The red shirt effect is the popular name for induced apathy, a phenomenon that allows people to encounter death and suffering of others with little emotional energy.
The Red Shirts are those red-shirted guys in Star Trek who have no name and always die, especially on away missions. They tend to get shot, be eaten alive, be eaten dead, have their blood drained, be stabbed mercilessly, have a giant spear shoved through the chest, fall down bottomless pits, get mauled by hideous animals, get vaporized by angry energy beings, or occasionally fail to rematerialize during teleportation. These red-shirted personnel have no families (who matter) nor do they have memorial services. None of the command crew remember the sacrifices that the red-shirted have made for the good of the Federation.
The phenomenon of induced apathy was initially investigated in the late 1930s by German scientists serving under the Nazi regime. One of the immediate applications of induced apathy was the murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and political dissidents without remorse.
In Gene Roddenberry's universe, the ability to
extend expend human life "for the greater good" is essential. He believed that induced apathy, as once used in the service of evil during World War II, could be put to use for good. As explained in the original Star Trek, the red uniforms contained special fibers which created reduced empathy in others, particularly those in leadership positions. Thus, the red-shirted personnel could be expended for the good of the Federation without consideration for their families, their suffering, or the cost of their funerals. Furthermore, the psychological effects on the command crew would be minimal. In this way, Captain Kirk, Bones, and even Spock could have amusing conversational exchanges amidst widespread destruction.
While clothing fibers that create apathy exist of course only in the realm of science fiction, the real science of the red shirt effect has been well understood since the 1960s. When large numbers of people are placed in a dangerous and hazardous situation, their nervous systems emit an electromagnetic wave that reduces the empathy in other people. The electromagnetic wave is unusual in that it grows stronger with distance; in other words, observers further away would experience increased apathy. The effect is synergistic with melanin pigments contained in the skin. Thus, people with dark skin colors tend to create more powerful fields. On the other hand, wealth and power tend to mitigate the magnitude of the red shirt effect. Thus, being wealthy or politically connected reduces the apathy created by the red shirt effect.
People under the effect become inured to the suffering of others. Visual scenes of death and suffering become a blur. Any memory of death, suffering, or thought of affected family members fades into amnesia. In addition, the normal psychological trauma caused by death or suffering is minimal or non-existent.
In order for society to function well, the politically powerful must be able to send expendable members (especially the poor and powerless) to their deaths without much remorse. Captains of industry must be able to create suffering among their workers without burdensome workplace rules and to call for random layoffs without having to endure negative psychological guilt. Thus, the red shirt effect has many applications in today's society. Without the red shirt effect, people would actually care. This caring would cause wars, genocide, and poverty to become impossible and hence would result in the collapse of high civilization and the established order.
With increasing frequency, political and business leaders have been creating apathy to practical effect. During the nineteenth century, the United States government inadvertently applied the red shirt effect while ethnically cleansing the Native Americans from the North American continent; the subsequent business and real estate opportunities resulting from the genocide were hence enjoyed without much guilt or remorse. After World War II, the Soviet Union and China applied the red shirt effect to allow their Communist leaderships to spout inspiring socialistic propaganda while simultaneously allowing millions of inhabitants of both nations to die of starvation and hardship. Israel in the 1990s under Ariel Sharon used the red shirt effect in order to allow Israelis to enjoy a prosperous economy and way of life even as Palestinians were enduring suffering and death caused by the Israeli government's policies.
|THE RED SHIRT EFFECT IN USE|
|Problem||Red Shirt Effect Solution|
|Dead bodies coming home from an unjustified war could be a political liability and reduce support for tax cuts to the wealthy.||The dead – mostly black, Latino, poor, or blue collar – disappear into a fog of forgetfulness. Nobody cares.|
|Families of dead soldiers asking for accountability and and end to death are a distraction from the agenda of decimating Social Security.||The families – mostly black, Latino, poor, or blue collar, and certainly powerless and not rich – vanish into a miasma of indifference. Those in power can let their beautiful minds remain unsullied by empathy and caring.|
|A natural disaster which kills thousands and leaves hundreds of thousands homeless distracts from an agenda of cutting estate taxes for multimillionaires.||The victims, mostly black and poor, evaporate into a puff of apathy. FEMA is allowed to be run by political hacks from the Department of Homeland Security.|