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What Does God Need With a Starship?

It was one of the worst of the motion pictures, but its one of the most interesting themes in Star Trek and many other science fiction stories. Kirk questions the benefit of religion and then questions God to his face.

Bronislaus B. Kush of the Telegram did a great piece based on conversations with Roddenberry's former assistant.

'Star Trek' franchise an homage to humanist philosophy

If you're a big fan of the Star Trek science fiction genre, then there's a good chance that you're a humanist at heart.

That's the way that Susan Sackett, the longtime personal executive assistant to Trek franchise creator Gene Roddenberry, sees it.

Ms. Sackett, who met recently with the Greater Worcester Humanists group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester, said Mr. Roddenberry was an admitted humanist who liberally sprinkled his out of this world stories about Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, Mr. Spock and the other Star Trek characters with the fundamentals of humanism -- a non-theistic, or secular, approach, philosophy, or ideology.

Read the Rest

Here is a video Clip where Troy describes the very socialist vision of the Star Trek Future to Mark Twain.


 

Comments

Here's my problem- Troy explains to Mark Twain that poverty was "eliminated long ago", but fails to describe HOW poverty was eliminated.

Were all poor people shot into the sun? Were all poor people given jobs? Were all poor people given a pile of money? Were they simply jailed and prevented from reproducing?

The Utopian nature of the Trek universe has always appealed to me, and always stood out against the typical distopian societies shown in more "serious" SciFi fare.

Usually a SciFi author will explain the "way things came to be" to highlight all the moral conflicts of their fictional future; it defines why the good guys are good, and why the bad guys are bad. Anything with a "Rebel Alliance" falls neatly under this trope.

In Trek, however, the establishment itself is the "good guy", and the forces of "evil" are largely defined by those who attempt to usurp the order of the galaxy. Trek doesn't explain WHY the Federation is superior, it simply reminds us all our modern problems have been solved (somehow), and that we don't really need to worry about them any more because the benevolent establishment of the future has everything worked out.

As far as the larger thesis, that mankind cannot achieve Star Trek levels of technology until we unify into a world government and abolish capitalism, I think this is largely the result of the show having been born in the 1960s. In the real world, 50 years later, NASA is about to retire its only space ships, while Virgin Galatic and the XPrize continue to push new boundaries for a fraction of the cost. If I had to wager on which ideology was more likely to make Trek-levels of technology possible, I'm going with Apple and Richard Branson.

p.s. I am a huge nerd.

p.p.s. Star Wars will always be better than Star Trek because it has laser swords, and the establishment is the bad guy.

I find the premise fascinating and interesting, but like I said in my first post, I feel cheated that the premise is never really explained.

They have "eliminated want". A fascinating concept, but never really explored. All humans need food, even in the 24th Century. Where does it come from? With no money, is there any sort of economy? Are all people entitled to the food, or are they bartering something in exchange? Who is producing the food, and by what incentive?

See what I mean? The premise is excellent, but it is never fully explored. I know people in the Star Trek universe can own property and share gifts, but how does that work in a society without commerce?

It comes out of the replicator man, anybody can have any item they want at any time.

But who builds the replicators? And what is their incentive or reason for doing so?

Who uploads all those unauthorized copies of music/movies (or Creative Commons music/movies) on BitTorrent? And what is their incentive or reason for doing so?

And don't get me started on Open Source software. The very blog software we're using right now, for instance...

Bigger replicators.

They have an intern push the button.

And if people are so inherently lazy and unmotivated that they won't even do the work to push the buttons to make the machines do all the work without being coerced by a monetary economy (even though movements such as Creative Commons and Open Source already prove otherwise)... then society will just devolve back into what we have now.

People get the society they deserve.

Maybe society gets the people it deserves.

Chicken and egg really.

Zaphod, you should read some Cory Doctorow. And the Fall Revolution series by Ken Macleod (particularly The Cassini Division; a fascinating if somewhat flawed book - I get the distinct impression the author has some personal issues with his utopia, but I digress). Oh, and maybe also some of Iain M Banks' Culture novels.

(Or if you have read some of these novels, let us discuss; preferably in-line so that the thread doesn't get too skinny within the site layout!)

Actually you should read all of Ken Macleod's novels, if you haven't already. For example, Learning The World blew me away, and I'm sure you'd get a kick out of it too.

Were all poor people shot into the sun? Were all poor people given jobs? Were all poor people given a pile of money? Were they simply jailed and prevented from reproducing?

I'm not sure what you mean by "poor people". It almost sounds like you are describing some sort of problematic population of Untermensch.

However, if I had to guess, I'd imagine they were housed, fed and educated, and then they stopped being "poor people".

Apparently there are a lot of cases where housing and feeding the "Untermensch" is a good idea... it might be even cheaper than exterminating or sterilizing them, and at any rate it is obviously cheaper than doing what we're doing to them right now.

And in the context of a technologically advanced future, it will be even easier than it is now to create enough food and shelter for everyone. Not that it isn't sufficiently easy right now. Apparently people just really hate the idea of the Untermensch getting a little food and shelter "for free", to the point where they will spend more money abusing poor people in various ways, instead of just giving them enough to survive on so it is as lease possible for them to become productive members of society. And there's also all that expensive war going on right now, of course... Pretty stupid.

Feed people and then they will work, educate people and they will be smart.

Seems like such a simple idea and yet we withhold food until people work and withhold education until people are smart.

This all goes back to the "no money in the future" thing. And I think its pretty fascinating.

24th century- we have machines that can generate food out of thin air. No more hunger; no more crimes of desperation.

But where does the machine itself come from? I assume it is supplied by "The Federation"; no economy, no private industry. But this means someone, somewhere has to build these things. If we have a machine to do that too, we still need humans around to manage the machines. Point being, somewhere in this chain of supply and demand, someone must "work" to produce said duplicator.

Now- here's the interesting question to me- the question that might redefine the whole Trek universe: WHY do the people building the duplicators work? They have no financial inventive- besides, what good is money when we have a machine to make whatever we want? So why do they work? Are we to believe that mankind is simply benevolent in the future, happy to work for the greater good? Or has some authority forced these people to work?

I can understand why someone would want to be a starship captain. That's probably a pretty fun job. But somewhere on the Enterprise there is a guy in charge of swabbing the decks. And, so we are told, this poor guy isn't drawing a paycheck (and doesn't want one anyway). So why is he there, mopping the floor? Has the militaristic Federation simply forced them there? Do the people of the future embrace any available work, according to ability? In other words, this is the idealism of Marx's Socialism v. the horrific realities of Stalin's USSR all over again, on space ships.

And no copping out and pointing to Europe as an example of "sane socialism". Europe may have free healthcare and education, but they certainly have not abolished money, nor could they, given the modern paradigm.

This is a world with no money, a world with technology that can create all of our material needs at minimal cost (energy). But to operate, the people of the future must still manage any number of boring and dangerous jobs, like mining those crystals that power everything. So why are these people working? Do humans prove Hobbes wrong in 300 years, or is there a "Stalin" in the Federation somewhere, barking commands his people dare not disobey?

Maybe making replicators is fun.

I don't know that I am advocating the system.

The star trek technology seems to imply that building things is very easy if you have a fusion generator around, so I think its more about inventing something and then setting a factory sized replicator to spit out a million of them.

Inventors and engineers need no great incentive, I think if I won the lottery I would probably spend alot of time in a garage reengineering things.

They did an episode about the people on voyager that had boring jobs.

Maybe there is an employment requirement for able bodied people. Not that you take any particular job, but maybe if you want your share of replicator power you need to hold down a job somewhere. Hyper people try to become star ship captains. Lazy people push buttons on factories and deliver things.

while Virgin Galatic and the XPrize continue to push new boundaries for a fraction of the cost

Which boundaries are those, exactly? The ventures you're talking about are sub-orbital "tourist flights", whereas NASA sent people to the Moon (in a pissing contest with the Russians), and sent robots to Mars that performed brilliantly (in the name of science!)

And anyways, technological advancement works across the boundaries of "government" projects like NASA and the "free market", not to mention nerds of all stripes laboring in basements and Universities. Technology is by nature the most socioeconomically complex phenomenon!

As you rightly point out, the main impetus for the golden age of NASA was the Cold War. And the problem with this approach is simple- the war will always end long before the research should.

The Apollo missions blow away anything that has EVER been attempted in the private sector. The problem is, there just isn't money to be made there (yet). Busing fat tourists around sub-space may not be as glamorous as Mars, but if it proves economically viable, I have no doubts that mankind will continue to voyage into the stars, regardless of what the governments of Earth do.

but if it proves economically viable

It would be nice if things mattered based on how they benefit people rather than if it was "economically viable", ie. makes someone money. Just sayin'.

I have no doubts that mankind will continue to voyage into the stars, regardless of what the governments *or corporations* of Earth do.

Fixed that for you. Frankly I don't care which organization or entity does things. The key word here is "mankind", not "government" or "corporation" (or "market" or whatever).

Busing fat tourists around sub-space may not be as glamorous...

Glamor has nothing to do with it. At this point neither the government nor for-profit entities are doing the job of getting humanity out of this dangerous gravity well. Why root for either one?

It would be nice if things mattered based on how they benefit people rather than if it was "economically viable", ie. makes someone money. Just sayin'.

It would even nicer if we had all this cool Trek tech. Screw airport security, I'm teleporting home. Too bad we live in the real world.

At this point neither the government nor for-profit entities are doing the job of getting humanity out of this dangerous gravity well. Why root for either one?

For the same reason I'd root for the Wright Brothers if they were still around today, even though they barely stayed up for a minute straight in those early days.

The question is no longer "can we get there"- we've already proven we can. The question now is "why are we going?"

Money may be a terribly lame reason, but if that's the only motivation to be had, I'll settle. Just so long as we get up there some day.

but if that's the only motivation to be had, I'll settle

I won't. I demand more of people (myself included). I don't expect it (I have high standards but low expectations) but its better than being comfortable with the status quo.

And while the Moon landings were due to the Cold War, you left out the Mars rover missions; the first NASA Mars rover launched 6 years after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Very true, and very valid point. And the rover lasted for much longer than anticipated, making it a pretty good value.

You've convinced me. We need to double the budget for NASA and roll out the next-gen shuttle ASAP.

NASA sent people to the Moon

Allegedly. ;)

and sent robots to Mars that performed brilliantly (in the name of science!)

Yeah, once they figured out the English/Metric conversions.

NASA sent people to the Moon

Allegedly. ;)

Har har. A few weeks ago I caught the tail end of a Mythbusters episode someone was watching; that myth was Busted. For starters, the NASA astronauts set up reflectors on the Moon that terrestrial lasers can use to easily detect the landing sites.

Funny thing, I had never read Heinlein's Starship Troopers until very recently. His solution to society's ills are basically to not 'spare the rod' when raising your children, and the rest of society's problems solve themselves. The part in which the protagonist's teacher explains that you would not hesitate to whack a dog's nose when housebreaking it - and hence misguided liberals "unscientific" hesitation to whip their kids to straighten 'em out is what destroyed 20th-century democracies. I was thinking as I read it - gee, how did my kids ever survive my mollycoddling? For that matter, how did we even manage to toilet train them without spanking them?

Starship Troopers is supposed to be a SciFi classic, but it is really 80% half-baked social commentary - what a disappointment.

It doesn't really work to hit dogs either.

What's interesting to note about the clip above is that it differs significantly from the story that Shatner had actually envisioned -- which is a very GOOD thing. In the version of the script that he wanted to make (according his book "Star Trek Movie Memories") the being they find on this planet is not just some alien pretending to be a god, it's actually Satan. THE Satan. And Kirk successfully defeats him...which I guess would mean Kirk is Jesus, or something. Shatner writes very seriously that he is convinced the movie is much worse off because it doesn't end this way.

A more interesting example of Star Trek shredding religion to pieces comes from an episode of the animated series from the 70's (just looked it up again: "The Magicks of Megas-tu") in which Kirk ends up SAVING Satan (who, like all gods in the Star Trek universe, was actually an alien). When Satan's own people reveal his identity to the Enterprise crew in order to turn them against him, Kirk brushes it off and declares: "We're not interested in legends." Imagine the noise that groups like the AFA and the Catholic League would make if something like that showed up on a Saturday morning kids show today...

Back then the christians must have refused to watch the TV.

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Zaphod, I didn't see anyone answer your initial questions but I think there is a "reasonable" explanation for the problems you raised. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong but here goes my nerd cred:

After mankind nearly nukes itself out of existence, a lone scientist discovers warp drive, and in doing so opens the path to developing technology which produces an extraordinary amount of energy for a given amount of physical fuel. Cue progress and we figure out how to use that energy to directly manufacture materials which I assume is used to improve the lot of all the less fortunate and eventually everyone is self sufficient and contributing to society. And that's why in the 24th century there is no poverty or money, since scarcity of material goods is virtually nonexistent, they have no need for a monetary system used to track the transactional value of those goods.

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