Sunday, March 20, 2011

That’s part of the function of modeling the future: it can alter attitudes and behavior in the present. It can change expectations, not just in terms of social change but of individual change. I’ll never forget a story that Dave Marinaccio (author of All I really need to know I learned from watching Star Trek) told at the 40th anniversary Star Trek convention in Seattle. As I recall it went something like this: A young woman who had been abused had never seen people treat each other with the dignity and courtesy that the original Star Trek crew exhibited. She met a young man with a similar past and a similar response to Star Trek. It changed how they related to others and to each other. Eventually they got married, determined to treat their children well, and inculcate those values.

People have learned about loyalty, trust, courage, compassion, self-discipline, self-examination, openness, responsibility, initiative, curiosity, respect, creativity, humor, listening, leadership and other qualities of soul by inhabiting the Star Trek story universe. They have models for these attitudes and behaviors in this imagined future, but up to them to apply in their present.

They have also learned hope for a better future, because like Benny, they have seen and imagined that future. It’s a future of equality and qualities of soul, but also a future of sharing and mutual responsibility as well as the possibility of addressing and even ending the poverty, hunger, disease and hopelessness that characterizes the present for too many humans. It’s a future in which all life is valued, human or not, and the environment that makes life possible is protected and nourished.

It is a future in which violence is not the default answer to problems, where there is progress in addressing the causes of war, and of ending the “endless cycle, a horrible wheel of suffering” so we are not chained to it forever. Of course there is still suffering and death in that future, and it’s arguable that in later years Star Trek’s commitment to modeling a more peaceful future has been lax. But it’s clear that the original intent was to model a future in which many causes of conflict as well as injustice were recognized, and there were institutions (Starfleet and the Federation) and heroes trying to end even temporarily this endless cycle of violence.

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