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The Next Generation All Good Things come to an end...but not here.

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Old January 1 2013, 11:56 AM   #1
at Quark's
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ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

Just watching TNG 'homeward', where an entire species must die because of the application of the prime directive. Which got me thinking: in-universe, what are the ultimate reasons behind the prime directive ?

I mean, I can understand a reasoning of 'not interfering with a species' natural development before they are ready for it.' I can also accept a reasoning of 'on the whole the prime directive does a lot more good than harm'. But letting an entire species die just because 'interference might prove harmful in the long run' ? I'd say extinction is the greater harm here. So I'd think that there should be some pretty solid motives to still not interfere, but we are given none in this ep. All I get is a weird two-liner between Rozhenko and Troi coming down to the statement that the P.D was ultimately not meant to help people survive but to ensure non-interference -- which still says nothing about the why.

So, if the ultimate goal is not to protect primitive cultures, then what [i]is[i] it? Or should I just see this episode as a moronic 'befehl ist befehl' application of the PD, where an exception should have been required ?
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Old January 1 2013, 02:06 PM   #2
Jeyl
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

Some episodes have even said the Prime Directive is supposed to protect us as much as it is to protect the alien cultures. The problem here is that in the case you described, the reason for upholding the Prime Directive here is strictly out of our own benefit. We don't know what this culture might be like in the long run, so better to let them die rather than having them come back as our enemy.

The big fundamental problem is that this is merely an assumption, not a guaranteed fact based conclusion. Our characters will simply resort to the worst possible conclusion rather than take a chance that nothing bad will happen at all.

And if you want an even worse example of the Prime Directive being used BEFORE it was even created, check out the episode Dear Doctor.

The ship's doctor manages to convince Archer that it is better for a whole entire species to die out because it's a natural occurrence that they shouldn't interfere with. What makes it worse is that this species was seeking help by risking space travel without warp technology. And it's because of the simple fact that they don't have warp technology that everyone thinks they don't deserve help. Think about it. We have Vulcans helping humanity after we've created warp technology, even though we have just come out of a world war that killed 600 million of their own people, and the man who created it was a drunk who only DID IT FOR THE MONEY. But this race that developed space traveling technology so they can find help? Nope.
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Old January 1 2013, 04:06 PM   #3
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

The way I understand it, the Prime Directive was conceived not as a practical tool to protect alien societies or the Federation. The principle idea behind it is that as a whole the Federation does not want to take on the burden of playing God. Even though the UFP has shown no evidence of subscribing to theistic ideas it does recognise the inherent risks of hubris. Even though the Federation is exceedingly powerful from our point of view it is a long way from having the answers to everything. As a result, it likes to preserve the status quo when the consequences cannot be easily predicted.

It's similar with the laws on genetic engineering and technological augmentation. Federation society likes to preserve the fundamental identity of its species and cultures. Even though, these alterations would have huge immediate benefits they do have the potential to destroy the human condition and the essence of our identity. So even though the Federation COULD do this, it CHOSES not to. Because the consequences could be far reaching, uncontrollable and destructive.

So where do they draw the line with the PD? As far as the different series go, it seems to depend and the PD is applied with varying degrees of flexibility, as we all know. But the fundamental policy that starship crews should not hastily interfere in complex alien problems is sensible and wise and prevents the Federation from overeaching itself and causing more problems than it is solving. However, ignoring calls for help from alien societies that are in peril and have invested into genuinly seeking assistance from the galactic community is rather harsh. To me these episodes feel like false dilemmas because they exceed what the PD is really intended to achieve.
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Old January 1 2013, 04:25 PM   #4
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

I dunno, every Starfleet captain's broken it whenever it suits them without any consequences. There are times I think the Prime Directive is nothing more than a vaguely written dogma meant to give the Federation moral justification for whatever they chose to do or not to do.

Saying you can't interfere with a natural disaster on a planet because you don't know what the consequences could be, is like saying you shouldn't save the life of a pregnant woman being beaten to death because that kid might grow up to be Hitler. You can't control the future, but you can control what you do with your present.
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Old January 1 2013, 05:40 PM   #5
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

Ideally, the Prime Directive simply prohits Starfleet crews from interfering in the development of less advanced civilizations--to allow them to join the galactic community on their own terms. But like many policies, there are times when it becomes problematic.

From a dramatic story telling viewpoint, it's great for creating moral dilemmas for our heroes.
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Old January 1 2013, 05:44 PM   #6
at Quark's
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

Jefferies wrote: View Post
However, ignoring calls for help from alien societies that are in peril and have invested into genuinly seeking assistance from the galactic community is rather harsh. To me these episodes feel like false dilemmas because they exceed what the PD is really intended to achieve.
Well, I cannot see a fundamental difference between a warp-capable species that cannot evacuate their population on time, and ask for federation assistance, and a bronze-age level civilization that knows it's doomed for whatever reason, and praying desparately to their gods for help.... a society who would be willing to contact any alien if only they had the technology for it.

I can understand the basic wisdom of the PD. More specifically, I can buy into the 'trying to preserve identities' concept. But when the only possible solution to let a species survive (i.e. to preserve any identity of that culture at all)is to corrupt said culture to some degree, and this still gets condemned, i think there is something wrong. (BTW, I feel a bit like Picard myself right now, ranting like that )

I can also buy into the 'not wanting to play God' stuff. Problem with this is that it seems arbitrary to me, since, as star grinch already pointed out, you never know what is going to happen in x years. For example, I can imagine that the consequences of developing replicator technology must have been pretty unpredictable when it first came available. So would be the consquences of finally developing transwarp, or eternal life/ extreme longevity, for that matter. But we still see the federation pursuing those.

So then we're thrown back to the dividing line between 'those that are ready for it and those that aren't', as it is now, development of the warp drive.

Which on the one hand, I can understand, but on the other hand, sounds a bit like 'we'd rather not share our technological advances with you because of 'unpredictable potentially destructive consequences' but if we can't prevent it anyway because you have warp drive already, we prefer that you trade with us instead of the romulans'
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Old January 1 2013, 06:04 PM   #7
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

Actually the Prime Directive is very clever and not totally out-of-this-world, because it reflects core values represented by Philosophists like Sokrates or Kant, on which many institutions of the modern western civilized world are based on (Democracy, State of Law, Freedom of Speech, Declaration of Human Rights).

The prohibition of torture for example shares the same core value with the Prime Directive.

The Primary Directive acknowledges, that if the Federation would be allowed to save civilizations at will, they would do so according to their interests and their current state of knowledge at that time.

Example: Three planets of a solar systems are in peril. On one planet, a technically advanced society with a democratic, freedom based system lives. On the other one a civilization living in caves without much knowledge. On the third one a totalitarian system like the northkorean Dictatorship or the National Socialists. The Federation can only save one planet.

Without Prime Directive, it would just chose the one, that goes along with the Federation culture and the Federation values, which shares the interests of the Federation: The first planet. And it would let the others die. Why? Because they have no value to the Federation or even are considered of a lower moral quality. Because the Federation has no interests in these planets and societies or even has a strong interest in killing those people - but instead of doing it themselves, they let nature do the dirty work for them.

With the Prime Directive, the Federation and the people representing them, are always reminded: If you make such a choice, you do it according to your personal interests, who you share your culture with, whom you are more comfortable with living. Because of the Prime Directive you just cannot do that. You always have to stop and reflect.

Its like with the prohibition of torture: Even if you think, it is in your interest to torture someone, because it helps your interest, maybe saves someone elses life that you have an interest in, you are not allowed to. Because you might not torture someone, because it is right and it actually is for something good, you might only torture someone, because in that moment it is in your personal interest to do so and because the knowledge of that moment, which may be wrong or colored by your personal interests, gives you the illusion, you do it for the right cause.

And in the end, this cause for torture was wrong, and while you only needed to change your mind, the damage done by torture to the other person is permanent and not reversible.

Like it is not reversible, if you just saved a society because of wrong knowledge, colored knowledge by your interest, or just because you thought, you like someone better than the other one.

And of course it has a direct connection to the politics of the US, where Star Trek was developed. The US always had the policy, that it is allowed to interfere in other societies at their will - if it is in the interests of the US at that moment. One year, it gives weapons and money to a group, and saves them by doing so, that ten years later slaughters helpless people in their own country with these weapons or use the money to attack the US itself. The Prime Directive is pretty much the alternative policy to how the US is doing their foreign policy.
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Old January 1 2013, 06:23 PM   #8
Jeyl
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

Jefferies wrote: View Post
Even though, these alterations would have huge immediate benefits they do have the potential to destroy the human condition and the essence of our identity. So even though the Federation COULD do this, it CHOSES not to. Because the consequences could be far reaching, uncontrollable and destructive.
Except whenever such issues like "uncontrollable and destructive" consequences are brought up, no one brings up any examples. Outside of what humans have done to other humans on Earth, where exactly is there a case of the Prime Directive being ignored and suddenly coming back to bite us in the rear?
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Old January 1 2013, 06:53 PM   #9
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

For me - and this is not necessarily supported by in-universe story reasoning - the fundamental justification for the Prime Directive is simple: it saves humanity from having to continually take responsibility for others. In short, it stops us from feeling obliged to go around the galaxy playing the role of interstellar policeman and charity. The cost & resource (and moral) implications of such a role are potentially staggering.

The stuff about allowing species to develop "naturally" is a polite rationalisation for this, but not, I think, the ultimate reasoning for its value. Without it, there is no consistent protocol for deciding what situations the Federation gets involved with. Given the potential dangers posed (not just moral, but practical) and the latitude Starfleet Captains already have, the PD is a simple way of ensuring avoiding contact unless you can be fairly confident of dealing with a species on an approximate par with yourself. Warp drive is a fair marker for this, because it means a species has both reached a certain technological sophistication and has a desire to make contact with the outside universe.

As I understand it, the PD applies only to Starfleet/UFP officials. Private citizens can do as they please, from what I can see. That also makes sense, I think, as we're talking about what the government wants to take responsibility for. Are there any example of private Fed citizens taken to task for breaking the PD?
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Old January 1 2013, 07:07 PM   #10
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

The PD is one of those things that could make practical sense if it weren't used chaotically and somewhat indiscriminately depending on the whims of the writers. The basic idea traced back to TOS "A Piece of the Action," where an Earth ship visited a planet before the creation of the PD and accidentally contaminated the culture by leaving a book on 20th century gangsters behind, and the culture copied the book. One can argue it's rather unrealistic to believe they'd have copied it as thoroughly as depicted and that it would displace whatever their original culture was so effectively, but it suits the plot.
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Old January 1 2013, 09:34 PM   #11
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

The Prime Directive was intended as a principle of non-interference. When TNG came out we were coming out of the cold war and only two decades removed from Vietnam, it was meant as a principle not to force the Federation's ideals onto other cultures and cause another Vietnam.

In Pen Pals, I believe the writers misinterpreted it as a directive not to save entire civilizations from natural disasters based on the specious logic that one of them might become the next Hitler.

If you think about it, if you interpret it that way it's actually a statement that any warp-capable species are more important than non warp-capable species.

Suppose you live on a developing world. A big meteor comes and strikes your planet one year before it would have discovered warp. Your civilization is destroyed. Now suppose that same big meteor came out year after it discovered warp. Now the Federation comes and saves you. What's the difference in those two years? The only reason first contact is initiated at that point is that it's the point they're going to meet other species anyway. So why is one a violation of the prime directive and not the other, because one knows you exist to ask you for help and the other does not? That's a pretty awful philosophy if you ask me. It's pretty abhorrent to ignore the deaths of billions of people solely on the grounds of your butterfly effect anxiety.

I also think the 'Holocaust' case should not violate the prime directive. If an entire race is being systematically murdered or enslaved for no reason, they will never have the choice whether or not to accept Federation beliefs.
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Old January 1 2013, 09:44 PM   #12
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

the PD originated during TOS as an anti-imperialist concept coming as a reaction, as another poster wrote, against the Vietnam War.

The PD was changed into something unrecognizable by TNG where it was interpreted in a much more cruel and rigid way.

It also exists in Trek as a way of injecting artificial dilemmas into a story.
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Old January 1 2013, 11:03 PM   #13
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

JirinPanthosa wrote: View Post
The Prime Directive was intended as a principle of non-interference. When TNG came out we were coming out of the cold war and only two decades removed from Vietnam, it was meant as a principle not to force the Federation's ideals onto other cultures and cause another Vietnam.

In Pen Pals, I believe the writers misinterpreted it as a directive not to save entire civilizations from natural disasters based on the specious logic that one of them might become the next Hitler.
I don't think they misinterpreted it really. They just made it more restrictive to generate more drama on the show.
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Old January 2 2013, 02:56 AM   #14
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

JirinPanthosa wrote: View Post

In Pen Pals, I believe the writers misinterpreted it as a directive not to save entire civilizations from natural disasters based on the specious logic that one of them might become the next Hitler.
I've never gotten that interpretation from Pen Pals, and the big scene where the officers debate aspects of the PD doesn't even work the way it should because the concept is too inherently vague. The potential issue with Data's actions, in my view, is what would happen if Sarjenka's people had learned of her contact and promptly came to expect that the Enterprise (and by extension, the Federation) would be obligated to help them? What if their reaction caused a panic since the ship would have had only limited capacity if it had wanted to intervene, and probably couldn't have adequately supported the whole planetary population. I think there is a fair argument to be made that good intentions can be misread and cause more harm than was expected, and so a certain amount of caution is warranted.

I'm also not convinced that merely having a similar level of advancement is a guarantee that the Federation will assist. When the Klingon civil war erupted and Gowron asked Picard for help, citing the terms of the alliance and his status as leader under Klingon law, he was declined on the grounds that the war was considered an internal affair of the Klingon government. Even though the outcome was clearly important to the Federation, Picard knew that merely charging in wasn't the best alternative.
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Old January 2 2013, 04:23 AM   #15
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Re: ultimate reasoning behind prime directive ?

I've always preferred the route of "The Prime Suggestion." "On paper" it's nice to have this grand idea that all humans live by on a strict moral code of non-interference with less advanced/non-aligned cultures. (The Prime Directive, for example, tied Starfleet's hands in getting to involved in the Klingon Civil War in the "Redemption" episodes of TNG.)

I mean, it's a "good idea." Swooping in to a culture no more advanced than, say, we are today and providing them with miraculous technology would have quite the impact. Such a civilization would have great power without the discipline to use it properly. Or, say, the Federation came to a culture that had values or traditions that clashed with human standards and they tried forcing the culture into the "Federation Way." (a plot thread I'm sure happened many times over the series) Who's to say the Federation Way is the Right Way?

The Prime Directive has lots of good points, ideas and uses but there are also plenty of times where it fails, which is why all five of our Starfleet captains have broken it on more than one occasion.

I like how it's treated in Season 2's "The Child" and where I come up with the idea of the "Prime Suggestion." I liked the idea of the senior staff sitting down to DISCUSS the situation at hand and what course of action to take. Weigh the cost/benefit and to decide what is "morally" right to do. In the episode they decide to help the planet that is about to destroy itself in order for the planet inhabitants to survive. Such a decision falls into the old "Hitler (or Goodwin) Gambit" where saving the planet could lead to greater consequences down the road, but the opposite is not only true but so is the idea of "we can deal with it when we get there."

The Prime Suggestion, decide whether or not action is called for and what the best course of action is. Hell, the Federation itself did this with the Klingon Civil War when they decided to "help" the Klingons by starting the blockade of the Romulan border, because they felt the benefit of Gowron winning the civil war and retaining power was greater than if Duras won and the Klingons aligned with the Romulans.
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