How Star Trek's future stopped being optimistic

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by lawman, Aug 12, 2022.

  1. Dee1891

    Dee1891 Commander Red Shirt

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    And when do you that will actually happen? I don't see it happening in another two or three centuries.
     
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  2. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    They will force the others to conform?
     
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  3. BillJ

    BillJ Former Democrat Premium Member

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    That and we learned to get along with each other.
     
  4. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    And a measure of self control.
     
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  5. Vger23

    Vger23 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I’d take a dose of that in the world right about now. :(
     
  6. lawman

    lawman Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I agree that it's not "our" future. I've made that point in a whole lot of other threads... but that's really a separate discussion. To the extent that the producers keep trying (for better or worse) to make it look like it's an extrapolation of something at least resembling our present, it's still a commentary on our present-day problems and the prospects for solving them.

    Trek's backstory, its "future history," used to be that despite WWIII and all the rest, we managed to get past those problems and build a better future on our own. Its backstory now is that we're still facing all those problems, but we don't have any realistic prospect of solving them on our own.

    :wtf: That just seems sad to me. And needlessly cynical.

    Look at what humanity accomplished in the past 400 years. We moved from medieval dynasties to modern nation states, had the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, (re)invented democratic governance, established widely agreed principles of universal human rights, had an industrial revolution that led to everything from mass-produced goods to air travel to spaceflight to computers to the little magic box in our pockets that we still call a "phone," invented countless new forms and styles of art, literature, music, and other kinds of self-expression and entertainment, defeated numerous major diseases and dramatically improved human health and lifespan, and (all told) dramatically improved quality of life for a significant share of the people on the planet. And we did all that despite multiple world wars (and countless others), economic crashes, epidemics, and other crises.

    Granted, not everyone on earth shares in all the benefits of all that, and some of them even reject the principles and ideals involved... but still, the progress we've made is remarkable. (And we've done almost all of that through collective action, BTW, not individual action.) Sure, we're not perfect (and never will be)... but what makes you think humanity can't keep advancing along comparable trajectories?

    Again, it's not that humanity was perfect in Trek's future. (Notwithstanding GR's attitude during early TNG.) It certainly still had problems to confront. It's just that they were mostly new problems, because we'd managed to put the old ones behind us... at least at the planetary level.

    I miss that. Today's Trek (as with so much of life today) carries the message (at least in the subtext) that we're our own worst enemy, and basically doomed.
     
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  7. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Doomed, eh? A starfarring civilization who is willing to learn, grow and be self-reflective? Doomed strikes me as a bit harsh.
     
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  8. NewHeavensNewEarth

    NewHeavensNewEarth Commodore Commodore

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    Are you actually watching modern Trek all the way through or just judging it from a distance? :lol:

    In PIC season 2,
    mortal enemies - the Borg and the Federation - are now partners.

    In DSC season 4,
    the Federation is on a massive comeback after a major disaster, spreading hope and help throughout the galaxy.

    And that's where I agree with you in your original post, regarding Trek's basic message: "humanity could and would persevere." But even with your tour through history in your last post, we also see that every generation has to take ownership of the principles and values that lead to progress on every level. In our world today, we see democracy being rolled back and suffering setbacks in nations around the world, for example. And the existence of certain technologies doesn't always mean universal benefits from them, as I'm sure we can all acknowledge.

    It's up to every generation to take up the mantle. Trektopia (as espoused by certain fans) can be defined in various ways, but I tend to sum it up thusly: "And they lived happily ever after." That's fine for fairly tales, but Trek has never really portrayed that in an all-encompassing, eternal manner. (And it's easy to find examples from any incarnation of Trek, new or old.) It shows struggle and perseverance, as you alluded to in your original post. And that's a message that can be inspiring in any generation.
     
  9. Lord Garth

    Lord Garth Vice Admiral Admiral

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    We kind of are our own worst enemy. At least in America. Which is why I can see

    Why they'd have Pike refer to a Second Civil War. If things keep going the way they've been going since 2020, that won't sound as far-fetched as I would've thought before.

    But I don't think -- unlike in Star Trek -- that we'll have a World War III. Only ever the threat of it. The world is too interconnected today to make that feasible. Plus knowing that it's Mutually Assured Destruction.
     
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  10. lawman

    lawman Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    To be clear: I'm not saying that Trek's depiction of its own era conveys a sense of doom. On the whole, it's still resolutely idealistic and optimistic.

    I'm saying that Trek's depiction of its past ("our" present and future) no longer conveys any sense, not even implicitly, of how we could credibly get from here to there. It explicitly says we can't get there without miracle technologies and friendly aliens. IOW, those of us stuck in the real world without those things are SOL. That's tonally different from earlier eras of Trek, where the implicit message was that we solved our problems on our own and then ventured out into the stars.

    IMHO it may have been better when less of Trek's "future history" had been sketched out in detail. When it was more obscure, it was also more inspiring and less discouraging.

    Again, I'm not talking about Trek's depictions of its own era. I agree that those are indeed (largely) very hopeful, and serve as symbolic examples. I'm saying that hopeful future seems far more unreachable than it did in Trek's early decades.

    (Not that it was ever "really" reachable, of course. Warp drives and Vulcans and
    miraculous climate fixes on Europa
    didn't exist then, either. The difference is that those details weren't treated as critical steps in the story of how we reached that future, and indeed weren't essential ingredients of it. A united humanity without war, poverty, racism, or hunger... that's what was essential.)

    I'm in full agreement on this. Both the threat, and the moral obligation. It's certainly a message I try to convey to the students I teach. I'm just discouraged by modern Trek's implicit message that shouldering that moral obligation wouldn't (on its own) actually be enough.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2022
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  11. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    With respect, Star Trek repeatedly stated that we went through at least one more World War, as well as whole populations being bombed out of existence. The fact that they are being more explicit in the history, rather than leaving it as vague is only a feature of it lasting for so long. Had it just been TOS we would still have "WW3/Eugenics Wars" and Kirk's speech about being killers. T

    Now, I might be absolutely the wrong person to ask because I don't look to Star Trek for optimism about the future. However, I would say that the difference comes more from this world being expanded upon, as well as difficulties in Trek's own consistency of backstory, i.e. nuclear platforms in the 60s, no apparent Eugenics Wars in the 1990s (maybe), WW3 and the post-atomic horror in the 21st century, etc. As it keeps getting added on it's going to be a little less optimistic because the details of World Wars are understandably not optimistic.

    Now, here is where Trek does spark my optimism. That technology can be used in service to the great whole rather than just as an industrial killing machine forcing people to work. It also represents apparently disparate cultures willing to work together towards a common goal. And, to my mind, with how quickly technology is accelerating development, that's more interesting to me that bare sketches of backstory that hint at past horrors but "don't worry about it because we licked it." I believe in miracle technology because that's the premise of Trek too-that tech will serve humanity's best interests, rather than work against it.

    Mileage will vary.
     
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  12. Trekker09

    Trekker09 Captain Captain

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    @lawman wrote, It explicitly says we can't get from here to there without miracle technologies and friendly aliens.

    To me, this seems like a very solid point about First Contact as the hinge of Trek future history-- being so specific on the cause of humanity’s radical progress was more discouraging than intentionally leaving it mysterious.

    The only counter arguments would be that technology we take for granted today, like the internet and exploring Mars, would have seemed miraculous 200 years ago; and we can’t say for certain that earth’s technology has not already caught the attention of advanced, benign aliens who may well have visited (surreptitiously).

    Also agree with @Vger23 –the original assumption of TOS was only that we didn’t destroy ourselves. So another way to look at it is, since there were no Eugenics wars in the 90’s, none of the Trek future events should be taken seriously….as for the premise that humanity will somehow attain world peace, you could take it or leave it.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2022
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  13. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    And I believe that humanity is fully capable of miracle technologies as evidenced by the last ten years of technological expansion.
    I don't think Trek should be taken seriously as it has been. One of the biggest aspects of Trek that annoyed me from TNG forward was the evolution just happened. There was no point A to point B descriptor of how we got there. Humanity just evolved. TOS was at least honest in that we survived and chose to make different priorities, i.e. we're not going to kill, we work together despite differences, not homogenizing them in to a collective whole. It wasn't perfect but there was at least some measure of choice.
     
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  14. lawman

    lawman Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Yeah, I can't argue with that...

    There's miraculous and then there's miraculous. Warp drive ain't happening any time in the foreseeable future, not with the existing laws of physics. Nor transporters. Nor replicators. (And the friendly humanoid aliens aren't in evidence, either.)

    That said, in some ways emerging technology does seem to have put us on the cusp of a "post-scarcity" civilization. Unfortunately, without some visionary leadership pointing the way toward new structural and distributional paradigms, that's arguably likely to lead to more problems than it solves...

    Hear, hear.

    I can see where you're coming from there. Trek's past is clearly not our future. But Trek's creative PTB keep trying to make them seem at least like kissing cousins... e.g., with Pike's speech
    showing clips of January 6 and mentioning a Second Civil War.
    IMHO Trek would do better at this point, thematically, to lean into the differences than the similarities.
     
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  15. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Ok. Doesn't change my optimism.

    Not that I don't partially understand this perspective as I recall my frustration at space travel not being like Trek while doing my research. But, that changed my perspective. Instead of worrying about tech I focus on the positive approach towards humans. Perhaps more humanistic but I feel like I prefer relationships to tech in looking for positive change.
    While I agree, Trek has largely not embraced this approach.
     
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  16. Nerys Myk

    Nerys Myk Garth of Algar Premium Member

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    Trek's always painted a dim view of the present and the near future. Be it the 60s. the 90s, the 00s and now the 20s. Somehow we made it out and to the stars. Yeah the nice aliens show up in FC to help us. But it's humans who sent up the signal flag. And humans always seem to be on the cutting edge when it comes to technology. Be it transporters, warp drives or artificial life. Even if some alien had it before us, we do it better.
     
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  17. Trekker09

    Trekker09 Captain Captain

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    Just wondered if you'd care to expand on that? I didn't think there was even enough safe drinking water for everyone on earth, for starters.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2022
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  18. lawman

    lawman Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Well, it's undeniably a glass-half-full kind of situation.

    On the one hand, we have a global economy that relies on the premise that growth can be sustained indefinitely, in flagrant defiance of the basic fact that some resources are non-renewable. (Although I'm not sure drinking water is one of them; it's not an issue I'm an expert on, but a quick dig for some stats seemed to paint a pretty optimistic picture: <https://www.statista.com/statistics/278656/quality-of-the-global-drinking-water-supply/>.) There are things we can't do without that we risk exhausting, and meanwhile we increasingly foul our own nest with the levels of waste we generate. There are issues with global carrying capacity.

    On the other hand, we also keep finding ways to be more efficient and productive with the resources we do have. And especially in the West, over the past couple of generations, this has meant that the economy can generate everything needed to sustain a pretty comfortable lifestyle for the entire population... without actually requiring the full-time labor of the entire adult population. Which is awkward, because that's what our whole economic paradigm is built on: the need to "earn a living." That's basically the definition of "post-scarcity," at least in its early emergent stages. Insofar as everyone isn't actually living in comfort, then, that's a distributional issue, not a capacity issue.
     
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  19. at Quark's

    at Quark's Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Not having seen the newer material (post-S1 PIC or SNW), I always felt the implication of FC was that, yes, in the original timeline, perhaps there was a bit of luck involved that Cochrane made the warp flight at the moment he did, being discovered by Vulcans and all, but also that the discovery we were not alone lead to the elimination of wars, poverty, etc. in about 50 years completely under our own steam. After all, the Vulcans don't seem particularly generous in handing out tech or solutions more advanced than what a society has already developed itself. Which would mean the Vulcans mostly simply inspired us, rather than hand out magical solutions to our problems, but those solutions were in our reach anyway, with or without Vulcans. So I'm not really sure how FC would have corroded the optimistic view of the future (except for the idea that there still were difficult times ahead before that).

    Also I think that the 'luck' part was not specifically that Cochrane's warp flight was discovered by Vulcans. If humans ventured out in space with warp they'd have met aliens eventually anyway, regardless of the timing of his first flight. I think the luck was simply the Vulcans being the first species we met (rather than, say, the Klingons).
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2022
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  20. Trekker09

    Trekker09 Captain Captain

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    Interesting about the water situation.
    I don’t mean to sound negative, the basic optimism of ST is why I stay with it. But, one thing First Contact takes for granted about the Vulcans landing is that we humans would not react defensively – we’d trust their motives or at least not feel threatened. What would the global human response be-- would there be consensus? I don’t know if ENT ever spoke to that. IIRC, humans feel partly inspired by the Vulcans and partly competitive-- trying to prove ourselves as a species was the impetus for our rapid ‘renaissance.’
    Stephen Hawking was committed to exploring the possibility of extraterrestrial life forms, yet he was opposed to answering a message from intelligent aliens. "If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans…..A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria."
    [Reminded me of Carolyn Palamas talking to Apollo in “Who mourns for Adonais?”]
     
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