As a child, every Monday evening I would wait hopefully for my aunt to ring. Not because I wanted to speak to her or even hear her news but because it would take my mother away from the television set. Her desire was to watch a particular soap, mine was to watch the original series of Star Trek as, once more, it was recycled. This time on prime time on the BBC.
I cannot say that any of its sophisticated promotion of humanist values made any surface impression on my mind. I was interested in the characters, the unfolding plots and the sense of dangers overcome. Nevertheless as Gaston Bachelard remarked the depths are touched before they reach the surfaces so I fully expect that Star Trek was one of my tutors in liberalism.
I have been re-watching in this its fiftieth year the original series (courtesy of Netflix) and find myself periodically pausing to reflect on how it resonates.
First I am struck by the obvious probing of the relationship of the rational and the emotional. The two necessary parts of a single whole but how do they fit together, find a harmonious balance? It is a repeating meme, carried with the sense that there can be no full humanity without a comprehensive answer. Even Spock with his championing of logic (and reason) recognises that there is yet something other to be seen and found.
Second I notice the consistent championing of friendship. It is classical in its intensity. Whatever may be true of the hierarchical requirements of commanding a starship, this is only fully possible, can only fulfil its possibilities, if people's deepest fullness is found in friendship. When the straight lines of organisation are tested by the messy disordering of reality, it is the complexities and bondings of friendship that find a route out and to resolution. We inhabit a community, first and always, before we inhabit a structure or organisation (helpful as they can be).
Third that every constructed value system is a reflection of the aspiration of its transcendence and the reality of its time. The intentionality of the Star Trek inventors is towards a harmonious community, rooted in humanist values, but cannot help be a reflection of its time. The gender/race relations are both in advance of the period (when it was composed) but for the 23rd century (one hopes) suck! And even when some, if not all, of these are corrected in the Star Trek franchise, there is always the subtle privileging of the 'human' as the standard of measurement. This is probably inevitable (and helpfully so) to remind us that we always see from where we are but nonetheless is something to continually remain vigilant of.
Finally, and it is has been noticed by more than one reviewer of the anniversary, Star Trek remains strangely anachronistic here and now, for being so relentless optimistic about the human future. Whilst dystopia crowds around us in post apocalyptic versions of Orwell or Huxley's brave new worlds (or, more darkly, still zombies pop up and out and clout all in sight or vampires commune on our blood or the road runs on into simply inexplicable ash ridden darkness), the Enterprise carries on, incarnation after incarnation, boldly going where none has gone before in hope, vulnerability and enthusiasm.