Contract or Character, TOS: S2E4 “Mirror, Mirror”

A person of strong moral character benefits the society of which he or she is a part, and the society itself was the most influential in fostering the individual’s beneficial traits.  The Enterprise crew faced their own test of character, but emerged championing the superior society.  When transporting through an ion storm, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura are sent through a strange spatial distortion.  They find themselves in an alternate universe where ruthless backstabbing is the norm, and any advancement in status is achieved through assassination.  Aside from this unpleasant difference, all other details of the ship are identical… including their current mission.  The Enterprise was tasked to negotiate with the Halkan civilization for dilithium mining rights to their planet.  The Halkans refused, citing that the Federation may use the dilithium to cause harm, and they cannot allow that.  Where the real Enterprise crew refuses to take the mineral by force, the mirror Enterprise plans to do just that.

The story opens with a moral dilemma: an alien race refuses to share their resources for nothing more than a cultural reason.  Even though the Halkans fully expect the Federation to simply steal it, the respect Kirk and crew have for the Halkans is a demonstration of their character and values.  Perhaps someday, the Halkans will see the Federation as a virtuous organization and trade with them.  However, even if they didn’t, Kirk would still not take their resources, because it would be wrong to do so.  On the other hand, the mirror Enterprise faced no moral dilemma.  When they see something valuable, they simply take it.  It is incredible that any sort of society like this lasted long enough to explore space.

The mirror universe is puzzling, because there is no reason why it should have come about naturally.  Societies form on the basis of mutual transactions.  At the very least, an individual will surrender some personal freedom in exchange from the protection and support that living in a society can offer.  If a civilization is so brutal and malicious that living as a hermit in the wild would be a safer option, why would anyone join?  Who would respect any chain of command or social order?  The only reward seems to be status, but it is too unstable with the constant threat against one’s life.  If those with the highest status are the most likely to be killed, wouldn’t evolution favor those who do not want to advance their position, like mirror Spock?

The mirror universe is based only on brute force, and the loss of individual potential would make such a system unstable.  Any one person is probably not the strongest, but may have other qualities which contribute to a more vibrant and adaptable culture.  Uhura was treated like an object in the mirror universe, thereby denying this other Enterprise the benefit of her talent and expertise.  Instead, they would be happy with the strongest idiot.  This type of social contract would not have been sustainable over time, because the most vulnerable of society would have no reason to participate in a culture that does not benefit them at all.  At least for the Klingons, their faith and honor allows for social status to be accessible to any individual, as long as they remain honorable.  Although they are brutal, Klingon tradition allows for redemption, individual respect, and dignity.

It is possible that the mirror universe had only reached its current state recently in its history.  We could have witnessed the dark ages of a certain ‘Federation Empire’.  Perhaps they were a more Klingon-like society, which selected for the strongest leaders to establish themselves in some sort of combat.  Either way, it seems to be an era that may come to a close if mirror Spock takes Kirk’s advice to heart.  Since mirror Spock seems to be the only one aboard the ship with no desire to play the current game, he would be the perfect candidate to reject the old norms and draw up a new contract.

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