Thinking about the Prime Directive

The Prime Directive is the guiding force on Star Trek, it provides the moral compass from which all decisions are made.  As a supreme law it seems to work well.  Seeing as there is not actual legal code for the Star Trek-verse, here is the language of the Prime Directive according to Wikipedia.

The Prime Directive dictates that there can be no interference with the internal affairs of other civilizations, consistent with the real world concept of Westphalian sovereignty. …No primitive culture can be given or exposed to any information regarding advanced technology or the existence of extraplanetary civilizations, lest this exposure alter the natural development of the civilization. In addition to exposure, purposeful efforts to improve or change in any way the natural course of such a society, even if that change is well-intentioned and kept completely secret, are prohibited.

The Prime Directive seems so enlightened.  A civilization, or United Federation of Planets, that realizes the importance of the struggle for a societies advancement (in this case technological advancement).  Interference in that process is so egregious that it violates the most important law of the society.  The realization that you could help a society, but that you ought not to is profound.

As I do with most of the notions I stumble across in Star Trek, or sci-fi in general, I try and think of the message in terms of how we live our lives, as Earthlings, today.  What if the United States employed the Prime Directive?  What if every society on Earth applied the Prime Directive throughout history?  Historically its fun to imagine, but I think it’s most interesting to apply it to the current world environment.

Many of the worlds nations would not possess weapons, or at least weapons of mass destruction (as they have been coined).  In order to possess the technology there would have to be an effort on behalf of the countries citizens to seek, know, and understand.  This struggle would eventually become the great equalizer of all nations.  Everyone had to get to the end point on their own steam, and the end point is, by default peaceful in many ways.

This presumption that ultimately technological advancement leads to pacifism is fascinating.  Stargate SG-1 explored this theme a great deal.  In fact, aside from the Goa’ould and Ori, SG-1 encountered very few advanced societies that were not pacifist.  Some of them so pacified and adherent to their Prime Directives that they would not communicate with SG-1 (like the Nox).  I was always impressed at the notions this idea conjured.  A deeper understanding that all of the fighting of today will lead to a peaceful tomorrow.

While researching this topic I found a great clip from The Next Generation of all the senior staff discussing the Prime Directive.

“What we do today could profoundly effect the future.”

Perhaps we should make more of our decisions today with that simple truth in the back of our minds.

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1 comment so far

  1. Aliman Sears on

    One implication of what you’re saying is that gradual development means more harmonious outcomes. This could be true. If a person earns money slowly they learn how to employ it, whereas winning the lottery many times means winning disaster and suffering. Picard has broken the PD many times, esp. when he feels that there will be no lasting effects.

    There’s also an inverse relationship that the writers haven’t dealt with: “first contact” is permissible with civilizations that have developed warp capability, such as when Cochran made his first flight and the Vulcans responded by visiting the site in Montana. However, making contact and sharing technology at that point in a civilization’s history may change the civilization radically, but giving a cigarette lighter to Australopithecus probably won’t affect much of a change.

    However again, while ST focuses mainly on “stuff” like computers and technology, a small change introduced in climate or other environmental change would radically affect the outcome of the evolution of organisms early in their development (say 4 or 5 million years ago in our history). That kind of change could be the difference between Australopithecus or another genus surviving or dying out. This kind of outcome is much more profound than the outcome of giving a caveman a computer.

    Aloha
    http://alimansears.wordpress.com/


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