I know I’ve said this before, but I’m not an optimist. I’m not really a pessimist, either. If I’m anything, I’m a realist.
Life isn’t fair. Good people suffer while terrible people get everything they want. The good guy rarely wins, and the villain pretty much always gets away with it. No amount of art or passion will ever replace being financially successful.
Yes, being a realist is a lot like being a pessimist. The difference is minor, and come down to the basic belief that the world doesn’t have to be this way. That if people chose it, the world would be different. That is the cold hard fact of the reality we live in.
We chose it to be the way it is.
It might surprise you, then, to learn I’m a big Star Trek fan. I grew up watching the original series on reruns, and followed every new series as it aired. I saw almost every movie in a theater, within a week of release, if not opening night. I’ve got action figures, posters, models and toys. My Klingon Bird of Prey is my favorite.
Why do I think you’d be surprised to learn this? To put it simply, it would be because Star Trek is all about optimism.
My world view doesn’t really mesh well with that, I know.
I’ve also mentioned in the past that I tend to just accept the world setting of whatever I’m watching. I don’t usually question it unless it’s just really terribly broken. Part of appreciating a piece of fiction in any form of media, in my opinion, requires being willing to accept the story as it is.
I’m not saying you can’t criticize it, of course. Criticism is good for creative types to hear. What I am saying is that you should be able to sit back, watch, read, or listen to something, without judging it on the spot. Let it tell the story it wants to tell, and only after you’ve allowed yourself to really experience it, do you examine it more closely.
This lets you feel it first, then think about it second.
With Star Trek, this really is about the only way you can experience it. Because when you think about it, Star Trek makes no sense whatsoever. Not just because I’m a realist and Trek is optimistic, but because the whole view of the future is just dumb.
We’re told often that in the utopian future of Star Trek, money is a thing of the past. People pursue their interests, and are rewarded by getting to live fulfilling lives doing what they want. That no one works for money, because there is no money.
So, if somebody’s dream is to be a couch potato who watches anime all day, that’s fine? Really?
How do they get a house? Really think about that for a second. Everybody has a nice house in Star Trek. We never see anybody living in anything other than a nice house.
So, how do they get that? I mean, they didn’t buy it, obviously, cause there’s no money. So, how do they get to say it’s theirs? Did a bunch of people build it just for the love of building houses, then people drive around and decide they just want to live in one? What if somebody else wants to live in the same one? How does that get resolved? Who decides who gets to live in the house that happiness built?
The more you think about it, the deeper this rabbit hole goes, by the way.
Say somebody wants to be a writer. It’s their passion, and what they love. Except they suck. Do they just get to keep writing, even though nobody is reading their work? I bring this up, because in an episode of Voyager, the Doctor wants to get his holonovel published, and contacts a publisher.
Except, publishers shouldn’t exist in the utopian future of Star Trek. You’d just upload your novel to the Trek-net, and be done. Why does he need a publisher? What do they do? Distribution? How do they make those arrangements? And to who? Retailers? They shouldn’t exist either.
Seriously, what the hell does a publishing business even do in the future of Star Trek?
Not to mention all the people it takes to build a starship. While replicators (Stargate nightmare flashback! STARGATE NIGHTMARE FLASHBACK!) mean anything can be produced, raw materials don’t need to be mined, but construction still has to take place. In space. Which is dangerous.
There must be a whole lot of people who really love risking their lives to build giant spaceships that get blown up or flung to the far side of the galaxy on a regular basis. Sounds like a pretty soul crushing job to me.
“Hey, Gary, you worked on Voyager, right?”
“Yeah! I laid the carpet! Did you see that carpet? Some of my best work.”
“Uh… yeah. Anyway, did you hear Voyager was lost in the Badlands? Command is pretty sure it was destroyed.”
Sorry, but I’ve laid carpet for a living before. That is back breaking work. It kills your knees, too. Future medicine may be awesome, but there’s still only so much wear and tear the human body can take. Not to mention, nobody really enjoys laying carpet. I’m having a hard time buying that there were enough people out there that just really love laying carpet enough to do all of Voyager, not to mention Enterprise-E.
That is a hell of a lot of carpet to lay.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. Gary up there was probably the happiest person in the galaxy when Voyager made it home. Kinda sucks we didn’t get to see him reunited with his carpet.
Speaking of which, who cleans the carpet on these ships? Away teams stomp through muck, ooze, mud, and sludge on a pretty regular basis. Then go walking around the ship. Who the hell cleans all that up, and is that what they joined Starfleet for?
Told you the rabbit hole went deep.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I think the idea of a future where people aren’t motivated by money is a noble one. It just isn’t realistic in any feasible way. The simple question of how the Federation arranges trade deals becomes absurdly complex when you realize they have no currency based economy. How do they negotiate the value of anything?
The more you think about the future presented by Star Trek, the more Nog’s argument to Jake in Deep Space Nine’s episode “In The Card” starts to sound reasonable. Humanity works to better itself, for the sake of all humanity. What exactly does that mean, and if it really means you don’t need money, then why are you asking for mine?
Yes, the Ferengi made more sense. Scary, I know.
Here’s the thing. You aren’t suppose to think about all this. You’re just suppose to be inspired by it. Thinking about it kinda ruins it, because you start seeing just how absurd it all is.
So, how can you be inspired by something you aren’t suppose to think about?
When you figure that out, let me know.
Okay, okay, fine.
Star Trek’s ideals are meant to inspire us to reach for that future, but a future where we are all better, because we have chosen to be. As I said at the top, we live in the world we have chosen, so a world not unlike the one offered by Star Trek is also possible. We just have to chose that over this.
I don’t think we ever will, mind you, because again, realist, but I am inspired by the idea that we could. That we could just choose not to go to war with each other. That we could just choose not to discriminate against each other. That we could just choose to get along, treat each other with respect, and turn our global attention to the exploration of space.
Then I visit a Star Trek fan group and see them screaming at each other over how far you are actually suppose to spread your fingers in the Vulcan salute.
Or having a flame war over who had the most logical argument.
Flame wars are not logical, guys. Stop it. You’re making Leonard cry in Heaven.
Obviously, we are a long ways from being capable of making such a choice on a global scale, but I don’t think it is impossible that we could. Somewhere, down the road, long after we’re all dead and gone, sure, but the possibility does exist that enough people just get so sick of all the stupid crap we have been fighting over for generations and simply decide not to do it anymore.
Because it really, truly, actually is that easy.
The optimism of Star Trek is kinda absurd, no matter how you look at it. It’s also not, which is part of what of what makes it such an enduring franchise. It knows the ideals it offers are silly, but at the same time, it knows that something like it isn’t outside our grasp. It encourages us to reach for it, all while knowing we aren’t ready to just yet.
It gives us hope for a better world, somewhere down the line. Which is something even a realist like me can get behind.
Star Trek isn’t something you think about too hard, because it’s something you are suppose to feel. The ideas it offers, be they in episodes full of people talking, or action packed movies made by that creature even the Devil fears, J. J. Abrams, are meant to be something we feel. It’s okay to think about them, and even be critical of how poorly constructed it all really is, but don’t let that stop you from feeling that sense of hope and optimism that such a world isn’t out of our reach.
It is, and always will be, if we are but willing to try.
I may be a realist, but that gives even me hope for us all, no matter how absurd it might be.