For most people, I think the scariest thing about the Borg was the whole “Resistance is Futile” bit. Most people like choices. It’s why Americans are so obsessed with the idea of freedom (whether Americans actually have freedom is a political discussion). We also like the underdog and winning against impossible odds, so when Jean-Luc Picard survived assimilation we all felt good. On my part, I was most intimidated by the loss of individual expression. I mean being forcibly inducted into an extreme example of a technocratic society would be bad, but not being able to do your own thing afterwards?
That’s really bad.
Americans and most Western Europeans are naturally biased against collectivist cultures. Our societies are largely individualist and we favor individual achievement, individual expression and individual freedoms. Other cultures are generally more collectivist, favoring the achievement of the whole society and harmony over the freedoms of the individuals. Neither culture is wrong (Prime Directive, Prime Directive, Prime Directive) but knowing which culture you belong to allows you to analyze your own biases. It makes sense that an individualist culture would create a villain of a collectivist culture. Of course, as I previously mentioned, I think most people were creeped out by the whole forcibly inducted bit.
The most extreme example of the collectivist culture requires instantaneous, probably telepathic communication between all members of the culture. Any idea that occurs in the brain of any individual is immediately transmitted to the rest. I might have an idea, Fred might carry it out with the will of the culture as a whole. It’s a nice idea. I’m an idea person. I have gobs and gobs of ideas, which are sometimes impractical, sometimes simply impractical for me, and sometimes require a time scale and level of effort that my procrastinating self can’t deal with. It would be nice to know that somewhere someone is carrying out my Great Idea. However, I’m also a proud person. I like knowing that I achieved, I created, I made. I want credit for my Great Idea, and in the most extreme collectivist culture, that doesn’t happen.
Another way to look at collective thought was posed in the book I just bought. The book is called This Will Make You Smarter, New Scientific Concepts to Improve your Thinking, edited by John Brockman. The essay is called “Matt Ridley. The gist of the essay is this “Human achievement is based on collective intelligence – the nodes in the human neural network are the people themselves.” We are all of us individually incapable of constructing societies, making scientific discoveries, or even creating art without other people. We need the people around us to inspire, motivate, encourage, etc. We do not need to have instantaneous communication when we have writing, language and an internet connection. Of course, the reason we seek to achieve is we get credit (and usually money) for our achievements.” by
If you do not buy that we already possess collective intelligence, the next question to ask is: Could extra-terrestrial intelligent species have collective intelligence, Borg style? IMO, absolutely! The idea of a collectively intelligent society is everywhere in science fiction. It’s in Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and the computer game Sins of a Solar Empire. And of course, there’s the Borg. Not only that, but it’s in the natural world as well. Bees and ants (also naked mole rats) have a society where only the queen breeds with the males. Aside from
the queen and the males, all other individuals in the colony are sexless drones. In some ways, the queen selects the direction of the hive and gets all the credit (evolutionary credit is expressed as genes passed on!) while the drones do all the work. Les Fourmis (Empire of Ants in English) is a speculative fiction novel about ants and collective intelligence.
I think it’s time to wrap this post up. Its gone on so long! My conclusions are: The Borg are still scary, collective intelligence is not, and an alien society with collective intelligence is more than possible!