The Prime Directive. General Order 1. If you’ve ever watched more than a few episodes of Star Trek, it’s inevitable that you’ve at least heard of it, even if you didn’t know what it meant. If you don’t know what it means, it simply states: “No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.” In the show we generally see that if a society isn’t warp capable then they are to be left alone. Away Teams are to disguise that they are from an advanced society, and they are not to offer these planets with any advanced technology of any sort. Societies should develop and progress on their own, without Federation advances and assistance.
Of course, the Prime Directive grew and changed as the series did. Kirk had a far easier time dismissing it than Picard did, for example, and by the 24th Century, non-interference was also applied to warp-capable races as well (this was why they didn’t take sides in the Klingon Civil War). But the intent of the Prime Directive always remained the same – don’t give societies technology that they’re not ready to have.
A coworker of mine presented the argument that the Prime Directive can be seen as bigoted. Essentially, the Federation is telling any species that isn’t technologically advanced with a unified government that they can go eat rocks and die. It was an interesting viewpoint, and one that I hadn’t considered before, but one that presents an interesting debate that is applicable even today. Is giving aid to those who aren’t as far along in their development as we are a benefit? Or are we just dooming them to failure? Obviously, it’s something that Americans understand today. The United States is often giving aid to other countries, but it frequently comes with a cost, both to those giving the aid, and to those receiving the aid.
Still, the Federation has the ability to replicate nearly anything. They could obliterate hunger in every civilized world in known space without any real cost to them. And replicators can be rigged so that they can’t create weapons, which would prevent a culture from trying to use this new technology to kill one another. The Federation also has a considerable amount of knowledge about the pros and cons of various forms of government. They could easily aid a planet in finding the system that works best for them.
The problem with this lies in the non-monetary costs. The reason that we are hesitant to give aid to some countries is because often those who are in power because of force will take the food and supplies that are meant for their hungry and dying citizens. There is also the possibility of retribution from other nations, who don’t want us to give aid to the country in question. But in terms of Star Trek, we know that if the Cardassians, Romulans or Klingons want something, they are liable to just take it by force. Unless a planet is particularly significant from a resources or location standpoint, chances are they wouldn’t mind the Federation giving aid. Heck, they might want us to give aid. If the Federation spreads it’s resources too thin, they would be far easier to take over.
Which leads us to another argument. The size of the Federation is quite heavily debated, especially due to the fact that if it is as large as it was insinuated to be in TOS/TNG days, it likely is too big to be easily defended. One of the concerns of the Federation is always going to be the ability to protect the worlds that it incorporates into its fold. They can’t very well give technology to a world without making them a member, unless they want that technology falling in to the wrong hands. And if they invite worlds that don’t already have some defense systems in place, it makes it all the more difficult for them to prevent a planet from being attacked by one of their enemies.
Assume that the Federation decides to help out any humanoid species that a starship comes along in their travels, to try to get them to a level to be a worthwhile participant in galactic affairs. At present, the line is set in stone – they need to be warp capable. If the rule were to be bent for societies that weren’t warp-capable, there would be a drift. If you bend the rules for a planet that is along the lines of earth, although with a limited space program, then you might be inclined to stray further and further from the rules. A 1950’s equivalent planet, that was nearing spacefaring capability would be the next small deviation. Then a industrial equivalent planet. Then a medieval equivalent planet. If the rules aren’t set in stone, then the Federation will spend more and more time trying to get these planets to some worthwhile tech level.
Something that we’ve seen in the development of humanity on earth is that earlier scientific and technical developments, cultures tend to attribute unexplained phenomenon to deities. And if the other species in the galaxy treated religion like humans do, they might reject anything that isn’t explained through their religion as blasphemy. It’s likely that lesser societies lack the maturity of progressive thinking required to handle a galaxy of strange and interesting new concepts. Much like handing an iPad to a King Henry VIII would likely result in Henry either smashing or eating the iPad (or perhaps fornicating with it), handing a Starship to John F. Kennedy would likely result in… well… he’d probably try to fornicate with it too, if the rumors are correct.
Which is a whole new world of trouble. If you give spacefaring capability to a species that isn’t ready for it, the likelihood that said capabilities would be used for something like intergalactic fornication, or killing lesser species, or something else equally trivial is exceedingly high.
But that’s just my opinion. What do you think?