The Prime Directive Is Crap


I’m a real on-and-off Star Trek fan. When I’m really into it, I’m REALLY into it. Then I can go for long stretches where I really don’t think about Star Trek. Just recently I’ve been on a Star Trek upswing which culminated in watching all seven seasons of Star Trek the Next Generation. Aside from all the joy it brought me (and all the anger at how bad the last season was), I realized that the Prime Directive is crap.


Kirk about to out talk a computer again.

If you aren’t a Star Trek fan, the Prime Directive was introduced in the original series, but wasn’t really super enforced until The Next Generation. The basic idea was: “We can’t mess with another civilization just because we think we know better.” I’m sure a rule like that had to be put in place because guys like Kirk seemed obsessed with fucking with every society he came into contact with. In fact, Kirk destroyed roughly 17 society controlling computers (only about 2 in the series, but 15 in my fan fiction stories).


“Let me just fix that for you.”

Somehow the Prime Directive became a bit twisted. There are a few times in the series where a scenario is set up like this: There’s a civilization that’s going to be destroyed by a planetary catastrophe, and it’s not in the power of the society to save itself, because it’s too primitive. However, it is in the power of Starfleet, as represented by the stalwart crew of the USS Enterprise. Instead of saving this civilization they’re willing to sit on their fat asses (particularly Riker in the last season) and do jack squat to help, despite the fact they would only need to shoot some beam down on the planet to fix things or transport as many of the people onto their ship as they can. And its not like they don’t have the resources to do so; they just refuse to do it because of the “Prime Directive.” Sure they talk about how regretful their decision is, but in the end they don’t want to lift a finger. It’s only through the Prime Directive-defying actions of someone like Data or Worf’s stepbrother that people like this get saved.

This kind of behavior is in stark contrast to the many times where the crew of the Enterprise works closely with civilizations to help rescue a planet. The key difference is the development of a warp drive. All you need to do to get Picard to stop massive planetary earthquake and gently place a band-aid on your owie is a warp drive. Without it, you’re boned.

Think about that. Basically what you have is something like this, “Sorry, we can’t save your people with this vaccine, because you haven’t invented a car yet. See, these other people here? Well they have cars, so they can get life saving whenever they want.”


Not good enough to rescue.

It’s one of the most horrifically biased rules in the pretend history of the galaxy! Why is one civilization so worthy to rescue just because they’ve made a spaceship that can go faster than the speed of light? Whoop-di-do! Its elitist bullshit.


“I’ve only had to argue this whole episode not to let you die.”

The biggest stumbling block with not having a Prime Directive is what to do with uncontacted civilizations; the ones that don’t know there are other living sentient beings in the universe. Discovering that you aren’t alone in the galaxy is a real game changer. How do you choose when to intervene?

It would be a lot easier if the only one organization that made the decision to make First Contact or not. However, in Star Trek there are independent operators out in space. You’ve got guys like Harry Mudd, space traders, pirates, etc. You think any of these people respect the Prime Directive? Or how about Romulan space? Or Klingon-controlled territory (particularly when they’re the “bad guys”)? All of these groups are more than likely to exploit a primitive culture or pre-warp culture for their own ends. The only people in the galaxy enforcing this rule is Starfleet.


Ruining pre-warp civilizations is all in a day’s work.

Is it better to contact these civilizations when they experience a crisis (or try to help them without them knowing) than risking a culture finding out about aliens from a guy like Harry Mudd? Hell, if a culture is advanced enough, at some point you have to figure that they’re going to be picking up the tons and tons of space communication going on in the Star Trek universe. What happens when they can pick up Klingon TV signals?

Crappy robot from Star Trek Voyager episode Prototype

Just look at this shit.

The worst defender of the Prime Directive is Janeway, especially in the episode Prototype where she wants to withhold helping a robotic civilization. They want to reproduce, but lack the engineering ability to do so. In the end the plot is written to show that she was right all along, but if she was wrong we must consider why she didn’t want to help with the development. They fit the criteria of other people they’ve helped in the past: they have warp technology and they know about the existence of other species. Seems like a species that you could lend a hand to! I’d say in cases like that you could do a bit of research; see if the alien society is a bunch of dick bags or not and then make the decision.

What makes someone qualified to make a judgement whether or not a society is a dick bag?! Easy, Starfleet makes that decision all the time! They think of themselves as moral and decide what species to include in Starfleet based on pre-existing qualifiers. They also decide when to go to war based on what they believe is right and wrong. The same logic that guides those types of decisions could easily be applied to whether or not to help someone out.

  • dan

    such great points! the “prime directive” should be more like “the prime general recommendation for most captains” and if starfleet were really as good as they claimed theyd probably try to help everyone. or at least make sure some worlds first contacts with aliens were happy experiences with us and not your other examples.

  • Andrew Williams

    An argument for a warp drive requirement is that the civilisation can now travel great distances and will start coming across other species, so continued inaction won’t protect them from external influence.

    What about subspace research, though? You might get into subspace communication before transportation, and be picking up live transmissions rather than dated radio transmissions, and then be able to establish communication.

    It’s tough to balance not interfering in natural development, and saving a species from extinction.

    Personally, I don’t think extraordinary measures should be taken to save any species from extinction, and I include Earth species. If a species has failed to thrive, then why should we preserve it, when nature has decided? The same as saving an alien humanoid species: Why preserve one, if nature determines otherwise? You might be hampering the evolution of a new dominant species.

    Deciding when to play God or not isn’t easy. What objective standards would you set?

    Alternatively, why not play God all the time? What difference does it make if you believe in a rational Universe where good and evil are artificial constructs?

    Thanks for an interesting article.