An observation of the Prime Directive conversation in "Pen Pals"

Discussion in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' started by Ragitsu, Nov 17, 2021.

  1. Ragitsu

    Ragitsu Commander Red Shirt

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    Though the events of this episode take place just before Season 3 (i.e., when the show really hit its stride and began to stand apart from TOS), Riker's character is pretty well established by now: among other traits, he is assertive and proactive. William is a "go-getter" in every sense of the word. Why, then, is he content to let the others talk the matter out while occasionally waxing philosophical about a potential predetermined outcome?
     
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  2. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    He's also the designated Devil's advocate. I doubt he really supports the views he's expressing; he's just playing ball with LaForge for purposes of having the argument that Picard wants. He loves role-playing like that in general. Except perhaps in "Measure of a Man".

    Worf is no fun in this respect: while he believes in a polemically worthwhile single option, we don't even learn what this option is. So it's just a matter of Pulaski feeling that the PD is a bad idea overall, and Picard staging a conversation to remind her that there are other considerations.

    It's not about Drema IV anyway; the issue is with Data's insubordination, and the debate culminates in that matter being resolved, surprisingly in Data's favor. We never learn if anybody would have wanted to leave the planet unrescued. Save perhaps for Worf, but nobody listens to Worf anyway.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
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  3. Mojochi

    Mojochi Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The thing about Devil's Advocate is that it isn't just employed to be contrarian, or to take up a lesser supported viewpoint. Sometimes you use it to actually fortify the other viewpoint. Those like Beverly & Geordi that are arguing the other way will now have a record, having confirmed within themselves their convictions, so that when the time comes to take the action no one has any doubt whatsoever.

    I always thought it interesting that Geordi chimed in so forcefully here. It's not really his style either to be so passionate on subjects like this, but it might've been Riker's attitudes that drove him more to it. It calls everyone to their convictions more firmly to hear what they don't agree with than to hear what they do.

    But if you're looking for some canonical way of tying it all together from a character dynamic, Riker isn't all that vocal about the events on Boral II either. He might just not get all wrapped up in this aspect
     
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  4. cgervasi

    cgervasi Commander Red Shirt

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    When I first saw it I thought Riker was out of his element in a philosophical discussion. He thought it would sound stupid to say, "I don't follow all this philosophical stuff, but very wise people from history formulated the prime directive, and if Picard supports it, so let's just follow the rule." So instead he tries to sound intellectual, but it sounds stilted coming from him: "If there is a cosmic plan, is it not the height of hubris to think that we can, or should, interfere?"

    I actually thought the point was philosophy was not Riker's strength.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2021
  5. Michael

    Michael [ˈmɪçaːʔeːl] Moderator

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    Incidentally we just had this episodes in our TNG rewatch yesterday. What I found more grating than Riker blabbering about “fate” and a “cosmic plan” for no reason, was Picard with his nonsense questions like “What if it were an epidemic?”, “What if it were a war?” or “What if there was slavery?” :rolleyes: Yeah, no shit Sherlock, if it were a different situation than the one at hand, it would be a different situation. Why not rather talk about the actual situation at hand, though?

    The writers really made Picard look super ignorant and unsympathetic in this one. It tracks with TNG's general bad take on non-interference, though. I can't stand this aspect of the show. I don't know what the writers thought having the characters essentially patting their own backs for not helping billions of people. Advanced society my ass.
     
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  6. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    But the point is that the discussion is not about the situation at hand. It's about Data being insubordinate, and Picard hating that, and Data essentially being in the right about this particular situation - so of course Picard has to bring up other situations, ones where Data really should fry. And not even for his or Data's direct benefit, because he can throw Data in the brig if he really wants to, but more because he's sensing that folks like Pulaski need this sort of discussion on the merits of PD, lest they lose faith altogether.

    At no point does Picard suggest not helping the people in need. Nor, for that matter, does anybody else. The closest we come is LaForge asking a pointed "what if". And indeed the discussion doesn't really need to touch on that, because that part is a triviality. Once Picard says "make it so", the team makes it so, untangling the mystery, devising a solution, and implementing it. All in an afternoon's work, and without the need to kowtow at all.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
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  7. Michael

    Michael [ˈmɪçaːʔeːl] Moderator

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    What are you talking about? I think you need to rewatch, because the whole scene is absolutely about whether they should help the Dremans or not and not about what Data did. :confused:
     
  8. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Picard convenes the meeting because Data suggests saving the planet by violating the PD. With this in mind, he then asks for options. So there's no stage in the process there where anybody would consider leaving the planet unsaved, even when the PD looms over them.

    Picard nevertheless opens by pointing a finger at Data: "It's his fault, and he did really wrong, and now we have to consider what this means."

    Which is what they proceed to discuss. There is no talk about saving the people (this is mere procedural, and takes place after the conference). It's all about what it means that they now have to save the people. And, hey, they cover all the angles and Data even provides a final legal loophole by establishing that Sarjenka is specifically calling him for help.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  9. Michael

    Michael [ˈmɪçaːʔeːl] Moderator

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    Quite the mental gymnastics to read a scene like it clearly wasn't intended. The key lines of dialog undermining your reading are the following:

    Meaning doing nothing, letting “nature” run its course and letting the Dremans die. To which Picard replies:
    Implying that yes, they are going to ignore the very plea for help they were talking about for the last couple of minutes. And then when they hear Sarjenka's plea for themselves Picard says:
    Clearly saying that they were planning to “turn their backs” and not help a second before that.

    Why are you trying to make the scene into something it wasn't?
     
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  10. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Because whatever it "was" does not involve any of the heroes advocating not acting. To the contrary, it exists solely because the heroes intend to act.

    LaForge and Data speculate, purely polemically, which is the sole reason for having this conference in the first place. Picard for his part can do whatever he wishes, ignoring (as he does) the speculation. In the end, for him it's still all about Data; contact with Drema IV is not relevant for saving the Dremans in any way, but cutting said contact is relevant to the future of Data's immortal soul-analogue.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  11. Michael

    Michael [ˈmɪçaːʔeːl] Moderator

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    Viewed in isolation it isn't, I agree. But when it's Picard's direct reply to Data's “We are going to allow her to die, are we not?” it's pretty clear what “sever the contact” really means.

    Look, Timo, your out-of-the-box thinking can be a great thing, but I really believe you're plainly wrong in this case. The scene as presented does not support your reading. They are talking about whether to help the Dremans or not. Almost the whole text supports that reading. It's cool that you are able to view this and spin off a parallel narrative in your head, but it's just not what's happening here.
     
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  12. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I agree with @Michael. The scene is about both whether they are going to help, whether it is the right thing to do according to potential philosophies of natural law, and what their duty is. It is the scene in which the decision is made to help, and the debate over philosophy and duty occurs before that decision has been made.
     
  13. Ragitsu

    Ragitsu Commander Red Shirt

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    *sigh*
     
  14. Michael

    Michael [ˈmɪçaːʔeːl] Moderator

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    People having discussions on a discussion board. The sheer audacity!
     
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  15. suarezguy

    suarezguy Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Where do/would you draw the line is important in trying to determine that you're not really going too far now, not going against your general principles, acknowledging that they're there for a reason and breaking them, even if it seems right now, can have downsides.

    I wish the other shows acknowledged more often that breaking the principle to intervene can go very wrong.

    Real world countries do that all the time by inaction, and in the exceptions when we don't often do involve trying to control and/or still killing the people we say we're trying to save.
     
  16. Michael

    Michael [ˈmɪçaːʔeːl] Moderator

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    Saving an entire civilization from extinction can have downsides? I think if they have to discuss saving someone they obviously can save, their entire moral code is kinda fucked up. Saving someone from certain extinction is not “interfering in their natural development”. It's the definitive end of their development. Stopping to think if saving someone could have a downside later on is a really questionable way of looking at things.

    How? It's weighing a multitude of vague possibilities against one devastating certainty. Shouldn't be a hard question at all.
     
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  17. suarezguy

    suarezguy Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Er, obviously in what you quoted and I guess you think is irrelevant but would you (also) save a people from a long-running, devastating war (by forcibly ending, forbidding the war)? A war can also lead to extinction and be nearly there already.

    Even with natural disasters, if you don't and can't save the vast majority of people/planets does it really feel comfortable to selectively save a very small handful? Any criteria for picking the exception that you will save seems uncomfortable to me.
     
  18. Michael

    Michael [ˈmɪçaːʔeːl] Moderator

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    I don't understand why these questions would even come up if they are not the situation they find themselves in. So yeah, obviously these other situations you describe would require you to rethink your approach. But so what, they are not the situation at hand. All I'm saying is the Prime Directive is a pretty morally bankrupt guide if it means you shouldn't help in such a clear-cut and obvious situation.

    It's like if I find myself in a situation where I can save a child from falling to its death, but before I save it I stop to consider that maybe that kid could grow up to be a murderer. Or I stop to consider that I can't save all children on the Earth who might fall to their death, so I should better not help this one. Maybe it's fate/part of the cosmic plan that the child dies. If I save this one, am I then required to save all children in danger? Doesn't make sense to me in the slightest.
     
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  19. Mojochi

    Mojochi Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Dude, you opened this kettle of fish. Admittedly, it was going largely unnoticed for a while until I stirred it. :guffaw:

    I'm with @Michael on this one. Their discussion is clearly having a go at the far ends of the PD, & whether it should extend up to & including extinction events, where for some reason they always start with yes as the default, & have to work their way to what's undeniably the right choice in their case

    It's pretty silly that a group would be invested in seeking out new life & civilizations, & somehow not get that doing so in itself involves you at some level, no matter what, & that the value in doing so is in cherishing the essence of intelligent existence on the whole.

    So it doesn't track for them to also be unable to see their way to aiding its continuation, when that continuation is facing an end. Is intelligent life so commonplace in their universe that they shouldn't be urged to prevent the universe losing it? That's some privelege

    I don't think I'd agree that Picard's situation play is necessarily ignorant... Maybe oversimplified, but then the whole scene is really lol
     
  20. Ragitsu

    Ragitsu Commander Red Shirt

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    There was that one episode on Voyager...Blink of an Eye, I think? Anyhow, because of a different temporal point of reference, the starship Voyager ended up influencing the development of a species simply by remaining in their planet's orbit for hundreds of years.

    In any case, I've noticed something in the aggregate: if someone wants to take a dump on Star Trek and its Prime Directive, this is always a "no win" scenario for The Federation. If The Federation neglects to interfere in the affairs of pre-warp civilizations, they are callous and holier-than-thou. Alternatively, if the Federation deliberately interferes in the affairs of pre-war civilizations, they are (indirectly?) enforcing conformity through homogenous technological (and therefore cultural) development; critics will occasionally reference that naked right-wing mouthpiece on DS9, Michael Eddington (he compared The Federation to the Borg...silly, right?).
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2021