We – as a judgmental species – have a habit of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Each Star Trek series has its awkward elements (TOS fight scenes, ENT theme song, etc.) which people focus on without being open to the gems hidden within. The more profound contributions of certain great figures in our history are undercut – sometimes even obliterated – by the fact that in addition to having good ideas, they also had bad ideas.
The Ferengi, in the Star Trek universe, were originally going to be pure villains but were demoted to general nuisances because of their comical appearance. Yet something happened there that opened up the possibility for the species to be something really interesting.
Spoiler alert: The Ferengi mutiny against their own because – as Ryker puts it – “there’s no profit in vengeance.” This is what makes the Ferengi of interest to me.
They show up with an old derelict ship of Starfleet’s and – while most of the Ferengi expect to sell the ship back to Starfleet – they’re leader insists on giving it as a gift of good faith which the other Ferengi see and proclaim as “dirty” and “filthy.”
This suggests that any exchange must be equal on all fronts. If I talk to you, you must talk to me. If I give you something of extrinsic value, you must give me something of equal extrinsic value. If I want more value from you than I have given, then I must convince you that what I give is of greater value than I know it to be.
Friendliness, giving something of extrinsic value in return for one of intrinsic value (giving someone a lift home rather than make them take the bus because you like how helping others makes you feel), is outside their cultural norm as the exchange is not straightforward and therefore too deceptive even by Ferengi standards.
Yet the Ferengi are bound by their own rules of hierarchy (social standing, presumably, being equal to an individual’s annual or lifelong profit margin) to follow whatever deal their leader wants to make. Until, that is, their leader runs a most egregious deficit.
When it is discovered that their leader was using an illegal device to alter the thoughts of Picard (as vengeance/payment for his son’s death) to such an extent that Picard might have been killed or made to kill innocent people, the Ferengi mutiny and put him in jail.
This suggests that you may seek any profit you wish so long as the profit is true, the only possible deficit being the extra value taken from the pocket of a given “buyer.” But their leader wasn’t engaged in a standard transaction, he was engaged in a gamble that could have resulted in a major conflict between the Ferengi Alliance and the United Federation of Planets. To the leader of the Ferengi vessel, a small price to pay for vengeance. To the crew of the Ferengi vessel, an unnecessary risk on behalf of the Alliance that would incur a huge loss.
I know as time goes on and more is revealed of the ways of the Ferengi that I won’t like them, but today I do. Today they did a cost-benefit analysis that profited the greater good, so today I like the Ferengi.