I’m not the most avid Star Trek fan, but I remember watching The Next Generation when I was a kid. Some episodes really caught my imagination. There’s an episode where people from the 20th century wake up from cryogenic storage and are confused by the absence of money. After I read The Diamond Age I thought about that episode. Those are two very different views of post-scarcity.
If the Enterprise is a symbol of idealized science and exploration, what is the symbol of my worries about the scientific endeavor? I picture the Spaceballs flying Winnebago. Worn out, poorly maintained, and running out of gas. Why would it even run on gas? We don’t know, but here we are.
The whole neurosociology of the twentieth century could be understood as a function of two variables—the upward-rising curve of the Revolution of Rising Expectations, and the downward-plunging trajectory of the Revolution of Lowered Expectations.The Revolution of Rising Expectations, which had drawn more and more people into its Up-thrust during the first half of the century, had led many to believe that poverty and starvation and disease were all being phased out by advances in pure and applied science, growing stockpiles of surplus food in the advanced nations, accelerated medical progress, the spread of literacy and electronics, and the mounting sense that people had a right to demand a decent life for themselves and their children.The Revolution of Lowered Expectations was based on the idea that there wasn’t enough energy to provide for the rising expectations of the masses. Year after year the message was broadcast: There Isn’t Enough. The masses were taught that Terra is a closed system, that entropy was increasing, that life was a losing proposition all round, and that majority were doomed to poverty, starvation, disease, misery and stupidity.Most of the people who still had rising expectations were scientists.
Anything we can do to raise our expectations is good. There is enough: enough energy (solar and nuclear), enough medicine (the molecules are cheap), enough labor (robots!), enough fun stuff to do (digital entertainment is almost infinitely abundant). It might be that changing peoples’ expectations is as important as fulfilling them.