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December 29, 2011

In Defense of the Borg


Who are these Borg any­way? Ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia “The Borg are a fic­tion­al pseu­do-race of cy­ber­net­ic or­gan­isms de­pict­ed in the Star Trek uni­verse.” They were clev­er­ly de­signed to be an ex­treme­ly pow­er­ful and evil race to fight against Star Trek’s “vir­tu­ous” Fed­er­a­tion of Plan­ets. Could it be that the pow­ers-that-be have cre­at­ed a Boogey­man in or­der to place all the at­ten­tion up­on him, whilst avoid­ing any of it up­on them­selves?

In all hon­esty, the point is not to de­fend The Borg, for they are an ef­fec­tive sci­ence fic­tion arch vil­lain char­ac­ter. In­stead, I in­tend to use the char­ac­ter’s sub­text to show that The Borg rep­re­sent a vi­able and even de­sir­able fu­ture for hu­man­i­ty. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true in light of ma­jor plan­e­tary prob­lems which the hu­man species is now con­fronting.

The fun­da­men­tal con­flict be­tween the Borg and hu­mans is that of the Col­lec­tive ver­sus the in­di­vid­u­al.

This is with­out ques­tion a po­lit­i­cal and an emo­tion­al state­ment. Through­out mod­ern West­ern thought this is­sue has come up time and again. We are told that we should stride to be­come re­silient­ly in­de­pen­dent in­di­vid­u­als. We should view our in­di­vid­u­al­ism as a pre­cious gift of free­dom which we should de­fend at any cost.

Fur­ther­more, we are told that it is on­ly through­out the pow­er of a few cho­sen man-of-courage, genius and virtue that hu­man­i­ty has ad­vanced. But is this not a whole­heart­ed myth? I do not de­ny that by means of in­cred­i­ble ef­forts and ini­tia­tive many in­di­vid­u­als have in­deed achieved and con­tribut­ed a great deal to civ­i­liza­tion. But the ques­tion re­mains. Have any of these in­di­vid­u­als achieved any­thing sole­ly, unique­ly and truth­ful­ly on their own? The an­swer is a re­sound­ing no!

Human be­ings are in­di­vid­u­als, of course. But they are first and fore­most so­cial be­ings; to­tal­ly de­pen­dent on one an­oth­er. At birth, hu­mans are al­ready born in­to a fam­i­ly unit of at least two; the moth­er and the ba­by. But even the moth­er be­longs to a larg­er so­cial group which pro­vides food, cloth­ing, shel­ter, health care, etc.

There have been cas­es in which ba­bies have been left in the wild and they have sur­vived, but on­ly with the help of sur­ro­gate species.

In short, hu­mans are so frail at birth and their de­vel­op­ment takes so long, that it makes them en­tire­ly de­pen­dent on so­ci­ety to sur­vive. Just about any­thing a hu­man be­ing does through­out his or her life will be done in con­cert and with the help of oth­ers.

Iron­i­cal­ly, the more we be­come iso­lat­ed from each oth­er by ac­cen­tu­at­ing our myth­i­cal in­di­vid­u­al­ism, the weak­er we be­come. It is through­out the ag­gre­gat­ed pow­er of oth­ers that our in­di­vid­u­al pow­er in­creas­es ex­po­nen­tial­ly.

In light of these ar­gu­ments we see that the con­flict be­tween the Borg and hu­man­i­ty is not that of the col­lec­tive ver­sus the in­di­vid­u­al but in­stead be­tween low­er forms of human collective and the col­lec­tive of a tru­ly ad­vanced civ­i­liza­tion. Nev­er­the­less, many of you would ar­gue that the Borg are evil. There is no deny­ing that the cre­ators of this fic­ti­tious char­ac­ter did add some nasty traits; to wit:

  • They are ugly, dark-grey and zombie like
  • They are mindless drones
  • They are not individuals
  • They conquer and assimilate other species by force


It is in­con­ceiv­able that such an ad­vanced civ­i­liza­tion could not have solved beau­ty…

Why can we not think of then as be­ing very beau­ti­ful, fash­ion­able dressed and with a nice tan to boot? And more im­por­tant­ly, once con­nect­ed to the grid they could prob­a­bly as­sume any out­stand­ing avatar-like-shape that suits them.

The Borg are called mind­less drones. Again this doesn’t seem log­i­cal since they have achieved huge tech­no­log­i­cal progress in or­der to con­nect to the hive-mind. In ad­di­tion, the rate of learn­ing once plugged-in is prob­a­bly enor­mous. Once again the “mind­less” moniker doesn’t fit.

How, to con­quer and force­ful­ly as­sim­i­late oth­er species is tru­ly evil. It is some­what iron­i­cal that in re­al life hu­man civ­i­liza­tions have done pre­cise­ly that. How­ev­er, it is more like­ly that in­stead of con­quer­ing and as­sim­i­lat­ing dif­fer­ent species; the Borg would ac­tu­al­ly have to de­lib­er­ate on count­less civ­i­liza­tions des­per­ate­ly want­ing to join in.

It is un­like­ly that when the chasm be­tween two dis­tinct civ­i­liza­tions is so large, that the ad­vanced civ­i­liza­tion as­sim­i­lates the back­ward one. There are oth­er char­ac­ters in the Star Trek uni­verse that are a lot more de­vel­oped, such as the Om­nipo­tent Q. And this ex­treme­ly ad­vanced civ­i­liza­tion sim­ply doesn’t ac­cept any­one else in their club: Such be­hav­ior is more re­al­is­tic.
Let us enu­mer­ate some of the many qual­i­ties ex­hib­it­ed by the Borg.

  • There are no secrets, therefore truth reigns supreme
  • They are probably extremely democratic
  • They will of the people always rules
  • They have the ultimate form of mental communication
  • They make ample use of enhanced cybernetic parts
  • They have a decentralized command-and-control network
  • They synthesize nutrients at the cellular level so they don’t eat
  • They are extremely adaptive and respond incredibly fast
  • Their thoughts and emotions are preserved for ever

And lastly, they operate solely toward the fulfilling of one purpose: To add the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to their own in pursuit of perfection.
“Adding the dis­tinc­tive­ness of oth­er species” means that when they do as­sim­i­late an­oth­er species, their en­tire cul­tur­al her­itage is pre­served for­ev­er. Con­trast this Borg be­hav­ior with our own and we come up short. How many cul­tures have been lost, for­ev­er, to con­quest? I have heard that these days an en­tire lan­guage is lost for­ev­er, ev­ery two weeks!


In part­ing, think­ing about the Borg re­minds me of the old quote from the Ro­man au­thor Phae­drus: Things are not al­ways what they seem; the first ap­pear­ance de­ceives many; the in­tel­li­gence of a few per­ceives what has been care­ful­ly hid­den.


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