Star Trek, post-scarcity and DRM

Synthehol damn near makes Star Trek a dystopia. In the future you can make anything you want, but all beer is ODouls and all liquor is ODouls. Synthehol seems like a holdover from the Prohibition era, where the idea is that alcohol is only used as an escape and thus in your future perfect utopia you won’t need it.

Also, “post scarcity” clearly has limits. A random shlub on the street can’t replicate a Galaxy Class starship on a whim for instance. It’s more like a welfare state where everybody has their basic needs accounted for, but needs to work if they want anything more than that.


The ultimate in bad IT policies:


But… Who. Gets. The. Chairs?!

There are exceptions.

You can get the resources to manufacture such a ship, but (a) you can’t get the AI to help you pilot it, because they have rights and (b) if you attack anyone you will be dead in three seconds. And they are probably backed up. So why bother?


Synthehol is a substitute for alcohol on Starfleet vessels, because it doesn’t have long term deleterious effects, and what effects it does have, presumably a pleasant alcoholic buzz, can easily be shaken off if necessary. You can still get real booze (Picard had a bottle of Aldebaran Whiskey in the episode “Relics”, Klingon Blood Wine, Romulan Ale, and of course Chateau Picard), but it’s more of a curio or collectible than in common use. /pedant

It might be a “welfare state” in the core worlds of the Federation, but colony worlds are at all levels of progress, depending on what model they follow. If you have 500 people but can only run 2 replicators for necessities, no one is getting a free ride.

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Another discussion of IP in relation to the Star Trek universe

Real booze seems to be against the Regs on Starfleet vessels, although it doesn’t appear to be enforced very strictly. I don’t have a problem with this, since Starfleet is a military organization. You aren’t allowed to bring booze with you on deployment in the Navy today either.

Of course because the Galaxy class is a bloated unfocused hog clearly designed by committee. It’s more like a flying army base than a single warship. There is a kindergarten a few stories up from the torpedo launchers. People bring their families along even though the ship gets in firefights every other week and is sometimes doing very dangerous exploration missions. Or sometimes they’re just wasting everybody’s time letting one guy do stellar cartography or ferrying around a couple of diplomats.


Real or syntheohol, it’s fucking blue.

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Do not try to pass off replicated Chateau Picard to Vreenak, because he will freak the eff out.


Starfleet isn’t truly a military organization. Or at least, it wasn’t supposed to be. I’ve seen it referred to as quasi-military. It’s supposed to be primarily for science and exploration with defense as a secondary function. The US military prohibits alcohol on board ships, but other navies don’t. Roddenberry’s military experience was in the US military of course.

The policies of Starfleet seem to shift back and forth a bit. Having families on board Galaxy-class vessels was a change in policy. That policy seems to have changed back by the time of Voyager. Presumably because of how often ships like the Enterprise kept running into things that kept trying to kill them.


Perhaps because of the plethora of intoxicants, such as the various kinds of alcohol, that always seem to make their way onboard ship and stations. Which really boggles the mind (partly because I don’t have an exhaustive command of Trek canon), given the issues of seemingly unlimited funds/no real form of currency (and thus, of valuing contraband or paying for it), the difficulties of having illegal/clandestine/whatever markets in a world that seems to grant a huge degree of autonomy and freedom (although I seem to recall somebody saying something about alcohol being contraband, but it’s hard to imagine the Federation having something like a War on Drugs), etc. At the same time, these would be highly desirable commodities in such a sterile and joyless universe like that which the Federation inhabits: it’s a wonder they all aren’t sticking their . It always seemed that in every third episode or so of TNG Picard was pulling out some such fun drinky drinky from some such fun episode back in his storied past.

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If you can DRM wine in a universe with time travel, then does that mean the VQA is going to sue Jesus?


Starfleet doesn’t acknowledge its militarism, largely because Roddenberry doesn’t like to think complexly about those issues (see my first post above) and because, true to “founder’s syndrome,” the later shows have been shackled by his lack of vision. Abrams’s second film, for its many huge faults, takes a big step in the right direction by acknowledging that such a large and insanely militarized system would not only be doing crazy supersoldier research (as with Khan) but would be militaristic and pew-pewy to the core.

Just read anything anybody says in the Trek universe as warmed-over 1960s-esque Camelot propaganda, and you’ll be fine. “Not a Pax Americana,” quoth Kennedy, who came closer than any world leader (his Russian friends helped, of course) to incinerating the entire world: the protestations that “it’s all about peace and cooperation, man” that Picard and the others are continually spouting read as much of the same. All of those failed dreams of the decade’s “best and brightest” are encapsulated, perfectly and for ever, in the Federation: a militarism that dare not speak its name.

I love Trek, don’t get me wrong, but often precisely because it’s so much fun to dissect and demolish, and because it’s so creakingly and groaningly a part of its time. Ruins of the future and all that…


The problem is “quasi-military” organization is an awful lot like “military dictatorship” when you get down to it. Starfleet isn’t the Federation, but a bunch civilians appear to be basically living on flying military bases. Picard doesn’t answer to any elected officials, he is the Captain of the ship and his word is law. His power base consists almost entirely of officers junior to him, except for Troi, whom nobody ever listens to and who has no official power.

Even the committee that designed the Galaxy class realized how crazy their design was. That’s why it has that complex saucer separation function so you can do your pew pew shooting with the stardrive while leaving the schools and families and science experiments somewhere safe. In practice the feature was only rarely used and most firefights were entered with the full complement of housewives and schoolchildren present. It didn’t help that they installed the biggest and by far most frequently used phaser banks on the saucer section.

I think the bigger issue (in-universe at least) was that the saucer section only had impulse drives. The real issue was that showing the ship separating meant either reusing the same footage or creating new footage. Going by memory, they did it three times on TNG plus once in Generations. In the pilot, in that one where the senior staff kept beaming down to the planet, leaving Lt. junior grade Geordi la Forge in charge, and in Best of Both Worlds to annoy the Borg.

Notable times they did not seperate the saucer:

  1. When flying into the Neutral Zone to check out the story from an untrustworthy Romulan defector about a possible military buildup.
  2. When heading into the heart of the Klingon Empire currently embroiled in civil war
  3. When going to check out a possibly suicidal alien supership that is hanging out near a soon-to-be nova

Picard clearly did not like the saucer separation feature.

that or he was invited to yet another kinder garden “Captain Picard Day” and figured that a few casualties should keep those darn kids quiet.

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Picard states outright at least once that he doesn’t like kids. Here I thought he was just an egomaniac who can’t stand to not be captaining the biggest dick, but you have an even more sinister theory.

The best story about this angle is still Neal Stephensons’ The_Diamond_Age. Replicators and DRM and post scarcity- now that I’ve finally got a 3D printer, this book is gonna sit right next to the user manual.

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