This is part of an ongoing series, ANALYZE TREK, in which we analyze classic Star Trek episodes through a modern, socio-political lens.
In many ways, the sixteenth episode of Star Trek‘s 3rd season, The Mark of Gideon, serves as a mirror for the turbulent season as a whole. The episode showcases poor decision making from nearly everyone, weak plot points, and an unnecessarily hyper-dramatic romance. On top of that, The Mark of Gideon presents us with a few very interesting concepts and ideas that sadly fall short of being meaningful. For the standard that Star Trek had set over its first two seasons, this episode falls significantly short.
That being said, and Star Trek being Star Trek, the concepts brought up in this episode are important and interesting enough to warrant further examination and discussion. In the episode, Kirk is tricked into being an unwitting participant in a deceptive experiment while the Enterprise is on a diplomatic mission to the planet, Gideon, whose inhabitants have indicated an interest in dealing with the Federation. The experiment, Kirk eventually finds out, is an attempt to introduce a deadly virus (to which Kirk is immune though he is still a carrier) to the people of Gideon in order to curb the effects of overpopulation. In order to do this, the Ambassador of Gideon, Hodin, uses his daughter, Odona, to seduce Kirk so that she will be infected in the hopes of ultimately dying from the virus so that she can serve as a martyr/inspiration for others to become willingly infected for the “greater good.”
Understandably, Kirk is upset by this political chicanery, and proceeds to ask the important questions such as, “Why don’t you try sterilization? Or use birth control?” To this, Hodin explains that due to genetic regenerative abilities, sterilization will not work, and the people of Gideon hold the ability to create life sacred thus birth control is out of the question as well. Eventually, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew put a stop to the plot, scold Hodin for his deception, and find a convenient way for the people of Gideon to use the virus to combat overpopulation while allowing for Odona to stay alive and still be a carrier of the virus.
What The Mark of Gideon ultimately (and clumsily) delivers, is a commentary on a sense of faux-morality taking precedence over the true suffering of a larger population of people. The character of Hodin is more willing to allow his people’s misery through overpopulation, as well as their deaths through the the introduction of the virus, rather than compromise his culture’s belief that the creation of life is sacred.
This way of thinking, while portrayed as an extreme in The Mark of Gideon, is not too dissimilar from what we see in our own world today. Countless politicians and leaders will hold the abstract concept of “life” above all else, yet fail to defend it in practice. Most notably, this moral hypocrisy is seen and heard from members of right-wing religious political factions – more commonly known as the religious right.
In response to what some might see as a trend towards more progressive social policies in the United States (i.e. stronger protections and rights for members of the LGBTQIA communities, reproductive rights, sexual education, etc.), we have seen stronger push backs from members of the religious right. Gaining power through certain elements within the base of the Republican Party, the leaders of the religious right movement put on the façade of sanctity – claiming the moniker “pro-life” – while actively advocating for policies that are antithetical to increasing the quality of life for countless individuals.
In an article looking at the problems with the religious right, political scientist, Sean Illing, states that, “despite their avowed humanitarianism, they’ve little regard for human suffering. And that’s because they’re not interested in serving life or other people; they’re dogmatists masquerading as moralizers,” (source: Mike Huckabee is a raging hypocrite: Inside the religious right’s incoherent faux-morality from Salon). What sticks out to me in this quote from Illing’s piece is the last phrase, “they’re dogmatists masquerading as moralizers.” What this illustrates is the religious right’s preservation of religious dogma over the various religious teachings of social responsibility and social justice that many argue should take precedence.
Returning once again to the world of Star Trek and The Mark of Gideon, the character of Hodin is very obviously a dogmatist. In order to preserve a belief in the sanctity of life, he’s willing to allow real suffering in his people’s lives and essentially ask them to voluntarily commit suicide by contracting a deadly virus. We see the same from the leaders of the religious right – instead of finding solutions to alleviate poverty, and other sources of human suffering, they advocate for hollow, prohibitive polices that truly don’t solve the problem they’re proclaiming to fix (i.e. banning abortion practices when research shows a ban will not decrease abortions). We can only hope that, like Kirk at the end of The Mark of Gideon, Americans will see through the façade of faux-morality and ultimately challenge these hollow pursuits in favor of more holistic solutions that alleviate poverty, improve access to healthcare and education, and increase the quality of life for all people through all stages of life.