Star Trek and the ideas we must reject to save our future

On Tuesdays, I write about the top voted question on Ask Berkun (see the lovely archive). This week’s question came from Ms. Unknown:

What ideas must we reject to save our future?

It’s wonderfully romantic to view the world from the point of view of a checklist of things we can either choose to accept or reject. I don’t mean this in a judgmental way. It really would be nice if we could vote each year as a planet on which ideas to promote or reduce, and then all collectively work hard towards that goal. But the tangible reality of how human society works regarding ideas is a terrible mess. Or at least, more positively speaking, it’s a complex web of interactions of needs, wants, scopes, fears, cultures, timings and coincidences. We’re all fighting our local crusades for more happiness or security and rarely have much reason to think in a unified way about what kinds of ideas are best or worst for all of us.

Ms. Unknown offered four ideas to reject: competition, scarcity, individualism, and the endless pursuit of more. Which in their way, in a simple list, seem lovely. She is describing the utopian world of Star Trek, where all core needs for all people (or at least human earthlings) are met. Star Trek of course conveniently skips over how they got from our primitive world to theirs. Even assuming Ms. Unknown is right, how do we get there? It’s hard to see it happening without a science fiction cliche like a terrible world war or alien invasion, something to force our myopic species to recognize our survival depends on our partnership in sharing spaceship earth and not petty self-interests, but I hope to see neither of those scenarios play out in my lifetime.

I’m prone to dualism, so I see most ideas on this list as having good and bad elements. Competition can be good if it’s done in a healthy way. Many people only do their best work if there is some element of competition, like artists, musicians or athletes who see others doing interesting work that challenges them to keep improving and growing, perhaps collaborating and building on each other’s work. But you can’t have a football league, or a literary society, with only one team or one author. Bad competition is when the combined choices by some competitors work against the greater good (Say, when two businesses collude to fix prices in a market so that no new entrants can even try to compete). This means it depends. The ideas aren’t necessarily good are bad, it’s how they are applied, with what goal and what result.

By scarcity, I assume she meant of fundamental needs like food, shelter and water. It’s hard to argue against the improvement of the standard of living for all. What’s there to lose for the rest of us? Probably not much. But taken to the other end of the spectrum, a question about the Star Trek Utopia is without scarcity of some kind, how are people motivated to strive? The history of America is driven by people from other nations who wanted a better life, who felt a scarcity of opportunity where they were, and where therefore motivated to take risks. Without some kinds of scarcity, or perhaps at least ambition, what drives progress? (Although the Western obsession with progress is an idea worth unpacking on its own).

It’s only the last idea from her list, the endless pursuit of more, that I’m more easily swayed to her position. The endless pursuit of anything makes me think, at first, of mental illness. The endless pursuit of cleanliness. The endless pursuit of stuff hoarded in your apartment. The endless pursuit of pictures of kittens in hats. The endless pursuit of status and conspicuous wealth. The endless pursuit of endless pursuits.

Of course, some pursuits are noble: the endless pursuit of reducing stupidity or the endless pursuit of helping people be better to each other. Yet somehow the world culture I see often rewards certain endless pursuits far more than others. The developing world is chasing the American dream of the 1950s and 60s, without learning from the mistakes (cars, pollution, suburban sprawl) that came with them. Our economies depend on the endless pursuit of growth which depends heavily on the endless pursuit of selling us things we don’t really need.

We are still struggling with the basic notions of maintaining a long-lasting civilization, but have the hubris to spend most of our time and resources in denial of the biggest challenges to our future. Perhaps the idea we need to consider rejecting most strongly is that we’re good at learning from the past or collectively learning anything at all. There is wisdom here on planet earth, it’s just not yet distributed to the places and people who need it most.

What ideas do you think we most need to reject? I’d like to know. Leave a comment.

22 Responses to “Star Trek and the ideas we must reject to save our future”

  1. Buck

    In seeking the good: first do no harm.

    Bad competition is not only when the greater good is insufficiently advanced, it is when unnecessary suffering is incurred.

    From “Patterns of Force”:
    GILL: Planet fragmented. Divided. Took lesson from Earth history.
    KIRK: But why Nazi Germany? You studied history. You knew what the Nazis were.
    GILL: Most efficient state Earth ever knew.
    SPOCK: Quite true, Captain. That tiny country, beaten, bankrupt, defeated, rose in a few years to stand only one step away from global domination.

    1. Scott Berkun

      Doing no harm is lovely but as with all of ideas it gets messy once you start trying to apply it practically. Does harm to animals count? The environment? Harm to people who have broken laws? Harm to nations that have betrayed treaties? Are sanctions a kind of harm? I’m not suggesting i have the answers to these questions, but I do see how we’ve ended up where we are on this planet as the nuances and details of the answers are complex. And it requires trust in other people/nations that they share the same version of these answers, trust that is easier to break than restore, inspiring the ‘betrayed’ party to resort to a more isolated idea of who to seek good for.

      Nice episode reference! I did think of that one while I wrote this. Although I remember even as a kid thinking “wouldn’t the Roman empire have been a better model to emulate given how short Germany’s rule was?”

      1. Buck

        I tend to think yes, human competitions that incur less incremental suffering to animals for the same societal good are to be preferred. I’m inclined to a similar recommendation for any sentient being that might suffer.

        As nations lack a nervous system, traditional definition of suffering does not apply well, but if we refer to collective suffering of individuals, I would answer yes there as well.

        Sanctions of an entire country may cause people to suffer, or they might not. If the sanctions deprive the rich few of luxuries so a mass of the poor can have necessities, this seems morally praiseworthy.

        Can you expand on the need for me or my nation to trust others?

        When one incurs risks to rescue another for example, we don’t normally expect they first consider whether the victim shares their moral reasoning.

  2. aldo herrera garduño

    be sectarian, arrogant and keep in mind that we have to find a way to return something to our planet to calm its degradation.

  3. Lisa

    Wow! What a loaded question of what ideas we most need to reject. A brief mention of the utopian world of Star Trek prickled me. The world of Star Trek is hardly utopian. Is there caste discrimination like today? Of course there is! At one time the klingons were hated. Why? I think to the Federation the Klingon way was too much like theirs. Klingons were conquerors in order to expand. We conquor all the time for our own petty needs. Our idea that we somehow know what’s best for everyone must be rejected. Klingons are still regarded with suspiciaon even when they don’t bother anyone. They’re tolerated. Romulans and Cardassian are barely tolerated just like some today. Time passage doesn’t change old ideas that are clung to. The Federation has their so-called Prime Directive. Non interference in the way alien societies work. But the all the crews in whatever Star Trek you like, interfered all the time. Bend to our rules or no admission to the Federation. No, Romulan or Klingon you can’t have a cloaking device but we’ll steal yours so we can sneak up on people.

    Utopian? In the world of Star Trek there’s class descrimination. Not in the rich or poor aspect but who you are as a people. Cardassians are bad. Klingons are still not trusted. Romulans still distrusted. They must conform or bam taste our phasers or torpedoes. They got mad at the Q for their superiority complex but we’re just as bad today, anf the Federation think they know what people should do. They visit planets unasked, negotiate mining or treaties to suit the Federation. Caste discrimination today is a lot like in Star Trek. Federation rules! Today? Poor are treated like a different species. We’re reclaasified with other names because being called Poor sticks in the moths of Middle Class who think they deserve everything while you, Poor, have to explain, defend, justify and apololgize for everything when of course we’re not being ignored. You are the enemy Klingon, Romulan, Borg. You don’t measure up then you’re trash. The Federation dictates whose good or bad, just like today with Rich and Middle Class deserve everything and you, Poor be the grateful little tail wagger for the leftovers. Has poverty in the Star Trek universe been eliminated? You never see the Poor. The idea of your class or station in life must be eliminated but it won’t because someone has to be blamed.

    The idea of blatent hypocrasy must be eliminated. The Federation justified their fighting just like we do today. Don’t call that utopia where if you don’t measure up to some standard you must be fought. Let’s shoot our weapons at your ship but don’t shoot us! You, alien society, must not separate people while we do it to our own by class, color, place of birth, religion or no religion. We can criticize your way of life but keep your mouth shut about ours!

    In the Star Trek universe like the real world there’s a lot of gullibility that needs to be rejected. The Federation knows what’s best for you to get along and you’ll believe it! In todays world if a fraud like Trump yells and screams loud enough you’ll believe him because independent thinking is frowned upon. Don’t question. Be bullied. Vote for me and I’ll save you! Once I’m elected you’ll still believe I care about you when YOU get what you want and to heck with others. I’ll lie constantly to be elected because I as a politician rely on your gullibility to believe me every time no matter how many times I mess you up. I say the right pretty things and you’ll believe me. When I mess up you blame me the politician not yourself for believing me thinking I’m different. Suckered again! Don’t question too much. Rule over me. Grow complacent!

    Utopia would be great! But what is Utopia? Equality! Your gender doesn’t make you inferior. But we refuse equality. No conflict. Respect would be great in a Utopia. We won’t tell you your sexuality isn’t the ‘right’ one. Be how you feel breaking imposed norms and it’ll be respected. We won’t do that. We need conflict of imposition wondering why there’s friction. Respect peoples’ religion or no religion. We refuse that. We need conflict, we need imposition.

    Cast descrimination, hypocracy, gullibility into believing what you’re told without question are ideas we most need to reject.

    Until we stop dictating to others there will be no utopia. Life is no easier depending on who you are and where you came from be it way in the future or now because the need to control never ends. Anyone who questions must be villified.

    As Forrest Gump would roughly say “And that’s all I have to say on that!”

  4. Sean Crawford

    Call me a computer nerd, but:
    Lisa, above, is confusing the later Star Trek universe, made during grim Reagonomics and so forth, with STOS (Star Trek the original series) made during the cresting wave of the age of Aquarius. This original series remains ever a cultural icon.

    Remember? Starships could “destroy an entire planet” but didn’t, and phallic weapons were never carried in visible holsters,
    (unlike on Wagon Train, the show’s touchstone for having guest stars who had been in the train/crew all along)
    but tucked beneath one’s shirt.

    The median year for African countries getting independence, (by my count) was 1960, only six years before the show. So the anti-imperialist Prime Directive was a welcome shock.

    The Klingons were Bad Guys who, as someone (Gerrold?) joked, had no bathtubs on their ships, but hey, you would never see one unless you went out into space.

    1. Sean Crawford

      Oops. I should have written “mode year” not “median year.”

      Details: Mode means the year (number) repeated the most. Median would be the number in the middle, like a dotted road median. “Mean” would be the number that is conventionally “average.”

      Well, it’s been literally decades since I took any statistics. (Strange, at my age, to measure lots of things now in decades instead of years)

    2. Lisa

      Sean, I’m referring to all the Star Treks but more specifically to the original series of the 60’s. Reagonomics never entered the picture. In the original series tje Klingons were enemies. Not until Worf in Next Generation did any Klingon be a Starfleet officer and he was the only one. Being raised by humans after akittimer made him ore ‘tame’ I suppose. Women weren’t treated well in the original series. Eye candy with skirts up to their figurative eyelids. Not one woman Captain or Admiral or Commador. Kirk thought he should hit on women. Is the original series icinic? Of course but flawed in so many ways. Ya got your token Vulcan, your token Asian and Russian helmsmen and the Red dhirted security men who always got killed. Equality didn’t start really until Next Generation when there were women Admirals. But as we learned with Ferengi society women had no rights! Couldn’t wear clothes. Quark was always mad at his mom for waering clothes in piblic, public investing that Ferengi women weren’t allowed to do. Hmmm. Are there still more women today working as Wallstreet brokers than men? Doubt it.

      You’re right. Starships never destroyed a planet. But planets still knew starships were armed. We haven’t nuked anyone since ’45. Doesn’t mean we won’t. Trump threatened twice. We get mad at others having or bulding nuclear thimgs. We insist that only we can have them. People today insist on being armed. Ever see a Starfleet officer go down unarmed? Every landing party a phaser at the hip. Under the shirt with velcrow in the original series, at the hip visibly on every away mission in other Star Treks.

      I don’t know anything about anti imperialist, but the Prime Directive of non interference happened all the time with interference. Vayager never detoured. Let’s cross your space. We need to take a short cut. Phasers fire if ships came to defend that space. Seven of Nine and her party tried to sabatage the ship and her co horts were blown out into space, while lecturing how evil assimilation was. Seven begged to be taken back to the Borg. But no! She was forced to stay to get her humanity back. Why was Seven added? Eye candy! She looked human but she was raided Borg and it never left her. She was convinced she should stay and adopted the ways of the ship so she didn’t want to be assimilated. Brain washing anyone?

      Why were the Klingons the bad guys? Simple. Without a villain to hate why then you get boredom. They were warlike because to them that was survival. Worf was tame enough but he wasn’t the most likeable. Never knew what could set him off. Was still a token. Poor Data. He wanted so much to try to be human. He had to have a trial in order to be regarded as more than Star Fleet property in Measure Of A Man. He was called “it” by the robotics guy until the very end of the episode. He was a bigot against androids till he was forced to realize Data was just as good as he was.

      There was always some sort of enemy to fight against proving that even in the 24th century mistrust still reigns.

      Were the Klimgons bad guys? By Federation standards then they were tolerated. Were the Cardassians evil? Or were the Bejorans just as bad that we never saw. Were the Borg bad because they assimilated people? To them it was survival. Yet we cheer Captain Janeway for forcing Seven of Nine to become human again which wasn’t easy on Seven. The Borg are like Governments today. Think alike, don’t question, serve the Collective. Escape we’ll chase you down.

      What amazed me in Star Trek whichever series is that no one ever used the bathroom on any ship or star base. Look ma no kidneys!

      I take the Star Trek universe too seriously.

      1. Brian

        Your knowledge of the Star Trek universe is insane…

        1. Lisa

          Laughing. I was a huge trekkie when I was in Jr. High. Didn’t see my first episode of the original Star Trek until I was 13 in ’72 and boy did I go into it! Put together a model of the Enterprise, had and since misplaced the Technical Manual, made a First Officer shirt complete with braids on the sleeves and had gotten a shirt emblem, wore a shirt that said Star Trek Lives. But everyone in 7th grade would always call me Spock which I hated. Ironic. My favorite character was Spock after I lost interest in Ensign Checkov. I’ve seen every episode. I saw the first Star Trek movie when it first came out but the movies got worse with each number. I have the original first movie with V-ger, a tape of the first pilot with Jeffrey Hunter whom I adore though he’s long dead, have a tape of Star Trek The Wrath of Khan. I even have a tape of Star Trek Nemisis.

          My parents always encouraged hobbies and Star Trek is a great hobby and it can be compared to stuff happening today and you see progress especially with women. Today few women are in command but on a starship you can be a captain and play with the big boys.

  5. Lisa

    Sorry for the mispellings. Got fat finger syndrome tonight. Loved the topic though! Peace everyone!

    1. Lisa

      Laughing. Oh and what beautiful new jobs for dilithium miners! But will deregulation bigly affect all that clean dilithium, Tony? Hee hee hee! You made my day!

  6. Sean Crawford

    Call me old, but I enjoy my memories:
    For Star Trek, I never got used to the velcro thingy, too futuristic-silly for me, because in one of the first episodes to air, Kirk has a leather-looking holster thingy you can see for a second as he pulls his shirt down, getting ready to beam to the planet. It looked yellow, but our TV set was black and white, so I don’t know.

    The brand new department store was two miles away (walking right angles) and I remember when the salesmen still couldn’t get the three colour knobs right (Jeanie had green skin) so there would be a wall of televisions with all different colour settings. I went home and reported what color the ST uniforms were.

    Star Trek, airing in 1966, just barely caught the change to color TV. Lost in Space, as I know from re-runs, had their first season in black and white.

    I have read they didn’t make Spock have green skin, because the make up would look bad on b&w TVs.

    As for make up and fashions, on rare occasion I would see signs in the dirt sidewalk that the high school girls had worn high heels. I don’t know if any wore mini skirts. At our elementary school I think one girl did, I forget, (and all the boys in my grade—but not the younger grades—kept their hair short until junior high) but I dimly remember strangers my age from other schools wearing minis. I will tell you what a lot of elementary girls wore for our fashion show (fund raiser), which I haven’t seen since: Three piece bathing suits. Truly society was in transition.

    Would I want my granddaughter wearing a miniskirt? As Spock would say in the episode with computer warfare: “I said I understand/have memories, I did not say I approve.”

    1. Lisa

      “Fascinating” insights, Sean. Lost In Space was campy but fun! I recently saw a You Tube video where the guy constructed a full sized Robinson Robot not only with all the flashing lights but it could talk! It couldn’t walk but it was so precise that when the power pack was removed it hunched over and the arms stretched out like the real thing!

      It’s a shame that it took two pilots to get the show off the ground(pun intended). I used to watch in black and white on what they called back then a UHF converter. Reception not too good. When I finally saw it in color it was great!

      I remember vaguely mini skirts. But I was a kid back then.

      Envy those who were old enough to see Star Trek and Lost In Space when they originally came out. Didn’t see either show until the 70’s.

      1. Sean Crawford

        Hi Scott, Lisa, Tony, everyone:

        I guess it was Christmas of 1968 that we (a brother and I) got a model kit for Christmas, complete with room for a battery so (the front nacelles?) would light up. What I’m clear on is the box included a cheap booklet that included advice on how to write in to save the show, advising “don’t put Star Trek on the envelope” or it would be passed on to the actual show, not the network. It said the next season would start with the “never before seen” Turn About Intruder, and then re-runs, so save the show!

        Also there were where you could send away for Spock’s pendant, brief celluloid film clips, and actual scripts. That was an eye opener, (either then or later) since it was super obvious that the third season had all the bad episodes.

        When I took Macbeth in high school I counted five episode titles.

        Luckily for me, we lost our TV part way through the series, and so for years I could look forward to possibly seeing a new-to-me episode.

        Since I left home in mid-1975, it would have been sometime in the first half of the decade that my brother perused the TV guide and pointed out there was an episode showing, on some channel or other, seven days a week. So the show was popular years before Star Wars encouraged a movie release with Star Wars style orchestra music, instead of futuristic space music.

        1. Lisa

          Neat! Ah! Turnabout Intruder! Kirk’s inner woman. I sent away for a script. The Trouble With Tribbles. I was still in my teens then dumbly threw it out. Regret big time. There were a few awful episodes. Syndication sure boosted popularity.

          Lucky you having a model where you could light things up. Mine didn’t. Can’t rermber what happened to my model. I do remember I glued on my nacelles upside down. Can blame it on a wonky parallel universe.

          1. Sean Crawford

            Call me a fan, but I can’t resist sharing:
            Speaking of the tribbles script by David Gerrold, I put his Chtorr War series in the “about me” section on favorite books in my blog. The series has lots to say about integrity, responsibility and leadership. It’s told first person, like a detective story, as the hero learns about life and the alien Chtorr.

            The series starts with exposition about some serious plagues (only 76 congressmen survive) Now the survivors have to “step up to the plate” and not say, “Let George do it.”

            Everyone feels like an orphan in mourning, everyone therefore has a golden excuse to escape into alcoholism and drugs, but the good ones carry on. The hero starts out as a spoiled brat, but he learns better.

            The army is integrated, to the point where the young hero often forgets to mention the gender of a soldier in the background.

            The feminist in me laughs at how he gets a girl friend (husband and child deceased) who is older, more sexually and relationship-ly experienced, taller, smarter and of higher military rank.

            As you might guess, Gerrold is from wacky Southern California.

          2. Lisa

            Great synopsis. Pictured everything in your series description.

  7. Sean Crawford

    Lisa: Thank you.

    Scott (and everybody): Regarding American society and affluence, I just tried a search engine. No luck.
    But I’m sure that (probably in a coffee table patriotic picture book) John Steinbeck wrote something years ago which I’m still thinking about:
    That Americans, after several generations of trying, had finally achieved affluence … and for the first time were at a loss as to what to do next.

    1. Lisa

      You’re welcome, Sean. Whose John Steinbeck? Wish I had affluence again. Mine was all taken by a bank who was supposed to look after a Trust that my brother set up for me that was rigged to fail. Long story. Anyhoo, lost it, now struggling, lost pretty much everything and I miss that affluence where I didn’t have to worry about being on the street.

      Here’s where my feisty side comes out and please forgive me if I get a little resenful. Middle Class and Rich. But what about us Poor! And what do I mean when I say Poor? Choosing a bill over eating! Being villainized or ignored by politicians and Middle Class and Rich. People saying of Poor that bad decisions led to the loss of affluence, tellimg us that we didn’t “earn” earn decent medical care. Reclassifying us with different names because calling someone Poor doesn’t work, treating us like we’re bacteria. Yelled at for not being on Government aide, yelled at for being on it!

      One thing that I’ve learned was when I had affluence I was complacent. Never thought anything could happen. Took things for granted. After I lost practically everything and seeing how those who have little to nothing are treated like crap if we’re even acknowledged.

      Those who finally acheived affluence in my view after eight years of struggling to gain a little more than I had that affluence makes too many cop a superiority complex not to mention arrogance.

      Would I like my old affluence back? Yup! And what would I do with it? Wouldn’t ever again be arrogant. Not worry about bill or eating! Have a car to relieve my aching feet. Go to bed and wake up without fear. And I’d have compassion for the Poor and not look upon them as either the villain or ignore them.

      Those who’ve gained affluence after generations and are at a loss of what to do next? Here’s a thought. Never forget that it can disappear and never think they’re above anyone.

      Sorry for the rant.


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