Our Future is not Star Trek

It’s been almost 50 years since Star Trek debuted on television and in that time we’ve seen many great advances in technology. The sad news of Leonard Nimoy’s death today spread at a speed unimaginable in 1966 thanks to the internet. Our cell phones are essentially tricorders, able to call up the sum of human knowledge and use satellites to pinpoint our exact locations on Earth. We put people on the moon and just recently a robot on Mars. We don’t have transporters yet (damn!) but in many ways we are living the future imagined by science fiction in the 1960s.

Star Trek, however, was not just about technology and gadgets. It also promoted a humanist philosophy and used the exploration of space as a metaphor for the exploration of ideas. Certainly we’ve seen some strides in the betterment of our society. Something that was shocking when Star Trek did it–the first interracial kiss on TV–is now routine. We’ve seen the advancement of civil rights across a broad spectrum. For a while there it seemed that what MLK said was true: the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

I hope that’s true. I really do, but having lived through the last 35 years of American politics, I have my doubts. Science and the scientific method itself are under attack. America tortures in the name of freedom. Voter ID laws–created in response to the made up problem of in person voter fraud–are undoing the hard won battles of the Civil Rights era. Seemingly uncontroversial ideas (like all human beings deserve a place to live, food to eat, and at least basic health care) are being replaced with Randian “I’ve got mine, screw you” sociopathy. Instead of working towards a society where money is less important, money is now the only measure of success. If some rich asshole can get just a little richer by screwing over workers, poisoning the environment, bribing politicians, and not paying his fair share of taxes, his profit-seeking at all costs is viewed not just as laudable but morally correct. And while all that money is flowing upwards to Wall Street and multi-national corporations, engorging the 1% to unprecedented levels, we are told that America “can’t’ afford” health care and education for everyone, never mind upgrading our crumbling infrastructure. Endless wars though? Well, there’s always money for those.

All this is a vision of the future all right, but not Star Trek’s. We are not arcing towards justice but dystopia. So as you read about Leonard Nimoy on your tricorder today, try using that empathy you are feeling as a lens to see the world. How would you feel if you loved someone very much and wanted to marry, but it was against the law in your state? How would you feel if a group of people who had never had a hungry day in their lives decided to cut off the food assistance that let you feed your family? How would you feel if the police routinely stopped and harassed you because of your skin color?

America is re-dedicating itself to a cruelty that we should have left behind. That is not the way forward. We should aspire to something greater and it starts with empathy. If we can take that step, maybe we can one day make it to justice.

9 thoughts on “Our Future is not Star Trek

  1. If it’s any consolation, don’t forget that even in the show, humanity had to go through some really dark times in the end of the 20th century, and early in the 21st, before it realized it had to change and evolve. The immediate future may look like hell, but Trek told us that somehow, we would survive it, and learn from it, and we would get better. I think that’s still worth holding onto.

  2. Even in the Star Trek universe they had to go through the Eugenics War, WWIII, and countless other small conflicts before Picard, Garrett, Harriman, Kirk, Pike, April or Archer ever got to take command of a starship named Enterprise. Are we on the right course for it now? No, but Star Trek was always about hope for humanity’s future. Today of all days, as we mourn the passing of Mr. Nimoy, let’s keep that hope alive.

  3. I agree with your assessment, sadly and tragically, Chris. Yet this is why I founded GlobalCommit.org. It may not be the Federation — because our “prime directive” is to interfere in situations rather than let things sort themselves out. GlobalCommit has a project domestically called “Civility Movement” to help promote those values which made us a great nation — human decency shown to everyone in our nation — and overseas, where matters are far more critical and dire, a program called CoexistSTANCE, for there is an urgent need to stand besides others at threat of kidnap, death, rape, torture and more due to various strains of violent extremism around the globe.

    I think one of the greatest changes between the 1960s and today was that we are no longer believing that centralized institutions are going to come to our rescue. This is no longer a “mainframe” world. It’s a “web world.” Likewise, we are seeing from-the-ground-up groups working on changing the world. One world-changing app, one web site, one invention at a time.

    I would like to encourage everyone who wishes to see that positive universe foreseen in Star Trek to join us at GlobalCommit.org. We have opportunities to organize through social media, to create applications using big data, and to help document and track the issues of our world today, and work to making it a better place in the future.

  4. I cannot disagree with this article more. The author is focusing on perceived horrors in the world today, when in reality things are constantly improving. Not just technologically, but socially as well. 50 years ago, we were worried about not having enough food during the ongoing population explosion. Thanks to GM techniques and agricultural advancements, food is so bountiful that we take it for granted. Disease has been all but eradicated. Most people today are completely unaware of how horrible measles and polio actually were.

    But, if you’re talking about the world from a social justice perspective, things are amazing there as well. Sure, we can bemoan about little things that we have yet to improve on… but, for pity’s sake… 50 years ago, women could barely leave the house or get an education. Today, it’s possible for women to work in any industry that they want and support themselves without having to rely on getting a husband to make ends meet. 50 years ago, it was scandalous to have an interracial marriage. Today, it’s celebrated that we are making gay marriage legal. The article mentions ‘torture’… as if the author even knows what torture is. Yeah, waterboarding and playing Justin Bieber on continuous loop is a horrible way to treat a prisoner. But, for Christ’s sake… torture used to mean ripping teeth out with rusty pliers and driving bamboo splinters under fingernails, or worse.

    The author talks about us ‘not being able to afford health care’… when the idea of universal health care would have literally been laughable 50 years ago. The fact that we’re even having a discussion about it on a national level is leagues beyond anything that we could have conceived of in the past. And don’t even get me started on how corporations screwed over workers and polluted the environment 50 years ago.

    Don’t compare where the world is to your ideals, when trying to determine whether we’re advancing or not. Compare it to where we’ve come from.

  5. This article doesn’t really deny the possibility that Star Trek is our future. The storyline of Star Trek takes place another 250 years into the future. At this point in history, according to Star Trek, we’re supposed to have had another World War. So Gene Roddenberry certainly didn’t think we were over the hump yet.

    There certainly is plenty of room to criticize Star Trek’s vision of the future. For one thing, it is very sympathetic to the idea that technology will solve social problems. We know however, that we already have enough food to feed the world, for example, but people still go hungry. We could provide health care to everyone, but don’t. Technology that could make life easier, just facilitates the extraction of productivity from us.

    Star Trek presumes a society where everyone is equal and nobody needs money, but we don’t see much of how that would work. We do however, see lots of military heirarchy. The Enterprise, the Federation’s starfleet, and every other species they encounter seems to have the same social structure, at least for exploring space. The one notable exception, the Borg, are completely equal but also murderous automatons.

    I still love Star Trek. But my hope for the future is less about a United Federation of Planets, and more about small communities networked by mutual aid, to meet the needs of all people. And as romantic as the idea of exploring space may be, I hope we can rediscover a love and respect for this Earth we call home.

  6. Having use Orbiter Simulator 2010 to launch the older Orbiter into a stable orbit, even as imperfect as I may be at understanding the environment of orbiting our own planet.

    The idea of travelling to another star system is unlikely.

    As for the fuddy duddy view of the future on Earth, it is the minds we all have that prevent such a future from existing. After all, human history lived a long time with out fossil fuel resources, and bare in mind that these are currently in decline.

    Trek was a convient view of the future which a lot of us find it hard to stop dwelling on it as some sort of possible path.

    There was a initiative to go to the moon by around about this time, by the previous American government, but it failed due to cost, and the lack of interest by political circles. Even the last man who stepped off the surface at Taurus Littrow moon valley has some sort of hubris about America’s lost space agenda. He’ll pretend he doesn’t, but deep down he wants to see American Astronauts go back and create a positive future, and relieve his name from the history books of being the last person to climb the ladder aboard Challenger and take off.

  7. Glad to hear a gamer whose work I respect express their hope for a social future. Some friends and I are striving to bring a turn of events in our lifetime which neither the Right or the Left has imagined, but which is poised to bring as intense a healing experience as the intensely traumatic events of the passing “Century of Nightmare”…it’s called the Threefold Republic.

    The separation of the economy from the state, and the full emergence of a non-governmental, non-commerical cultural-education “third sector” is the best possible future. You’re welcome to check out the flags and maps at my website.

    Heck, if we can bring this to manifestation, the worlds of fiction will change too–in a similar way that the Federation-Klingon relationship changed to reflect the real world end of the Cold War. The Threefold Republic will bring social conditions which are even better than the Federation, with its uber-Scandinavian social democratic fusion of government, economy, and culture, however positive it is portrayed. The Threefold Republic is a whole step above even the Scandinavian Model, which is admirable in some regards, but which is stultified by a one-sided “Governmentalism” of the economic and cultural-education sectors. I hope that in our lifetime I and my colleagues will evoke at least one Threefold Republic in our world. Then, as our healing impulse expands, in the fictive world, we would see the real world mirrored in a “Threefold Federation of Planets.”

  8. For a few days after the first of the year I thought back to that man (or maybe it was the falimy) that owns like 3 things a piece & I thought I should try. I’m unorganized & always in search of the next thing while my current things slowly suffocate me, while I’m still screaming But we don’t have anything . I threw the idea out once I realized that owning only 3 things would probably send me more in a tizzy & just try & focus on not being such an unorganized & greedy whore.

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