FF_A thread on the Star Trek Prime Directive reminded me of my favorite almost-great-but-not-quite Star Trek novel, Star Trek: Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (NOTHING LIKE THE TNG MOVIE EVEN LIKE A LITTLE). It has the distinction of being a very SJW take on the Prime Directive before SJW as concept or acronym was a thing on the internet (Social Justice Warrior) and takes great, great care to hit you over the head like a lot on why the Prime Directive is Awesome Like a Lot Seriously Why Don't You Get This Let Me Tell You Again, Really, but luckily, there's a lot of plot, so you can pretty easily skip the lecture portion of the show (it could be a 101 course, not kidding), and it does, in all fairness, make a vague half-hearted attempt at why the PM is bad using idealistic college students and single mother activists. Yeah.
Okay, leaving that off, it brings up two very interesting things that I'm pretty sure canon never bothered to throw out and turned out useful and obvious. One is a cultural scale model for pre-warp cultures, which assumed a crystal-growing type of development curve--all culture develop like this in this order, more or less, with the curve adjusted for population lifespan and I think worked differently on humanoid/non-humanoid/sentient slime-like species/incorporeal-who-the-hell-knows populations (keeping in mind Diane Duane to this day is the only one that had a sentient ensign rock and meetings involving Debians and non-humanoids, so detail is sketchy). It also emphasized, unfortunately, the powerful level of paternalism involved, which on one hand it is, no like--WE MUST PROTECT THOSE LESS ADVANCED--without leavening it with the much less skeevy Unintended Consequences model, which the story actually does for itself on reading, so maybe it's better that wasn't part of the lecture.
Reading for story, however, not lecture, you do get a very vivid and very precise explanation of what could happen if you're not truly hand to God--literally speaking--God and know where each single sparrow is and when it's falling. The use of the culture model that decides when a civilization is truly ready for pre-warp is shown as badly flawed but the best they have to work with, hence the requirement for warp technology. Humanity is still arrogant--and by humanity, read "all lifeforms in existence, probably mostly sentient but who the hell knows"--but the first rule to abide is Thou Shall Not Assume You Know Shit About Anything, Dumbass, even though you really think you do, and pretend at all times that you're likely going to be wrong until proven beyond all reasonable doubt otherwise and then take it to committee if possible because you gotta be sure. Which is, in a lot of ways, the basis of the prime directive; the mistakes you make when a civilization is at stake, not just their development, but their actual literal existence (see: nuclear winter, genocide) aren't the kind you can fix and even if you could, will they still be themselves after in their uniqueness, and what would you be saving, so to speak, if you destroyed all they were beforehand?
(Interesting point in the story is based on that; the Prime Directive uses the cultural model to bolster it's pre-warp-no theory, even though the cultural model is flawed because of the Prime Directive, because chicken, see egg. They know the model is flawed and because of that the Prime Directive is very much a best-guess at the safest possible save point--warp technology--because the model itself has to use that as the standard as well. It could be safe to establish relations earlier--it's likely, actually!--but they don't know because the cultural modeling is only perfectly accurate after they get to contact the culture. It's not a live model, it's observational up until that point. This could be fixed very probably if the Federation was willing to just give up a few pre-warp civilizations for cultural experimental purposes and try this at earlier and earlier points and learn from their failures (civilization one: contacted at pre-industrial era: blows self up: Fail! civilization two: contacted at medievalish era: thinks we're gods, genocide, ten people left on planet; REALLY FAIL! civilization three: not yet into the bronze thing, maybe we should....: BEARS ALERT RAPTORS RUN FUBAR BEARS FAIL BEARS LIONs BEARS!). They're not willing to risk that, however, any earlier than the first safe point, so you see how this is just academic hell.)
In the book itself, because it was Captain Kirk I was totally fine with the ending, but I would also argue that it was luck that it turned out well, and not just luck, but really one-time only cannot replicate this particular cultural development (story backs this up; this was very unique to this culture and what was happening to it) luckyity luck-luck by ten. I'd also argue that this is far less an exercise in anti-colonialism--though it is--and even less a bootstrap modeling of culture--though yeah, there is some of that--but a pretty sophisticated understanding of risk, when the risk is how on earth can anyone say no when you're the one carrying a nuke to a rock fight--you can't lose, there's just no way, the fact you brought it at all is the deciding factor, not that you wouldn't use it, so don't come at all.
...yes, I am re-reading everything Star Trek related so the sobbing doesn't go into effect. I hate work right now like you have no idea.
Note: I like the Bears alert model. The Raptors and Lions and Bears alert model however, is my variation, as raptors and lions are by nature funny and will also eat you in non-stuffed-animal form.)
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