Glenn Reynolds, in his MSNBC column, explains the appeal of the Star Trek vision of the future:
In the pre-George Lucas days, science fiction futures tended to be gloomy: the Malthusian disaster of Soylent Green, the post-viral world of The Omega Man, the post-nuclear world of Planet of the Apes (Hmm Ã¢€” gloomy science fiction futures also tended to feature Charlton Heston, didnÃ¢€™t they? But there were plenty of others, as demonstrated by the post-deforestation world of Silent Running, a film that deserved more attention than it got.) In fact, the Seventies were a time in which people in general were profoundly gloomy about the future, and Star Trek represented one of the few non-gloomy alternatives. The Star Trek future was one in which, in William FaulknerÃ¢€™s terms, mankind did not simply survive, but prevailed. I think that that attitude, that sense of possibility, has encouraged a lot of people not simply to hope for a better future, but to work for one.
Reynolds thinks this optimism, with its view that we can change the very nature of mankind, could conceivably help us bring peace to the Middle East and solve other conflicts.
While I like this idea and indeed enjoy the Trek universe, I find it unrealistic. In its most utopian form, as seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation (admittedly, mainly post-Roddenberry), humankind has essentially been transformed into the what John Lennon envisioned in “Imagine:” no possessions, no countries, no religion, nothing to kill or die for. Very sweet but rather unlikely.
I don’t think, though, that “Soylent Green” or “Logan’s Run” or any of the other apocalyptic views of humanity are our likely futures either. We will continue to evolve, our wealth and health will improve, and spread. It isn’t even entirely unreasonable that we’ll one day eliminate hunger and large scale war. But the idea that doing these things will eradicate evil from the world, let alone ambition, greed, jealousy, and conflict from the human condition is just unfathomable. Indeed, I’m not sure that a species without those attributes would even properly be called “human.”