The Interstellar Expansionism and Colonialism of Star Trek

In the episode titled “Encounter At Farpoint” of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the protagonist Captain Jean Luc Picard and his starship, the USS Enterprise, encounter a god-like being named Q, who hails from the Q Continuum. The being, who presents as a middle-aged European-descended human (surprise, surprise) puts the entire human race on trial for its “savagery”—and it is the Enterprise’s crew whom Q calls forth for judgment.
Q hails from an alternate plane, which he seems to indicate is the energy source from which the whole universe derives its power. It follows, then, that Q possesses great power: he can instantly create alternate worlds, give people superpowers, transport himself and others wherever he pleases, and blow things up on a whim, to give a few examples. 
For several episodes, viewers are left wondering: why would an all-powerful entity such as Q meddle in human affairs? Well, we soon learn that Q is concerned about the humanity’s potential to become as or more powerful than the Q Continuum itself through the United Federation of Planets — a successful, space-based “United Nations” capable of interstellar travel — which humanity founded.
In the Star Trek story, humans founded the United Federation of Planets. Despite the UFP operating under a strict set of principles, namely the Prime Directive—a policy of non-interference in the development and politics of young civilizations, the UFP is an inherently colonial enterprise. Like the United States off of which it seems to be modeled, the UFP espouses binding “universal” morals such as liberty, equality, justice, peace and cooperation—while it embarks on seemingly endless expansion. It is a political federation modeled on the US government, with its own legislative council, executive branch, and military-exploratory fleet of starships (“Starfleet”). All of the 150 plus member worlds are said to be semi-autonomous, but the Federation’s purpose is to grow itself for the sake of peaceful space exploration. The ostensibly innocuous motto of the Star Trek universe is “To seek out new life and new civilizations; To boldly go where no [one] has gone before.” Manifest Destiny, anyone? Fine, it is not quite so. The Federation does not forcibly assimilate non-aligned worlds. 
And I am not seeking to deride the Federation’s structure per se. My argument here is two-fold.
Principally, although the human-led UFP has eliminated money and capitalism, the organization still relies on extractive economics to maintain its infrastructure—the mining, processing and welding of mineral ores and metals. This brings up important questions about mining and pollution: to what extent do the industries of this universe produce pollution? What degree of pollution is acceptable? Does the UFP condone mining on worlds that have life forms? If so, is that mining carried out democratically, with the consent of all affected communities? Or does the UFP only mine asteroids and planets devoid of life? 

Another question concerns materials safety: are the metals and materials or (their production) utilized in the fictional Star Trek world toxic?
Secondly, the UFP’s endless expansion model paired with its desire to “seek out new life and new civilizations” is noble and natural at best, and deeply foolish at worst. As the innumerable jaunts of the many starships under the name USS Enterprise as well as USS Voyager can attest, the Milky Way Galaxy is vast, replete with massive threats and potent superpowers. For example, the Star Trek universe features the aforementioned God-like Q Continuum, the ruthless Changelings, the warrior-like Jem’Hadar and Klingons, and last but never least, the cybernetic, all-powerful Borg race, to name but a few. The Jem’Hadar inflicted monumental damage on the Federation through the devastating Dominion War. The Borg almost succeeded in wiping out Earth, the Federation’s headquarters, two times at incredible cost to Starfleet. Endless expansion leads to almost infinite chances for self-destruction through unlucky first contacts. Endless interstellar expansion for the sake of peaceful exploration inevitably leads to conflict, and conflict can quite swiftly lead to catastrophe (or cataclysm) for the supposed “good guys.”
The foolishness of limitless expansion is clear: eventually, your meta-civilization is going to butt heads with other ones, not all of which are likely to share your so-called “universal” morals. Another possibility: the UFP runs out of resources, forcing it to expand with force to keep up its industrial production.
All of this begs the question: how much growth is enough? Or rather, is there such thing as “sustainable growth” in space? 
If I were the UFP, I would order an end to colonial expansion. Scientific exploration, on the other hand, might be feasible still. But one ship falling into the wrong omnipotent hands could be all it takes to erase hundreds of years of interstellar civilizational progress in one fell swoop.

DeColinize with Me, Part II

In Part I of this series, I finished with the undeniably underwhelming cliffhanger of why I’ve changed the title of my blog from Sesquipedalian Obscurantisms to Decolonizing Coileán, marking the transition with my opinion that Hope is not an emotion that I like to cultivate.

Allow me to explain.

To start, Sesquipedalian Obscurantisms excelled at capturing a few facets of my personality: “obscurantism” refers to how I enjoy confusing people playfully and “sesquipedalian” gets at my affinity for using uncommon, “big” words (words too big even for the SAT). But the happenings of recent years have taught me some things about the world. These teachings have in turn led me to devote more and more time to contributing to the movements for social and environmental justice; that is, movements for the liberation of all beings.

So, I thought Decolonizing Coileán was a dope renewal of a title since I’m undergoing a process of self-decolonization. That means I’m working to undo all of the false assumptions about life, humanity and the universe that the dominant white colonial settler culture – heteropatriarchal ecocidal white supremacist capitalism, the United States of America itself – has implanted inside me over the course of my life up to adulthood. For example, the idea that the United States is a legitimate country founded upon the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality for all by good, hard-working people; the notion that the economy is more supreme even than nature, and that we can simply keep growing it at whatever cost to our species’s life-support ecosystems; the idea that Columbus discovered North America; and white supremacy. Decolonization also entails reconnecting with one’s heritage in order to claim it as a way of re-establishing traditions, foodways, and philosophies that can help us undertake the transition beyond the oppressive systems that make war against the women, the Indigenous, the poor, the brown, the black, and the non-human beings of this world.

What about the title of this series, though? “Decolinize” also reveals the process of undoing my name. I’m seriously considering changing my Anglicized name to the Gaelic (Irish) version: Coileán, to reject the Anglicized version – some would say a bastardization – of my name.

That more or less sums it up: I’m a white man-cum-white accomplice to planetary and societal liberation struggles, and my sleeves are rolled up. I’m cutting my teeth in the streets… with white supremacy, structural racism, extractive economics and imperialism in the cross-hairs.

I extend my hand to you, dear reader, to hop on board the Justice ship. It is never too late to board, but for real, time is very short. You are needed.

I’m Tired, Y’all

Black Millennials

I’m tired. Really tired. I’m tired of fighting against a white supremacist empire that’s adaptive in it’s violence. I’m tired of how easily white supremacist values are held and legitimized by white folks who benefit the most from it, from non-Black people of color who believe that anti-Blackness is the gateway to survival, and from Black folk whose pro-Black spirits have been drained through repeated mental, emotional, and physical oppression.

I’m tired of living in contradiction. I’m tired of fighting against a global system of white supremacy, while wearing clothes sewn from exploited and abused people of color. I’m tried of nourishing my body with cheap and accessible food that was stolen from Black and Brown land.

I’m tired of my friendships. I’m tired of letting go of friends who — as soon as shit got real — were unable to process, analyze, or evaluate oppression from a pro-Black feminist lens. I’m…

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hashtag letters twenty-fifteen

hashtag letters: Black lives matter
yellow all caps
against a background of Black
clarion call to a people under attack
rousing all nations to stand up, fight back

time’s of the essence
the Center cannot  hold
Black girls portraits on the walls,

tack tack

Black boys struck down by
the Blue

Whack Whack

hundreds slain already,
they can hardly keep track.

and when will my white sisters and brothers just step out of the Trap?

BLM sweatshirt


“Well I Think You Should…” Contemplating Racial Justice in 2015

Today I had a refreshing conversation with my old friend Jared Childress, who happens to be my first ever true Black friend (“Dang, I must not be racist now! …Or something”). We met 6 years ago in one of UC Irvine’s on-campus housing complexes. I remember how he originally struck me as lucid, exceptionally well-dressed, and handsome.

Our friendship wasn’t ever really steady; we only saw each other once in a while and didn’t get too many opportunities to get to know each other. I recall that in those days, I was just scratching the surface of race relations in the U.S. I didn’t understand structural and institutional racism as the root causes of racial injustice in the United States. I didn’t have a very deep grasp on the plight of Black America. And my understanding of my own whiteness and white privilege was pretty weak.

But man are times a-changin’. Having gone through a day-long racial justice training through Race Forward, several anti-oppression workshops, and now a course about whiteness & racism by and for white people, you could say I’m neck-deep in personal racial reconstruction (“Racial rehab?” She thought, though.). And damn, is it an arduous process: identifying and uprooting subconscious prejudices, coming to terms with ugly shit I’ve thought in the past, unlearning latent racism, and putting together a new set of lenses through which to see this truly beleaguered country. Since as white people we’re taught from birth that we’re normal, good, race-less individuals, the point at which we finally see ourselves as having a race – especially one with a history of violently oppressing, enslaving, and destroying other cultures (not to mention ecosystems) – can be, well (Hella easy to deal with! Not a bother! A cakewalk!) fucking painful to bear at times.

The course, not coincidentally titled Beyond the Culture of Separation, is made up of white people exclusively, from participants to facilitators. (The rationale: it’s not the job of people of color (POC) to educate white people on their shit. It’s our job to do our homework. An all-white space gives learners the opportunity to keep it totally real and honest without worrying about causing anymore anguish for POC with our confessions, etc.) A sort of racial justice-oriented group psychotherapy session, it’s been dynamic, thoroughly awkward and uncomfortable at times (as any course wherein white folks attempt to explore the terrifying history of white supremacy, domination and racism must be), and fulfilling. For me, there’s no better way to re-humanize white folx than to undergo such a course…


Fast forwarding several years, Jared and I have somehow resurrected our friendship after a long life-induced hiatus. I hold that as an accomplishment for a few reasons. First, we have a lot of potential as friends, and secondly as political allies. That much is for sure.

Among the many notable things about Jared, he is a highly educated Black man with a history of political engagement, from serving as Co-Chair of the Black Student Union at UC Irvine to majoring in African-American Studies. It’s cool because we’ve always had frank conversations about race; none more involved than the recent ones.


But anyhow, back to Jared and I. The candidness with which we speak about race gives me energy. It reminds me of what I’ve been reading recently, which is that interracial friendships are essential to healing this country. Even better are interracial friendships in which the white person listens to her/his/their friend of color with unconditional compassion, genuinely understands the issues, is unafraid to feel the inevitable discomfort of screwing up in conversations about race, and earnestly owns up to her/his/their mistakes.

I wanted to let you know, y’all, that I in fact made a race-related mistake tonight. Yes indeed.

I caught myself in the act of whitesplaining! Now, mind you: so much of the racist shit that white people say may not be intended to harm people of color, but by virtue of its impact does do harm. This is the difference between intent and impact. I can think of many times I’ve said or done something without intending to hurt someone, but hurt them anyway. In any case, the principle of intent and impact, I’m learning, goes for all situations in life, not just race relations. In any case, back to the whitesplaining part.

Jared was telling me about his trials and tribulations, and of course as his friend the natural impulse arose to offer some advice on his situation. But wait, the way I had worded it was thus: “Well I think you should do x.” Before I even finished the sentence, I stopped myself in disbelief – WHITE BOY FAIL! It turns out that POC are tired as hell of white people offering advice, trying to “help,” and generally meddling in their affairs. So, I retracted my comment, and gave way for Jared to continue telling his part of the story.

So there, I think by catching myself mid-sentence and owning up to my mistake to Jared, that I did the right thing. Just another day in “post-racial” ‘Murica… ha!

Post-racial, my ass.

Moving Beyond Hope and Fear

Let’s talk for a moment about hope, especially given the worsening climate, ecological and social crises the world is facing. This part is strategically targeted at those of you who have heard the global Five-Alarm Fire, and are involved in the hard work to realize justice in one or more of its iterations, whether social, environmental, climatic or otherwise.

Can there be a Good Hope and a Bad Hope? Or should we discard Hope altogether? In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche writes,

In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments.

I’m heavily influenced by that and an essay of Margaret Wheatley’s, titled “The Place Beyond Fear and Hope.” Before I begin, a disclaimer: although Buddhism has much wonderful practical insight to offer us as humans, it is by no means infallible as a religion traditionally dominated by men and ensconced in worldviews that have not always been respectful to living systems. In any case, Wheatley contends that hope is central in the Euro-American cosmology, that “fear is a necessary consequence of feeling hopeful again.”

Rather than inspiring and motivating us, hope has become a burden made heavy by its companion, fear of failing.

She couldn’t have said it better! Indeed, as an engaged citizen working on issues of climate justice and racial justice, I encounter many colleagues who are suffering due to the prospect of most of or all of life on Earth being annihilated by a destabilized climate system. Many of these individuals have children – an experience with which I can only sympathize, since I’ve never had any and don’t intend to – so their pain, their apprehension is indubitably magnified. Although I find myself intimidated by the slowly creeping fog of death and uncertainty that a rapidly destabilizing climate has begun to emit, I’m generally immune to the psychological torment of impending doom. Why? I’ve abandoned hope entirely. GASP! It’s almost as shocking a move as acknowledging the fact that the United States is a settler colonial country whose immense power would not have been possible without the genocide of the Indigenous peoples and enslavement of the Africans who built this massive country.

Here’s the reasoning: as Wheatley points out, hope and fear are juxtaposed forces. The metaphor I like to use is the coin – on one side of the coin is hope, and on the other, fear. You can’t have hope without fear. They feed each other, in fact, so why not just discard both of them? The writer goes on to say that

…those who endure, who have stamina for the long haul and become wiser in their actions over time, are those who are not attached to outcomes… They plunge into the problem, treat their attempts as experiments, and learn as they go.

Activists would be wise to heed the woman’s words on the Buddhist concept of groundlessness:

A willingness to feel insecure, then, is the first step on the journey beyond hope and fear. It leads to the far more challenging state: groundlessness… knowing that nothing ever remains the same, learning to live with the unrelenting constant of change, realizing that even the good things won’t last forever, accepting that change is just the way it is.

Wheatley explains that our feelings of insecurity are the inevitable results of the current systems’ dissolution. Fear and hope are quintessentially Western preoccupations, she believes, because they rely on looking backward or forward in time. Instead, we would avail ourselves of just being here and now, because “[t]he present moment is the only place of clear seeing unclouded by hope or fear.” It’s only in the current moment, contends Wheatley, that we “receive the gifts of clarity and resolve.”

She goes on, arguing that if we simply realize that we ourselves are hope, it gets much easier to avoid “being seduced or blinded by hopeful prospects.” In this way, we become an embodiment of hope rather than the harborers of this obscure, draining, and likely counterproductive emotion.

This may be very difficult to stomach for some of you. North American culture has instilled in us this toxic notion of “positive psychology” – that we should always be pursuing happiness, PERIOD; that hope is a productive emotion to harbor, one that is tied to happiness. I don’t feel like life is quite that simple. Happiness is an emotion – and it should be treated as the favorable outcome of a life well-lived. Instead of striving for happiness and hope, we should be focused on doing what we need to do to take care of ourselves and pursue our passions. Survival and pursuit of one’s passions come first! Happiness/Joy should result from doing those two things consistently and well. Happiness is not an emotion to be striven for, per se. It should flow naturally, like a stream from a mountain ice pack whose path you’ve worked tirelessly to maintain unobstructed. Happiness should be the result of hard work directed at self-care, taking care of one’s personal and familial needs, and pursuing one’s passions.

Getting back to the topic at hand, though, Wheatley continues by quoting the Christian mystic Thomas Merton, who has some insights for us:

Do not depend on the hope of results … you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. …you gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. … In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything. [Emphasis mine]

This man is on point. Focus on the work itself, the values you’re fighting for, the people and the animals and the plants and the living systems – the water itself or the air. Stop caring about whether or not we’ll “win,” (that word has become all but meaningless in our struggle) but focus instead on doing the best damn job possible. Do not submit to feelings of despair by withdrawing into spaces uncommitted to collective struggle against power.

More than ever, the Seventh Generation down is counting on us to be effective. Efficacy or Bust should be one of the guiding mottos of our movement. We have no choice – hell, I’m 26, and my generation’s immediate future is imperiled. We have two options: either we fight tooth and nail now, using all of the brilliance, intelligence, wisdom and power that we can muster until we are extinguished, or go down having done something – anything – less than that.

Although I strongly disagree with Dr. Wheatley that the thing to do is to “abandon the pursuit of effectiveness” – in fact I think that that’s the very opposite thing for us to do as individuals and social movements in these unstable times – I can personally attest to the effectiveness of renouncing all hope. It’s helped my sanity. It’s amplified my well-being. It’s allowed me to be more grounded in groundlessness, more focused on the actual work itself. It’s aided my realizing that, as the author puts it,

 It isn’t outcomes that matter. It’s our relationships that give meaning to our struggles. If we free ourselves from hope and fear, from having to succeed, we discover that it becomes easier to love.

As I form new connections, friendships, mentor-ships and even romances in this – my home region of the uniquely blessed occupied Ohlone Territories, also known as the S.F. Bay Area – I become stronger and therefore, more effective. Although I’m inclined to think about the future, about what may happen to them or myself, I continuously center myself back in the present, knowing that future-thought won’t get me anywhere except to less healthy states of being. Only persevering dedication to the moment, attending to what needs to be done (individually and broadly construed) will have any lasting worth for myself or the cause.


Wheatley, Margaret. “The Place Beyond Hope and Fear.” (c) Margaret Wheatley. Shambala Sun, 2009.

Partial News Round-Up on the Ferguson Movement

Hands Up Dont Shoot


1) Movement HQ in Ferguson has released a formal movement update. (12/15)

2) Samuel L. Jackson makes a video request of celebrities to stand for racial justice.

3) Check out this link for the bedrock list of demands, again straight out of Movement HQ.

4) “Dear White Allies: Stop Unfriending Other White People re: Ferguson

5) Systemic Racism Running Rampant (also check out articles here and here)

6) Good old Democracy Now! on everything Ferguson