Admiral Kirk: Yes.
Spock: Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh...
Kirk: The needs of the few.
Spock: Or the one.
--from the 1982 film, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"
Dystopian science fiction--tales about a human future gone very, very bad--has been all the rage in books, movies and TV lately. Think “The Hunger Games", "Divergent", "World War Z", or "The Walking Dead", all stories which imagine human life in the future as pretty depressing. The world is ruled by totalitarian governments. Humans are transformed into rampaging flesh eating zombies because of government science experiments gone horribly wrong. Society is radically stratified between the few who are very rich and the many who are very poor.
This dystopian premise is always the same: the outlook for our species is not good. Humankind is not destined to morally or socially evolve upwards into a better world, but instead is doomed to spiral downwards into chaos and violence. This narrative sells a lot of books and movie tickets, drives millions of us fans to "showverdose" on our favorite tales of woe on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu. But this fascination with doomsday scenarios wasn't always so.
Just ask a "Trekkie", like me.
Trekkies are fans of "Star Trek", one of the most popular and long lived of science fiction series, set in a hope filled future time. "Star Trek" was TV show that ran in the mid nineteen sixties and then became the granddaddy of popular science fiction, birthing four more TV series and twelve feature films. Unlike its dystopian cousins, "Star Trek" was and is always utopian. That's why I love it.
Utopian. “Star Trek” imagines that the world will become better in generations to come. War on earth will cease as humankind unites. Money is irrelevant. All human needs are provided for: shelter, food, education, health care, and work. Institutionalized religion fades as humans internalize a compassionate ethic towards each other. The pursuit of knowledge and the adventure of "boldly going where no man has gone before" is the one goal which ties all humanity together.
Imagine that. That's a future I can believe in, want to believe in.
So last week, when original "Star Trek" actor and Boston native son Leonard Nimoy (who portrayed Spock) died, his demise made me think about utopian ideals, the belief that somehow, some way, the world will become a better place. Humanity is evolving morally, ethically, and socially. We are not destined to continually wage war with one another as we selfishly cling to our favorite ideology or theology. The world will one great day recognize that the earth contains all the natural resources it could ever want or need and then some. Humans will figure out how to care for every last human, equitably and justly. We will awaken to the truth that we are put on this earth not to oppress one another, or accumulate so much stuff for ourselves alone, but instead to live in peace and generosity together in Creation.
I know. It is easy, far too easy, to dismiss such a utopian vision, especially in 2015. Too many religious movements devolve into petty factions, use fear and violence to hurt those who have a different idea about God. Look at ISIS, any religious fundamentalist, so arrogantly sure he's got a solo ticket straight to heaven. Political leaders don't engender much hope. They can't even agree to fund, for more than one week, the United States’ government agency which is supposed to protect us. There's Ebola. Vladimir Putin and his fascist land grabs. Etc., etc, etc....
But me? I just refuse to buy into such a sad, seemingly inescapable narrative, even as it undergirds our culture's current obsession with all things dystopian. I confess. I want to believe, I need to believe, I do believe in a "Star Trek" future, where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of few, the one. Preach it Spock!
Call me a geek. Call me a dreamer. Call me a naive utopian who refuses to see things as they are. Yet the best of our shared cultural stories, like "Star Trek" and other utopian fiction; like religious faith which calls us to be our best; like the highest of political ideals which ask us to sacrifice for the common good: these narratives always call us to better days. To have hope. To imagine a world of tomorrow which is getting better.
Farewell Spock. Thanks for the utopian vision. We'll keep on trying. Live long and prosper.