TrekAcademy


Lesson 127: The moral choice
TV Series: Star Trek - The Next Generation
Season/Episode: 5/23 ('I, Borg')

[Scene]

The alien Borg race presents one of the greatest threats to humanity.

The Borg are a bio-cybernetic race, bound together in a collective mind and on a destructive quest to either assimilate into their collective or destroy all other cultures and civilizations.

Having captured an individual Borg and severing its link to the collective, the crew of the Enterprise manages to give the Borg an individual personality and even a name, Hugh.

At the same time as Hugh begins acting more human, a new virus is created that can totally devastate the entire Borg collective.

Capt. Picard is now faced with the dilemma of releasing Hugh back into the Borg collective in his current individual state as is, or to release him infected with the deadly new virus.

Capt. Picard decides that as a new life form, Hugh deserves the chance to live his life, and that perhaps he may even get other Borg to join him by severing their links to the collective also.

Capt. Picard decides to release Hugh without being infected by the virus and accepts the risk that his moral actions may possibly endanger the Federation to future Borg attacks.

[Lesson]

We all have our own set of moral and ethical standards by which we conduct ourselves. Business organizations quote standards of ethics and moral behavior by which all of their employees, especially management, must abide, always for the betterment of the company.

But can such dictates always be absolute? At what point do we separate moral and ethical obligation from practical reasoning and duty?

Take the issue of CEO's who are often publically condemned for unethical behavior for hedging their share holdings in their own company with a (financial) collar transaction. This hedge reduces the risk on the down side without limiting the upside gain as the price of shares fluctuates with the market.

This way, even if the share price falls below a pre-designated level, the CEO does not lose any money. If the plummeting share price, which is indicative of perhaps a failing company, does not negatively impact the CEO, then is the CEO really motivated for making the business a success?

Even worse motivation for ensuring business success is the rules of the collar that allow the CEO to take most of his payment for his shares up front - as the hedge is first created.

By itself, this form of hedging is not deemed wrong or illegal by any standards. However, if the CEO hedges his shares based on knowledge that the company may be collapsing, then his actions may be seen as ethically reprehensible by the other shareholders. The legality of this issue is still under debate at this time.

On the other hand, if the CEO carries out his duties to the fullest degree and does everything humanly possible to save the company in the face of disaster, is he ethically wrong in trying to protect his personal assets?

On a more personal level, consider this example of moral and ethical virtues of always telling the truth.

Your 5 year old son, Timmy, falls off his tricycle and breaks his arm. You go to visit your elderly mother who is in the hospital for a serious heart condition. As you walk into her hospital room, the first thing she asks you is where is little Timmy, her most favorite grandson in the world.

Do you abide by 'always tell the truth' motto and cause tremendous grief, anxiety and sadness in your mother in her fragile condition by telling her little Timmy broke his arm, or do you just make up an excuse for Timmy's absence so as not to cause her any worry?

There are no simple answers to these questions. Sometimes we just have to make a choice based on what we feel are right and wrong.

By going with his moral conscience, Capt. Picard managed to both, do his duty and fail to do his duty. He did his duty by upholding the Federations most fundamental Prime Directive stipulation of non-interference with any life form. He also failed in doing duty as a Federation officer by not seizing the opportunity to destroy a mortal enemy.

Back to lessons in Ethics & Morals


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