Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 20, 2017

Wrestling with the Prime Directive: “Justice”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise is negotiating with a planet to allow the crew to take shore leave. Rubicun III is beautiful, with welcoming natives (the Edo) and no crime. After initial discussions are favorable, Commander Riker takes a larger away team to the planet, including Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher, to evaluate the planet’s suitability for visits by the Enterprise‘s children and families.

At about the time that Lt. Yar discovers why there is no crime on the planet, Wesley, while playing with some local children, trips over a fence and falls into a screened-off plant bed. Immediately, two peacekeepers trot along the path, prepared to execute Wesley on the spot for the crime of disturbing growing plants. Riker, Yar, and Worf manage to forestall the execution, and Wesley is incarcerated pending further discussion of whether it is, in fact, correct to execute a visiting youth for accidental trespass.

In orbit, Picard and Data are confronted with another mystery, that of an orbiting construction that seems to be physically present yet strangely immaterial. An emanation of energy from this object enters data, warns against interference with its “children”, and leaves as mysteriously as it appeared. Aware that Wesley’s fate is contingent upon his proper understanding of this culture, Picard asks one of the Edo’s representatives to beam up to the Enterprise. He shows her the orbiting object out the window and she immediately kneels before it, acknowledging it as god. The being in the orbiter threatens the Enterprise with a collision course if the woman is not immediately returned to the surface, and she is beamed directly from the conference room back to the planet.

The interrelated questions faced by Picard are what to do about Wesley, who is still under threat of execution, and what his responsibility is under the Prime Directive, which prevents him from interfering with events on the planet. In addition, the powerful god of the Edo may act against them, should they attempt to violate their own principles. Dr Crusher pleads with the Captain to prevent Wesley’s execution, which of course he will. Beaming down to the planet, Picard explains the dilemma to the Edo and attempts to leave with Wesley and the rest of the away team; suddenly the transporters are not working. Presuming interference by the orbiting god, Picard explains further that his responsibility to protect the lives of the crew and families under his care are a higher principle than even the Prime Directive. The god allows them to return to the Enterprise, and becomes immaterial once more as they warp away.

On Leadership: I’m afraid I have rather a harsh opinion about this mission, and that is that it was botched from the beginning. If the Edo society is covered under the Prime Directive of noninterference, why was the Enterprise negotiating for shore leave there in the first place? Surely it would have been more appropriate to find another planet, either uninhabited or already warp-capable, for shore leave, even if leave is being recommended on medical grounds. The Edo were peaceful and welcoming, and not distressed by being visited by offworlders with more advanced technology, but I am imagining the Earth being visited by, say, the Vulcans, in advance of Zefram Cochrane’s first warp flight, and I think the Enterprise was very lucky that the Edo were more peaceable, more united as a people, and less suspicious than Terrans of the twenty-first century. Humans would probably have shot the away team on sight, bombed the Enterprise, and then argued about the significance of alien visitors. If the Prime Directive was violated on this mission, surely it was the decision to make contact with the Edo that violated it.

The Edo cannot be held entirely blameless themselves, because death is in no way a proportional punishment for accidentally stepping on some plants and breaking a frame that could be fixed by a couple of hours in a woodshop. All crimes being capital crimes seems to have been an effective deterrent among the Edo, but if a child’s accident while playing constitutes a crime, it’s hard to see why the Edo aren’t all sitting around in terror all the time. The geographic zone in which capital punishment applies changes randomly and constantly, but if only one punishment zone is active at a time, then you could commit any crime you liked simply by playing the odds. (I have to conclude that the Edo lacked probability theory as well as warp theory.) I can’t endorse moral relativism here. The standard of the Federation is that capital punishment is morally wrong; having chosen to interact with the Edo, Picard must defend that moral ground, which he successfully does. Allowing the Edo to live and die by their own rules without interference — the Prime Directive — can only work without contact. Contact itself has to count as interference with a planet’s development. We also have to remember that the Prime Directive applies to technological development, not social or moral development per se. For example, some crimes in the Klingon Empire are punished by death, but the Federation does not refuse contact with them on those grounds. The different moral beliefs of the Federation and the Klingon Empire are allowed to be a point of contention, but not governed by the Prime Directive.

I am very curious to know other people’s thoughts about this mission. If you disagree with my analysis, let me know why!

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