The Borg: Are They Truly a Menace?
“We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” — the Borg Collective, Star Trek: First Contact
They’re a threat to every single sentient species in the universe. That’s a rather inflammatory statement, perhaps, but let’s take a closer look at the Borg to see if it’s warranted.
In Star Trek canon, the Borg originate in the Delta Quadrant. We know that from references in the film Star Trek: First Contact, the double-length Voyager episode “Dark Frontier”, and other Star Trek productions. Behind the scenes, the idea of the Borg was conceptually related to the parasites in the first season TNG episode “Conspiracy”, which in turn bear many similarities to the Goa’uld from Stargate.
Were the Borg originally fully organic? Yes, according to many references, both from beings who have contact with them yet were not assimilated and from the Borg themselves. Were they originally a cybernetic race? Possibly.
At some point, organic beings from the Delta Quadrant joined with cybernetic prosthetics. The experiments were successful, producing a perfect integration of biologicals with cybernetic organisms. The hybrids, however, acquired an unquenchable thirst for expanding their numbers and their knowledge.
In reality, scientific predictions forecast that humankind will experience a Singularity and a Technological Singularity sometime in the future. The Singularity will be when humans decide to integrate technology into themselves to improve their biological condition. This will hopefully extend lifespan and result in a new kind of benign super-intelligence. The Technological Singularity is defined as the moment when technology will develop beyond the capabilities of its human creators. Some fear that the resulting Artificial Super-Intelligent (ASI) entities will decide to eliminate their biological progenitors.
However, these ASI entities might decide that the optimal course of action is to join with their biological creators, giving birth to a cybernetic organism. The assimilation of the biological developers by such a technology may or may not be voluntary. Once that happens, the newly created lifeform may decide that they have discovered an ideal strategy — the assimilation of all life and technology. Could this be what happened to the Borg?
Other cybernetic organisms are present in the Star Trek universe who seem to have weathered the Singularity moment in a benign manner. In the TNG Season 1 episode “11001001”, we are introduced to the Bynars, a race of cybernetically enhanced humanoids native to the planet Bynaus, in the Beta Magellan system. In their case, a surgeon removes a newborn child’s parietal lobe and replaces it with a synaptic processor. The Bynar is, from then on, a full member of their society and works in pairs with another. In this example, the Singularity moment came and went, with a benign result.
Of course, Star Trek also includes beings that are wholly cybernetic, with no biological component. A fine example is the species that “rescued” and modified Voyager 6 to become V’ger in the backstory of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. These entities do not consider biological or carbon-based lifeforms as anything more than an infestation. The augmented V’ger has the same shortsighted view and becomes a true danger for life on Earth. Fortunately, it decides — through an android probe in the shape of the Enterprise’s navigator, Ilia — to join with a “carbon unit”, Captain Decker, in order to complete its mission. Can this be considered an assimilation by an ASI entity? It’s been speculated that the beings which enhanced V’ger also originated the Borg, so such an assimilation would be perfectly within the realm of possibilities.
The Borg Collective is a commune where all members are dedicated to one goal: the propagation and improvement of the Borg. That would not be so bad, except that the “propagation” part means the Borg understand that they are free to assimilate any and all other species, technologies, and societies they come across.
Of course, there are exceptions. The Borg Queen is one. Or perhaps, we should say the Borg Queens? There seem to be several iterations, either several queens or perhaps just one that can be recreated from its genetic material as needed. The Borg Queen is an individual in the Collective and occasionally speaks of herself in the singular, whereas all other Borg in the Collective always refer to themselves in the plural and as an integral and inseparable part of the group. She is the driving force of the Borg primary mandate: to grow — in numbers, technology, and power, but alas, not in diversity.
Diametrically opposed from the Vulcan maxim “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”, the Borg Collective want to remake every species they encounter into their own image. Those assimilated are improved by innovative technologies, perhaps bettered by some biological advantages, but always forced to adopt a strict code of conduct, appearance, and behaviors. The assimilation-at-all-cost seems to be a consequence of the technological component of the Borg, rather than the biological side.
A Borg drone, when disconnected from the Collective, often reverts to a non-threatening, non-assimilating attitude towards others. Clear examples of this are Hugh in the fifth season TNG outing “I Borg”, Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager, One in the Season 5 Voyager installment “Drone”, and a group of drones in the sixth season Voyager episode “Survival Instinct”.
The Borg are, however, cybernetic organisms that have integrated technological components without which they cannot exist. Some of these components compel them to be an integral part of the Collective and, when introduced into another organism, transform the new host into a typical Borg drone. There is one exception.
When Picard is assimilated, he goes beyond the role of drone and becomes Locutus. In “The Best of Both Worlds” two-parter, he is fully assimilated, but when rescued, he is relieved of all Borg technology and returned to a purely human man. How can he still “hear them”? In First Contact, we’re not told how. Picard doesn’t seem to have nanoprobes in his body, like Seven of Nine, Hugh, and Icheb.
Picard Season 2 explores the Borg in detail, not only in our timeline, but also in an alternate timeline. We learn that the Borg may have potential to become a cooperative unit in which assimilation into their organization is done peacefully rather than forcefully. This possibility paves the way for the Borg Queen from the alternate timeline to create a new subset of Borg in which this is the case.
The Borg Collective is a menace because it doesn’t allow for negotiation. The famous Borg declaration “resistance is futile” makes that absolutely clear. The members of the Collective will relentlessly assimilate any lifeform, technology, or society they encounter. They will grow stronger every time, by design. They are, therefore, the ultimate menace.