29 May, 2012

The Future History of Humanity

    It seems that in the past month and a half I’ve blossomed in to quite the ‘Trekkie’. That is: my supplier, Netflix, has gotten me hooked on the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation*. It’s the one with the meme-prone bald guy:

Facepalm Copyright: CBS Television

    It got me thinking about a couple of things: about the maturity of the media we consume and where we’re headed as a species.

    I’m about waist-deep in to the third season now and have developed a great affinity to the characters on the show. I am realizing that as I aim down the barrel of middle age my patience for most of what transpires for storytelling wanes thin because it’s aimed mostly at the coveted male: 15 - 25 year-old demographic. TNG has the elements that appeal to this demo: there’s action, flashy lights and occasional sexy talk, but it’s the underlying philosophy that really grabs me. If you don’t know: the show’s premise is predicated on the idea that we explore space just to explore it. No need for money, the governing bodies of the future still quarrel, but Earth is unified and the enemies are now aliens with Pringle-shaped foreheads. The crew of Star Fleet (that’s like the space navy) devote their free time to art, philosophy, and sometimes wooing instead of the baser ideas of conquest and advertising liquor on asteroid billboards. Yes, it can be hokey, and indeed, you will be ostracized from party conversations if you bring it up, but the core idea of space exploration and moving past our most basest of motivators to be better than ourselves is why it endures.

    This, in turn, causes my un-greased brain to creak a bit pondering why I’m more open to the series now than I was, say, when I was entering my 20’s. It’s maturity, sure. But, I think it’s because I’m over Star Wars. It is unfair to compare the two because they are completely different. But having made the transition from “Warsie” ( what are Star Wars fans called? Star Jerks?) to “Trekkie” I believe you can immediately spot what sort of person a person is using them as a litmus test:

    Star Wars is medieval fantasy. It utilizes mythic stereotypes and plays to our sense of history and war-like nature. It’s a very good fairy tale to teach to children because in it’s own way it’s a modern epic poem in the style of the Odyssey and can be utilized as such.
    Star Trek, however, is a modernist allegory reflecting on modern themes. It’s a reaction to the current state of human affairs and an offering of how our future might turn out or might be improved. What it does well is interpersonal relationships and arousing that sense of exploration that is constantly threatened in real life by economic constraints and bad politics.
    Star Wars is for kids and Star Trek is for adults. You can like both, but it’s like the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones dispute. What’s on your stereo the most? (Assuming you like either one. I suppose I could include 2 Pac vs. Biggie, Beethoven vs. Bach, Dubstep vs. cats screeching, or Justin Bieber vs. Miley Cyrus... There: I covered my bases.)

The 'Inception' of memes... lol, pop-culture!

Then I stumbled across this:


    BTE-Dan, an engineer and space geek out there on the internet posits that, if we wanted to, we could make something like the U.S.S. Enterprise a reality within the next two decades for about a trillion dollars; which is a pittance compared to what the U.S. government alone will throw at the DoD in the same time frame.

The U.S.S. Enterprise (Not to be confused with this one.)

    With exciting new developments in the commercial space race like SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship and the fact that we can, indeed, cooperate together internationally to make something gargantuan like the Large Hadron Collider happen lends itself to the question of “Why not?”

    The only reason something like this hasn’t happened yet is because there’s no monetary incentive... Yet. But that gap is rapidly closing as bored billionaires throw down their cash to bet on interstellar space mineral mining.

    We could be in an age of exploration that doesn’t take advantage of an indigenous people, one that seeks exploration for its own sake. It’s a beautiful time to live in the infancy of what could very well be the greatest steps of human achievement. You know, if we don’t fuck it up by making it all about profits and lose the sense of wonder.

    Astronauts often speak about the “Overview Effect” when they see Earth from orbit. They experience a fundamental realization of just how insignificant our worries are compared to the grand scheme of the universe and how if everyone on the planet had the opportunity to feel this Effect then perhaps 70 - 80% of humanity’s problems would be solved. If that’s the case then I think we all should get one free ride.

Because up there at least you can see it for yourself, and I’m looking forward to that.

*Disclaimer: My only real previous experience with Star Trek has been the recent J.J. Abrams reboot, which I liked, and thus I have no real frame of reference to the original series or subsequent spin-offs. So my opinions expressed here are solely developed from TNG.

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