Friday, August 5, 2016

Star Trek and What (Some) Conservatives Mean By Socialism

In a very revealing piece on the site Learn Liberty, Ilya Somin posts a piece called "Star Trek Is Far from Libertarian – Here’s Why." It's revealing because I think it offers clues to what many conservatives mean by "socialism." Seriously, how can there be a debate about whether something is libertarian or socialist? That's like arguing whether an animal is a walrus or a kangaroo.

Note: in keeping with standard Star Trek notation, TOS refers to The Original Series, TNG to The Next Generation and DS9 to Deep Space 9
But at least from a libertarian perspective, the otherwise appealing ideological vision of Star Trek is compromised by its commitment to socialism.
The Federation isn’t just socialist in the hyperbolic sense in which some conservatives like to denounce anyone to the left of them as socialist. It’s socialist in the literal sense that the government has near-total control over the economy and the means of production. Especially by the period portrayed in The Next Generation, the government seems to control all major economic enterprises, and there do not seem to be any significant private businesses controlled by humans in Federation territory. Star Fleet characters, such as Captain Picard, boast that the Federation has no currency and that humans are no longer motivated by material gain and do not engage in capitalist economic transactions.
That last quote is probably based on the following dialog from the TNG (The Next Generation) episode "The Neutral Zone" where the Enterprise picks up three cryogenically frozen humans. One, Ralph Offenhouse, a 20th century financier, is concerned over losing his wealth.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: A lot has changed in the past three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We've eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy. 
Ralph Offenhouse: You've got it all wrong. It has never been about possessions. It's about power. 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Power to do what?
Ralph Offenhouse: To control your life, your destiny.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: That kind of control is an illusion.
Ralph Offenhouse: Really? I'm here, aren't I? I should be dead. But I'm not.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: This is the 24th century. Material needs no longer exist. 
Ralph Offenhouse: Then what's the challenge? 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The challenge, Mr. Offenhouse, is to improve yourself. To enrich yourself. Enjoy it.
But where, exactly, is the evidence that the Federation government controls everything? True, we don't see any corporate logos. The premise that humans have given up cupidity or corporate corruption in favor of altruism is far-fetched but scarcely more than the idea we have given up warfare. Still, there are episodes - lots of them - where people seek self advantage through unethical means. In the TNG episode "Where No One Has Gone Before," a Starfleet engineer arrives with a companion to "improve" the ship's warp drives. Although the engineer thinks he really has discovered ways to improve the engines, (and makes himself obnoxious by boasting about it) in reality he's been duped by his companion, an alien intent on exploring the universe in his own way. So the engineer wasn't really trying to pull a con, but he was certainly all too eager to believe he was a genius. In fact, almost all the instances in Star Trek of some human character behaving unethically, it's to gain power or rank, not material possessions. 

It's by no means clear that the Federation lacks private corporations. Several TNG episodes refer to the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars, and there's no mention of who runs them. And even a U.S. Navy shipyard has lots of private contractors. It's like arguing that World War II America was socialist because we don't see private corporations figuring prominently in The Longest Day or Tora, Tora, ToraI.

Remember, Above All, Star Trek is Science Fiction

Science fiction is also social fiction, a platform where alternative societies can be explored. The "science" part is getting there, to some distant planet, the past or future, or some alternate time line. In a lot of "science" fiction, the science is almost entirely secondary to the social part. In the episode "A Piece of the Action (TOS)," the only science-related components were the Enterprise visiting a planet and then discovering that a previous ship had accidentally left a book about Chicago gangsters behind. The people of that planet, mistakenly thinking that was how advanced societies worked, modeled their society on gangland Chicago. The action in the episode revolved entirely around Kirk and Spock trying to survive and get control of the situation. And the majority of Star Trek episodes are of the form "Enterprise arrives at X, finds weird or dangerous society on X, tries to relate or escape."

Also, science fiction in print can afford to be a little more independent because the audience is smaller and advertisers know what they're getting into. But Star Trek was a TV show, and a risky one at that. The producers were risking a lot of money and the advertisers a lot of consumer good will. Unlike the Irwin Allen potboiler Lost in Space, which aired at the same time and which was campy, predictable, safe fluff, Star Trek dealt with things that were fairly edgy at the time. There were lots of things that viewers and sponsors wouldn't have accepted. The pilot episode had a female captain. That was taboo. Uhura and Kirk's interracial kiss launched many viewers into near apoplexy. Gay characters would have meant ratings and sponsorship death. Not mentioning religion explicitly didn't ruffle many feathers, and reference to bizarre alien religions has earth parallels, but if the series had treated Christianity as extinct, or as superstition, viewers would have gone ballistic. By the later series, it was possible to be a little more frank, especially about sex. In "Up the Long Ladder (TNG)," a female member of one colony seduces Riker rather blatantly, then the colony is told that to have sufficient genetic diversity, each woman will need to have children by at least three males, which Riker's seducer finds intriguing. That would certainly not have gotten past network censors a decade earlier.

Diversity and Conflict

Somin laments:
The Federation’s Diversity Turns Out to be Only Skin Deep
The uncritical acceptance of socialism may be a manifestation of the Federation’s more general troubling ideological homogeneity. Especially among the human characters, there seems to be remarkably little disagreement over ideological and religious issues. With one important exception (discussed below), few human characters oppose the official Federation ideology, and those few are generally portrayed as fools, villains, or both.
The Federation is a collection of racially and ethnically diverse people who all think alike, at least when it comes to the big issues. The series’ creators likely intended this as an indication of humanity’s future convergence toward the “truth.” But it is also subject to a more sinister interpretation: just as socialism tends to stifle independent economic initiative, it also undermines independent thought.
No, not "Convergence toward the truth," but merely the classic science fiction technique of projecting bizarre or unacceptable traits onto alien societies to be able to deal with them more impartially and less threateningly. For example: the episode ("Mark of Gideon" TOS) deals with a planet that is disastrously overcrowded, and Kirk is lured there because he carries a lethal virus. The leaders of the planet explain they hold procreation sacred but will allow denizens to volunteer for exposure to the virus to thin out the population. Placing the story on a future Earth would have provoked a firestorm, but placing it on an alien planet allows viewers to watch the story while being able to pretend it had nothing to do with human society. The irony here is that such an overcrowded planet would have had essentially no liberty, yet libertarians tend to dismiss discussion of overpopulation. Also, projecting a bizarre social trait onto an alien society allows it to be portrayed in a more exaggerated form. The Ferengi in DS9 and TNG are grasping capitalists and misogynists on a scale even Monty Burns on The Simpsons could hardly rival.

There's little ideological division among the humans because the real ideological divisions are between the Federation and other alien societies. Furthermore, the Prime Directive, porous as it is, creates a plot device that forces the humans in Star Trek to stand by and allow other cultures to keep their objectionable practices without interference, and also explore the limits of tolerance. For example, in "A Taste of Armageddon" (TOS), the Enterprise visits a planet that has been at war with a neighbor for centuries, but rather than actually attack each other, they had set up a system whereby computers simulated attacks and each planet then killed that number of their own people. Kirk concludes it had all become too neat and antiseptic and destroys the computer, confronting the warring planets with either real Armageddon or negotiations, which they agree to enter, mediated by the Federation.

Let's also remember that Starfleet is a self-selected society of people who commit themselves to a body of regulations that are rarely mentioned explicitly because they're internalized. You don't see people throwing trash on the floor just like you wouldn't see it on an aircraft carrier. Nor do you see a bunch of people barricading themselves in the holodeck until their demands are met. Because Starfleet still has court-martials. So, yes, in one respect Somin is right. The Enterprise is not a libertarian society, any more than its maritime ancestor was. But you can't conclude that the Enterprise's society (either one) is as authoritarian as the Enterprise itself is. And you can't conclude that the absence of private corporations on the Enterprise (again, ether one) proves their absence in the society as a whole.

There are, in fact, a vast number of things left unstated in Star Trek. Surely it would be useful for away teams to have small personal vehicles rather than having to walk everywhere they go, but we never see any such thing. Except for cases where the crew goes into the past, or to some alternate-history planet ("A Piece of the Action (TOS)," "Bread and Circuses" (TOS)) or has some adventure on the holodeck, we never see ground vehicles at all. Do Federation citizens transport everywhere? We never see aircraft. Absence of evidence in Star Trek is not evidence of absence. The vast majority of the series takes place on what is essentially a military post, completely self contained and self sufficient, and far more isolated than any naval vessel at sea. And while you'd see personal squabbles on a naval vessel, you probably wouldn't have seen people actively protesting U.S. policies, still less face-to-face with the commander. So there's no more ideological conflict on the Enterprise in space than you'd expect on the Enterprise at sea. We'd expect anyone who displayed blatant confrontation with policy on either the maritime or space Enterprise to be put off at the nearest port, probably under arrest.

Also, there were a lot of ad-hoc devices simply to move the plot along or prevent problems. Starting with the transporters themselves. Originally characters were supposed to travel by shuttlecraft, but transporters were created when the shuttlecraft set wasn't done in time. Transporters have a distance limit because, otherwise, who needs spacecraft? Replicators originally served food and only later other things. Supposedly they couldn't replicate dilithium crystals, latinum or living things. A number of plots hinged on replacing failing dilithium crystals, replicating latinum would have crashed the Ferengi economy, and replicating living things would have created some issues. Red shirts killed on an away mission? Just replicate them before they go as insurance, or store their transporter data and reproduce them later.

Incidentally, the excuse given for not replicating living things is their complexity. But given that transporters deconstruct and reconstruct people at the atomic level, that's simply an ad-hoc
device. Incidentally, even if you could store data at the atomic level, it would take as many atoms to store the data for a human being as there are atoms in a human being.

The reality is that Star Trek never says explicitly who builds warp drives or installs the view screens or the turbo-lifts or mines the ores to make all that stuff.
The problem here is not just that Star Trek embraces socialism: it’s that it does so without giving any serious consideration to the issue. For example, real-world socialist states have almost always resulted in poverty and massive political oppression, piling up body counts in the tens of millions.
Despite Somin's acknowledgement of "the hyperbolic sense in which some conservatives like to denounce anyone to the left of them as socialist," that's precisely what he's doing here. Just look at the piles of bodies and the concentration camps in socialist hell-holes like Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and so on.
But Star Trek gives no hint that this might be a danger, or any explanation of how the Federation avoided it. Unlike on many other issues, where the producers of the series recognize that there are multiple legitimate perspectives on a political issue, they seem almost totally oblivious to the downsides of socialism.
Now I agree 100 per cent it would be interesting to see how the Federation created a utopian economy free of want. Just as it would be interesting to see how they eliminated warfare on earth. I mean, we were still in the aftermath of global nuclear war when humans and Vulcans first met, and in the TNG episode "Encounter at Farpoint," we hear allusions to "The Post-Atomic Horror," implying that things were pretty ugly there for a while. So how exactly did we sort it out? Especially, how did we prevent would be dictators from coming to power and recruiting others to their cause?

“The love of money is the root of all evil,” from 1 Timothy 6:10 (King James Bible), is often misquoted by leaving off the first three words.  As Offenhouse said: "It has never been about possessions. It's about power." Or in Henry Kissinger's words, "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." The name of the game is power, privilege, status, and comfort, and since money is the path to most of those things, unrestrained drive for its acquisition leads to all the evils we associate with economic injustice.

However, the problem is not money per se, but the greed for what it can buy, and we can see that by looking at cases where money, as the saying goes, was no object. One example was the nomenklatura, in the former Soviet Union. The nomenklatura were mid-level bureaucrats and party officials, and while they were not rich in monetary terms, they enjoyed all the advantages of wealth by being in a position to control day-to-day official decisions to their own advantage. They were the people who went to the head of the waiting list for automobiles and good apartments. They were the people whose children managed to avoid conscription into the army.

The writer C. S. Lewis described another environment where money had little importance, in these terms:
What an answer, by the by, Wyvern [College] was to those who derive all the ills of society from economics. For money had nothing to do with its class system. It was not (thank Heaven) the boys with threadbare coats who became Punts [bottom of the social order], nor the boys with plenty of pocket-money who became Bloods [the ruling class]. According to some theorists, therefore, it ought to have been entirely free from bourgeois vulgarities and iniquities. Yet I have never seen a community so competitive, so full of snobbery and flunkeyism, a ruling class so selfish and so class-conscious, or a proletariat so fawning, so lacking in all solidarity and sense of corporate honour.
Probably the starkest possible illustration was Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, chronicled in the film The Killing Fields. For a time, Cambodia became the only country in recorded history to abolish money. What the Khmer Rouge did offer was access to necessities and the few comforts still available – and power - completely unlimited power over everyone else, literally including the right to kill with impunity. If one is looking for a test of the idea that “The love of money is the root of all evil,” this was a controlled experiment in which about a fourth of the country was slaughtered. 

The Post-Scarcity Society

Somin poses the question:
Does Lack of Scarcity Make Good Economics Moot?
Well, define "good economics." Considering the profligate way that some conservatives treat fossil fuels or the environment, things that they seem to believe are functionally infinite, it appears that the answer is "yes."

Defenders of the series’ portrayal of socialism claim that economic systems are no longer relevant in a “post-scarcity” society. Thanks to the remarkable technology of the replicator, Federation citizens can effortlessly produce almost anything they want, rendering the difference between socialism and capitalism meaningless.
I personally doubt that a system that gave out things, no questions asked, would work for long. The most likely outcome is that a very large number of people would settle into a vegetative, passive consumerism. The space ship in Wall-E  portrays such a society. There are plenty of science fiction stories where societies without want become dystopian through boredom or frustration. Another possible outcome is that people, freed from want, would seek stimulation by dominating others.  Probably the most important questions not answered in Star Trek are what motivates people to do anything at all, since characters in Star Trek take their jobs seriously and regularly face danger. The second, related question is, are there any negative consequences to becoming completely inert and passive? Are such people allowed to experience the negative effects of an inert lifestyle? Do they, say, have their survival needs met but no comfort needs?
But the world of Star Trek is not in fact one where the problem of scarcity has been overcome. Some crucial goods cannot be replicated. The most obvious are the replicators themselves; in all the many Star Trek TV episodes and films, we never once see them replicate a replicator! The same goes for the dilithium crystals, which power starships. Planetary real estate also apparently cannot be replicated, which is why the Federation and its rivals often fight wars over it.
It's true there are turf battles in Star Trek, but they seem to be more about controlling strategic areas and approaches, rather than the planets themselves. For example, in the TNG episode "Journey's End," a planet is colonized by Native Americans who have gone, well, native. Thanks to a truce between the Federation and the Cardassians, this planet is now part of Cardassian space. Rather than leave, the human inhabitants agree to accept Cardassian rule. There's no hint that the Cardassians plan to pave this planet over and build condos. They just seem to want jurisdiction.

In fact, the population density in the Federation seems to be very small. There are scads of habitable but uninhabited planets. Think about it. Humans have been around for roughly a million years out of 4.6 billion. The chances of a randomly selected earth-like planet having indigenous intelligent life on it is roughly one in thousands. We do occasionally hear of a planet with numerous cities, but there are also lots of planets where the only inhabitants are some hermit scientist, or some isolationist sect that's carved out a home somewhere. In "The Way to Eden" (TOS), a group of future hippies finds a planet that seems to be a Garden of Eden, apart from the acid fruit and poisonous plants. But their intent was to find a place where their group, half a dozen or so people, could settle, and be the sole inhabitants of the entire planet. And nobody seemed to think that, in itself, was impossible.

Let's also point out that with replicator technology, someone could construct a shell around a large asteroid and make it habitable. Or install artificial gravity capable of retaining an atmosphere. Or use replicators to replace a toxic atmosphere with a breathable one. Real estate would scarcely be a problem.

Star Trek Insurrection (Star Trek IX) deals with a plot by another species (the Son'a) to steal the rejuvenating radiation source from the rings of a planet occupied by a peaceful race (the Ba'ku) Because it's not real science fiction if the names don't have a ton of glottal stops. But from all appearances, the Ba'ku consist of a few hundred people. Now if there's a problem here, it's imagining a species living indefinitely in a tiny area of a planet rather than expanding. But with so few people on the planet, why not just find a nice spot a few thousand miles away, build a whole bunch of health spas, and rake in whatever the scheming aliens rake in in their economy? Or for that matter, simply build a few space stations orbiting in the ring plane. Now this is indeed a Star Trek with baffling economics. 
Just as we enjoy far greater material wealth than our ancestors, so the Star Trek universe is one with vastly greater abundance than what we have today. But that does not mean either we or they have completely overcome scarcity, and thus can ignore issues of economic organization.
Just what everyone wanted: tuning in to Star Trek for an economics lecture. This is a little like complaining that Moby Dick never talks about the U.S. economy while the Pequod  is at sea. Seriously, saying Star Trek is socialist is like saying the Pequod is socialist. Everyone gets fed, everyone has a place to sleep, everyone has shelter, everyone dies when the ship sinks. 

Well, there is an economy of sorts in Star Trek, it's just that scarcity is never a central conflict in any of the episodes, probably because it never realistically impinges on anyone's plans. We never hear, for example, that the Federation is going to mothball a quarter of the fleet because of budgetary constraints. Indeed, the fleet can take catastrophic losses, like in the Battle of Wolf 359 against the Borg, and rebuild. We never hear that some scientist can't do his research because his grant was turned down. Still, in Voyager, the energy needs of the ship lead to rationing of replicator use. This is purely a plot device to keep the dramatic tension up. Since replicators and transporters can convert mass to energy and vice versa, all Voyager would need to do is snag a small asteroid to have all the mass it needed. In the DS9 episode Homefront, cadet Sisko is in danger of using up his transporter rations by traveling home so frequently. Since this all happens on Earth, it's not clear what would limit transporter use, unless it's just a disciplinary rule of Starfleet Academy. 

Finally, there's the need to trade with non-Federation species. In the very first TNG episode, "Encounter at Farpoint," we see crew members on shore leave haggling with locals over the price of goods. The Ferengi, a caricature of capitalism at its worst, trade in some metal called "latinum," which replicators can't reproduce, supposedly because of its extreme quantum complexity, but actually because if we could replicate latinum freely, it would destroy the Ferengi economy. Also, dilithium, the power source for starships, can't be replicated, again supposedly because of its quantum structure, but in reality as a plot device to make scarcity of dilithium a plot element.

In one TOS episode, real scarcity played a role. In "Conscience of the King," Kirk crosses paths with an actor whom he suspects of being Kodos, a mass murderer. The actor, former governor of a colony, killed 4,000 colonists when rations ran short. However, rescue arrived soon after, and the disgraced governor faked his own death in a battle. His daughter, unfortunately, knows who he is and has been killing off witnesses to the massacre. In the end, Kodos takes a phaser shot to atone for his sins and save Kirk. (Nobody explains what Kang was doing).

This criticism is actually very simple to deal with. The ideological conflicts are almost entirely with non-Federation races. Ideological conflicts among the Federation characters are mostly over how, or whether, to violate the Prime Directive. 

Socialist or Libertarian?

I'd say Trek is about as libertarian as it gets. The Federation never tries to prevent people from replicating whatever they want, apart from dangerous things like weapons or toxins, and they're free to do so without corporate opposition as well. Data's maker built humanoid androids without any kind of regulation or licensing at all. Nobody ever gets served with papers saying he can't replicate some patented item. And while there are turf battles, population density seems to be very low, and there are any number of episodes where some lone wolf scientist or recluse has a planet all to himself. People don't seem to have much trouble procuring spacecraft.

The TOS episode "The Way to Eden" illustrates spacecraft logistics nicely. The Enterprise is ordered to intercept a stolen spacecraft, which is headed toward the Romulan Neutral Zone. Stealing the ship seems to have been more a matter of convenience than poverty. The Enterprise pursues the ship because it's (a.) stolen and (b.) about to create a major armed crisis. The thieves turn out to include the son of a VIP, so they're given delicate treatment, which they reward by taking over the Enterprise, steering it to Planet Eden, and then stealing a shuttlecraft. Again, convenience, not poverty. Although there are many episodes where some Starfleet craft gets stolen or hijacked, not once is there any hint that people can't privately obtain ships. We don't see the Enterprise stop some other ship at random and say "Sorry, you're not allowed to engage in space travel."

On the holodeck, there seem to be few limits on anyone's fantasies. There are safety protocols, but they can be overridden easily, as Worf does in practicing his Klingon martial arts. Nobody ever gets censured for their sexual escapades, on the holodeck or in real life. (Except once: in the TNG episode Booby Trap, Geordi replicates design engineer Leah Brahms to help figure out how to escape a sticky situation. In Memory Alpha, the real Leah Brahms visits the Enterprise, finds Geordi's holodeck recreation, and is not amused.  Moral, wipe your browser history. Especially if you're fantasizing about a real person who might find out about it.)

It's true we don't see any explicit mention of corporations, but that's balanced by the equal lack of any interference in interstellar travel and settlement, or private consensual (or holodeck) conduct. Other things we never encounter in Star Trek are characters complaining about taxes or burdensome regulations. We never hear someone complain that he can't supply phasers because Starfleet's regulations take up all his time. There are laws. The trader in "The Trouble With Tribbles" responds to a question about tribbles being dangerous by indignantly answering that transporting dangerous species is against regulations. And in "I, Mudd," Harry Mudd is hiding on an undiscovered planet, on the lam after violating a long laundry list of laws. But if the absence of corporations in Star Trek is evidence of socialism, the absence of any mention of taxes or excessive regulation points just as strongly toward a libertarian society. 

Let's also note that the post-scarcity society brings benefits to business people as well. They never have to worry about their supply chain. They never have to worry about worker unrest because they can give their workers whatever they want at no cost (or build robots). They can simply transport their waste into deep space or use it as replicator mass to make something else. In fact a replicator would be a perpetual motion machine. Zap up a fully charged battery, then, when it runs down, zap up another. Paperwork? Fine. Hire people to do it and use your replicator to house them in a palace and feed them caviar three meals a day. Or build robots.

Actually, Star Trek never really explores the implications of robots very deeply. Actually, they're always called "androids." But since it's possible to build highly intelligent androids ("I Mudd's" mostly voluptuous female androids, Data in TNG) or wholly functional humanoid holograms (The Doctor in "Voyager."), it's curious that the Federation doesn't relegate all the work to androids. This, I submit is another plot device, since having all the bad stuff happen to non-people would eliminate all the drama.

So Why Call Star Trek "Socialist?"

The "evidence" that the Star Trek universe is socialist consists of the entirely negative line of evidence that there is no mention of private companies, plus assertions that people no longer struggle for material goods.

Wait a minute. The evidence that the Federation is socialist is based on its ability to satisfy everyone's needs and free society from want? Isn't that tantamount to saying capitalism
can't do those things? 

Furthermore, isn't that exactly what capitalism promised to do not so long ago? A car in every garage, a chicken in every pot? (Or maybe vice versa - I always get them confused) But beginning about fifty years ago, critics began pointing out the shortcomings of capitalism. It hadn't eliminated poverty, it hadn't provided health care or justice or education for all. And so we lost our blind faith in it. Capitalism may yet deliver a utopian society, but there will be reversals and a need for constant correction. And very likely, a continuing need for vigilance against the temptation to abuse the system.

Why did we stop believing blindly? Because we had enough integrity to admit our shortcomings honestly. Marxism never did that. Only under Gorbachev's glasnost', when the Soviet Union was tottering toward collapse, did the Soviet Union allow the sort of open criticism that might have saved it a couple of decades earlier. Salvador Allende never admitted his experiment in Chile had failed, nor did Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, nor Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Faced with honest criticism, Marxist societies responded with repression.

We still have faith that capitalism can produce a just and prosperous world. But it's not going to be as easy or seamless as those Norman Rockwell paintings seemed to suggest. And we're also a lot more aware of the ways it can be subverted, something else Marxism never dared face about itself.

The strongest clue as to what really makes Star Trek "socialistic" is the exchange between Captain Picard and Ralph Offenhouse: 
Ralph Offenhouse: You've got it all wrong. It has never been about possessions. It's about power. 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Power to do what? 
Ralph Offenhouse: To control your life, your destiny. 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: That kind of control is an illusion. 
Ralph Offenhouse: Really? I'm here, aren't I? I should be dead. But I'm not.
Note that Offenhouse would be dead if he hadn't been beamed aboard by an advanced spacecraft (that he did nothing to create) and then revived by advanced medicine (that he also did nothing to create). He's boasting of things he had neither a right to nor control over. Offenhouse's "control" is as pure an illusion as you can find, the living embodiment of Obama's notorious remark "You did not build this." And what does power "To control your life, your destiny" mean? A few million dollars will buy all the travel and possessions most people could ever use. Sex, too, if you don't want to face the difficult problem of actually forming a relationship. Offenhouse can already have any material good he likes. No, Offenhouse wants power over other people

The one thing replicators can't provide are services. Presumably there are robots to change adult diapers and provide therapy to the handicapped. Also one episode described the ships as "self-cleaning." Still, there seem to be lots of busy people on starships, so there must be lots of human jobs, plus people who want to do them.

The Really Weird Socialism Claim

If it's weird to claim Star Trek is socialist merely because it provides people with all their needs, that pales in comparison to the claim from some software developers that open-source software is "socialism." It's socialism for you to give away your personal intellectual property, that you created. And why? Because it interferes with somebody else selling a similar product for a profit. In other words, I have a right to withhold some service from people if they don't pay for it and you are depriving me of my "right" to dictate to other people if you offer the same product for free.

I suspect Somin and the open-source critics equate "socialism" with private individuals not having power over others. And that's the thing that grates on me with most libertarians, too. We hear all about government abuses of power, very little about private abuses. Instead of shutting down Obamacare as socialism, how about shutting down the copyright and patent offices as corporate socialism? It comes back to Offenhouse's statemet: "It has never been about possessions. It's about power."