FIRE TREK: Parallels Between the Financial Independence Movement and Star Trek – Pt 2

“Financial freedom, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Independence. Its continuing mission: to explore strange four percent rules, to seek out new life hacks and new optimizations, to boldly go where no traditional retiree has gone before…”

In part 1 of this 2-part series, I explained how closely following both Star Trek and the FIRE Movement (financial independence, retire early) led me to see connections between the two. I concluded by observing how both star trek and the FIRE movement share a similar vision for the potential of humanity after money is no longer a pressing concern.

In this second part and final part, I will explore how Star Trek’s ideals are reflected in the FIRE community in several other areas.

Consumerism

Star Trek

In the future of Star Trek, consumerism is obsolete.

In the TNG episode The Neutral Zone, Captain Jean-Luc Picard explains to another character that “A lot has changed in three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of ‘things.’ We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions.”

(CBS) Captain Picard explains the facts of life in 24th Century in “The Neutral Zone”

Despite the abandonment of money in the Federation economy, money DOES still exist in the future in Star Trek. Not surprisingly, Star Trek nearly always portrays characters who are greedy or pursue wealth as villainous or comical (or both).

In TOS, TAS and DISCO, the character of Harry Mudd is a smuggler and swindler whose avarice causes trouble for Starfleet crews. Notably, as a moral consequence of his greed, Mudd’s money-making schemes always blow up on him and leave him in a worse state. At least until Discovery, Star Trek portrayed his character more in a comic light than in a menacing one.

(CBS) Harcourt Fenton Mudd in his various incarnations (from TOS, TAS, and DISCO)

By far, the best example of Star Trek’s view on greed and consumption is represented by the Ferengi, an alien species TNG introduced and DS9 featured extensively.

According to the Memory Alpha knowledge-base:

Ferengi civilization was built on a caricature of free enterprise, where earning profit was the sole meaningful goal in life, superseding all other endeavors… The Ferengi culture was centralized around the concept of greed and profit earning. Ferengi society most notably was based on a list of rules for business ventures with other Ferengi known as “The Rules of Acquisition.” … Greed, deceit, distrust, and opportunism were highly prized values among Ferengi and all were represented within the Rules.

TNG mostly portrayed the Ferengi as buffoons, and they were not really credible adversaries. DS9 brought more nuance to the Ferengi mythology and made the species more intriguing and compelling. However, in both shows, their main purpose was to provide contrast to the principles of the Federation. And by the end of DS9, the Ferengi culture had started adopting some Federation values.

(CBS) Armin Shimerman, as the Ferengi barkeeper Quark on Deep Space Nine, helped bring nuance to the Ferengi species, making them less cartoonish and more compelling

FIRE Movement

The main parallel I see in the FIRE community is the widely shared value of anti-consumerism. Money in the FIRE movement is a means to an end but definitely not an end itself. The movement focuses on intentional spending, breaking away from mindless consumption and bucking the social norm of keeping up with the Joneses.

Vicki Robin, the author of the seminal book, Your Money or Your Life and a progenitor of the FIRE movement, writes on her website:

I still believe that millions of people unhooked from the toxic messages of consumerism and dedicated to making happy, productive financially independent lives is … a model for society: financial security – however it comes – yields amazing returns in health, happiness, longevity, connections, meaning, purpose and civic engagement. It’s an innovation that keeps on giving!

Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin, is a classic in the personal finance space (image credit: Penguin Random House).

In The 10 Pillars Of FI at ChooseFI, Jonathan Mendonsa articulates his take on a core tenet of FI:

Instead of focusing on buying stuff to make up for my unhappiness, what if I just focused on happiness? What if I made a list of things that actually made me happy? … What we find out over and over again is that the list rarely includes stuff. Stuff is not a necessary prerequisite for happiness.

ChooseFI is a popular podcast and website, as well as a book (as of October 2019). Image credit: Choose FI Media, Inc.

In Star Trek, villains amass wealth to accumulate possessions and status. In the FIRE movement, everyday heroes build wealth to buy freedom.

Diversity & Inclusion

Star Trek

Arguably, diversity and inclusion are the bedrock on which Star Trek is built, as evidenced by its thematic story elements and by the casting of the various series.

One well-known meme from Star Trek is the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC).

According to Fanlore:

Gene Roddenberry originated the IDIC philosophy as a Vulcan belief: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations represents a Vulcan belief that beauty, growth, progress — all result from the union of the unlike.”

(CBS) Spock wearing his IDIC badge in the TOS episode, “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”

Starships on Star Trek are served by crews comprised of both males and females, species and races from different planets across the Federation, and even non-biological life forms like androids and holograms. Shared values unite these diverse crews, and they work harmoniously together toward common goals. Racism and intolerance are not part of the culture in Starfleet (though we certainly see those evils in civilizations outside of the Federation).

The casting of the various TV series shows that Star Trek has generally been a pioneer at pushing the TV industry forward toward increasing diversity and inclusion.

For its day, Star Trek (1966-1969) featured a racially diverse cast of characters.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) featured a black actor in the lead role and female characters (e.g. the First Officer and Chief Science Officer) who were forces to be reckoned with.
Star Trek: Discovery (2017-) stars a black actress in the lead role, and one of the main subplots of the show revolves around Star Trek’s first openly gay characters, a married couple who share quarters and (in season one) had the franchise’s first on-screen gay male kiss.

FIRE Movement

One stereotype about FIRE is that white males (many of whom were previously in the tech industry) dominate the movement. (Full disclosure: I am yet another from that camp.) However, the reality is that the FIRE movement is incredibly inclusive and values diversity.

To overcome the misconception that personal finance bloggers are primarily white males, Angela at Tread Lightly, Retire Early has compiled an extensive list of female bloggers and podcasters in the personal finance space. As of May 2019, the running list contained about 170 entries with around 75 them in the FIRE space.

On Our Next Life, Tanja Hester (author of the book Work Optional) writes:

There are FIRE bloggers and aspirants whose work had nothing to do with tech, engineering or math (hi!), along with lots of folks in corporate America, publishing, realty, social work, education, academia, nonprofits, health care, finance, government, the military, applied science, consulting and insurance — and that’s just the people I know personally.
 
Which is to say: everyone is welcome here. Whether you love spreadsheets or not. Whether you enjoy math or not. Whether you love craft beer or not. Whether you’re male, female or nonbinary. Whether you’re financially coupled or financially single. Whether you make a bunch of money or not.
 
What matters is not your profession or what you majored in in college, but that you’re game to think about your money differently and work hard to achieve a big goal. That’s the only prerequisite.

Popular FIRE podcasts, such as ChooseFI and What’s Up Next, make a point of featuring a wide variety of guests from across the spectrum of gender, race, and socioeconomic status. In the case of What’s Up Next (in which Paul Thompson and Doc Green host roundtable discussions with a rotating panel of guests):

  • Episode 23 (“The Immigrant Advantage?”) explored “whether being an immigrant influences one’s path to financial independence.“
  • Episode 24 (“The Black Financial Independence Community”) discussed “whether financial independence is different for the African American community.”
(Image courtesy of Doc Green.) Though relatively new to the scene, What’s Up Next? has become one of my favorite FIRE podcasts.

The FIRE movement is for everyday people from all walks of life. The community is anything but elitist and tries to demystify money management techniques and investment strategy so that anyone can understand and apply the principles.

Collaboration, Cooperation & Debate

Star Trek

Star Trek crews solve problems, make new discoveries, and sometimes even save worlds via exemplary collaboration and cooperation. The characters are mostly self-less and share ideas liberally. Even a precocious civilian teenager, who has not yet attended Starfleet Academy, can routinely solve a conundrum or save the day (and often did to the annoyance of some TNG fans). Ideas can come from anywhere, and the ones best suited to the problem at hand win out, free from political influence or selfish motives.

(CBS) Anyone and everyone can contribute a good idea in Star Trek, regardless of rank, age, or lack of fan appreciation (in the case of Wesley Crusher).

FIRE Movement

The FIRE community is not competitive. Members of the movement share knowledge, support each other and celebrate successes together. FIRE Podcasters frequently appear on each other’s shows and promote each other, which further builds the spirit of community.

Bloggers amass and publish huge knowledge bases to introduce newbies to FIRE principles and practices. Community members gather to ask questions and discuss ideas in forums and in-person meetups.

One notable difference between Star Trek and the FIRE movement is that Gene Roddenberry had an edict forbidding interpersonal conflict among Federation crew members. By contrast, I think most members of the FIRE community would agree that we should embrace healthy debate, listen to dissenting views, and learn from conflict.

Community Subculture

Star Trek

These days, you have to be a motivated fan to seek out Star Trek due to the explosion of competing for television and cinematic universes (e.g. Marvel, Star Wars, etc.), not to mention the overwhelming number of TV shows available across cable channels and streaming platforms. By contrast, in the franchise’s heyday, TNG was one of the top-rated shows in first-run syndication and a pop culture phenomenon. (Over 30 million viewers watched the series finale in 1994 according to Wikipedia.)

That said, Trekkers and Trekkies are rabid fans, and they gather together to share their love of Star Trek in forums, at fan club meetups and at conventions.

(Pixabay) A graffiti artist expresses his appreciation for Mr. Spock

FIRE Movement

Just as Star Trek is currently a niche subculture in today’s ever-expanding universe of pop culture franchises, the FIRE movement could be considered a niche subculture within the larger universe of personal finance.

Until last fall’s Suze Orman controversy, which erupted after she appeared as a guest on the Afford Anything podcast, I think most Americans never had heard of the FIRE movement. FIRE was outside of the mainstream, and you had to seek out the community.

(Photo courtesy of Paula Pant.) A former journalist, Paula Pant is an insightful interviewer on her podcast, Afford Anything, as well as a regular panellist on Friday editions of The Stacking Benjamins Show. Her October 2018 interview with Suze Orman helped spark media interest in the FIRE movement.

As with Star Trek fans, however, the members of the FIRE community are passionate advocates — and like Trekkies and Trekkers, they gather together in forums, at in-person meetups (such as CampFI and ChooseFI local groups) and at conventions (e.g. FinCon, an annual conference for personal finance bloggers and podcasters).

Attendees of CampFI Southwest. (image credit: Justin David Carl – alchemizelife.com)

Live Long & Prosper

Artwork by Kurumi Morishita. (Screenshot from Star Trek: Online)

The Vulcan greeting for farewell is “Live long and prosper.”

Merriam-Webster defines prosperous as:

Marked by success or economic well-being; enjoying vigorous and healthy growth : FLOURISHING

For FIRE adherents, the sooner they can reach FI, the more time they will have to flourish — i.e to “live long and prosper.”

I can’t think of a more fitting sentiment, to sum up, the shared philosophies of Star Trek and the FIRE movement.

Image CreditI created my FIRE TREK poster art featuring the fictitious U.S.S. Independence from the original U.S.S. Komachi artwork by Kurumi Morishita.


About The Author

A lifelong Star Trek fan, Randy Parker lives in Northern California and is a creative writer who blogs on his personal website, Emusements (where the original version of this story initially ran).


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