Great piece. Star Trek, from its inception, was a deeply idealistic and even utopian fiction -- there were challenges to be met in the future, but the baseline assumption was that progress would be made. Society would be if not perfect, bending toward tolerance, technology had its dangers but also great promise. In many ways it was an articulation of our confidence in the pluralistic values of the West. The original Star Trek was born in a time of great upheaval and uncertainty, and yet it is utterly convinced in its idealism. TNG, which just as the Cold War ended and seemingly more hopeful world order was born, carried this forward (it totally coincides with Fukuyama's heyday).

These visions of the future have fallen by the wayside and have been totally supplanted by cynical nightmares, which assume that there is rot at the core of civilization, that technology is the enemy (and old theme but now the overwhelming one) and that what lies ahead is very dark. This is a world Putin is very comfortable in, but Star Trek was populated by Zelenskys -- who believe in human agency, in a higher purpose, in the values of our civilization, not as mere words but instruments of real enlightenment. When I remember the Borg, I think not of old Communism but the evils of our new social media ecosystem and its technocratic administrators, which privileges algorithms over human choice, and coldly mechanizes outrage and dread for profit. We need a Picard.

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Mar 2, 2022·edited Mar 2, 2022Liked by Erik Hoel

Not to nitpick, but if there is an originator of the End of History idea, it is definitely Hegel. Fukuyama has explicitly cited that's where he got the idea.

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Mar 8, 2022Liked by Erik Hoel

Great piece. The new Picard series just didn't sit well with me and I think that was mostly due to it trashing the utopia built up in TNG. Do we really need a corrupt Federation as a plot point? Why did they have to crush the dream of a government that really has the best intentions. At least in Discovery the evil came from a parallel universe!

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It should be self-evident that history never ends. We never reach utopia and always struggle in the dark. Perfection doesn’t exist. Nature is fractal and thick, scientific knowledge is always infinitesimally thin, and there’s always one bug more. And how boring the world would be otherwise!

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That’s amazing about Gene Roddenberry. And you opened my eyes to virtues that I had overlooked in TNG. But I think your literary readers might want to know about what the Star Trek universe might have become after a few thousand years. <drum roll>

Iain Banks’ Culture is a utopian, anarchist, galactic civilization that has transcended virtually all physical limitations, has tossed away all politics, includes any and all bodily expressions of life, and gets along with superintelligences as first-class citizens. And yet, citizens of The Culture can live stunningly interesting, meaningful, and adventurous lives.

In his nine Culture novels there are some rival civilizations to the Culture and many lesser-tier species that deserve its version of the Star Trek prime directive. Even a fantastically well-off civilization may have to convert to a war footing in order to survive (and a shout out to Larry Niven who wrote decades ago about a pacifist human civ that also had to do the same). Or the quirky Culture faction called Special Circumstances might have to save another species from virtual reality hell or figure out some Outside Context Event. Sometimes another species will decide to “sublimate” by disappearing up its own navel. Culture factions might help to sort out who gets to have its abandoned stuff.

The inhabitants of the Star Trek universe did not escape history and neither did the Culture. In these cultures the wider are your future horizons, the bigger are your historical events. But that’s not the point. Banks, who died in 2013, was an international literary hero and an idealist visionary in the Roddenberry mold. Banks took many science fiction tropes to fantastic extremes but portrayed them as merely part of everyday life. He wrote about characters who could live as long as they wanted, have anything they wanted, and be anything, but still had engaging problems and relationships with other humans and artificial Minds. He put them in staggeringly cinematic action set pieces and in comedies of manners.

In one novella Culture citizens secretly visited Earth, so we are not their ancestors.

Banks prepared his fans for his coming untimely death. He also responded early on to their love for his creations with a long exposition on the what, who, where and why of the Culture: http://www.vavatch.co.uk/books/banks/cultnote.htm This is a kind of sweet thing that science fiction authors do for their readers. It’s packed with ideas, a good read even without knowing the novels.

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I find myself here after reading through your interview on growth with Substack. I'm so glad I can add myself to those numbers! I loved this post, and am excited to read more.

I especially appreciated this line, that there "are no positive science fictions we can offer, just more exaggerated versions of our own current political and cultural problems." I remember writing a fairly lengthy paper in college with an essentially similar theme. I was examining the show "The Walking Dead", finding in it a metaphor for how we experience socialization. We have deep fears of the other, and our age of interconnected technology has highlighted, rather than remediated, that fear.

As an interesting *possible* counter example for positive science fiction, I'm curious if you have read Ron L. Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000"? Written in 1982, I think it takes a surprisingly positive take on the human spirit.

Lastly, your final paragraph hit home for me. "For morality is best expressed through examples, not rules or systems of thought." I'm currently writing on this topic and find this posture of thought enormously helpful. Keep up the good, insightful work!

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Apr 1, 2022Liked by Erik Hoel

Great writing and I've had these same sorts of discussions about ST:TNG - truly a desirable and realistic outcome which could be achieved with the right technology and luck of future historical happenings.

That said, I think one technology which could steer us back towards that future is missing and despite the good press a few years ago, it has fallen off the radar and appears to be decades away at best.

The replicator.

More than even the warp drive or the one multi-world government of the Federation, I think this technology is one of the biggest missing pieces. The post-scarcity world is fundamentally dependent on this technology or something else which does the same thing, such that as long as you have a personal supply of a few hundred kilograms of various atoms, you can have anything you want. Need more solar panels? Replicator. Need food, clothes, light bulbs, etc. Replicator.

3D printing of even metals, concrete, and plastics is still nascent with biological 3D printing of complex things like food still a pipe dream with no near term technology, which I know about, even clearly being on the path to making that possible.

But should that technology of an 'anything' or 'most things' replicator or set of replicators be invented which are cheap and easy to obtain. It would have an impact on history greater than the combined effect of airplanes, trains, birth control, and atomic weaponry. It would be bigger than and sort of the end of the industrial revolution if we had Star Trek replicators.

Most governments would collapse, industries would collapse, stock markets and currencies all over the world would collapse, and the idea of jobs or working would end as a necessity, etc. when no one needed anything from anyone and could just endlessly recycle a few hundred kilo of atoms. You could even grab more carbon or nitrogen from the air.

You couldn't have a human army through any means except violence or ideology, but even then if you can't pay your soldiers or cultists in anything they actually need, why would they fight for you or feel strongly about what you're saying? Who will hold that first gun to make the second person fight for you? Probably robot armies in some dystopia future could occur. Next Gen explored a lot of the moral aspects of Data the android, but did little to explain why he/it was rare and why AGI was not more common.

Certainly the dream fugue state for Millennials born into a false 'end of history' period in 'the West' has been shattered and depending on where you live in the world, history certainly did not end for you!

There are many unsafe places to be, child soldiers, regular adult soldiers, many refugee camps running so long and with no end in sight which have internally born populations in their 20s or 30s, many reduced-rights ethnic enclaves within other nations, and a larger number of slaves than at any point in history right now along with a continual series of at least half a dozen open war and civil war zones over the world continuously since WW2. And I wonder what we'd find if we measured the annual tonnage of explosives being dropped on the Earth/people as a global measurement over time, the number is certainly very high over the past decade.

But perhaps one day a true anything replicator or other technology could lead us to a post scarcity and post dystopian future.

It is a simple truism that the only way to get to a post scarcity world is to actually end scarcity. Until then we'll continue to tumult through an endlessly renewably violent future history of greed, power, corruption, and a world where a great many people have power over others.

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Erik, it sounds like you should acquaint yourself with Project Hieroglyph and their fantastic short sci-fi collection, which was created to address this specific issue:


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Big fan - I’m sharing every article with my friends until they sub, too. Super nitpick, but a suggestion while you move to having a podcast version is to maybe have an intro and/or outro not included in the text version. I felt like the “Hoel out,” was out of place in the text, but I can see that being a fine outro in an audio recording. I might be wrong, but that sort of tag is not in your other pieces, and maybe was added solely because of reading it into an audio version? They’re different formats, so different expectations for the structure of the content exist. When we listen to podcasts we want like a “Hey there, this is X,” and a “See ya later,” like a normal conversation that aren’t usually included in text articles. Just my two cents that I hope help you branch out and reach a larger audience without sacrificing the quality of one or the other formats trying to make both the exact same content. Again, love your stuff!

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Is there anybody writing anything remotely like this now? I'm not asking rhetorically. I really want to read it.

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