Witch Hunts

The thing that I most enjoy about watching Star Trek: The Next Generation is the philosophical insight that is granted.  The writer makes so many good points in every episode.  I just watched an episode called "The Drumhead" (Season 4, Episode 21).  In this episode, a Klingon is discovered to be a spy for the Romulans (who are at war with the Federation).  At that point in time, a witch hunt ensues to try to capture any of this man's confederates.  The admiral conducting the trial even accuses Captain Picard of being a spy.

The entire time (including before he was ever accused), Picard urges caution and insists that people must remain innocent until proven guilty, and yet those conducting the investigation declare people guilty and go about trying to prove that guilt through means of intimidation and circumstantial evidence.  At the very end, Picard makes the point that even though civilization has advanced so far, humans are still susceptible to fear and witch hunts.

There was a time when there were actual witch hunts--people accused of witchcraft burned to death.  There were witch hunts for communists during the last century.  People even known to associate with known communists were accused and found guilty without evidence.  And now, with the hysteria that we have created in our society over terrorism, we have the same problem occurring.  Just this year, President Obama signed into law the NDAA 2012.  Among other things, this act enabled the military to indefinitely detain someone suspected of being a terrorist without ever having the right to a trial.  This has to be one of the most grievous attacks on the United States Constitution since its original signing.

And yet, many (even most) of the people I talk to actually believe that this terrorism hysteria is real.  That there's an actual threat of terrorists living among us and trying to destroy our way of life.  Sure, there is the possibility that some people are terrorists (clearly acts of terror are committed).  However, that should never be justification to revoke people's natural rights.  The right to a fair trial is guaranteed by the Constitution.  The NDAA completely overrides that.  Gone is the day of "innocent until proven guilty".  But, the scary thing is that this act doesn't even change that to "guilty until proven innocent", it jumps all the way to "guilty forever".  This is no way to live our lives.  This is wholly un-American.  Even if the only people who are ever detained by this act are all legitimately guilty of terrorism, it is still immoral and unethical to convict them and detain them without trial.

I am impressed with how insightful Gene Roddenberry (the writer of Star Trek) was.  I feel like I gain so much wisdom when I watch--especially when I watch Captain Picard.  Because of this television show, I will forever see Patrick Stewart as a man of high principles and nearly endless wisdom.  Let us learn from our history.  Let us learn why the principles of individual freedom are so important and how easily those freedoms can be, and have been time and time again, taken away.