My ideal reality is Star Trek. I like the vision of a world where clean fuel and benign technology have eliminated scarcity. Anybody can replicate anything they need, so manufacturing — and the rest of the job market — becomes obsolete. In this world, people no longer work to pay for stuff, but instead engage in cooperative enterprises to improve themselves and expand the frontiers of discovery. A wide variety of alien species from advanced societies are united under the banner of self-improvement and exploration. They accept and even accommodate one another’s differences, as when Worf is allowed to wear his Klingon baldric over his Starfleet uniform.
Infrequently on Star Trek, all-out war is an unavoidable necessity; but Captain Picard, arguably the best diplomat in Starfleet, gives the benefit of the doubt to new cultures, preferring to communicate with them, learn from them, protect their rights, and minister to their needs if possible.
The real world is obviously not Star Trek, and yet I see anything that reminds me of Star Trek in the real world as a good thing. When I get on public transportation and am exposed to members of several distinct cultures, I think of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. I feel privileged to have lived in cities where multicultural encounter is woven into the fabric of daily life. I think this experience inoculates me against certain irrational fears. Not everyone in the world is so fortunate.
We are living in a time when nationalism is once again taking hold of societies; when Islamophobia is influencing public policy; when overt acts of racism and Nazi-invoking graffiti are on the rise; and when the white supremacist movement is coming out of the shadows. There has been an increase in hateful rhetoric from people across the entire political spectrum. Today’s pundits are more interested in fomenting their opponents’ anger than cooperating to accomplish shared objectives or trying to understand one another. Although there has been an associated increase in grassroots efforts to counter these trends, it is harder and harder for me to see Star Trek in the real world.
Ironically, I see Star Trek most clearly within an institution that has not always embraced the ideals of discovery or equality. But it’s not so much the institution, which contains numerous contradictory sub-cultures. (Its members range from highly enlightened to bigoted.) It’s one person — a humble Jesuit priest who chooses to live with others rather than in isolation, and who has repeatedly displayed compassion over rule-enforcing. I’m speaking, of course, about Pope Francis.
How is Pope Francis like Captain Picard? Check out Part 2!