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Star Trek - Original Series The one that started it all...

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Old May 29 2011, 03:46 PM   #1
Warped9
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Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

This is a subject that refuses to die, which is a good thing for it makes for lively discussion and stretching of the mental muscles. One could also make the case that it has real world parallels in history and potentially for the future.

The Prime Directive didn't just spring into being (within the context of the Trek universe) out of the goodness and well meaning intentions of Federation hearts. It's a policy that would have been endlessly debated and argued before finally being drafted and implemented.

The various races that make up the Federation must all at one time or another encountered other cultures and dealt with the subsequent encounters and results each in their own way. And after coming together to form the UFP they eventually agreed to a common code of conduct in regard to dealing with newly encountered cultures. That said various contingencies must have applied to cultures already encountered before the Prime Directive was adopted.

In TOS we get some idea that cultural study is conducted on some covert or unobtrusive level so as not to upset or corrupt a planet's normal development. We also see this in TNG. There are evidently rules in place while conducting such studies.

Which leads me to the thought that perhaps some incidents of past cultural observing might not have gone so well and contributed to the development of the Prime Directive. Granted I'm not that well versed in the ENT episodes, but it seems to me that there could be at least a couple of good prequel stories to be told regarding the wisdom (or lack thereof) in interfering with a less advanced culture's development. The other aspect of the Prime Directive regarding non-interference in a Federation member world's or other advanced society's internal workings is likely a result of legislated self-interest---don't stick your nose in my personal affairs and I won't stick my nose in yours. This parallels much of what we see going on around us all the time in terms of relations between nations.

So I'm more interested in how the Prime Directive might have come into being in regards to non-interference in the normal development of newly encountered cultures. What sort of things could have led to the Federation adopting such a policy?
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Old May 29 2011, 03:59 PM   #2
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

Interesting topic.

Probably the Prime Directive has its origins in a well-intentioned introduction of technology going completely wrong.
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Old May 29 2011, 04:09 PM   #3
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

Back in the TNG episode "First Contact" Picard makes a statement that for a time made me think that how the Klingons were first encountered contributed something to the development of the Prime Directive. Picard alludes it to being a disastrous first contact, but that doesn't seem to really gel with how they chose to depict it in ENT. Never mind the ENT writers often seemed to ignore TOS, but they also seemed to ignore TNG as well, and TNG was a lot more recent (production wise).

But the Klingons in TOS evidently weren't a primitive and less advanced culture. And there seems to be some subtext in TOS that the first contact with the Klingons goes back perhaps only a couple to a few decades and not a century or so.

It could well be that Earth as well as other yet-to-be Federation worlds did have first encounters with new cultures that went badly despite good intentions. It's also possible the Federation and also Starfleet were established quite sometime before the Prime Directive is adopted, which I think is likely. During TOS the Prime Directive may be no more than perhaps twenty years old give-or-take.
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Old May 29 2011, 04:13 PM   #4
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

Real world? For TOS, Korea and Vietnam rather clearly, despite (or even because of) "A Private Little War." Now there's one planet that's thoroughly #&$%8ed up because of outside interference.

And it was also fear of the atomic bomb. Kirk often spoke of the danger of letting technology outrun wisdom. If you get right down to it, TOS argued regularly against the arms race.

Within the TOS stories, I think the general idea is not to forbid external influence, but to make sure that alien cultures won't blow themselves up as a result of the amazing technologies we'd share. And so, cultures that are not growing or thriving are fair game for tampering, the will of Landru notwithstanding!

In TNG and other later series, this seems to be extended to cultural pollution -- we dare not even share knowledge of other off-planet civilizations: i.e., Kirk dethroned Landru, Picard would likely have let him be.
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Old May 29 2011, 04:18 PM   #5
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

jayrath wrote: View Post
In TNG and other later series, this seems to be extended to cultural pollution -- we dare not even share knowledge of other off-planet civilizations.
Well in "Bread And Circuses" Kirk does speak of not speaking of space travel and life on other worlds in front of the inhabitants, so it was already an established idea in TOS.

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Kirk dethroned Landru, Picard would likely have let him be.
Really? What if the 170D was being "pulled down from the sky?" Indeed did Picard ever face a PD situation analogous to what Kirk had to deal with?


This also makes me think of what happened to the Valiant mentioned in "A Taste Of Armageddon." Did the Valiant's Captain simply surrender to the Eminians or unlike the Enterprise did the Eminians manage to destroy the ship in orbit?
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Old May 29 2011, 10:02 PM   #6
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

Warped9 wrote: View Post
[Klingons] Picard alludes it to being a disastrous first contact, but that doesn't seem to really gel with how they chose to depict it in ENT.
Picard, perhaps more so than any other character, seem to regard himself as a "citizen of the Federation," so the disastrous incident he was referring to might have involved a species other than Humans. He wasn't necessarily speaking of Broken Bow.

In TOS we get some idea that cultural study is conducted on some covert or unobtrusive level so as not to upset or corrupt a planet's normal development.
The impression I received, primarily from Spock's question of Kirk in Bread and Circuses, was the the PD was almost brand new, or perhaps the current version was. If the PD existed prior to TOS it was in a different form, when Dr. McCoy was among the Capellans, he was openly in uniform and trying hard to give them advanced medical practices. The Capellans would seem to have been a non space fairing, non warp drive culture.

In that case maybe the Federation felt that the damage had been done, and they "grandfathered" a clause into the PD so that previously contacted planets could continue to have interstellar discourse.
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Old May 31 2011, 01:30 AM   #7
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

All you have to do is look at human history to see when a higher-tech culture contacts a lower-tech one, the lower-tech culture is destroyed. Even if the intent of the high-tech culture is not evil. The high tech goods and lifestyle seduce people away from their traditional lifestyles. This is why the Prime Directive makes sense to me.
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Old May 31 2011, 02:51 AM   #8
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

Brolan wrote: View Post
All you have to do is look at human history to see when a higher-tech culture contacts a lower-tech one, the lower-tech culture is destroyed. Even if the intent of the high-tech culture is not evil. The high tech goods and lifestyle seduce people away from their traditional lifestyles. This is why the Prime Directive makes sense to me.
But usually when the higher-tech culture contacts the lower-tech one... it's to exploit them. Not sure I can remember a time where the higher tech culture went in with the purest of good intentions. Not in human history.
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Old May 31 2011, 03:04 AM   #9
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

BillJ wrote: View Post
Brolan wrote: View Post
All you have to do is look at human history to see when a higher-tech culture contacts a lower-tech one, the lower-tech culture is destroyed. Even if the intent of the high-tech culture is not evil. The high tech goods and lifestyle seduce people away from their traditional lifestyles. This is why the Prime Directive makes sense to me.
But usually when the higher-tech culture contacts the lower-tech one... it's to exploit them. Not sure I can remember a time where the higher tech culture went in with the purest of good intentions. Not in human history.
Although they usually get little voice and little notice it does happen that some individuals do speak out against the exploitation. Not all white Europeans condoned or accepted slavery. Some did object to how the aboriginals were treated when Europeans first started to colonize the Americas as well as the African continent. Not all Americans of the south were racists. And I'm willing to suspect that not all Romans believed that others were better off under Roman rule or deserved to be treated as "barbarians."
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Old May 31 2011, 03:30 AM   #10
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

Warped9 wrote: View Post
BillJ wrote: View Post
Brolan wrote: View Post
All you have to do is look at human history to see when a higher-tech culture contacts a lower-tech one, the lower-tech culture is destroyed. Even if the intent of the high-tech culture is not evil. The high tech goods and lifestyle seduce people away from their traditional lifestyles. This is why the Prime Directive makes sense to me.
But usually when the higher-tech culture contacts the lower-tech one... it's to exploit them. Not sure I can remember a time where the higher tech culture went in with the purest of good intentions. Not in human history.
Although they usually get little voice and little notice it does happen that some individuals do speak out against the exploitation. Not all white Europeans condoned or accepted slavery. Some did object to how the aboriginals were treated when Europeans first started to colonize the Americas as well as the African continent. Not all Americans of the south were racists. And I'm willing to suspect that not all Romans believed that others were better off under Roman rule or deserved to be treated as "barbarians."
Not exactly the point I'm making. It seems people think that the Prime Directive is based on human interaction with lesser human cultures... which in most cases was exploitative in nature. Are there any cases where the contact was not exploitative in nature?

The Prime Directive essentially says all contact is bad contact based on an incomplete model.
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Old May 31 2011, 03:35 AM   #11
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

^^ I get the sense the Prime Directive is saying, "We can't take the chance." It's saying, "We're not wise enough to meddle in someone else's affairs. Being human we're sure to fuck it up somewhere."

Your question is a good one, though, and I'm not sure I can think of an answer.
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Old May 31 2011, 03:42 AM   #12
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

Warped9 wrote: View Post
^^ I get the sense the Prime Directive is saying, "We can't take the chance." It's saying, "We're not wise enough to meddle in someone else's affairs. Being human we're sure to fuck it up somewhere."

Your question is a good one, though, and I'm not sure I can think of an answer.
I used to be much more pro-Prime Directive, until TNG started feeding us the non-sense about letting primitive cultures die because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That along with seeing that it's built on historical data that doesn't account for all the variable situations likely to be seen on a galactic scale.
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Old May 31 2011, 01:27 PM   #13
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

Well, also taking into account is if the Starfleet personnel can even STOP said disasters, or if they are natural occurrences of their world. In the latter case, it's often for the civilization's own good to face adversity and grow from it like we have with our own natural disasters throughout history.
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Old May 31 2011, 02:19 PM   #14
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

Anwar wrote: View Post
Well, also taking into account is if the Starfleet personnel can even STOP said disasters, or if they are natural occurrences of their world. In the latter case, it's often for the civilization's own good to face adversity and grow from it like we have with our own natural disasters throughout history.
So Kirk should've allowed the children from Miri starve to death because of an error by their parents?
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Old May 31 2011, 03:26 PM   #15
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Re: Cultural study and development of the Prime Directive...

BillJ wrote: View Post
Anwar wrote: View Post
Well, also taking into account is if the Starfleet personnel can even STOP said disasters, or if they are natural occurrences of their world. In the latter case, it's often for the civilization's own good to face adversity and grow from it like we have with our own natural disasters throughout history.
So Kirk should've allowed the children from Miri starve to death because of an error by their parents?
I don't think the idea of the Prime Directive was even thought of at this point in the series. And anyway at the end we know Kirk left some people behind to look after the kids until more organized help could arrive.

Note that they do intervene in the case of the Yonada asteroid headed for Deneb 5 ("For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky") and in trying to prevent the destruction of a world in "The Paradise Syndrome." So in some cases 23rd century Starfleet does seem to make an effort to prevent certain disasters.

I couldn't help but reflect on this while revisiting the TNG episodes. In some of the instances there I'm pretty sure Kirk and 23rd century Starfleet might make an effort to intervene in cases where worlds or people were facing some calamity even if said people know nothing of life beyond their own world.
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