Imagination Connoisseur, Vermillion Problems, makes the case that the post-scarcity, utopian society depicted in classic Star Trek is not only aspirational … it’s entirely possible.
I first heard you speak, so eloquently, on science fiction, while listening to MIDNIGHT’S EDGE. I can’t possibly summarize all the details of verisimilitude, and the state of Star Trek that you and others have done such a great job covering – so I will comment on my opinion of what feels like one of the biggest tragedies of New Trek and to a lesser extent Old Trek.
“New Trek is weak, Tom Clancy fan fiction in Star Trek’s clothing.”
What is ultimately disappointing, is the wasted opportunity to improve and update the original formula developed by Gene Roddenberry and nurtured by the stewards of the Star Trek IP who followed. Here I am, speaking specifically about Gene’s vision of a utopian society and its explorations through outer space.
One of the greatest, and most challenging, themes in Star Trek, is its setting in a future of utopia, cosmopolitanism, social equality and freedom. Old Trek did a good job in some places showing this. Even STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE (ST:DS9), the “dark Trek”, was still rooted in this general ideal.
We can see the show runners and writers that would follow struggled with this concept all the way through to the end of the Old Trek. Even though one could argue that some of the best of Star Trek was done after Gene’s passing, and covered topics he would object to, I can’t help but feel like this was a missed opportunity. I believe, knowing or unknowing, it was the optimistic example that truly was inspirational source of Trek’s longevity, though the action, characters and effects are what are most often cited.
So, why do writers, and producers shy away from the very thing that makes Star Trek unique?
In some cases, I think they simply chose to not believe in Star Trek’s vision or could not imagine it. Given all the negative examples we have, it is very easy to predict that such a future is impossible. Is it though?
In the book Trekonomics, by economist Manu Saadia, he estimates that trending GDP will reach post-scarcity in roughly 250 years. Max Roser’s, Ethnographic and Archaeological Evidence on Violent Deaths suggests the power of civilization has to curb violence as the historical record shows that the homicide rate averaged over 50% during pre-civilization life.
There is more, like the biological effects of environmental pressure, and how the negative can be swung toward the positive over the course generations. All this is to say, that some form of a post-scarcity society is, if not inevitable, very probable.
I personally think it was a failure of Star Trek to hand wave the transition from our modern paradigm to the future one of Star Trek. Wiping the slate clean by Atomic War, a desperate humanity, guided forward by pointy eared space angels.
Though, of course, the future is ours to lose, some of the most curious issues I wonder about in a post-scarcity society are how we handle the following.
The fear of death.
One interesting item from STAR TREK: PICARD (ST:PICARD) is the book, The Tragic Sense of Life, that Rios is constantly reading. It is like the physical manifestation of doubt in Gene Rodenberry’s vision.
The idea that the specter of death will haunt us no matter what world we build. It may well be true that we cannot banish this specter without all becoming monks dedicated to mental wellness. As such, we may always have some of the negative traits that we carry with us, that psychologists hypothesize stem from our death fixation.
It is here that Old Trek had some narrative successes and misses, where New Trek largely fumbles to say anything profound. STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (ST:DISC)’s Season two especially with its, half-baked religious concepts and demonic, AI boogie men, is all existential bark, with no real bite.
Overcoming, loneliness, and the problem suicide, mass shootings, all problems that are rampant in 1st world societies.
Addressing the schism between secular and religious belief.
In Gene’s Star Trek, religion is something humanity simply grows out of. Can generations of being raised in a post-scarcity society with a value system that encourages wellness, fill the place of religion and spiritualism? New Trek, almost reversed this notion, by nearly making Captain Pike a pious Christian.
Navigating the perils of automation, on the way to post scarcity.
Who needs sentient AI? Automation alone could nearly be our undoing. The volatility of economics has let much of the world fall through the cracks.
Balancing automation, with environmental sustainability while preserving jobs (at least as long as money is still a thing), and dodging world-wide conflict is no easy matter. Almost makes the WW3 story conceit forgivable, given how tricky it may be to hold the line until we can get a big enough pipeline from outer space, while sustaining what we currently have on our planet.
Of course, once you see the weight of evidence that humanity can address all these problems, we can begin to accept that our worst impulses are the exception, and not the norm. Then, we can get back to classic Gene Roddenberry story telling. Humans, at their best facing alien metaphors of our past, and how we respond to them, and strange alien phenomena and what it says about our place in the universe.
New Trek doubles down on this misunderstanding, or outright rejection of the Roddenberry model of Star Trek. ST:DISC muddies the message, paying lip service to it at the end of Season 1, and taking a step back in Season 2.
While the setup for Season 3 feels like an unearned attempt at a Star Trek apocalypse. ST:PICARD also plays with unearned challenges of the Roddenberry ideals, the make ST:DS9 irreverence so much smarter in retrospect.
Because if was.
– Vermillion Problems