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The legacy of "Star Trek."

If there is one idea which characterizes "Star Trek" and its successors, it is that differences among people are not merely to be tolerated; they are to be embraced and celebrated.

In one of the earliest episodes of "Star Trek," Captain Kirk sternly told a crew member: "Leave any bigotry in your quarters, mister - there's no room for it on the bridge." And even now, when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" has completed its mission, when "Deep Space Nine" is entering yet another successful season, and when the crew of the Voyager are starting an entirely new and exciting journey, our writers and producers have continued to adamantly uphold the principles of "Star Trek's" creator, Gene Roddenberry.

Gene's vision has been called many things - innovative, progressive, idealistic. But, at its core, his outlook was always humanistic. For Gene, life was fascinating in its endless diversity. That some people's beliefs, customs, color, size, or shape would prevent them from attaining the respect of others or from living the fullest life possible was unthinkable to him.

Gene was a man who loved humanity unconditionally, fearlessly - from rabbis to agnostics, from university professors to the functionally illiterate . . . and, if he had a chance, from earth person to alien. Humanity - and beyond humanity, people.

Our episodes deal with issues such as war, drugs, prejudice, religion, power, trust, envy, love . . . and other endless dilemmas. I remember in one episode of "The Next Generation," Captain Picard is defending the rights not of a human being but of Data, an android. A judge must decide whether Data is the property of Starfleet or an individual with the right to determine his own destiny. And in a stirring courtroom speech, Captain Picard symbolizes the very core of "Star Trek" philosophy by saying:

Your decision will determine how we will regard those creations of our genius. That decision will reveal the kind of people we are. And what Data is destined to be. Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits.

And remember, your honor, that the decision you reach here today stretches far beyond this android and this courtroom. It could significantly redefine the boundaries of our personal liberty and freedom, expanding them for us while savagely curtailing them for others.

Will you condemn him and all who come after him to servitude and slavery? You wanted a chance to make law. Here it is. Make it a good one.

We can all relate to that scene. And we can celebrate the kind of television programming which will help ensure that future generations will not have to carry the memories of persecution, trial, and subjugation within them all their lives. We can celebrate television that is inherently humanist.

The message is, of course, that we are all alien in one way or another. And those seemingly overwhelming problems are simply conditions which exist in order to draw us together. And draw together we must, for that is the only way to the future.

Moses Maimonides, who lived nearly 900 years ago, wrote a book called The Guide for the Perplexed. In it, he said: "The human race contains such a variety of individuals that we cannot discover two persons exactly alike in any moral quality or external appearance. This great variety and necessity of social life are essential elements in man's nature." These are the same principles, the same philosophies, which are inherent in "Star Trek."

But let's go back to what "Star Trek" really is. It started out as a television show - a good television show, but, nonetheless, a television show. Seventy-nine episodes of a series made for the purpose of selling toothpaste and soap. But it came from the heart and imagination of a very evolved human being. And the result is a very evolved television show of which we are all very proud.

"Star Trek," the legend, is very different: it embraces peace and love and unity, and it says that civilization will reach maturity on the day it learns to value diversity in life and ideas. As Gene once put it:

To be different is not necessarily to be ugly; to have a different idea is not necessarily to be wrong. The worst thing that could happen is for everyone to look and think and act alike. For if we cannot learn to appreciate the small variations between our own kind here on earth, then God help us when we get out into space and meet the variations that are almost certainly out there.

Think about these words of Gene's. And also:

What a terrible, boring world it would be if everyone agreed with everyone else. And if there weren't different shapes and colors and ideas. . . . My test for a wise human is when they [sic] take a positive delight when someone says, "I disagree with you because. . . ."

What an opportunity this opens!

Let me give you an update on how science, technology, and science fiction have intermingled. Take, for example, our Starfleet communicators - actually, a small cellular telephone. Does anyone believe it is only coincidence that cell-phones resemble communicators so closely?

Or what about the tazer - very similar in shape and effect to our phaser? Soon, we will even be able to say, "Phasers on stun." There is a program right now in Los Angeles in which officers are being trained in the use of a goo-gun, which squirts a thick stream of sticky foam at an escaping suspect, rendering him or her immobile until capture or baby oil arrive to remove the foam. This will reduce the risks of injuries to officers, bystanders, and suspects. We may eventually be able to subdue armed suspects, rout angry mobs, even settle wars without harming the innocent.

How about our holodeck? We now have in production virtual-reality simulators that can create a fictional hostile environment to aid in training police officers. Today, they are using this device at NASA to train astronauts. The aerospace industry has used it as a training device for pilots. Gene proposed it in the first movie but was turned down because of the expense.

Back when "Star Trek" first started, we didn't have any computer keyboards; ours were made out of wood. The only computers in existence were those great monolithic monsters deep in the basements of large laboratories, understood by only the most erudite scientists. We kept having the experience of going to these large corporate headquarters and having the CEO say, "Give them what they want. What the hell! These 'Star Trek' people seem to know more about it than we do, anyway." And today, many of us would find our daily lives in chaos without that one-time dream - the personal computer.

Gene believed the role of science fiction was not merely to entertain but to engage the imaginations of viewers, to generate ideas which would help solve humanity's current problems. He believed that, by attempting to turn dreams into reality for the future, progress would result today. It certainly has!

Look at our biological medical computers monitoring the life functions of patients in sick bay. They now exist in hospitals throughout the world. And how about the hypospray? A happy alternative to hypodermic needles.

And we have just developed a medical scanner which can detect certain infirmities in patients. When asked what it looked like, the answer was - the tricorder in "Star Trek."

How about concepts and ideas for the future? Those things that still seem to be impossible today? What about the matter/anti-matter pods which power the starship Enterprise? There is an anti-matter factory in Geneva, Switzerland, that is producing millions of anti-photons per second in an effort to create a new rocket fuel. NASA and the U.S. Air Force are currently studying the concept of anti-matter propulsion - a system admittedly far in the future, but one that will never be part of our journey into space if it is not attempted.

At the University of California at Berkeley, a renowned scientist is experimenting with protons in a variety of capacities. When asked what inspired him, he replied: "Star Trek."

A video headset will soon allow visually impaired people to see their world as if projected on a 60-inch black-and-white television screen. This low-vision enhancement system will help many people with visual impairments due to diseases such as diabetes, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and muscular degeneration. Think what this means to a person who has never been able to clearly define a face, admire a landscape, or read a book. The physical design is very much like Geordie's visor!

Guinan's bar is stocked with synthehol - synthetic alcohol. Scientists in Israel have just perfected a system of fermentation of grapes that produces the taste and bouquet of alcoholic wine but without its intoxicating effect.

Thousands of robots and androids are being produced each year for a variety of uses in industry, medicine, and even household help.

Do you remember when a planet was threatened by the approach of a wayward asteroid in "The Paradise Syndrome"? The Enterprise crew was instrumental in diverting disaster by the application of negative energy. JPL and the University of Arizona have been working on a plan to do the same thing. How? By applying negative energy!

Could Earth be subjected to the vagaries of wayward asteroids? The chance of this happening is apparently much greater than we ever suspected. Remember when poor Jupiter took a caning of 21 blows? If this had happened to Earth, it would have destroyed one-quarter of our planet. But I am assured by aerospace heavy Dr. Hans Mark that a plan is in place if our planet is ever subjected to a similar barrage - a plan based, once again, on negative energy.

At the Lawrence Livermore Lab, the most important starship work in the world takes place daily as Rod Hydes' laser fusion experiments continue - although recent revelations suggest an intense interest in more graphic basics (apparently, in a little extracurricular chicanery, the lab's computers were turning out some mild pornography on an extensive scale).

And at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I am told, someone has even attempted the creation of a transporter. Some future Scotty may be able to "beam us up" after all.

One company, Teledyne, is poised to launch 1,000 satellites, then an additional 10 to 20 per year to maintain the network - a kind of probe mechanism. These satellites will create broad-ban communications anywhere in the world capable of transmitting high, definition holograms, pictures, and robotics. With this system, it will become possible for a doctor in California, using high, definition pictures, to operate with remote equipment on a patient in China. Suddenly, the global village becomes smaller.

This, then, is Gene's legacy. And although the vision was created by Gene, it is humanists and people like them who ensure that his vision will continue to live and grow. And so, the universe grows. The voyage continues. His vision lives.

Majel Barrett, known as the "First Lady of Star Trek," speaks widely on the meaning and effects of the "Star Trek" phenomenon. She starred as Nurse Christine Chapel in the original "Star Trek" series and two of the films; as Lwuxana Troi in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"; and as the computer voice in all three of the "Star Trek" series. This article is adapted from her speech delivered on May 19, 1995, in acceptance of the 1995 Humanist Arts Award of the American Humanist Association.
COPYRIGHT 1995 American Humanist Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Roddenberry, Majel Barrett
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Jul 1, 1995
Words:1910
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