Home > Pet Peeves, Trends > Asking the Wrong Questions

Asking the Wrong Questions

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”  – Thomas Pynchon

So, surfing through the internet the other day, don’t remember where, when I saw a headline.  It was the link to a poll or to an article or to an article about a poll – don’t know, didn’t click on it.  But the headline intrigued me.

Do you believe the future will be like Star Trek or like Blade Runner?

Well, full disclosure here, I am a Star Trek fan.  No, not a Trekkie or a Trekker, but a definite fan.  As to Blade Runner, it is one of the greatest films in history.  Well, the Director’s Cut is, anyhow.

So, to paraphrase the question, will the future consist of great technology in clean, bright environments with self-actualized people doing great things?  Or will the future be dark, dank, miserable cities, where the rain never stops, environmental and economic disasters the norm, where the rich live in their enclaves, high above it all, while most people suffer through?

That may be the question the author intended.  But when I thought about it, some hours later, what I realized was that the two visions presented had much in common.  They are both leftist fantasies, with little grounding in reality.

Blade Runner is the leftist fantasy of what will happen if they lose in their quest to… whatever it is they intend to do.  If they lose, then the world will become a horrible place, where most people are miserably poor, a world run by corporations and capitalists that care for nothing but themselves.  Dark.  Miserable.  Unfair.  A distopic nightmare of global proportions.  A world that you would never choose to live in.  That is how they see the world without their guidance.

Which leaves Star Trek – especially as presented in The Next Generation – as the leftist fantasy of what will happen if they win.  A bright, happy future with perfect people, living in a thinly-veiled communist utopia.  It shows a future with promise, one you would actually want to live in.  All worldly and humanistic problems have gone away, because we have, as a race, purged ourselves of bad thoughts like self-interest and discrimination.  Long live the Federation!

That is the gist of the question.  Do you want to live in a world where the communitarians have won?  Or where they have lost?

They are, of course, asking the wrong question.  It is the wrong question because it assumes both fantasies are true.  Much as I like the source material, I don’t believe either is close to a true future.

The world shown in Blade Runner assumes that old doggerel that says “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”  That is, the rich keep the rest of us down in the cold, dark ghettos, while they feast on what we make.  That poetic view of the world just doesn’t stand up, however.  Yes, the rich do get richer.  We all get richer.

Technological progress and increasing personal freedoms has, for centuries now, created prosperity wherever it is allowed.  We in the US have the richest poor people in the world, with cars, televisions, air conditioning, and cell phones, never mind food, while the Rising Billion poorest people on Earth are indeed rising out of poverty and creating huge new markets for goods in the process, all thanks to the kind of technological progress that lets them bypass levels of previously necessary infrastructure.

Yes, all that provided by people who were looking out, primarily, for their own self-interest.  Nay, provided by people who improved their self-interest precisely because they helped others improve theirs.

Meanwhile, the citizens of the Federation obviously believe in the power of enlightened government initiatives and projects.  The Federation, along with their non-military military, Starfleet, terraforms whole planets into livable paradises, creates huge cities in orbits, builds powerful starships, explores new worlds and new civilizations, and provides a civilization with no privation and no wants, while, at the same time, not interfering in the internal politics of member worlds or in said new civilizations.  In other words: magic.  Fantasy.

Yes, of course I can believe in a world with no wants or desires, where all are happy most of the time, excepting the odd Romulan invasion or two.  But I do not believe that any government will ever provide it, because a simple reading of history shows that they never have.  Program after program fails – or barely limps along under staggering budgets – because the perverse incentives of politics, where the providers fare best if their clients never live long or prosper, makes it impossible to succeed.

So, if you want me to believe in leftist fantasies, tell me how you or the Federation will ever solve this one basic character flaw in the foundation of government.  How do you keep your politicians satisfied and your bureaucrats feeling secure if you do not give them unending clients in need?  Solve the client’s needs, you see, and they don’t need you anymore.

Instead, they ask us the wrong question.  A “false choice,” as the president is so fond of saying, although he offers as many false choices as the other guys.  Would you choose Blade Runner or Star Trek?  Misery or happiness?  Dark or light?  Tough question, that.

So what would the right question be?  Well, it wouldn’t be choosing between two fantasies.  It wouldn’t be choosing between Future A and Future B.

The question should be: HOW do we create a tomorrow that is better than today?

That’s all.  Not a rigged choice between Utopia and Distopia, with the assumptions behind both left intact.  Just a very simple question.  How do we improve on today?  One step.  Then after we have improved on today, we can look again and improve upon tomorrow.  Rinse and repeat.

And if that question seems to imply a curious lack of vision – you can’t navigate if you don’t know where you want to end up – then I will plead guilty, because the visions of tomorrow that we are usually given, like the two above, are  dripping with implications of how we got there, most of which do not pass the chortle test when they are actually dragged out and studied.  Instead, I offer a question that allows the answer to be validated in the short term.  “How do we create a better tomorrow?  Really?  You think so?  Okay, try it!  You done?  Okay, are things better?  Yes, you succeeded!  No, you failed.  Okay, next answer, please.”  Like that.

Yes, I have some thoughts as to what the future will look like and I have a few thoughts as to how we will get there.  I may present some visions of the future from time to time.  I may even imply that certain decisions made today led – will lead – to that particular future.  The difference is, I hope, that you will know I am doing it, that I am fanning out the deck in front of you and picking the cards to make a royal flush.  Or something.

Meanwhile, I firmly believe that, barring thermonuclear war or plague, the world is always getting better every day, for you, me, and everybody.  Health gets better, lives get longer and have more meaning, prosperity increases, and the breadth of human knowledge gets wider and more accessible.

Yes.  No question about it.


Categories: Pet Peeves, Trends
  1. John G.
    October 7, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    I really enjoy Star Trek. The family and I are watching Next Generation a couple times per week.

    Like you, I realize the societal concept is horribly flawed. If you are in Star Fleet, all is well. You be the best “you” you can be. You get to excel as an engineer, doctor, science geek, or whatever gets your ship to where it is going. You can be recognized as the best of the best. People may realize you are an expert in your niche. You can get recognition by promotion.

    What about the poor schleps who don’t make Star Fleet? What happens to the Geordi wannabees who are just a few points shy of making it into Star Fleet. What do they get tagged with? Replicator repair man first class? Who are the people who keep Federation planets running? What would motivate them? Why do anything if you are doomed to be the underclass? There’s no money. You can’t save up to do anything. Why work as a social worker when you can live a better life in the holodeck? That’s assuming the plebes outside of Star Fleet even get such an accommodation.

    A book about the Federation underclass could be good fun. Unfortunately, I doubt the owners of the Star Trek universe would be too keen on the idea.

    Lacking the Trek universe and all it’s assumptions, I don’t see how you could plausibly bring a society to that level of technological advancement and have the economic and government system they describe.

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