raised some interesting questions
the other day regarding the paradigmatic shifts between the world of Star Trek, The Original Series and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and their more contemporary successors like ST:TNG and SW:Attack of the Clones. The question boiled down to why are we no longer offered Scifi in which Good triumphs over Evil, and we can get closure.
The answer to this question, I believe, lies in understanding the changes that have taken place in our moral universe in the time between these offerings. ST:TNG came out at a time when we were beginning to deconstruct our moral universe. It was the age of Glasnost; the cold war was winding down, and would, indeed, end in the life of that series. Understanding that is key to understanding the moral uncertainty that seems to dominate ST:TNG as compared with ST:TOS and SW:ANH.
The Moral assumptions of TOS and ANH are as follows:
1) Good and Evil are both absolute and self evident.
2) Good will always triumph over evil.
3) Human history is a linear progression toward a time when Good permanently vanquishes Evil, freeing us to do Great Things.
This is basically a mythology that looks forward to a messianic age, and even the humanistic, rationalistic world of Gene Roddenberry participates in this messianic vision. This vision was also an essential element of the times both TNG and ANH were produced. The cold war gave us an enemy that was manifestly bad, and the belief that once we would conquer that enemy, all would be well with the world. And so the Klingons of TOS and the Empire of ANH could serve us as proxies for the Soviet Union. While that may not have necessarily been authorial intent in either case, it was the effect because the same mythology that was driving the cold war, drove the portrayals of good and evil in these works.
As Communism began to fall apart, and we emerged victors in the cold war, by the simple virtue of not having run out of money first, we saw that the post-communist world was far from utopian, and the messianic model of Morality began to fall apart. And thus, it came to be that ST:TNG, the first great adventure in Sack Cloth Sci-Fi was launched, with the crew of the Enterprise being placed on trial for "The Crimes of Humanity." The Messianic model of morality was dissected, taken apart, its various and sundry assumptions laid before us in bewildering array. A different, and very tentative morality was laid before us, with very different assumptions:
1) Good and Evil are determined within a cultural context, which must be respected above all.
2) Because Good and Evil are relative, compromise and enlightened self interest are the paths to peace.
3) Human history is and endless cycle of triumphs and defeats, the goal of which should be to minimize the damage as much as possible.
This is a morality completely devoid of the unbridled optimism that characterized TOS and ANH, and is thus incapable of delivering the sort of mythically satisfying narrative that those older series offered. It is also devoid of a satisfactory definition of good and evil. Thus it becomes possible to transform the Klingon nemesis of yesteryear into a noble savage, now adequately civilized to assume his place in starfleet and to transform the Evil Incarnate that was Darth Vader from villain to anti-hero.
So, having deconstructed a binary morality that looks forward to a time when evil disappears, and replaced it with a moral code that seems determined to refuse to define good and evil, what is our next step?
The Five year series Babylon 5 traces our path to our current positions. At the outset of the series we knew that Vorlons were good, and that Shadows were bad, and that we were heading toward an apocalyptic battle between the two. We knew that good people would side with the Vorlons and bad people would side with the Shadows. But then, as we moved closer to that battle it became more and more apparent that human wars based on the messianic model of morality were, in essence, a cold war between these two uber-races. Ultimately the battle culminated in these tradidtional symbols of good and evil being evicted from the universe. In the wake of their departure, however, villains do not suddenly become heroes, and the problem of Good and Evil remains to be played out in the individual soul. Redemption is possible for villains, but such redemption is no guarantee of freedom. Londo Mollari, though he has repented, lives with the consequences of his actions until his death.
The task is clear -- there are rules that define morality that are independent of cultural norms. The task is to discover them and live by them.
This proposes a new morality:
1) Good and Evil are universal forces which can be measured by their ultimate effect on self and other.
2) Good and Evil are not intrinsic characteristics of races or even individuals, but rather the effects of choices made.
3) The consequences of evil choices may outlive even the redemption of those who make those choices. Salvation does not come from outside to rescue us, but rather from within, to redeem us.
The effect of this is to introduce the notion of personal responsibility for good and evil. Morality is no longer what we say it is, nor is it a set of rules that say X is Good, Y is Evil, but rather it remains an absolute for us to discover. And we discover it by making imperfect choices and learning from their effects, hopefully before those effects spin out of our control.