Trekonomics: Now it all makes sense – by Amanda S. Green
OMG, now it all makes sense. After so long, I see the error of my ways. Fandom (with a capital “F”) isn’t really trying to keep out those who aren’t a member of the cool club. They are simply trying to bring us all into the reality of Star Trek. They simply haven’t figured how to communicate that so-s-great message to the rest of us. (Yes, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek even as I type this.)
Last week, I pointed out that part of the reality of the world of Star Trek was that “the compulsion to work to ensure one’s survival has simply vanished.” Reading that sentence out of context can lead one to assume it means the world of Star Trek is one where people simply don’t care if they live or die. That there is no longer that instinct to do whatever is necessary to keep yourself or your loved ones alive.
In context, however, it deals with a reality – if you can use that word when talking about Star Trek – where automation has reached a point where our every need is basically taken care of for us. We don’t have to work the fields because replicators can whip up anything we want out of thin air. We don’t have to work to maintain the infrastructure because there are machines to do that for us as well. Life is easy, at least when compared to what we have today. It is, according to Trekonomics, a time of “post-scarcity”.
In this world, competition has been completely transformed. “Reputation and honors, the esteem and recognition of one’s peers, replace economic wealth as public markers of status.” Think about that. Where have we heard something similar and not so long ago? Oh, they don’t come right out and say it but doesn’t this remind you of the mindset of those who continue to sling mud at Sad Puppies? If this emphasis on honors and “recognition of one’s peers” is what really matters to the general populace of the Star Trek universe, does that make the rest of us, the outliers, the members of Star Fleet? After all, Kirk and company were the outliers, the ones who didn’t exactly fit into the rest of society and who, therefore, went off to adventure in space.
Here is where I start grinding my teeth and going, “No, no, no and hell no.”
“But these are largely optional, as there are no material penalties or disincentives for those who do not seek nor attain higher status.”
I guess this is a way to say it’s okay to never get out of your parents’ house, to never try something new or to take a risk. Oh, wait, you don’t have to do any of that in the Star Trek universe because everything is taken care of for you. It is a Utopia. Except, in most Utopias, there is that underbelly that is always hidden behind the curtain or closed door. Whether it is a lower class that is kept hidden below, used and abused to keep the machines running so the “citizens” can enjoy their lives of leisure or a society so brainwashed everyone walks in lockstep with one another and anyone who doesn’t is seen as an outcast, it is there. That is something those who try to convince us of the joys of socialism forget – just as they forget that defeating income inequality begins at home and not just at my home or yours but at theirs. (Yes, Bernie, I’m looking at you.)
After once again noting that Star Fleet officers (remember, there are no enlisted because this is the age of enlightenment) are the outliers, Manu Saadia writes, “In the background, however, the vast majority of the Federation’s citizens are not nearly as driven or exceptional. Or rather they are, but in a more pedestrian way. They all go about their daily lives without much concern or worry, safe in the knowledge that they shall never want for anything.”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like stagnation to me. It also sounds extremely dangerous on so many levels.
Last night, I was reading the e-arc of David Weber’s latest novel, Uncompromising Honor. Toward the end of the book, several of the main characters have gathered and are discussing the current situation the Star Empire of Manticore and its allies find itself in. One of them notes the danger of becoming complacent in the face of their own technological superiority over their enemy. Another character then reminds them of how that complacency reared up and bit them in the collective ass not that many years ago. They had been so sure their higher tech levels meant the enemy couldn’t hit them, much less hurt them and they’d been wrong. Now they had to remember a lesson that had been very hard learned.
Yet, what do we have in Star Trek? According to Saadia, we have a civilization so complacent that their every want and need will be taken care of that they don’t have the drive – the need – to continue improving their lives and, as part of that, their security. Which makes absolutely no sense when you have the Klingons, the Romulans, the Borg and so many other species who 1) have spaceflight and 2) aren’t as “enlightened” as the members of the Federation.
As I wrote earlier, “no, no, no and hell no.”
Saadia does admit Trek raises several economic problems – duh. Let’s be honest. Trek, like so many fantasy novels, has so many economic problems that it isn’t funny. But what are the problems Saadia sees in the Trek universe?
- What happens to innovation and scientific progress when there is no longer financial reward?
- How do you avoid the pitfalls of resource depletion caused by overconsumption in the age of replicators where everything is freely available?
I would add another question, one that impacts not only economics but society as a whole. How do you avoid becoming that society we saw in the original Star Trek where the people in the Federation become so complacent they do whatever their computer overlords tell them, including walking peacefully to the death chambers because they have been determined to be casualties in a war that is fought not in real life but in computer databanks without the horror and the pain of a real war?
This removal of the human part of the equation is what bothers me the most when you start talking about Utopias, be they ancient fantasy Utopias or the so-called Utopia of Star Trek’s Federation. Next week, we’ll look at the role of technology in Trekonomics and its so-called impact on economics, both in the Federation and in today’s world.
[Go buy the woman’s books – SAH]