One giant step for a man, one giant leap for humankind.
Leaving my gender neutralization of the famous quote aside, the year was 1969 and people around the world were amazed (or in complete disbelief) when it was reported that a human being had set foot on the moon. 46 years ago this momentous event took place, and since that time we have not advanced a single step forward.
I am not including science or technology in this indictment. Science has made advancements in superconductivity, cloning, and stem cell research; science has proven Fermat’s Last Theorem and decoded the human genome; science has discovered the Higgs boson and Photonic molecules. Technology, the most beloved child of science, has given anyone with around $50 the ability to purchase a device that dwarfs the computing power needed to accomplish the first moon landing. Science and technology have together created a device that can sense cancer cells.
The science and technology of the human race is capable of extraordinary feats. However, there is one aspect of the equation that drags our scientific and technological capabilities down, one aspect that acts like an anchor dragging on the sludge-filled bottom of the murky depths of our polluted oceans: humans.
The Kardashev Scale in Science Fiction
I grew up on the stories of Bradbury, Le Guin, Cherryh, Asimov, Clarke, etc. I fell in love with the Ender series,Dune, and just about any well-written piece about the future, space, and alien species. For decades, I have watched Star Wars and Star Trek, and have dreamed of not only having space adventures but also of living in a society such as that portrayed in Star Trek.
The political set-up in Star Wars, along with the constant warring, the disjointed species and societies, in short the constant violence, inequity, and inequality, was always far too familiar and provided nothing towards which to strive. Star Trek, on the other hand, presented a utopian ideal for which humans could and should aim.
And it is this aspect of Star Trek that has always seemed so unbelievable for me. Humans not warring on other humans, humans not profiting on the backs of those born into less fortunate circumstances, humans not putting the quest for money before kindness and basic equality, humans sharing food and energy and living space with one another… These things, not the warp drive or teleportation or the holo-suite, but basic human decency towards one another is what seems so far off to me.
The society in Star Trek is a Type 2 civilization on the Kardashev scale. A Type 2 civilization is one that harnesses the power of its galaxy, including manipulating aspects of its star. A Type 1 civilization has control of its planet and no longer has need for fossil fuels. This civilization possesses the ability to manipulate the weather, volcanoes and earthquakes, and possibly use them as energy sources. In addition, they would collect and utilize the energy cast off from the sun. Our civilization is a Type 0 civilization, which was not even officially defined by the original Kardashev scale.
Someone once asked me why is it necessary to become a Type 1 civilization, and the answer is both quite simple, and more complicated than it may seem. There no longer is a reason to ask why, because it is what we are already moving towards, and it is that for which we must all mindfully strive. So why should we is no longer a valid question, since we are already on the path.
Why Type 1?
We have reached a point where our un-evolved existence on this planet is no longer sustainable. And more than anything else, it is our social structures that have caused the problem. Humans do not like to be told what to do, and so the population continues to grow unchecked, and yet we continue to employ old-fashioned methods of food production, and we enforce superficial barriers to discourage a more even distribution of people. In western societies and in parts of Asia, we have forgotten what the word need means and instead are greedy in pursuit of our wants. And our wants have devoured resources and polluted the planet to a climatic tipping point.
And so we have now come to a point where we must choose to either evolve to the next step and strive to become a Type 1 civilization, or we must allow ourselves to perish by one or a few of the many means we have made possible. As Dr. Michio Kaku said, “We are the generations that will determine whether me make the transition from Type 0 to Type 1, or we destroy ourselves because of our arrogance and our weapons.”
Although the Kardashev scale has been created and defined by scientists, and although the achievements for which we strive as we struggle to become a Type 1 civilization are scientific and technological in nature, the heaviest burden of this transition is not a weight on the shoulders of the scientific community, but rather on the shoulders of the general population.
It is up to us to transform our various societies from warring factions in constant pursuit of more stuff into a planetary society based on acceptance (tolerance is too tepid) and multiculturalism. Only a planetary society based on equality and equity for all will be able to transform into a Type 1 civilization and beyond. Only by embracing change can we hope to survive and move forward. Only by embracing evolution and striving to evolve even further will we be able to draw closer to fulfilling our potential.
Unfortunately, the world is filled with those who oppose progress and work diligently to keep the status quo.Religious extremism, corporatocracies, and a laissez-faire citizenry more interested in materialism than progress push the world towards both an armed demise and climatic disasters.
Peace and progress require energetic action; war, materialism, and maintaining the status quo require nothing but compliance from you.
Type 1 Civilization Language: There are so many inventions in Star Trek that are implemented in the stories as fully-integrated devices, more as part of the backdrop and treated almost as if they are completely taken for granted and therefore require little or no explanation. Of these devices there is one that I find quite amazing: the universal translator. Alien species meet for the first time, and the universal translator decodes the languages spoken by both species and they are able to bridge that particular gap and move on to more complex discussions and/or conflicts. Of course, from a storyteller’s viewpoint this was an absolutely necessary device to have in the story, otherwise each episode would have frozen at the point of first contact as the language and cultural experts sat down for a number of days, weeks, years, or lifetimes in order to try to reach a point where everyone could simply greet one another. In Star Trek, language is almost never one of the serious conflicts of the story.
The Power of Langauge
For humans to become a Type 1 civilization we must conquer our language barriers on a more universal scale, and unfortunately our translating technology is ridiculously inferior to Star Trek’s universal translator. As a single example, I currently teach English at a university in South Korea, and when I go to enter grades at the end of each semester, I am faced with the challenge of navigating a system written completely in Korean. Luckily, I now know how to use the system, however I shake my head each time because the administrators always set me up with a computer with an automatic translator engaged on the page. Why do I shake my head? Because the button labeled “Input student grade” is always translated into “Student sexual input.” (I can assure all readers that the student sexual input for my classes is zero.) No… Bing, Google, and etc. all have quite a ways to go before we have a universal translator.
Communication is much more than simply a bunch of words flung either onto the page or into the air. A translated language is only a functional tool if it includes gestures, cultural idiosyncrasies, history, vocal tones, and even facial features. The simple sentence, “I would love to go there with you,” is meaningless if there is no description of the sound of the words, the circumstances, the preceding history of the speaker, and the look on the speaker’s face. “I would love to go there with you,” she said with a smirk as she laughed bitterly and remembered how she had always hated that place. Now we know that the sentence is to be taken ironically rather than literally.
And so we are left with 3 choices to resolve our language barriers: 1) create a new language that will be the common language for our planet; 2) everyone learns every language so that we can always communicate; and 3) choose an existing language to become the planetary language and teach it to everyone. Obviously, choices 1 and 2 are absurd, however it is necessary to mention them in order to appreciate the solution. I am a person for whom English is my first language, and so it is easy to jump to the false conclusion that I am biased in favor of my own language. If we were having this discussion prior to the 16th and 17th centuries, you would be correct to question my objectivity on this subject, however the British Empire spread the English language throughout the world long, long ago and now we all must deal with the world in which we live, not the world we would wish for ourselves.
Today, English is an official language for 67 sovereign countries and 27 non-sovereign entities. This encompasses approximately 2,748,969,000 people. Of these people, around 360 million are native English speakers, native being a term that is becoming less and less easily defined. The remaining 2.5 billion people left over after we subtract the native speakers have access (to some degree) to institutionalized instruction in the English language, as it is a part of the official business society or the government. And of the remaining countries where English is not an official language, you will not find a single one where English is not used in business, and where an English language teaching and learning industry does not exist.
And so after these disclaimers coupled with factual numbers, it is the English language that will become the common language for our future planetary society. It seems that a large portion of the world accepts this premise, as long as we do not overtly state the fact (which is what I have just done), however a more aggressive dissemination of the language is needed. Because we live in a world heavily stratified along monetary lines, so far it is the wealthier layers of society that have ready access to the English language. English should not be allowed to become yet another badge by which the elite identify one another, but a right to all citizens of a new planetary society. (Please note I am not talking about eradicating other languages, and am in fact a language-lover with varying degrees of skill in 5 languages.)
Since it is destined to become the common language for humanity, why not cease referring to it as English and start calling it Common? A common language for a united planet, striving to venture forth into the stars.
Or we can sit here and allow our current translation programs and devices to both entertain and further confuse us.