August 29, 2014

Superior powers don't change society

A Facebook discussion began with a bit on Superman. Specifically, in the Peace on Earth graphic novel:

Superman learns there's hunger in the world--duh!--so he decides to end it singlehandedly. He starts delivering food everywhere, but a couple of Third World forces oppose him--because it's to their advantage to keep their people hungry.

Does Superman take out those forces? Or simply avoid those countries while he continues helping people elsewhere? No, he gives up. Because comic books can't handle the idea that god-like beings would change the world in fundamental ways.Weird.He ends up teaching kids one by one how to grow food using his childhood farming skills. Following the old "teach a person to fish" idea. This teaching project is never mentioned again.

It obviously was a half-hearted attempt to deal with the social issues comics normally avoid. There's no good solution to this storytelling problem. Either superheroes transform the world beyond recognition, or comics remain unrealistic fairy tales for kids.It's just weird that they wouldn't go with option #2 and just blame the idea's failings on human vice. To have Superman "give up" and do nothing just seems fundamentally flawed.

But you see the same thing in sci-fi where revolutionary new technologies are invented or discovered and then essentially have no effect on life anywhere.
I think the in-story explanation for Superman's resignation was that "human vice" made the project untenable. I.e., that too many people would undermine his noble efforts for selfish reasons.

Which might be a realistic outcome if he'd fought world hunger for 10-20 years and found he wasn't getting anywhere. But to literally encounter two minor setbacks and give up on saving millions of lives? No.

Federation = paradise?

Speaking of sci-fi and revolutionary technologies:

Yeah, Star Trek's magic food-and-object replicator should've changed the Federation beyond recognition. No farming communities, no Quark's bar, no illegal gun-running, etc. Why bother when you can make your own food, drink, or weapons in the privacy of your home?

Every Federation world that embraces technology should be a paradise. Which probably explains why we don't see much of Earth in Trek stories. No one dares to portray a world without poverty, hunger, or conflict.They did show Earth in a number of episodes and it IS a paradise where people, it would seem, largely do whatever they feel like doing without needing to have occupations or obligations.Outside of Enterprise, the Academy, and time-travel stories, I'd say they didn't show much of Earth. Certainly not in the 23rd and 24th centuries.

Yeah, Earth is supposed to be a paradise. So...can people have an unlimited number of children, or what? What prevents a large number of obligation-free people from engaging in constant sex, drugs, and virtual realities? There's presumably a world government with a what political issues do they fight over during elections?

Where are all the other paradise worlds and empires, since they all have the same technology? How does the ability to replicate an infinite amount of resources affect the Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, et al.? Why were they fighting over quadrotriticale when the Federation could whip up as much of it as anyone could eat?

None of the shows address any of this. And the same applies to energy (antimatter power generation) and transportation (teleportation). These technologies should cause radical transformations in every known civilization.

Trading without money?

Let's see...there's no money, although characters have talked about saving credits and doubling salaries. No money means no real economy. So how do countries and planets engage in trade? If they need a limited resource such as dilithium, how does it get allocated to interested parties?

Earth's government undertakes huge projects such as building and running Starfleet. Does it still tax people, and what do they pay with? If not, how do resources flow to the government? Do billions of people each donate 10% of their nonexistent money to the government voluntarily, or what?

As I said, no one involved in Trek has even begun to describe how this so-called paradise would work. They can't because it would mean declaring capitalism is bad and unlimited sex and drugs are good. Hence my previous comment: "No one dares to portray a world without poverty, hunger, or conflict."Yes, because that would be [gasp] COMMUNISM!

Which I gather is what The Federation essentially is. If you have 100% renewable energy and replicators that can make anything you need, why do you need an economy OR taxes?
I assume replicators just rearrange molecules. If they can actually change lead into gold--or gold latinum--that's another whole problem. So there should still be scarce resources. Dilithium and other minerals are the usual example.

And that means trade, which is a constant factor in the Trek stories. But trade of what? Is everything done on a barter basis? That's unworkable for any group larger than a few hundred people, but I'd love to see it explained on a planetary scale.

An enterprise such as Starfleet requires millions of people to plan, design, build, and maintain things, even if you can replicate the raw materials. It requires ditch diggers, gardeners, plumbers, electricians, and many other jobs that aren't that popular without money. Who's doing all this dirty work?

Are people literally choosing these careers out of love, with no remuneration other than a pat on the back? Because so many people prefer physical labor to unlimited sex and drugs? And does the number of workers needed magically equal the number of people seeking work? Yeah, right...tell me another fairy tale.

Communism? I don't think communism has ever worked on a large scale. So again, tell me how it functions in the Federation. Show it to me on screen or in a novel and then I'll believe it.

For more on Star Trek, see Colonialism Inspired Science Fiction and Star Trek vs. Star Wars.

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