Star Trek & “Death By Prosperity”
I’ve been a big Star Trek fan since I was a little kid….well, let me rephrase that; I’ve watched and enjoyed the different Star Trek series since I was a little kid. The really big fans are walking in their houses with vulcan ears right now and fantasizing about scoring with 7 of 9. That’s why I find the political discussion of Star Trek going on right now in the blogosphere at blogs like QandO, Matthew Yglesias, Cobb, The Review, Pandragon, & The Corner to be of interest. As a matter of fact, I may be descending into total geekery here, but I think there are fascinating questions raised by Star Trek once you take them out of the realm of science fiction and ask what the real world implications would be.
For example, there’s the economics question. Once you can simply replicate anything you want, then does the question of which is better, capitalism vs. communism, an argument that has already been decided in the real world, change or become irrelevant? Well, if as Thomas Sowell has said “Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses,” then I believe economics itself is no longer very important when there are very, very, few scarce resources with alternative uses.
Also, I’m of the opinion that if we really did have the sort of technology depicted in the Star Trek series, we wouldn’t have the manpower available to explore the universe on spaceships. Like I wrote back on May 15th of last year,
“…I tend to think that the Star Trek world, one where resources are nearly unlimited, wouldn’t be as benign as we imagine. My guess is that you’d have a whole planet full of holodeck junkies who’d only come out long enough to replicate some food. I mean once you can create a machine that allows to shape your own reality in any way you wish, how many people would want to experience the real thing? People would spend so much time in their own private holodecks that eventually most of the human race would die out and the luddites would have to replenish the earth.”
Yes, you’re reading that right. I’m predicting that too much prosperity and freedom from want would destroy the human race. as it is, Western societies do not have a birth rate high enough to even keep their populations from shrinking. Now imagine the effect of personal holodecks. People just wouldn’t expend the effort to go out and find a mate when they could walk into a holodeck and literally have anything they wanted, any way they wanted, anytime they wanted. You think Mariah Carey is the most desirable woman on earth? Great, you can be with her in the holodeck in 5 minutes. Oh…but her voice is a little too squeaky for you? Change it. Are you tired of her? Great, you can be trapped on a desert island with Lucy Liu and Ann Coulter tonight if that’s what you want. Heck, even if you did meet an interesting woman in real life, there would no longer be a need to romance her. You could just head to the holodeck that night and create her from scratch.
Add to that replicators to produce absolutely anything that you could possibly want, androids to fix anything that breaks, & holographs capable of doing everything else, and there would be almost no reason for human beings to ever leave their virtual worlds. I know that a lot of you probably don’t buy this for a second because you believe people would want to get out into the “real world”. But, if the virtual world were superior to the real world in every way except that it wasn’t “real,” then I believe the overwhelming majority of the human race would rarely leave it. Then within a generation or two, it would be left to the luddites among us to try to keep the human race from amusing itself into extinction. Death by prosperity, that would be a heck of a way for the human race to destroy itself, wouldn’t it?