A popular psychological theory suggests that we possess five major aspects of personality, which shape our character depending on the relative strength and weakness of each. These traits (openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) are not meant to function independently, but the Star Trek episode ‘The Enemy Within’ does just that. After beaming aboard the Enterprise following an away mission, Captain Kirk appears to have been affected by the transporter. Shortly after he arrived on the ship, a second Kirk appears, flashing a menacing glare. As the story continues, the senior crew members deduce that their captain has had his authority and drive separated from his personality, while the second ‘evil Kirk’ retains the power, animalistic drive, and eyeliner.
At first a fascinating platform for analyzing personality or the possible consequences of splitting ones psyche, this episode also explores the responsibility and perception of authority. For example, when Kirk’s unsavory doppelganger steals through the halls of the Enterprise, he finds Yeomen Rand, and initiates a fairly extreme attempted rape scene for Star Trek.
Later, we learn that the yeoman didn’t want to challenge him because Kirk is an authority figure. Contemplating the extent to which one may be compelled to obey authority is a fascinating debate.
In a famous study known as the Milgram Experiment, psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to investigate how subjects would respond to an authority figure who challenged their morals. The test subjects were told that the study was investigating the effects of pain reinforcement on memory, and were instructed to administer a memory test and corrective shocks to a corresponding participant in another room. As the shocks increased in intensity, the surveyed participants were instructed to continue the experiment. Many participants went on to administer shocks, whether out of intimidation or trust in the researcher’s judgement, but some did not. The correlating factors associated with which participants questioned the authority figure and which obeyed are the fascinating outcome of this somewhat controversial study. In one variation, it was found that highly educated individuals were more likely to question the psychologist’s authority, because as some of them were scientists themselves, they viewed the researcher as an equal peer.
When Yeoman Rand felt too intimidated by Captain Kirk to assert herself against his attempted rape, it illustrated a possible consequence that too much trust in the authority figure can have on one’s self worth and value. Of course an educated and confident woman would be well equipped to defend against the pressures of society, but this does not necessarily mean that Yeoman Rand was not educated; she simply trusted Kirk’s integrity and leadership. As the episode develops, we learn that there is a fine balance to being the captain of a ship, which requires all aspects of his personality, including his less desirable traits. Each version of Kirk possesses different facets of leadership, with one having strength and drive and the other possessing convictions and discipline. Spock informs Kirk to hide his weakness, saying about the crew: ‘if they lose faith you lose command’. In the end, Kirk needed his decisiveness, and to keep it in check.
The balance in leadership and the power found in authority is succinctly laid bare when Kirk’s inner private psyche is outwardly manifested during this episode. As the captain’s two halves grow weaker in their separated state, Scotty repairs the transporter just in time, allowing Kirk to regain his authority over himself.
For more information on the Milgram Experiment, check out the website for Simply Psychology: http://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html
Variations and further implications of the Milgram experiment can be found in:
Stout, Martha. The Sociopath next Door: The Ruthless versus the Rest of Us. New York: Broadway, 2005.