Star Trek's Prime Directive, a good idea?

Just for those who aren’t hip to the Star Trek universe, the highest rule for all involved with other alien species goes something like this:

“As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Starfleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.”

Now, take all the alien and Starfleet gobbledegook out of it. Is this a good rule for dealing with other societies here on earth?

How would this affect helping out in foreign civil wars?

What about a situation in which a culture routinely violates what we consider human rights?

I’m glad they included that bit, otherwise it’s all a bit callous; I would imagine that the civillian victims of most civil wars would be capable of wisely handling the impact of having their lives saved.

Hmm… Its interesting if you think about the effect of western technology on third world nations. Is it a similar situation? Have once tribal societies been forced to grow up to fast? Can relatively, extremly rapid and instaneaous technological change harm a less developed society?

Actually, it was just a recipe for a lot of hand-wringing and moralizing episodes (the worst of which can be found on Voyager), and was discarded whenever some rationalization could be found for helping out the underdog while sticking it to the uglier bad-guy aliens. I’d have preferred a more honest “gee, we’d like to help you out, but past experience tells us that it would just create a buttload of future problems for us (and besides, we don’t want to), so you’re on your own.”

autz’s version leaves out the “growing society” clause, the wildcard that let Kirk and company mess around with “stagnant” cultures.

Well, the Prime Directive is pretty worthless if nobody follows it.

I always thought some of the best drama in star trek (TNG) came from the one’s where they were stuck between competing moral obligations. IE “The Drumhead” is an awesome episode IMO.

True dat. I think one problem though is its poorly defined (maybe/probably on purpose ala US constitution) So I think their enforcement of it is fairly inconsistant.

On closer examintion, this isn’t a Cafe thread, so my yapping about Star Trek is misplaced.

I’ve made three or four attempts to write up a brilliant essay on why applying some sort of “prime directive” philosophy to Earth cultures is a bad idea, but nothing elegant comes to mind at the moment. I’ll get to it later.

By the way, this isn’t my version of the Prime Directive. I got it off a geek Trekkie web site

I don’t know if they made up this exact version of it. It is alluded to in ST all the time, but I don’t know if it’s ever spelled out in this detail.

The funny thing about the whole Prime Directive thing is that Kirk & the Enterprise crew routinely violated the PD during the 3 year run of the original series.

Maybe not all the time, but a little more non-interference in the world would be nice.

Would’ve kept the U.S. out of Vietnam, I suppose. Actually, I think they were using the prime directive dilemna as a Vietnam allegory a lot of the time on the show.

In a perfect world, it would be nice to do something about it (of course, if there were human rights violations, it wouldn’t be a perfect world). In the real world, human rights violations is only an excuse for messing with somebody you want to mess with. If it’s a country that has something another country wants, rights violations are routinely overlooked.

IMHO, the worst “prime directive” episode was the one with the Yangs and the Coms (sorry, I don’t know if I’m spelling it right), in which Kirk violates the prime directive by revealing the long-lost meaning of the U.S. Constitution. Good for a laugh, though.

We…the…peopleinorder…to form…amore…perfectunion…

I am a staunch pragmatist, so I oppose overly poetic (though as some have already said, sometimes not feasible) things like the prime directive.

You also could have pointed out that on Voyager it was revealed there is something else called the “Temporal Prime Directive” that was enacted in the future, but that is applie retroactively to all past generations.

Now to inject a little dose of reality: I once saw on PBS a German(?) scientist who said he’d found a way to send messages back in time by focusing a radio signal on a block of metal.

Some people even in real life would have a problem with this. But I don’t. In fact if I could I’d send a message to the 19th Century that went something like this: “Hey, Mrs. Hitler! Use contraception! If you don’t you’ll have a son who will be a real cretin!” Case closed.


I think the prime directive is a good thing. Most often, societies cannot deal with technology that they are not mature enough to use. Our own society is a very good example. Instead of using nuclear technology for good at first, it was used to kill other people. And now, we could destroy the world if we wanted too. Too many times have we come close to this. What does this say? It says that social aspects need to catch up with technological aspects.

Imagine these problems applied to an alien species much more primitive than us, and with a very high lvl of technology being introduced. The consequences could be disastrous.

I don’t think the prime directive really applies to the world today. It’s also about awareness, see? Almost every society on Earth knows about nuclear technology, microwaves, mass produced fashion lines, and tv dinners. The prime directive has already been severely broken on Earth (if we look at the Western world vs. developing nations). The damage has been done. Keeping those technologies from people after they know about them will only lead to demonization of the West.

does this mean Fiji islanders don’t get to see Bay Watch?


no DSL internet access?

does that mean the Arabs shouldn’t have brought the concept of ZERO to europe?

Another justification for it would be a healthy recognition of our own limitations. It is nigh impossible to figure out all the ramifications of any particular action and you really don’t want maverick Starship captains like J.T.Kirk going around making such monumental decisions. Now, I’m not one of those luddites who thinks that, “there are things man should not look into,” quite the opposite in fact. But it is one thing to try and modify your own advancement/destiny and quite another to stomp into someone else’s sandbox and ‘help’ them. <sorry no cites.>

Wouldn’t the prime directive on earth basically advocate closing one’s borders?

“Sorry, sir, but you can’t come into our country because you would learn things your primitive society has yet to discover, thereby violating our prime directive.”

As in the case of Zero, I don’t think some magnanimous Arab mathematician went to a European city and said “Behold the glory of Zero!”, hence revolutionizing mathematics in that city. Instead, the interaction among the people in the Mediterranean region caused the sharing of ideas and technologies.

At this point, every nation is pretty much accessible to every other one, if one is desperate enough to make the trip. That’s very different from a planet’s population lacking the technology to reach other planets and learn about their superior technology and knowledge.