Blame the Prime Directive

Jean-Luc Picard

Image via Wikipedia

I blame the Prime Directive. For more than 40 years Star Trek has been telling us that we shouldn’t interfere with other cultures.  The other night Captain Picard said that “they weren’t here to judge other cultures”.  But that is part of the problem.

Judgment isn’t a bad thing. We need to make judgments to make decisions. That’s why we teach critical thinking, to improve our judgments. However, the word judgmental seems to have become synonymous with harshness and negativity.  The June issue of Psychology Today equates being a critic with being judgmental and harsh. (p. 31).

It is true that emotion plays a huge role in decision-making. When we lack background and context, when a situation is new and we don’t have a lot of information, we rely on our emotions. Often when we are dealing with intercultural issues, we do lack information, and we do tend to rely on our emotions, which can often be driven by fear or anger. So our judgments are skewed. We end of getting ourselves into all kinds of messes because we think we know better than the guy who lives there.  Thus, the Prime Directive, or as Ann Landers would have said, “Mind Your Own Business” (MYOB).

The only problem with MYOB is that there are times that it is essential to interfere. There are universal human rights. There are standards of behaviour that must be maintained. We don’t accept slavery.  That is a “judgment”.

There is nothing wrong with criticism. It helps make institutions and cultures better.   I can respect a culture and still have criticisms of it. Just because a culture holds a belief doesn’t mean that those beliefs should be free from criticism from the outside. However, it does mean that if I plan to criticize a belief from a culture with which I am unfamiliar, I have a responsibility to understand the context and the rationale for that belief.  I need to substantiate my criticism with evidence and careful thought. I can be respectful and critical at the same time.

It’s time to modify the Prime Directive. After all, every Star Trek Captain I know has violated the Prime Directive in the pursuit of doing the right thing.


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