Star Trek’s Q as God, and the fear of humanity’s potential

Q Who - John de Lancie, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ve Sidra Magni blog

One of the most common themes repeated in the Next Generation franchise is the hyper-idealization of humans as the pinnacle of life—not the ultimate evolution by any means, as the show frequently brought in more “evolved” life forms to condemn man’s primitiveness. It was more of a pedistalization not in spite of our flaws, but because of them, as if to say that passing the pinnacle to become more evolved, like the Vulcans, or being similar-but-not quite, like the Betazoid, could never be enough to deserve the special attention received by humans.

The theme of a more advanced, almost God-like figure stepping in to help humans (or human-analog races) is a common trope in science fiction and fantasy. For example, the Doctor of Doctor Who is endlessly fascinated by humans and goes out of his way throughout time to rescue the Earth from destruction despite being a more advanced life form, arguably with better things to do. No amount of travel through time and space cures him of this anthropocentric position, and being human, we hardly question it. Stories tell us over and over that humankind’s stubbornness and fallibility are so charming that we see these God-figures—god-like in the sense that to a more primitive life form, their awesome power seems magical, like Picard in the TNG episode “Who Watches the Watchers”—intervening on our behalf as a perfectly reasonable extension of our excellence.

So be it. They’re our stories, after all.

That raises some interesting questions, though, about the doubts we have of our potential despite that excellence. Throughout our accomplishments, haven’t we also been ill-prepared to handle disaster time and again? We now live in an interconnected global network, but hasn’t our technology and civilization also failed us in many ways as we have unprecedented access to one another? Above all else, have we become secure in our ability to survive?

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation season two episode “Q Who”, Q sends the Enterprise 7,000 light years across the galaxy to meet one of its greatest enemies, the Borg, for the first time. Q contends that Picard needs him—needs the help of a superior, omnipotent God-figure, because he has no idea what dangers lurk beyond the Federation’s tiny corner of the universe. (The series had first seen Q in the pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint”, when the human race was put on trial for its crimes. Naturally, Q deemed them worthy. For Now.)

The crew defends against the Borg as best it can, but ultimately Picard is forced to admit his helplessness and surrender to Q’s superior ability. He must admit that he needs Q, the symbolic God-figure, to intervene. But wasn’t it Q who put them in danger in the first place? If characters like Q and the Doctor represent God-figures, humankind’s admission of a higher power, or at the very least a more advanced species than itself, then the Borg represent being confronted with the manifestation of humanity’s worst potential: a cybernetic race, devoid of everything that redeems humanity for its flaws, that travels through the galaxy committing genocide to assimilate other beings into a uniform hive mind with no purpose but to continue its expansion.

Forced by an omnipotent God-figure to confront its darkest potential, the Borg are man’s reckoning—the balance of believing that a human race unified in a post-survivalist Earth is possible.

Much farther down the road, Star Trek: First Contact repeats the anthropocentric trope from the other side when the Borg hive mind-Queen’s attempt to lure Data, Star Trek’s Pinocchio figure, into the collective leads to her ultimate demise. The reckoning with humankind’s symbolic potential is averted because another inherently superior being, an immortal android with nearly limitless intellectual—and now emotional—capability refuses to turn his back on the creatures who fascinate him so.