Wednesday, November 3, 2010

When did we forget how to dream?

When did our nation forget how to dream? When did we lose our sense of wonder, our belief in our ability to reach for the stars? Our belief in our ability to be more than we are? Some say it died on 9/11. Some say it declined with the economy. Anyway, at some point, we woke up and found ourselves a nation of cynics.

Science fiction is the avatar of our ability to dream of soaring to distant horizons, of proving there is no limit for us save our willingness to try. Since the days of Jules Verne, scientific speculation and flights of fancy have inspired the human race to reach for the unreachable and expand our frontiers, both internal and external. In the turbulent but hopeful era of the late 1960's, Gene Roddenberry introduced us to the world of "Star Trek" a dream of a future in which war and petty divisions were but unpleasant memories, and a unified, enlightened human race reached out to boldly go where none had gone before. In those days, we dreamed of going to the moon, and we made it.

Where are our dreams and hopes now? Where is that starry-eyed calling to move forward into a better world through our own ingenuity? Where is the determination to invent electric cars, solar technology, orbiting microwave power satellites, magnetic bullet trains and other inventions that could free us from Arab oil and greedy, ecologically destructive oil corporations? Grubby, self-serving politics and accommodation with special interests has killed carbon emission regulations, along with all meaningful incentive for green technology innovation. And, the most tragic part is that there is little or no outcry from the public. They're too busy voting for conservative politicians who reject change in any form, whether it be universal healthcare or clean energy.

Is a nation in decline when it abandons all hope in a better future? I think so. You can see the sad evidence in today's science fiction. Or, rather, the lack of it. Where today are the Captain Kirks and Mr. Spocks, the futuristic heroes who inspired us to dream of better days and grand adventures through invention and enlightenment? Science fiction has dwindled, reflecting the flagging spirit of a nation that has lost its will to dream.

Once, we dreamed of flying to the stars. Now, we fight for maintaining the status quo. Once, we dreamed of gleaming futuristic cities on the moon. Now, we march wearing the costumes of 230 years in the past. Once, we aspired to greatness. Now, we aspire to smallness. Once, we dreamed of a future where diseases were conquered and everyone was equal and healthy. Now, we scoff at dreams of self-improvement and ask to see each other's passports. We don't want to move forwards anymore, it seems. Only backwards.

Is there a Gene Roddenberry out there somewhere who can remind us of how to dream?

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