The Prime Directive

Suppose in the next century or two humanity developed interstellar travel and formed a world government. Supposing there are lesser developed but still intelligent alien races (rangng from cavemen to today’s level of technology) would support uplifiting and civilizing them or leave them be like in Star Trek’s Prime Directive.

Personally I find the “Prime Directive” to be utter rubbish-if they didn’t have that the Federation would far larger and powerful than it is in the series. Hopefully a real world government will have some balls and not be dominated by European and Canadian leftists.

The problem is that it takes time to change societies and as you do, it causes wars. It’s fairly likely that any creature capable of producing civilization is going to be a pack animal like humans and to have had some basic instincts towards accepting/opposing change since survival in nature requires a certain ratio.

True, that might not be an entirely safe assumption. Making it though, if you look at Africa or South America you can certainly say that you can, for instance, give modern technology to backwards regions. But the result is that everything but the weapons are abandoned, and those are used to lord over everyone else. You can try and instill democracy, but this ends up happening in name only.

A society needs to be matured through several generations so that scientific curiosity, meritocracy, and political equality rise to the fore on their own–or are at least ready for their introduction. Trying anything before that will just create chaos and hardship.

If you don’t care about that, then you might as well go in and enslave them and put them to work in mines. But in general, people are more valuable as members of modern society than as laborers. The short-term gain of having cheap labor probably doesn’t match the value of taking a century or two to guide a civilization through the steps it needs to take to achieve modernity.

I…think…I agree with Sage Rat here.

The ideal isn’t to be completely uninvolved, like many spacefaring races in sci-fi, but to be watching & perhaps nudging the new potential Federation members in a given direction toward a just & wise institutional civilization.

I’m not sure of that, though. Is it better to be more hands-off or to take an actively paternalistic role?

Given the fact that the “new” races will have peculiarly different ecologies, the best approach is careful humility in mixing our products into their world, while science learns what it can. Then plans can be made from an informed perspective.

I’d take the Captain Picard method - try to uphold the prime directive as much as possible, but take it on a case-by-case basis. I can see the value of non-interference - you don’t know the culture, you don’t know all the intricacies, and what seems like a good idea might actually turn out to be a terrible one.

Well the Federation’s policy is complete non-interference in primitive worlds. Zip, nilch, nada. They don’t even attempt to say negotiate them or sent traders.

But you can’t have scientific curiosity, meritocracy and political equality when everyone is sick and starving. Western obsession with these ideals started around the same time as the industrial and agricultural revolutions, which created enough wealth to allow for more division of labor and higher standards of living.

So technology investments into health care and agriculture would probably speed up the adoption of concepts like meritocracy and political egalitarianism because people wouldn’t need to obsess over basic physical needs. Maslow’s hierarchy.

Also, I don’t agree about technology in Africa. The cell phone is supposedly dramatically changing African cultures.
Many countries that were dirt poor a few decades ago are now developed. South Korea had a GDP per capita of about $1000 in 1960, now they are at $25,000. The same thing happened in several asian countries. Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, China. They underwent rapid industrialization because they were able to use the technologies and ideas already invented by the west to grow their economies.
Either way, the concept of not intervening probably isn’t realistic. I doubt a 23rd century civilization would sit by and do nothing if a giant natural disaster hit a foreign planet. Or if a plague was killing millions. It doesn’t sound like something we’d do (just watch and do nothing).

I’d be all for non-interference.
But, there needs to be some form of pre-introduction information given to the group. For instance, if the planet they’re on has a moon and it’s tidally locked, plant a big sign on it that says “There are other intelligent races, and most of us mean you no harm. We’re not going lie, and say it’s perfect, but ring us up at this phone number when you develop the inter-stellar phone, and we’ll chat about cultural and scientific exchanges.” Or something to that effect.
It’s folly to assume that interference is the best course of action, because throughout human history it’s been repeatedly shown that it’s not. Even when one group of humans attempts to help another, it results in wars and general suffering. The results could be much, much worse if we were arrogant enough to assume that it would work with an entirely separate specie. Hell, there are specie who are instinctively distrusting of eachother within that specie. I read an article about some of the primary differences between humans and chimpanzees, one of them being that chimpanzees don’t assume another person is going to help them, while humans do (the experiment used to prove this was the “point to food under the cup” test, with toddlers and chimps).
An inability to relate to others, even within our own specie (and don’t get me started on different Classes, orders and Families – from a classification standpoint, not social), seems to point to not interference being the only reasonable way to go for the long term benefit of both parties.

Perhaps, limited introduction of humanitarian substances (annihilating their version of smallpox) would be beneficial, but how much better off would we be now if those lives who died of smallpox weren’t lost, compared to how much worse off we’d be without that scientific achievement done ourselves? (Do we develop the cure and give it to them? Or do we develop the cure and give them the technology on how we did it? What if that technology could be altered, relatively easily, to create bioweapons?)

Things like Pasteurization are milestones in a societies progress, they’re things that budding scientists need to look at and say “Damn, I want to go down in history as the guy who developed that, and I’ll be remembered forever…”

I was just about to write a big thing about the US, and imperialism vs peacekeeping, and how the US has blown off various major disasters, and then I remembered who the OP is. Carry on.

The problem with the Prime Directive in Star Trek is that it is applied irrationally, no doubt in order to have stories. TOS of course ignored it half the time, and in TNG it was applied to starfaring civilizations, which made as much sense as applying it to Switzerland here.

The knowledge of the existence of other races is going to change a culture tremendously, so to really apply it they need to observe in a way they don’t get detected - which Riker was doing (incompetently) in one episode. How depressing for the development of a culture and science to know that all the answers have been found already. Perhaps giving the answers prevents the discovery of new and better scientific and ethical principles, which would only be done in isolation.

In my universe I have the successful completion of an interstellar voyage the trigger for first contact, since the civilization is far enough along, and it is kind of a reward for a significant achievement.

Think about it this way : if tomorrow a shiny starship full of aliens with obviously hyper advanced technology appeared in low Earth orbit, how would the world’s population react ? D’you think we wouldn’t freak out and immediately try to nuke them ? Do you believe we’d listen to *anything *they have to say ? Might as well go in the jungle and expect the chimps not to throw rocks at you…

Especially if what they did have to say was “look, numbnuts, you’re doing it all wrong. *Here *is how your government should be and your conflicts are stupid and your entire concept of “nation” is retarded and…”

I think they were aware of that. The question is whether or not that would be a good thing, and whether or not the Federation was entitled to play god with other cultures. They felt they didn’t have the right to do so, although of course they ignored this rule whenever it was convenient for the plot or for the moral the writers of the show wanted to display.

…this ‘money’ thing that you use to determine value is pretty stupid, and…"

Extra points for the Username / Topic combo.

I hated the Prime Directive and have always thought it was a stupid rule to enact and full of holes, though it was good for drumming up random stories about primitive races.

I think Picard cited the first contact between the Federation and Klingons as an important reason why the Prime Directive is in effect, supposedly it would have made that contact less disastrous. Archer, even though his show takes place hundreds of years before Picard, seemed to have been born with an innate Prime Directive given how often he cited some random philosophical garbage about meeting new aliens.

Depending on the writer, I suppose, it seems like the PD had conflicting intentions. Is it supposed to protect the Federation or protect the other races? That much was never made explicitly clear. I never bought their given reasons that we didn’t want to accidentally destroy some race, or that the Federation didn’t want to make a race hate us.

In TNG, the Federation stood by several times as natural planetary cataclysms wiped out or nearly wiped out a species. Luckily, Worf’s half brother saved some of them. But that showed me the PD wasn’t about protecting species at all, because anything’s better than annihilation.

Fears of another Klingon War cannot be justified either. The Federation has thousands of member worlds and just as many species. If it was afraid to interfere in another race’s internal affairs, the Fed would be made up of only the original 5 founding races and that’s it. It’s reputation as a futuristic UN, however, belies that. It actively seeks to recruit worlds into it, displace those worlds’ values with it’s own, and make every world into what the Federation considers their own utopian model.

Allegedly, the intent of the PD was so that the Fed wouldn’t interfere in non-space faring worlds, to prove the above incorrect. However, Kirk and crew “fixed” the Nazi world after finding out a Federation cultural observer turned the planet into fascists. Since the PD only applies to Star Fleet personnel and not to Federation citizens, the observer John Gill’s transformation of the planet would seem to render the PD’s rule of non-interference ironclad and Kirk should have just left it as it. But no, he helps them.

Like the wiki says posits, I think the PD is an example of moral cowardice on the Federation’s part. It’s easier to do nothing than do something, better to throw up your hands and say “Sorry, can’t help you” than try to help and screw up. I think it’s a very arrogant idea that the Federation’s enshrined into the law books, and it isn’t even applied very well (why not all Federation citizens instead of just Star Fleet?).

Let’s not forget, the Fed’s encountered it’s own PD from another race, the Organians, who stopped the Federation-Klingon war cold. I would have bet the billions of people who would have died in that conflict were glad some race wasn’t all uptight about it’s moral code and decided to use their powers to help.

One thing to consider is that the “aliens” on Star Trek were mostly pretty vanilla, psychologically and culturally speaking. Romulans are sneaky and aggressive and militaristic; Bajorans are religious; Klingons are Proud Warrior Race guys, a sort of mashup of Samurai and Vikings and Mongols. None of them are really outside the mainstream of the actual cultural and psychological variety of Homo sapiens sapiens. Vulcans are a bit weirder, but even they are like an entire species of Zen monks or something.

Cultural relativism aside, if you encounter a group of human beings who regularly murder each other in clan-based blood feuds, or who routinely leave a large percentage of their infants to die of exposure, helping them to change those patterns will objectively make them happier and is a good thing (though there may be other complications as a result of whatever cultural changes take place in ending the blood feuds or infanticide or whatever). What if you come across a species in which the occasional fight to the death over mates is actually genetically ingrained? What if you find a species which “spawns”, and in which it is normal and necessary that 99.9% of their larvae must die? (Maybe even with some of them being eaten by the adults of their own species.) How about a species in which one gender has the intellectual capacity of a mentally retarded human being, while the other has intelligence equal to or greater than that of the human average? (I suppose if one gender were simply mindless beasts, that might be a little easier and more obvious to sort out.)

And how do you tell the difference between species for whom these things are in fact “natural”, and species which have simply gotten themselves fucked up culturally speaking?-- Since blood feuds, infanticide, and sexism have all been pretty widespread in multiple human cultures. When it comes to aliens, it may be far from obvious what’s helpful and what’s not, even if we decide we want to be helpful.

Those scenarios above are all reasonably articulable and comprehensible differences; aliens might be truly alien. We simply don’t know how easy it would be to devise universal ethical codes; we can think about it, and use logic and reason on the problem, and say surely this or that concept must be some sort of universal key to virtue and happiness, but we have no real information on what actual alien intelligences would be like. It’s not very likely that if we ever encounter non-human intelligent lifeforms that they’ll turn out to be humans with bumpy foreheads who, underneath the green skin or pointy ears, are really just like us. But then again, who knows–maybe they’ll turn out to be Bug-Eyed Monsters with tentacles who, underneath it all…really are just like us. I could argue either way, actually, but unless and until we ever know, it’s very hard to set hypothetical policy on the treatment of sapient extraterrestrials.

The PD is for crap. I much prefer David Brin’s universe: actively mess with thinking life wherever you find it - Uplift it to sentience and starfaring, to make the Universe richer.

Um, Picard actively stood by while entire worlds were wiped out. The Prime Directive was drafted (in universe) to ensure that the Federation was mindful of the potential unintended consequences of even well intentioned interfearence, and as a basic “don’t exploit less developed civilizations” rule. Picard’s interpretation that it was a directive to bow to the will of God, fate, destiny, Q, or whatever other entity deemed that these species were “meant” to die at the hands of whatever random natural disaster he could effortlessly prevent was despicable.

It is certainly true that you can’t know what consequences interfearence will have for a species down the line, so a hands-off approach is often advisable, but when the perfectly predictable result is complete anihalation, those unpredictable consequences become the lesser of two evils.

Seems to me that if we (I assume you mean “we” human beings) ever get to outer space and in contact with other civilizations…any attempts on our part to help them “learn how to be civilized” would be like having a wart hog giving lessons on beauty to a fawn.

Better for any civilizations that may exist out there in space that the Earth be struck by an asteroid the size of our moon…than that we gain the ability to travel past our system of planets and exert any influence on other evolving beings.

We are brutal, murderous barbarians by nature…and it looks as though the chances of us becoming much more than that before greatly increasing our technical prowess…is nil.

Truly…the universe would be the better for a significant asteroid strike.

I disagree. The PD was limited in that it seems to regard contact with a pre-warp civilization to be a dichotomous “Raise them up” or “Ignore them” eventuality.

Using real life as an example, an advanced species making itself known would not eliminate scientific curiosity like some suggested. I think aliens would completely refocus our collective energies to finding out more about science, especially if they can give us the cure to cancer and diseases so we can use all of our time trying to figure out faster-than-light travel. Indeed, I believe it would cause a massive scientific revolution. Books will have to be rewritten, new rules memorized, the need for education would jump a hundredfold!

Starfleet should be mindful of that and not let people die off because they’re too afraid to act. No need to arm these primitive cultures with phasers and photon torpedos. Start by eliminating their diseases, getting rid of poverty, and ensuring equality amongst themselves. It would be more realistic to admit that even if some on this planet would be resentful of interference, first contact with aliens would be such an unprecedented event that there would be more than enough people to want this contact and consider it a blessing. So yeah, the rich and the powerful probably wouldn’t be too happy that they don’t have anyone to lord over, but that doesn’t mean their version of Steve Jobs wouldn’t gladly give that up to play with new technology provided by space aliens.

BTW, did Star Trek ever address how races like Klingons and Romulans dealt with first contact with a pre-warp species?

They are willing to break it if a primitive planet has things the Federation needs. Friday’s Child, if the Capellans would sign a mining treaty they would get all kinds of aid. Errand of Mercy, The Organians would have a entire modern society: schools, food, public facilities in exchange for a base of operations.