Star Trek: The Original Series is recognized today not only for the enormous franchise birthed from it, but for the unique and innovate ways that it used the medium of science fiction to discuss contemporary issues in a way that would not have been socially acceptable otherwise. Various episodes addressed topics such as racism, the Cold War, religion, and the corruption that comes from wielding too much power. But there is one episode which has a particularly libertarian metaphor that seems to have gone unexplored thus far.
“A Taste of Armageddon” is typically understood as an anti-war episode which makes the argument that sanitizing war can make it more palatable and thus more likely to be used as a means of dispute resolution. But there is another, deeper interpretation which views this episode not just as an anti-war episode, but an anti-state episode.
The backstory of the episode is that the residents of Eminiar VII and Eminiar III (aka Vendikar) began a war during Earth’s 18th century. In the beginning, this war was waged by real people with real weapons, and caused real destruction of people and property. These people, who were of the same species, concluded that it was in their nature to be killers and that they could not evolve past this. Thus, rather than seek a way to end the war, they sought and found a way to sanitize the war and lessen the damage it would do. Rather than fight a real war, they created two complex computer systems – one on Eminiar, and its counterpart on Vendikar. These computers simulated a war, calculating weapon strikes and casualties. If a citizen was deemed a casualty, then that person had to report to a disintegration station where he or she would be painlessly vaporized and the death would be recorded. The citizens of these two planets believed in social contract theory so strongly that stepping into a death machine in order to comply with the virtual war arrangement made long before they were capable of having any say in the arrangement did not bother them. They considered it to be their duty to do so in order to avoid the possibility of a real war being fought again as it was in Earth’s 18th century.
In a sense, the Eminiar-Vendikar war is a Hobbesian war of all against all, the sort of human interaction that many statists envision to have been commonplace in a prehistoric time before states were formed. Many people who believe that the state is a necessary institution justify it on the grounds that it, and only it, can protect against this sort of chaos. (They never bother to offer a logical proof for this assertion, but that is another matter.) But just like the Eminians, statists on Earth have not ended the war of all against all; they have merely sanitized it and reduced the number of sides in the war. Rather than eliminate the crimes that people commit against other people and their property, statists have created and maintained an institution with a monopoly on performing those crimes, giving them different names, and suffering no penalty for committing them. Theft becomes taxation, slavery becomes conscription, kidnapping becomes arrest, murder becomes war, and so on. Statists have also devised a sort of simulated war in the form of electoral voting. Rather than shoot bullets at each other, voters cast ballots. Rather than have the death and destruction that results from a real war, the vote is tallied and the office-seeker or idea with the most supporters is put into practice. We may not have disintegration chambers for those who are on the wrong end of a vote, but only the basic human decency that the statist claims we cannot count on stands in the way of this. And the voting chamber is a death chamber in a metaphysical sense, in that one surrenders one’s individual will to the collective by voting. Also, like the Eminians with their participation in the simulated war, many people have been indoctrinated from a young age with the belief that participation in electoral voting and respect for the results thereof are a patriotic duty to society which must not be shirked.
Enter Captain Kirk and the Enterprise. He did not wish to go to Eminiar, but the Federation wanted a space port in the sector, so Ambassador Robert Fox ordered him to go. Upon arrival, Kirk transported down with a landing party and discovered the situation. Meanwhile, the Enterprise was declared a destroyed target in the virtual war and its crew was given 24 hours to report for disintegration. Kirk and his landing party were imprisoned to coerce the crew of the Enterprise into compliance.
Like Kirk, some people may wish not to interact with the government in an area, but they are forced to do so. And just like the crew of the Enterprise, such people will be subjected to the result of a vote even if they did not or could not participate. While the effect of this is usually less extreme than the disintegration ordered for the crew of the Enterprise, people frequently have their property stolen or their liberty denied simply because other people have voted for politicians who write laws to that effect and police officers who enforce said laws. And the effect is not always less extreme; just ask people who live in countries which have been invaded and occupied by the U.S. military. They had no say in U.S. elections, yet thousands of them are dead because of the results.
Of course, there are always those who are so blinded by statist propaganda that they will throw away their lives for it, defending the propaganda with every argument from fear that they can muster along the way. Kirk encountered such a person in Mea 3, the person who greeted the landing party upon arrival. She was declared killed by the war computers and was to report for disintegration. Despite her impending doom, she defended the system, arguing that if people do not go to the disintegration chambers, then Eminiar will fall behind its treaty obligations and Vendikar will launch a real war, with Eminiar responding in kind. This would destroy both civilization and population, rather than just population.
As Kirk had no intention of allowing the Enterprise and its crew to be destroyed, he saw no alternative but to end the war by any means necessary. With help from Spock’s mental powers, the landing party incapacitated a guard, escaped imprisonment, and destroyed disintegration station 12. In response, Anan 7, the leader of Eminiar, ordered a full search for the landing party and ordered Eminiar’s planetary defense systems to target the Enterprise. Fortunately, Scotty had the shields up, which were able to withstand the attack.
So, what is a victim of the state to do? Kirk provides us with an answer. When faced with aggression that threatens one’s life and property, one may use whatever means are necessary to defend against the aggressor. Kirk targets the means by which the illegitimate social contract is maintained, just as a victim of the state would be wise to do. But rather than target and shut down disintegration stations, victims of the state need to target people who are involved with elections and shut down polling places, as they provide the illusion of the consent of the governed which is necessary to convince the population that the state is legitimate. Of course, the state would respond most forcefully against those who commit such actions, as they threaten the very foundation of democratic government. The establishment media would march in lockstep with this, providing the verbal abuse to accompany the physical abuse provided by agents of the state. The physical and intellectual “shields” would need to be robust in order to withstand this response.
Another problem along the way of using self-defense against the state is that someone of renown on the anti-state side will try to reason with those who are unreasonable. In the episode, Ambassador Fox tried to do just that by contacting Eminiar and offering to lower the Enterprise’s defenses in order to transport to the surface and discuss the matter. Anan agreed to this, but Scotty was not fooled. He perceived that Eminiar could attack and destroy the Enterprise while the shields would be down to allow for use of the transporter. Fox threatened to have Scotty court-martialed for insubordination and went to the surface with his attache. Once there, they were escorted not to Anan’s office, but to disintegration station 11. If not for Spock rescuing them and destroying disintegration station 11, Fox and his attache would have been killed for their efforts to reason with people who were trying to kill them. After the rescue, Fox wised up and helped the landing party fight for their lives. The lesson here is that an aggressor has renounced reason by the very act of engaging in aggression, and that reasoning with them should only be attempted as a diversionary tactic, never with the belief that the aggressor will be reasonable.
Kirk’s plan began to have its desired effect. Because disintegration stations had been destroyed, Eminiar fell behind schedule on its disintegrations and was accused by Vendikar of violating their treaty. Anan appealed to Kirk, saying that if the crew of the Enterprise did not report for disintegration, the result would be a real war between Eminiar and Vendikar. Kirk rejected this argument. Anan opened a channel to the Enterprise, and Kirk used the opportunity to give a coded order for the Enterprise to destroy Eminiar in two hours. Anan threatened to kill the landing party, to which Kirk responded that they would all be dead in two hours, so the threat was meaningless.
Those who seek to end the state by destroying its source of perceived legitimacy will certainly face a similar argument to the one Anan gave Kirk. Statists will claim that without voting on ballots, people will start voting with bullets and the only real change will be greater bloodshed and destruction. Anti-voting activists should reject this type argument just as Kirk did, as it is asserted without reason or evidence and may therefore be dismissed without reason or evidence. The latter part of the above paragraph demonstrates how statists will revert to the use of force when argumentation does not get them what they want. A real-world equivalent may be the escalation of force by the state to the point of threatening to use the U.S. military on U.S. soil against U.S. citizens, with anti-state activists having some kind of counter-threat that would render such a response meaningless.
Finally, Kirk and Spock were able to seize control of the Eminiar High Council and its guards. Kirk told Anan of his plan to end the war and carried it out. Kirk and Spock worked together to destroy the war computers. Kirk knew, and Anan soon realized, that Vendikar would assume that Eminiar had broken the treaty and would plan for the resumption of real war. This left Anan with only two options: prepare for real war, or try to make peace. With the help of Ambassador Fox, Anan opened a long-unused channel to Vendikar and sought peace. The Enterprise left Fox behind on Eminiar to help with the peace talks, and the final report from Eminiar as the Enterprise left was that negotiations were underway and the outlook was positive.
Ultimately, the removal of the option of voting for politicians and their minions to do to other people what one would never be allowed to do to other people on one’s own will leave everyone with two options: engage in crime directly and openly, or live peaceably with others. Of course, this is different from two warring planets coming to terms of peace. There are far more actors involved, and there will undoubtedly be some people who are unwilling to give up a life of crime once the legal shield of statism is removed. After all, unlike a simulated war where people get vaporized in disintegration chambers, there are some people who get a net benefit from statism. But unlike the possibility of a planetary war where billions of lives will be lost, the risk of ending the state is far smaller, as the elimination of the remaining hardened criminals who refuse to start doing something productive for a living should only take a handful of acts of self-defense coupled with continued vigilance.
There is no guarantee that using defensive force to abolish political elections will be sufficient to end the state and allow for the creation of a free society, but perhaps a taste of Armageddon for the voting booth is worth a try.