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DS9:14: What ‘Star Trek’ Teaches Us About Humanity And Capitalism

Star Trek

What happens when rebels become rulers? It’s a question asked time and again in our history. It’s also a significant theme on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” as the Bajoran people, having thrown off the Cardassian yoke, struggle to control a people who have shown no interest in being controlled. After struggling for liberty for generations, they now must decide how much to keep for themselves.

The main plot of the first season’s episode 14, “Progress,” begins with this question. Kira and Dax survey one of Bajor’s moons ahead of a massive construction project that will result in power being generated and sent to the planet. The technical details of this are murky, but the project will require drilling into the moon’s core and releasing deadly gases into the heretofore breathable atmosphere. The moon had few inhabitants, and all were supposed to have been resettled, but Dax detects life signs and Kira beams down to investigate.


She discovers three Bajorans living on a farm, two of whom are mute, all of whom are none too pleased to see her. The leader of the group — the one who can talk — is an old farmer, Mullibok, played by Brian Keith. It’s a deep role that gives the accomplished actor a lot to work with, and Keith does not disappoint. Mullibok explains to Kira that he, Baltrim, and Keena escaped the Cardassian camps decades ago (after torture that cost the other two the power of speech) and carved out the homestead on the frontier moon. There they remained, tending their crops and eking out an existence far from the tumult of the home world’s rebellion.

Kira tells Mullibok of the dangers of remaining and of the importance of the project, which Bajoran bureaucrats project will provide energy to heat 100,000 homes in the coming winter. Mullibok is unmoved — literally. Charming yet stubborn, he refuses to evacuate, saying that if he must die, he will die on his own land. Kira, the erstwhile rebel, is put in the uncomfortable situation of trampling on a citizen’s rights in the name of progress.

As usual, “progress” is ushered in at the point of a gun (or, in this case, a phaser). Kira returns to the station and asks the project manager, Toran (Michael Bofshever), for more time to convince the settlers to leave, but he refuses. Bofshever plays the part of an unyielding bureaucrat well, but the character is hard to credit. Everyone in the Bajoran government was, until recently, a rebel. For any of them to shift so quickly is strange. The demand for power is certainly not unknown among former rebels, but the manner of his demand — by-the-book, gray, and officious — is out of character with the Bajoran regime.

Attachment to the Land

Kira returns anyway to reason with the old man, practically moving in with the trio of homesteaders. They discuss their time in the resistance and begin to become friendlier. Mullibok is a raconteur who is not afraid to exaggerate for effect, and the tale of his escape from the occupiers is charming, if not fully believable. Kira’s sympathy for his story makes her question her own loyalties. Is she a rebel or a government enforcer?

Toran moves the land seizure toward its inevitable conclusion, sending two armed soldiers to force the settlers off their land. Baltrim and Keena react as they did when Kira first arrived and attack the two men with farm tools. They are quickly subdued, but when Mullibok sees the fight, he attacks as well and is shot. Kira summons Bashir to tend his wounds and informs Sisko that she will remain with the old man in his cottage for the foreseeable future.

His liaison officer AWOL from her government, Sisko smooths over the situation with Toran, making it appear that Kira is only tending Mullibok’s wounds until he is well enough to evacuate. In truth, she is rapidly acclimating herself to the rogue settlement and contemplating rebellion against her fellow Bajorans.

Sisko arrives on the moon, and with the calm wisdom that was even then becoming the character’s trademark, convinces Kira that two rebels stand no chance against a planet. Kira and Mullibok had bonded earlier over the idea of “hanging on like fanatics” in resisting the Cardassians, but this time is different. They were once part of a planet-wide uprising against foreign conquerors; now they are four people resisting the democratic will of their fellow Bajorans. She agrees to force the old man out, but not by bureaucratic means. Instead, she burns his cottage to the ground, saying he has no reason to stay. They beam to the runabout, against the will of the old homesteader.

Unquenchable Capitalism

Meanwhile on the station, the episode’s B-plot begins with a mix-up at Quark’s. As Jake and Nog are hanging around playing cards, they overhear Quark berating an employee for ordering a massive amount of yamok sauce. The condiment is esteemed by Cardassians, but no one else in the galaxy likes it — a problem, given that nearly every Cardassian left the station some time ago.

Nog smells a deal and asks his uncle if he can have the shipment, to which Quark readily agrees. The young Ferengi begins searching for a buyer, hoping to make a little money while Jake learns about something 24th-century humans have largely forgotten: capitalism.

Jake catches on quickly. They try to sell the sauce to a trader for gold-pressed latinum (the preferred Ferengi medium of exchange), but he has none. He does, however, have a shipment of bolts that a Bajoran had ordered but now can’t afford, and he offers that instead. Nog hesitates — he wants the cash — but Jake convinces him to make the deal.

They trade the bolts to the original purchaser for a plot of land on Bajor, since he remains cash-poor. The boys have even less of an idea of what to do with the land than they did with the bolts, but while planning their next move, they overhear Odo telling Quark that the Bajoran government is looking for the owners of a certain plot of land and thinks they are on the station. Owners of the surrounding plots have all sold out for a building project, but the final piece is needed for construction to proceed. Quark has no idea, but when Nog informs him that he owns it, the barman quickly consents to buying it from him for five bars of gold-pressed latinum.

What It Means To Be Human

The trading plot ends happily and adds levity to an otherwise heavy episode. It also shows (as many episodes do) the flaws of “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry’s post-scarcity universe. Humans are, by this time, supposed to have “evolved” beyond caring about possessions. Instead, we are shown a young human who takes to capitalism immediately, even becoming shrewder than his “greedy” Ferengi friend.

It shows that capitalism and trading are not systems, really, but the financial expression of human nature. Figuring out how to swap two things in a way that leaves both parties better off is the basis of all trade and of all economies. It is a natural outgrowth of humanity and is present in every society. Even the writers of a story, set in a world where replicators can make nearly any object, have a need to reintroduce scarcity by inventing a thing (gold-pressed latinum) that cannot be replicated. Writing believable humans without capitalism is next to impossible.

The main plot shows another inherent trait of humanity: attachment to place. Mullibok, Baltrim, and Keena escaped the occupation and the camps and built a community for themselves. Isolated and content, they farmed and lived in a place they altered to their needs. They grew attached to it in a way that shows land’s uniqueness. One acre may be worth as much as another, but no two places are exactly alike. Land is special. People build relationships that are mostly about one another, but also grounded in the place they live.

Bajor’s bureaucrats devised an efficient solution to an energy shortage, one that betters the lives of almost everyone involved. Almost, but not all. Mullibok and his friends carved their homestead out of nature, taking it from the commons into their own property. They built it with their labor and developed an attachment to it. Their reaction to the government’s “solution” shows the eternal conflict between utilitarianism and natural rights. The “greater good” triumphed in this case, but only through fire and sword.

Science fiction often shows us a human tale through an imaginary lens. Trade and community are human universals, and talking about them through Ferengi and Bajoran characters does not wipe away the point. Governments have their ideas, but this “Star Trek” episode is a brief look at why those ideas must include letting humans be human.