Top
The Back Road Web Links
Guestbook
Follow Me On
Search
The Woman in White Marble

{Click Marble or visit Books in the main menu}

« Living in Ethics | Main | The Language of Ethics »
Friday
Feb032012

Ethics in Star Trek's Delta Quadrant

The Starship Voyager of the Federation of Planets and her crew have been mysteriously transported 70,000 light years against their will from the Alpha Quadrant of the universe to the uncharted space of the Delta Quadrant. A wrong has been committed against them and as result their primary mission has become to return home. If they can find no means of an equally affective transportation, the return will take them seventy years, which is to say, the crew will live out their lives on the journey. The "metaphor of the journey" is the underlying meta-narrative of Star Trek: Voyager. Behind them they have left love ones, their careers, and the hopes and dreams of their lives. With them they have brought their traditions and stories, principles and laws, morality and ethics. Before them is an unknown and difficult future.

The crew has no means of communicating with Starfleet or family and friends in the Alpha Quadrant. In a very real sense they are isolated and on their own. No decision or action can be verified or approved by Starfleet, and yet the ethos, procedures, and principles of Starfleet remain with them. However, they also find themselves in a completely new and unique situation which continually challenges that same ethos and those same procedures and principles. Captain Kathyrn Janeway and her crew are time and time again asked to reevaluate the most fundamental beliefs and principles to which they have committed their careers and lives in the face of new situations and their deep desire to return home.

In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Prime Factors" (Product number ST:VOY 810 first screened on 20 March 1995) the ethical dilemma of holding true to their foundational principles as Starfleet officers and crew members or bending and even breaking those principles comes into full focus.

  • Ethics is knowing what virtues are good and why certain actions are right.
  • Morality is being a good person and doing what is right.
  • An ethical dilemma involves two or more moral issues in conflict.

Captain Janeway and her crew must face their moral moment and are confronted with an ethical crisis. Any decision and subsequent action will have its benefits and costs and ultimately affect their integrity of being. Decisions are ultimately taken for particular situations. Actions undertaken as the result of particular decisions do determine the character of the moral agent. For Captain Janeway, the crisis is intensified because of her particular role and the effects her decisions will have on others. She is not just deciding for herself, but for her entire crew as well. As a result her authority as Captain and her relationships will be affected.

On an apparently routine day, Voyager is contacted by Gathborel Labin (called Gath), a magistrate of Sikaris, who invites Captain Janeway and her crew to his home world. They are offered welcome, gifts, and, most notably, hospitality, apparently and simply because the crew of Voyager are lost, alone, and struggling to make there way home. In essence they are offered a holiday.

We quickly learn, as Janeway and her officers enjoy Sikarian hospitality, that their hosts are a pleasure oriented people. As Gath says, it gives Sikarians pleasure to give pleasure. We also learn they are a narrative sensitive, or narrative dependent, people.

As the Voyager crew are each finding their own form of pleasure, Harry Kim, the Operations Officer, sits with an attractive Sikarian named Eudana telling the story of how Voyager was transported to the Delta Quadrant. She is obviously impressed and respectful saying Kim's is noble story. She says there are whimsical, frightening, melancholy and many other kinds of stories, but that noble stories are the "ones that can most affect our lives." She than asks permission to retell the story to others.

Kim is surprised and with a laugh says, "Sure, it is no secret." She explains that noble stories "are an essential part of every person's being. I would never share one without permission." For the Sikarians, character development is narrative dependent.

Eudana desires to hear more of Kim's stories and decides to take him to a quiet and private place. They go to a transporter platform and are transported to a beautiful woods. Upon looking at the sunrise, Kim realized that they have transported to a different planet and learns that it is some 40,000 light years from Sikaris.

Kim and Eudana return to Sikaris where they find Captain Janeway talking with Gath. Kim, very excited, tells Janeway of the transportation technology and what it could mean for their voyage home. Janeway turns to Gath and asks if the technology could not be modified to send Voyager home. Gath explains, that while her request is technically possible, Sikarians cannot share their technology, that to do so could mean it would fall into the hands of those who might abuse it, and that Sikarian canon laws strictly forbid the taking of such a risk.

Kim responds with understandable emotion, insisting they would never abuse the technology and pleads with the magistrate to understand what it would mean to the crew to return home. Gath asks Kim not to make it more difficult for him than it already is, that it does not give him pleasure to deny his request. He continues:

Our canon laws have determined our entire system of values. To break one of its precepts would undermine everything we believe in. I'm sorry, for there can be no exceptions to the law.

We have learned that Sikarians are well known for their hospitality, a virtue and practice well known in many cultures and certainly in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

  • Virtues are traits of Character.
  • Character is the nature of who we are.
  • Doing ethics affects who we are and will become.

We know too that they have a very high regard for storytelling, seeing narratives not simply as entertainment, but "as an essential part of a person's being." We can surmise from the reference to "a person's being" that character and the understanding of virtue are intimately associated with the telling and hearing of stories. For the Sikarians, the category of narrative is epistemologically important, if not necessary, for the development and nurturing of a moral life. In a sense, the Sikarians learn of the virtues that are necessary for a good character by hearing and telling stories which illustrate and illumine those very virtues. If goodness is valued, then the "noble" stories that tell of goodness are valuable.

We also know that Sikarians are a pleasure oriented people, hedonist at heart, perhaps with a utilitarian bent. But we know one more thing of importance. They are also a people who respect, indeed insist upon, the duty of law. As Gath says, their canon law determine their value system and to break one law is to undermine the entire canon.

  • Utilitarianism is doing greatest good for the greatest number.

At first glance it may seems that there is, or should be, a tension among the necessity for stories to enable and ennoble being, the (utilitarian) principle of giving and seeking pleasure, and the nonsituationalism reliance on canon laws as the foundation of values. Can a people be virtue centred and pleasure oriented and still have a uncompromising obedience to law. Virtue/character ethics is commonly seen as teleological, while duty/law ethics is seen as deontological in nature. However, it is possible that living a life of virtue can be realized through adherence to deontological principles. For the Sikarians the pursuit of pleasure and the virtuous life depend on the ultimate duty to canon law that determines their value system and coaless them into a community. The Sikarians are not situationalists.

  • Teleology considers the basis of ethics to be the end (telos) sought or the outcome hoped for; actions are based on possible consequences.
  • Deontology considers the basis of ethics to be the compliance with or obedience to duty; actions are based on what we ought to do rather than what we hope to accomplish.

A very simple definition of hedonism would be: the principle that moral value can be defined in terms of pleasure; or that moral good can be realized through the pursuit of pleasure; or that the pursuit of pleasure is the highest moral good (thus its association with utilitarianism). It almost goes without saying that in the Christian tradition as understood today hedonism has a bad name. And yet, the Sikarians do not seem like bad and irresponsible people. While they are pleasure oriented, they also have a strong sense of duty to law. They are known and praised far and wide for their hospitality. In the narrative, their desire to give and receive pleasure has an almost aesthetic flavour or quality. It may not be stretching it to say that for the Sikarians pleasure is a quality of character, and perhaps can be considered a virtue.

  • Situation Ethics aims to discern what is fitting in any given situation. Only one rule or law is absolute: the maximizing of good consequences. Any other rule or law can be compromised.

Below I will discuss ethics as an aesthetic enterprise. Essentially I will argue that the ethical is beautiful, or that Beauty is an essential aspect of ethical being. I will do so for two main reasons. First, the Sikarians remind me that Jesus defined human nature as Ecstatic and not tragic. Ecstasy can be viewed theologically as having moral quality. Second, ethicists have been discussing for some time the aesthetic quality of morality, or "the Beauty of the Soul," where "soul" is also understood as "character." Suffice it to say at this point, goodness and badness have been associated with aesthetic qualities of the person, and I would add, the community. Colin McGinn in Ethics, Evil and Fiction says that for persons to be virtuous demands that they possess certain aesthetic qualities of soul and that these qualities are necessary for goodness. He further argues that when speaking of soul, or character, aesthetic qualities are indeed ethical and that the relationship of aesthetic quality and the soul speaks of beauty. In other words, virtue equals beauty when associated with matters of the soul. Or as McGinn says, it is not possible for a person to be good and possess no beauty of soul (or stated in the negative, a person cannot be bad and have a completely beautiful soul). The opposite of goodness is badness and it seems logical that the opposite of beauty is ugliness. While that is true, I will suggest that as the negation of being virtuous is being vicious, ethically we can understand the negation of the beauty of the soul as a violent soul.

Captain Janeway meets with her Bridge Crew in the Conference Room of Voyager. Around the table with Janeway are Chakotay the First Officer, Tuvok the Security and Second Officer (and Janeway's closest friend and most trusted advisor), B'Elanna Torres the Chief Engineer, Tom Paris the Helmsman, and Harry Kim.

They are struggling with the knowledge that both a technology exists to send them home and a law that prevents their using it. Kim expresses moral frustration when he says of the Sikarian refusal to let them use the transportation technology, "I can't believe they're not going to help us. Some kind of hospitality." For Kim there actually is no ethical dilemma. The demands of hospitality and the Voyager's deparate situation of being so far from home are override the duty to law. He is frustrated because for the Sikarians the virtue of hospitality and their guests' situation do not override the demands of duty and law.

A conversation ensues around the table. Torres states the obvious when she says that 40,000 light years will take them half way home. Chakotay adds that once jumping that distance, they may be able to reconfigure the technology and travel 30,000 more light years to Federation space; in other words, home. Tuvok, ever the logical Vulcan, reminds them all that since the Sikarians have refused their request, further speculation will only make them feel worse.

The conversation continue:

JANEWAY: It's the first time we've been on the other side of the fence.

PARIS: What fence?

JANEWAY: The one that's made of binding principles. We have our own set of rules which includes the Prime Directive.

The Prime Directive is the supreme rule that dictates the Federation will not interfere with the normal development and evolution of cultures encountered on its missions of exploration. Janeway, who has been sitting at the head of the table, gets up and walks to the large observation window as she reminds them all that they too have refused others in tragic situations.

JANEWAY: I'm sure many of them think the Prime Directive is a lousy idea.

PARIS: Even we think so sometimes.

CHAKOTAY: I know of many times when Starfleet personnel had decided on strong ethical grounds to ignore it.

KIM: Still, there's a reason why it's Starfleet's order number one. On the whole it does a lot more good than harm.

The above conversation is ethically interesting. Kim's frustration speaks of the moral and ethical differences between peoples and cultures. These differences matter when we are in conflict with others. At this point, it is tempting to confess that morality is relative. However, later we will learn differently.

Janeway's comments regarding the Prime Directive acknowledges Kim's concerns, but from "the other side of the fence." She, perhaps for the first time, is seeing her primary law from another's perspective. The Prime Directive is a prima facie duty for members of Starfleet. Once the Prime Directive has been introduced into the conversation, things become ethically complicated still further.

  • Prima Facie Duties are those norms and acts that tend to be right given the very nature of the norms and acts themselves.

Paris and Chakotay point out that even if the Prime Directive is a prima facie duty it has been "ignored" when in conflict with other "strong ethical" considerations. In other words, when faced with an ethical dilemma, and balanced against other significant ethical factors, adherence to the Prime Directive is not the only possibility. In any such decision where ethical principles, laws, rules, and/or virtues, are in conflict, the situation and morally relevant factors therein are more than taken into account.

  • Those aspects of a situation that make a difference in the resolution of an ethical dilemma are morally relevant factors.

Kim continues the conversation with echoes of utilitarian considerations. He points out that the reason the Prime Directive is a prima facie duty is that, overall, it does more good than harm. The aim of the Directive is to assure the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

At this point an interesting shift in the crews discussion takes place.

Tuvok, speaking directly to the Captain, says they know very little of the Sikarians and that it is possible their refusal to help might be in actuality a prelude to negotiation; suggesting, or hoping, that the Sikarians have a bit of the situationalist in them after all. It is suggested that they might bargain. The obvious question is then: what do they possess that could be offered in exchange for the transportation technology.

From the moment Captain Janeway leaves the table to stand by the window, her back is to her Bridge crew around the table. The camera views the scene from in front of Janeway and slowly moves to a close up on her face. As this is happening, even as the others converse, they fade from focus as we witness the ethical dilemma being played out on Janeway's face. After the question of what they might have to offer is asked, there is a pause until Kim simply says, "Stories." Janeway's eyes open wide and she turns back to the table.

Kim continues to explain how important stories are to the Sikarians, how different kinds of narratives act as a kind of "measuring rod" for their values and beliefs. Janeway agrees that, indeed, the Voyager's extensive library of literature might be an enticement for the Sikarians and that she will meet with Gath to suggest an exchange.

Torres, with a sly smile, says that while the Captain is bargaining, she will begin studying the transportation platform. Janeway reacts with force saying they will not "do anything that might violate their [Sikarian] canon law as we understand it."

At this point in the story, their ethical deliberations move from considerations of conflicting principles to negotiation. It seems an ethics of principle is being replace with an ethics of exchange. We might wonder: if they honour Sikarian laws and their right to have laws, why the Voyager crew would want to tempt them with an offer of literature. It clearly is not the case that Janeway sees Sikarian law as something to be disrespected. Her admonishment of Torres suggests Janeway respects another's laws even if they present her with a problem. She refuses to violet their canon law, as they understand that law. The decision to "bargain" may simply be seen as a means of increasing that understanding. If the Sikarians value narratives as a morally relevant factor, it may be that the exchange of literature for technology will so change the situation that the Sikarians will decide that more good is gained through the gift of stories than the bad done by "ignoring" their law concerning the sharing of technology.

Two further concerns rise to the surface, the first in the form of a question. Is doing ethics simply a moral calculus. Is it a purely rational enterprise. For now, let it suffice to note that the conversation around the table is not devoid of emotions. The stakes are very high for Janeway and her crew. Their decisions will not be made in the absence of emotional commitment and turmoil.

  • Consequence and Duty ethics understands morality as the weighing of consequences and the adherence to particular duties in a particular situation. The idea that ethics is a moral calculus implies that moral judgment is a matter of calculating consequences of good and bad actions.

Second, is the nature and value of narrative. The Bridge officers are surprised at the notion that stories are so utterly important to the Sikarians, as was Kim when he first learned of the fact from Eudana. The stories are important, at least in part, because they are essential for the ethical integrity of each person and, thus, for the community at large. Later we will explore the idea that narrative is, in fact, a primary concern for ethical and theological deliberation.

We see Janeway and Gath eating pecan pie aboard the Voyager. Gath is very impressed with the pleasurable taste of the pie and asks for the recipe. Janeway begins her bargaining by promising to destroy the transportation technology once they have used it. She asks if her "word" is not enough to satisfy Gath. It is not. Undeterred, she says she has a proposal that will both enable him to obey his laws and for her to get at least half way home. She proposes that Gath send Voyager 40,000 light years on its way in exchange for their complete library of literature. With eyes full of wonder she describes the vast library of stories stored in Voyager's central computer. Gath is interested, indeed tempted, as he himself says. The scene ends when he tells Janeway that her request is "certainly a possibility," but that he will have to discuss it with the other magistrates before a decision can be made.

Scenes shift as important decisions are made and the ethical climate becomes more complicated. First we are with Torres as she speaks with Seska, a member of her Engineering team. Seska speaks of a promise she made to her brother to met him for his next birthday, grieving she will break her promise and realizing he might assume she is dead. Torres turns to a consul and begins to manipulate the screen as she talks rapidly about her thoughts concerning the Sikarian technology. In that moment, she agrees with Seska to disobey her captains orders and begin searching for the Sikarian secret.

Quickly, we are back on Sikaris where Kim is being lead, being urged, by Eudana to meet with Jaret Otel. We remember that Otel was present with Gath when the Voyager crew first visited the planet and that Gath referred to him as "my associate." In fact, Otel offers Kim the technology he and his friends so strongly desire in exchange for the library. Kim sensibly asks Otel if he has been authorized to make the offer. Otel responds:

Officially, no, but many people believe that rules should be flexible enough to meet the needs of the moment. There is a great desire here for new stories and I want to be the one to supply them.

We can conjecture that Kim would appreciate such an ethical approach which both honours rules and situations. He says, however, that he, Otel, would gain from such an exchange, thus exploring the motives underlying the offer. Otel in turn points out that they both would gain: Kim 40,000 light years and Otel prestige.

The scene takes place in the shadows of a confined space. We see Kim and Otel in profile facing each other. Centred between them, in the background, is Eudana standing quietly. Then we see that Otel holds something in his hands. He lifts the object and hands it to Kim. It is the needed technology, the matrix interface which will enable Voyager to jump forty years towards home. We can assume the moment is fairly intense for the Operation Officers. Ethical pondering suddenly become very concrete. He holds in his hands the means of getting over half way home, and perhaps with some ingenuity, all the way home. Home to his family, his career, his lover. Nonetheless, he tells Otel that Captain Janeway is asking the Magistrate to send Voyager 40,000 light years, indicating that he needs to wait on his Captain. But Otel complicates the issue when he says of Gath, "He won't. He never had any intention in helping you leave here."

We can assume Otel, being an associate of Gath, knows what he is talking about. Kim, however, hesitates and suddenly Eudana urges from the background, "Jaret is right. I know how much it means to you to get home. Please. Listen to him."

The scene ends and we find ourselves in the Mess Hall where Kim is telling Seska, Tom Paris, and B'Elanna Torres of his encounter with Jaret Otel. He struggles with the desire to get closer to home and the knowledge that Janeway will not accept an unofficial offer of help. Torres suggests the Captain might accept the offer since it is coming from a Sikarian, but Paris agrees with Kim that the offer is not "above board" and the Captain will only deal with an "official representative." Kim receives a communication telling him that Janeway is now available to meet with him. Paris advises him to tell her everything that has happened and leave the decision with her. Kim and Paris leave the scene.

Torres and Seska remain sitting close together drinking from small cups.

TORRES: Somehow…I have a bad feeling about this. It's just not going to work out.

SESKA: Don't you think that it's up to us?

TORRES: What does that mean?

SESKA: It means we can sit here and let some one make the decision for us or we can take matters into our own hands. We've been offered the grand prize. All we have to do is step up and claim it.

TORRES: Take the technology. Without permission.

SESKA: Since when do you talk like that? Do you think permission is more important than getting us half way home?

Seska continues, suggesting that the Captain may not be trustworthy, that she is infatuated with Gath and may not be able to make the best decision for the crew. She pauses, then says they will have to work in Engineering and that she, Torres, is needed.

SESKA: We need you.

TORRES: I'm a senior officer now. I have responsibilities.

SESKA: And the main responsibility of everyone on the ship is to try to find a way home. Captain Janeway made that clear from the beginning. That's our primary mission. Just think about it. That's all.

Torres and Seska are not simply individuals trying to make a difficult decision. They belong to a particular structure - Starfleet and the ship Voyager - with defined roles, authorities, and responsibilities. Ethical decisions are rarely if ever made in isolation. For the first time the issue of virtue is directly introduced. Seska is asking if Janeway can still be considered a trustworthy trustee of the crews best interests. If she is not, than the question of who acts and when becomes vital for the resolution of their dilemma.

  • Ethics is done within social structures and institutional contexts made up of laws, social norms, role expectations, codes of morality, etc. which affect our assessment of morally relevant factors, choice of rules, and character development. Especially important when considering social structures are issues of power, authority and justice.

Torres is not convinced the Captain has acted in a way that disallows her to make the decision. She still recognizes the structures in which she lives and acts. In addition, Torres recognizes that she is part of the command structure when she says she is now a senior officers with particular responsibilities. Her responsibilities do not simply include those found in her job description, however, but also include those she accepts as being part of a social structure that in turn defines her role. Roles are detemined both by the particular responsibilities of position and by the more general demands and implicaitions of the social setting in which the position exists. Thus, in most ethical dilemmas we are not only confronted with conflicting principles, but also with conflicting roles and responsibilities.

  • Roles are associated with particular identities and responsibilities. Roles exempt us from some duties and impose others.

Seska pushes the issue to the limits when she reminds Torres that the primary mission of the crew is to get home and that that mission was so defined by the Captain at the beginning of their journey. Even as Seska is questioning the present authority of the Captain she also uses that authority to emphasize the credibility and importance of the primary mission and each crew members responsibility to see that mission through successfully. In this regard, Seska is not stepping outside the structures but saying instead that the Captain's situation has changed substantially enough to question her abilities to act responsibly. And importantly she is also questioning the affect of a person's emotional state on the process of making ethical decisions.

  • Authority is legitimised power granted by other individuals and/or a community.

If Seska's argument is valid, than acting in a way that would secure their primary mission would out weigh the duty of obedience to their Captain. We can surmise from Torres' facial expression that Seska's argument has had some impact.

We see Janeway in her Ready Room facing Kim, thanking him for his information. Janeway agrees Gath's honesty is suspect, but what leads her to this conclusion is not obvious. She does, however, states the obvious when she says to Kim that the new twist of events have muddied the situation somewhat. Kim is dismissed.

Tuvok, who has been standing quietly next to Kim, now moves with Janeway to a seat by the window. She asks Tuvok, with an heart-felt earning in her voice, what she should do. As he turns to sit beside his old friend, Tuvok says he sees two options: first, to continue to negotiate with a man who may have an hidden agenda, and second, to deal with a man who is willing to defy his own laws.

JANEWAY: Not very pretty choices.

TUVOK: At least if you deal with Jaret it is his laws that are being compromised and not ours.

JANEWAY: But does that matter? I told the crew when we started this journey that we'd be a Starfleet crew…behaving as Starfleet would expect us to. That means there's a certain standard I have to uphold…Principles. Principles. That's what it comes down to. Do I compromise my own mighty principles? But how do I not compromise them, if it involves the chance to get the crew half way home. How do I tell them…my principles are so important…I would deny them that opportunity?

As she speaks with genuine emotion and intelligence, Tuvok looks intensely at her. He shares in her struggle. He finally suggests Janeway must first determine if Gath is in actuality willing to use the technology to help them, that if the possibility does exist, it must be explored.

Janeway was right when she said her options were less than "pretty" and it reminds us that ethics is often a messy business. When confronted with an ethical dilemma, it is often true that there will be a price to pay no matter what you decide and do. And her choices are not simply deciding which of two people to deal with. Each person represents a different ethical approach: Gath a deontological approach and Otel a teleological approach. Gath understands duty to law as paramount and is therefore less likely to weigh in his ethical pondering the particulars of any given situation. Otel, on the other hand, respects laws but wishes to apply them with flexibility in light of the situation in which they are being utilized.

The question of trust does, however, come to the fore. Two questions arise. First, what is a person's ethical obligations toward another person who acts dishonestly, and second, what is a person's ethical obligations toward a another person who is willing to deny his own laws for self-improvement (things are further complicated when we realize that self-improvement is a prima facie duty)?

It is in this conversation between Janeway and Tuvok that the ethical dilemma is more clearly defined, at least the dilemma facing the Captain. In conflict are her principles and her primary mission of getting her crew home. Given the Prime Directive she must honour Sikarian law. Given her responsibilities as Captain she must do all she can to get her crew home. At least two prima facie duties are in conflict: respect of liberty and self-determination of others verses beneficence (doing good) and Non-maleficence (avoiding harm). She must respect Sikarian law and care for her crew. The first prima facie duty is also in conflict with her role and responsibilities as Captain and, thus, her own sense of character. As a captain in a particular command structure she must weigh her obligation to duty against her obligation to do good and avoid harm. She might also be asking herself what it would mean to the person she is and the person she is becoming to break Sikarian law and the Prime Directive and to betray her primary mission and her crew.

Tuvok has begun to help her analyses the situation and to identify morally relevant factors. We can list some of them here: the trustworthiness of those she is dealing with; the differing ethical approaches being practices in the persons of Gath and Otel; the fact that she and her crew find themselves stranded in the Delta Quadrant; the length of time it will take to get home (they will die on the journey); the stress of the journey on the crew, of being cut off from home; the very fact that she is captain and makes decision for the entire crew; the fact that they are members of Starfleet and thus a particular command structure and social community defined by particular rules and virtues. It is no wonder that as she sits with Tuvok we see in her face and hear in her voice the burden of the situation in which she finds herself.

Upon returning to the planet, Janeway discovers that Gath has not presented her offer to the other magistrates. They sit in a pleasant area surrounded by plants and beauty. The mood of the encounter, however, does not match the peacefulness of the surroundings.

Janeway says that the crew are eager to continue their journey and Gath, exasperated, asks why they desire so strongly to get home. He offers a third choice to resolve the dilemma: the crew can make Sikaris their new home where they can pass the time extracting pleasure from every moment. Janeway suggest that they would eventually get weary of pleasure, that even for Gath himself most pleasure is fleeting, that he must move from one pleasure to the next whether it is the latest clothing style or personal relationship. She tries to explains that as humans they value permanence over new pleasures. Gath becomes angry, accusing Janeway of refusing their gift of hospitality, of attacking their beliefs, and judging them harshly.

JANEWAY: I'm sorry. I was just trying to illustrate the differences between us.

GATH: I don't enjoy being judged like this, it's very upsetting. Not at all pleasurable.

JANEWAY: That's all you really care about, isn't it? Your pleasure. All your hospitality, your graciousness. It was never about giving us pleasure. It's all been to gratify yourselves. We're nothing more than the latest novelty.

GATH: You're hostile and vicious. You would infect the joyousness of our lives. You must leave immediately.

JANEWAY: You never had any intention of helping us, did you?

GATH: Of course I did. I did everything in my power to persuade you to stay here.

She realizes for the first time that it is not her pleasure that motivates Gath. Janeway hits her communicator and says, "One to beam up."

Again we are confronted with the apparent relative nature of moral systems. Here hedonism is contrasted to permanence, or in actuality, responsibility. In our culture being pleasure oriented is interpreted as being irresponsible.

However, of more importance at the moment is the issue of motivation. Janeway is upset when she realizes that Sikarian hospitality is motivated not by the desire to give pleasure to others, but to experience pleasure through the act of giving pleasure. The question of motivation has been, and still is, a burning issue in ethics, perhaps particularly in theological ethics. Put simply, duty/consequence ethicists would say that the motivation of the moral agent is irrelevant as long as he or she does the right thing. Virtue/character ethicists say instead that internal motivation speaks to the integrity of character and thus leads to good or bad actions by the moral agent. Gath might be considered a duty/consequence adherent while Janeway a virtue/character ethicist.

It is possible Janeway struggles so much with compromising her "enlightened" principles precisely because she is also struggling with her own motivations, even as she contemplates the consequences of her actions. Could it be that it is the issue of character that influences Janeway's final decision? Once she has determined Gath cannot be trusted, she could have taken up Otel's offer. Just because Otel desires personal gain is no reason to reject his offer. After all, the entire point behind the suggested exchange is that the entire Voyager crew will gain substantially. Their motivation for exchange is as selfish as Otel's. It is also clear that Gath was disingenuous and Eudana considered Otel's offer to be genuine. And Otel does represent at least a portion of Sikarian society that would like to see their canon law applied with greater flexibility.

Captain Janeway will decide to leave orbit without the transportation technology. Why? There are more than one possibilities. She lives, operates and finds meaning in a command structure so perhaps cannot bring herself to deal with an unofficial offer of help. Gath is a magistrate while Otel is not. While both men have power, Gath has authority, Otel does not. The manner in which Otel made his offer reflects this difference between possessing power and being given authority. He approached a Bridge Officer and not the Captain, and he made his approach in some secrecy. Janeway is influenced by a duty to law, particularly the Prime Directive. It is possible she simply could not "live with herself" if she broke both Sikarian canon law and the her own Prime Directive. The question that can fairly be asked is, who would she become if she broke the law?

At this point in the story, events pass rapidly. An upset Janeway tells Tuvok on the Bridge that Gath never intended to help them and they cannot accept Otel's offer. She gives orders to have the crew on the surface to return to the ship and to leave orbit as soon as possible. In Engineering Seska and Torres again speak of getting home. Seska believes, but does not actually know, that by using the Sikarian's technology they can be home tomorrow! Torres agrees to download the ship's library to make the exchange with Otel. Tuvok enters Engineering, catches them in the act, and, to their utter surprise, hear him say he will make the exchange of literature for the transportation interface. The importance of Tuvok's decision is not lost on Seska and Torres, nor is it lost on us. Not only is this logical Vulcan defying his captain's orders, he is betraying a close friend.

Tuvok returns to Engineering with the matrix and tell Torres and Seska to do nothing until after he has spoken with the Captain. He leaves and Seska and Torres decide to install the interface and run simulations. While making simulated test run they discover that the transportation devise is interconnect with the planet's gravitational field and cannot work outside of orbit. The order to leave orbit comes from the Captain.

They are confronted with a decision. If they leave orbit as their Captain is commanding them to do, the matrix will become useless. On the other hand, they can activate the matrix while in orbit, thus defying the Captain's orders. Events rush in on them, time running away from them. In an almost frantic state they know they have to do something!

Torres lies to the Captain about why they have not left orbit. They activate the matrix which malfunctions. The malfunctioning matrix effects the warp core of Voyager, threatening a core breach (an explosion that would completely destroy the ship). The matrix becomes fused to the engineering console and cannot be released. With the breach immanent, Torres destroys the matrix with her phaser.

As things settle down, Seska begins to erase the logs:

TORRES: No, we're not going to cover this up.

SESKA: Are you crazy? We don't have to take the blame for this.

TORRES: But we're going to. We disobeyed orders gambling it would pay off. It didn't. And now we just can't pretend that nothing happened.

SESKA: I don't understand. There's no need for this.

TORRES: I'm sorry if you don't get this, Seska. But it has something to do with…with being able to live with yourself.

SESKA: That doesn't sound like you. You're changed.

TORRES: If that's true, I take it as a compliment.

The dilemma Torres and Seska faced was acute and demanded immediate decisions and actions. On one side of the moral coin was the choice of breaking the prima facie duty of truthtelling and of violating their specific role responsibilities in the command structure (their duties in the social structure). On the other side of the coin was the choice to fulfill the prima facie duties of Beneficence and self-improvement (doing good for the crew and themselves) and promise keeping (the promise to adhere to the primary mission of getting home. Both sides of the coin could not be honoured at the same time. To act on one, violated the other. They chose to lie and violate their responsibilities. Their subsequent action did not result in fulfilling their duty to the primary mission and almost caused harm to the entire crew. As Torres said, their gamble, or ethical calculation, failed.

Seska's response to the failure is to avoid further difficulty by erasing the memory logs. She reasons that since morality is a calculation of duties and consequences there is no reason for her to personally suffer if the calculations go wrong. For Seska, her sense of being, her character, are not affected by her decisions and actions. Torres, on the other hand, responds differently. She decides not to cover up what happened simply and precisely because she needs to be able to "live with herself." Ethical decisions and actions are not for her just a matter of calculating consequences, but are also about virtue and character. She has learned on the journey that who she is and who she will become is/will be determined by what she decides and does. In a very simplified way, the narrative plays out the tension between duty/consequence and virtue/character ethics.

We are in the Captain's Ready Room. Captain Janeway is angry and distressed. With her is B'Elanna Torres and Tuvok. Torres, as the senior officer involved, takes full responsibility for disobeying orders and the subsequent events which endangered the ship. She does not implicate Seska. Tuvok corrects Torres, telling Janeway that in actuality he was the senior officer involved and made the exchange of the library for the matrix. Janeway is visibly shocked by this confession and says, with a quiet and intense voice, that she will deal with Tuvok in a moment. She turns back to Torres and says how "deeply disappointed" she is in Torres and puts her Chief Engineer on notice. Under normal circumstances such a breach of standards by Torres would have lost her her commission. But these are not normal circumstances. However, the situation overwhelmns the normal application of rules. Janeway, saying she needs everybody to get them home, refrains from punishing Torres further. Torres is harshly dismissed.

The Captain turns to Tuvok.

JANEWAY: I don't even no where to start. I want you to explain to me how you of all people could be involved in this.

TUVOK: It is quite simple Captain. You made it clear on many occasions that your highest goal is to get the crew home. But in this instance, you're standards would not allow you to violate Sikarian law. Someone had to spare you the ethical dilemma. I was the logical choice and so I chose to act.

JANEWAY: You did it for me, because you knew I couldn't.

TUVOK: I accept the consequences of my actions. I expect to lose my commission and to be court marshaled when we return to Federation space.

Janeway shakes her head even more distressed. She walks up to Tuvok and looks him in the eyes.

JANEWAY: You are my most valued officer. And you are my friend. It is vital that you understand me here. I need you. But I also need to know that I can count on you. You are my counsel. The one I turn to when I need my moral compass checked. We have forged this relationship for years and I depend on it.

Janeway turns and walks away, then continues.

JANEWAY: I realize you made a sacrifice for me, but it's not one I would have allowed you to make. You can use logic to justify almost anything. That's its power. And its flaw. From now on…bring you logic to me. Don't act on it behind my back.

TUVOK: You have my word. My logic was not in error, but I was.

JANEWAY: Dismissed.

This is a moving and painful closing scene because it reminds us of how intimately ethics and moral behaviour are tied to relationships. Tuvok understood Janeway's dilemma and tired to spare her from its difficulties and resultant after affects. He acted more out of friendship then duty. He knew that his decision and action, no matter what the ultimate outcome, would lead to punishment. Tuvok made a sacrifice for a friend, a noble jester which speaks to his character and the depth of his relationship with his captain. Janeway is so upset because she knows how very important relationship is to and for the moral agent. I would suggest, that while she is speaking of her personal relationship with Tuvok, we can extend her awareness and conclude that community is also vital for individual and corporate ethical action and being. After all, all her Bridge Officers were involved in the dilemma, as was, to a certain degree, the entire crew.

When watching this closing scene we also become aware that, not only is morality deeply connected to relationship, but that relationships are just as deeply affected by moral decisions and actions. Janeway is not only disappointed in Torres' behaviour but in Torres as a person. She is not simply angry at Tuvok for disobeying orders, but troubled because a vitally important relationship has been damaged. Things will never be the same. Ethics is often times less than pretty. It is a messy business.

Finally, Janeway suggests that logic, or rationality, is not the only element in ethical deliberations. Logic can, as she said, justify anything. Ethics is also a matter of, not just dealing with our emotions and relationships, but acting in ways that honour and respect both. On the other hand, Janeway would never suggest that ethics is primarily a matter of responding to emotional and relational demands. Doing ethics well is both a rational and emotional process.

Copyright © 2000 Dale Rominger

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>