Captain Jean-Luc Picard, First Contact
The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.
I loved Star Trek, as a child, because of its cool technology. Who wouldn’t want to have a gun that doesn’t have to kill? Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to beam from one place to another? And, who wouldn’t want to carry around an instrument that allowed you to talk to people thousands of miles from you? And, as I grew up, I saw some of those wonderful devices invented. You’re probably reading this on one of them.
There are parts of Star Trek that probably simply can’t exist. In fact, its most basic concept is almost impossible. We’re never going to travel beyond the speed of light. Einstein showed that to me when I was 15, and no one has ever been able to show me he was wrong. If we produce a warp engine, I will be ecstatic to admit my error. And, I will be equally excited to acknowledge my mistake in my near certainty that we will never be able to beam down to a planet as soon as we do it.
We do have weapons that are approaching the phaser. One need not fire lead bullets anymore. Tasers exist. And nearly 2/3 of the population of the planet now has a cell phone which is at least as good as Captain Kirk’s communicator. There are even cell phones that can act almost as Tricorders in their ability to measure certain functions of the body.
While some of Roddenberry’s fantasy can never be reality, much of it already is. And we’re better off for it. But what of the rest of his vision?
I love Star Trek, as an adult, because of its extraordinary society. Their greatest concerns in life truly are bettering themselves and the rest of humanity. Their physiological needs are all met. For the most part, their safety needs are met. They aren’t struggling to pay rent or put food on the table. Much, but not all, crime has been eliminated because people have no need to commit crimes to fulfill their physiological needs. I’m much more likely to go rob a store in order to feed my wife and children than I am to do it for the fun of it. If my physiological needs are met, most of my motives for committing crimes evaporate. I expect the same is true for you, and for the guy next to you, too.
The higher level needs of Maslow’s famous hierarchy are all needs to be met by each individual. How one finds love and a sense of belonging is an expression of identity; it’s not the work of the world, but of each unique person in each one’s unique way. This is also true of Esteem and “Self Actualization,” or the ability to be creative and to work for the benefit of the rest of the world. The world’s interference in those endeavors would be a Borg-like threat to our individuality.
But I believe that we live in a world in which we are now able to meet the bottom two rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy for all human beings. We have the resources and the technology necessary.
It seems to me that The Economics of Star Trek that I admire and envy so much are based on three realities.
- A Post Scarcity Society. There are thousands of hours to be done on this subject, and the debate about the use of the Replicator, alone, is sufficient to be worthy of a Doctoral Dissertation, but I’m using this in the limited sense that the world is capable of providing all the basic human needs: food, water, shelter, medical care, clothing, and the means to participate in society (transportation, communication, and education). Our civilization is already capable of meeting the bottom two rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy for every human being.
- A Resource Based Society. There’s a group called The Venus Project that is actually working toward achieving this goal. What is it? It begins with the radical idea that the planet is the heritage of all people. We need to work out how to use the resources the planet can produce to provide what people need as efficiently as possible. This is their basic goal, from their website:
The Venus Project proposes an alternative vision of what the future can be if we apply what we already know in order to achieve a sustainable new world civilization. It calls for a straightforward redesign of our culture in which the age-old inadequacies of war, poverty, hunger, debt and unnecessary human suffering are viewed not only as avoidable, but as totally unacceptable. Anything less will result in a continuation of the same catalog of problems inherent in today’s world.The Venus Project
You can learn more about them here:
3. An Empathetic Civilization. The idea is that we extend our empathy not just to our blood ties, or our tribal ties, or our religious ties, or our national ties, but to the entire species, and finally even to our shared biosphere. We know we have the technology necessary for this because we can all feel empathy at the same time in response to disasters. This is true when we hear of horrifying tsunamis, devastating earthquakes, or miners trapped beneath the Earth. We have global communication, and we know almost instantly what is happening to each other. Just as when one infant in a Day Care begins crying, all the others will join them within a few minutes (this is due to something we’ve discovered recently called Mirror Neurons. We are soft-wired for Empathy. There’s a neuroscientist named Marco Iacoboni who’s done interesting research on this ), so will human beings share the distress of others in trouble. Empathy is, in my view, the most important human emotion, even if “The Empath” was something less than Star Trek’s most successful episode. The ability to feel for others is what makes us human. If we have the resources and the technology to meet the first two of Maslow’s needs on the hierarchy, people can spend their lives meeting the last three. In other words, once people no longer need to be concerned with physiological or safety needs, they can spend their lives working on the others.
What would be the result of such a world?
My crystal ball ran out of batteries, so I can only guess. I believe we would see a reduction in crime (but not its elimination), we would see better and greater technologies emerging because people have the time to devote to learning instead of trying to feed their families, and we would see, most importantly, a happier world where people really, honestly can work for the betterment of themselves and the rest of humanity.
I’m told this is fantasy, and worse, it’s Socialism. I reject that idea. It can be accomplished, but it’s a question of changing our mind set. I have written quite a bit about the need to increase our empathy, and that embracing Art is an effective means of doing that. You can find that here.
I believe it is wrong to judge a person based on how much money that person earns. The Value of a Person is much more than their ability to monetize their skills, passions, and abilities. Our Value to each other is in what we can do for one another. Empathy is also a part of one’s actual value. I have also written about that, and it’s available here if you need me to make the case more strongly.
So, will we ever live long and prosper? I don’t know. I do know, however, it’s worth it to try.
For Roddenberry to accomplish his society, he needed a Eugenics War and then World War III. The society became a barter system when we had to start over because we had destroyed a quarter of the Earth’s population and many of our resources. One of my friends, a lifelong member of Slytherin House, believes we could manage this right now by simply removing the populations of India and China and replacing them with trees and arable land. While Kodos might admire her thinking and endorse her methods, I can’t.
Can we realize Roddenberry’s vision without the need for violence and destruction? I certainly hope so. I also know that Edith Keeler believed as I do. And, when she managed to talk FDR into delaying our entrance into World War II the results were disastrous. We lost the War and with it the concept of Freedom. However…
“She was right. Peace was the way.”
“She was right. But at the wrong time.”
– Kirk and Spock, “City on the Edge of Forever”
Keeler asked Kirk, “Are you afraid of something? Whatever it is, let me help.”
Kirk answered, “Let me help… A hundred years or so from now I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over I love you.”
That happened on Earth in 1930. We’re just about a hundred years from that time, now. Is it time for us to begin down Edith Keeler’s path? I don’t know.
But if you’re afraid of something…
Let Me Help.