I’ve been reading Manu Saadia’s Trekonomics for the last few weeks. It’s a little bit lighter than I expected, but in many ways it reads like it was written for me. As I wrote in my very first journal, at my most extreme, my political views can be fairly well defined as “scrap the system and build the Federation already.” What makes Saadia’s book satisfying is that it demonstrates that if we’re willing to look past the technology, squint a little, and assume a whole lot of progress establishing some very progressive norms, we’re actually that far away from accomplishing my glib Facebook-worthy political view. At a particularly difficult time for the American psyche, I can’t help but appreciate this wholly optimistic view.
I’ve always understood viscerally that Star Trek is different. Even before I really knew what it really was, catching the occasional rerun after school, it felt like nothing else on TV. And only a few of the hundreds of sci-fi books I borrowed from my dad’s library downstairs even approached the feeling of watching a single good episode of TNG.
I used to joke that what made Star Trek special was that they spent the first two thirds of every episode desperately trying to avoid conflict with diplomacy, until it inevitably broke down and they had to break all the rules (and a few necks) to make things right. I still think the fact that most of the dramatic tension in the show stems the Federation’s stubborn, but not unreadable, commitment to do what’s right is a stroke of genius.
In fact, what makes Trek unique is that unlike most science fiction, which uses the future to comment on our present, Star Trek uses our present to comment on what could be if we realize its future. Its essential optimism and progressivism sets itself apart from nearly every other work of fiction produced in the last 50 years.
That same optimism also makes it somewhat difficult to swallow today in the face of a norm-shattering election and the international challenge of climate change. And yet, if you can squint just enough, if you can put skepticism aside and give in to a little optimism, you can see the bright Trek future beginning to appear over the horizon. Saadia’s book draws a clear enough path. Yes, it’s going to take establishing a lot of new norms and tearing old ones apart. Yes, it’s going to take solving some pretty difficult problems and a fair amount of luck. But the point of Trek is that when things are properly aligned, humans tend to be good at all of those things — and pretty darn lucky.
We’re not the Federation yet. But I won’t be surprised if, after overcoming the hurdle of this election, we start to look more and more like it.
Exported from Medium on October 22, 2020.