Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Gene Roddenberry Humanist

On an unseasonably warm September evening in a basement auditorium at the University of Minnesota, Scott Lohman, president of the Humanists of Minnesota spoke before a diverse audience of people invited by Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists on Star Trek, science fiction and how the genre can provide a platform for a Humanist message.

Mr. Lohman began his presentation with a story about how he started to think as a Humanist.  It began as a child watching Star Trek and he refers to himself as a “Gene Roddenberry Humanist.”  Next, he included what every Humanist must include in a presentation, a slide called, “What is Humanism?”  He cited the following, which is from Humanist Manifesto III:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

  • Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
  • Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.
  • Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.
  • Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
  • Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
  • Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

Next, Mr. Lohman explored science fiction as a genre and why it can be useful for exploring big ideas, complex concepts and attitude changing situations.  He stated that science fiction is a literature of ideas which dares to ask, “What if?”  In Star Trek, for example, writers found out how to talk about complex controversial social issues, simply by placing characters in a different planet and painting their faces blue.  As a genre, science fiction is known for taking ideas and running with them.  Through this exploration, writers have the freedom to get an audience to think of big things, such as, “What makes us human?”, “What gives life meaning?” and “Does it pay to be ethical?”

Star Trek started in 1966 and was unique on television for a number of reasons.  First, in science fiction, it had been common to change the cast of characters in each episode, such as in the Twilight Zone.  This would allow writers to convince the audience to identify with characters and that clearly worked.  After 78 episodes aired, Star Trek continues on through syndication, even today.

Mr. Lohman then walked the audience through the history of Star Trek by providing examples of episodes which feature Humanist themes.  In the first season of the Original Series Star Trek explored what makes us human in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?,” and should we live in a controlled or open society in, “The Return of the Archons.” The writers explored the concept of computer generated war in, “A Taste of Armageddon,” including this quote from Captain Kirk, “All right. It's instinctive. The instinct can be fought. We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we are not going to kill today. That's all it takes - knowing that we won't kill today.”

Mr. Lohman continued the exploration of Star Trek and its bold themes featured through its history, from the Original Series in the 60’s to the Animated Series, the Next Generation, Deep Sapce 9, Voyager and Enterprise.  A complete episode guide for Humanists will be provided at the end of this article.

Star Trek and Humanism should serve as an inspiration for budding authors out there and even activists who want to bring a Humanist message to a larger audience.  Science Fiction, as a literary genre, can be cleverly subversive and disruptive to common conceptions.  Mr. Lohman provided an entertaining, through message.  The leadership of the Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists organized a successful event.  I know I heard Activities Director, Jeff Mondloch, greeting people before the meeting, even straining to remember names, which was great! (A tip to organizers, name tags can be dorky, but help new people become familiar.)

Humanist Episode Guide (Courtesy of Scott Lohman)

The Original Series

Season 1
What Are Little Girls Made Of?” - What makes us human?
The Return of the Archons” - Should we live in a controlled or open society?
A Taste of Armageddon” - What if we had computer generated war with real causalities?

Season 2
Who Mourns for Adonais?” - What if an alien thought he was the Greek god Apollo?
The Apple” - What if you lived your life with no responsibilities?
A Private Little War” - Is it moral to interfere with other cultures’ wars, as we did in Vietnam?
A Piece of the Action” - What if a culture had been contaminated by a book about gangsters in Chicago?

Season 3
Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” - What if two races hated each other because one had a half white, half black face and the other had a half black, half white face?

The Animated Series

Season 2
How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth” - What if an alien visited ancient Earth to become known as a Mayan god?
Bem” - What if an individual creature could split itself into multiple entities?

The Next Generation

Season 1
Encounter at Farpoint” - What if an omnipotent being accused humanity of barbarism?
11001001” - What if a society became too dependent on technology and only understood the world in binary?

Season 2
Measure of a Man” - What makes us human?

Season 3
The High Ground” - Is it interference to assist the wounded in a conflict?
Who Watches the Watchers?” - What if a primitive culture was being monitored by an advanced culture and became exposed to advanced technology?

Season 4
Devil’s Due” - What if an advanced species terrorized another species, posing as a god?  Is advanced technology indistinguishable from magic?

Season 6
The Chase” - What if an advanced humanoid species populated planets all around the galaxy?

Deep Space 9

Season 1
Duet” - Can an individual make a difference in a war?
In the Hands of the Prophets” - How should religion and politics interact?

Season 3
Past Tense” - What if San Francisco segregated the poor into compounds to prevent social upheaval?

Season 4
Rejoined” - Do we love a person’s personality or their body?

Season 5
Trials and Tribble-ations” - What if a television show wanted to pay homage to its history by bringing back themes from a previous episode?


Season 2
Death Wish” - How long is forever? What if a being who couldn’t die wanted to?

Season 3
Distant Origin” - What if dinosaurs left Earth and evolved in another part of the galaxy?

Season 4
Mortal Coil” - What if someone could die and be recreated?  How would that person match their experience with what they have been told of the afterlife?

Season 5
Equinox” - Does it pay to be moral?

Season 7
Workforce” - What if the crew were brainwashed to believe they work in a factory instead of on a ship?


Season 2
Congenator” - What if a species had three genders?

Season 3
Similitude” - What makes us unique?