I am attempting to develop a coherent argument for a "prime directive," or law that respects the right to self-determination of less advanced civilizations. In Star Trek the Prime Directive is generally used to justify genocide, which I would attribute to bad writing.

If there wasn't a prime directive, then what would protect less advanced civilizations from being forcibly colonized and sanitized by an more advanced civilization? This has happened many times in human history and the disadvantaged civilizations are still rebuilding centuries later.

Japan rapidly industrialized and became imperialistic conquerors in direct response to the USA's gunboat diplomacy. The government still denies that they committed numerous atrocities that were extensively documented.

China has a cultural imperative to assert their superiority after the self-described "century of humiliation" inflicted on them by the British. The British, in another display of gunboat diplomacy, coerced countless innocent people into addicting themselves to opium.

Vietnam is still suffering the effects of Agent Orange. When they tried to sue the USA for damages their claim was thrown out of court. The descendants of USA veterans suffering those effects did get compensation.

Africa has numerous active war zones. Most of the indigenous civilizations were wiped out by Europeans and they had to rebuild from scratch.

North America used to have numerous ancient ruins, rivaling the pyramids, which were demolished to make parking lots. Like Africa, most of their indigenous civilizations were wiped out.

I cannot imagine any reason not to have a Prime Directive that prevents interference in the affairs of civilizations that cannot adequately defend themselves. (I don't count natural disasters like asteroids. Starfleet has a moral imperative to stop those.)

Imagine how a space faring civilization would go about forcibly uplifting less advanced civilizations ostensibly for their own good. A medieval planet would see the arrival of benevolent invaders who force them to give up their culture because it the invaders find it repugnant. If the aliens refuse, the invaders would have no choice but to enslave and indoctrinate them. Essentially, the Borg.


closed as unclear what you're asking by Bellerophon, Aify, cobaltduck, Mołot, James Feb 14 '17 at 21:06

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    $\begingroup$ After reading your elaboration I sort of lost track on your actual question. So, what is the actual question here? $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Feb 14 '17 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ I propose that you already live in such a world, and we in its influence. We have moved from steam and horseback to AI and self driving vehicles in six generations. I do not personally believe we are that clever. If we were 'invaded', would you even know? $\endgroup$ – Joe Feb 14 '17 at 20:37

I don't know if we can imagine how a space faring civilization would go about forcibly uplifting another civilization, because the answer is mightily dependent on the specific nature of that individual advanced species. Every single advanced species will develop a radically different approach. The key issue is that, in such a situation, the civilization will have defined "advanced" to be "like ourselves." What they see in themselves will affect their approach.

You give an example of the Borg, where they raise up societies to be more like the Borg. However, we can go much closer to home. Every single country on the planet today does exactly this to its children. We raise them to be part of a culture of people like ourselves. Even when we raise them to be free thinkers, we raise them to be free thinkers that fit within a society that wants free thinkers. But not too free thinkers... if you're too free, you're dangerous. That pattern shows up time and time again. If we look at society, there is an unbelievable array of different ways to raise children out there. If there's that many ways to raise a child, just think of how many ways there are to raise a civilization!

Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to have a Prime Directive. They're actually pretty darn hard to write. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that if you were to write one, it would either be ineffective, or self-inconsistent -- ready to fall on its own sword. It's really hard to say what qualifies as "interference with the affairs of a civilization" because everything we do has unintended consequences. It's also really hard to say "... civilizations that cannot adequately defend themselves" because it's not always obvious whether the civilization can defend itself or not.

We do have some rules that push towards a Prime Directive. The Golden Rule is one of them, and even it has all sorts of twisted failures (the Borg obey the Golden Rule, for instance). There's also the Platinum rule, "Do unto others as they would have done unto them," but that has another set of really odd issues.

In the end, the Prime Directive becomes a major plot point of Star Trek because it's actually really difficult to have one and not have the civilization collapse around it. We tend to consider it to be "good" to have some aspirations along the lines of the prime directive, but hoisting them up to the status it has in Star Trek is not often seen. In fact, it's not necessarily even desirable in all cases.


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