S31 is very anti-Roddenberry Trek, for sure, but we got two shows and six movies of that Trek, and they were great, but once he was gone it was time to problematize things.
I'm coming back to this again and again. Not just since you wrote this, but since the start of Picard. I see your point, but I still can't bring myself to agree here.
Star Trek, to me, is essentially the story of a Utopia. A place where we made it, were we got over our bullshit, our stupid differnces, and can do actual work, for the betterment of everyone (which is probably they same for most people here, I assume, at least in some capacity). And I'm wondering what this effectively means.
Years ago, I thought that humans, in general, are just better, but this is obviously not true. From TOS on, we have people who are not from an utopian ideal, but are flawed and problematic. Maybe even moreso in TNG, with people who don't get how witchhunts are a bad idea. Fair enough.
But what does that mean then? My conclusion was, that it meant a structure, a society, that can help people get over this garbage. A society, that catches psychological illnesses and helps the people deal with it. Which is structurally strong enough to withstand horrible people. Like, if Picard hadn't been the captain in The Drumhead, other people would have stepped in. Or a part of the Federation, something like Section 31, just not disgusting, would step in and make sure that things don't get out of hand. That the structure of the Federation itself would be strong enough to withstand this stuff. That would catch people, before they fall far enough that they have to drown in alcoholism, at least on Earth. That makes sure that an infiltration simply doesn't work anymore.
If the world of Trek, the era of Picard at least, doesn't offer that, what does it offer? I can't help but land on infinite energy. That getting free of our need and fight for ressources is the only thing that makes it into a Utopia. And as soon as we lose this, we go back to being cavemen. Which I find a very depressing thought. Sort of, like when you start with a Utopia, but slowly pull away the curtain, to reveal the terrible things behind it.
If it really just comes down to a handful people being good and decent, like the multiple captains of our shows, the ideals, in the end, don't mean much. Without a structure, institutions that support and defend these ideals, they don't mean much. It can easily break apart.
I guess the answer is, that it is simply more complicated. That I want to have this strong utopia, where we made it, and it's structure is so strong that it can withstand, even without people fighting for it, at least some bashing. At least for some time. And that we just changed the degree of our enlightenement.
I don't think a utopia in fiction can withstand a closer look. If nothing else, than simply because you won't get an interesting story out of it. But I miss the utopian ideals of early Trek. And I'm so tired of our constant cynisism. I feel like, we see the shit that happens around us, in this time, and extrapolate from there, assuming that it will always be bad, and we are just a step away from destruction. That we will never have more than a thin facade. And just act like it is silly, to even assume that we could really, actually make it. To get behind our garbage. That we make actual, real progress with our social problems, that isn't just based on not having enough material stuff for everyone.
We can't even pretend, that we might make it, someday. We assume, as a society, that everything is close to collapse, all the time. And think it is naive, to say otherwise, even in a far future setting. A utopia always has to have its darker sides, showing that, actually no, we will never get over it. We just act like it.
I think that's problematic, not just for Trek, but as a thing that encompasses all of society. We need optimism. We need to think that it is at least possible to do it, to get over it. I honestly think that, if we can't even pretend that this might be possible, we won't. I thought for years, that we need new utopic visions, ideals that we can strive for, that simply doesn't have this dark undercurrent, and I still think so. Something that gives us hope. That was always Trek for me. But it's hard to have it stay in this position, if it's only possible through the people who clean up the stuff that others simply don't want to see. Or that you can still fall, with no one to catch you, drowning in alcoholism, because even this utopia isn't strong enough to help you with your problems.
I know, there are signs of this from at least TNG on. The episode, where Picard meets his brother, shows this clearly. But having an actual part of the Federation be there to do the dirty work, have it encoded in the very fabric of this show instead of implied, doesn't sit right with me.
Anyway, I could go on, but I feel like I'm already starting to repeat myself, so I'll stop now.