Stronger Together, The Borg’s New Recruiting Campaign

| October 3, 2017 | 0 Comments

Last night, I began watching Star Trek: The Next Generation from the beginning. Excepting some incredibly poor special effects, I enjoyed the first episode, in which humanity was literally put on trial for its crimes and emerged, vindicated by their current capacity for good. Star Trek’s emphasis on humanity’s potential for growth has always drawn me to the series, but the writers’ choice to make it the explicit focus of the first episode helped me to better understand it not as a mere theme of the show, but as its raison d’etre. While many episodes, this one included, could be taken as case studies in defense of this hypothesis, I think a more thorough analysis of the values espoused by this episode versus those held by the series’ later “Big Bad” will suffice.

When Q, an obnoxious and omnipotent alien, puts members of the Enterprise on trial, Jean-Luc Picard is only able to talk his way out of execution by offering to prove that humanity has departed from its savage roots through his own actions. Q agrees, and returns the Enterprise to its original course towards an outpost on an alien planet. When they arrive, they must discover what about the situation at the outpost is unusual – in this case, the enslavement of an alien lifeform foreign to the planet – decide what to do about it, and finally, respond to at-first ambiguous, even potentially threatening stimuli from another of its kind. The trial tests whether they will choose to act courageously in the face of their fear of the unknown, but makes it clear that this courage, rather than consisting of a capacity for violence, is rather characterized by a curious and compassionate approach to the unknown – which, in our proper time and place, can only consist of each other.

The Federation’s first confrontation with the Borg occurs due to another test on the part of Q, who wishes to show Jean-Luc just how unprepared humans are for the challenges they will face. He succeeds, as the Enterprise cannot contend against the Borg, and Jean-Luc must beg Q to save his ship from them. The Borg and the Federation, ironically enough, share many similarities. They both seek betterment through difference; they both participate in exploration. Their approach, however, differs. Valuing difference does not necessitate diversity. The Borg nonconsensually take the bodies and even minds of those they conquer, incorporating their “biological and technological distinctiveness.” They are curious only to the extent that they believe curiosity to be useful; they cannot be courageous or compassionate, as they cannot feel at all. They are the imperialist, the fascist, the collectivist and conformist taken to their worst extreme.  The Borg represent the antithesis of Federation values, but must be understood not as humanity’s opposite but as its foil. They are what we could be, if we are not resourceful enough to resist them. If we cannot think outside the box, the shape which they have chosen for their home. If we are not curious, courageous, and compassionate enough to resist our own worst instincts. Jean-Luc overcomes them only because he admits that he needs help, thus acknowledging his own weakness. We can avoid becoming the Borg only by admitting that we are not perfect.

What then, does Q represent? Is he the worst of humanity, an arrogant, impatient, and domineering mirror of ourselves? Perhaps he is a trickster teacher like Coyote, one who teaches by himself being the bad example. He reminds us of our weaknesses, the ones which we can struggle against, but perhaps never truly overcome. We cannot hide from them, but if they cannot hide from us, either, we may yet gain the advantage.

So what does The Next Generation suggest human progress requires? The virtues, certainly, which allow us to approach the unknown with curiosity, courage, and compassion – but also the virtues necessary to approach what we would rather not know about ourselves.

 

featured photo credit: Bardia Photography A starry night via photopin (license)

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Category: Art and Literature, featured, Philosophy and Religion, Reflections

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