RT, I can't reconcile an increase in disease today with my perception of the past?
Homo sapiens is a young species and while having begun to turn towards organising ourselves for the betterment of all, we remain for the time being at the level of raw recruits working out how to do it. This difficulty is not surprising since no other species has attempted a conscious democratic governance. Brute force was the only rule available.
Religion worked as a political unifier in the past especially when all societies were rigidly class layered but the time for blind faith in the numinous world is rapidly declining. Our species is only just setting out on a real star treck although we've hardly got off our own planet, yet surely, the technology does seem to be pointing in Roddenberry's direction?
If we take the typical life of a human in his or her development as a pattern; It seems to me that humans in the 21st century are collectively at the stage of teenagers still trying out the world, with some more grown up than others. Human society/societies have made progress and religion with faith in holy magic is no longer a beacon for the future.
The next stage toward maturity: will it be built on the foundations set up by the "philosophes" of the 19th century Enlightenment?
Mankind isn't evolving in any but the strictest scientific sense. We're degenerating physically, intellectually and spiritually. What you call adolescence, I call senility. I don't want to die, but I don't want to live to see the end either.
There have always been plagues and diseases and the lack of sanitation in ancient cities (excluding technologically advanced ones like Rome) no doubt made it even worse. But on the whole, I believe most human beings were much healthier than they are now. For starters, before the industrial revolution, the natural environment was relatively pristine. I'm a strict vegetarian more for health than out of empathy for fish and mollusks. Back then you could eat all the seafood you liked without worrying about mercury, BPAs and radiation from the Fukushima disaster.
The diet itself was also much healthier. Most people ate a lot of grains and vegetables with small amounts of meat. Despite what paleos and vegans will say, all the evidence I am aware of points to this as being the ideal diet for homo sapiens. I don't think obesity and high cholesterol was a problem for the majority of humanity until recently.
Finally, there's drugs. Alcohol was sometimes abused, but it was much rarer than today. Other drugs like opiates and psychedelics had strictly medicinal and religious uses - not like today at all. Humans today are swiftly being poisoned by the drug epidemic. Even people like me who don't indulge in anything stronger than a cup of tea are getting it into their systems just by being around addicts. Since meth started being smoked in my residence, I've developed a cough and frequent headaches. People who unwittingly buy meth houses get sick.
Intellectually, we've become worse as well. Science has demonstrated conclusively that the mind and brain are intimately connected. Toxins like mercury and fluoride have been absolutely proven, beyond any doubt, to lower the measurable intelligence of those who are exposed to them.
Literacy has increased among the general population, but only in the narrowest sense of that word. Not too long ago 'literacy' meant more than simply being able to read and understand a job application. Literate people could read something like Milton's Paradise Lost and not only understand all the words, but recognize Milton's allusions to Greek mythology and the Bible. Hell, most literate people even a hundred years ago could read the Iliad and parts of the Bible in their original language: Greek. My great aunt, who grew up poor in rural Arkansas during the great depression, could read and speak Latin fluently!
Regarding Star Trek. Yes, we are starting to develop technology reminiscent of what is seen on the show. The mp3 and digital music in general was directly inspired by an episode of TNG in which Data has the computer playing several symphonies at once. But it isn't the technology that makes Star Trek such an inspiring vision of the future; it's the people. The humans on Star Trek are nothing like 21st century humans. They are driven neither by hedonism nor greed, but by a need for self-actualization. They strive to be better tomorrow than they were yesterday. They have abundant supplies of everything they need, but their economy (at least what we see of it) seems to be driven by the needs and desires of the consumers rather than the greed of the producers to sell more products by creating an artificial demand where there was none before.
Most humans today seem to be born with a hole in their souls that can never be filled. The successful ones try fill that hole with top of the line products like cars, electronics and nice homes while the loosers fill it with junk food and drugs; but it's all the same. The entire focus of human activity has changed from one of collective spiritual salvation (whether the destination be Nirvana, Paradise or Heaven) to individual material acquisition. In the middle ages, indigents and wastrels were considered a blessing from God because they gave the more fortunate the opportunity to exercise charity. Most people were actually glad to give money to a bum because they thought it would earn them brownie points with God. Now that's all changed. Protestants see the poor as guilty of some sin, since in their theology wealth is a sign of God's favor! And atheists? Those poor bums are just loosers in the darwinian struggle for survival, so don't encourage them! And yes, I know that there are plenty of protestants and atheists who do give, I'm one of them, but helping the less fortunate does not really follow from either philosophy. It's more or less tacked on.
How ironic that the ethos of the European dark ages, in spite of all its ignorance and superstition, was much closer to the Star Trek ethos than that of our present 'enlightened', technological society. The true Enlightenment of philosophers like Descartes, Leibniz, Locke and Hume never really happened except among a small intellectual elite. If their ideals ever were to become popular, we would indeed have Star Trek. But until that happens, I often wonder if the old Catholic Christian ethos would be better than what is dominating our society at present.