I know the election of Donald Trump has been a huge blow to the millions of Americans who had bought into the promise of our Constitution. It is difficult to see our fellow citizens repudiate the progress we have made as a society since the 1960s. Many of us who love the space program are also huge fans of Star Trek. The appeal of both of these bold Enterprises is the promise of a better future for our species.
The problem with getting to that better future is doing the work to lay the foundation to make it possible. Gene Roddenberry knew that it would take time, turmoil and struggle for humanity to achieve the secular Progressive Utopia depicted on Star Trek. His myth story has humanity experiencing some dark times and near extinction before we get to Boldly Go.
“World War III was fought in an era where various factions were known to control their military with narcotics. (TNG: “Encounter at Farpoint”) Among the parties involved was the Eastern Coalition (also referred to as “the ECON”), whose direct attacks included those against the United States of America. (Star Trek: First Contact) In 2026, at the start of the war, Colonel Phillip Green led a faction of eco-terrorists that was responsible for the loss of thirty-seven million lives. (TOS: “Bread and Circuses”, “The Savage Curtain”; ENT: “In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II”)”
“The New United Nations was also founded during these early years of World War III, and was among the first attempts to rebuild humanity during this era; for instance, by 2036, it had declared that no Human being would be held accountable “for the crimes of their race or forebearers.” But not everyone heeded or respected this decree and some parts of the world later “abolished all United Earth nonsense.” (TNG: “Encounter at Farpoint”)
Humanity eventually turned over a new leaf when a few courageous people began to realize they could make a difference. (ENT: “Judgment”) The war culminated circa 2053, when several of Earth’s governments met in San Francisco to declare a cease-fire, effectively ending the war. (ENT: “Demons”) As a result of this world war, like the two before it, whole generations were nearly wiped out. (ENT: “Judgment”) The use of nuclear weapons engulfed Earth with an immense dust cloud, resulting in numerous nuclear winters. (TNG: “A Matter of Time”) When it was over, Earth’s atmosphere was irradiated with a detectably heightened amount of radioactive isotopes. (Star Trek: First Contact)”
“In 2063, a short time after Earth emerged from this global war, First Contact was made with the Vulcans, leading to increased recovery from the war for parts of the world. (Star Trek: First Contact) When news of this event reached Vulcan, some Vulcans, including V’Lar, were fascinated by Humanity, but also worried, believing the idea that Humans had deemed themselves ready to join the interstellar community, so soon after the war, seemed premature. (ENT: “Fallen Hero”) Indeed, for several years after first contact, various parts of Earth were still affected by what became known as the “post-atomic horror.” In 2079, one such culture reverted to a state of near-barbarism that followed the credo “Kill all the lawyers,” and “Guilty until proven innocent.” (TNG: “Encounter at Farpoint”) Due to these and other factors, parts of Earth continued to be in – as Captain Jean-Luc Picard put it in 2365 – “chaos” well into the early 22nd century. (TNG: “Up The Long Ladder”) The post-atomic horror gave way to the stirrings of new attempts at establishing various unified world alliances, including the European Hegemony in 2123. (TNG: “Up The Long Ladder”) These alliances were eventually instrumental in the establishment of the United Earth Government in 2150. (TNG: “Attached”) By the early 2100s – less than two generations after the post-atomic horror – Humanity was finally able to eliminate most if not all poverty, disease, war and hunger. Along with it, a lot of other things disappeared from Humanity, including hopelessness, despair, and cruelty. (TNG: “Time’s Arrow, Part II”; Star Trek: First Contact; ENT: “Broken Bow”, “Demons”)” – http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/World_War_III
So to get to the Roddenberry Utopia of Star Trek we will have to fight for it, earn it and finally, deserve it. Yes, there will be setbacks along this road to the future but that doesn’t mean we stop fighting for progress in the here and now. The one thing this election couldn’t do is change the demographics of our country. The future will clearly be a multicultural one in America. This is a certainty that White Christian America can’t stop. The next two years, with Republican control of all three branches of government, will see an attempt to roll back the civil rights of women, African-Americans, the GLBTQ community, non-Christians, etc., 50+ years to recreate the America that conservative White Americans believe existed back in the 1950s. While we think we have evolved into civilized human beings, it doesn’t take much fear and stress to get us to act like our ancestors did and turn on those who aren’t in “our” group. History shows how we treat those labeled as “others” during times of domestic crisis and it isn’t pretty or humane.
It would be nice if we could take the Cosmic View (stolen from the great Neil deGrasse Tyson) gained from our experience on orbit, from the moon and from our probes going out across the solar system. “When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.” — Frank Borman, Apollo 8, Newsweek magazine, 23 December 1968; “The view of the Earth from the Moon fascinated me—a small disk, 240,000 miles away. It was hard to think that that little thing held so many problems, so many frustrations. Raging nationalistic interests, famines, wars, pestilence don’t show from that distance.” — Frank Borman, Apollo 8, ‘A Science Fiction World—Awesome Forlorn Beauty,’ Life magazine, 17 January 1969; “We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned was about the Earth. The fact that just from the distance of the Moon you can put your thumb up and you can hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you’ve ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the Earth itself—all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself. — Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13 astronaut, interview for the 2007 movie In the Shadow of the Moon; “This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we’ve got.” — Scott Carpenter, Mercury 7 astronaut, speech at Millersville University, Pennslyvania. 15 October 1992.
It’s pretty clear that when a human being sees the earth from space, it gives them a perspective that would benefit all of our political leaders to experience. Being able to see that we are all human helps us realize that we all share this Pale Blue Dot that is the only home our species has at this time. These two quotes sum up this view brilliantly, “I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.” — Michael Collins, Gemini 10 & Apollo 11 astronaut, Carrying the Fire: An Astronauts Journeys, 1974; “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”” — Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, People magazine, 8 April 1974. (For more inspirational quotes visit http://www.spacequotations.com/earth.html)
I’ll return to where I started with Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek. While Roddenberry saw the near future as being difficult, he believed humanity would overcome these challenges to create a better world for humanity. I’ll let him speak for himself. “Diversity contains as many treasures as those waiting for us on other worlds. We will find it impossible to fear diversity and to enter the future at the same time; I believe in humanity. We are an incredible species. We’re still just a child creature, we’re still being nasty to each other. And all children go through those phases. We’re growing up, we’re moving into adolescence now. When we grow up – man, we’re going to be something; Star Trek says that it has not all happened, it has not all been discovered, that tomorrow can be as challenging and adventurous as anytime man has ever lived.”
So while our current situation seems grim we can’t forget we are moving through space and time. This moment is not the sum of our existence. We get to decide the future only if we fully participate in the process of making it happen. We can’t sit on the sidelines and let others make our future for us. We have a duty to create the future we want our progeny to inhabit no matter what they look like, who they love or what they believe about the Cosmos. Having a vigorous space exploration program, human and robotic, is important for humanity to survive to have a future. That future depends on humanity establishing successful colonies off the earth. Until then, let’s learn from those special few who have been into space and seen the earth from that Cosmic Perspective.