Sunday, March 20, 2011
A better future requires effort in the present. But it also requires a vision of that future, a goal. From its beginnings, Star Trek was different and sometimes unique in modeling a better future in this sense. Today our prevalent images of the future are even more violent and hopeless. But it is hard for people to live without hope and still live happily. Star Trek may seem to some to be an impossibly perfect future, but its stories don’t support this. They include darkness and pain, where hope and despair can go hand in hand.
False visions of a perfect future are counterproductive, but then we don’t exactly have an overabundance of them. We have few visions of the future at all. Some find their only hope in the idea that technologies will arise to solve every problem and things will work out on their own. But even though the Star Trek universe depends on new technologies, it also envisions a future that requires people to change. Exploring the universe out there means exploring values and goals in here. That’s certainly the implication of this DS9 story.
Today many of our stories about the future are not visions of the future at all—they are just shows, with no reality, no fourth wall, and no dream—they’re jokes and video games. Or they are too small, merely placing contemporary people in different circumstances where the technologies are more powerful. Or they accept present modes of behavior as human nature, as the way things will always be. If that were so, Benny’s story would have been unrealizable fantasy, instead of a vision of what could and should be, that guides us in that direction—modeling some changes that now are already here.
A better future is not the automatic consequence of the present. False hope is of little use, and denial leads only to a conflicted complacency or destructively misguided anger. We need visions and models, to both give us a future worth working towards, and give us purpose and guidance in our present. We need visions to spark our own imaginations, to center our debates, to ask the right questions, and to inspire our efforts.
In this Star Trek episode the dreamer becomes the dream—he becomes the future, if only—or at least, first of all—as an act of imagination. But the dreamer becomes the dream also through commitment and behavior. Star Trek is a model of the future and a model for the present, and there are Star Trek fans who respond to both of those dreams, so in their own lives they may become, at least in some ways now and again, the dreamer and the dream.