Great Morning Beloved!
The Prime Directive
So today we will explore one of Star Trek’s most fundamental teachings, the basis for how they do things in the universe – The Prime Directive.
In the book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek” by Dave Marinaccio, we learn about ‘The Prime Directive’.
The Prime Directive is central to everything in Star Trek. It is a non-interference directive coming from the highest authority in the Federation and may be the most important idea in the series.
The Prime Directive prohibits the captain and crew from interfering in the internal affairs of any of the planets they visit. It insinuates that any peoples have the right to construct their societies in any manner they wish.
Of course, we can understand the need for this directive. Cultural bias may influence the way the crew interprets what they are seeing. Therefore, its best to not interfere.
This rule protects the people of the planet but also the crew. Noninterference keeps the crew from getting into the middle of a private fight. They don’t have to pick sides.
All that being said, if you have watched any of especially the Classic Star Trek, you know that Captain Kirk didn’t follow the Prime Directive very well. “Episode after episode after episode, Kirk does what he believes is right.”
Kirk does observe the Prime Directive when it fits his purposes.
Kirks actions show that he would enforce the spirit of the law above the letter of the law. Does that sound familiar? Check out Matthew 5 for starters if it doesn’t.
The Prime Directive was instituted to protect people. When it goes against that premise, he would ignore it. People are more important than rules.
“A person who understands a rule knows when to break it, they know the intent of the law.”
This brings to mind something else…we can’t legislate morality. That should sound familiar too, to those of us who remember the struggle through the years for equal rights and opportunity. I believe I recall that statement being spoken in the 60’s and 70’s and probably again today.
The Prime Directive is an example of what is called in ethical circles Cultural Relativism. According to James Rachels, a contemporary American ethicist, cultural relativism is a theory that makes six basic claims:
1. Different societies have different moral codes.
2. There is no objective standard that can be used to judge one societal code better than another.
3. The moral code of our own society has no special status; it is merely one among many.
4. There is no “universal truth” in ethics – that is, there are no moral truths that hold for all peoples at all times.
5. The moral code of a society determines what is right within that society; that is, if the moral code of a society says that a certain action is right, then that action is right, at least within that society.
6. It is mere arrogance for us to try to judge the conduct of other peoples. We should adopt an attitude of tolerance toward the practices of other cultures.
There’s a wonderful Next Generation episode that illustrates what it looks like when we reject these claims, called “The Cost of Living.”
The U.S.S. Enterprise heads toward the Moselina system. As they travel, ships counselor, Deanna Troi’s mother Lwaxana transports aboard with an unusual announcement — she is planning to get married on the Enterprise to a man that she has never met. Deanna finds the news disturbing, but Lwaxana laughs at her “motherly” concern.
At the same time, Troi has been counseling Worf and his son Alexander, who have been clashing over the boy’s responsibilities. Soon, Lwaxana meets Alexander and takes a liking to him. She persuades him to skip his appointment with Counselor Troi and accompany her to the holodeck instead. There, she takes him for a visit to a colony of artists, poets and free thinkers, and to a mudbath. Troi and Worf, meanwhile, are searching for the missing boy.
An angry Deanna asks her mother to stop interfering with Alexander’s upbringing. The subject changes to Lwaxana’s upcoming wedding, and Troi is shocked to learn that her independent-thinking mother plans to forgo the Betazoid custom of getting married in the nude and wear a wedding dress provided by her bridegroom instead.
Later, Lwaxana’s intended, Minister Campio, transports aboard along with his pompous Protocol Master. Lwaxana is a bit taken aback by just how stuffy her husband-to-be is, since the compatibility profile that matched them did not alert her to how major their differences are. She becomes bored with the complicated wedding plans and heads back to the holodeck with Alexander, much to everyone’s dismay.
Lwaxana’s nuptials begin only to come to an abrupt halt, however, when she walks down the aisle naked according to her traditions, sending her stuffy bridegroom and his Protocol Master scurrying for home. Troi is pleased that her mother stuck to her guns, and later brings Worf to join Lwaxana and Alexander for a last trip to the mudbath.
So let’s look at this episode in relation to the six claims of cultural relativism.
1. Different societies have different moral codes. We see clearly at least 3 sets of moral codes – the Betazoids unique custom whereby the bride appears nude at the wedding; the Kostolains’ rigid adherence to protocol, procedure and ceremony; and the colony of free spirits in Lwaxana’s holodeck program.
2. There is no objective standard by which to judge one society’s code better than another But we try, don’t we? After all, our way must be the best way. We see this clearly in the Protocol Master’s attempts to impose the Kostolain way upon Lwaxana. From the moment Campio, the bridegroom to be, meets Lwaxana, Erko, the Protocol Master is dictating how their interactions will proceed. From no kissing, to not even calling Campio by his first name, there is no consideration for Lwaxana in their interactions. It is the Kostolain way or no way.
3. The moral code of our own society has no special status; it is merely one among many. This shows up most clearly in this episode in the interactions between Worf, Deanna and Worf’s son, Alexander. In Klingon society, children are expected to obey without question. So when Deanna proposes that Worf and Alexander enter into a parent-child contract, as a way to encourage Alexander to do his chores without hassle, Worf bristles. Worf resists the idea, because it goes against the grain of what he was taught as a child, and what he understands to be custom. However as Deanna explains to him in this episode, there’s more than one way to raise a child. If you want to foster a happy, healthy mutually beneficial relationship with your child – or simply teach him how to pick up after himself – and what you’re doing right now prevents you from attaining that goal, then perhaps you ought to try something else. (Remember the definition of insanity?)
4. There are no moral truths that hold for all peoples at all times. This shows up in all the relationships in this episode, and also in Lwaxana’s realization, with a little help from Alexander, that while her marriage to Campio may prevent loneliness, it doesn’t necessarily promise happiness.
5. The moral code of a society determines what is right within that society. This cuts to the basic conflict within this episode. Interestingly, while Deanna is not happy that her mother is marrying a man she has never met, she is equally, if not more upset that her mother will be wearing a wedding dress at the ceremony, completely breaking with Betazoid custom. Equally as interesting is that even the colony of free spirits have a moral code – as Lwaxana explains, “Only those whose hearts are joyous may enter the colony of free spirits.”
6. It is arrogant to try to judge the conduct of other peoples. We should adopt an attitude of tolerance toward the practices of other cultures. Lwaxana makes this point in a big way in the climactic wedding sequence, when she shows up at her ceremony completely naked, horrifying Campio and Erko, and clearly delighting everyone else! We also see a shift in Worf in the final scene, as we watch he, Deanna, Lwaxana and Alexander in a mudbath together, surrounded by free spirits.
So let’s get back to the Prime Directive. How does it relate to this episode? Clearly, the Kostolains would not have a Prime Directive. They truly believe that their way is the ONLY way, and would have no problem imposing that way on to any culture they encounter, as they did with Lwaxana. To them, there is nothing more important than the rules. Rules first, people second.
Remember what we heard earlier? “What, then, is the lesson here? A great one. People are more important than rules. Enforce the spirit of the law above the letter of the law. The Prime Directive was instituted to protect people. When the directive gets in the way of protecting people, ignore it.”
This is contrary to the very purpose of the federation – to seek out new peoples and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to boldly go anywhere when we’re consumed with following, and imposing the rules.
How does this apply to us? We might say we’re very open to new ideas, to new ways of doing things. We follow the spirit of the law, not the letter. We’re New Thought, we’re Interfaith, we’re “liberal.” Just ask anybody how free-spirited we are.
Really? Do you ever believe that the way you do something is better than the way other people do it? Do you ever look at other families, or businesses, or organizations, and think, “They’re doing that wrong?” Do you look at other faith traditions and think, “How could they believe that?” Do you look at other Christian denominations and think, “How could they believe that?”
The Prime Directive asks us to respect ALL other ways of being. Or as Wade Davis observed, “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”
Gene Roddenberry himself summed it up in an interview in 1968, “By the 23rd century, we will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and cultures. We will learn that differences and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”
Honoring all paths isn’t easy. Contrary to those who think we don’t believe in anything, what we believe in is actually difficult to practice. A spirituality based totally on loving one another, honoring one another’s path, even when we don’t understand it… a spirituality without hard and fast “rules”, without rigid do’s and don’ts is actually much harder to practice than a religion where everything is clearly defined for us.
A major difference between Unity and Traditional Christianity is our free thinking. We set out Principles and let you go. We give you ideas, thoughts to ponder and allow you to put them into practice in your life….or not.
This path, although more challenging to travel, is much more satisfying. And while I recognize it’s not for everyone, it is my path. So, here’s to mud baths on the holodeck, Betazoid weddings, taking delight in our differences and all of us being allowed to love and live as we were born to