How could I forget Star Trek?

Ani White’s discussion of the latest iteration of Star Trek in Aurealis #138 (March 2021) reminded me that Science Fiction and the Economics of Utopia somehow overlooked the series. Growing up, I was always more familiar with Star Wars, and I only came to Star Trek relatively late in life. Yet the earlier series’ utopian themes, to which White says the new series (Discovery) returns after the action-adventure-oriented films of recent years, are very much aligned with my essay.

I do have a vivid recollection of Jean-Luc Picard explaining that the inhabitants of the Federation were no longer concerned with building up material wealth but instead with “improving themselves”. A noble position to be in, perhaps, but I can’t recall Picard or anyone else explaining how the Federation conquered material need, how it convinced its citizens to improve themselves rather than pursue yet more material wealth, or on what economic principles the Federation operates now. The last is what I wanted to explore in Science Fiction and the Economics of Utopia so maybe Picard just left me with nothing to say.

From what I recall of the films, the characters already possess whatever material goods they want and the Enterprise never needs to worry about how the next voyage will be funded. For that matter I can’t recall many scenes in which Kirk, Picard and their crews improve themselves other than by happenstance learning from experience.

Presumably viewers are only joining the action after the crew members have undergone their training, the Federation has approved the funding, and the technical staff have equipped the ship. If there’s anyone left on Earth in substandard housing or without enough to eat (presumably not, if Picard is right), they don’t enter into the story. No doubt most people would rather watch the crew battle Klingons or explore fantastic new worlds—but without undertaking the boring preparatory stuff how would the crew ever get to the exciting stuff?

Still, I take the intent of Star Trek to be to entertain and inspire rather than explain; and perhaps suitably-inspired viewers can go on to read Utopia for Realists and, if I may say so, Science Fictions and the Economics of Utopia.

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