Are We Headed For A Star Trek Or Star Wars Future?

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Entertainment has a funny way of presaging future events, even future worlds. Perhaps it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy sort of thing; I mean, you are raised with a lot of these movies & TV shows and whatnot, and it can’t help but shape your views in some way. Then you grow up to build a rocket or lead a country, and are now in a position to place those sci-fi fever dreams of your youth into practice.

So it is inescapable that the formerly far-flung future we are currently staring down the barrel of might take the general “shape” of one or more of a number of science-fiction scenarios. Two of the most obvious are also the most ideologically opposed: Star Trek and Star Wars. One envisions a global/galaxy-wide egalitarian “post-work” society where technology has gotten to the stage where it can provide anything humanity (and otherwise) wants; the other is a “wild west” environment based on ideological battles, scarcity, power-plays, and continual drama.

The future: it can either be an exciting “trek” or a series of “wars.”

So much of the strife both currently within the United States and around the world can be traced back to this essential question, with exponential advances in technology being the catalyst for its suddenly increased urgency.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Silicon Valley magnate Peter Thiel made his choice clear:

I like “Star Wars” way better. I’m a capitalist. “Star Wars” is the capitalist show. “Star Trek” is the communist one. There is no money in “Star Trek” because you just have the transporter machine that can make anything you need. The whole plot of “Star Wars” starts with Han Solo having this debt that he owes and so the plot in “Star Wars” is driven by money.

Setting aside the exact terminology regarding “the transporter machine” (the Trekkies in the audience can handle that one), it seems what Thiel is saying is that once all the theoretical “needs” of the populace is met (via tech/government), then all the fun space opera stuff ceases. This (minus the space opera stuff) is the general opinion of those who oppose concepts like basic income, feeling that innovation and perhaps even a sense of individual “purpose” gets demolished once Utopia sets in.

The other side of the coin is, of course, Gene Roddenberry’s franchise itself—his vision of a world based more on exploration and universal brotherhood rather than accumulation of wealth and factional fighting has a veritable legion of fans. And what is wrong with the people having everything they need to survive? What is wrong with Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations? Don’t you have to be a complete asshole to find anything wrong with the Star Trek vision of the universe?

Everything that Star Trek represents seems pretty good to me…only, it ISN’T a Utopia at all. There’s fighting (Romulans, anyone?), religious/cultural conflicts (Bajorans vs. Cardassians), racial conflicts (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”), megalomaniacal dictator-types who seemingly come from nowhere (Khan), scarcity issues (the dilithium crystals, though perhaps issues regarding their manufacture were resolved in later Star Trek series/movies)…

Even decisions made by the various captains are inevitably shaped by cultural biases, no matter how well-intentioned and humanist (a loaded term, if we’re talking about dealing with people from other planets) those biases are.

The drama that is the Star Wars franchise’s bread-and-butter is still tucked away all over the Star Trek universe. And maybe part of that is because while the Earth of Star Trek might have “figured things out”—there is still an infinite world out there who hasn’t. The conflict never quite ends. The order keeps reaching out into the chaos and attempts to “subdue” it (to borrow ideas and terminology from Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis)—itself a very imperialist, loaded concept assuming some degree of cultural superiority.

The definitions of “order” and “chaos” are fluid. One person’s mechanical dragon-head thingie is another’s essential governing tool for their society.

I prefer the Star Trek option—certainly, I enjoy the franchise more as a whole. But I am also very realistic about it.