Author Topic: The Prime Directive  (Read 1721 times)

Online QuantumG

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The Prime Directive
« on: 12/05/2017 08:27 PM »
Quote
As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Starfleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.

I always felt the purpose of the prime directive was to protect indigenous peoples from warp capable invaders. Otherwise Star Trek would be just a show about conquistadors massacring natives. One has to imagine the Star Trek universe is littered with hunter-gather worlds... perhaps with smatterings of farmers and... oh, I get it now. The inevitable conquest of hunter-gathers by "more advanced" civilisation is going to happen anyway - Starfleet just doesn't want to be involved. They know there's going to be bloodshed, they just want to be considered *neutral* when the conquerors eventually attain warp technology.

Imagine that for a moment, your planet is visited by Starfleet in your equivalent of the 16th century. Invoking the prime directive they drop off some anthropologists and go off on their bold adventures. Centuries later your people are becoming members of Starfleet and some diplomat is explaining to you how precious and sacrosanct the prime directive is...

"So, you're telling me that your anthropologists just watched 95% of the population of a continent be massacred and did nothing?"

"Yeah... about that.  What could we do? Give phasers to the natives?"

"How about giving antibodies to the natives?"

"Sorry, what?"

"Well, you obviously had the means to prevent sickness in your anthropologists, why not share that resistance with the natives? That's what killed most of them."

"Sure, but they'd still be at a massive disadvantage... militarily."

"No... they would have had time to observe the invaders and adopt their techniques. They may not have been able to repel them, but they could have co-existed with them. There's examples of that in our own history. There's examples of that in Earth's history. Your anthropologists sat back and watched massacre after massacre when all they needed to do was release one of your self-replicating vaccines - the ones you freely provide to warp capable civilisations. Our ancestors would have had no idea you helped. Millions of lives could have been saved. Genocide of whole peoples could have been averted."

"We could have made things worse..."

"You could have made things better."

Jeff Bezos has billions to spend on rockets and can go at whatever pace he likes! Wow! What pace is he going at? Well... have you heard of Zeno's paradox?

Offline KelvinZero

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #1 on: 12/05/2017 09:12 PM »
facetiously, I have to point out that the real reason is to explain a universe with all these races that we never noticed in the 20th century.

How about this as a rational for the prime directive: This is a rule between disparate cultures. It could be as simple as don't interfere with other races or we will classify you as outlaw. If you are outlaw you lose rights such as not being attacked. Hypothetically it turns out that the majority of races reach the conclusion that genocide is bad all by themselves. The minority obey just to not be classified outlaws. Zero interference is the only rule because otherwise it is incredibly subjective. "To save someone" seems obvious, but there is no UN to judge whether that was actually the motive, or, given you save the race, whether it was required.

People obey the rule and let primitives die, not for the good of the primitives but simply to prevent being classified as outlaw.

Offline Martin.cz

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #2 on: 12/05/2017 09:46 PM »
It's potentially not that easy - trying to uplift a culture and show them a better way might be pretty hard against cultural inertia, superstition,lack of education, general backwardness, religion and power play. The Strugatsky brothers illustrate this in their novel called "Hard to be a god", where observers/progressors from an advanced utopic Earth try to influence a medieval-level society on a remote planet.

They return to the topic in other works and it's generally not going well for the progressors, with little overall success achieved other than rescuing some exceptional individuals (scientists, artists, philosophers, etc.) who would be otherwise crushed by the backwards cultures. And all the failures are generally taking a heavy psychological toll on the progressors witnessing all the death, carnage and suffering so much differrent to the utopia they come from.

So could be just Satarfleet not wanting to get their hands dirty by hiding behind supposedly high ideals. :)

Offline mike robel

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #3 on: 12/05/2017 11:37 PM »
Since you can't observe without changing things, once they detect any civilization without warp, they should quarantine the planet and let no one approach it.

I often thought the opening should be It's mission, to seek out new worlds and new civilizations, and to economically exploit them before the Ferengi get there.

Offline RonM

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #4 on: 12/06/2017 01:25 AM »
Since you can't observe without changing things, once they detect any civilization without warp, they should quarantine the planet and let no one approach it.

I often thought the opening should be It's mission, to seek out new worlds and new civilizations, and to economically exploit them before the Ferengi get there.

Yes, if Starfleet isn't there to protect the system, someone will exploit the pre-warp civilization.

Quote from: Issac Arthur episode "Smug Aliens"
We continue our look at hypothetical Alien Civilizations by examining concepts such as Zoo Hypothesis - that aliens may be keeping us secluded from the rest of the galaxy - and the motivation for non-interference, such as the Star Trek Prime Directive.


Offline Ronpur50

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #5 on: 12/06/2017 03:02 AM »
I really wished the show had explored the morality of the Prime Directive in ways that forced the crew to watch some tragic event.  Perhaps a launch of nuclear missiles.  And it would have been timely in the 1980s or today.

Offline su27k

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #6 on: 12/06/2017 03:09 AM »
The point is you can't predict how a society will react to your interference, the system is inherently chaotic. You may save millions in 16th century but cause a nuclear war that wipes out the entire civilization in the 20th century. Maybe you try the interference many times on different worlds, you can get a method that works 90% of the time, but then you have to justify the billions of death you caused during the trial-and-error phase.

Online QuantumG

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #7 on: 12/06/2017 06:40 AM »
... and you could say that keeping your hands off is just a justification for watching people die. I'd, personally, rather do something to stop people die - even if it means I'm going to have to take responsibility for the outcome - than just say hey, you guys was killin' each other before we even stumbled along. "They were going to die anyway" is no reason not to save a drowning child if you can. Nor is "but he might grow up to be the next Hitler!"


« Last Edit: 12/06/2017 06:43 AM by QuantumG »
Jeff Bezos has billions to spend on rockets and can go at whatever pace he likes! Wow! What pace is he going at? Well... have you heard of Zeno's paradox?

Offline sanman

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #8 on: 12/06/2017 07:59 AM »
Well, the concept also served as a plot device to have Kirk & Co sneaking among other planetary denizens in masquerade.
As far as evaluating the viability of this concept to its full logical extent of consequences - yeah, I'd say it wouldn't be doable with all the other warlike races running around.

There was that episode where Kirk ends up having to help his old friend Tyrie-the-Hunter against another tribe being armed by the Klingons - thus showing that the Prime Directive may sometimes have to be sacrificed, albeit with potentiallyruinous consequences.

Offline Ben the Space Brit

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #9 on: 12/06/2017 10:43 AM »
I've always thought that the Prime Directive is something of a consequence of Roddenberry's very humanist views: Who decides who lives and who dies? Who decides what civilisation is 'worthy' of survival and who is 'unworthy'? Who has the right to say that their criteria for survival for a primitive race is the one that everyone has to abide with and that those that lie outside that criteria are undeserving of help?

Roddenberry (or, more likely, the TOS writers, which included some of the US's top sci-fi talent of the 1950s and 1960s) decided that the only really moral answer to that question would be to refuse to make that decision at all. Everyone is on their own to live or die on their own terms. This has both a moral and practical side: Everyone develops their own culture and it survives or fails for purely Darwinist reasons; no-one is 'culturally selecting' primitive races for survival so that the universe isn't filled up with an endless array of cultural refractions of the Federation. Additionally, Starfleet isn't permanently using all its resources on rescue missions for primitive pre-starflight cultures that may not be evolutionarily viable in the long term anyway.

I agree that this is a bit coldly dispassionate. I also agree that, by the TNG era, it was being turned into an excuse for inaction even where carefully-measured and planned intervention could save a species with little or no statistical chance of cultural contamination. There was actually an episode in the later phase of the show that addressed this, IIRC.

"We are not gods," the argument went. "We must let nature take its course." This ignored the fact that the Federation and its presence in a potential disaster zone were also part of nature and any action they take would, arguably, also be nature taking its course.
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Offline Zed_Noir

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #10 on: 12/06/2017 03:10 PM »
The Prime Directive is meaningless drivel from the screen writers.

AFAIK the Klingons and the Romulians have no Prime Directive, quite the opposite in fact.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #11 on: 12/06/2017 03:48 PM »
I've always thought that the Prime Directive is something of a consequence of Roddenberry's very humanist views:

Not coincidentally, it was an idea developed while the United States was in the middle of the Vietnam War.

Online Thorny

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #12 on: 12/06/2017 05:12 PM »
I really wished the show had explored the morality of the Prime Directive in ways that forced the crew to watch some tragic event.  Perhaps a launch of nuclear missiles.  And it would have been timely in the 1980s or today.

They did. See Star Trek: Enterprise, "Dear Doctor".

Offline Ronpur50

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #13 on: 12/07/2017 01:56 AM »
I really wished the show had explored the morality of the Prime Directive in ways that forced the crew to watch some tragic event.  Perhaps a launch of nuclear missiles.  And it would have been timely in the 1980s or today.

They did. See Star Trek: Enterprise, "Dear Doctor".

Great episode, but that was more about the creation of the Prime Directive.  I was hoping to see something in Picard's era.

Offline Ben the Space Brit

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #14 on: 12/07/2017 06:31 AM »
The one that you're looking for is Homeward. This episode probably did a lot to sour me against the Prime Directive and the TNG-era Federation's air of self-righteous moral detachment.
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Offline Ben the Space Brit

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #15 on: 12/08/2017 08:29 AM »
For a good 'on the other hand' example of why the Prime Directive's "Hands off under all circumstances" interpretation may be justified, see The Orville, 1x12: "Mad Idolotry".

First officer Kelly Grayson helps a little girl on a Bronze Age-equivalent planet by using her field first aid kit to heal a minor injury. One minor encounter with no significant cultural impact, right? Wrong. After a temporal anomaly, the Orville encounters the same planet 700 years down the line in the middle of a world war over who has the right interpretations of the Goddess Kelly's strictures. It turns out that the little girl had an excess of charisma and a vivid imagination. Thus a religion was born.
"Oops! I left the silly thing in reverse!" - Duck Dodgers

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Offline DaveJ576

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #16 on: 12/08/2017 04:05 PM »
The Prime Directive, if rigidly interpreted and enforced, would actually result in the dissolution of Starfleet and the Federation, as it runs 100% counter to the idea of “seeking out new life and new civilizations”. Any contact with any sentient species, regardless of the level of advancement or equivalency, regardless of how benign that contact is intended to be, will result in changes to the “normal development” of a society. Look at the tremendous changes that came from Columbus’s voyages to the New World, both for the native societies in North America, and for all of Europe. The Prime Directive argues against exploration and contact because there is no way to verify that a society is “capable of handling such advantages wisely”. Change is change. It doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative. Indeed, isn’t “positive” or “negative” simply a point of view based on perspective?

The only logical way (a tip of the hat to the Vulcans) to ensure the Prime Directive is always followed to the letter is to not explore or attempt contact at all! Even the use of robotic probes run the risk of contacting and thus contaminating a culture.

If you choose to explore then you must choose to accept what may happen to an indigenous society that you may encounter. Embrace it, run with it, and deal with the consequences as they may come. Guide your actions based on the morality of your society and make the attempt to mitigate the impact as much as possible, but don’t be afraid of what may result decades or centuries later. If we as a society allow fear to guide our actions in this regard, then we should just sit at home and be quiet.

The Prime Directive was nothing more than a plot device used by screen writers to develop drama. Its use was uneven between episodes, and sometimes uneven within a single episode itself! It made no sense within the Star Trek universe back then, it makes no sense now, and it will not make any sense 300 years from now when we actually do have starships to explore the universe with.
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Online Jeff Lerner

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #17 on: 12/08/2017 04:33 PM »
Don't we have a variant of the Prime Directive already with our Planetary Protection Proticol...?

Offline Zed_Noir

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #18 on: 12/08/2017 08:00 PM »
Don't we have a variant of the Prime Directive already with our Planetary Protection Proticol...?

Until the first manned mission to land on Mars. Which would not be allow under the protocols AIUI. With luck the current protocols will be gone by 2022 onwards ;).

Offline dodo

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Re: The Prime Directive
« Reply #19 on: 12/09/2017 10:11 AM »
In a sense, the Prime Directive is the scale extension of the Golden Rule - it has well intentions, but can so easily backfire. Both challenge the ability to put oneself in someone's shoes.

Maybe it's worth some discussion of similarities and differences, either regardless of the difference of scale or stemming from it.

P.S.: I realize one may be the opposite of the other - one compels to intervene, the other forbids from it. But both are similar in the quest for balance between intervening or not.
« Last Edit: 12/09/2017 10:13 AM by dodo »

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