Star Trek, Sociology and Bad Ideas

Other Where Gazette has an interesting article up about why the technology of Star Trek is so beloved but nobody really takes the Sociology of the universe seriously. The world of Star Trek is built on a ludicrously naive understanding of human nature and economics even if the technology and the stories are good.

David Gerrold has responded to William Lehman’s article “Destroy the myth, destroy the culture.” by pointing out that Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future within the Star Trek was far more sociological than technological. He should know, he was there. In meetings with the creative staff of Star Trek, Roddenberry spoke of a future where all people had equal opportunity and access to resources. This vision is glorious in its scope and ambition. Such a world would be amazing. It is also as fictional as the Star Trek series that envisioned it.

Gerrold has been part of the Sci-Fiction community for a long time. His career has been far more than just Star Trek. Before I knew he had written the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” I had read his book “Chess with a Dragon” at the suggestion of my girlfriend at the time (Thanks Amanda!). It was an excellent suggestion as can be attested to the fact I still remember the Dragon’s name for humanity translated to “the Presumptuous Food”.

However, Gerrold misses the reason why the technology of Star Trek is spoken of with such awe and the society that was envisioned as the Federation of Planets is not. We can see how communicators, automatic doors, and tri-corders have changed our world. We can point to cell phones and the entrance to the grocery store and see the technology. It works. The same cannot be said for the social aspects.

Many of the social ideas Gene Roddenberry envisioned have severe problems. Roddenberry thought of a world where people (and aliens) would all work together for the common good. Great in theory but who decides what the common good is? This shouldn’t be a problem except for two factors: available resources and the people themselves. For example: Party A wants to build a bridge to facilitate trade and party B wants to build a hospital to facilitate health. Both projects will require two cranes apiece but only three are available for both projects. Party A’s bridge will mean more resources coming to the area and an increase in the number and quality of jobs available thereby increasing the standard of living in the area. Party B’s hospital will bring more medical services to the area which will help people when they are hurt or sick. Which project takes priority? There are not enough resources to do both projects at the same time so the secondary project will at least be delayed and might possibly be canceled as other projects are put forward. Who decides which is more important? This is a problem even with human resources. Increasing the availability of education sounds very good in theory but where do you get the professors to teach the larger number of students? Also, how do you distribute this among the disciplines? The emphasis on a college education has meant we have a glut of lawyers but a dearth of welders. This is despite the fact a starting welder makes more than a starting lawyer and most lawyers don’t work at the law firms portrayed on “LA Law” or “Boston Legal”. There will never be enough resources for everything everybody wants so this part of Roddenberry’s social vision fails.

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