The Final Prejudice by David Deutsch (DD) was first published in the Taking Children Seriously Journal issue #18, in 1995. It criticizes society’s ageism (bias against children) using a 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode (Rascals, season 6, episode 7) as an extended example. (Bias against the elderly is also ageism, and is a serious issue, but isn’t discussed here.) Having now watched the episode, I disagree with the article.
As context: I reread the article as part of my review of my past history with DD. I’ve been trying to understand why he’s now lying about me and encouraging years of severe harassment from his fans, how he changed, whether I misunderstood him in the past, whether I did anything wrong, etc. Previously, I thought DD must have gotten worse at logic and argument in order to write his smear of Ayn Rand. But I now see that, before I even met him, he was already capable of those errors. He could write good stuff sometimes, but writing some bad stuff isn’t a change. A pattern I’ve identified is that DD’s thinking quality drops when he’s biased. He has a strong bias to see children as especially mistreated.
In the Star Trek (sci-fi) TV episode, Captain Picard and three others are in a transporter accident. It somehow changes their physical bodies to around what they were at age 12. DD argues that the scenario with adults minds in child bodies shows how prejudiced people are against children.
I’ll go through DD’s article and comment on many points.
The Ship's Doctor, Beverly Crusher, runs some tests and determines that the bodies of the Captain and the others are the bodies of twelve-year-olds, but their minds are entirely unaffected. She explains the results of her tests to the First Officer, Commander William Riker. The striking thing about this scene is that the Captain is right there, next to her, but she is not reporting to him. She is talking about him, but over him, as though he were not present at all. This sort of casual discourtesy towards children is familiar enough. But this is not a child. It is the Captain of the Enterprise. Her commanding officer.
Riker was the highest ranking officer who wasn’t in a new body. He was acting as Captain at the time. Crusher should report to him about what happened to Picard and say whether or not the entity in front of them is the Picard or not. Riker should (and I’d guess legally does) command the ship until either he sees the Captain as usual or he receives information about special circumstances. So I disagree with DD’s allegation of ageism.
Also, in Star Trek, changes of who is in command are often (though not consistently) stated out loud instead of being assumed, which seems reasonable. That’s a little like Japanese train operators using a point-and-call system – communicating more reduces errors.
In every other Star Trek episode that deals with shape changes, or with unusually-shaped sentient beings, the overriding consideration is: it's the mind that counts.
But it’s the mind that counts in this episode. After the ship and all the regular adults are captured by Ferengi slavers, Picard and the other shape-changed people use their minds to successfully save the ship and crew. They’re able to do problem solving just as effectively as in other episodes. And they even get some effective help from the ship’s actual children. The show depicts the shape-changed people as mentally competent and as largely unhindered by their weaker, smaller bodies. They’re effective like regular adults.
A person is a mind, not a body. That is the attitude we have come to expect from those good people of the 24th century, to whom racism and all similar prejudices are incomprehensible historical aberrations.
No, they run into prejudices all the time, which are a major cause of their military conflicts with other species like the Klingons or Romulans. A fan wiki describes the Romulan’s “Relationships with other species” like this:
In keeping with their xenophobic attitudes, the Romulans tend to conquer species rather than form alliances with them, and individual Romulans tend to treat other species with varying degrees of disdain.
So, no, that sort of prejudice would not be incomprehensible to the Enterprise crew. It’s not a historical aberration to them.
The Captain gives Riker an order. When Riker replies, we immediately see that there is something embarrassed and tentative about his manner. He hesitates before adding the word “sir”.
The hesitation is tiny and Riker’s manner may be explained by something other than ageism. He was asked about what happened to the shuttle and was talking about how it was destroyed and his Captain nearly died. He personally cares about his Captain and turned down being Captain of his own ship in order to keep working with Picard, so Picard’s near-death would be emotional for Riker.
Riker may also have hesitated because it’s an unusual situation and he’s not used to it yet. If Picard was in the body of a Ferengi or a lower ranking adult, Riker might also have hesitated. As the second highest ranking officer on the ship, he isn’t used to saying “sir” to most people.
What is going on here? The Captain of a Starship is not being taken seriously by his own subordinates.
Riker does take him seriously: reports to him, follows his orders, etc. Also later, when Picard pretends that Riker is his father and hugs him (to fool their captors), Riker finds that awkward because he does remember that it’s his captain, not a child.
Yet when it becomes clear that Captain Picard intends to get on with his job of running the Enterprise, Dr Crusher immediately tries to stop him, on the pretext of needing to conduct further tests. He tells her that she can continue testing the other three, and leaves the Sick Bay, whereupon Dr Crusher and Counsellor Deanna Troi exchange glances, like worried parents.
The glances they exchange could be more about the captain's typical stubbornness than anything parental. As context, Picard irritated Dr. Crusher in five episodes by trying to avoid his annual physical (medical examination).
And I don’t think wanting to run more tests or being concerned is a pretext. They don’t know what’s going on yet at that point in the episode.
When the Captain reaches the Bridge and issues orders, Lieutenant Worf and the others can barely bring themselves to comply. The Captain reminds them that he is still the Captain. Still they hesitate, until Riker's nod of confirmation pushes them into uneasy obedience. The crew know that the Captain's mind is unaffected, but they are simply unable to take him seriously in a child's body.
That’s not what happened. No ship-wide announcement was made. There is no indication that Worf or others are aware that this is their Captain or that his mind is unaffected. So they properly look to the most senior recognizable person and follow his lead.
You should not follow the orders of an entity you aren’t confident is your superior officer just on its own say-so that it’s not an imposter, body snatcher, or anything else bad. And Picard, (reasonably) failing to fully adjust to the situation immediately, didn’t explain it to them very well. He kinda assumed they would follow his orders instead of recognizing that he’d need to give a brief speech first to cover the key points of what happened. So instead of explaining things clearly, he starts giving orders then starts explaining in a disorganized, incomplete way. So hesitant reactions from the crew make sense.
Dr Crusher arrives on the bridge and asks, in a worried voice, to see the Captain privately in his ready-room. […] Dr Crusher, looking every bit the concerned parent […]
Crusher and Picard are close friends (there are hints of romantic interest). In other episodes, she often calls him “Jean-Luc” and they’ve eaten breakfast together. She could be worried about him as a friend. It doesn’t have to be an ageism issue.
Outrageously, [Crusher] wants to persuade [Picard] to relinquish command. She cobbles together the excuse that his condition could possibly at some time in the future affect his mind.
It’s an extraordinary medical event that no one has any familiarity with. They’ve had only a few hours to figure out what’s going on. It’s reasonable not to be confident about what will happen over time. At the time she says this, they don’t yet know know what caused it, whether he’ll age normally or be frozen in this body, or whether there is anything unusual still going on. Further tests and caution make sense instead of putting 100% confidence in their initial medical findings regarding his current but not future state.
And I think the Captain should relinquish command temporarily even if his mind is completely reliable. Why? Because he’s in a body he’s unfamiliar with. His inexperience using his smaller muscles, shorter height, etc., could be a matter of life and death in a combat situation or when handling dangerous materials. He needs some retraining before he’s ready for field work. (He could do desk work in the new body just fine, but his Captain’s job sometimes involves combat and physical stress without warning.)
Also, the crew would have to adjust to taking orders from a different body and voice. They might react slower than usual, which could be dangerous. Is that a transition that’s normally done mid-mission? I’m not sure what the standard policies are, but it could be reasonable if switching officers was normally only done at home base between missions. If you can’t have your regular captain, there are clear advantages to switching to a new leader who everyone is already familiar with instead of to an unfamiliar leader.
Further, Dr. Crusher has the power to order the Captain to go to bed instead of commanding the starship. She gave that order in Angel One (season 1, episode 13) when Picard had a virus causing a respiratory ailment. He obeys and gives command to Lieutenant Geordi La Forge. When Picard is in a child’s body, she chooses not to order him to step down. Instead, they have this conversation:
Picard: You are asking me to step down?
Dr Crusher: You are still Jean-Luc Picard. What do you think you should do?
She knows he can still think effectively and appeals to his reasoning. Then he voluntarily gives Riker command.
they accept aliens, such as Vulcans, as Starship Captains … there is one shape - one shape only - that disqualifies a person from receiving the respect of his fellow human beings. And that is the shape of a human child.
DD is making a thinking error. There isn’t one shape only. The shape of a Vulcan child is another shape that they’d be biased against. Shapes like a bed, a poop, a cartoon character, a spider, a snake, a turd sandwich or a giant douche could be others.
Also, Ensign Ro isn’t human, and wasn’t transformed into the shape of a human child. She’s Bajoran.
And DD is simply factually wrong about what the Star Trek show is like. People are routinely biased based on species. Bias about gender also comes up.
A fan wiki summarizes some of the species-based wars (note: it calls other species “races” – and actually Humans, Klingons, Vulcans and Romulans can inter-breed, though that doesn’t make sense to me):
At the start of the 24th century, the Federation began an unprecedented period of peaceful exploration of the galaxy, free of major conflicts, as its main adversary of the previous century, the Klingon Empire, was now at peace with it. However, relations with the Romulans remained hostile, albeit at a low, "cold war" level. During the 24th century, there were a series series [sic] of conflicts as the Federation came into contact with other races, such as the Cardassians, the Talarians, the Tholians, and the Tzenkethi.
In other words, conflict between species is one of the main themes in Star Trek. And species are viewed as groups (so a conflict with “the Cardassians” is possible because that species is viewed primarily as one group). And that’s just a sample from one time period. It’s hard to imagine that, given all the wars between species, people would have no prejudice about species (“shape”) as DD claims.
Prejudice within the Federation is actually common. Each starship has a crew of primarily one species, not a representative mix of all species in the Federation. With traits people aren’t biased about, a starship crew should be roughly a random sample from the population in the Federation (which includes multiple species). But the species in Star Trek tend to associate primarily with their own kind and to crew ships with primarily one species. Overall, I think in the Star Trek world, the species mix less than humans historically did. In other words, they’re more prejudiced about species than past humans were about race, ethnicity, nationality or religion.
And the show has repeatedly depicted specific prejudices. For example, Worf is a Klingon who was adopted by humans and raised on Earth. In Family (season 4, episode 2), he says:
I do not believe any human can truly understand my dishonor.
Thinking humans can’t understand some Klingon ideas is prejudiced. And later he attributes lateness to the human species:
My mother is never on time. It is so… human of her.
That’s a human character making a blatantly sexist remark. Examples of prejudice are easy to find throughout the show.
Worf actually shows mixed loyalties – between the Enterprise and his species – in Heart of Glory (season 1, episode 19). In that episode, Worf also says that Klingons don’t take hostages (because hostage-taking is cowardly). So he attributes personality characteristics and moral values to a species.
Overall, the show writers view the biological traits of a species as affecting personality, ideas, and most of life. The writers make differences and conflicts between species a major focus of the whole show. DD’s claims about everyone in Star Trek fully respecting everyone else, except children, are ridiculous.
Captain Picard himself was once kidnapped by the Borg, who transformed him into one of themselves (which involved surgically altering one side of his head) and assimilated his mind into their collective consciousness. He began to collaborate with them in their plan to conquer the galaxy. He ceased to be Captain Picard and became Locutus of Borg. Yet there again, it was his mind that counted. It was not his shape-change but his robotic mouthing of Borg slogans that told the crew, and the audience, that he was no longer the Captain. Later in the same episode, Lieutenant Commander Data managed to weaken the link between Picard and the Borg collective. Picard only needed to say one word ("sleep") in what was clearly his old character, for him to be accepted as himself again. He still looked like a Borg.
That’s not what happened. Picard says sleep multiple times and never fully sounds like himself. But Data is mind linked to Picard and also Deanna Troi, an empath, says the Captain is back. And even though they don’t think he’s a Borg anymore, they don’t put him back in charge of the ship. Plus:
Even after over thirty years since his assimilation, Picard would tell Seven of Nine that he didn't feel as if he had regained all of his humanity since his liberation from the Collective.
So Picard spent decades not viewing himself as fully human, and thinking that what species he belongs to matters.
Also, DD is mistaken about “in the same episode”. The Borg storyline is split over two episodes in separate seasons (it was used as a cliffhanger).
Meanwhile the superhuman Guinan, who runs 10-Forward, the ship's bar, relaxation area, and alternative counselling service, is taking her rejuvenation in her stride. She too has been relieved of her duties. (Why, by the way? Is she now too young to be allowed in the bar?)
She ought to be careful with bars and alcohol. Her smaller body is now more vulnerable to alcohol (she’ll get drunker while drinking less than normal) in ways that aren’t intuitive to her. And working in a bar sometimes involves asking people to leave, commanding respect to break up fights, refusing to give people more alcohol, and other things she might struggle with in a new, unfamiliar and smaller body and with different voice tones than before.
Keiko O'Brien is another of the changed crew members. In their quarters, her husband Chief Miles O'Brien is having great difficulty coming to terms with her shape. When she tries to be close to him physically, an expression of revulsion crosses his face. When she brings him some coffee, he nervously tells her “Careful! That's hot!”
The coffee comment didn’t strike me as nervous and it chronologically came first (I think it was an exaggerated depiction of his habitual behavior towards children, not nerves). Plus, he offered her coffee first, which isn’t how one normally treats a child. Plus, he reminds her about how he likes his coffee, which seems to be about his difficulty remembering who she is, not her age.
In the scene, he’s uncomfortable before she touches him. He does get up and move away when she hugs his arm.
She questions him about whether their marriage is over and pressures him to accept her as his wife, immediately, in full, because she might not get her old body back. He says he’s uncomfortable with her being a little girl. He tries to avoid making any long term decisions right away. He hopes the scientists and doctors will soon fix it. I think he was being more reasonable than she was, but DD sees it the other way around.
It’s not a bad thing for adults to have negative reactions about having spouse-type physical contact with what appears to be a child. That’s not an ageist prejudice that people need to change. It’s an attitude which too many people ought to find harder to override, not easier.
And wouldn’t spouses be uncomfortable with touching after many shape changes, not just a shape change into the form of a child? What if his wife was in a male body? Should he be accused of homophobia for not adjusting immediately? What about if she had an alien body? Should he already be mentally prepared, in advance, to continue his marriage in all aspects with pretty much any alien body? Or what if his wife was in the body of another adult, human woman? That’d be problematic too.
DD is basically accusing a father of ageism for seeing pre-pubescent bodies as revolting to sexualize.
Meanwhile, DD’s TCS co-founder (SFC) was writing criticism of age of consent laws in the same journal and time period, which DD did not criticize, disagree with or object to. Actually, he expressed substantial agreement with it in his TCS emails. Plus, DD was often the brains behind SFC’s articles.
SFC even talked about meeting leading NAMBLA members and spending many hours posting on alt.sex.intergen (a usenet group for discussing intergenerational sex, often positively). SFC wrote:
I have in the past had lengthy correspondences with several leading NAMBLA people and have even met some of them in person. It seems they became interested in TCS after I wrote the article, "Thoughts on the Legal Status of Children", in which I argued against age-based laws. […] In all the many hours I spent discussing children and children's rights and adult-child sexual relationships, on alt.sex.intergen and privately and in person even […]
SFC’s main complaint about NAMBLA is that they seemed like they might be good and pro-child – she thought she found a good lead on people who’d agree with her about TCS – but it turned out they were just as disrespectful towards children and “coercive” as other people. (SFC’s idea of being disrespectful towards children includes things like making them go to school, making them go to bed, making them brush their teeth, controlling their diet, having the “agenda” that your child learn to read, or otherwise not helping children get whatever they want.) She doesn’t see NAMBLA as being particularly awful (but they are awful!), just as failing to live up to her TCS ideals.
Under SFC’s and DD’s leadership, the TCS community was surprisingly hostile to ideas with partial overlap with TCS. There was hostility to homeschoolers, unschoolers, Sudbury Valley Schools, Summerhill, Montessori, Nonviolent Communication, Gatto, Holt, Parent Effectiveness Training, and much more. Why, then, did SFC spend so much time on NAMBLA and alt.sex.intergen? Why was she having relatively friendly discussions with people who prey on children? Meanwhile she got herself kicked off more mainstream parenting forums for calling the participants child abusers (because they’d e.g. make their kids go to school, go to bed, or brush their teeth).
I think this NAMBLA stuff is really bad. As someone who has written TCS articles (about other topics, not age of consent) and thinks TCS had some good ideas (and some bad ideas), I want to say that I disown, disavow and repudiate these ideas about age of consent laws and what SFC called “adult-child sexual relationships” (a.k.a. sexual abuse). Note: DD and SFC haven’t retracted these ideas and I don’t think they’ve changed their minds.
We call the same behaviour “pouting” when it is done by a twelve-year-old, and “contemplating one's situation” when it is done by an adult. Shame on us!
It’s not the same behavior. Contemplating means thinking deeply and productively about something. Pouting means being upset and moody without doing problem solving.
Adults do get accused of pouting, too. The biggest determiner is not age but demeanor. People look at behavior (including speech) for clues about what mental processes are going on inside someone’s head (like pouting, contemplating, plotting revenge, or something else).
Adults are accused of pouting less because they’ve learned to avoid some external behaviors that people interpret as pouting. They also have less reason to pout because they have more control over their lives, so they have more opportunities to act on solutions they think of.
I think children actually do pout more. Partly that’s because they have less knowledge about dealing with their emotions. Plus, children more often have to put up with a problem while being prevented from taking the actions they think would solve it. Contemplation is less useful when you lack the power to use the good ideas that you come up with. It can be really frustrating to think of solutions that other people arbitrarily disallow, so it’s understandable that most people don’t like doing that.
Guinan accuses her of “pouting”
What Guinan said was “What are you going to do? Go back to your room and pout?” That’s not an accusation that pouting is currently happening.
Later, the Doctor is discussing the Captain's medical condition. But again, not with the Captain: with the First Officer, in loco parentis! It seems that even in the 24th century, children still have no right to elementary privacy, and a doctor's primary duty is still not to the patient, but to the patient's parent (or in this case, ‘guardian’).
In other episodes, Dr. Crusher gives medical information to Picard or others without regard for the (adult) patient’s privacy. Whether that’s good or bad, it’s not a matter of ageism.
At the end, the four transformed individuals are “cured”. It is taken for granted that no one in their right mind would choose to be in a child's body – in our culture, anyway. And who can argue with that?
This isn’t true. One of the characters stays a child until after the episode ends. She says it’s not so bad and another character encourages her not to rush to turn back into being an adult, saying the transporter (cure) will still be available later.
This illustrates that DD gets basic facts wrong when he’s biased. That’s a serious flaw which requires readers be careful with anything DD says. It also helps explain his lying about me.