He wasn't definitively saying he favored the Menk. He was saying that there were factors worth considering on both sides of the argument and he wasn't prepared to favor the Valakians at the risk of condemning the Menk. His decision was not to act in favor of either side, but to let natural evolution take its course.
I think Dear Doctor has some interesting historical parallels. However, the unfortunate fact is that the historical parallels tend to be rather unfortunate. The biggest historical parallels are the Black Death and what happened to Native Americans. The Black Death had its benefits, more or less ending feudalism in Europe. However, Phlox's argument could very easily be stated that the destruction of the majority of the people in the South and North Americas is "nature making its choice."
I'm not comfortable with that at all.
(Admittedly, I was equally uncomfortable with the choice in Terra Nova)
It's to one of Star Trek's flaws it doesn't recognize technology and civilization are all about defying nature. I had a similar problem with William Riker in "Pen Pals" says "If nature has a plan, who are we to intefere with it." Bluntly, as a religious man, it offends me because there's the obvious rebuttal that we aren't part of it. If it's a purely secular question, nature most decidedly doesn't have a plan or if it does, the same rule applies.
In Star Trek, I'm okay with the PD because the Federation simply doesn't have the resources, moral authority, or knowledge to be able to handle changing everything. Likewise, there's worse things than death. However, I prefer the novel, "Prime Directive" which had Spock state that the PD doesn't apply to natural disasters like a meteorite.
"A living culture" as Kirk would say. Which can't live if it's extinct. The PD would totally protect the Valakians IMHO.
Likewise, I appreciate the fact DD is about Phlox and Archer attempting to make an ethically informed choice, but the problem is that the science behind their choice is most often associated with the absolute worst and Anti-Trek groups in human history. Phlox and Archer are judging the potential of the Menk to be superior life-forms because of their potential higher intelligence as well as motor skills.
That the quality of life is to be judged by their smarts versus their capacity to love or live. For me, my big issue is that this is very Anti-Archer because he has constantly fought on behalf of the little guy. His choice to do nothing is dissonant with his actions in other episodes. It also leads to murder by omission many times over. In a very real way, Archer is far more morally culpable than Kodos the Executioner who at least TRIED to save lives through his actions.
But the sticking point there is the word "cure." It assumes that what was happening to the Valakians was a disease, an aberration. As Phlox perceived it, it was just the natural life cycle of the species. Think of it in terms of an individual.
I've actually had this conversation before and had this been written SLIGHTLY differently, it could have been a very interesting moral dilemma in Trek. I.e. What if the Valakians were dying because of pollution? That the Menk were alright because they lived in unspoiled wilderness for the most part.
The episode is very clear, though, it's a disease. At least it was to me. Given the sheer number of times that Star Trek has illustrated the Federation delivering vaccines and other items to other worlds, it seems odd we're not letting "nature take its course" there.
I admit, part of my cultural discomfort might be due to my fandoms crossing. Would Phlox agree with Magneto that we need to destroy regular humans, or at the very least encourage them to die off on their own (keep them from breeding?) if it made more room for mutants?
Are the humpback whales not worthy of life because humans are smarter and have killed them off? I thought Star Trek IV was all about the beauty of so-called "lesser" but intelligent lifeforms.
You know perfectly well I'm saying nothing of the kind. I'm saying fiction is allowed to make breaks from reality, and that Star Trek has already made many breaks from reality that are far more ludicrous than this particular one. I just don't understand how one can accept evolutionary impossibilities like humanoid aliens and interspecies hybrids yet be so adamantly unwilling to accept the questionable evolutionary theory of this episode. It's a contradiction in terms to object to the idea Phlox expresses as intolerably fanciful while treating the very existence of Phlox himself, an even more fanciful premise, as an acceptable break from reality.
I agree with you, Christopher. I accept the following breaks from reality whenever I watch Star Trek:
* Aliens exist.
* Aliens are, by and large, just like us.
* Faster than light travel exists.
* It is possible to make peace with your enemies virtually every time.
* Near-divine beings exist in great numbers yet are "just" aliens.
The thing is, most of this leads to the value of science-fiction as storytelling morality and the questions of. Specifically the morality of acceptance, tolerance, and exploration of new possibilities.
My distaste for Dear Doctor, admittedly, comes down to a sense of moral outrage as well as how the thing seems to contradict Trek's central message. In an episode about moral dilemmas and diversity, the lesson is seemingly this: "Some people are more entitled to being treated as people than others. That two very different people cannot co-exist without diminishing the other. That in the future, the strong [smart] will leave the weak [dumb] behind."
This isn't the first time I've had that feeling. I had a similar one with VOY: "Ashes to Ashes" which seemingly had the message. "Differences can't be overcome. You're better off staying with your own kind."