The Prime Directive

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by Thanos007, Jan 21, 2019.

  1. Thanos007

    Thanos007 Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Just re-watched Pen Pals and boy do they break the Prime Directive a lot. I was going to put this in the TNG forum but thought I'd through it wide open for a general discussion of the PD. In the episode the staff's conversation barely scratches the surface of any kind of debate regarding the merits of the Prime Directive and I though that's what could be done here, go deeper. I'm sure it's been done before but I think it's a topic that should be revisited from time to time.

    What exactly is the Prime Directive besides "non interference" of "less advanced species" ? What does that mean? Are there loop holes? I always figured that Kirk was brought before a Star Fleet Board of Inquiry each time he violated it and his general argument boiled down to protecting his ship and crew in addition to the culture being stagnant. The last part is important in a very '60s, Kennedyesque, Peace Corps sort of way. Anyway as Kirk remained in command Star Fleet seems to have agreed with his interpretation.

    However by the time of Next Gen it seems a little more strict. Or at least Picard and the crews consideration of it plays that way. If we go with Riker's and Picard's take they should have completely ignored what was happening on the little girl's planet. The rest of the crew generally agree with that interpretation but argue that it's cruel and has little merit.

    One of the problems we face as the audience and fans is that we don't really know that the prime directive says. We have only the surface readings that various characters give it in universe.

    Based on what little we know about the PD is it a good policy? Should there be exceptions and what would they be? Is it a moral or pragmatic law? Both?
     
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  2. The Wormhole

    The Wormhole Admiral Admiral

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    The Prime Directive is rather idiotic the way it's used. It's supposedly Starfleet's most holiest commandment, yet it's frequently broken by the hero captains of each series with no consequences to them, yet we continue to hear violating it described Starfleet's cardinal sin. If it's so serious, why isn't anyone ever punished for breaking it? Even Picard had something like nine violations as of The Drumhead, but holding him accountable for them was apparently another symptom of Admiral Satie being out to lunch.

    And then there's the Omega Directive, which somehow supersedes the allegedly immutable Prime Directive.
     
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  3. longhorn355

    longhorn355 Ensign Red Shirt

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    In The Omega Glory, Captain Kirk states, “A star captain's most solemn oath is that he will give his life, even his entire crew, rather than violate the Prime Directive.”

    Starfleet seems to have lofty ideas about the Prime Directive but I don’t recall seeing anyone being disciplined for violating it. Some captains are even habitual violators. It seems the Prime Directive is really just a guiding principle rather than a strictly enforced rule.
     
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  4. STR

    STR Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Any interpretation that leads to the conclusion "we can't save a planet of people because they're primitive and saving them would destroy them down the road maybe" is clearly flawed.

    While it's come up in a couple of episodes, I just apply the TV Procedural Test. It's the same filter you apply when watching a cop show: you know real cops almost never shoot anyone, beat suspects, or plant evidence (Chicago PD aside). But TV cops do all of the above every week. If you took those shows as literal testimony as to how our world worked, you'd conclude some weird things as well.

    Since the PD is nonsensical as presented, you must conclude you're seeing a sensationalized depiction. I do like the idea of TNG-era PD being stricter. That just makes sense. Complexity tends to increase over time.
     
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  5. King Bob!

    King Bob! History’s Greatest Monster Premium Member

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    In Voyager, Janeway says there are 47 subsections. So a captain probably has a lot of leeway in how to handle an indigenous pre-warp culture.

    Technically, Starfleet is setting up a potential violation just by entering someone's star system. So, no, I don't think they take it all that seriously.
     
  6. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Seems the whole point is to limit the breadth of authority of starship captains. Several episodes in fact make mention of the PD not applying to the civilians at all, or (in "Angel One") actually protecting any interference they create from Starfleet attempts at corrective measures.

    Makes sense: starship skippers are the ones with the best resources for playing god. Obviously their government would wish to rein them in. And obviously the skippers would feel the urge to fight back: the PD would always be an obstacle to what they want to do, by the very design.

    Conversely, while all the plots are about the captains wanting to do stuff, not all of them need involve them not being allowed to: their bosses simply reserve the right to decide. And sometimes they decide that interfering is just fine, as it nicely serves the political goals of the UFP.

    "Pen Pals" is a good example of everybody wanting to do one thing and then doing that very thing, even though Picard calls for philosophical debate in between. And largely as a side show to the actual crisis at hand - of Data disobeying orders and breaking rules. Saving the planet of the week is not the objectionable thing: doing it without formal permission is.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
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  7. King Bob!

    King Bob! History’s Greatest Monster Premium Member

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    I don't think so. We've long seen that starship captains have quite a bit of latitude to do things without the prior permission of higher ups. Including violating treaties (See: "Balance of Terror")
     
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  8. Delta Vega

    Delta Vega Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    The "Prime Directive" as a legal document, in print, would probably run to several volumes of very thick books.
    Amendment after amendment, sub sections and special dispensations for different races, different technology levels, whether in war or peacetime, whether threatened or under attack from antagonists.
    Its a minefield, and it would be open to misinterpretation and downright abuse.
    Its a wonder the ships don't take Ship's Lawyers on board to keep the Captain right.
     
  9. Kor

    Kor Admiral Admiral

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    The particulars of the Prime Directive are adjusted according to the needs of the plot.

    Kor
     
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  10. Gov Kodos

    Gov Kodos Admiral Admiral

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    The thing is a plot device to make the one violating it look like a maverick or savior or madman depending on the desired story.
     
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  11. Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)

    Happy X-Mas (War Is Over) If You Want It Premium Member

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    It's a plot device. Following it or breaking it.
     
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  12. Jetboogieman

    Jetboogieman Commander Red Shirt

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    I think there definitely is a contextual problem in the show because a reprimand of a Starship Captain by Starfleet command for breaking the prime directive is, as far as I remember, never shown in the series..

    Could have been an interesting Episode they could have done where the Captain is being questioned, hell maybe even by the Federation Council and it could flash back to the mission where it happened and back to the Hearing on Earth, it could have possibly been fleshed out more in an episode like that because, the other side of the coin is that, it's never shown in canon as a hard and fast, text rule that has very specific wording.

    It would be interesting for this reason, Starfleet knowing there would be many infinite circumstances it which it might HAVE to be broken, that it's taught more as a concept than as an actual piece of legal code, of course this is contradicted by the fact that its referred to as "Starfleet General Order 1" alluding it probably is a piece of legal code.
     
  13. johnnybear

    johnnybear Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The Prime Directive only counts in a thriving society, not some of the stagnating ones that Kirk discovered in TOS! Plus when he interfered, he did it for the good of that world and not bad like say Captain Ronald Tracey or the various other races such as the Klingons!
    He had to stop Eminiar 7 and it's computerised conflict for the sake of the thousands put to death each year to uphold that doctrine!
    He had to save Miri and the other 'children' because even thought they were long lived they still faced extinction in the end! :techman:
    JB
     
  14. Kor

    Kor Admiral Admiral

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    I believe the legal ramifications of violating the PD are dealt with in more detail in the Reeves-Stevenses's novel "Prime Directive" than they ever were in televised or cinematic Trek.

    Kor
     
  15. Santa Quark

    Santa Quark Admiral Admiral

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    The PD was supposed to be about political and cultural interference. Making it a genocide pact was a huge mistake.
     
  16. MacLeod

    MacLeod Admiral Admiral

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    The PD of the 23rd Century is likely a very different beast to that of the 24th Century, sure the core ideal of it might be the same but as with many laws it might have changed somewhat due to various events and loopholes being closed over time.
     
  17. Nyotarules

    Nyotarules Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The Prime Directive in universe is paved with good intentions, in the real world it follows the need of the plot.
     
  18. at Quark's

    at Quark's Commodore Commodore

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    Sure, that's one extra reason to use the "PD" abbreviation :)
     
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  19. plynch

    plynch Commodore Commodore

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    In TOS where, say our heroes seek to divert an asteroid heading toward a planet, in TNG they generally would have to let it?

    TNG is the series I 'm least familiar with.
     
  20. Yassa Justice

    Yassa Justice Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

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    I am okay with Galaxy doing away with it.