Thursday, July 21, 2005

"It's worse than that: he's dead, Jim!"

The Militant Pine Marten has just found out with great sadness that God has decided to beam up James Doohan. James Doohan will have been better known to just about everyone in the world as Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, the chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise. The Militant Pine Marten readily admits to being a bit of a Trekkie, but for different reasons than the prevalent ones expressed in these tributes left on the BBC website. I have never considered that Scotty, Bones, Kirk and Spock were "part of my family when I grew up", and Star Trek had absolutely nothing to do with my decision to study engineering. I'm sure that James Doohan was a lovely person, but really, I have no idea, I didn't know him. As to whether or not he was a great actor, I'll leave that to others to decide. What does that entail anyway? If it's measured by how much pleasure he brought to people through his performances, then surely he is.

But that's beside the point. The reason for which I am saddened by Doohan's disappearance is that he was one of the faces of a cultural phenomenon that had - and indeed still has - at its heart a fundamentally benevolent, internationalist, pluralist, positive, optimistic view of humanity and its future. I think that Star Trek can be best summed up as the United Nations as it ought to be - in space. It portrays a united humanity that has mostly overcome its' great problems of poverty, inequality, racism, religious sectarianism, intolerance, etc and has instead decided to focus its attention on exploration, on trying to indulge humankind's insatiable curiosity to find out what or who is over the next hill (or indeed solar system), how things work and what we're here for in the first place.

Star Trek portrays a culture that invites others to join it, but imposes it on no-one (do you see rose-tinted parallels with the EU here?). The "Prime Directive" , overused as a plot device, is simply the principle of non-intervention, designed to protect other cultures from possibly well-meaning but misguided or uninformed outside meddling. We could really use an effective Prime Directive of our own. And at the same time, it does not shy away from the fact that sometimes, the rules have to be bent a little, and that there are those out there with whom no meaningful dialogue can exist (they're big in the real news right now).

It shows a version of the future in which science, technology, engineering and medicine form a fundamental part of humankind's development, and are not bad things that destroy the environment. This is all based on the discovery of sustainable non-polluting energy in the form of nuclear fusion, something that I think we will see in our lifetimes if the chaps at ITER do their jobs and indeed are allowed to do so by the PTBs. Personally I detest the backward, mediaeval view espoused by some of the more "virulent" environmentalists that science is bad, that we should all go and live in tree houses. Nuclear fusion and warp speed are where we should be boldly going!

And so I'm sad to hear of the passing of James Doohan, but I hope that through his performances he helped some people realise that it isn't all hopeless, that there is a point in trying to make things change for the better. None of knows how the future will turn out to be, but let's hope that when it comes, it will not be too dissimilar to that shown in Star Trek.

Live Long and Prosper.

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