by Alan Toth
Every story on Posh Corps is exhaustively researched, usually by me. I recently spent hours on the phone with Jamaican non-profits and government offices for our most recent podcast. It's always interesting, if a bit tedious, but the upcoming podcast involved some of the most enjoyable research yet. The next episode of the Posh Corps Podcast will be out in July, and it examines the link between Peace Corps and Star Trek.
I've found a surprising number of people who were inspired to join Peace Corps because they watched Star Trek during their impressionable years. For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Star Trek focuses on a crew of space explorers, 300 years in the future. They serve in a government agency called Star Fleet, which explores space, and defends the United Federation of Planets from external threats. The actions of Star Fleet personnel are guided by the Prime Directive, a cultural and political non-interference policy.
Star Trek, like Peace Corps, is replete with complex ethical questions. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise has the best of intentions. They have an ethical code which guides their interactions with foreign cultures, which doesn't always work out as expected.
I've spent the last few days watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's the first spin-off series based on the original Star Trek TV show. TNG, as it is known, is pretty accessible, even to those who are unfamiliar with Star Trek lore. I've prepared this list of 10 Star Trek episodes that every Peace Corps volunteer should watch.
In addition to being one of the best Star Trek episodes ever produced, Darmok presents a scenario that will be familiar to every Peace Corps Volunteer. Captain Picard is marooned on a foreign planet. He must work with an alien counterpart to defeat a dangerous foe. His counterpart's language is indecipherable, and so Picard must learn his culture and language before their task can be completed. Picard completes the cultural exchange by reciting the oldest human story, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
This episode perfectly mirrors the Peace Corps experience. Captain Picard is transported into a small village on an alien planet. Deep integration is unavoidable, as he is led to believe that he is a native. He builds a brand new life, and a new identity. He returns to the enterprise at the end of a long and happy life in a foreign culture, where he faces a difficult re-adjustment.
This episode won the Hugo Award in 1993.
3. Redemption, Part 1
Commander Worf, the only Klingon in Star Fleet, is already living a cross-cultural experience. His loyalty is tested, when he must decide which culture he honors most. In this episode, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) gives Worf some spiritual advice. After serving in Peace Corps South Africa, I now realize that Guinan is definitely the sangoma for the Enterprise. After all, she's always wearing a Zulu hat.
4. Redemption, Part 2
Worf has resigned from Star Fleet to fight in the Klingon civil war. The Prime Directive prevents the crew of the Enterprise from assisting in Klingon political affairs. The crew of the Enterprise enters into questionable ethical situation by attempting to impose their non-interference policy onto the Romulan government.
This episode asks us to consider the value of a non-interference philosophy when it prevents us from helping friends and allies.
Captain Picard visits an alien society which has just begun venturing into space. They have no knowledge of other cultures, and the Federation wants to make first contact to ensure that there will be no misunderstandings when the two cultures meet in deep space.
This episode examines Star Fleet from from the point of view of the alien culture. It might be interesting to see Peace Corps from a host country's point of view.
Commander Data visits a planet to recover radioactive material from a Federation probe. He loses his memory in an accident, and finds himself in a less-developed culture, where his radioactive probe fragments poison the locals.
Data unknowingly violates the Prime Directive, introducing more advanced scientific tools, such as microscopes, in order to treat the radiation sickness he caused.
Commander Worf's adopted brother, Nikolai, is a Federation cultural observer. He violates the Prime Directive by integrating into a local village.
The planet is dying, and Nikolai forces the Enterprise to relocate the people of his village to a new home, where they will be safe.
Few Star Trek episodes so dramatically display the reasoning behind the Prime Directive. The crew of the Enterprise has made the mistake of revealing their presence to a much less developed culture. The alien inhabitants begin worshiping Picard as a god-like figure.
9. The Drumhead
Peace Corps, like Star Trek, is full of complex ethical questions. There are some situations in which the rules do not apply, or simply do not work. This dynamic between the rules and the reality of intercultural exchange, is an unavoidable part of the Peace Corps experience.
Captain Picard has faced this same dynamic on many occasions. In this episode, Captain Picard is put on trial for violating the Prime Directive.
This is the only episode on the list from the original Star Trek series. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock must return to the past to correct damage done to the timeline by an injured colleague.
They must decide whether one life is worth saving, if it means the destruction of history.
There are many episodes of the original series which more closely mirror the Peace Corps experience, but they're not very good. This is the very best episode of the original series, one that everyone should see.
This post is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with CBS Studios Inc. or the "Star Trek" franchise. The Star Trek trademarks, logos, and related names are owned by CBS Studios Inc. Images copyright CBS Entertainment.