Why The Prime Directive is Evil

I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since the original series was in its first run. When The Next Generation came along years later (and these can be fighting words), I thought it was even better in some ways.

But there were a few things about TNG that rubbed me the wrong way, and the biggest of those was the Prime Directive. I couldn’t define why it bothered me back in 1990, but there was something very wrong about it it… something anti-human. Now, however, I understand, and perhaps you’d like to as well.

Let Me Count The Ways

Yes, that’s a Shakespeare/Picard riff.

Here are five ways the Prime Directive was inherently flawed:

#1: It was stupidizing.

The first problem with the Prime Directive was that it made the captains stupid. Rather than doing what they knew had to be done, they had to contend with a wrench thrown into their formerly strong minds. It was, to have fun with words, stupidizing to those captains. It made them delay rational choices. In the end they ignored the Prime Directive anyway – reason and decency demanded it – or else they found some clever way around it.

#2: It was a cheap plot device.

Writers for TV are urged to create conflict, and either exterior conflicts (Kilngons and Romulans) or crises of conscience will do. And so the Prime Directive became a fast, cheap way to give the captain a moral conflict. In the end, the captain would, again, either ignore the Prime Directive or find some slick way around it, because the audience would have been repulsed if he or she didn’t. That’s not good writing.

In some episodes of the later series you can see the writers struggling for a plot that will make the Prime Directive look good. Those are among the least satisfying episodes of the franchise.

#3: It was an insult to reason and to the reasonable mind.

When encountering a difficult situation, a capable person considers the facts available and tries to imagine a win-win resolution. And Star Fleet officers were supposed to be great at this: That the primary attribute of a great captain, after all, and it was generally the Federation’s flagship we were observing.

What we saw were these powerful minds and wills brought low by the basest of mental choices: a binary, obey-or-transgress choice. And so those brilliantly creative minds were turned into mundane, weak minds. Until the end, of course, when they sort of redeemed themselves.

#4: It placed the scribblings of rulers above reality.

A Starfleet captain, finding himself in a previously unimaginable situation, is a fool to follow rules drafted long ago and trillions of miles away. As Sun Tzu once wrote: “There is no greater evil than the orders of the king from his court.”

I will admit, however, that these scenarios did illustrate the insane arrogance of the edict-writers, thinking that their puny imaginations (riffing on Q now) were able to grasp the fabric of an unknown universe and to pronounce forever-perfect words.

Lunacy ought not to be enthroned, but that’s what the Prime Directive did.

#5: It made humans into derivative beings.

This is the big one, and the one that I’m calling evil.

The Prime Directive insisted that people are created by cultures… that they owe their lives, their characters, their souls to some culture, no matter how backward and bizarre. It didn’t allow people to improve, unless the culture around them improved first.

But what is a culture? It’s nothing but a set of ideas that people pass from generation to generation. So, allow me to make one point very plainly, because the sloganized BS of our time would have us unable to conceive it:

People can exist quite well without cultures, but there can be no culture without people. People are the primary entities, cultures are the derivative entities.

And so this should be understood clearly:

Cultures do not create us, we create them. In no way are they sacrosanct, nor should they be.

The Prime Directive and the foolishness behind it would reverse this, turning us into subordinate, derived beings. That again is lunacy.

The Prime Directive is evil because it devolves humanity, turning us into drones.

Last Words

I suspect that this whole mess began with poorly conceived anti-war rhetoric, back in the Vietnam era. Still, whose idea was it to turn it into something huge as TNG kicked off?

Whoever it was should have been show the door.


Paul Rosenberg