I was never a big fan of the Star Trek: DS9 episode “Take Me out to the Holosuite” in the past. I suppose it seemed to fit awkwardly in the larger sweep of the show and struck me as a filler episode, up to a point. In so doing, furthermore, it departed sharply from the usual characterization of the Federation, in a manner far harsher than the rest of DS9, already thought to be much darker and edgier than the rest of the franchise. I mean, segregated starships (e.g. the all Vulcan crew on Capt. Solok’s ship?) Overtly racist attitude of Capt. Solok (granted, he’s no Spock, but this is the first show of open racism within Federation, that, furthermore, Federation citizens themselves take for granted on any kind of Star Trek.)
Reading and thinking about the social forces at work in the 2016 elections, however, makes me wonder how prescient, in a way, the worldviews colliding in the episode are. The dominant worldview today prescribes to the inherent superiority of “logic” and “rationality,” encapsulated in the kinds of attitude almost uniformly embraced by the “elites” of both parties, including both the Clintons and the likes of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, comprising free market neoliberal economy, legalized protection of businesses and property rights (e.g. all manner of digital copy rights, free movement of capital underwritten by internationalized system of financial rights, and so forth), and a forceful enforcement of “international human rights and democracy” underwritten by mostly American force of arms. Like the physical abilities of the Vulcans that give them a vast advantage in the baseball realm, their views are, on the whole, probably a more accurate description of the way things are. When placed on the same playing field, it is far more probable that the Vulcans should triump, with the “humans” (most of whom, in the episode, ironically, were not actually “human”) can only score momentary victories by chance and accident–which they do on the episode.
In a sense, I have to confess sharing some of the puzzlement felt by Capt. Solok at the end of the episode. The Vulcans beat the “humans” humiliatingly by an absurd margin. “Humans” scored only one run, and that only by happenstance. To the degree that winning is the objective of the game, what was the point of it all? Sisko can offer excuses and justifications for the “moral” victory, in the small sense of the sole accidental run they scrape together or the broader sense of exposing the Vulcan smugness and conspiracy. But the bottom line remains that the humanity is bound to be defeated, resistance is futile, and submission to the almighty logic is the only choice–if the only point is to “win” that is. In the like vein, the coalition of “losers” who have banded together to support Sanders or Trump (slightly different coalitions, but motivated by similar sentiments) are likely bound to lose, more often than not.
Of course, this is hardly a new trope: it is the whole premise underlying “enlightenment vs. romanticism” contrast, and it is worth remembering that, after the excesses of enlightenment that brought wars and travails of late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was romanticism that was ascendant for half a century. Another observer, H.G. Wells, commenting on the same, wryly remarked, “half-dozen comparatively slender young men in blue pajamas who were standing about their victorious land ironclad, drinking coffee and eating biscuits, had also in their eyes and carriage something not altogether degraded below the level of a man.” (from “Land Ironclads,” a short story from 1903-a timely piece anticipating what would take place only a decade later). Reason, when allowed to become dominant, becomes bigger than the human, with the latter, and their “irrational” wants, needs, and foibles, reduced to troublesome children that don’t even make for useful moving parts. If people cannot even be counted on to slaughter one another with automaticity, why bother rely on them to do anything right? (Remember: this is the theme of the movie War Games, from 1983). Something like the “dignity” or “spirit” of mankind is not definable and probably is not “rational” by the usual definition. Yet, there is little else whereby one can justify the jackboot of inhuman reason stomping on the human face forever (to paraphrase 1984).
Why might you want something that is “irrational” and “unreasonable”? Precisely because what you consider “rational” and “reasonable” may not provide an adequate understanding of how the universe really works. “Rational” is only a theory, one might say, and you have no right to expect the reality to bow to your notion of what is (and isn’t) rational. Of course, this theme, too, shows up in science fiction–this is the theme element behind Ender’s Game and the classic Doctor Who episode “Remembrance of the Daleks.” For humans, and apparently Vulcans, too, this is difficult to avoid: “Of course my theory is right. My theory is rational. Your theory isn’t, and data shows that my theory is right 95% of the time while yours is right only 85% right.” But how correlated is my right-ness and theirs? If they get right 5% of the 15% where I am wrong, consistently, there is something that they can teach me here. “Percent correctly predicted” is not a score to brag about, but simply a statement of what it is that we do and we not understand, with many caveats. As Spock might have said, data analysis provides information about where we are and what we need to learn, i.e. the beginning of the wisdom, not all that there is to know, i.e. the end.