Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A Good Future, Today

(If you hate Star Trek, skip this post. But then you might just need to skip my whole blog.)

[EDIT: I can no longer endorse the Dauntless, nor honestly suggest that it meets the ideals suggested below. I'm only leaving this here because I don't delete my blog posts. However, there are better STARFLEET chapters that you may wish to consider instead.]

Take a look at this slightly aged but well-made video:

Doesn't that just make you want to rush off and find your nearest Starfleet recruiter? Good news: That's me! Let me recruit you, in my official capacity as Recruiting Officer of the USS Dauntless. Free red shirts for anyone with no first name.

In all seriousness, if you enjoy Star Trek, and science fiction in general, and even more generally all the nice things science gives us, then you should really consider signing up with the Dauntless. It's a Star Trek fan club, but that doesn't describe it well. Liking a TV series isn't the only thing we have in common, as our members share a lot of other interests and activities. I originally got involved with them through the Gauteng skeptics and Consilience, as there's some big overlap between those communities. All the Skeptics in the Pub/Park meetings I go to are full of Dauntless crew. Real science is a key interest for most of us, and there's even a big expedition we're planning for the end of the year out to Sutherland, looking at all the big telescopes.

Then there's gaming. Our Joburg region in particular has a well organised collection of people who're into miniature wargaming, CCGs, board games, paintball and, on occasion, roleplaying games. The other regions have also dipped into these sorts of things, a bit less, but probably only because they don't have as many members.

We also do some useful, constructive stuff. The Joburg region has a big blood donation day every couple of months, down in the South East, and I keep meaning to organise a second one for the North West of Joburg, so hopefully that'll be a thing soon enough, especially if we get some more members on this side of the world. And the Cape Town region is currently leading the charge, putting big Joburg to shame, on collecting supplies for the SPCA. Really, our good works are only limited by our members' time, money, energy, skills and social connections, so we could potentially do a bunch of other useful things too, with sufficient planning and imagination.

The underlying theme of it all - the sciencey stuff, the fun and games, the stuff that's useful to society - is a desire to push, step by realistic step, towards the idealistic future presented on Star Trek, because it's a good vision, one worth wanting to emulate. It's a world made better by science and reason and getting shit done without crushing jackboots. All these little activities, small things we'd likely want to do anyway, give us a way to express that ideal and do something small but practical to make it real, a centimeter at a time.

None of it's compulsory or obligatory. It's just a nice way of associating with like-minded geeks who're comfortable being geeks. We have ranks, but that's not about control and authority, it's just a fun way to acknowledge your contributions and participation. To add flavour, the whole club is represented as a starship, the USS Dauntless (a name with a rich legacy), which adds a bit of a subtle roleplaying element to all our interactions, and the rank thing fits with that nicely. It's better than just clicking 'Like' on Facebook, because you actually get something out of it, but it's all fun, easy, voluntary stuff, so you need never feel trapped by it. You have almost literally nothing to lose by joining, since Dauntless membership is free.
And we're saving up all of our non-fees for a club house just like this!

The Dauntless is also just one chapter of a larger network of Trek clubs called STARFLEET International, and we're so far the sole chapter in the entire Africa & Middle East region. STARFLEET membership does have a small cost, but that's separate from basic Dauntless membership, and isn't necessary for most members. Again, everything's very casual and easy with us. STARFLEET as a broader organisation does lots of good and interesting things (I'm an especially big fan of their online learning system, Starfleet Academy), but it has two components that bug me: The Starfleet Marine Corps and the Chaplains' Corps. In other words, the subsections for fans of violence and religion who share a preference for strict order and hierarchy. Presumably these are a product of the gun-totin', god-fearin' segment of STARFLEET's predominantly US membership base, and maybe the Federation's principle of tolerance can be applied to including them, but they do seem to have completely missed Roddenberry's ideal of peace and reason. Luckily, both corps are minorities within the global membership, and have effectively no practical effect on the Dauntless's activities, so it's easy to ignore them.

So, join the crew of the USS Dauntless today, and boldly go where you want humanity to go in future, and have a good time doing so.