This has been weighing on my mind lately. The roots of it go back years, but it's just crystalized for me recently. From its inception, Star Trek depicted a hopeful future for humanity... one where the better angels of our nature managed to defeat our inner demons. Yes, we'd had Eugenics Wars and World War III to contend with... but it was always made clear that we made it past them, and learned from them. And through it all we continued to explore space, seek new horizons, and aspire to higher ideals. We improved ourselves, achieved a United Earth, and made war and poverty things of the past. The details of this future history may have been obscure, but the message was clear: humanity could and would persevere. That was the underlying theme for Trek's first thirty years. It originated with TOS, and endured through TNG and DS9. Then, in 1996, came First Contact. And that's where things pivoted. Now, we still had all those awful things in our future... but it turns out we didn't put them behind us on our own. Instead, Trek's utopian future depended crucially on discovering warp drive (which doesn't exist in the real world), and even more than that, on the sheer dumb luck of doing so at a moment when it fortuitously happened to be noticed by Vulcans (who also don't exist in the real world)... an alien race more advanced and peaceful than us, who had solved their own problems in the distant past, and proceeded to give us a helping hand up out of dystopia. I don't remember this shift being much discussed at the time. It was a popular movie. I liked it myself! And perhaps, in the '90s, when we'd just put the Cold War behind us and everything seemed to be booming, it was possible to imagine that the awful parts of Trek's future history were just fantasy as well. It doesn't feel that way any more. This struck me, hard, with the latest seasons of new Trek on the air, Strange New Worlds s1 and Picard s2. (Spoilers ahead!) In SNW, we're informed Spoiler (with real, contemporary news footage!) that Earth in our time is on the verge of a Second Civil War, and then a Third World War that's even worse than Trek ever made it out to be before . In PIC, we learn that Spoiler our best hope of defeating climate change somehow lies in leveraging a new life form (which is imaginary) discovered on a crucial 2024 mission to Europa (which of course isn't happening)... and that even our best fallback solution lies in force field tech (which also doesn't exist!) invented by a demagogue who leads us down the path to fascism . Meanwhile, of course, real-world space exploration has been all but defunct for decades. I enjoyed both of those seasons, but the implications have been haunting me. The state of things now is that the dark side of Trek's future history—dissension, hatred, war, fascism, a dying climate—feels very real indeed, very imminent, and very threatening. But the solutions Trek depicts come across as sheer fantasy, rather than anything humanity has a chance of achieving in reality. Trek used to feel inspiring. It used to embody the promise of humanity's ability to solve our problems and achieve a better world. It doesn't any more. It hasn't for a quarter-century, really.