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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Switching Doctor Who for Star Trek

Popular media can be a powerful tool for gauging the spirit of a time and place. It's modern mythology, embodying the values, hopes, fears and metaphors of a culture.

I was a child of the '60s. We believed that no problem was too big to solve. We believed in peace, plenty, equality and freedom. Civil Rights, the War on Poverty, going to the Moon, and Women's Liberation were all faces of the same dream. Heck, Dr. Martin Luther King was a Trekkie. We believed that the future of Captain Kirk and his comrades was inevitable, that white men, black women, Asians, green alien guys, even Russians, would one day be brothers and sisters spreading a kind of “tough love” across the galaxy. We had faith that all we had to do was to keep growing and pushing and inventing, and it would automatically drop into our laps.

The trouble was that that faith was based on a twisted myth, a set of very American beliefs: that of Manifest Destiny, of the “eternal frontier,” of unlimited progress as our birthright. People talk about America as the “New Israel,” as a reprise of the Moses story of captivity and release. That makes some sense, especially for African Americans. The trouble is that the Messianic aspects of the myth got blown WAY out of proportion, spawning a society that saw itself as entitled to perpetual growth, of having no limits. Tragically, our highest ideals of Liberty and Equality became wedded to the basest kind of exploitation. Ask Native Americans about “Manifest Destiny.”

The ideals and ethics of the crew of the Starship Enterprise and Federation were of the highest caliber- Did you know that University textbooks have been written about them? But in the 1970s we lost our chance at creating their world in two ways; we lost our nerve and we squandered our inheritance.

We saw Peak Oil coming back then. We saw Climate Change coming back then. Many of us were working on things to avert them: food co-ops; the Back to the Land Movement; Permaculture; The Whole Earth Catalog; recycling; lots of wind generators and solar panels. The government even gave tax breaks for many of them. We were on top of things, tackling our troubles with a can-do spirit. But bad presidents, a totally screwed up Indochina war, gas shortages, the Cold War, assassinations and more killed that spirit.

That loss of nerve led to squandering our inheritance. We lost our nerve to face our problems as they were, and to sanely build for the future, preferring to become fearful consumers of stuff for stuff's sake. We wasted our “trust fund” of fossil fuels on a gluttonous spree, not on building for the future. We had seen the coming night, but wanted to party like it was “morning in America.” We couldn't rebuild the Apollo program now even if we had the guts to try. We lost thirty years of preparing for Peak Petroleum- we lost thirty years of dealing with Climate Change- and we lost the stars.

If Star Trek was a metaphor for the Sixties, now is an age more like West Side Story: choreographed political gang fights; clueless, ineffectual public officials; well-meaning folks doing exactly the wrong things; good people getting ground up in the middle.

My personal metaphor for decades was Star Trek, but no longer; Now I identify with Doctor Who. He has pretty much the same ideals as the Star Trek folks, but rather than being a representative of a Federation, is an exile from an immensely advanced society in its terminal decadence. Everywhere he goes he meets greed, stupidity and violence, yet he doesn't give up on his ideals. He and his traveling companions try to help wherever they go, however they can, against long odds, with little thanks.

That's where we are in the Local Foods Movement. We're companions, working with high ideals and hopes to build something good. We seem to be surrounded by forces determined to do the stupidest, greediest things that they can. Sometimes we feel like exiles from the world that could have been.

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