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Garry Stahl
The Conundrum of the Prime Directive
~ Prohibits Starfleet personnel or ships from interfering in the normal development of any society, and mandates that they sacrifice themselves is necessary to prevent such interference. ~ (No source I found exactly words this order. All sources only explain its intent, usually in the terms above.)

Since Star Trek first aired many people have debated the exact meaning and intent of the Prime Directive. Star Trek itself has debated it within the show, and the outcomes of several episodes have hinged on how this week's writer sees it.

The main problem with the wording of the prime directive as (not) given is that the most strict interpretation would require everyone to go home and hide under the bed. We cannot interfere. We cannot more specifically "unnaturally interfere". I ask, what is unnatural interference?

By this statement the "Prime Directive" assumes that we are somehow a meta-natural event. I strongly disagree. We are natural. Human cities are complete analogs in nature to termite mounds. How are we fit to judge if our dropping out of the sky, or not dropping out of the sky, is a natural event in the development of a culture? It could well be argued that the human race is in the muddle it is in because we have lacked the mentoring of a more mature species. If you had lousy parents does that mean it is good for everyone to have lousy parents? That suddenly, "lousy parents" are the standard everyone should grow up by? It might be the normal course of events that younger species are mentored by more advanced ones, and that Humans are the red-headed stepchildren of the galaxy because they lack such a mentor.

Furthermore it allows us to judge whether a culture is "naturally developing". By what standards does one natural creature judge what is "natural development" for another creature it knows nothing about? The Prime Directive, as stated, is nothing less than playing God, and congratulating ourselves for doing so. We the meta-natural event of the galaxy have the power and right to decide if your culture is natural. No matter how bad it might abuse you, if we think it is natural, hands off. No matter how well it works for you, if we think it is unnatural, we can interfere all we want.

If we desire not to force our views on others or to allow a life saving measure when required, let us rethink the idea of the prime directive.

Let us consider the Golden Rule Treat others as we ourselves would be treated. The Golden Rule has served humanity for thousands of years and has been expressed in every culture and every wisdom tradition. For us at least it works.

Star Trek is full of "people". Even the aliens are mostly human, so we can assume that the Golden Rule is as close to a universal principle as we will come up with. In Star Trek we can declare it to be so universal because we create the creatures within and how they will behave.

Let us put a little thought into our "Prime Directive." First, we ditch the vague wording of the Prime Directive as it is. It was a straw argument in The Apple, It was not thought out at all. So we create the Epiphany Trek "Prime Directive" to replace it.

Starfleet General Order Number One (The Prime Directive)

1) Life is sacred. Do what you can to preserve life while following the rest of these principles.
2) First, Do no harm. Examine you actions for potential harm, if acting is significantly worse than not acting, do not act.
3) Second, Allow no harm. This calls upon principle one. Life is more important than anything else. If preserving the life of a world will destroy that world's culture, preserve the life. The culture will rebuild. Sentients have been creating cultures for millions of years, and cultures have been dying out for as long. There is nothing sacred about a culture.
4) There are players (warp capable), and non-players (non-warp capable). Leave the non players alone. Yes, this principle is arbitrary. Like any set of rules, a line has to be drawn between one point and another, between the allowed and the unallowed. We choose to place this line at warp travel. Non-players must be left be to develop their own right ways. They do not need to have them delivered on duralloy tablets from the stars. Principles 1 and 3 can over ride this, but remember principle 2.
5) Our way is not the universal way. Don't shove it down anyone throat. This applies even to players. If someone asks us to let them be, and lets us be also, we will follow their wishes. Some sentients might need the protection and comfort of a totalitarian state. Others might thrive only under total anarchy. Do not judge others by our standard of decency, but by whether the culture is working for them. Someone out there may invent a superior social system we all might find better. They will not however if we give them ours.
6) Free will is paramount. If any Individual feels that their native culture is not working for them they may ask Starfleet for asylum, and they should be granted same. Don't be stupid. Those persons clearly criminal by both the standards of their own culture and the standards of ours cannot expect our protection. Any creature enslaved or oppressed can and should expect our help, even unto risk to ourselves.
7) These rules are suspended for those that make war on us. We will not make war on anyone that does not attack us first. If attacked we will seek peaceful resolution, but not beyond the point of reason. Then we will throw our full combined might against those that make war on us. Once the fighting is over we will seek reasons and resolutions.

I believe that this usage better covers the intent of the idea than the vague wording found in other sources. Far from being a straw man that various Captains have to justify breaking for this reason or that, let us create a Prime Directive that is usable and positive in its scope.

-- Garry Stahl, June 2003

Copyright Garry Stahl 2003
Do not reprint without premission

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Posted: 2005.08.14
Evil Must Be Opposed.
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