To Boldly Go

To Boldly Go

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Star Trek, in many of its incarnations, is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. One of my first blog posts detailed the inspiration and lessons I picked up from watching Doctor Who. When I stop to think about it, Star Trek has taught me so much more. Star Trek is more than a show for me. The Star Trek philosophy changed my entire outlook on life. It has shaped the way I try to live and the hopes I have for the future. From Kirk to Janeway, the Star Trek universe has taught me a great deal.

Universal Access to Information is an Essential
There’s a long list of things Star Trek inspired people to create. Flip phones, for example. Notice they’re nearly identical to the device Kirk uses to talk to Scotty back on the ship in the original series. People are hard at work still trying to perfect the medical tricorder; how novel an idea, a machine that can look inside you and tell doctors what’s wrong. Another Star Trek inspired invention is the MP3 player. The creators of the MP3 player were inspired by a scene in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Data asks the computer to play a particular song.

And this is a common occurrence in the Star Trek universe. Want to read an old book? Just ask the computer to bring it up for you. Need to find an old newspaper article or magazine clipping? The computer has that too.

And you notice no one ever has to pay to access these things.

I’m a big believer in the benefits of the Internet. When I was a kid, we had to send a letter across the ocean to talk to someone. Sure you could make a phone call, but it would cost you an arm and a leg. Even news was slow to travel, no matter how important. Today we take for granted that all the world’s happenings are at our finger tips, and with a couple clicks I can talk to anyone on the other side of the ocean.

But we haven’t let this powerful tool live up to its full potential (something I’ve touched on before). Internet access doesn’t come cheap in most parts of the world, and many companies institute bandwidth caps to force people into paying higher prices if they want to access more information on a daily basis. It’s safe to say, I disagree with those practices. In a world like ours, unrestricted access to information is a basic right everyone should have.

Now the Star Trek universe often claims to have done away with money. This gets murky around the time of Deep Space Nine; how people run businesses in a society without money is beyond me. And the Ferengi obviously have money since they essentially worship it. But everyone still has access to everything in the computer’s data banks, all they have to do is ask. This is one aspect of the Star Trek universe I hope to see accomplished within my lifetime.

We’re All the Same
George Takei often describes Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the original Star Trek with an analogy. The Enterprise, he says, is the spaceship Earth, and its crew represent the diversity of the human race. It was very important to the creator of Star Trek that all races were depicted with equality on the bridge. He even included a woman in a position of relative importance, although women weren’t allowed to serve as captains in the original series. (It’s clear they were allowed to serve in high ranking positions by Next Generation, but we didn’t get a female captain on the show crew until Voyager.)

This is an important distinction. It may seem old news now, but it was revolutionary at the time. In fact Nichelle Nichols’s role as Uhura was so groundbreaking, she was encouraged not to leave the show when she grew frustrated specifically because of what Uhura represented. Among other things, Star Trek the original series included TV’s first interracial kiss.

But equality in the Star Trek universe goes beyond the color of our skin and the country of our origin. As each series went on, it found new ways of affirming equality no matter the situation. There’s an episode of Next Generation which features a genderless society. Except that several of the genderless believe they have a gender, despite being labeled as outcasts in their society. Commander Riker encourages one of them to explore the gender they identify with; which can easily be equated with an outcry of support for the transgender community.

Each series also tends to include characters who aren’t human but who strive to find the essence of humanity. Data is a prime example; he sets humanity as the highest goal he could achieve and strives each day to become more human. There are many episodes devoted to whether or not artificial intelligences count as living beings and, yes, there is one episode where Data is defined as a living being with all the rights of any biological lifeform.

In short; it doesn’t matter what you look like, what race or species you’re born as, what gender you identify as or how you fall in love. At the core of us, we’re all the same. We’re all human. And as Data would tell us, humanity is perfection.

The Universe Exists in Shades of Grey
One of my favorite things about the original Star Trek is that even the episodes with happy endings are often bittersweet. Sometimes everything works out in the best way it can, but the best isn’t always good. When they find a planet of three-hundred year old children, for example, the crew are able to cure the disease which kills them when they reach puberty and save them from starvation. But they’re left with a planet full of kids that have lived without parents for three-hundred years and now have to face the prospect of growing up. It’s haunting when you think about it.

There’s another episode where Kirk gets caught in the middle of two warring tribes. The Klingons have given technology to one of the tribes, leaving the other to be slaughtered. In the end, Kirk asks Scotty to prepare weapons of equal strength for the side not aided by the Klingons in order to level the battlefield. He agonizes over this decision, believing in his heart he’s doing wrong. But his only other choice is to abandon the tribe to slaughter. At the end of the episode he asks for ‘serpents for the garden of Eden.’

I read a note from an author once to fans who were disappointed with how she ended her series. Things weren’t wrapped up with a pretty little bow. Instead one war led to another. This is reality, she said. This is realistic. In it’s early years, the Star Trek universe never shied from harsh realities. There may be good and evil in the universe, but things aren’t always so clear-cut. Sometimes there isn’t a right answer. Sometimes the answer that feels right leaves someone hurt, or even dead. In one episode, Kirk had to travel back in time to prevent Bones from changing history. To do that, he had to let a woman he fell in love with die. Most of the answers you’re going to have to choose in your life come from the moral grey area between what our gut tells us is wrong and what our heart tells us is right. That was the whole point of the original triad of characters; Spock spoke to logic, Bones to passion and Kirk had to find a way to balance the two when he made his decisions.

Of all the lessons Star Trek has to teach us, this is one of the most important; people who insist any decision can be boiled down to easy absolutes are blind. Most of the tough decisions the universe throws at you don’t have a right answer. The trick is knowing how to weigh the consequences and make a wise choice.

We Can’t Get There Alone
The first Star Trek I ever watched was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which is generally accepted by Star Trek fans to be the worst of the movies – even worse than the first one which is fairly boring. But I liked it the first time I watched it. It entranced me and drew me into the series as a whole. Now that I’m older, and have seen more of the series, I can see why people dislike it. Yet, one thing in particular has always stuck with me. At the beginning of the movie, Kirk is climbing a mountain. Spock startles him and he nearly falls. But when Spock tells him he could have died, Kirk denies it saying he knows he’ll die alone. And since he wasn’t alone, he wasn’t in danger of dying.

At the end of the movie, Kirk finds himself alone facing a god-like figure. He has a terrible moment of realization where he knows he is going to die. But at the last moment he’s beamed aboard a Klingon ship by Spock. When he tells his friend he thought he was going to die, Spock tells him that’s illogical, because he was never alone.

Call me a sap; it’s true. But this is a reoccurring theme in Star Trek, especially the original series. In our society we have this idea of ‘self-made men’ and ‘pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.’ People have this mistaken idea that you can get anywhere in life on your own with enough determination. The fact of the matter is, it just isn’t true. Even the strongest and most resourceful people require help and support to remain strong, resourceful and successful. Without Bones and Spock, for example, Kirk wouldn’t be half the captain he is. Why do you think he calls the two of them into his quarters in Wrath of Khan to talk about Genesis? Or why he drafts Bones in the first movie when it seems Earth is in danger? And why did he risk it all in Star Trek III; Search for Spock?

Because Kirk made his best decisions when he had advice from his two most trusted officers and friends. And because, when it came down to it, he never forgot how much he relied on them and how much they enriched his life. We’re all going somewhere. Lots of different somewheres and we won’t all end up at the same place. But not a single one of us can get there on our own. We all, at some point in our lives, need help along the way.

The Purpose of Life is to Boldly Go
The U.S.S Enterprise had an interesting mission; “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” And with each new episode, the crew would discover new and interesting challenges they had to overcome. Often this would lead to a moment of introspection; should we really be doing this? Are we equipped to handle the mysteries of the universe? We’re well outclassed, shouldn’t we just turn back?

But of course, they never gave up.

We might not be able to hop stars just yet. We can’t climb in our spaceship and see what’s beyond the solar system. But life is a series of challenges we each face on a daily basis. Whatever it is you want to be in this world, wherever it is you want to go, you have to pursue it unrelentingly. There will always be new challenges, new twists in the road, and even new setbacks. But the only way to get where you’re going, the only way to be ready for the universe waiting just beyond the next star, is to keep going.

A life untested isn’t really lived. The unknown is out there, waiting to be known. And you can’t get where you’re going if you don’t try something new, get your feet a bit dirty, and stop worrying about a little failure. Wherever you’re going, go boldly.

4 Replies to “To Boldly Go”

  1. What a great post! I’ve seen every episode of the original Star Trek, NG, and all the movies (multiple times) and I love them and the lessons you’ve so perfectly described above. I have to confess I’ve never watched the newer shows, mainly because I had small children at the time and then we gave up TV altogether 20 years ago (only use the TV for videos now).

    1. Thank you! :D It’s wonderful to hear a fellow fan feels the same way! I have to say, I think the older series were better, though the newer ones have their moments. We gave up TV ourselves about 4 or 5 years ago. Don’t miss it. Don’t think we’ll go back. But I have grown my DVD collection so I can watch my favourite TV shows from time to time. Working on Next Generation right now ;)

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