The Dark Knight Patronizes: Democracy vs. the Prime Directive

Rob Northrup makes the case that there Science Fiction endorses a grotesque form of elitism.

[Enjoy this guest article by Rob Northrup. —Ed.]

Spoilers for The Dark Knight, Watchmen, Star Trek episodes and movies.

The Prime Directive has always rubbed me the wrong way, but I could never put my finger on what was wrong with it. Recently it came to me in the absurd rasping of Christian Bale. At the end of The Dark Knight, Batman has the same superior attitude as whatever Federation wonks who wrote the Prime Directive. Batman tells Gordon, “You’ll hunt me. You’ll condemn me. Set the dogs on me. Because that’s what needs to happen. Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

Batman covers-up the crimes of Harvey Dent because he’s afraid citizens of Gotham will be too jaded or heartbroken if they find out their hero Dent has fallen. Batman sacrifices his reputation and lets people think that he murdered Dent and others.

Picture Tom Cruise hectoring Batman on the witness stand about what happened that night, until the Dark Knight croaks, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

Or think of Rorschach trudging away from the Greenhouse of Solitude at the end of Watchmen, wanting to blow the lid off Veidt’s cover-up, doing what he thinks is right. Instead of Doctor Manhattan, it could be Batman or Picard or any given Star Trek crew preparing to kill Rorschach or erase his memory before he spreads the truth. “What are you waiting for? Do it. Do it!”

These stories seem to tell us that there are two kinds of people in this world. There are those who are smart enough and bold enough and heroic enough to handle the truth. People like Col. Nathan Jessup from A Few Good Men, like Batman, some of the Watchmen, the United Federation of Planets, the Men In Black, or Walter Lippman. Then there are the masses of average people who would be shattered or react foolishly if they learned the truth. Too stupid, common, unthinking, and animalistic. Not quite as bold or capable as you or me, and maybe I shouldn’t speak for you.

How can we distinguish between those who can handle the truth and those who can’t? Partly by the fact that truth-handlers solve any problem by finding a person or group that represents the problem and punching them in the jaw. (Or photon torpedoing or obliterating their jaws.) Partly because truth-handlers wear funny uniforms. They live boldly, go boldly, and dress boldly. But lots of people dress funny and punch each other, so that doesn’t always separate the truth-handlers from the “bewildered herd” (one of Lippmann’s many terms for the general public). The way to really be sure is to identify the Good Guys. Protagonists can handle the truth. Citizens and extras and the powerless can’t be trusted with the truth.

You might not be aware of the long underwear hero known as Walter Lippmann. He had no super powers or crime-fighting skills, and was not known to wear spectacular costumes. Not even a uniform sweater that needed the bottom hem tugged down every time he stood up like Picard. Lippmann wrote some important books in the 20th century about media, mass communications, and propaganda—back before propaganda became a bad word and had to be replaced by the euphemism “public relations”. He felt that since the public could not become experts on every subject—politics, for example—public policy and government policy should be left to actual experts. In a democracy, the consent of the public should be “manufactured” or “created” by experts. Unfortunately he did not provide a ton of guidance on which experts could be trusted, or how we can tell apart real experts from liars. (Which experts will help us identify the experts? Who watches the watchmen?)

“… [T]he common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality.”

—Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

Lippmann seems to agree with Nolan’s Dark Knight, as well as with Col. Jessup, Starfleet, Agents K and J, maybe even Ozymandias and the rest of the surviving Watchmen—at least in principle. The ignorant, superstitious, bewildered masses don’t have the expertise to make good decisions. They can create trouble and demand bad policies, so it’s better to prevent some information from worrying their pretty little heads. Leave it to the Good Guys to decide what to do and which information to feed them.

It might seem unfair to compare authoritarian superhero cover-ups with the Prime Directive, but both of them stem from arrogance and elitism. The Prime Directive requires Starfleet to refrain from giving advanced technology to any “pre-warp” civilizations, or interfering in their internal affairs. The assumption is that people will use higher technology to make war or enslave each other, or use it in the worst possible ways. Bunch of superstitious, ignorant, bewildered herds of spacemen.

Although heroes of the various Trek series occasionally violate the Prime Directive, in several cases the rule is interpreted to mean that pre-warp civilizations must not even learn about the existence of space travel or alien species. In Star Trek: Insurrection, some Starfleet officers secretly spy on low tech people from invisible “duck blinds”, because anthropology is cool like that. They make a big deal when Data malfunctions and reveals himself to the farmers they’re spying on. (Or maybe it’s a big deal because Data is shooting some of them, I can’t remember all the details.)

Anyway, what the hell, Star Trek? Running around the universe trying to do the right thing involves hiding and lying to people? Did honesty die out before the invention of warp drives?

They assume low-tech aliens will be dumb or use technology for evil purposes. When beings develop technology on their own, then it’s “natural.” There might be some hiccups along the way, but it’s part of the learning process. Eventually they’ll discovering that guano mixed with sulfur and carbon can burn or fizzle or explode, and they’ll figure out the proper uses of gunpowder.

Have we on Earth figured out the “proper” use for it yet? Which people should have access to it and which people shouldn’t? Maybe someone introduced that technology to Earthlings too early.

Look back on the human history of technology and you’ll see each new development put to evil or harmful uses as well as to beneficial uses. People might do evil things when they receive gifts of new technology, but somebody’s bound to do something evil weven when they develop the technology themselves. That is, the propensity for evil persists independent of the source of the technology.

I’m not arguing in favor of Starfleet spreading weapons willy-nilly, or taking sides in every civil war they stumble across. But Starfleet takes the Prime Directive to idiotic and inhumane extremes. The invisible anthropologists are an example of the idiotic extreme. Are they afraid farmers will freak out or kill themselves when they find out that aliens and interstellar travel is possible? (Actually, yes: in a Next Generation episode, one low tech character commits suicide after the culture shock of a bungled first contact.) Worried about the development of cargo cults or Starfleet officers setting themselves up as gods? Can’t they think of ways to prevent that? “Hi, I’m Jean-Luc. Don’t freak out but I’m from another world. We have such wonders to show you, such as tea, Earl Grey, hot. Have some. It will calm you.”

On the inhumane extreme, they sometimes let people die because of their unshakable belief that it’s wrong to interfere. If you trust the Wikipedia entry on the Prime Directive, sixty races had been allowed to die out by 2364 as a result of the policy. The most egregious example was “Dear Doctor”, an episode of Enterprise in which the crew withholds the cure for a disease they know will wipe out an entire species because the species affected was genetically stagnant. If they helped it to live, then it could compete with and crowd out another race of sentient beings on the planet. They’d be “playing God” if they shared the cure—just like the way doctors in our time avoid giving a blood transfusions or treating cystic fibrosis, because that would be playing God. To make it more absurd, this episode is set in a period before Starfleet issues the Prime Directive. Totally contrary to the Hippocratic Oath, the ship’s doctor spontaneously develops this idea on his own, convinces the captain to allow the extinction of a sentient species, then narrates to his personal journal how he hopes someday a rule or a “directive” of some kind will be developed along the lines of his twisted ethics.

The hidden premise behind the Prime Directive is that there is some natural course of events for each civilization, and that it’s unnatural when technologically advanced cultures interfere with less advanced ones. But humanity and sentient life are part of nature. It’s natural that sentient beings at different levels of technology will interact with each other. Preventing that is just arbitrary. When you say “Hi” to a neighbor, are you “interfering” with his natural course of events? You might convince him to go see Prometheus instead of Chernobyl Diaries. Maybe he was “meant” to see Chernobyl Diaries, and you’ve subverted God’s plan for him. Or evolution’s plan, whatever.

Down here on non-fiction Earth, we’ve had our own policies that were a little like the Prime Directive, namely the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Five countries that possessed nuclear weapons agreed not to give the technology to nations that didn’t have it. Just like the Prime Directive throughout all the Trek series, the history of the NPT in action has included a string of exceptions, violations, inconsistency, and hypocrisy. But the NPT was not necessarily a judgment that other inferior cultures could not handle the technology. The idea was that no one could handle it, so all nations should disarm. Theoretically it’s a roll-back of our own technology to a lower level, or at least rolling back the implementation of it.

Another modern example is Communist China, which has shown for decades how much they admire the ideals of the Prime Directive. Any time an American diplomat or journalist scolds them for jailing dissidents or gagging the press or other human rights violations, Chinese politicians say it’s an internal matter, other nations should not interfere.

To be fair, other dictators or oligarchs or aristocrats have probably said similar things, but that gets to the point: They think democracy is bad. They don’t want to hear your advice on how to run things, because they should be able to develop democracy naturally, on their own (if at all), without the heavy-handed interference of outsiders.

And if you work backwards a little bit, you can see from his patronizing behavior that Nolan’s Batman has a problem with democracy in general, as do the surviving Watchmen, Kirk, Picard, the United Federation of Planets, MIB, Col. Jessup, and Walter Lippmann. They don’t necessarily oppose voting or the electoral system or the trappings of democracy, which would be pretty difficult to overturn. But they like a system where the consent of the governed can be manufactured and steered by a few good men.

Are you convinced that elitism is baked into science fiction? Is Captain Picard guilty of crimes against life everywhere? Sound off in the comments.

65 Comments on “The Dark Knight Patronizes: Democracy vs. the Prime Directive”

  1. Erik #

    The missing piece is how individuals morph into masses. Call them citizens. Call them an uninformed mob. Call them whatever. Every individual may be able to handle the truth, but for whatever reason of human nature we have more trouble handling it together.

    In Nolan’s Batman, the “citizens” of Gotham have been forever unable to exercise the city’s demons. A prevailing undercurrent of cynicism, apathy, and a belief that the entire system is corrupt prevent Gotham from getting better. It’s one of those “arcs of history” and Harvey Dent seem to have redirected that arc and changed it (as is played out in the final film of the trilogy). It’s that impact that Batman is trying to retain. Any single person will not freak out if they find out the truth of Harvey Dent, but what would the impact be on society?

    The story with Watchmen is almost identical. Humanity, as a mass, it at its own throat. Veight’s actions, though deplorable, change that, and Dr. Manhattan intervenes so that it doesn’t change back. This one is a bit different because there are leaders involved. I.e., what would happen if Rorschach had just told President Nixon? Nixon (the character in this book, to be clear) would probably have used that information to his advantage and double-played everyone else, so there is also an element of corrupt individuals in addition to the thrall of the masses.

    Star Trek is a whole different issue. That’s more about the logistical functioning of founding legal documents. It’s pretty clear that there are many, many cases in which the prime directive is the best course of action. If an intelligent species is nowhere near the development of warp drive that would introduce them to the stellar community, Starfleet probably shouldn’t just give it to them. Once they’ve come to the point of interaction with the interstellar community on their own, then who cares, but before-hand it’s none of the Federation’s business, since the Federation is not set up as a conquest-seeking government. Now, the Prime Directive is often bad advice. However, how can you give a guiding directive and include a “sometimes” clause? You can’t really. That’s why the First Amendment is the First Amendment even in cases where it’s a bad idea, such as the anti-Islam video that has been involved in all the trouble. The video has zero artistic or storytelling value and is designed merely to inflame (I’ve watched it; it’s horrible). But the First Amendment is the First Amendment. And the Prime Directive is the Prime Directive.

    • Erik #

      One more thought on the Prime Directive: why does it exist to begin with? It’s selection bias. According to Star Trek First Contact, the human race learned of the existence of alien civilizations direct after, and as a result of, our first warp flight. That’s the way it happened with us, ergo that’s the way it should happen with everyone.

      I see parallels of the Second Amendment. Some people may say that the right to bear (modern) arms is crazy, but during the founding of the US the British seized the colonies’ weaponry. Ergo, it’s something fundamental that needs to be protected.

      • Paul M #

        I thought it was stated, or at least implied, that the Prime Directive was not a human invention. Remember that in First Contact, the Vulcans are just hanging out observing Earth, not making their presence known. As soon as humanity demonstrates warp drive, they’re all over Earth demonstrating their superior technology and finger independence. Even then, during the Enterprise era the Vulcans seem to be pretty stingy about what information they feel is worth sharing with a less advanced species, apparently including the Prime Directive itself.

        Now that’s not to say the PD was always used well. Voyager, in particular, abused it near the point of death when Janeway refuses to trade Federation technology to clearly warp-capable species. That is undeniably elitist on her part, and poorly thought out on the writers’ part.

  2. Tom P #

    “an episode of Enterprise in which the crew withholds the cure for a disease they know will wipe out an entire species because the species affected was genetically stagnant. ”

    There’s a bit more context to this. The species in question is sharing a planet with a second bi-pedial, sentient species who are actively being subjugated and are moving from “neanderthal” to “homosapien” brain capacity. Enterprise choosing to give the cure to the first species essentially chooses for the planet what species should “win” their environment.

    It should also be noted that Phloxx is not human and does not necessarily share the same values that we have and likely had different morals. Denobulans tend to be researchers and live for hundreds of years. He’s looking at it objectively as a scientist, not as a doctor who may or may not take anything resembling our Hippocratic Oath. He’s not advocating murdering people, he’s advocating that nature should decide what race “wins” the planet, not a chance encounter with Earth’s first space exploration. He gives them a drug to ease their suffering, but not to alter the natural order, which I think is wholly in line with Phlox’s morals.

    It also serves to remember that the Prime Directive is based on the Vulcans’ principle of non-interference, which absolutely fits with what we know about Vulcan values.

    • Tom P #

      As an addendum, it’s 100% likely the Vulcans demanded the Prime Directive exist to join the Federation.

    • Paul M #

      Well then there’s still the really, really problematic TNG episode with Worf’s adopted brother. Picard refuses to save a pre-warp civilization that is on the verge of being wiped out by a natural disaster, on the grounds that it would be a PD violation. Worf’s brother goes rogue and saves them anyway, and generally winds up saving the civilization. One guy escapes and kills himself for some reason, but nobody else is ever the wiser. The audience is clearly meant to root against this, but Worf’s brother is clearly doing the moral thing even if it does raise logistical complications. The whole effect is to make the PD seem like it’s letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

      • Tom P #

        No. Picard’s point is that it’s not up to the Federation to decide what 100 (or whatever number) people to save during an extinction event because, you know, what about everybody else?

        And how does anyone know that Worf’s brother’s plan — to kidnap a village off a planet and introduce them to an entirely new planet — won’t have equally terrible side effects. Offhand I can think of:
        1) Not knowing what is and isn’t poisonous on their new planet.
        2) Falling victim to some simple cold their system can’t fight off.
        3) Destroying the new planet’s natural order by introducing a sentient species.

        • Paul M #

          These seem like relatively minor objections when weighed against a preventable extinction. Of course nobody knows for sure what negative things may or may not happen once the species is relocated. But they know very well what will happen if they do nothing.

          I will agree that there is something unsavory about the circumstances that lead to this particular race being saved, as opposed to any other ones. But that goes for any of the other problems that Starfleet solves as well. Why should one planet ever get the benefit of the Enterprise crew’s expertise? In the cases where a species knows of Starfleet and asks for help, then it’s not morally problematic. But there are many, many episodes in every Star Trek series where the crew just happens upon a society in need and chooses to save it from one threat or another, natural or otherwise. The series just chooses to call it good, and move on.

          • Tom #

            > These seem like relatively minor objections when weighed against a preventable extinction.

            It’s probably not a minor event to the planet they’re being placed on. There are a lot of things that are going to be dead to sustain a new culture that may not have otherwise been dead if the new species hadn’t been introduced.

            > But that goes for any of the other problems that Starfleet solves as well. Why should one planet ever get the benefit of the Enterprise crew’s expertise?

            Because by the time TNG rolls around, they’re in the Federation, which has hundreds of members and colonies. Like any other political organization, you help out members when they ask and assist other “nations” when it’s politically advantageous. It’s an intergalatic EU by the 24th century.

      • Spankminister #

        Uhh, the audience is clearly supposed to root FOR the moral thing happening in that episode, it just happens to be that the main characters are following rules to stop it from happening.

        That episode isn’t “problematic,” it’s completely in tune with the sort of liberal ideals that Star Trek is based on. It’s a common TV device for the main recurring characters to be prevented by (plot device) from doing the right thing, and the conflict is them managing to find a compromise.

        Star Trek is also mostly TV-bound by what types of stories they can tell. Preventing an extinction gives the viewer warm fuzzies in only 45 minutes plus commercials. Mass Effect’s exploration of the “uplifting” of the Krogan, and the horrors that ensued from arming pre-warp civilizations takes 3 full games to flesh out, and results in far more moral ambiguity than Star Trek is usually capable of dealing in. Star Trek examines Prime Directive cases never seeing their consequences, and always at eye level with the people who will live and die– it does not have the opportunity to examine the long-term species-level damage wreaked by Prime Directive breaking.

        None of us really have a basis for conjecture, but I think it’s safe to say that given how highly the Federation values life, they must have anthropological case studies about terrible wars and genocide in pre-warp civilizations resulting from PD-breaking. At the scale of galactic civilization, the stakes are far higher than even a race of nomads dying.

    • Rob #

      ‘Enterprise choosing to give the cure to the first species essentially chooses for the planet what species should “win” their environment.’

      But aren’t we already subverting natural selection in hundreds or thousands of ways today, with medicine and technology? Are we wrong to do that? It’s a larger scale when we think of saving an individual compared with saving a species, but on the other hand, saving one individual who would otherwise die from a “natural” disease could lead to larger changes when that one person continues to effect the genepool. Saving an individual could mean saving a species, or choosing which species will dominate others.

      Again, some of this is a question of what is “natural.” Whether we are inappropriately “tampering” with some natural order when we become intelligent designers of the fate of our own species, or other species. Another example is invasive species of plants or animals. There are plants that seem to have evolved with little barbs or burrs to catch on the fur of animals, resulting in their seeds getting carried far away and eventually falling off and growing. Other seeds attract animals which swallow them whole and deposit them later (maybe far away) in a nice bit of fertilizer.

      When we move species from one area to another, are we doing something unnatural because we have consciousness and intelligence, or are we part of nature? I think we’re part of nature. We can also screw things up, vandalize the environment, wipe out whole species carelessly or maliciously. We have to make moral decisions about how to affect whole species or our own species, not classify as evil or “tampering” all actions that would affect whole species. How could we possibly live in a way that wouldn’t potentially affect our own or other species? We think of ourselves as living apart from nature or in conflict with it, but we’re stuck in it.

      • Gab #

        With respect to medicine, though, I think the reason medicine within a species’s development is okay because that species/ civilization itself came up with the technology and medicine on its own. Consider it like organisms and forces within an individual ecosystem. Introducing outside elements can sometimes have drastic effects and cause the ecosystem to collapse, just as it can sometimes lead to alterations that seem positive in the evolutionary sense. But one can never know for certain how things would have evolved, had that outside element not penetrated. The PD is meant to allow other planets to evolve as they would had Starfleet not landed or made contact. I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think applying the same standards to inter-species interaction as we do to human-human is missing the point of the PD. It perhaps seems hypocritical, but not from the perspective of the members of Starfleet that came up with it in the first place.

        • Gab #

          A lot of typos…

          “…the reason medicine within a species’s development is okay is because…”

          “… but I think applying the same standards to inter-species interaction as we do to human-human is missing the point of the PD.”

    • Rob #

      ‘He’s not advocating murdering people, he’s advocating that nature should decide what race “wins” the planet, not a chance encounter with Earth’s first space exploration. He gives them a drug to ease their suffering, but not to alter the natural order, which I think is wholly in line with Phlox’s morals.’

      I guess if I were arguing with Phlox, I would point out that “nature” may be acting by having a chance encounter with Earth’s first space exploration. Phlox and the rest of the crew and all intelligent creatures are a part of the natural order, inseparable from it.

      It’s like the old joke about a man caught in a flood at his home. His brother offers to give him a ride to higher ground, but the man says, “The Lord will save me.” As his house begins to submerge, a neighbor in a rowboat offers to help him get away, but he still says, “The Lord will save me.” He’s forced up to the roof. A helicopter drops a rope ladder for him, but he says, “The Lord will save me.”

      Finally he drowns. When he gets to Heaven, he asks God, “Why didn’t you save me?”

      The Lord says, “I sent a car, a boat, a helicopter. What more do you want?”

      • Elephants #

        This is pretty poor reasoning. Yes, there is no such thing as “nature” in an abstract form that assumes no intervention from outside forces, I agree. But you and the poster above you are missing the point.

        Species which go through all the technological and societal struggles on their own will evolve biologically and develop culturally to the point where they are capable of handling it. Although it might not be “unnatural” per se to interfere with their societies, it’s still a deviation from the status quo path of their species.

        If you’re not intelligent enough to build advanced technology, you’re probably not intelligent enough to use it wisely either. Or, at least, that’s the better version of the “naturalness” argument.

        I think the real problem with the naturalness argument is that it assumes empathy and ethics correlate with technological development, which isn’t a very good assumption. There are peaceful species that should be receiving technological aid. There’s probably even room for a good argument about how the more violent and competitive societies are more likely to produce technological advances (eg, a individual competition key to evolution type argument) and so the Prime Directive is doing the exact opposite of what it should be.

        Although I like the parallel made to freedom of speech in a different comment, I think that freedom of speech is a different issue insofar as it’s difficult to trust the government to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate uses of that freedom. In contrast, there are probably ways that certain species could be tested on the acceptability of their morality to humans and vulcans and whatnot. Technology and neuroscience could be part of this, experiments with Prisoner’s Dilemmas and similar problems could be another, their history and society could also be observed.

        Since it would be possible to distinguish between hostile and friendly societies using these tools, the Prime Directive would be better replaced by an independent council that assesses the moral acceptability of potential candidates for contact. Factors other than morality could also be considered, of course. This would provide a middle ground – less extreme than an absolute prohibition, but yet not so flexible that any old captain gets to make decisions about the fate of an entire species.

        Also, this sort of policy would allow them to eliminate potential threats before they grew powerful. Hostile societies could be covertly monitored, and destroyed if they verged on becoming a dangerous threat. This would need oversight so it couldn’t be abused, of course, but it’s really much better from a utilitarian standpoint, which it seems like the Vulcans would like a lot and the humans would at least accept.

        • Rob Northrup #

          I disagree with some of the statements you made at the start, but agree with your suggestions for a more nuanced set of policies to replace the Prime Directive.

        • Tom #

          I don’t think the Federation wants the moral quandary of giving developing societies weapons, and then being faced with making the race extinct if they don’t use them properly.

          The scientists that did the Stanford prisoner experiment didn’t know that normal college kids were going to turn in to totalitarian maniacs. The Federation has no way to know that either so it’s better to just not do it.

  3. The Commons #

    For the record: the Hippocratic Oath is no longer taken by new doctors. And while an oath of some kind is usually spoken or signed–many being based on the Declaration of Geneva–there is no legal requirement to do so.

  4. Ben Adams OTI Staff #

    I really enjoyed this article – I could definitely see gravelly-voiced Bale saying either that I can’t handle the truth or that he can’t violate the Prime Directive.

    I think that the idea that elites need to withhold the truth from the masses is founded on a fallacious notion of democracy’s purpose. To me, the #1 reason to have a representative form of government isn’t because it’s better at getting to the “truth” or the “best” solution – it’s to ensure everyone’s interests are represented.

    It’s why we let dumb people vote – it’s not because we think that their voice is going to help us find the “best” candidates from some absolute point of view. It’s because if they’re not allowed to vote, then no one will be looking out for their interests and they’ll probably get screwed.

    It’s why we don’t let exclusively doctors decide how medical malpractice should work – sure, they know more about medicine than the average voter, but they are also strongly motivated to skew things a certain direction.

    Of course, there’s always the Batmans and Colonel Jessup’s of the world that tell themselves that THEY aren’t biased, that THEY can make the right decision without all those “dumb” people getting involved, but people are generally pretty terrible at recognizing their own biases.

    • Christian Hansen #

      I actually want to clarify something here about what Batman does in The Dark Knight. Yes, part of the reason Batman takes the fall is to “protect” the people of Gotham, but there is a practical reason he took the blame. There is also an important theme that is made in The Dark Knight Rises that is being forgotten in this analysis, but more on that later.

      When Gordon and Batman are looking over Harvey’s body, Gordon bemoans that everything that Harvey worked for will be undone. Specifically (IIRC) he mentions that all those convicted mob guys he put away will have their convictions overturned (I’m no legal expert but that seems to be what they are saying).

      The movie makes the statement that if the truth about Harvey is found out then all the mob people he put away would be get right back to mobbing it up. Batman taking the blame is keeping the bad guys in prion.

      In fact Batman taking the fall and preserving Dent’s image did wonders for reducing crime in Gotham. Bane says as much during his monologue in front of Blackgate prison; they were unjustly convicted and jailed due to the Dent act (that made it impossible for someone to use the insanity pleas/ get parole), permanently keeping the foot soldiers of the mob behind bars, deterring any other wannabe Godfathers, to the point that Blake jokes about not having anything to do, all of which started because of the martyrdom of Harvey, which wouldn’t have been possible if Batman didn’t take the fall.

      But most importantly,in The Dark Knight Rises, they specifically call all that stuff out as wrong. Not telling the people the truth? Wrong. We see how Gordon and Wayne’s lives deteriorates through the years (Gordon has to praise the man who held his family at gunpoint, alienating his family and getting a divorce. Bruce is a physical and mental wreck, and without purpose he draws himself away from the world), and ultimately we see that their “deal with the devil” leaves Gotham vulnerable to Bane’s attack.

      Batman’s “rise” is not only overcoming his physical deterioration and rediscovering his will and sense of justice, but also overcoming his decision to lie about Harvey.

      So, yeah, Nolan is kinda agreeing with you here.

      • Rob Northrup #

        Unfortunately I haven’t seen Dark Knight Rises yet, so I don’t know how much or if any of this still applies. Sorry if the title of this post was misleading, but I couldn’t resist the rhyming pun.

        I don’t think Dent’s later crimes would cause convictions to be overturned. I would think he would have to be guilty of a crime that directly affected the process while those trials were underway. Or they might investigate whether his convictions were still appropriate, but not automatically overturned.

        I should save this for a separate article, but it sounds like Dark Knight Rises and Superman Returns both have the problem of late-blooming “Denial of the Call” (from the steps in the Hero’s Journey). The Overthinkers have talked about how annoying it is that the Green Lantern denies the call longer than he should. I guess it’s a way for them to be more gritty and all that, but a hero isn’t much of a superhero if he decides to take a couple years off. I like my superheros more gung-ho than that (maybe less realistic and less human).

        • Christian Hansen #

          In all fairness, it was a good pun.

          Now that I think about it, the Judge who was presiding over the case was blown up by the Joker before the trial started, as Lao hadn’t testified against the mob yet. The trial was probably delayed due to the Joker’s antics, so no one was technically convicted of anything yet.

          If so, then when he killed Maroni, one of the defendants, he would be interfering with the trial. That would be grounds for dismissal wouldn’t it?

          • Rob Northrup #

            Agreed. Any of Dent’s crimes that interfered with the case would definitely get it dismissed, or maybe a retrial? I’m not a lawyer either.

  5. Dimwit #

    The Prime Directive as stated is a little overwrought. It’s being used like an outgrowth to Clarke’s Postulate: <Tech = magic which is too absolute IMO. Take a 20th century adult and put them in a 25th century setting. Their host comes into the room and waves their arms around and the table is filled with food. Does the person go "Wow, you must be a wizard!" I think not. It'd be "Cool, show me how you did that!" You don't understand the tech, but you know it's there.

    The PD assumes the superior must protect the inferior "from corruption" when, in fact, the protection is needed from dependency. Going back to the Bronze Age with Stainless Steel Bowie knives would cement whole Roman legions to you, but they still have to come to you for replacements. They could never reproduce them on their own and do this enough, the likelihood of them ever developing the tech to do so is low. The whole point of the PD is to stop having civilizations stagnate because they bought instead of developing their tech.

    • Richard #

      I agree! I wanted to make that point (about technological dependency), but you made it much more clearly than I could ever have. The story “Lodestar” by Poul Anderson came immediately to my mind….

      I’m getting the sense that the intent of the PD was to make it clear, at least to Starfleet, that the Federation was not a ‘colonizing’ power, like the British Empire. Private parties could set up their own trade arrangements and even settlements and outposts, but taking over inhabited worlds was not Federation policy.

  6. Erik #

    This discussion has got me thinking.

    First: the PD seems like a firm but semi-arbitrary line in the sand. Basically, IF a planet shows any intelligent lift, Starfleet must stay away so as not to interfere with their development. This part I agree with, since any changes modern humans have made to their environment are at least limited to OUR environment. If there is another sentient or semi-sentient species on another planet, they deserve the chance as well. Call it the free market principle of planetary development. Honestly separate “competition” is probably good for the Federation, whether that competition is 100 years away from warp drive or 10,000 years. Also, I don’t think the primary reason for the PD is about technology. It’s about culture. It’s about where the Federation assumes a civilization will be culturally by the time they develop warp. It’s a bad assumption, especially considering that in First Contract humanity had just recently almost wiped itself out, but the politicians had a few hundred years to forget the facts, as politicians are wont to do.

    Second: The reason why I call it arbitrary is, what do you do with an M-class planet with a developed ecosystem that has no sentient life, or anything that seems to be headed in that direction. According to the Federation and Starfleet, it’s fair game! Seems unfair. They like to consider the societies of sentient being that they encounter worthy of protection from interference, but given enough time ALL M-class worlds will probably get there. Why not extend this protection to the worlds themselves, not just pre-existing societies?

    Third: The answer is that this is the point where the philosophical diverges from the practical. If every habitable world were protected, what would be the point of space exploration? Federation propaganda aside (and even though they don’t use “money” – so dirty), the primary mission of the Federation is political AND economic. New worlds and new resources are the name of the game. That’s why there are so many darn colonies in the Star Trek universe. Anyone who REALLY bought into the Prime Directive would be protesting against the Federation as an extractive colonial power!

    Fourth: Given all of the above, and the fact that the PD is limited in application to Starfleet, what are the chances that things wold evolve in the way that we’re shown? Private parties, privateers, and pirates of all species (including Ferengi AND human) would be on EVERY habitable world, but ESPECIALLY those with a sentient race (cheap labor!). Starfleet would be playing catch-up, unless the distribution of warp technology is far different than has been shown on-screen and that it’s strongly limited to government, military, and other connected entities that have to play by the government’s rules.

    Fifth and final: One way to reason this away is to say that only the Federation and its related entities have the resources to perform truly exploratory missions in order to discover these new worlds and societies. But that assumes that the geographic distribution of these planets and peoples fits neatly in spheres oriented around the layout of the Federation (the further you go out, the higher the chance of encountering a “virgin” world / society). On its own this rings false, but even if you assume it’s true, the Federation’s sphere of exploration is forever expanding, so what was “out there” for Kirk is a walk in the park for Picard. There were PD situations in Kirk’s day. Presumably by Picard’s day the private sector is now able to reach these. Since the private sector is not limited by the PD, wouldn’t it just pick off civilizations as it’s “reachable zone” catches up with Starfleet’s from, say, 100 years in the past? If I were there I would buy up as many historic Starfleet logs as possible (presumably from Google), and have a field day! In fact, the closer to the core of the Federation (i.e., Earth) that you got, presumably the more colonial it would get. The species that Archer met would have been among the earliest to go!

    But I guess that this all assumes that human nature doesn’t change over the next few hundred years. Perhaps meeting other intelligent civilizations would change our deep-rooted evolutionary behavioral programming. I don’t think so, but if you do, well, that’s an argument AGAINST the Prime Directive.

    • Christian Hansen #

      I’m not what you’d call a big fan of the PD, but I’ll play the devil’s advocate.

      It isn’t the case that there are elements in the Star Trek universe that CAN’T colonize civilized worlds, it’s just that the Federation WON’t allow them to. More accurately,those elements that would exploit sentient life either don’t exist or don’t have access to warp tech. The Federation is basically the idealized communist government structure, and therefore controls all the means of production. There isn’t a private sector to exploit those worlds, pirates were either hunted away long ago or never had the capabilities to maintain an interstellar presence, and if the Ferengi did try to make a move on a civilization in Federation space they would certainly have a fight on their hands.

      As to the point about economic advantages to colonies, there aren’t any. Why would you colonize for resources when replicator/transporter technology can transform energy into whatever material you need? It isn’t propaganda that they don’t use money, they literally have no use for it. Any “job” that is being done in TNG is usually for scientific research, doing what you love, that sort of thing.

      The PD is not designed to allow other civilizations to “compete” against the Federation, it is to protect them from exploitation and to allow them to develop to the point where they can join the Federation.

      (Wow, when saying it like that it makes the Federation seem like slower and nicer Borg!)

      • Spankminister #

        Also, the original article ties the Prime Directive to notions of colonialism, that we have civilized people and savages who are not ready for The Truth, but the PD was created as a response to colonialism. The view that the warp-capable races need to intervene and supply humanitarian aid, or possibly protect all sentient beings IS historical colonialism– none of this could be done without supplanting the existing cultural values on a planet with our own. I agree with many of the commenters that the Enterprise example is inadequate. Humanity then saves a doomed race and then what? Do we prevent every war that race might perpetrate against their neighbors, since we are now responsible for a potential threat having survived? Do we send them down a bunch of commandments that we “civilized” people follow, since it would be arrogant to assume they’re not “ready” for “The Truth”? Disobeying the PD once would really mean a longer commitment and repercussions that would necessitate the sort of colonialism the PD was meant to prevent.

        Is the loss of sentient life a desirable alternative to Federation cultural hegemony? Not entirely sure, but the times that Federation people have landed on a planet and irrevocably changed the native culture by being worshiped as gods has led them to set some guidelines.

        • Rob Northrup #

          “Disobeying the PD once would really mean a longer commitment and repercussions that would necessitate the sort of colonialism the PD was meant to prevent.”

          Colonialists would expect to make some commitment like that. I don’t see why non-colonialists would necessarily make that kind of commitment. ‘Hi, we were passing through and noticed that one of your sentient species will go extinct if you can’t cure this disease. Here’s a description of how you can cure it. Sorry we can’t solve all your problems for you, but stop by and say hi when you achieve interstellar travel. kthxby.’

          “… the times that Federation people have landed on a planet and irrevocably changed the native culture by being worshiped as gods has led them to set some guidelines.”

          I’m arguing for more nuanced guidelines than the Prime Directive. Looking at the technological development of a society just isn’t enough information to decide whether it would be ethical or not to help them with some problem, or whether all help from more advanced societies should count as “interference” or colonial meddling.

          • Spankminister #

            “‘Hi, we were passing through and noticed that one of your sentient species will go extinct if you can’t cure this disease. Here’s a description of how you can cure it. Sorry we can’t solve all your problems for you, ”

            This in and of itself is very short-term thinking. When that sentient species you just saved annihilates the other one in a war, you can stand back and say it wasn’t your fault since you were motivated by humanitarian reasons, but the damage is done. I’m willing to entertain the idea that the PD sacrifices people in front of you for many more people saved in the long run.

            You hit the nail on the head when you said the whole point is that the Federation can’t solve their problems for them. The culture that is forced to give up war because a bunch of aliens with starships and guns showed up and told them to may not be as stable as a culture that arrives at that point via natural progress. I’m generally more in favor of Kant’s approach than utilitarianism, but setting galactic policy at a high level inevitably favors the latter. If you have a decision before you where thousands must die so that millions may live, isn’t going against the Prime Directive just an appeal to emotion so that the characters introduced in the episode get a happy ending? There’s not a lot of logic there.

          • Ben Adams OTI Staff #

            The “Ender’s Game” sequels starting with “Speaker for the Dead” have an interesting take on it. The humans in that series have an extreme version of the “hands-off” policy towards other sentient races.

            As the book develops though, it becomes clear that the Enderverse version of the Prime Directive might have an ulterior motive – keeping said sentient race from ever achieving technological parity and thus becoming a threat. In the mythology of Ender’s Game, humans inherited technology from the Buggers, improved it, and destroyed the Buggers, all within a matter of a century or two.

            The Federation might be worried about the same thing – one day you’re helping a planet out with some new technology, the next day their battle fleet is descending on you.

        • Tom P #

          ” agree with many of the commenters that the Enterprise example is inadequate. Humanity then saves a doomed race and then what? Do we prevent every war that race might perpetrate against their neighbors, since we are now responsible for a potential threat having survived?”

          I agree this is the point that many are missing. We see that the Valakians subjugate the Menk, force them to live on unfarmable land, treat them as cheap labor, and make them live basically on reservations. Yet in a few generations, it’s implied the Menk will soon be natural competitors for the same land and resources and probably fight to get it. Is it better to let one species die out or let the second species survive long enough to have a civil war where everyone dies? And if Starfleet decides to arm one side with warp technology and defense, they signed, at best, a slavery pact for Venk or, at worst, an extinction event for them.

          Starfleet choosing to help the Valakians is a raw deal for the Menk. Starfleet shouldn’t be making that decision.

      • Gab #

        When I teach the intro-level policy class at my university, I use Star Trek as an example in myriad ways- the same way as the Rob does in the original article with respect to the Nonproliferation Treaty, and the way you just did with respect to what communism in its pure form actually looks like: No capital, no distributive problems. Sans Starfleet, you basically have a communist utopia going on in the future, according to the Star Trek cannon. And I emphasize that the reason it works is the tools you address: replicators and transporters. If people can just conjure up what they need and want and go anywhere in an instant, there’s no need for there to be class division.

  7. Count Spatula #

    Great article!

    It makes me think about the Harry Potter world? There, magic trumps the Muggle’s technological advancement, and they treat Muggle inventions as a kind of whimsy.

    However, in the future, what happens when our natural resources are used up, the atmosphere has been pumped full of greenhouse gas and we’re unable to develop the technology to save ourselves? Would it not be in the wizarding world’s best interest to intervene? What kind of effect would that have on the future of the Muggle civilization? It could mean that we become unknowingly dependent upon the wizarding world, harming the natural course of technological advancement, but for the sake of their survival, wizards would surely have little choice.

    • Dimwit #

      How the HP universe works has always been a mystery to me. If you have magic, where’s the impetus for the Industrial Revolution? Wizards should be the at the top of the pyramid, using spells to gain wealth while spellcasting their way through society. In JR’s world though, they’re nothing more than outcasts, fringe players to reality. Strange.

      • Ben Adams OTI Staff #

        To a limited extent, this is addressed in the book “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman (which I would highly recommend.) It’s basically a grown-up version of Harry Potter, and though it’s not central to the plot, it’s a conceit of the universe that magical people can live in the non-magical world really easily by using magic – part of the point of the book is that because all of the characters are so ridiculously magical and powerful that they don’t need to work any more, they don’t know what to do with their lives.

        At one point, a main character uses magic to get a job at some giant Wall Street firm where he’s paid but has no responsibilities.

      • Ben Adams OTI Staff #

        To a limited extent, this is addressed in the book “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman (which I would highly recommend.) It’s basically a grown-up version of Harry Potter, and though it’s not central to the plot, it’s a conceit of the universe that magical people can live in the non-magical world really easily by using magic – part of the point of the book is that because all of the characters are so ridiculously magical and powerful that they don’t need to work any more, they don’t know what to do with their lives.

        At one point, a main character uses magic to get a job at some giant Wall Street firm where he’s paid but has no responsibilities.

      • Spankminister #

        OT, but HP implies spell technology is discovered and more advanced potions and methods of transport are also researched. There’s still tech development in the wizard world, it just occurs on a parallel branch to Muggle tech.

        If you’re saying, why doesn’t a wizard live as a Muggle and conjure infinite money, I’m sure there are wizarding laws against that.

        • Gab #

          “…I’m sure there are wizarding laws against that.”

          I believe they get hinted at a few times, but it actually becomes a non-issue because of the entirely parallel society of wizards. They’ve no need for muggle money, since they have their own capitalist system, operating independently (to the extend that the final goods are exchanged at a cost bound to the wizarding currency- materials probably come from the muggle world, at least sometimes) from that of the muggle one. Of course, the muggle economy being separate is one thing- the fact that they do still share oxygen, land, water- that’s something even their little charms and spells can’t change.

      • Timothy J Swann #

        The lack of knowledge of the various worlds, at least post-renaissance does contribute to that. Wizards don’t know what guns are, and I imagine in a way not dissimilar to say UNIT, there’s a point where human technology will have advantages over magic – RADAR that isn’t fooled by spells that interact only with consciousness, say.

    • Gab #

      Oh gosh… I’ve had this discussion with friends before. If wizards can do so much, why do natural disasters still devastate communities? Why didn’t American wizards head to Louisiana after Katrina? Haiti after the earthquake? Etc. And why do they let people kill each other with nukes, fighter planes, guns, etc.? Wizards have their Forbidden Curses to prevent violence against each other, but one would think they could magick away the weapons muggles use all the time with, literally, a swish-and-flick.

      And our answer was basically what made you think of HP, too- it comes down to what must be some sort of Prime Directive-type thing going on with the wizarding governments. It’s never mentioned if the Ministry in the books that Harry sees and enters is the only governing body, and I’ve seen speculations on blogs about how there’s perhaps an American equivalent and whatnot, but whether it’s more than one body or just one, there must be some sort of overarching mandate or rule, stipulating non-intervention, no matter what.

      So then what does that mean in comparison to Star Trek? Muggles and wizards are still the same species, right? Or are they not? Is a wizard letting a muggle house burn down the same as Starfleet officers not resolving some internal conflict with a species that hasn’t reached warp drive? Is wizards allowing muggle war the same as Starfleet letting a non-warp species die out (whilst withholding the cure to the disease affecting them)?

      • Christian Hansen #

        Actually, according to Wikipedia, there seems to be some communication between the Ministry of Magic and the British Government.

        To Quote: Each new Muggle Prime Minister receives a visit from the Minister for Magic, who informs him or her that the wizarding world exists. He explains that he will contact the Prime Minister only in circumstances in which the events of the wizard world may affect Muggles. For example, the Minister has to inform the Prime Minister if dangerous magical artefacts or animals are to be brought into Britain.

        It goes on to say that the Ministers of Magic in the HP books tend to patronize the muggle PM when they do meet, so there is some level of interaction. It seems to me that this arrangement is meant to keep muggle governments from trying to mess with things “beyond their understanding.”\

        It is a case not of withholding truth, but revealing it to certain elements to keep them in check, to remind them that they are the ones really in charge.

        • Gab #

          Well that just makes it sicker, in my opinion. The Minister of Magic is in constant contact with the British Prime Minister, and is patronizing (I’ve read the books, it’s so true*), and yes, implies that wizards are the ones running the show. So the wizards are sort of lording over the muggles but still sit back and let them suffer, both at each other’s hands and in the face of natural disasters…? Adding that element into it makes it even more disconcerting. :(

          *Random Potter Fact: The first chapter of the fifth book, the one where there’s detail of a few interactions between a British PM and Minister of Magic, was the first thing Rowling wrote for the series, if legend is correct. Woot!

        • Tom P #

          The interaction between the wizard universe and the government is nonsense. I’ve never accepted the fact that the government of countries aware of what the wizarding world represents would allow it to exist. The wizards could take over the planet if they so decided, turning everyone else in to mindless slaves or beasts of burden. I don’t believe that the government doesn’t have a huge shadow budget devoted entirely to solving “the wizard problem.”

          • Dimwit #

            It’s quite clear that there is considerable resources spent by the wizards to hide and protect the whole magical realm. It’s a parallel universe with easily accessible doorways if you know where to look.

            I’m trying to remember… did any of Harry’s muggle friends have a TV?

          • Gab #

            Tom: I think the fact that wizards could take over if they wanted is why the muggles are subordinate to them. Implicit is that wizards could completely disarm muggles if they wanted, so the latter are entirely at the behest of the latter. It may seem ridiculous to think muggles still wouldn’t try some sort of… uprising… or whatever. But one of the running themes in the book is anti-anti-muggle sentiment, too. There’s a great deal of emphasis on how some wizards do want to overtly subordinate humans, and they’re explicitly presented as baddies. The good guys are into coexisting while keeping muggles unaware of the truth.

            Now this lack of opennes may not be as bad as overt enslavement or whatever, but is it really a good thing itself, too? That’s another debate.

            Anyway, so back to governments v. wizards, the toying with and lording over is a problem, too. As much as Rowling tries to make the good wizards seem anti-imperialistic, they come across as excessively manipulative at best, flat-out dictatorial at worst.

            Dimwit:The Dursleys had a TV- recall how Harry saw stuff about Sirius on TV (and I think the murder of the housekeeper guy at the beginning of book four, and some of the disasters caused by Voldy in books six and seven) (haven’t read them in a while, either). Wherefore are you asking? I believe the bridge-breaking in book 6 (or was it seven? AGH!) was explained away by muggle media as a hurricane or something- and Sirius Black was just described as an escaped psycho; the explosion at the Potter’s house was explained away by a broken gas line or something; etc. In other words, they come up with muggle-safe explanations for the muggle media to project. (I think that’s where you were going with it, at least…)

          • DeanMoriarty Well Actually #

            I’m replying here because it won’t let me further down in the convo, sorry.
            For me, the reason Wizards must keep their wands in their pockets and starfleet can’t go around showing off its holodeck is their economies.
            In both HP and ST, food, transportation, health care and many, if not all, basic commodities are practically free. This means that the states ( the Ministry of Magic in HP, The Federation in ST) can guarantee that everyone is economically secure and maintains a high level of health and comfort. But, in both worlds these resources still have “costs” that prevent them from being infinite. In HP magic requires skilled labor and has definite limits; food can only be multiplied or transported, but not “created” from thin air. Warp drives and replicators need dylithium crystals and other made up energy sources. (though it seems that unless you’re stranded in the delta quadrant these are all pretty easy to come by). This means that the level of comfort and economic security enjoyed by wizards and citizens of the federation can not be shared with everyone in the world or galaxy. At some point you run low on made-up-physics-crystals or magicians to wave wands. Because of this, who takes a share of the “riches” and who doesn’t is a crucial question in both societies. Wizards exclude muggles, The Federation those civilizations that have not invented warp drives. In both cases, those who are excluded are also kept from knowing of their exclusion to avoid jealousy, anger, and bitterness. As Dimwit pointed out, The Ministry of Magic spends a lot of resources and manpower on keeping magic a secret. For The Federation it’s a lot easier, because it excludes exactly those people who do not have the ability to discover that they are being excluded. The Prime Directive, then, is meant to ensure that those peske Starfleet “explorers” don’t accidentally let the cat out of portable transporter. Though it’s couched in the language of morality and ethics, the PM is really there to guarantee that the Have Nots don’t find out that there is something to “Have”. And in the few instances where the Have-Nots do find out what they are, the PM is there so they don’t find out how much there is to “Have.” As a very last resort, the PM ensures that they won’t be able to use the few “riches” (technology and knowledge) they’ve gotten their hands, or whatever gripping appendages they might have, on.

          • Tom P #

            Gab: I’m simply saying that, if I was a member of Parliament, I’d have an awful lot of people working on finding items that were immutable to magic and nuking everything that could be used to make wands.

          • Gab #

            Dean Moriarty: I like your idea with respect to Starfleet, but I think there are a few things about HP that complicate it in that case. Wizard society is distinctly not class-less like society in Star Trek- a running theme through the books (and movies) is the low income of Ron’s family because his dad’s job is so “lowly” at the Ministry, while the Malfoys are sort of like old money in that they’ve been around forever and have bucket-loads of wizard money (part of why the families are old rivals). Also, magic isn’t something that can be learned or stolen in the way technology can- a person has to be born with the ability, and then that ability gets honed at one of the wizarding schools. People from wizarding families born without the ability are treated like second-class wizarding citizens in some ways, too (which actually provides an interesting parallel to other groups in the real world, but I digress). I don’t believe anything will really happen if a muggle found a wand, nor if they’d be able to do anything if they got to a wizarding school. I suppose the parallel between understanding technology and being born with magic is somewhat possible, but it feels like too far of a stretch.

            But, I do really like this idea that the PD is actually coming from a self-serving, hoarding, greedy, etc. perspective on the part of the Federation. Because absolutely, with that free “economy,” comes lots of luxury that is thus denied to other civilizations in denying them technology. Pretty dark. Awesome. :)

            TomP: Oh, well I don’t think that’s untrue. I wonder how they’d be able to test for that, though, without the wizards figuring it out. Perhaps with a double-agent or something? Hrm…

          • DeanMoriarty Well Actually #

            Though the Wizarding world isn’t full of “riches” and has a pretty defined class structure, the difference between the rich and poor is almost entirely of social status, not one of material situation. The Weasleys, who are, as you said, poor, are able to feed, house, and educate 7 children (it’s 7 right?) When the dad (blanking on name), the sole breadwinner in the family, gets “injured” in book 5, no one worries about the family’s finances. Compared to the Malfoys ( the “rich wizard” family) the Weasleys don’t lack anything necessary for a basically normal life. What the Malfoys do have that the Weasleys don’t are things like nice clothes, cool looking canes and the leisure time to pursue such hobbies as being complete dicks. While us poor magic-less muggles may not be wowed by the Weasley’s “riches,” many would envy their ability to support 7 children on a public employee’s salary. I, personally, envy their access to free Magical Healthcare ( I live in the US). Wouldn’t the british people, if they discovered what Harry and his friends could do, demand that their talent/skill be used to help their fellow citizens? What would society think of a group of people who could save hundreds of lives, feed thousands of people, keeping their abilities to themselves?
            You’re right that, unlike a Phaser, a single wand in the hands of a muggle wouldn’t be a problem for wizards. But the discovery of magic by the muggle world would threaten the Wizards’ comfortable, though not egalitarian, style of life. Any use of magic on behalf of muggles, in effect, would have to be compelled or forced. That is why the Prime Minister is to made to understand that muggles have no leverage. Yet the people in the Ministry must know this to be false; they keep Wizards hidden because they know they are massively outnumbered– and most likely outgunned– by people they’ve refused to help for hundreds of years. Because one phaser could, in theory, lead to the end of the Federation’s economic model, the PM is rigid and harsh. In HP, however, a large portion of the muggle population would have to believe the truth before anything happened. This gives them enough breathing room to allow the kind of selective inclusion that brings in more “resources” (i.e. people who can do magic). That is why the Ministry of Magic, unlike The Federation, doesn’t need a Prime Directive to defend the bourgeois lifestyle of its citizens.

          • Gab #

            Dean: Wow, that’s a great point. The implications of there being simply an arbitrary class division are pretty strong, but I’m wondering why, then, they bother with currency. You’re right, the class system in the wizarding world is quite the opposite of egalitarian (to an extent- wizarding school, at least, is “publicly funded,” so to speak), but even if the basis of that inequality is what seems like only possessions, perhaps it runs deeper. The Weasleys could feed themselves, which is no laughing matter for muggles living in abject poverty. But there are also quality of life issues. Compared to the muggle world, yes, the wizarding one is like a dream, but if a wizard can’t make a living wage that enables them to live without worry of providing everything their family requires (because it is made apparent that they are struggling to provide for the family- being short on floo powder, the “we’ll manage” mantra from Mrs. Weasley, second-hand materials and robes- Ron couldn’t even replace his wand in a timely fashion), there are still issues within wizarding society, too. They must have the food before they prepare it with magic, which means they must be buying it from somewhere, and if the majority of Mr. Weasley’s salary is going toward food, that’s still something worth recognizing. I guess I just take issue with treating the division as insignificant- it may be seemingly arbitrarily imposed, but if these wizards were real people, they’d be experiencing the same social stigmas, depression, anxiety, etc. that real people in the real world experience when they come from lower-income groups, something we are shown myriad times (with the Weasleys as the most obvious example, but it’s shown more subtly through other characters, too; I believe there are references to Cedric being from a wealthy family, too, for example). Even if the class division doesn’t “need” to be there (presuming magic can create everything a family or person would need- which it can’t), it’s still there and would have “real-world” effects on them.

            To run a little with what you’re saying, though, and I guess to sort of answer my question, it would seem, then, that even though wizards perhaps don’t necessarily “need” capitalism, they still operate their society on a capitalist model. Which then creates differing economic and social classes within their society, and ones that seem just as sticky in their mock-up as those in the muggle world. But so then why do it? Why this urge to mirror muggles?

            I do think there is a distinct difference between the society made possible because of replicators versus the one made possible by magic, and the difference is capitalism. And that could be because magic doesn’t create stuff (as someone said before, it’s not like house elves create the food- they make it before transporting it upstairs; it’s never explained where the Weasleys get their food, no, but if she could just conjure it up without the effort, there wouldn’t be so much about Mrs. Weasley’s cooking, not magic food-creating, throughout the books), and wizards and witches still need to be trained in specific kinds of magic in order to do them the best. I think the fact that not every wizard can be a healing wizard and not every witch can be an auror still makes a system that commodotizes a person’s skills and places a monetary value on them far more likely. And so I think I have to disagree, because there are, in fact, riches in the wizarding world, and material gain through them is of absolute importance, just as it is in modern western society. It gets shown in every book that what a person/family owns matters, and they own more things through more gold; they get more gold through labor. Magic may change the nature of that labor, but the labor is still necessary (at least within the way their system is set up).

            But still, I agree, muggles would probably get really upset if they knew wizards had easier healing capabilities, ways to stop violence, etc. I never said they’re okay with it, so please don’t think I meant they would be; I apologize if it seemed as if I meant it that way. I think a lot of serious crap would hit the fan if word got out. But I think that’s part of why the muggle governments are so keen on keeping it secret- wizards wouldn’t be the only ones getting ire from the masses, and the British government (and any other muggle one) would have an all-out rebellion on the global scale to deal with. I think there’s fear of both wizards and the potential uprising driving the minds and motivations of the muggle leaders.

            So then this is sort of a two-level PD, to bring it back to the article, and both groups withholding information are doing so for self-preservation reasons. Wizards first, to keep themselves safe from being forced to do things with their magic (essentially being turned into slaves); government leaders from their own fear of being turned into slaves or something by wizards/witches, as well as fear of being overthrown (at best- let’s go with murdered at worst) by their own citizens, should said citizens figure out what has been under their noses since written history (at least).

          • Dimwit #

            The problem with a magic based economy is that it’s inherently elitist. As the Weasleys have shown, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, if your “talent” is minimal then you are not rewarded.

            It looks like JR set up magic as a genetic component. Now, it is not only helpful to be good looking, it’s vital that you have to be talented and it’s better to be powerful at that. Magic society would become nothing more than a breeding society and I’m quite sure deep in Hogwarts there is a bureau of hereditary lineage that tracks everything. It may even come down to the Weasleys being subsidized into having lots of children, she’s, in effect, being a brood mare.

            As for the fact of money, I’d like to know how the effect of counterfeiting is avoided. Gringots can’t be only clearing house for the entire economy and as soon as you go into the muggle world controls are removed.And you have to have a Capitalist system. I can’t think of any society ever than successfully ran two diffent economic models side by side and why would you want to? The larger economy dictates the rules and regs of the smaller one as long as they interact. Unless the magic society removes currency as the basis for their exchange, then they as stuck with marching to the Muggle tune. I can see a strong PD being made just to stop anyone from disrupting the system and causing havoc.

          • marc #

            First off, I apologize for kinda hijacking the comments.

            Gab: I had forgotten the floo powder thing and you’re right about the wand. But wands are kind of a huge investement. After all, most people have theirs from age 11 until death. Floo powder my be expensive, but considering I can think of at least 2 other instantenous ways of travelling, it doesn’t seem so dire.

            As far as food goes, my theories are based on “Gramp’s Law” which Hermione mentions in book 7 and I just looked up. It says that food cannot be “created” but it can be summoned or multiplied. The important part is that it cn be multiplied. Mrs. Weasley can feed her children by multiplying everything by 7. When I say that Wizards could help feed the hungry I mean that we could hire a Wizrd or Witch to sit somewhere multiplying vegetables all day. I don’t know if there would be limits or not. But even being able to multiply anything by a factor of 2 would lead to some impressive drops in food prices.

            It’s very true that in HP a form of capitalism still exists, unlike in ST where it’s seen as a relic of the past (though I DS9 belies the idea of an entirely money-less existence). But I think the HP world has to be seen something closer to a Magical Welfare State than the kind of Capitalism seen in the US. The goal for the Ministry is not to create communal or state property, or to stop people from accumulting wealth or preventing free enterprise, but rather to ensure that even the poorest of the poor have a decent, dignified and healthy life. The nice thing for the Ministry is that, unlike most modern european nations, it has access to nearly free food (especially if employs some sort of industrialized food multiplying system), crazy cheap building materials (It seems you can create wood, stone etc, out of thin air) and magical cures to common ailments (Skele-gro). True, for the peeople living the class differences they aren’t insignificant, but thanks to magic, Ron ends up with a crappy sweater and a broken wand instead of type 2 dibetes from too much fast food. s far as allocating skills/interests to jobs the Ministry tries to ensure, through a free eduction at Hogwarts, that there will always be enough people with the skills necessary for the jobs it sees as crucial. Which is probably why there are transfiguration and potions classes but no math or writing classes.

            Dimwit: I think the counterfitting thing is easily solved by making currency that has anti-counterfitting spells on it (like watermarks on many muggle currencies). You’re also right that the magical system is elitist, as is any economic system that encourges free enterprise and acumulation of wealth. Even though I don’t carry any gene that benefits me economically (except maybe being blond and blue eyed, but that’s a whole different issue) my parents still gave me the “ineritence” of being born into a fairly comfortable economic positio, which have given me, and will give me, quite a few advantages over my life. The Minsitry, as I said above, does not care about “equality,” it wants to create the highest, most solid safety net ever, and it can do so because of its acces to magic. As far as the muggle world messing with the currency: 1) muggles would not see the Galleons as currency, but rather as gold or strange novelty coins. this makes currency conversion lopsided since muggles would only be buying commodities, subject to completely different market forces than money. 2) I’m sure the Ministry’s tax code discourages Wizards from making their money in Pounds Sterling and not gold (though wizards might be inadvertanly wreaking havoc on gold prices). They can live side by side because the secrecy of the Wizard world, the relative lack of trade between the two, and the currency convertibility issues mean that the two economies function like seperate, soveirgn nations. Colombia and Venezuala, for example, have very different economic models and they live side by side just fine (ok, mostly fine).

          • Timothy J Swann #

            Hogwarts reminds me of the grammar school system (possibly what JKR grew up with) – defining economic/class future via selective education from a very specific test of intelligence which is fed massively into by genetics.

            It may be better than a system of public versus private schools (to use the American terminology for clarity) but not by much. (It’s hard to be objective since I myself attended a grammar school with four colour-coded houses – mine was the Green one, the charmingly titled Roach house).

  8. Rob Northrup #

    I thought of another example too late to incorporate into the post, in this case a mentor who doesn’t think the hero of the story can handle the truth: “Your father was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi.


    • Christian Hansen #

      I agree. Obi-Wan lying to Luke in order to manipulate him into killing Vader doesn’t seem like something a Jedi would do.

      Which is why it is so awesome that instead of killing Vader and falling to the dark side (ironic seeing as Obi-Wan, a Jedi, would’ve killed Vader if he were in Luke’s position), Luke redeems him by throwing away his weapon and appealing to his better nature.

      It does make Obi-Wan much more interesting as a character, if less likable.

    • Gab #

      The Jedi are a bunch of pseudo-principled hypocrites- at least the Sith are straightforward in their wicked, wicked ways. The Jedi profess to be pure Kantians (as in they never manipulate people and treat people as ends in and of themselves, not means to other ends), but they’re actually moral relativists (like that lie, or the mind trick, etc.).

      For fear of inciting a lot of anger, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Jedi are a bunch of narcissistic elitists.

      • Lavanya #

        For fear of inciting a lot of anger, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Jedi are a bunch of narcissistic elitists.

        There are some SW fans who could get angry over that, but not as many as you might think. There’s a reason that the TV Tropes wiki’s entry about fans supporting the villain over the hero in a story is called “Rooting for the Empire.”

        Part of it, I feel, is due to how terrible and ineffective the new Republic turns out to be in the Expanded Universe books, especially during the devastating Yuuzhan Vong War, when a Death Star would have been incredibly useful. That the prequels revealed the Old Republic to hardly have a moral leg to stand on (enslaved clone troops, for one) also makes the Empire look less bad in comparison. With the EU and prequels in mind, the Rebellion looks less like a noble crusade than the last round of musical chairs for who gets to run a feeble, ineffective galactic government.

        • Lavanya #

          *latest round of musical chairs

          (Can’t be the last, given the New Republic doesn’t last half a century before being replaced.)

        • Timothy J Swann #

          Yeah, the EU makes Star Wars look pretty dark, where you get tiny slots of good governance, which are the points where no story is yet told. As one person put it ‘the series isn’t called Star Peace’.

          I think that the post-New Sith Wars Republic is supposed to be quite peaceful and well-run and the Jedi are distinctly less corrupt than either the Clone Wars or the preceding war BUT in the preceding war they had taken full control of the Republic, granted themselves the title of Lords, shut off the internet/TV (Holonet) and still nearly lost the war.

  9. Peter Tupper #

    In TDK, the hope of everybody, including Batman, is that Dent can clean up Gotham through legitimate use of the law. However, even Dent starts playing fast and loose with the law, such as when he interrogates one of the Joker’s minions. Even though he’s bluffing with his double-headed coin, it’s not playing by the rules, and Batman objects to it and implicitly covers it up. Dent’s certainly not going to tell people he was conducting his own interrogations at gunpoint, so he’s already using violence and deceit. Dent is on the slippery slope, and the Joker’s ultimate goal is to shove him to the bottom. Then Batman and Gordon have to cover it up to save what Dent built.

    Thus, TDK presents liberal democracy as a good, but is ultimately pessimistic about liberal democracy’s ability to play by its own rules to maintain social order. (It’s more optimistic about ordinary citizens resistance to being manipulated into slaughtering each other.) The Dent Act in the third film shows that the Joker got the last laugh.

  10. Gab #

    (Sidenote: I taught the intro-level policy class at my university last year, and I totally used the same analogy of the PD to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Snazzy! ;p)

    (Other sidenote: Out of fear of causing a huge political stink… “Communist China” is a highly politicized way of indicating the country- the People’s Republic of China or PRC are the most “PC,” but just plain China is usually sufficient. Tacking on the “Communist” label indicates the Cold War and hostility, is a fear tactic usually used by pundits and people on the stump to draw greater division and elicit anger and negative emotion, and it hovers rather dangerously closely to racism (watch clips of Lou Dobbs talking about China just before he got kicked off CNN and try to come out of it not certain he’s full of anti-China bigotry). In political theory (my background), it’s laughable because China is not a communist society. Their political party (parties don’t exist in a purely communist society, first big clue) may call itself the Communist Party, but its method of rule is that of a militaristic, authoritarian regime. If you take away Starfleet, the future world of Star Trek is closer, because there’s no such thing as capital, blah blah (another example I gave my students, as mentioned above)… Anyhoo, I doubt fear-mongering or anything like that was your intent, I just couldn’t hold it in, seeing as how making that distinction is, to some degree, sort of my job nowadays.)

    So there are a lot of interpretations of the PD floating around the ‘verse (real and fictional), and even when you listen to one Starfleet captain, they’re going to spout somewhat different interpretations than another- and let’s not tackle officers. If we’re thinking of it in the colonial-vs.-anticolonial context, I think there’s a lot to be said for the fact that none of these instances where it’s violated get prosecuted. Or do they? I’m not aware of any, but maybe it does happen? Anyway, how often would Starfleet turn a blind eye the same way the crew of the Enterprise does (regardless of which series you’re talking about, too)? Because how “colonial” is it to just share a bit of knowledge? A little laser here, a little communicator there…? I’m being facetious, but I think the PD really only gets uber enforced (and presented as this huge plot mountain over which the cast has to climb, as expressed above by someone else) when something big, i.e. the fate of an entire species, is at stake. Sure, the members of Starfleet mention it as why they avoid the lifeforms on other planets, but it’s more in passing and feels, more often than not, like it’s a convenient line to toss so as to not waste time in the episode of showing the crew sleuthing around anybody.

    I’ve alluded to it above, but I’ll rehash my take on the PD. I think its intent is to allow sentient species to evolve as they would, had they not been discovered by Starfleet. And implicitly (and here’s a cynical take), to allow for natural selection to take its course: species and races worthy enough to be in Starfleet will make it on their own, without the help of Starfleet itself. It helps filter out “bad” species- because what if they gave warp drive (or whatever else) to some species that ends up kind of sucking? Better to let them find it on their own. It’s a reverse White Man’s Burden, in the sense that they know they’re superior to these primitive peoples, and just plain awesome, but alas, their little green/blue/whatever brothers (and sisters? hate to be gender-normative) are just still so childlike and impotent, they can’t handle the awesome that is Starfleet and all of its grandness. But eventually, they’ll grow up and be ready, and at least at the maturity level of a middle schooler (which is to say, old enough to play big people games, but retention levels may vary).

  11. Gab #

    Oh, and let me toss this out there. You’re talking about a technocracy. According to the negative take on elitism, this is of course bad, because it removes “the people” from the decision-making process. Good in the sense that we won’t have a bunch of unqualified people making decisions that affect more than just themselves. In the vast amounts of literature on representation, Dr. Jane Mansbridge coined the somewhat superfluous line of, “Should morons represent morons?” As society gets more complex, policy, policy instruments, and the ways in which those in office must run things do so, as well, leaving governance all that much more removed from the masses (called the technical information quandary). If government officials themselves are having trouble “getting it,” well, we’d better have somebody in there that can. But again, this then leads to accountability issues, among myriad other things. While we can hope those in charge are making their decisions based on the common good and not their own self-interest, we can never be too sure; and if they already don’t get it, the people may very well think their interests are priority, when, in fact, they’re getting the shaft from whomever they keep electing.

    All this is to say, technocracy can be good, can be bad, can be both, even at the same time. We’re surely supposed to think Starfleet and the Federation are the good kind of technocracy, but they’re (basically) the ones writing the stories, not the alien races they’ve encountered.

  12. Andew #

    All of this sounds like, “If you aren’t smart enough to design your own light bulb, you shouldn’t even be allowed to flip the switch that turns it on.” Keeping people in the dark “for their own good” just feels wrong for me, but maybe I haven’t over-thought it through.