Star Trek TNG ‘The Measure of a Man’

This afternoon I have been continuing my rewatch of Star Trek The Next Generation. I’m watching “The Measure of a Man”. In this episode Bruce Maddox wants to take Data away for disassembly and experimentation. Fortunately, Picard, argues for Data’s rights as an individual.

Picard received advice from Guinan and she compared Androids in becoming disposable people like slaves. Doing the work nobody wants to do. Slaves that refused were discarded. She was probably alluding to slavery that occured in the 18th and 19th century of the USA.

In the courtroom Data’s superior intellect to humans is displayed. He has no intellectual disability as many Autistic people like me don’t. However the opposing side argued he was not self aware as he didn’t have an ego. Though the defense argued he cared about his own rights.

Autistic people are often treated less courteously for how they behave socially. Some think the treatment is deserved because they are believed to lack empathy and rapport. This lack of fitting in is deemed socially unacceptable. Autistic people are considered less human.

Just like Data watched in the courtroom as they debated if he was self aware and lack ego I have experienced similar as an Autistic.The question often arises if I am high functioning and lack empathy. It is a very dehumanising process where I am picked apart like a machine.

Picard argues in the courtroom that if Data is disassembled and thousands more created then what do we have? He makes the point this is a new race of beings. I thought a similar thing about Autistic people. If many people are oppressed. They are either diagnosed or self identify.

A collection of autistic people can be seen as less human but from the oppression comes the awareness of a new people. Much like slaves or a collection of new Data’s they can be seen as equal or sentient life.

Picard finishes his case by arguing how we treat others reveals who we are as a people. That the ruling over whether Data is property expands the freedom for some and curtails that for others. He asked the judge if she is willing to commit Data to servitude.

Servitude is the state of being under the control of someone else and of having no freedom. Autistic people that lack the support and accommodations to find work in the 21st century feel very much powerless and under control.

Overall this is a great classic episode of Star Trek. It raises questions as what we define as sentient life and more close to home what we define as human.Although we haven’t overcome racism, sexism and ableism we are moving the discussion as to what we are in the human mind.

Those who watched Star Trek Picard will remember Bruce Maddox later in his life creating a whole new generation of synthetic lifeforms like Soji.

Bruce Maddox from Star Trek Picard
Soji from Star Trek Picard

This episode title “The Measure of a man” may have it’s origins from Plato who wrote “The measure of a man is what he does with power”. Similarly it may also refer to Shakespeare’s play in Hamlet, What piece of work is a man..

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare