Even though it seems like an all-encompassing ethical principle in the Star Trek universe, should space-faring civilians of the Federation be exempt from the Prime Directive?
By: Ringo Bones
To the seasoned Star Trek fan, they’ve probably first found out that civilians are actually exempt from the prime Directive in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode titled Angel One which originally aired back in 1987 during TNG’s first season. But before we proceed further, here’s a brief refresher crash-course on Starfleet’s Prime Directive.
The Prime Directive – also known as Starfleet general Order 1 or the non-interference directive – was the embodiment of one of Starfleet’s most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. And it focuses particularly to civilizations that have yet to develop faster-than-light interstellar travel technology. The Prime Directive was viewed as so fundamental to Starfleet that officers swore to uphold the Prime Directive, even at the cost of their own life or the lives of their crew. The most recent example that younger Star Trek fans are probably most familiar with was the opening sequence of Star Trek: Into Darkness where Spock was willing to die rather than Captain Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew violate the Prime Directive in order to save him.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode titled Angel One, Data says that civilians – as in crews of freighters and trading vessels whose home ports are members of the United Federation of Planets – are not bound by the Prime Directive as opposed to Starfleet personnel. Does this mean that civilians in the 24th Century can “evangelize” other civilizations?
The issue whether civilians should be exempt from the Prime Directive arises in the situation of that particular TNG episode is that the planet Angel One has developed for centuries as a female-dominated society and the crew of the freighter Odin which crashed there 7 years before and its civilian crew had started to set roots after the hopes of being recued by Starfleet or the Federation seems impossible. Though it was only a few years after that the government of Angel One found out of the stranded male crew – as in all male crew who grew up on Earth or at least raised on Earth like values – became a problem after they have been secretly “evangelizing” their values to the women of angel One that they have been secretly cohabitating with. Does the issue set a legal precedent to the established laws of the United Federation of Planets?