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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Did the Federation Assimilate the Borg?

by Guy Stewart

The Borg have creeped me out from day one. But it’s become more than just the creepiness of a TV show. There is a startling bit of the Borg right around some corner you’re likely to turn next week.

When someone with a Bluetooth in their ear turns toward me and sweeps me with that little blue light, I get the chills. They make me think of a proto-Borg.

Though I don’t remember seeing Bluetooths when STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and the Borg premiered in 1987, they seem to be an echo of the idea of the Borg. A Bluetooth phone may not be permanently implanted like an insulin pump, artificial hip or a pacemaker—but how far away can that day be?

The Borg slogan, “Resistance is futile” —unemotional and mechanical—was chilling. The Borg seemed to tap into a deeply held fear of technophillic America: that our technology, in particular our electronics, might overwhelm us and change us into monsters. It seems that the physical integration of devices into our bodies is the next step and that resistance is futile.

Most people reading this know the story line: the Borg appeared and seemed unstoppable. But through interaction with Humans who set them free to be self-determining individuals, the Borg were defeated and enabled to retake their “humanity.” Despite the technological, mental, military and organizational advantages of the Borg collective, the flesh-and-blood Federation (in the form of Admiral and Captain Janeway) defeated the Borg. Even though vastly more advanced civilizations like the one Guinan belonged to fell before them and were assimilated, the Human-led Federation prevailed.

How could that happen? What quality did Humans possess that allowed them to succeed where others had failed miserably? What was it that allowed the Federation to emerge victorious over the Borg when so many others failed? Star Trek never tells us.

Life’s triumph over Mechanism in Star Trek is a hopeful message. We hope that we can control our technology, to prevent it from overwhelming the “Human virtues” of love, self-determination, individuality, faith in a higher being, reproduction and the appreciation of art and beauty. Certainly, the Federation’s triumph over the Borg points to the hope that we can overcome the temptation to efficiency and remain Human still.

But is it reasonable that we will be able to prevent ourselves from becoming proto-Borg? My son is working to become a paramedic. The range of technological devices he has at his fingertips is amazing and the real; technological tools in the average 21st Century emergency room are unmatched even by the special effects glitz of a high-definition doctor show. Americans have become dependent on external technology. Are we in danger of internalizing our electronics as the ultimate in efficiency? Are we on the way to becoming real-life proto-Borg? 

Only time will tell. It might be good to keep this image of the Borg firmly in mind as we wend our way into the future so that we might avoid becoming Borg ourselves and make sure we find that undefined “thing” that allowed the Federation to assimilate the Borg.

—Guy Stewart


~brb said...

I'd always considered the Borg to be Star Trek's take on Dr Who's Cybermen, only with more expensive costumes and makeup.

And one tiny correction: an insulin pump or constant glucose monitor isn't a permanent implant. Depending on the make and model, there's usually a sub-dermal probe of some sort that needs to be replaced every few weeks. I can remove my CGM at any time and function perfectly well without it.

I just don't want to, because it makes my life so much better.

That's the threshold: when getting a cybernetic implant makes you feel so much happier and healthier that it becomes desirable.

And that's where the Borg failed. If instead of sending a fleet of dreadnought-class cubes in on a mission of conquest they'd first entered Federation space with only lightly modded humanoids posing as medical device salespeople, here to sell us the feel-good benefits of their advanced technology, they'd have conquered half the Federation before Star Fleet suspected a thing.

Ironic that I have to click "I'm not a robot" before I can post this comment. I am not a robot -- as far as you know!

Pete Wood said...

I hate the Borg. They are the granddaddy of all plot devices.
Invincible when the plot needs them to be, like when Q wants to humble Picard. Vulnerable, technologically and emotionally, when the plot needs it. They always seem to forget about that Death Star sized design flaw when the plot requires it.
I have never bought their impervious technology or the absolute B.S. that they have unlimited resources and never experience the supply problems that plague every other conquering bad guy. Like the Germans and the Japanese in WWII who over extended themselves. Nope. The Borg can just drop everything and take over an entire star system any time they want from wherever they happen to be.
I think they are more like the Daleks, if we're going to stick to Dr. Who. Able to conquer planets at the drop of a hat, but they can't climb stairs.

~brb said...

To answer Guy's topic question: I think the Federation must have done so. That's a universal theme in Star Trek: that the Federation is such a wonderful place that everyone else in the universe can't wait to join the Federation, once they have it explained to them in terms they can't fail to understand. (The "and at phaser point" part of the experience being optional.)

But you'll see that time after time in the Star Trek universe. Other species may be introduced as enemies, but after they get their posterior ends whupped a few times by the captain of the Enterprise they become downright eager to put on the red shirt and join Star Fleet.

Really, the parallels to the history of the rise of the British Empire are remarkable. Britannia may have ruled the waves, but Star Fleet rules the skies!

Pete Wood said...

It has been suggested that the Borg aren't always acting from a predatory motive. They might actually think they are trying t help people. They can't imagine why peple would want to live alone and not in a collective.
They are the twisted twins of the federation.

~brb said...


GuyStewart said...

I THINK that would be more properly fit into the horror genre...