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Why is the Prime Directive so important, when only Starfleet is bound by it? Private individuals and any non-Federation race or world can do whatever they please with respect to other worlds, regardless of Starfleet's Prime Directive.

Certainly the Romulans and the Ferengi, just to name two of races we are very familiar with, would have no qualms about exploiting and interfering with less advanced civilizations to further their own interests, and they certainly have the capability of doing so. (We can probably include the Klingons in that group as well - although they are Federation allies, they are not part of the Federation or Starfleet, and would not be bound by Federation directives for Starfleet.)

Q clearly has no compunctions about re-arranging the Federation's course of development, for example when he sent Enterprise D 7k light years distant in the blink of an eye (Q Who), forcing the Federation into a "premature encounter" with the Borg.

Why are Starfleet personnel sworn to give up their lives for a policy that would appear to have very limited and questionable benefit?


Edit - since the answers so far don't seem to be addressing the heart of the question:

If the entire history of the galaxy - or the universe - was dependent only on the behavior of Starfleet, then it would be understandable that you must lay down your life to preserve that.

But that is clearly not the case, as explained. Certainly, a Prime Directive would be of importance regardless - a fundamental Starfleet philosophy. But the Federation places the highest value on Life of all forms - why require death for the sake of a relatively ineffectual Prime Directive?

  • Because it's the primest of all directives – Möoz Jan 14 '18 at 6:45
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    Lets not forget that distances and travel speeds are still rather often inconsistent in Star Trek. ;) – Mario Jan 14 '18 at 7:08
  • @Möoz - Because it's the primest of all directives Exactly - and that is the question: Why should that be so? – Vector Jan 14 '18 at 22:10
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    @Vector - I am typing up my two cents now... but this I think it really a philosophical and opinionated question. I am typing it up as best as I can, but if you do not agree with my point of view my answer is pointless. Not saying I'm not gonna finish it, just that this answer is all about perspective... I will post as soon as I can... – Odin1806 Jan 14 '18 at 22:27
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    DV 'cause the question is flawed. What you are asking why the Federation believes in its values, instead of giving up and taking advantage of it like everyone else. Well, if you are really asking this, you surely shouldn't have problems if a thief enter your house and steal everything, 'cause...why should he care? And you'd obviously do the same, after all what are moral and values for? – motoDrizzt Jan 14 '18 at 22:54
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TLDR

  • The Prime Directive is in place so that Starfleet does not influence other cultures that are not "educated" enough to understand what has happened.
  • Starfleet chooses to follow it because they deem it morally correct.
  • As far as giving one's life for that it is a moral and personal issue that you must find yourself aligned with.

So I think the big thing is that Starfleet is taking it upon themselves to not be the reason for something bad happening to another civilization; to the best of their ability. While other civilizations or organizations may not feel the need to minimize their impact on less advanced societies that does not let Starfleet off the hook, from their perspective. It is the whole argument of “If everyone else was jumping off a bridge, would you do it to?” Just because you are not worried about having a harmful impact on someone else’s development does not mean that I should forfeit my values and morals and follow suit.

As far as giving up their lives, it is about two things. First, it is about deciding what is and is not worth a life. This is rather philosophical… Skip past any debate of killing to save yourself, killing to save another, etc… Would you say that you would be willing to give up your life to not be someone’s slave? Surely this is a matter of why give up your life if you can still live? Is it better to die simply because you can not choose your own direction in life? Therein lies the question. What is living? Is it life if you have no choice?

Closer to the point, let’s look at influence. While every life is influenced to a major degree, when you are educated enough in a particular subject you can choose your own influences. You do not have them thrust upon you without your choice AND more importantly without knowing any better to the contrary. If someone is born and raised in a racist household they do not know any but that and think it to be normal and acceptable. Is it? From their perspective, yes it is. And true to the point, a matter of truth is all about perspective.

With the Prime Directive Starfleet has chosen to remove themselves from such influences. In the case of the new reboot movie when Enterprise saves Spock from the volcano they have violated the directive because the locals saw the ship. We see how this drastically changes their perspective on the universe, because they throw down their scroll, draw an image of the ship in the ground, and begin to worship it. From that moment on ALL of their descendants are impacted by that event. Not understanding the way of the universe they believe the ship (not the crew) to be a god that has saved them. We of course do not know how drastically this will affect them, but it clearly has.

The people were scared of the rumbling mountain, similar to how when you slip on ice there is an innate feeling of dread that something bad is happening, and they were in fear for their lives. Then they see a “strange unknown bird object thing” that they had never seen before fly over the mountain and the rumbling stops. The dread is gone. They are now indebted to that “thing” for saving their lives. Since the god they were praying to did nothing to save them, but this thing did, it must be superior and/or the one worth praying towards. What about the culture that planet had built up until that point when the Prime Directive was broken? That culture is lost.

And the second thing: Starfleet as an organization, made up of individuals, has chosen that interfering with another culture to such an extreme degree is not morally right and should be avoided at all cost. This is their choice. If you do not agree with it you do not have to join. It is just an ideology that they all find themselves in agreement to...

Besides, imagine the conversation they might have in the future when that society is finally warp capable. "Oh snap, my "cross" looks exactly like your ship? WTF?! Aliens did visit my planet! My entire religion is a lie!..."

  • I'm accepting this answer. You have articulated the issues very well. I think it's the best we can do here. – Vector Jan 14 '18 at 23:43
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The Prime Directive has always been a staple of the Federation because they wanted to minimize influence they would have in underdeveloped civilizations.

Prime Directive Wikipedia

The non-interference directive seems to have originated with the Vulcans. In Star Trek: First Contact, it is stated that but for Zefram Cochrane's historic warp flight, a passing Vulcan ship would have deemed Earth unready for contact and ignored the planet, and in the Enterprise episode "Fight or Flight" T'Pol makes reference to a Vulcan policy of non-interference.

Apparently Vulcans were one of the first to implement a non interference policy as well. In the Star Trek First Contact film it was stated that Vulcan's would have ignored Earth for contact if it wasn't for Zefram Cochrane's warp flight. The directive wasn't even implemented in pre-Federation era and it was stated by Charles "Trip" Tucker III in the episode "Civilization" that the policy of non interference was actually a human policy but rather a Vulcan one.

Another thing to note is that the Prime Directive wasn't actually fully implemented until further into a bit further into the series. On the 13th episode of Star Trek: Enterprise called "Dear Doctor", Captain Archer states "Some day, my people are gonna come up with some sort of a doctrine, something that says what we can and can't do out here, should and shouldn't do. But until someone tells me that they've drafted that directive, I'm gonna have to remind myself every day that we didn't come out here to play God."

It was generally implemented as a general order around 2168.

Memory Alpha

The fundamental principles were an important part of Earth Starfleet procedures as early as 2152, but it did not go into effect as a General Order until sometime after 2168. (ENT: "The Communicator"; TOS: "A Piece of the Action")

It's stated that the Prime Directive stemmed from Captain Archer's interaction with two species in the episode I mentioned earlier called "Dear Doctor".

The "precursor" to the Prime Directive, though somewhat undefined, could be traced back to Captain Jonathan Archer's and Phlox's ethical dilemma faced when encountering two species, one with a terminal genetic illness and the other without. Archer commented that eventually, Starfleet would have to "come up with some sort of a doctrine" establishing what Humans should and should not do while exploring space and interacting with other lifeforms. They decided that interfering with the natural evolutionary course of these two species would go against the "directive" upon which they based their entire mission: to meet new species and attempt peaceful communications, not to "play God". (ENT: "Dear Doctor")

So it seems I actually have to elaborate more. The concept of The Prime Directive is a philosophical standpoint of not wanting to interfere in a planet's natural development of species and technology. Any influences that interaction with their technology or people would have can be far reaching and could possibly be disastrous. You can look to our own history to see evidence of what happens when even us humans encounter other humans who are more technologically advanced. The Spanish changed the lives of Native Americans and their culture tremendously with their arrival.

A major thing to note is that Starfleet is not the only one who follows something like The Prime Directive. Vulcans have their own version of it as well. Overall the reason that Starfleet personnel decided to follow it is because there is a general consensus that interfering with a planet's development is immoral. Hence why Captain Archer stated they shouldn't be "playing God".

You don't even have to look at just Star Trek to see why something like The Prime Directive is logical. Just recently there was an episode of The Orville, a show with similar tones but a bit more comedic, where one of the crew members ended up healing a child who had fallen and gotten hurt on an underdeveloped planet. That planet was actually was quantum locked in an orbit. It would orbit their home star, would slip into another universe and when it would slip back in days later the planet came back as though hundreds if not thousands of years have passed for it relatively. The Orville crew saw first hand what that interference caused, the people on the planet actually worshiped the image of the crew member as some sort of Deity, and created a religion around her. Even after attempting to go there personally and showing that she was just human and it was technology, one of the heads of the religion was murdered because he wanted to tell the rest of the world that their belief was a lie but the religious order did not want to give up their power and hold over the people. They had to send their robotic crew member to the planet to try to ease the tensions, though eventually the planet's evolution and technology stabilized with little assistance of the robot.

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    OK - good information, but I'm not sure this answers the question too well. – Vector Jan 14 '18 at 7:19
  • "Dear Doctor", not "Dead Doctor". – O. R. Mapper Jan 14 '18 at 14:50
  • @Vector technically it does because it's stated that the precursor to The Prime Directive was the incident in Dear Doctor, in which they weren't to "Play God" aka influence a society. – DoctorWho22 Jan 15 '18 at 1:49
  • in which they weren't to "Play God" aka influence a society It appears that you do not understand the question, because that still provides no answer whatsoever. See accepted answer. – Vector Jan 15 '18 at 2:28
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    The whole concept is pretty self explanatory... Any influence of an outside source will change the course of history for that specific species, planet, etc. – DoctorWho22 Jan 15 '18 at 10:12
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As I’ve blathered on about elsewhere, the intention of the Prime Directive is to prevent Starfleet from playing god with other civilisations.

That has plenty of benefit for Starfleet, in that it maintains their core principle of being peaceful explorers — there’s a very fine line between discovering what’s out there, and destroying what’s out there by interfering with it. The Prime Directive is there to keep Starfleet on what they believe is the right side of that line.

As such, it’s not ineffectual, because its goal isn’t for every civilisation in the universe to achieve warp travel without interference from alien civilisations. Its goal is to stop Starfleet from interfering with other civilisations, because a Starfleet that did that wouldn’t be Starfleet any more. They could end up like Q (toying with civilisations for fun), or the Borg (forcibly improving the quality of life for whatever civilisations they can reach).

With regards to what the Romulans and Ferengi might do — sure, they can go and manipulate the heck out of whatever civilisation they want. But practically, they’re unlikely to be able to reach all that many civilisations, especially those that the Federation might encounter, because space is really big.

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    I think this is the best answer so far - it actually addresses the question. prevent Starfleet from playing god with other civilisations Interesting point, but from a lot of places it appears that that main objective of the PD is not to preserve the integrity of Star Fleet, but to allow History to unfold without disruption, because of the unknown consequences arising from changing 'the natural course of events'. – Vector Jan 14 '18 at 23:21
  • @Vector: yeah kind of. That’s sort of the reason for avoiding playing god — humans aren’t actually very good at working out what the consequences of their actions would be, so they’re as likely to make things worse as make them better if they try. But I don’t think Starfleet shows a particularly strong belief in ‘the natural course of events’ being good or desirable or predictable — they’re not Time Lords, and they have no more idea what will happen if they don’t interfere with a given civilisation. – Paul D. Waite Jan 14 '18 at 23:31
  • natural course of events’ being good or desirable or predictable - Not relevant: Since the outcome of intervention is unknown and potentially harmful, it's best to keep hands off and not assume responsibility for the future. – Vector Jan 14 '18 at 23:44
  • @Vector: absolutely, I agree — it’s about Starfleet not wanting responsibility for the development of civilisations, because they’re nowhere near capable of taking that on. – Paul D. Waite Jan 14 '18 at 23:49
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    I like this answer - it has strong merits. But I think the accepted answer nails it better and it addresses the concerns I voiced about your take on the PD. It's interesting but I don't think it's quite correct. – Vector Jan 14 '18 at 23:53
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My 2c.

Inside Federation borders are still pre-Warp worlds. Federation policy is something like protection of tribes that have no contact with modern world inside Amazon jungle. So, Federation citizens are bound to respect their natural development and Starfleet is the means to protect them.

As for Klingons and Romulans and the such - we don't know what happens inside their borders with pre-Warp civilizations. Maybe they really exploit them or they have rules of their own. But if they would somehow cross into Federation territory and interfere with a pre-Warp civilization, Starfleet would interfere, and as you pointed out, risk their lives to uphold their law. It is their duty, as it is the duty of an police officer to help someone that he doesn't know with any means necessary.

Morally and ethically they see it worthy. It is more of a question of their philosophy and the view on life itself that maybe is today beyond our comprehension.

For some individual - what can he gain from such primitive species (think us) when he has technology and means (think replicators) to travel through space faster than light? Not much as they're underdeveloped. The pre-Warp species would gain much more than the individual himself as they have nothing to offer him in return. And if he would play God or something similar, it is likely that SF monitors such worlds and they would quickly find out about him and take him into custody, so again, he gained nothing.

For Q, what fun would it be to play God to some simple minded locals when an advanced species crew of an entire starship makes him bored!?

  • You haven't answered the question : Why are Star Fleet personnel sworn to give up their lives for a policy that would appear to have very limited and questionable benefit? – Vector Jan 14 '18 at 20:20
  • @Vector, it challenges the premise behind the question, i.e., that the benefit is limited and questionable and that the rules don't apply to, e.g., Federation citizens. That makes it a legitimate answer, though I think Angel One proves it wrong. – Harry Johnston Jan 14 '18 at 20:30
  • ... on the other hand, see Bread and Circuses. Basically, whether or not the Prime Directive applies depends mainly on the demands of the plot for each particular episode. – Harry Johnston Jan 14 '18 at 20:34
  • @HarryJohnston - ??? I don't see it. See my edit to the question. (And really I'm not sure what you're saying. Even if it applied to all Fed. citizens, which I don't believe is correct - it is a Star Fleet directive - it doesn't apply to non-federation entities. The Romulans certainly don't give a damn about the Fed's prime directive.) – Vector Jan 14 '18 at 22:06
  • @Vector, are you talking about inside Federation territory or outside? Any Romulan military ships allowed into Federation territory would presumably be expected to follow the Prime Directive while there. Whether or not it applies to civilians isn't clear - Bread and Circuses says it does, Angel One says it doesn't. – Harry Johnston Jan 14 '18 at 22:29

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