In Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry and his fellow writers came up with a vision of Earth in the 24th century which is a kind of utopia. Because I’ve been watching the 1st and 2nd series on DVD, I’ve been thinking about the Trek writers’ vision of the future.
On the surface, their vision of Earth’s future sounds perfect, even ideal. What are its main characteristics?
1) “We have moved beyond the need for accumlating personal possessions.”
2) This means, they have moved beyond the need for money, and, perhaps, beyond the need for private property.
3) At one point they meet a greedy business capitalist dude from the 20th century, and revive him, and he says “But what do you do here, to challenge yourselves, if there is no need to accumulate wealth?” And Picard says: “We challenge ourselves to become better people, physically, spiritually, and morally.” Ok, but what does all this mean?
4) Also, there seems to be an “end to war” at least on earth.
First, we need to clarify how this vision of 24th century Utopia Earth would actually work (if it would). Then, we need to see if there is any practical way to get from here to there. Can we do it? Or is it a total pipe dream?
In order for the Star Trek Utopia Earth (STUE?–mb not) to be feasible, it has to actually have a functioning economy, of some kind. How might that look?
While throughout OS (Original Series) and TNG (the next generation–these two, btw, are the only ones that matter philosphically) they make references to the idea that there is no money in Star Trek, and hint that there is no private property, could this actually be true? If so, how? Well, for one thing, they do seem to have private property. Certainly all of the officers have their own little personal belongings in their rooms, and there is never any hint that other people can just walk in and take them. So, ok, they do have private property. And Picard’s brother seems to own a family farm. So there does seem to be property ownership.
There seems, however, not to be any money? How could this work? In short, it would be really very difficult for there not to be any money, especially if there was private property, unless… the problem of scarcity of resources was almost entirely solved. Otherwise, as soon as Data wanted to have some painting that he saw on shore leave, he would have to barter for it- – this is pretty darn ineffective. It would be like a giant galactic craigslist swap. Obviously, there have to be federation credits. (And maybe on DS9 or somewhere else, they did have them – the Ferengi certainly seem to use currency).
The only way that it would be possible not to have money is if the problem of scarcity of resources was almost entirely solved. And, the show does seem to come up with a ready answer for this: the replicator. In a world with a replicator, you wouldn’t need to do an awful lot of things which today take up people’s labour. No Chinese factories would have to make rubber chickens: you could just replicate them. No one would need to grow tea, or roast coffee beans: you could just replicate them. Ditto, I suppose, with cars, and even larger items (such as, at one point, various large containment units) could be replicated.
So this, then, must be the key to Star Trek’s economy: you could largely do with out money, if you had replicators that could magically make pretty much anything you wanted. The key would then only lie in making an artistic request, perhaps drawing things that the machine could learn to make. And, of course, since nothing can come from nothing, the replicator needs to have fuel. Presumably, everyone would have to be allowed so many replicator rations (as are occasionally mentioned). And then, within these limits, you can replicate to your heart’s content. Still, some people would probably wish to trade replicator rations for other services, and other people would wholesale replicator rations at discount prices, in some way or another. If this was illegal, there would de facto be a black market.
If there was no replicator type technology, there could be no such “propertyless” society – and there could not be apretense of doing away with a money economy. Only with a replicator could goods be so interchangeable that they could be made at will, instead of having to exchange goods for money.
Ok, so that covers material property. What about land property? Here, key would be having a low enough population. In this case, you could just distribute land out in parcels, and say that everyone has a right to so much land. Of course, you’d have to trade , and some people would want to accumulate more than one ration, so that they could live in the city in style, etc. so there would always be some inequality that would have to occur. But, ok, let’s say that one can do that. Again, only with a low population.
For the political part of the equation, you’d need an “end to war.” How do they propose that? By a world government. A world democracy. That seems very logical, as an ultimate goal, for those of us who aren’t crazily nineteenth-century in our nationalism. It does seem, however, that it’s also cosy to belong to a smaller nation state, so you would probably want a “federal” global political system, where individual regions and countries got to be self governing, while still all electing delegates to a central political body that could handle things of global consequence (like the climate, and planetary defense, etc). Also, who knows, they might have regions in which people of like minds (say, those who don’t like modern technology, or those who like to eat only ice cream) could all hang out, and make a nice hippie commune, etc. So that totally seems possible, despite some of our more virulent noisemaking from certain present-day quarters.
Finally, we get to Picard’s injunction to “challenge yourself, physically, spiritually, socially, mentally,” or whatever it was that he said (something to that effect). Can we ever get to a world where most people would see this as a valid use of their time? Perhaps, in time. Part of me thinks, as I’ve written in another post about the intelligent enslaving the less intelligent, that we will need to selectively help our species along, through tax incentives or other things, in order to up the average IQ of the species. The fact is, most people with below about 100 IQ don’t really have the mental capacity to challenge themselves in the sustained and serious fashion that Picard suggests. Many people really lack the mental apparatus to envision an abstract long-term goal, and then pursue a rational strategy of getting to this. If everyone had , say an 120 IQ or more (like most Star Trek viewers, I’m afraid), then we’d be much more likely to have this “enlightened” species that Trek writers (most of whom have at least 150 IQs, btw) and most Trek fans only dream of. But yeah we could get there, but we’re going to have to help out Darwin a little bit. Not in any nasty, unhumanist, mean, coerced, forced, morally reprehensive or even morally suspect way, but just by encouraging parents to have their kids “IQ enhanced” once this becomes available, etc. We just have to hope that this does become available – just like other genetic improvements will probably become available. No doubt, in the future you will be able to choose to have a better looking kid, a more athletic kid, etc. It is to be hoped that you will be able to choose a smarter kid as well – and that this will be seen as a good thing. (Many are so anti-intellectual that this might not be considered good -this is why propoennts of Star Trek earth have to start thinking on these lines). So yeah, this would be difficult, could be morally murky, but could still be handled in a non morally murky way. But it would certainly help make the world a lot better place, in the aggregate.
So, in the end, could our present Earth ever be like Star Trek earth? Yep, but we need:
a) relatively unlimited manufacturing capacity (e.g., with replicators).
b) relatively low population on Earth, and a land-distribution system.
c) an effective world democracy, working on a federated level, with varieties of local democracy.
d) slowly, a more intelligent populace at large, which would naturally tend to reach for more abstract, long-term goals.
If we could do this, oh, and also
e) get rid of a lot of institutions which right now are not very nice (e.g., parasitic corporations),
f) and parasitic, exploitative governments,
g) and anti-rational, anti-humanist dogmas which cause people to value themselves over others – i.e., which teach them not to be empathetic (e.g., Fox News, Ayn Rand enthusiasts, religious fundamentalists),
Then yes, we could see Gene Roddenberry’s vision of an ideal, Utopian Star Trek Earth become a reality!