The Hypothetical LIEF

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Post Prime Directive - The Vulcan Options

In my general discussion on the transition from Anarchy to Utopia in Star Trek I made the blanket statement that, after the Vulcans landed in 2063 they were faced with a ‘Post-Prime Directive" dilemma. They were faced with what was to them a primitive society which had just discovered warp technology, what should they do?

First of all, let us be clear on what the prime directive is – it is a rule that no spacefaring, warp capable civilization should make itself known or in any other way interfere in the development of a society that is NOT Warp capable. The reasoning behind it is that the unique value of a society would be contaminated if it knew that interstellar travel were possible. Warp technology is seen as a society’s ‘Right of Passage’ into recognition as a spacefaring society.

The Prime Directive has been studied and debated many times before and we will consider it here at a later point in time but just for now let’s talk about what happens afterwards. I mean, when a planet, in this case the Earth, shows that it is Warp capable what should be the next step? The reasons for the Prime Directive are still there, the planet is still vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the more technologically superior race that has contacted them.

One thing to consider is that the reason for Warp capability being chosen as being the milestone for contacting a planet is that if you don’t say hello to them, they’ll soon be saying hello to you! Indeed, by catching them at the moment that they hatch from their native system, they could be getting the jump on a potentially aggressive race.

So what are the Vulcan options? Well, the two extremes would be …

They could take control. After "First Contact" they could easily take over Earth, especially since it was weak from the nuclear wars they had just survived.

They could do nothing. They could simply observe the Earth’s "natural" development and monitor their actions.

On the one hand, no matter how honourable their intentions, they would be cast in the light of invaders, imperialists, and aggressors. They would face resistance to their policies and philosophies, no matter how logical and proven they were. The first course would mean an extended and intrusive operation that would be expensive in manpower and resources. It would go against the spirit of the Prime Directive" in that, after showing the restraint of not interfering with their society before their "First Contact", they would then be destroying that society to remake it in their own image.

Does that mean that they should do nothing? It is interesting to note that the Prime Directives milestone, Warp Capability, is a technological milestone. The Vulcans do not gauge a system’s readiness for First Contact by whether they have a World Government, whether they have done away with war or any other moral, ethical or philosophical milestone. Should they perhaps simply keep them under observation? The advantage here is that by not interfering the Vulcans would not be contaminating their social development. Bearing in mind the Vulcan idea of IDIC, they could reap the rewards of interacting with, and perhaps learning from, a unique and vital society.

The drawback here is that human society could take any number of false trails, dead ends and set backs on the road to enlightenment. Do they, the Vulcans, not have a responsibility to help an immature society avoid the same problems that they themselves have overcome? And what about their technology? The introduction of advanced medical and food technology could save millions of lives, especially on a world struggling to recover from Nuclear War. Would they not have a moral or ethical responsibility to save and preserve lives?

Pretty obviously the answer is somewhere in between, but where? Should an advanced society keep its influence to a minimum and let a less technologically developed society make its own mistakes? Or should they take a strong leading role, like a mentor or a master and apprentice? What is the balance point? What specific rulings would you apply? Would you supply medical and food technologies but not military technology?

I invite readers to leave comments here or repost this on any forum they choose for discussion – contact me with a URL to link to - I will be re-posting this for discussion on ST Philosophy: any sentient being is welcome!


Are you one of those people who thinks that life is black and white, that there is always a right answer, a right course of action, you just have to find it? The reality is that, to paraphrase Captain Picard, there are always options and each has its’ consequences, some of which are more appropriate than others.

The idea behind this Module of the LIEF Erikson is to take a hypothetical question and examine the possible answers. Simple as that. It’s not necessarily to find the perfect answer – is there such a thing? – Sometimes you can learn more by considering the worst answer, to see why it is the least appropriate.