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Prime Directive

In the fictional Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive is Starfleet's most prominent guiding principle. Put simply, the Prime Directive dictates that there be no interference with the natural development of any primitive society, chiefly meaning that no primitive culture can be given or exposed to any information regarding advanced technology or alien races. It also forbids any effort to improve or change in any way the natural course of such a society, even if that change is well intentioned and kept totally secret. The fictional world defines "primitive" as any culture which has not discovered warp drive, which is necessary for interplanetary travel. Starfleet allows scientific missions to investigate and move amongst pre-warp civilisations as long as no evidence of advanced technology is left behind and they do not reveal their identity.

Star Trek stories have used the Prime Directive as a literary contrivance which allows the exploration of interactions with less advanced societies. Since Star Trek has consistently used alien interactions as an allegory for the real world, the Prime Directive has served as a template to tell stories which resemble those of real human societies and their interactions with less techonologically advanced societies, such as the interaction between advanced cultures and indigenous peoples. In the philosophical view of Star Trek, no matter how well intentioned the more advanced peoples are, interaction between advanced technology and a more primitive society is invariably destructive.

In the fictional storyline, The Prime Directive was created by Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets when they were first formed. Since then the Prime Directive has been broken on many occasions intentionally and unintentionally. Sometimes when a Starfleet vessel crashes on a planet that has a pre-warp civilisation the survivors or the wreckage are collected by the natives and this then influences their society, especially when Federation technology is recovered and added to the technology of the planet.

In the series Star Trek: Voyager, the Prime Directive is one of the more commonly used (and possibly overused) plot devices. However, in many instances, the idea of the Prime Directive as used in Voyager is not consistent with that of the other series. On more than one occasion, Captain Janeway applies the Prime Directive to a situation which clearly does not involve a pre-warp civilization.

Usage of the term Prime Directive in other science fiction

Jack Williamson[?]'s novel The Humanoids features invulnerable robots who ruthlessly follow the "Prime Directive", which is to "serve and protect" all humans. It is more closely related to the Three Laws of Robotics. This book was published in 1949, so it predates Star Trek. In The Humanoids and its sequel The Humanoid Touch (1980), the Prime Directive is rather sinister, because the Humanoids take extreme measures to protect humans. This protection even goes against the wishes of the humans being protected. They do succeed in stopping all wars and running a perfect economy. However, potentially dangerous activites such as skydiving or using power tools are strictly forbidden. The Humanoids are so well-designed that all human attempts to thwart them fail. The humans being protected usually disapprove of the Humanoids' restrictions, but any active protesters are drugged into submission.

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