Ee’d plebnista norkohn forkohn perfectunun… – Cloud William (Roy Jenson) in “The Omega Glory”
Even when Star Trek was bad, it could have moments that were memorable and said something important. In the deeply-flawed episode “The Omega Glory”, descendants of early Earth colonists (or else the inhabitants of an impossibly-parallel world) fought a bacteriological war between Americans and Chinese which ended in both nations being hurled back into barbarism; the Yangs (Yankees) still have an American flag and a copy of the Constitution, but have forgotten the real meaning of the artifacts. They revere the flag as a totem and recite the “holy words” by rote; today’s epigram is the Yang leader’s rendition of the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution (“We the People, in order to form a more perfect union…”) altered by centuries of repetition without meaning. They live in a tribal culture ruled by chiefs and elders, practice trial by combat, and adhere to a code of religious law completely at odds with the sacred documents they can no longer read. To them, “freedom” is nothing but a “worship word” forbidden to infidels, and the Constitution is taboo for the eyes of anyone but a chief.
The situation presents a useful (if exaggerated) metaphor of modern America; though we have not descended to the barbarism of the Yangs, our law and traditions have drifted ever further from their philosophical and constitutional moorings. The Founding Fathers would not recognize the current legal code of this country, grounded as it is in religion and other dangerous superstitions and “-isms” inimical to the Enlightenment philosophy and thousand-year-old English common law tradition in which it was originally based. Our chiefs and priests of the law claim to revere the Constitution yet violate it at every turn; their sycophantic followers proclaim that interpretation of the “holies” is only for the elite, and rabble like us need merely obey “just authority”. And though “freedom” is still a “worship word” in this country, observing the ovine obsequiousness with which Americans submit to looting, brutality, sexual molestation and demands of literal obeisance to petty officials leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that they have as little understanding of its meaning as the fictional Cloud William did. The title of today’s column is the name by which most Americans refer to this day: not “Independence Day” to acknowledge the actual reason for the observance (a declaration by brave and principled men that they refused to submit to tyranny), but rather just a date on a calendar, an excuse to stay home from work and celebrate their dependence on the overlords who so graciously grant them the holiday.
The oath Cloud William called the Ay Pledgli ends with the words, “…with liberty and justice for all,” and the pairing is not an arbitrary one: liberty and justice are inextricably bound together, and the only way to guarantee the one is to protect the other. When government actors are not only given greater rights and greater legal standing than other citizens, but are in fact insulated from the consequences of their own evil actions against others, the liberty of ordinary citizens becomes subject to the whims of those officials and justice dies. And when individuals, groups or institutions are allowed to commit injustices against others, how can the liberty of those so victimized survive? In trying to explain to the Yangs what their “holy words” really meant, Captain Kirk said, “That which you call Ee’d Plebnista was not written for the chiefs or the kings or the warriors or the rich and powerful, but for all the people…not…only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well…they must apply to everyone or they mean nothing!” Sometime in the past two centuries, Americans forgot that; individuals and groups used government as a means to deny liberty and justice to others, and thus created the machinery by which their own liberty was stolen. In the real world, there aren’t any wise heroes from outer space to come down and rescue us from our own decadence by explaining the meaning of our sacred truths; we’re going to have to rediscover them for ourselves, without assistance from the stars. Liberty is both a blessing and a burden; justice is both a boon and a solemn duty. And if we continue to abdicate responsibility for both to the least evolved and most barbaric among us, we won’t need a world war to destroy everything our ancestors built.