Can there be any doubt that Quark is the most moral character on Star Trek Deep Space Nine? While his bible, the Rules of Acquisition, may not be something that I agree with, he places it as the centerpiece of his life, citing it frequently, and using it as a guide to pursue his endeavors. Whether we think that family should be exploited for opportunity or women should be treated as subservient is beside the point: Quark has a code of ethics that he sticks to in virtually every situation.
Contrast this with Captain Sisko, a man who allows men to be killed and bribes another in order to perpetrate a lie to the Romulan people and ensure that they entered the Dominion War on the side of the Federation. Much has been made of this episode, yet the judgments usually come down on the side of Sisko, whose temporary abandonment of a moral compass perhaps leads to the greater good, at least from the perspective of the Federation and its allies.
Also consider the outright hostility and contempt that Sisko and other Federation and Bajoran characters feel towards Quark. That he remains steadfast in his unpopular beliefs even in an atmosphere where his very personhood is looked down upon, is something that would be lauded if we just stripped away some of the descriptors.
For a society that claims to respect other culture’s beliefs, the members of the Federation that we see on television seem to sit in judgment quite often, and not just in the case of the Ferengi. When Worf seeks to end his brother’s life at the latter’s request, he is threatened with prison and questioned severely for attempting to perform a legal and customary ritual between consenting people in his culture. In the episode ‘Waltz,’ in which the Defiant is looking for a marooned Captain Sisko in the brief window before they must return to protect a convoy, Doctor Bashir sneers at Worf when the latter says that it would be dishonorable to fail to return to the convoy, claiming that he doesn’t care much for Worf’s honor.
Is it possible to reconcile the lofty ideals of Federation society with the way we see such behavior portrayed on screen, behavior for which I have only provided the briefest of examples? In many ways, the Federation is merely a stand-in for the modern day United States, a superpower who uses its military and economic strength in order to force other countries to behave in a way the United States thinks is correct. The Federation does pretty much the exact same thing, forcing new members to meet certain criteria in order for acceptance. We also rarely see any dissention by members of the Federation against the central government, creating the impression that societies cede their individuality to some degree in order to gain the military and economic strengths the Federation wields. The respect for these alien societies seems to be an abstract notion, which to be fair is often reflected in American society regarding cultures in other countries.
I am sure there are all sorts of colonialist and imperialist critical frameworks that could be applied to this issue in order to better understand the gap between what the Federation is said to be and what evidence shows it is. Obviously, this is a rough outline of these ideas, or what might actually be two separate ideas, but with the new direction I am hoping to take here, I hope the following conversation will help clarify some points and hopefully muddy the waters a bit as well. Please, weigh in.