Thursday, June 24, 2010

Habits of Empire

The term 'assimilation' came to take on a diabolical coloration in 1989, with the introduction of Star Trek's the Borg, the race of cybernetic organisms who, like vampires, prey upon and occasionally convert others not like them.

"You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile".

Prior to this, assimilation, or rather forced assimilation, was given the connotation of a good thing. Something that, here in America, previously unincorporated groups were fortunate to experience. Kind of like being conquered by Rome, and becoming citizens of Rome.  Ah, but America is not Rome. Hell, Rome was not Rome. It was, like the Reagan era a revisionist saga of romantic hogwash, hiding a dingier, moldier, more stifling and depressing reality.

But I don't want to talk about that. At least, not overly so. The metaphor as America as Borg, like America as Rome, has been used too often and too easily. There are some half-truths there, as is the case with all metaphoric comparisons. Any conservative worthy of calling him or herself that, who, if they truly cherish worthy traditions, has a duty to view our history (warts and all) truthfully and clearly. Conservatives would do well to read "Habits of Empire", by Notre Dame historian Walter Nugent. The expansion of America is empire in all but name and title.

But again, that's not what I want to talk about. The fictional Borg, in case you do not know, have as their goal a quest for perfection. Perfection, in their case, seems to be a transformation beyond the limited abilities of the organic, or perhaps the material as well, into a transcendent state of some kind, never really specified. In the process, they wish to "improve the quality of life, for all species". They apparently mean well, provided your vision of well-being corresponds with theirs. In that sense, the Borg are like Neoconservatives, the latest personification of American Stalinism (exporting the revolution), or Manifest Destiny. 

They have impressive technologies. They have a collective, a distributed intelligence, a massively parallel hive mind that, presumably, bespeaks of extremely high intelligence. (It requires that you assume that higher intelligence is simply more stuff, like a Chinese Wave, just throw more brains in the mix and things get solved).  They are homogeneous and anonymous, any individual is representative of all, and as such it is an egalitarianism not unlike slavery. Equality is forced upon them. Conservatives would emphasize this point, calling it Statism. (Conservatives who use this term obviously do not understand participatory democracy, amongst other things and have bought into the Libertarian Fallacy, and all the infantilism that entails). But the point is lost and irrelevant, because here is individuality, flawed, error-prone, limited in reach and scope, replaced with a Thinking State with One Mind, possessed of the wisdom of crowds, flexible, error-correcting. There is no dictatorship of the State because, quite simply, there are no longer any subjects to dictate to. Quite an alien concept).

 The problem with this fictional vision, and the utopian goal, is that the Borg never really seem to DO anything. Oh, they, as the ultimate users, go around and consume civilizations,  accumulate and incorporate new knowledge from their "victims", increase in size and power. But they don't seem to progress. They, not unlike a slime mold, or a culture of bacteria, or a viral infection, consume, metabolize, and reproduce, but that's about all they do. Despite centuries, or hundreds of centuries, of history, despite possessing a supergenius of a hive mind, they don't seem to do much more than that. Granted, they are a fictional bogeyman, and any underlying philosophy has been developed by TV scriptwriters, but still...

So, is this not a proper analogy for the USA, or for Western Civilization, or for that matter, our species, or just Life in general? Is that it? Are we just consumers and breeders? Should we be looking for a loftier goal? Or is merely converting more and more of the universe into stuff that lives and thinks good enough?  

Or is the mere act of introspection about these things good enough? I honestly don't know...


  1. Well, I do know that the strongest imperative of life is to reproduce. Although change (or advancement?) is inevitable through evolution, it is brought about by the imperative to continue, to reproduce.

    btw, my sister calls here chicken flock (?) the Borg because they act in concert. Hive mind or telepathy. Hmmm. Telepathic chickens.

  2. Watch those chickens closely. Remember what happened to Suzanne Pleshette in "The Birds".