The Federation vs. the Borg

IMG_0776I made a Star Trek reference at last night’s public lecture, in response to a question about whether it was self-defeating or self-contradictory to be intolerant of intolerance. But not wanting to lose an audience that might or might not have appreciated the analogy, I held back, and in the end I didn’t feel that I made the point as clearly as I could have, and perhaps should have.

But there is always the possibility of expanding on the point further on the blog, thankfully. And so here are my thoughts on the matter.

On the one hand, I think that a key point is to pose the issue not in terms of “tolerance” but in terms of a commitment to positive embrace of diversity. That is the ethos that is expressed on Star Trek in terms of IDIC: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” It is a Vulcan motto, but it is one embraced by StarFleet. And in committing to difference as valuable, StarFleet is not being self-contradictory by fighting against the Borg, who want to assimilate everyone and everything and in so doing eliminate richness, variety, and plurality. If the motto was “We tolerate everyone” then not tolerating the Borg would indeed by hypocritical. But if the commitment is to diversity as something positive, then there is nothing self-contradictory about not embracing within that diversity a positive acceptance of those who wish to eliminate diversity. It is simply standing for our values.

On the other hand, there is indeed a risk that we will engage in a related self-defeating practice. If we demonize and dehumanize those other human beings who demonize and dehumanize others, precisely because they have done this reprehensible thing, then we make ourselves more like that very thing which we hate and despise.

We see this dilemma illustrated on Star Trek, as the question comes up of whether the appropriate preferred aim of the Federation ought to be to simply eliminate the Borg and the threat they represent, or to rescue and redeem individuals within the collective, however rarely that may be possible.

If we cease to value persons as human beings (or in the future, as sentient entities of whatever planet of origin) simply because we disagree with them, we have abandoned any commitment to the promotion of well being and universal rights for human beings, and risk becoming as intolerant and as forcefully-assimilationist as the Borg.

If, however, we are committed to valuing persons, and valuing diversity because we value the full range if variety of persons, then we can avoid both self-contradiction, and the pitfall of becoming that very intolerant thing we despise so much in our enemies.

As Martin Luther King famously said, hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that.

Is it any wonder he was a fan of Star Trek?

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  • Rick

    Good post and comparisons.

    “It is simply standing for our values.” But just to be clear, the diversity you seek is a peaceful, fully integrated co-existence, and the ultimate goal, rather than just a diverse, yet tension-filled, co-existence (almost representative of the position Trump presented in the UN yesterday)? Going back to the Star Trek example, as Kirk told the Yangs, it must apply to all or it means nothing (paraphrase).

  • Dorothy Frazier-Miller

    I like the Star Trek especially when Captain Kirk would tell Scotty to “Beam Them Up.” Our President Donald Trump arrived at the U.N. on Monday in his first appearance at the international body as U.S. commander-in-chief. He made his message for the trip clear: ” Make the United Nations Great”- not “Again, ” he told reporters. In a speech before the General Assembly, he blasted the “bureaucracy and mismanagement” of the U.N. and again criticized uneven spending among member countries. The United States contributes about 22 percent of incoming funds. I agree with Rick “It is simply standing for our values. ” There has to be a boundary of and an Aim for Peace with the nations. You can’t be a longtime critic of the U.N, and then in a four-minute speech, then say that the United Nations has not reached its full potential “because of bureaucracy and mismanagement.” Over the weekend, President Trump added to the tension by describing North Korean leader Kim Jong UN as ” Rocket Man.” Some U.N. members, meanwhile, have expressed concern that Trump’s foreign policy positions could undermine the global trading system and undercut the organization’s efforts promote peaceful resolutions of international disputes. In this case I’m sure that our President would love be on the Star Trek just to be beam up out of this dilmenia. But we must pray for our President and for the peace of the Nations.