People of the Book, TOS: S2E17 “A Piece of the Action”

A holy book defines a culture.  It provides a basis for what a society values and what it condemns.  These ideals also shape how the stories are told, as the listener uses his or her cultural lens to discern the morals hidden in the tale.  There are many alien races in the Star Trek universe which seem to be based off one trait, but they are really an exaggeration of this cultural reciprocation.  For example, the Klingons value honor and battle skills, while the Ferengi hold profit and economic success in high esteem.  Their stories, culture, and ‘holy texts’ reflect this.  If a Ferengi reads a story of a valiant Klingon combat strike out of context, he or she may naturally assume there was an economic motive for the battle.  Likewise, a Klingon could hear a story of Ferengi acquisition and assume they are strengthening their battalions for war.  Although these two cultures are quite finite and specific with their cultural ideals, neither are as simplistic as the Iotians.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy find themselves on the planet Sigma Iotia II in search of the lost starship Horizon.  The ship disappeared on the planet one hundred years earlier, and the Enterprise crew fears the Iotians natural cultural development may have already been contaminated.  The away team is surprised to find that the Iotians have modelled their society after 1920s Earth, complete with gang warfare and organized crime.  Their ‘holy book’ was a copy of Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, left by one of the Horizon crew members.  Kirk and crew are forced to engage with these alien mob bosses and outmaneuver them at their own game of extortion and power plays.  It is possible that Kirk had the upper hand because he understood the full context of 1920s Earth, whereas the Iotians were naïve enough to think this alien book provided a blueprint for a successful society.  It is also possible that Kirk just had the bigger gun.  Either way, it would be interesting to know why the Iotians thought a history book about the Chicago mafias would be useful to their society.  Did they see strength in the ruling structure of mob bosses?  A more peaceful culture might have been horrified.  The Klingons would probably scoff at the dishonest battle tactics.  The Ferengi might see profit in it.  Either way, the Iotians saw their future.


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