Here are some quick, belated thoughts on why the Star Trek universe (which should be celebrated) is appropriately analogous to Columbus Day (which should not be celebrated):
One of Star Trek’s main purposes is to revise the tenets and practices of imperialism and colonialism, to promote the idea that humans can perhaps explore the world (the universe) around them without actually conquering it.
Though, given the show’s premise, humans still seek to catalogue and taxonimize that world (that universe [“…to seek out new life and new civilizations…”]) and, therefore, still create false dichotomies between themselves and all ‘others’ with whom they come into contact.
Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS), Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) and Star Trek: Voyager (Voyager) have all been criticized for being too optimistic in their view of the future, as they portray starships with altruistic Starfleet officers whose prime directive is to not interfere with any species they encounter or any intergalactic wars between said species.
They each portray a relationship with technology that may (in their time period) be considered (in our time period) retrograde propaganda for the Industrial Revolution, an era which created deplorable conditions for the lower-class under a capitalist system which exploited that class in the name of economic ‘progress’, giving rise to Marxism which capitalists today still deem blasphemous—a threat to their industrial ‘enterprise’.
The belief that technology is our friend poses many problems which are evident today—technology serves a purpose, of course, as we have alleviated many problems with it.
In Star Trek’s fictional future—the 23rd and 24th centuries—there is no money, meaning it’s basically a socialist utopia in which all poverty and disease have been eradicated. Technology is depicted as being the catalyst for this human ‘progress’ toward morality.
The problem is those who seek technological advancement are too often imperialistic, driven by profit and acquisition of superior weaponry to maintain economic dominance.
They are in the position to finance the development of technology’s negative attributes, i.e. knives, guns, landmines, bazookas, nuclear weapons, etc., in order to gain power over other people—entire groups of people—, creating a hierarchy in which their power goes unchecked.
We are those people, the ones who have to face the consequences of the decisions of those in power with the means to use technology to exploit us.
The technology we are provided with—the little gismos like smart phones with apps, GPS devices for our cars, Time Warner digital cable, X-Box Kinect, etc.—only serve to distract us from the larger, more ominous advances being made in military laboratories—which is to say the gadgets we use to connect with each other or find our way to Disney Land from Tucson, Arizona is the same technology that allows American soldiers to make coordinated attacks on innocent civilians in second and third world countries.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine [DSN] and Star Trek: Enterprise [Enterprise] revised the optimistic view of technology held by their predecessors, consciously choosing to address the problems of trying to exist with technology that not only malfunctions but is a primary cause of pain and suffering through war.
Though this seems more realistic, I like the idea of a future in which humans have moved beyond their own history without forgetting their role in it.
It’s been said that the main reason Columbus got credit for discovering a land people already knew about—a land they already inhabited—was because of the technological advancement of Gutenberg’s printing press half a century earlier.
Columbus and his men arrived armed with guns and a language of perceived moral superiority enforced through religious beliefs and practices.
Even words themselves are a form of technology, and they too can malfunction—though the cause of the malfunction is most often human.
(This could be said of all technology, as it originates from humans and is itself exploited to, in turn, exploit those who don’t possess it.)
In the 23rd and 24th centuries, humans seem to have learned from their mistakes, evolved toward the understanding that such practices as capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, totalitarianism, sexism, racism, and war (unless absolutely necessary—whatever that means) are ends whose means are never justified.
This understanding is one I hope all humans work toward, though I don’t have much faith in them to do so.
It’s hard to imagine them ever surmounting the prejudices they have against each other.
Humans are sad, pathetic, narcissistic creatures who believe they are better than anything else in the world, and this false conviction (reinforced by capitalism and religion) leads to the ridiculous belief that they have the right to manipulate every aspect of the world around them without considering the consequences to other humans, other species and the natural environment as a whole.
Space travel in the mid-twentieth century as well grew out of the desire for dominance, and is now being looked to as humanity’s only means of escaping the world it’s been annihilating since the Industrial Revolution, inventing new ways to oppress and kill one another, or just to make their own lives easier.
Whether or not we are able to move beyond ourselves, the idea that we can at least imagine ourselves as something better than we are (if only through a fictional television franchise) by paradoxically realizing we’re not (ironically, the impetus for all technological advancement) is maybe the only hope I have for our species to survive itself, to heal the pain we’ve caused ourselves and the rest of the world.
If not, I hope that by that point we’ll have at least invented a Heisenberg Compensator.