Twenty-first in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single Captain Kirk scene from the Star Trek canon.
Noninterference policy | “Mirror, Mirror” | Star Trek: The Original Series | Season 2, Episode 4 | October 1967
Early on in the episode “Mirror, Mirror,” Kirk and an away team are beamed up during an ion storm, whose interference causes them to switch places with their counterparts from an alternate universe — in which, we immediately notice, Enterprise uniforms are accessorized with glinting medals, everyone is visibly armed, salutes are neo-fascistic, and Spock has a beard. What’s worse, it soon becomes clear (when Spock orders a phaser barrage on the pacifist planet below, and when he demands the use of the transporter operator’s “agonizer”) that this alternate Enterprise is operating under a moral code that we might best describe as foreign.
Kirk could countermand Spock’s order to bombard the Halkan planet; and at minimum, he could intervene in Ensign Kyle’s torture-by-agonizer at Spock’s hands. Yet he offers no objections. He stands by, mutely, and the away team follows his lead. Was this cowardice? Certainly not — but his inaction could be explained as a canny stratagem on Kirk’s part. Thrust into an unpredictable situation, Kirk might have merely wanted to let matters play out for a while, until he had an opportunity to assess the situation and make a plan of action. Still, he didn’t know what the agonizer would do to Kyle; and he could have intervened without blowing his cover. Right?
He doesn’t intervene, though — and I’d argue that the true reason for his inaction is foreshadowed in the preceding scene, back on the Halkan planet’s surface. The planetary council has deemed it unethical to allow the Federation to mine its dilithium. As the away team is about to beam aboard the Enterprise, the lead planetary negotiator observes that Kirk and the Federation possess the power to take the dilithium by force. “But we won’t,” Kirk tells him. “Consider that.” Kirk’s non-interference policy respects the Halkans’ pacifistic moral code, despite the fact that it thwarts the Federation’s wishes; moments later, aboard the alternate Enterprise, his non-interference policy respects the ruthless, neo-fascistic moral code of the alternate universe’s barbarian empire — for the moment, anyway.
Non-interference — when applied equally to every context — is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of enlightened, liberal morality. No wonder we cheer Kirk on whenever he is illiberal. I, for one, do not envy him his command.
POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Justice or vengeance? by DAFNA PLEBAN | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss by MARK KINGWELL | “KHAAAAAN!” by NICK ABADZIS | “No kill I” by STEPHEN BURT | Kirk browbeats NOMAD by GREG ROWLAND | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock by ZACK HANDLEN | The joke is on Kirk by PEGGY NELSON | Kirk vs. Decker by KEVIN CHURCH | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk by ENRIQUE RAMIREZ | Captain Camelot by ADAM MCGOVERN | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee by FLOURISH KLINK | Federation exceptionalism by DAVID SMAY | Wizard fight by AMANDA LAPERGOLA | A million things you can’t have by STEVE SCHNEIDER | Debating in a vacuum by JOSHUA GLENN | Klingon diplomacy by KELLY JEAN FITZSIMMONS | “We… the PEOPLE” by TRAV S.D. | Brinksmanship on the brink by MATTHEW BATTLES | Captain Smirk by ANNIE NOCENTI | Sisko meets Kirk by IAN W. HILL | Noninterference policy by GABBY NICASIO | Kirk’s countdown by PETER BEBERGAL | Kirk’s ghost by MATT GLASER | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn by JOE ALTERIO | How Spock wins by ANNALEE NEWITZ
SCIENCE FICTION ON HILOBROW Peggy Nelson on William Shatner as HiLo Hero | Greg Rowland on Leonard Nimoy as HiLo Hero | Peggy Nelson on William Shatner in Incubus | Matthew Battles on enlarging the Trek fanfic canon | Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, serialized | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail, serialized | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, serialized | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, serialized | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, serialized | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, serialized | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Radium Age Science Fiction Poetry | Enter Highbrowism | Bathybius! Primordial ooze in Radium Age sf | War and Peace Games (H.G. Wells’s training manuals for supermen) | J.D. Beresford | Algernon Blackwood | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Karel Čapek | Buster Crabbe | August Derleth | Arthur Conan Doyle | Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Hermann Hesse | Aldous Huxley | Inez Haynes Irwin | Alfred Jarry | Jack Kirby (Radium Age sf’s influence on) | Gaston Leroux | David Lindsay | Jack London | H.P. Lovecraft | A. Merritt | Maureen O’Sullivan | Sax Rohmer | Paul Scheerbart | Upton Sinclair | Clark Ashton Smith | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Olaf Stapledon | John Taine | H.G. Wells | Jack Williamson | Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz | S. Fowler Wright | Philip Gordon Wylie | Yevgeny Zamyatin | AND LOTS MORE
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