Star Trek’s Prime Directive And Conservatism

Ok, I’ll admit that this is a strange non sequitur of a post, likely prompted by all a combination of Comtrex, Tylenol, and the old Star Trek episodes that I’ve been watching on TiVo tonight, but have any of you ever noticed that the “Prime Directive,” the most important rule of the Star Trek series is inherently conservative?

Here’s a little more info on the Prime Directive,

“In the Star Trek fictional universe, the Prime Directive is Starfleet’s most prominent guiding principle. The Prime Directive dictates that there be no interference with the natural development of any primitive society, chiefly meaning that no primitive culture can be given or exposed to any information regarding advanced technology or alien races. It also forbids any effort to improve or change in any way the natural course of such a society, even if that change is well intentioned and kept totally secret. “Primitive” is defined as any culture which has not discovered warp drive. Starfleet allows scientific missions to investigate and move amongst pre-warp civilizations as long as no advanced technology is left behind, no interference with events and not reveal their identity.”

Now a lot of you are probably wondering: “What does that have to do with conservatism”? Well, here are three quotes from Thomas Sowell that will help explain what I’m driving out…

“If the truth is boring, civilization is irksome. The constraints inherent in civilized living are frustrating in innumerable ways. Yet those with the vision of the anointed often see these constraints as only arbitrary impositions, things from which they–and we all–can be ‘liberated.’ The social disintegration which has followed in the wake of such liberation has seldom provoked any serious reconsideration of the whole set of assumptions–the vision–which led to such disasters. That vision is too well insulated from feedback.”

“Much discussion of the decisions of businessmen in general by intellectuals proceeds as if employers, landlords, and others operating under the systemic pressures of the marketplace are free to make arbitrary and capricious decisions based on prejudice and misinformation–as if they were intellectuals sitting around a seminar table–and pay no price for being mistaken.”

“In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume (1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted and (2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total direct knowledge brought to bear though social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.”

In other words, traditions and ways of doing things that have been around for a long time have survived because they work better than the alternatives and should not be lightly tampered with.

In the Star Trek world, playing around with the prime directive can lead to tragedy or unexpected consequences…

“In at least one case, where two different factions of one race were at war with each other, the Prime Directive had been interpreted to mean that neither race could have an advantage, that there had to be a balance of power. With this race, when it was found that Klingons were furnishing one portion of the race with advanced weapons, Kirk responded by arming the other faction with the exact same weapons. This resulted in an arms race on that world.

On a planet that had two indigenous sentient species, the more advanced one was suffering from a degenerative genetic disorder. A cure was not pursued because it was determined that the more advanced species was genetically stagnant, and that the lesser one was genetically progressive. It was viewed as contrary to nature to help the dying race. Despite the fact that this event took place in the series Star Trek: Enterprise, before the formation of both the Federation and the Prime Directive, it reflects the views of space faring humans and their allies in the years leading up to the creation of the Federation. [ENT “Dear Doctor”]

….There are different conclusions as to the purpose of non-interference. One is that the ends do not justify the means. No matter how well-intentioned, stepping in and effecting change could have disastrous consequences.

Another conclusion (strongly implied in ENT “Dear Doctor”) is a belief that evolution has a ‘plan’ of sorts, driving species toward purposes. Interference would therefore be ‘unnatural,’ in that it would go against what is ‘supposed to’ happen to the species in question.”

This is more applicable to real life than you would think. For example, take gay marriage. Whatever you think of it, it is an enormous change in the way the human race has done business for 5000 years and the rather flippant attitude many people have about the effects gay marriage can have on society long-term is rather disturbing.

The same goes for the secularization of Europe. As religion continues to die out in the cradle of Western civilization, what will the effect be on society? The truth is that it’s very difficult to say, but one suspects it will be largely negative because religion has been so important to humankind over millennia.

That’s not to say the traditional way of doing things should never be changed, particularly when it is proving to be ineffective. But when we tinker with successful customs and ancient traditions, we are risking very negative consequences for society that may take years to play out and that may be very difficult to predict.

That’s just a word of caution prompted by the “Prime Directive”…

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