|Star Trek socialism is related to "Utopian Socialism", a term usually limited to thinkers before the mid-19th Century. Wikipedia says:
Utopian Socialism is a term used to define the first currents of modern Socialist thought. Utopian socialists never actually used this name to describe themselves; the term "utopian socialism" was introduced by Karl Marx and used by later socialist thinkers, to describe early socialist or quasi-socialist intellectuals who created hypothetical visions of perfect egalitarian and communalist societies without actually concerning themselves with the manner in which these societies could be created or sustained....
Although it is technically possible for any person living at any time in history to be a utopian socialist, the term is most often applied to those utopian socialists who lived in the first quarter of the 19th century. From the mid-19th century onwards, the other branches of socialism far surpassed the utopian version in terms of intellectual development and number of supporters. Utopian Socialists were important in the formation of modern movements for intentional community and cooperatives, such as Open Source and Techno Communism.
The term "scientific socialism" is sometimes used by Marxists to describe their version of socialism, specifically for the purpose of counterposing it to Utopian Socialism which was descriptive and idealistic (in a sense of representing an ideal) rather than scientific, i.e., developed by means of reasoning and based on social sciences....
Utopian Socialism in Modern Culture
Heaven is often described as something similar to a socialist utopia, but the most familiar utopian socialist society would be that of the United Federation of Planets in the popular television series Star Trek - particularly that depicted in The Next Generation. There is no money, no want, no poverty, no crime, no disease or ignorance in human society; everyone works for the advancement of all humanity--as well as the rest of the Federation.
So, what, specifically, do I mean by "Star Trek socialism"?
I mean nothing specific.
I mean it as an invitation to imagine, not as a definition to impose.
Such is the nature of utopia--it is, above all, an exercise of the imagination, which is a core part of what makes us human. By using the term "Star Trek socialism" I want to indicate and help re-establish an alternative viewpoint that is not just valuable in itself, but also for the sorts of discussions it can generate. The viewpoint is that which we can see embodied in the United Federation of Planets, and how we can imagine ways to "Make it so," as Captain Picard would say.
The connection to pre-Marxist socialism is important for at least two major reasons. First is the demonization associated with anything Marxist. While I don't want to endorse that demonization, neither do I want to expend a lot of energy defending a development that I think was deeply flawed. This is the second major reason. Marx called his approach "scientific socialism," but his model of science was 19th Century positivism--the same model that underlies neo-classical economics, and its modern (and post-modern) undead progeny that run rampant about us today.
What's wrong with positivism? Well, this can be answered on two levels. On the surface, it strongly tends to produce notions of deterministic laws. Whether it's Marx's dialectic progress through class struggle, or neo-classic price theory, positivism has a strong tendency to delude economic thinkers into the fantasy that they are 19th Century physicists in a pre-Einstein, pre-Heisenberg, totally deterministic world, which can all be explained with a few short equations.
More fundamentally, positivism elevates talk about facts over everything else--including theory, but especially criticism. It is based on the deep philosophical illusion that we are as Gods, who can, to some extent, simply stand outside of nature and know it as a downward-looking God would do. Richard Rorty did a masterful critique of this tradtition 24 years ago in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.
The reality is that we are embedded in nature, part of an intricate system of feedback mechanisms. Our ability to know things is conditioned by our evolutionary history and the biological conditioning this has produced. The first philosophy to fully recognize this was William James, the founder of pragmatism, which is the great alternative philosophy of science, the cybernetic alternative to positivism's top-down view. (Lakoff, too, is part of the Jamesian tradition, as can be seen in detail in Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, co-authored with Mark Johnson.)
A pragmatist, rather than a positivist view of economics allows us to see "economic laws" as theoretical tools, useful for certain purposes, for others, not so much. It also allows us to view economics as a totality in the same light.
Economics--be it Marxist, neo-classical, or whatever--has a powerful tendency to try to explain everything. But all our human economies are embedded in human culture, which in turn is embedded in our environment, as well as our evolutionary history. Any sensible politics must be informed from a variety of perspectives. It's not an either/or question of people or trees, economics or ecology. It's a question of how to balance both--and various other perspectives as well.
What has all this to do with Star Trek socialism? Simple: we've learned an awful lot in the past 200 years or so, but we can still gain something by returning to utopian socialism, which saw one fundamental fact--human want and deprivation is not a product of nature, but of human social relations. Therefore, it can be eliminated by intentional human action.
Technological progress is promising, simply because any middle-class teenager today has better transportation than king or emperor who lived before 1900. Technological progress underscores the extent to which our world is our collective social creation. How we share that creation is, at its core, a moral question. Economics is primarily about how we implement whatever moral vision we may choose. Star Trek socialism is a moral vision of universe that works for everyone. Or, as Wikipedia put it:
There is no money, no want, no poverty, no crime, no disease or ignorance in human society; everyone works for the advancement of all humanity--as well as the rest of the Federation.