No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space or the fact that there are other worlds or civilizations. — “Star Trek”
In the TV series “Star Trek”, the Prime Directive forbade the Federation from giving away the secrets of high technology to primitive alien civilizations, lest that knowledge distort their cultural growth.
But why not save them the trouble? We could just hand them the keys to the galaxy and let ‘em have at it. What could go wrong?
Here’s what went wrong on Earth:
—The Colonial Era: Europeans fanned out across the world, encountering other civilizations and generally ruining them.
—Spread of technology: Western nations have sold advanced weaponry to native populations, enabling them to attack and destroy their neighbors.
—Invasive species: Trade between developed and less developed nations has been marred by the export of animals and plants to new areas, where they often wreak havoc with local ecosystems.
—Cultural homogenization: The world has learned to imitate the West in dress and commerce and culture. Unique and beautiful indigenous styles of the past have become museum curiosities, replaced by business suits, Hip Hop, and hamburgers.
So, yes, when you tinker with less developed societies, the results can be, ah, uninspiring.
Still, how do you define “less developed”? Which groups should you leave alone? What’s the cutoff? In “Star Trek” it was faster-than-light travel: when the natives could figure that one out, it was time for introductions all around. But on Earth itself, where much damage already has been done, can we somehow re-envision the Prime Directive so it helps us, right here on our own planet, in our encounters with those among us whom we might consider benighted?
Take, for example, Conservatives. Widely regarded as primitive troglodytes, these strange creatures walk upright among us, wear similar clothing, eat much the same food, and listen to pop music. Yet they persist in believing such backward ideas as Limited Government, the Sanctity of the Family, Faith in God, no drugs, and (worst of all) waiting until marriage before sex. These people need to be brought into the 20th century, let alone the 21st!
And yet… and yet… We must not be too hasty. Were we prematurely to convince them of the Wonders of Progressivism, many — if not most — of their unique cultural attributes could be lost forever. Given the dismal record of human cultural encounters in the past, it might be wise to proceed with caution. Perhaps Progressives should apply the Prime Directive to Conservatives, and leave them alone?
To learn more, I sought out local color from a native informant, and visited a Conservative in his natural habitat, a ranch in the country some distance from the nearest city. He was older, craggy, dressed in Stetson hat, denim shirt and jeans, and finely tooled boots. We met outside his barn, where he leaned against an old rusted pickup truck, smoking one of those disgusting rolls of tobacco called a “cigar” — something that should have been banned decades ago yet persists, especially among Conservatives. Fearing for my health from the possible deleterious effects of second-hand smoke, I wanted to insist he extinguish it, but didn’t wish to alienate him before we got started.
He puffed away, awaiting my questions. He didn’t seem hurried or impatient. I was used to the rapid pace of city life, so his attitude unnerved me. Meanwhile, the cigar smoke smelled sweet and almost — dare I say it? — pleasant. This troubled me, so I distracted myself by asking my first question: “Why do you insist on living an old-fashioned lifestyle when you can move to the city, use mass transit, send your kids to urban public schools, and live in energy-efficient rent-controlled apartments?”
The cowboy stared at me as if I were insane. “Now why on Earth would I wanna toss away this great life out here, where it’s peaceful an’ folks is honest, an’ go to the city where there’s a law for everything, yet people act thoughtless and get violent?”
“Well,” I answered, “things are carefully managed there, so—”
“I wouldn’t subject my children to such a ruthless world. Classroom violence, truancy, bad teachers, dangerous streets. Instead, I home school ‘em usin’ the Internet. Their test scores are through the roof. And they get to live in a world with fresh air, beautiful sunsets, and fine horse flesh.”
“What about healthcare?”
“You mean, do I have that ObamaCrap?” He shook his head. “Gosh, no! I possess a good ol’ reg’lar insurance policy, had it for years, serves us jes’ fine, thank you. And we have more’n enough money in the bank to pay fer any oversized bills.”
“Well, if you have extra, shouldn’t you give it to the poor? They need it more than you.”
“Oh, we donate locally when a situation arises. But out here mostly we make sure everybody’s workin’, so’s they kin pay for things an’ take care of theirselves.”
I scribbled some notes. “But isn’t there more you can do for the world? Isn’t that really what we’re here for, to help others, especially the less privileged? Instead of hiding away in the boonies?”
He pulled the cigar from his mouth, leaned over, and spit on the dirt. “It’s you liberal fellers that are in such a hurry to improve everthin’ but end up makin’ a hash of it. ‘Hope and Change’ is a fancy way o’ sayin’, ‘Force other people to do things our way.’ All them rules to make people behave, you jes’ create lawbreakers. You’d do better to leave well enough alone.”
I objected: “But we’re taught from a young age that every person can change the world! There are so many things that need changing, too.”
He squinted at me. “Now, I ain’t no math’matician, but I kin tell you this — if ever last dang human on Earth tried to ‘change the world,’ there’d be utter chaos and calamity. Think it through! You make a bigger diff’rence jes’ takin’ care o’ yer own business than muckin’ around in other people’s affairs.”
He dropped the cigar into a pail of water. “I reckon it’s you Lefties, who wanna cure the world of all its wrongheadedness, who oughtta cure yerselves first. When you get over thinkin’ yer better’n the rest of us, come back an’ we’ll talk more.” He stood. “Now, I got some actual work to do,” and with that, he tipped his hat, climbed into the pickup, and drove around the barn and out of sight.
On the way back to the city, I pondered. Maybe, if Conservatives really are as primitive as we believe, we ought to leave them alone in their states and localities until they find their own way to our wisdom. Forcing it on them will never work. I can see that now. The Prime Directive, adapted to civic life, would serve us well in this situation. In the meantime (and as my yoga instructor advises), we can “practice patience”.
On the other hand, the rancher said some things that were much wiser than I expected. For a horrifying moment, I even wondered briefly whether it was we, rather than they, who were the less developed group, floundering in our general inability to take care of ourselves, begging angrily for handouts from Conservatives, then explaining to them how they should behave—
Nonsense! That’s ridiculous.
But my mind kept going back to that cigar and how good it smelled. I wondered if I could get away with smoking one in my social group.
No chance. They’d never speak to me again.