Lunchtime Reviews Volume II: Put Away Childish Directives

There are many things I love in the world. This blog post is about two: Star Trek and Stellaris. If you don’t know what Star Trek is, then I don’t know why you are here. Seriously. How did you find my stupid website? Are you actually a human? You find yourself walking through the desert; you see a tortoise lying on its back…

I can forgive a person for not knowing that Stellaris is Paradox Interactive’s salute to all things science fiction amid a grand strategy setting. It’s a game of building space ships, settling new planets, meeting new species, and sometimes blowing up those filthy xenos scum if they turn out to be colossal assholes. Beyond that, Stellaris, is an engine for telling limitless stories. This is one of them.

Some time ago I was playing Stellaris as the Galactic Terran Alliance a la Freespace. My modus operandi for this star nation was to play them as reasonably benevolent. When one of my survey ships chanced upon a planet home to a pre-FTL civilization within my borders, I invoked the United Federation of Planets’ General Order One. No meddling with the natural development of civilizations confined to their own solar system. I set up an observation post, but that was it. The glorious race of space bunnies would be left to their own devices until such time as they could join the Alliance, if so inclined, as members of the galactic community.

The game progressed, as did their civilization. The space bunnies made it to the atomic age, and then they exterminated themselves in nuclear fire. All life on their planet ended. Their home world was reduced to “Tomb World” status. It was an irradiated rock in space. And that’s when I truly felt the moral cowardice of the Prime Directive.

Granted the space bunnies never existed. They were code in a game, and I’m not the president of the Galactic Terran Alliance. But if they weren’t real why did I mourn their loss? Why was I angry at myself for indulging in the sort of laissez-faire philosophy that says a space faring civilization has no obligation to its non-space faring counterpart?

It put me in the mind of TNG’s season 2 episode, “Pen Pals.” Therein, Data breaks the Prime Directive because upholding General Order One would have meant the death of an entire planet due to tectonic instability. An android, a machine made in the image of a man, had the soul to recognize his duty to act. Dr. Kate Pulaski, Enterprise’s CMO, derides Picard, Worf, and Riker for their blind loyalty to Federation dogma.

“What if it wasn’t a natural disaster,” Picard asks. “What if it’s a war, do we still interfere?”

Yes. The answer is yes. Beam the warheads out of the missiles. Send down a landing party and tell the aliens to stop being assholes.

And when one asks who is President Shaftoe of the Galactic Terran Alliance to make such a decision, the answer is that he is the one who sleeps at night knowing he did something to help rather than rested on a philosophy that assumes technology confers moral superiority through inaction.

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