Summer Camp with the Klingons (S02:E08)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Matter of Honor

Commander Riker participates in an officer exchange program, serving as second in command on a Klingon ship.

We learn a significant amount about both Riker and Klingon culture, and they’re a good match for each other. Riker excels on the Klingon ship by exhibiting arrogance and avoiding any impression of fear or other “weaknesses”, by beating up and threatening underlings at appropriate times, and by sharing in jokes the women on board make about having sex with him. This all comes quite naturally to him.

Klingon culture is the first culture examined on TNG with any depth.2 And it exemplifies several values that would be out of place in the human utopia portrayed on the Enterprise. Some values would even be considered abhorrent to humans, like Klingons’ extreme distaste for the diminished capacities and dependence that come with living into old age. One Klingon explains that “old people are weak, useless, honorless” and when Riker encourages him to talk to his old, dishonored father, the warrior says “a Klingon is his work, not his family.”

But within this story, Klingons are still allowed their dignity; they are presented as noble, brave and culturally rich3. Even with a code of ethics that I didn’t find appealing then – and don’t now – they’ve given me a rich enough culture to savor, even if I wouldn’t want to live there. That ability to value someone else’s stories as important to them – even if those customs or stories don’t hold direct meaning for me – is pretty damn critical to who I’ve become, and I’m practicing it first here.

Riker has one of his more compelling moments for me here, when asked why he was willing to risk his life being the first human serving on board a Klingon ship. He replies, “because no one’s ever done it before.” While I suspect his motivation is rooted more in competition and proving himself, rather than in something resembling my desire to solve unknowns, we very nearly have some common ground here. And that’s the closest we get for a while.


1. From http://www.tvrage.com/Star_Trek-The_Next_Generation/episode_guide/2
2. We have caught glimpses of Betazoid culture, but nothing of this magnitude (or as well written).
3. At least, as rich as a nonhuman race ever gets on Star Trek. They certainly prioritized other things above anthropological richness, most of the time.

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