Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mamma Borg

I recently caught up with some episodes of Star Trek I hadn't seen before. Among these episodes were those of Voyager in which "Seven of Nine" first appears and then joins the the crew, and then when her (Borg) cortical implant starts to malfunction, endangering her life. Let me tell you why I found these episodes disappointing.

Anyone who has seen the show can tell you that Seven is a healthy specimen of womanhood. And it's more than clear why the people who run the show chose an actress with a good figure: ratings. But the question remains: in the context of the show's fiction, why would the Borg allow an assimilated organism to devote its metabolism to the development of such inefficient structures as large breasts and wide hips? They take up space, and wide hips are inefficient for running. And that's not to mention the way anatomical irregularities make the resultant drone hard to fit within the uniformity of the collective.

I can think of no reason. It's not as if Borg females need to gestate babies, give birth, or suckle infants. And even if they were to do so, a Caesarian section and smaller breasts would do the job well enough for the intervention-happy Borg.

In actuality, the Borg would be much more likely control the hormones of their drones to channel their metabolism to "necessary" structures, like bones and muscles, or at least amputate the breasts and remove the uterus. The resultant drone would be even more efficient and terrifying than what we see on screen now, and certainly much less viewer friendly.

And then there were the couple episodes in which Seven's cortical implant begins to malfunction. They had Tuvok, Torres, and Janeway all allowing themselves to be assimilated to acquire a new implant and then being rescued by Voyager and returned their natural state, apparently without any permanent damage of significance.1 It was all too easy. And after that there was an episode with "Borg children"—rescued on Voyager. Ugh.

The reason I found this all so disappointing is that all these developments soften the Borg and present them as less terrifying than they should be. The original genius of imagining this "race" (for lack of a better word) is that they are the major dark attractor toward which human development is in our very non-fictional world being drawn: completely anti-human and opposed to the ideals represented by the Federation and the Star Trek franchise itself. To soften or "nerf" them is to compromise the humanistic (dare I say "prophetic") witness of the show.

But of course, making such a statement about hormone blockers would hit far too close to home these days for many in the audience, at least now if not back in the day when the episodes were first aired. The simple truth is that the dominant culture of the developed world has, at present, set a course to turn mankind into the Borg.2

Huxley's Brave New World is far too cheery in imagining humanity will find contentment in its humanity, in the norms of its nature, to any recognizable extent. But as in that tale, the dystopia is far more likely to come about through the sum of individual choices than through imposition of a dictatorship through some 1984-style extrinsic power.3 Thanks to James Cameron and others, the popular notion of the post-human world portrays it as being initiated by newly intelligent machines; in reality machines will only trouble to take notice of and work against humans at the behest of other humans for the latter's peculiar gain. Thus has it always been that man's greatest enemy is man. Similarly it will not be the machines who turn the humans into machines, but the humans who dehumanize themselves. And I daresay it will be individual humans who will choose to dehumanize themselves, at least initially, before gaining enough strength to force that transformation onto others.

The people pushing for this future are "transhumanists," though this word has become associated in the popular press solely with the folks who want to "upload" our minds into computers, whatever that means. The dominant culture of Western modernity has no resources to oppose their core notion that man is really God and should have his power: because that notion is in fact at the heart of modernity. The only thing that can challenge their ideas is a spiritual power. In the West, the spiritual power is Christianity, which gave rise to it and imparted what strength it has, but in which the West has sadly lost all faith.

As I was finishing this post up, this review by Michael Gerson of Yuval Noah Harari's book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow came to my attention: "Humans reach for godhood — and leave their humanity behind." The review illustrates the crisis of belief in the West and how it leaves us powerless to oppose the coming storm.


1. One of the perils of watching TV episodes in syndication is their presentation is discontinuous and likely incomplete. If I'm wrong about this or any show detail, please let me know in the comments.

2. The original navigators were Bacon and Descartes.

3. In this discussion we're not considering "principalities and powers"


TheOFloinn said...

There seem to be some second thoughts these days about machine-worship. Everyone being one day "uploaded" may not be all it's cut out to be, even if it is possible in principle. No one seems quite certain, however, what the apotheosis of humanity ought to look like if not something super cerebral.

I think Star Trek did have a tendency to nerf its nemeses. Starting with the Klingons, the baddies gradually became goodies, or at least less bad. There may be a lesson there, too; one of possible salvation.

Lawrence Gage said...

Great point about ST. I think that may be the deeper theological reason that Ridley Scott aliens are so terrifying. They are parasites; their very existence is to negate or at least feed off ours, something like the sci-fi equivalent of demons. There's something of the Borg in this description as well.