November 16 – Dogma/Doctrine

//November 16 – Dogma/Doctrine
November 16 – Dogma/Doctrine 2016-11-15T12:01:45-04:00


Herbert, F. (1965). Dune. Philadelphia: Chilton Books.

Battlestar Gallactica (2005) 33. Season: 1 Ep. 1 (Available on iTunes and Amazon Video)

Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-1994) Who Watches the Watchers. Season: 3 Ep. 4 (Available on Netflix and Amazon Video and iTunes)

Theory and Commentary

Dourish, Paul and Genevieve Bell. 2014. “Resistance is Futile”: Reading Science Fiction Alongside Ubiquitous Computing. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 18(4):769-778.

McCurdy, Howard E. 1973. Fiction Phenomenology, and Public Administration. Public Administration Review 33(1): 52-60.



  1. Johnathan Peter McCauley November 16, 2016 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    During the Star Trek episode, I wondered many things:

    What does it mean to be divine? This episode made me consider whether a kind of awe or divinity is expected when bridging cavernous technological gulfs.

    Should the Prime Directive be interpreted as the Federation’s dogma?

    How should we anticipate the Mintakans interaction with Picard and the Federation will affect their development as a community? There was no type of Men In Black memory wipe. They, many of them, believed wholeheartedly, Liko especially, that Picard was their God. They then watched as he proved himself to be nothing more than a man. Like in the Wizard of Oz, the Mintakans see behind the curtain of their false belief and are left with what? In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy goes home, leaving the world of Oz much different than when she arrived. I would argue the Federation and Picard have done the same.

  2. Sam November 16, 2016 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    In Star Trek TGN “Who Watches the Watchers,” Picard and his crew fear that the Mintakans will revert back to “the dark ages of superstition, ignorance, and fear,” (26:26) as a result of their rediscovery of religion. Religion stands clearly in opposition to the rationalism of the Enterprise. Science must be their religion for them to advance as they are meant to. Must one necessarily preclude the other in this Universe? Is this secular science-based rationalism a dogma unto itself? Does the crew revealing themselves to space travelers from more highly evolved societies necessarily act more in accordance with the prime directive than allowing for some religious beliefs?

    Similarly, in 33, the Caprica 6’s holy motivations and insistences in God’s teachings and plans are contrasted with Baltar’s rationalism. As the series goes on the polytheistic religion of the colonies comes very much into play, but not here, when one would imagine it might as the humans fight for their lives. Why is it only Cylon religion versus Baltar’s disbelief in this episode? And thinking more widely in retrospect about the series, is BSG based more on science or spirituality? Is the Human/Cylon war, in some ways, a religious one?

    Dune is so multi-layered in this respect, it’s hard to know where to begin, but one repeated point is that both Paul and Jessica know that in order to prevent Jihad and fanaticism he ought not to embrace his religious title and have it become enmeshed with his political/military role. They acknowledge it in the narrative, and Paul is quoted in Irulan’s histories on the topic on multiple occasions. And yet, he does. Is he fulfilling undeniable prophecy? Is he only taking these roles and following in these steps because of the prophecy? Does prophecy shape the truth or is it shaped by truth?

  3. Matthew Dischner November 16, 2016 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    1) Dune is a book mired in historical context. It reads in large part as a retelling or critique of Western imperialism and intervention in the Middle East. In Paul we have a certain Lawrence of Arabia like figure, an foreign (British) savior leading the Freemen (Arabs) against their equally foreign oppressors, The Harkonnens (The Ottomans). The spice rests as a sort of metaphor for oil, being that which drives the economy and promotes long distance travel. The book very clearly draws from history in the creation of its world and plot.

    Where, then, do we place the very real world word “jihad”? As an Arabic word standing on its own, it refers to the act of striving, struggling, or persevering. In the context of Islam it can refer both to an internal struggle or an external struggle, and has been in many cases synonymous with the Christian idea of “Crusade.” In Dune, it is clearly following this second definition. But that begs a huge question, how do we read jihad as portrayed in Dune and in its historical context? And how does our modern, Western concept of jihad color these interpretations?

    2) In this episode of Battlestar Galactica, we are introduced to a conflict that presents itself time and time again throughout the series, military doctrine versus civilian rule in a time of war. The show approaches this, in many ways, as a critique and examination of Bush era American political philosophy. The show is extremely post 9-11. Where then does the balance of power lie in a society between the military and the civil government? And how should the balance shift during times of crisis or war?

    3) All Hail The Picard!

  4. Matthew Dischner November 16, 2016 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    Also, everyone should check out this song about Dune by Iron Maiden

  5. Ivan November 16, 2016 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    The two essays see two different applications to the study of fiction text. For Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell, close reading of science fiction might have value for ubiquitous computing design because of the futuristic imaginative nature of the genre. Whereas Howard E. McCurdy’s sees fiction as telling of a society’s immediate structuring and ideology.

    This raises many questions: First of all, what the hell is ubiquitous computing? (Ubiquitous computing (or “ubicomp”) is a concept in software engineering and computer science where computing is made to appear anytime and everywhere. In contrast to desktop computing, ubiquitous computing can occur using any device, in any location, and in any format.). And second, McCurdy, brings up a valid question: what is up with the marginalization of fiction texts? They are never taken seriously! We have talked about this before, but it’s a really annoying, pedant fixation. Picasso’s paintings are always held in such high esteem, but really, that was just the medium for artistic expression of the time. Naturally today’s artists should look for other mediums more adequate to the world we live in. I don’t see much difference between the intellectual process behind’s Picasso’s cubist breakthroughs and the intellectual process behind the work of a very avant-garde electronic music producer, say like, Aphex Twin. What is the source of this marginalization? Why must we make the distinction between “higher” art forms?

    This week is about dogma and doctrine. Themes very much central to Dune among other many works of science fiction like the whole thing about Neo being “the one” in the Matrix for instance. Why do authors turn to these prophecies? Is it just to create a legitimization for the crazy hero’s journey? I personally think it sucks and it is boring as hell hearing these prophesies over and over.

    Question number 3: Gaius Baltaar. Explain. Discuss. Elaborate.

    Oh, and I need people to approve my comment, I don’t have my computer and WordPress is one attempt from locking me out of my account. Cheers!

    • Sigrid von Wendel November 16, 2016 at 5:24 pm - Reply

      got you

  6. Sigrid von Wendel November 16, 2016 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I like the theory texts in relation to the media as they introduce art, administration, and education as additional dogmas. How do we assign “credibility” or “truth”? What is that assignment based on, informed by, conditioned to be i.e. How do we pick systems of truth?

    Is Paul’s prescience based solely on his ability to rapidly calculate various probabilities? Does this make it a more scientific (computing) power vs. a magical one? Is there a difference? Can we imagine a future in which drugs (i.e. Adderall) increase focus and mental ability?

    In what ways are Paul and Jessica’s abilities gendered? How do these genderings map onto contemporary gender dynamics?

    How much agency do any of the characters have in the story? Are they all pawns in a grand scheme, given small allowances in shaping their fate, but not much? Does Paul have more power simply because of his ability to consider probabilities?

    Dune and the Star Trek episode made me think about the relationships between religions, saviors, and utopias. Paul and Jessica’s status as religious icons is premised on the idea that they will show the path to the Freeman’s utopia, not much different from our political system in which we turn to leaders to deliver a certain future.

  7. Sophie November 16, 2016 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    1. In episode 1 of Battlestar Gallactica, what drives the Cylons to so ruthlessly eradicate as much of the human race as possible? Logic? Efficiency? As intelligent beings, is it logical even from a technological growing point, to lack empathy?

    2. The future the episode presents is one driven by hope for some potential for the human race to survive their calamity. Is hope an emotion exclusive to humans? In comparison to our precarious positions regarding nuclear tensions and global warming, is hope generally a positive, driving emotion, or one that breeds complacency?

    3. A question about the show’s history: what could have caused such dissent between humans and Cylons to create this tale of revenge? Disrespect, lack of cooperation, xenophobia? What lessons can we take from this to apply to our current situation in the wake of election season?

  8. Jane Excell November 16, 2016 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Battlestar Galactica displays a deep mistrust of technology; not only is civilization destroyed by human-created Cylons, it is Galactica’s lack of integrated computers that helps save it when the Cylons attack. Similarly, in Dune, we see a universe in which certain technological advances have been consciously rejected by society as a whole. In Dourish and Bell’s article on science fiction and computing, they state that in science fiction, “technological optimism, even utopianism- is linked to the smooth functioning of governmental regulation” (774). While the problems in Dune’s system of government and the system that allowed the Cylons to be created in the first place seem to bear out Dourish and Bell’s statement, I wonder what role nostalgia might be argued to play in the luddite tendencies exhibited in these two works. The old-fashioned systems in place on Galactica and the ancient rituals and older cultural observances in Dune seem to me to have a somewhat nostalgic feeling- is there any place for nostalgia alongside the dystopianism implicit in technologically-mistrustful science fiction?

    Are Picard’s actions following the accidental revelation of Starfleet’s presence to the Mintakans in accord with the Prime Directive? Would Starfleet likely condone his decision to further reveal himself to them, or see it as an even wider breach of the rule never to reveal themselves to non space-faring cultures? Could it be argued that he has actually altered their cultural evolution even more drastically by telling the truth than if he had let them believe in him as a higher being?

    Dourish and Bell also state that in Star Trek, “the one truly Alien characteristic is NOT to adopt technology for the social good” (776). Does this statement fit with the episode we watched for today? In the movie Star Trek: Insurrection, Picard and his crew encounter a race (the Ba’ku) who have purposefully rejected technology (much like in Dune)- but the humans find that they have much more in common with the Ba’ku than they do with the Ba’ku offshoot (sorry that’s a huge spoiler- watch the movie anyway it’s great!!!) who have continued to embrace technology to an extreme. Does this negate Dourish and Bell’s claim?

  9. Stacy Shirk November 16, 2016 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    Being totally honest, I binged on Battlestar this weekend and can’t precisely distinguish what was in each separate episode (obviously I should’ve taken notes, apologies). But for those who know the series, religion becomes a major part of the narrative. I’ve brought up in class before the question of whether Battlestar changes genre by the end of its run due to the spirituality that pervades the story – how does the introduction of religion complicate the science fiction genre in general? There’s a sense of destiny, a “messiah” figure, in Dune and Battlestar – does that idea move the works from science fiction to fantasy? Is that an insult to religion to even suggest? So then how about speculative fiction? There’s also the aspect of “playing God” in both of them, which, it can be argued, we do all the time in the real world, making this less speculative, in a sense.

    In the Star Trek episode, religion, or the older ways of superstition at least, exists in opposition to the science of the Enterprise ship and crew. For those who feel the conflict between religious beliefs and trusting science and technology, do we feel that opposition in our daily lives?

    PS – The Star Trek episode was filmed in Vasquez Rocks, which served as Mintaka – I have totally climbed those rocks. Does that mean I can join the crew??

  10. Charlie Peterson November 16, 2016 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    Can technology defeat death? In “Who Watches the Watchers?” the less technologically developed race reveres the Enterprise crew as gods. They begin to sacrifice even their rationality to a new way of thinking. They see storms as signs and want to make sacrifices etc. Picard tries to get through to the leader but can’t. She can’t fathom that they are of equal value if there is such a power differential. The proof is in death. Even though she understands the analogy between the cave and the hut she is not moved. Her belief that technologically superior race is has a superior value is not ultimately shaken until she sees Picard has no power over death. “You are not masters of life and death. It was not within your power to save her? Still mortal. Still powerless to prevent the inevitable. You are a remarkable people, but you are not superior beings.” So: Failing to be the masters of life and death negates the supreme being status. If we can take the contrapositive of this, we arrive at a theological dogma: Supreme being status implies mastery of life and death.

    Can the needs of the few be sacrificed for the needs of many? In “33” the president and military must decide between an uncertain risk of the whole crew’s death and the the more certain death of a civilian ship. In this decision we are left with the conceptually simple ethically complex question of whether killing innocents is acceptable to save many. The “don’t kill innocents” dogma is placed in tension with practical needs and risks. Rather than analyze this from a pure ethics perspective it is more fitting to ask the question of the interaction with the mind highjacking alien race. The Cylons I think do not embody a future understanding of what humanity could be they are merely an incarnation of uncertainty. This brings us to the question, do alien races in science fiction incarnate “beyond human” ideas or are they merely expressions of our current state? Can science fiction take us into the future or is it just a statement of the present?

    Progress is dead!! I am all about this Belle and Dourish article. Science fiction seems to full us “forward.” How many technologies came first from being imagined in the world-building beauty of science fiction. Read it I was all wrapped up in the “progress” rhetoric. Science Fiction and Design and Technology take us into the future, step by step. So we are moving “forward.” But as the article continues two things become clear: Technology is influenced by culture and technology influences culture. So does technology free us from our historical culture and move us into superior beings than our ancestors. No. Technology is merely an expression of culture.

  11. Arline November 16, 2016 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    1. Could Paul have achieved what he did without forming a quasi-religion around himself? Why or why not?
    Since Paul has taken the route of assuming the religious mantel, he has to also spend much of his time avoiding the future of a jihad. What are the steps that Paul-Muad’Dib is taking in order to avoid a jihad? Why is it so difficult to avoid one in his mind?

    2. The Prime Directive makes Captain Picard ask why Doctor Crusher didn’t let the man die. Do you think the Prime Directive is ethical? Does our determination of the ethicality make a difference on if we label the Prime Directive as dogma or doctrine?

    3. The episode makes a big deal out of the fact that the Minitakans are highly rational, but even still they believe what is put forward as “superstition.” What is the role of rationality in the Mintakans? “dark ages of superstition?” Is it the person or the idea that makes something dogma or doctrine?

  12. Arline December 23, 2016 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    1. Does dogma inherently turn violent? Dune puts forward an belief that will inevitably (as seen by Paul) bring about a jihad. Battlestar Galactica puts forward a group of beings that uses religion to justify their attack on the humans. Somewhat ironically the military doctrine brings the group together but maybe doesn’t automatically bring them to violence, but helps to keep them safe.

    2. Is the Prime Directive ethical? Can we ever have a dogma that will hold true or feel right in every single circumstance? Is the emotion of that time when it doesn’t more valuable and truthful than the previously logicked-out doctrine?

    3. How does the doctrine of the fandom override a pragmatic and bureaucratic understanding? This question can perchance be a subset of the first question when thinking about how doctrine is enacted and potentially contrasted with actual workings of a government.

  13. jpetinos December 24, 2016 at 12:38 am - Reply

    1) Captain Picard was willing to die for his belief that he should share the truth with the Mintakans. What makes a religious belief a religious belief? If it is not tied to a higher power, can a belief be tied to a higher cause and be considered religious?

    2) Is it possible to resolve a conflict of values like the military and civilian values in Battlestar Galactica? How does each side operate by believing their values are ‘correct?’ How does this insistence exist in our own world?

    3) In “Who Watches the Watchers,” why does Dr. Crusher break the Prime Directive? What governs her decision to save another person’s life despite a law? How can we understand the Prime Directive as a government creation or as dogma, and is something greater than both of these propelling her? How could this impulse be seen as universal, or at least as spanning humans and Mintakans?

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