The Hypothetical LIEF

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Vulcan Options - My own view

OK. So it was a very broad ranging topic, but I’m surprised that I got no more than one comment on it. Man, I can see so many possibilities and conflict that I could write a book on it … in fact I am!

Star Trek is about stories set in a technologically advanced future so it is only fitting that Warp technology is seen as a society’s ‘Right of Passage’ into recognition as a spacefaring society. However, just as a boy’s successful advancement to the ranks of adulthood after his right of passage is not a smooth and successful transition, so too a planetary society cannot be said to mature just because it has attained a certain level of technology.

In fact we can say just the opposite in many … ok most cases. Archaeologists now believe that the fall of the Mayan civilization was brought about by declining crop yields, runaway deforestation, and a primitive transport system. The desert that now covers the northern half of the African continent is thought to have been brought about by the deforestation started by the Roman empire. Need I draw analogies with modern society?

It has been used so many times recently it is close to a cliché but “with great power comes great responsibility”. If we assume that the Vulcan’s are an ethically advanced race – it’s taken as an axiom – then, yes, I believe they do have a responsibility to help. Take the analogy with a society – adults have a responsibility to pass on to the their successors the lessons that they have learned in life.

However …

[Question for all the parents in the audience] How often do teenagers listen to your words of wisdom? [pause for bitter, riotous laughter] Yes. Well. I have to admit that not all adults comport themselves in an ethical and responsible manner. The point is though that adults have learned to accept and work with the pressures and responsibilities that they are lumbered with.

On a planetary scale then, how would a mature society pass on the knowledge they have accumulated? Notice I am talking about wisdom here, not technology. The Vulcans could hand over the plans for their advanced spaceships, weapons, medical and food production technology but that is analogous to a rich man giving his child everything. Things that are not earned are not appreciated or treasured … or used wisely.

Certainly the Prime Directive has chosen a technological milestone (Warp capability) but perhaps the reason this is so is because technology beyond that point is capable of destroying civilizations. The idea is that First contact at this point is not meant to transfer new and more powerful technologies to the developing society, but to teach them how to use and control the technologies that they will be exposed to, either from other spacefaring civilizations or from their own development.

I mentioned two extremes - they could take control or they could do nothing. If we assume that it is “the right thing to do” to help those in need, then yes, the Vulcans do have a responsibility to help an immature society to overcome the problems that they themselves have faced.

Is the answer technological? Certainly advanced medical and food technology could save millions of lives, especially on a world struggling to recover from Nuclear War. However it is not the whole answer. Today, here and now, the industrialized western nations have the technology to alleviate the suffering of the developing world but, like willful adolescents, some would rather see their society suffer in their independence than accept the charity of others.

Logos on Human Vulcan thinks there is no ethical compulsion to share the knowledge and experience that made them affluent. You could say that Western society might be on shakey ground assuming that it was their own efforts that made them affluent, as Jared Diamond does in "Guns, Germs, and Steel". You could also have a point that it encroaches on the weaker party's freedom. In this you have the classic arguement: am I my brother's keeper?

I would say that any technologically advanced society has an obligation to offer to help those who they think are less fortunate. If that help is accepted then they can assume an invitation. For them to try to force their lessons on a society that does not want their advice is both futile and unethical (remember Vietnam?). To force change upon others defies the ideal of IDIC, for how can you respect others differences if you want to change them?

Secondly they need to tread a fine line between educational aid and technological aid. One without the other is a waste of time. Giving technological aid without teaching how to use it is as bad as giving a desert Bushman a lawnmower. Education without technological aid is a lesser crime, since education can create technology, but technological aid can definately speed advancement.

Just as we can teach other societies what we believe to be the “right way”, they have much to teach us also. I’m not just being P.C. when I say that. The educational process needs to work both ways: we are all students in one way or another.

Discussion on these hypotheticals is always open, I welcome comments on the Blog: any sentient being is welcome!