Previously on “Ask Dayton”:
I took a few weeks away from this feature of the Sunday G&T Show, owing to deadlines and other craziness, but hosts and friends Nick Minecci, Terry Lynn Shull and Mike Medeiros made sure to keep a few questions in the hopper for me. The first one in the queue after my hiatus is a doozy:
I submit unto you the topics of the Prime Directive, extinction, and the first few minutes of the new movie.
Terry worships “natural evolution” including extinction as her atheist substitute for God and as a consequence the Prime Directive means we’re always wrong, let the species die, and fuck ‘em.
I argue that the Prime Directive is about preserving the intact cultures of sentient species, which logically means that Starfleet should make every effort to prevent their extinction, because if a species ceases to exist, the rest is irrelevant.
It’s good to be back, people. I’ve been busy the past few weeks, and I missed you band of degenerates. Okay, I think that’s enough warmth and good cheer for one day.
Now, as for this question about the Prime Directive, can I be honest with you? There are times when I really, really fucking hate the Prime Directive.
That’s right. I said it.
Don’t get me wrong: Generally speaking, the idea of the Prime Directive is a good one, and in many respects it rubs my whole Zen-live-and-let-live philosophy thing the right way. However, Star Trek’s examination and application of it with respect to storytelling often finds a new, heretofore unknown way to suck big, hairy donkey balls.
Let’s take a look at this thing, shall we? In a nutshell, Starfleet personnel are forbidden to interfere in the “natural evolution” of a primitive society, with the benchmark for “primitive society” being set at achieving faster than light space travel. Basically, Starfleet’s content to leave you well enough alone until you demonstrate the ability to warp on over to their lawn, at which time they will introduce themselves and indoctrinate you into their realm of hideous fashion choices as well as all the shit their starships carry which can reduce your planet to a smoking ball of ash should you elect to fuck with them.
Welcome to the party, meat.
Some of the Prime Directive’s prohibitions do sound reasonable in and of themselves, such as not revealing advanced technology to a primitive culture, and certainly not giving it to them at a point in their development where it can do more harm than good. Taking sides with one segment of a society over another is also a bad idea, as is deliberately violating their sovereign territory or usurping their laws. Of course, the whole trespassing thing tends to go out the window when Starfleet sets up secret monitoring stations on a planet and watches the natives on Starfleet VoyeurVision, but once we start to pull at various threads, the Prime Directive tapestry begins looking a bit ragged.
Remember what we were saying about not getting all up on the jammy of a culture who hadn’t yet invented warp drive? Sounds like a reasonable, easy to follow guideline, right? So, how is it that Star Trek is littered with visits to planets where the locals obviously haven’t figured out this shit? Kirk hangs with the Burning Man contingent in “A Private Little War,” and he wastes no time beaming down into the middle of Nowhere, Organia in “Errand of Mercy.” He even has to ferry an asshat ambassador to one such planet in “A Taste of Armageddon,” and not only does he get mixed up in their society and culture—jacked six ways from Sunday though it may be—but he even threatens to destroy the entire planet.
Um, I’m thinking you can safely catalog that sort of thing under “interfering in a society’s internal affairs.”
Then we have situations where the Prime Directive is set aside or just flat out dick punched because something else is at stake. Kirk negotiates with the local primitives for dilithium in “Mirror, Mirror.” Starfleet and the Federation are only too happy to move the Bak’u from their planet in Star Trek: Insurrection because they want the world and its special properties for themselves, and they’re even willing to help another group of douche bags do it. And what about “The Omega Directive,” which apparently has Starfleet scared so shitless that they’ll do anything to destroy the mysterious “Omega Particle,” which sounds like a long lost yet inbred cousin to red matter.
And don’t even get me started on a dumbass episode like “Justice,” with the planet of the 80s Aerobicise Dudes and Dudettes. Why was the Enterprise even at this planet? They were looking for a nice place to rest up after a long mission.
Wait…hold on a second. I’m seeing a pattern here.
So, the Prime Directive is a pretty big deal, and Starfleet’s really, really serious about following it…unless there’s something to be gained. Well, isn’t that sweet? “Oh, we can’t be interfering in your little world here, because we’re oh-so more advanced than you fucking knuckle draggers and we certainly wouldn’t want you to get any of our space-age cooties, because that wouldn’t be….what’s that? You’ve got some shiny rocks that will make our ships fly, or your planet is located in an area of strategic importance, or you folks are just hot and we want some alien sexy time before we get back to boldly going and shit? Well, hey! Let’s be friends! We love you long time, Joe!”
Damn. I think Dick Cheney may have written the Prime Directive.
Of course, one favorite scenario that always gets trotted out is the society that’s on the verge of a worldwide catastrophe. Remember “Pen Pals or “Homeward” or “Time and Again,” where Picard and Janeway seemed to have no problem sitting back and watching an entire civilization get wiped out even when they possessed the means to avert the coming disaster? Why? Because maybe it’s just some kind of cosmic plan in action and who are we to mess with that sort of thing, blah blah blah? Right, so Starfleet’s cool about interfering with a group of people when it serves their own interests, but when it’s just the moral and/or compassionate thing to do, suddenly they’ve got to stick by their laws and principles because they wouldn’t want to be contaminating anything. That would just suck.
We have a word for people who think like that. We call such people assholes.
I can see—maybe—not getting involved if there’s no way to prevent whatever disaster that might be coming, but even then trying to evacuate at least some of the population in order to preserve its culture doesn’t sound unreasonable. On the other hand, if a species ceases to exist and our heroes had the power to prevent that, who benefits from such a decision? What’s the point of protecting a people from “contamination” to the point of their extinction? That’s one facet of the Prime Directive that’s always come off as being rather hollow to me, because whenever Star Trek opts to play that card, it sounds like they’re saying, “Pfffft. Not my problem, man.”
And that shit just doesn’t work for me.
So, the Prime Directive: Some good, some noble, some bad, and some bullshit. Pretty much like everything else, I suppose.
This question and its answer was read during G&T Show Episode #98 on June 16th, 2013. You can hear Nick read the answers each week by listening live, or check out the replay/download options when the episode is loaded to their website: The Sunday G&T Show. Listeners are also encouraged to send in their own questions, one of which will be sent to me each week for a future episode.
Thanks as always to Nick, Terry and Mike for continuing to make me a part of their fun.