Sunday, November 22, 2015

Stories in Focus: "Star Trek"

I plan on writing some short column pieces under the title "Stories in Focus".  One of my great passions is studying and thinking about great stories.  I even occasionally like poor stories.  But stories are very important to cultures and to individuals.  Being able to tell, or appreciate and learn from our own stories and the stories of others, is something very valuable.  There is something about a good story that can inspire, educate, revive, and uplift a person.

For a long time, stories were oral traditions, and storytellers would have to memorize long elaborate tales for passing from generation to generation.  When written language was developed, people had more reliable ways of recording and handing down stories.  But for a long time, most people were illiterate.  With better methods of printing and making print stories available, more and more people learning to read and write, and were able to study and write and disseminate stories on their own.
Eventually stories were presentable in different formats with the advent of radio, audio recording, videos, and movies for example.  Today we have multiple formats for listening to, reading, viewing, or even participating in stories.  There is now a great focus in the field of video games that is based on playing a game while developing a great story.  I personally most value games that have a good story, and would one day like to be able to produce and design a game that not only is fun and challenging, but also presents a great story and great characters.

But I would like to talk about certain stories, and "story franchises" in these blog posts entitled "Stories in Focus". Lately, I have been focusing on watching the series that belong to the "Star Trek" franchise, which already has 5 television series, 12 movies, countless books and has more movies and a new television series due in the future. For me, "Star Trek" was my first introduction to storytelling.  The stories were interesting and exciting and the characters were believable and inspiring.  I first was a viewer of the spinoff "The Next Generation", and actually wrote book reports on books involving the characters of the shows.  Recently, I have watched the entire series of spinoffs "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager" over the last several months.  You can watch practically everything "Star Trek" related on Netflix.  I started watching these shows again in thinking about my Uncle Nathaniel, who was very much into "Star Trek" and similar Science Fiction storytelling.  I finally have finished watching "Voyager" and have begun to watch the fifth series "Enterprise" which is a prequel to all the other series, including the original.

"Star Trek" is supposed to inspire hope for people, I think, because it portrays a future where humanity has overcome many terrible things, such as war, poverty, racism, etc. and has used science and technology to explore the galaxy and build relationships with alien species and improve the conditions of life for all people.  The show is a bit too socialistic I believe, where everything is focused on the state.  The Federation is a very statist organization in my opinion.  I think the economics of "Star Trek" is very much fantasy.  It would be nice to have technology like replicators to produce as much food as we need.  But the economic philosophy of "Star Trek" is not something I think I would support.  I don't believe there will ever be a time where money is no longer needed or used.  Money is a good tool for organizing the distribution of labor and determining the price of goods.  There will never be a lack of scarcity of certain resources.  I do think technology and free markets will enable a greater extension of wealth, health, and well being to all people, including the most poor.  The rich will get richer, and the poor will get richer too.  But the economics of "Star Trek" is a fantasy, and one that is too socialistic or Communistic in my belief.

Another thing that bothered me about Star Trek, Voyager in particular, was the repetitive portrayal of machines and computer programs as being individuals with rights and minds of their own.  It is a story but, still, there is no way to create a technology that can do anything resembling thought.  Machines cannot, will not, and never will be able to think.  Nothing we can do, will ever be able to give cognition or thinking abilities to mechanical devices.  Data and the Doctor (or EMH), are not possible.  Computers and machine technology can overtime be made to do many things, and possibly even approximate human action to a great degree, but never will they be able to think, or make judgments, or take free actions of their own.  No machine will ever be a conscious being.  I believe that only God is capable of creating a mind.

The creators and contributors to the various "Star Trek" series and movies have done a great job of creating compelling alien species and especially the villains.  The Borg, and the Dominion are two of the most hate-able villains in all of storytelling.  When I was watching the episodes of Deep Space Nine developing the characters of the Dominion and the Founders and Jem Haddar, I really did not like them.  I thought the Borg were the most fearsome and detestable villains, but the Dominion came close to being worse than them.

I am looking forward to watching the rest of "Enterprise", which has a much different feel than all the previous television series.  I will perhaps write another "Stories in Focus" entry when I have finished watching those episodes.