Thursday, August 04, 2005

Idealists Without Illusions

This time the action centered in North America. The enormous productive capacity created there for World War II, untouched by the war's violence, promised an era of expansion and affluence, especially in view of new technologies, some developed before and after the war and many spawned by the war. Like the 1890s in England, the postwar U.S. needed more educated technicians and managers, research scientists and experts in newly emerging fields. Ex-soldiers went to college at government expense, and the Baby Boom meant education would continue to expand.

In this period of rapid change and growing affluence, a strain of idealism tempered by hard experience created what was dubbed "the New Breed" within what is now sentimentally called "The Greatest Generation." This was the generation of World War II veterans like Gene Roddenberry and many others who would contribute to creating Star Trek. But in the early 1960s, it was most clearly identified as the generation of President John F. Kennedy, who described himself as an "idealist without illusions."

With his theme of the New Frontier, his visionary views on the space program, Civil Rights and world peace, and his accent on youth, Kennedy was clearly oriented towards the future. (There's more concerning Kennedy and connections to Roddenberry and the early 60s development of Star Trek elsewhere on this blog, at "the Star Trek 60s Pt. 1.")

At the same time, there was an explosion of studies, books and articles by physical and social scientists in many fields, as well as the first scholars and freelance intellects (like Arthur C. Clarke) who specialized in the future. Though they often came at the subject from a particular discipline, they typically were trying to synthesize a big picture view of the future, as Wells had advised. Partly because they had an advocate in the White House and felt that the future was an idea whose time had come, they were mostly optimistic.

In his 1969 book, The Search for a Usable Future, Martin E. Marty put it this way: "Knowing that audacity was called for and inspired by the confidence that man was prevailing, they pictured a realm of possibility to which our culture was tending. The technological and humane orders were converging to create a world wherein conflict may remain but in which it would be productive of good. There men would learn to embrace the works of their hands, to affirm the human city. The fundamental human model for this was the cool, worldly, problem-solving, practical man. Man in control. He was now orbiting the world, probing the depths of the sea. Aided by all the disciplines, he could foresee problems and program his way through or past them. This was to be a society of affluence, abundance, leisure, and meaningful human relations."

Even with the obvious hubris, it's not hard to see a lot of Star Trek in that description.

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