Night Thread of the Future (9/1/2020)

Because I’ve always loved Star Trek, I’ve always been interested in Star Trek’s vision of future history — the chronology of the events that got us from where we are now to where they are.  This really isn’t true just for Trek – the first thing that got me into LOTR was looking at the timeline in the appendices that spanned thousands of years.  Overarching continuity, big-picture meta-arcs, the way individual stories play into events hundreds of years later, has always fascinated me.

The first time Star Trek’s history of the future crashed against the real world was when Khan and the eugenics wars of the 1990s didn’t occur.  The Star Trek novel series  (which is not canon) “The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh” creatively weaves the events of the 1990s together in order to tell a story of a “shadow war” where Kahn does ascend to power and eventually flee earth all without the knowledge of the general public.  It’s a fun idea that allows one to play with conspiracy-type thinking in the innocent 1990s way so far removed from stories about conspiracies today.  

My own philosophy is simply that there has been so much time travel in the Star Trek universe, of course things are going to change.  For instance, the dating of the Eugenic Wars to the 1990s is NEVER mentioned post Star Trek IV.  Not once.  It is very easy to conclude that something Kirk did while in the past changed the conflict so it didn’t erupt in war until much later (maybe at this point being encompassed by Star Trek’s WW3. which is more technically said to be a series of wars in the mid 21st century rather than one singular conflict).  

I have to say, I like the idea that history can be changed.  Because while Star Trek is looking back on us as poor primitive warlike savages, we are looking forward to it as a possible happy ending.  And even Star Trek says there is still a lot of trouble to go through between now and then.  

The next big thing in the Star Trek universe is slated to happen 4 years from now this week.  In the first week of September, 2024, the long term suffering of the disenfranchised mixed with an incident of police violence boils over into multi-day deadly riot.  The loss of life is a tragedy, but Star Trek presents the riots as ultimately a good thing because of the attention they brought to the plight of the suffering and to the way the authorities had been suppressing information inside what were essentially american concentration camps.  

The story began as a TNG pitch about Picard and LaForge travelling back to the Watts riots of 1965, and its development took inspiration from Attica and the Kent State shootings.  

One of the reasons Star Trek’s vision of the future remains popular even as the specific events may be proven false is that there is a resonation with real world concerns.  Khan is believable as a tyrant because we understand the allure of order and confidence in a chaotic world.  Homelessness, police violence, and civil rights are topics that were relevant during DS9’s run (and beyond).  

Star Trek’s future history is not all sunshine and roses.  It’s also not the despairing corporate dystopia that so many scifi series trade in.  it’s a series of highs and lows.  Star Trek’s version of the 21st century has both worse tragedies than have ever occured before and unfathomable victories of human and social progress.  The Star Trek human is both the worst thing to ever exist and the best.  And, to steal from another franchise . . .

Have a good evening, and remember that within you there is potential you don’t realize and between all of us there is power to do almost anything.


Featured image: Often used as Starfleet Academy in Star Trek, the Japanese Garden in Lake Balboa, California is a real place you can visit and I thought a good representation of a place where the present reality intersects with future hopes.