Trekonomics – The Nightmare Ends- by Amanda S. Green
The title of the post says it all. Perhaps, however, nightmare isn’t the correct word. Perhaps farce, or maybe even con, is more appropriate. After all, Trekonomics is a book that purports to be all about the economics of the Star Trek universe and yet the author does his best to avoid canon when it doesn’t suit his purposes and, when that fails, to pull out of thin air explanations for why what he says will happen.
I could continue looking at the book, chapter by chapter, but I’ll be honest. The author spends a lot of time saying basically the same thing. Like so many who hold out the socialist utopia, it is all hype and very little substance. So, we’ll fast-forward through most of it and hit the final “high points” of the book.
Let’s begin with this. Near the end, Saadia claims that if you believe Star Trek is about space travel, you are “taking it too literally.” Of course, he has to say that. Otherwise, none of his hand-wavium would make sense. Still, he isn’t to be deterred. He reminds us that, short of changes to the laws of nature, “highly improbable changes”, we will never have FTL travel. Nor will we have matter-antimatter reactors. Even though he doesn’t really address it, that probably means we won’t have replicators either. So how in the name of all that is holy are we supposed to reach this utopia he has painted for us?
According to him, we won’t, at least not if it is too far from our homes. He looks at history and says we are primarily a sedentary species, never travelling far from home. Exploration isn’t a “fundamental trait” of the human race. When we commute, we go the same route, rarely deviating, etc.
To say this is an oversimplification is putting it mildly. But then, what should we expect after the drivel we’ve gotten so far in the book?
If he says anything that is true, or close to it, it is the following:
Save for a few exceptions, the eccentric among us, we are stunningly incurious. As a species, we are mostly preoccupied with our day-to-day affairs, subsistence and such, and we free ride on the achievements of a few crazy ones.
The truth in the statement is that there are a number of people out there who are incurious. Others have bought into the sense of entitlement, happy to allow the state or someone else support them in the manner in which they would like to become accustomed. Yet, what Saadia doesn’t seem to realize is his own words condemn the Trek universe he has been championing for most of the book. After all, even though he says prosperity in the Trekverse is a universal sense of wanting to improve the state of life for all, aren’t they really simply happy to do whatever they want, knowing they will never need for anything? After all, there is no economy of shortcomings, of need, of limited resources. People don’t own the replicators, so they are relying on someone else – on the state – to provide them food, clothing, everything the replicators can manufacture for them.
Hmmm, has he ever heard of “the state gives and the state takes away”?
Saadia is also the master of the understatement without either recognizing or understanding the “why” of what he writes:
With development and the considerable improvements in standards of living brought on by the Industrial Revolution, the number and proportion of people involved in research and development has shot up.
My first thought as I read the above quote was “DUH”. Of course, the number and proportion of people shot up. They had more opportunities to join the research force. They weren’t having to go out and hunt for food or grow the crops. My second thought was that the nerds of the world could finally do what they wanted to do, what they were good at.
Where I really have the urge to reach through the computer screen to shake Saadia is when he climbs back on his soap box and begins his passive-aggressive bullshit about space travel and how he really doesn’t want to discourage the fanboys. But, he says, why don’t we use those resources instead to “to lift a billion people out of poverty?” Who knows how many Einsteins or other great thinkers we might have if we did. But even if we don’t find another Einstein, surely we’d get “30 or 40 million more engineers or programmers” from those we uplifted.
And pigs will fly then too.
Saadia’s ability to say, on the one hand, that the vast majority of people would rather have folks do for them and then, on the other hand, tell us we should find a way to pull a billion people out of poverty so we might – MIGHT – get additional engineers, etc. blows my mind. How in the hell are we supposed to pay for this? Who decides who gets the money and how much? He never answers the question. Instead, he uses it to show that Star Trek had it all backwards.
The Star Trek canon portrays the advent of the so-called new world economy as a consequence of the invention of the warp drive. . . I would go even further and say that faster-than-light travel and interstellar colonization are the most uneconomical of all imaginable endeavors for any civilization. You can’t finance them like the Dutch or English merchants financed ships in the seventeenth century. It won’t make you rich. There is no silver or sugar, no prized fruits from the pepper plant (Piper nigrum) to bring back from Sirius or Wolf 359 (not to mention that useless hellhole otherwise known as Mars).
My head is starting to hurt. Why would there be no “silver or sugar”, or something even more valuable to be found out in space? Why would we not be able to find resources we could use and that would propel even further innovation and invention? When the first explorers left Europe to find what existed on the other side of the sea, they didn’t know what they would discover? For all they knew, there really were dragons waiting to eat them. Saadia also assumes that the governments of the world are the only ones who would be able to fund such explorations. I look around now and see entrepreneurs like Elon Musk funding their own space programs. Who is to say there won’t be more like him in the future?
A species needs to achieve economic escape velocity first in order to spread through interstellar space.
He can almost get away with this comment. Except he overlooks the need to discover resources to replace the ones we have exhausted here on the Earth or the need for new places for humanity to expand to because we keep having babies (No, I don’t mean we are heading toward over-population anytime soon, not even in the next few generations.) It is just that Saadia makes these absolute statements and not once does he give solid arguments to support them.
Enough already with the space colonization nonsense! If anything, it is an expression of defeatism. It implies that this is not working out, “this” being Earth and the humans who live on it. It is an old pioneering fantasy. Let us build some kind of galactic Mayflower and leave this wretched and sinful place. It is as facile as it is misguided.
Now, how many of you read the above and didn’t get a little angry? In Saadia’s world, exploration is admitting defeat. He truly doesn’t take into consideration any of the very valid reasons why we might want, much less need, to expand beyond this world. Thank God, the early explorers didn’t believe as he did. Where would we be today if they had?
Here is the bottom line – or perhaps the punch line –for the book: “So no, the Vulcans are not coming. We are the Vulcans. Or rather, we must become the Vulcans—stoic, rational, altruistic. To me, that is the main lesson of Trek.”
Thank you, but no. I don’t want to become the Vulcans who turned their back on all that make humans unique. I’ll be a Ferengi or Klingon, even a Romulan or a Bajoran.
Saadia is quick, in a manner of speaking, to remind us of the Vulcan saying, “Live long and prosper”. In that greeting, “prosper” doesn’t mean gain personal wealth. The Vulcans are above all that evil capitalist schtick. To a good Vulcan, prosperity comes in the forms of accomplishments and service. It is the sort of prosperity “that arises from the cultivation of the mind rather than from greed, that antiquated and vulgar practice.”
So, if we are to go forward into the future, to head into space and to rise to the world of the oh-so-wonderful Trekverse, we must become walking, talking automatons, willing to stoically give to everyone else without expecting anything in return. Hand over your humanity, your emotion and your competitive spirit. March in lock-step with your fellow Federation citizen. The government will take care of you. It will give you a nifty replicator. You too can have everything you want, as long as it isn’t unique or too different from what your fellow citizens want or need.
Nope, if that is what being a citizen in the Federation entails, I don’t want to go there. Citizenship in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers universe is more enticing. At least the service there has a reward – citizenship. Either that or I want to live outside the Federation, a starfaring tramp steamer, a compass and the freedom to do what I want and go where I want is a lot more appealing than being part of the Stepford Federation.