On culture, politics, and hope: #StarTrekDay
Today celebrates the 51st anniversary of the debut of that seminal TV series near and dear to many hearts, Star Trek.
I was born the year it was cancelled, 1969. And I am of the first generation which became known as "Trekkers" (no "Trekkies", please) thanks to constant reruns on local television stations. I pretty much loved all the episodes (yes, even "Spock's Brain"), and Hoovered up all the ancillary products, from magazines to novels to future histories.
We're in dark times right now. I'm not even talking solely about the Trump regime, although it is indicative of it. The stable, post-World War II order, buttressed by the United States and its allies, is fraying. The fall of the Soviet Union triggered a renascence of conflicts long suppressed by the superpower rivalry. Were there still a Soviet Union in some form, there probably wouldn't be a Daesh. The US, powerful as it is, cannot manage the world system; that's now evident. The Cold War was nerve-wracking; however, the unipolar moment right after 1989 sowed the seeds for 9/11, and it doesn't seem as if a multipolar world will bring any relief any time soon. It seems as if human progress itself is on a knife's edge.
It's in times like this to remember there is still hope. As a species we can create much evil. The history of the past hundred years is evidence of that. But we can create much that is wondrous as well. We've gone from a world in which it took months for a letter to travel across the globe to one in which people thousands of miles apart can communicate and learn from each other in real time.
Star Trek came along at a time in which it seemed as if the Cold War could go hot at a moment's notice, a time in which human existence was very much in doubt. And it posited a universe in which humanity not only survived, but thrived, setting aside its infancy, solving war, hunger, and poverty without resorting to some dictatorship, a species of free individuals setting out to the stars and encountering aliens with wonder and acceptance. It was (and is) a franchise which places hope at the forefront, which extols the better angels of our nature, which avers in earnestness what Shakespeare did in despair:
What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god, The beauty of the world, The paragon of animals.
In a modern culture lost in ennui, cynicism, and despair, we need artifacts like Star Trek which call us to our higher selves. It's easy to succumb to the darkness; striving for the light takes work, dedication, and struggle.
One of the seminal episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation has the Enterprise rescue a sleeper ship containing three 20th Century humans who froze themselves to be awakened after the time of troubles of their age. Among them was a capitalist, who despaired that his money was gone. What would he do? Captain Picard has his answer. (Skip to 1:00.)
Star Trek has the audacity to believe that, against all evidence, humanity isn't damned, doomed to failure. That it can progress, advance, reach heights inconceivable in our chaotic times. It's a message of which we all need to be reminded, especially now.
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