Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Who paid for the Starship Enterprise?

My last post discussed how the left wing has won the culture war and that this is not surprising when 'every university lecturer, musician, film star, writer and other public figure is parroting the socialist-environmentalist mantra'. This theme was, at least tangentially, the subject of Jonah Goldberg's recent post about the new Star Trek television series to be made by CBS and that got me thinking about the true nature of the society portrayed on Star Trek.

Star Trek's United Federation of Planets is actually a militaristic feudal order. The Federation is governed by an elite supported by an all-powerful military establishment. Their society seems to be based, at best, on chivalry (after all, what is the Enterprise's crew other than a group of futuristic knights?) but, at worst, on militaristic expansion and colonisation of independent planets. They regard any form of commerce as a much lower order of human activity than military service, just like any Earth-bound feudal society. Money appears to have been abolished, at least in polite society, and witness the contempt held for the Ferengi, who are a trading race much more interested in making a profit than in conquering the universe. Of course, the United Federation of Planets is a somewhat milder form of collectivist society than the Borg, whose culture seems to most closely resemble Maoist Communism.

The question I ponder is, who paid for the Starship Enterprise? Consider the enormous economic resources that has to go into its construction - the engineers and scientists than need to be employed to design it, the rare minerals (e.g. dilithium crystals) that need to be mined to build it and to power its engines, and the undoubtedly huge operating costs of its endless missions. All of these need to be paid for somehow. I've always had this uneasy thought that somewhere, hidden away on dozens of colonised planets, there are millions of slaves working to support the Enterprise. Alternatively, a lot of people must be paying a lot of tax to fund it all. In short, the Enterprise must rely on real enterprise, but enterprise doesn't appear to exist in Star Trek society other than as some contemptible activity engaged in by the Ferengi.

I love to study history and one of the characteristics of history that encourages me as a libertarian is that human society tends towards greater freedom. It is not a straight progression and from time to time we regress into barbarism like the Nazi and Communist eras in the 20th Century, but these reversions tend to be increasingly the exceptions rather than rule. So when I imagine the 23rd Century I think it will be incredibly libertarian.

Individual freedom will be large, government will be small. Capitalism will be universal and each individual will be as powerful a player in the market as the biggest corporation is today. True poverty will be a thing of the past because everyone will be able to trade their ideas, skills and products freely with anyone else anywhere on (or beyond) Earth, and body and brain augmentation technologies will mean that everyone will have skills that are valuable in the marketplace. Cronyism, corruption and fraud will be largely absent from human interactions as such behaviour will be instantaneously exposed by the power of communications technology and social media. Money will be virtual and multiplicitous - meaning that there will be dozens, perhaps thousands of competing currencies and the devices we use to do business will instantly exchange between them, selecting the safest and best for our particular needs.

In short, the future will be Utopian, but not in the sense imagined by most who have written about such futures - it will be as far removed from Brave New World as you could imagine, but rather more like the hidden valley in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

There may be a United Federation of Planets, but its real heroes will be the Ferengi. After all, it is undoubtedly the Ferengi who will pay for the Starship Enterprise.