In Praise of Star Trek: Response

I will begin with a definition of science fiction, that is overly restrictive, but applicable to this case: Science Fiction deals, by extrapolation, with our relationship and experience of science and technology. David Dammerell, appears to be claiming that Star Trek does not shirk from its duty in this respect. However, all our experience to date suggests that technology brings both solutions and new problems. I do not think I even need to give examples. The problems technology brings are often utterly unexpected and society is initially unequipped to deal with them. Now, Star Trek: the Next Generation gives a picture which is utterly contrary to our experience. Any technology seems designed not to stretch our current values. The world of The Next Generation is a kind of utopian modern-day America, an inferior LA Law in Space. The message appears to be that we will adapt to deal with new developments, but when examined it says to me that technological development will adapt to us. They appear to be able to copy material objects, and transport humans: either they cannot use these machines to copy humans (or currency!) or they choose not to. How convenient.

What is Earth and Federation society like? Who governs them? Are there no dissenters? Lots of social problems have been solved, but how? Do the solutions not bring their own costs and problems we have not yet imagined? It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like propaganda. I can't help feeling that it is a cover-up, and the nasty side is being concealed from us. If there is no nasty side, then I need convincing by some suggestion of the miracle that has achieved this. I have an intuition that one cannot simply erase the bad things about modern life, leaving the good unchanged. Nowadays it is hard to think of a convincing utopia, and an unconvincing one will not do. I see the following message in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World

Imagine a society in which every problem you have complained about vanishes. Do you like what you see?

The morality in The Next Generation is pure twentieth century American. Fine. Picard often has diffiult choices: trading fifty lives for a million; deciding whether to interfere or to obey the prime directive. But almost invariably the price does not in the end have to be paid: the fifty do not die after all. Technology (again) miraculously comes to the rescue. This approach is typified by the example that David himself gives in his article. Riker is prepared to kill Picard to save humanity, but it is not on the cards that it will actually happen. I'm afraid that real life does not work like this. If you make a difficult choice, then more often that no you have to pay the consequences for the route you choose. Star Trek is 'mere' entertainment.

(c) Robert Wilson

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