ingenuity beat raw technological dominance? The Federation loves such stories as only a technological superpower can.


Totally agreed! With the exception of The Founders there isn't much competition out there besides The Q. But the Federation needs to have LARPers to LARP with the rest of the civs right? :D


Red Shirts by John Scalzi touches on some of these ideas.


> War-like cultures would still exist even if the Federation believes they themselves have moved beyond that type of thing.

An alternate take compatible with patio11's irreverent theory: war-like cultures exist only in the sense that some cultures have different LARP preferences.

Supporting evidence: how did the Klingon Empire (who are not actually part of the Federation) make it through their nuclear age without blowing up their planet? How do they continue to keep pace technologically with other species? They steal a lot of technology, e.g. they never invented the warp drive themselves, but that would only get them so far and wouldn't keep them competitive with the Federation.

Patio11's oddball theory of Star Trek as a documentary about a future LARP may not be correct, but it explains away these kinds of questions better than any "real" theory that I've seen!


Oh agreed on all counts. Was just pointing out you need to have at least a like minded set of people to 'do battle' with the other LARPers!

Also I thought the Klingons were part of the Federation at one point during DS9 era? Or perhaps that was just an alliance...


> Also I thought the Klingons were part of the Federation at one point during DS9 era? Or perhaps that was just an alliance...

There was indeed a military alliance between the Federation and Klingon Empire against the Dominion. A friend of mine (uncharitably) referred to the war against the Dominion arc as the writers, "exploring what Star Trek could be... if it was more like Babylon 5."


And then we discovered that it was all really just Ronald Moore preparing for what eventually became Battlestar Galactica. Weird pseudo-religious nonsense included.


And then the Borg show up... The analogy breaks down because the Federation is still resource constrained. Why bother with planets if you can build Dyson spheres? Because they can't, they still need to find new planets and colonize.


Perhaps they don't build Dyson spheres because living _in_ one would be really boring.

The sun is always in the same spot. It's always day. You can't see the _stars_.

Give me the surface of a planet, anyday.


If you have the technology to build a Dyson sphere, you could probably put some transparent aluminium windows in it :-)


I really enjoyed reading this. Great ideas.


haha this is wonderful, thanks for sharing




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