Capitalism and The Borg

seven of nine
Star Trek Voyager’s Seven of Nine: Being liberated from the Collective corresponds to making a theoretical break with the priorities of bourgeois society such that she can now explore her humanity

Star Trek’s ‘The Borg’ are a good metaphor for understanding some fundamental aspects of social relations under capitalism.  This does not mean people are like drones, quite the reverse.  Breakdowns in the metaphor occur because our limited existences created by the capitalist mode of production are distortions upon human nature rather than its total annulment.  And people’s massive discomfort with this state of affairs means they seek liberation from the Borg Collective which doesn’t happen with the Trek drones unless they are temporarily disconnected from the Hive Mind.  In reading this blog, you are temporarily disconnected from the Hive Mind (chiefly the opinion of authorities), and I will set out arguments through which you may come to achieve full humanity.

The Borg expand through assimilating humanoid life-forms in the galaxy and beyond, rather like the expansion of the world market gobbling everything up.  In the assimilation process, your individuality is crushed and you are made to serve the Collective (society).  The Borg are incredibly successful because they are efficient and constantly perfecting technology to further their programme of expanse.  What the Borg fail to assimilate, they physically destroy.  The Borg represent the ideal dream of how capitalism attempts to remould society, yet the ways in which the Borg are successful come at a terrible cost: the crushing of individuality and the end of the liberty of the individual.

In contrast, the humans in Star Trek are free, their internal conflicts are resolved usually through discussion rather than force.  The Borg on the other hand suffer no internal conflict, they are already ‘as one.’  But how do the humans in Trek become free?  Why do they volunteer to do things rather than nothing at all?  Because labour has become life’s prime want.

Under capitalism, labour is coerced out of the individual, disguised as a ‘free exchange.’  Yet the worker quickly comes to understand the selling of their labour power was anything but free.  They had nothing else to sell, nothing else to live from.  In work, there is an obsession with ‘increasing productivity,’ work is experienced as uncreative doldrums, it is unrewarding, undertaken under tight supervision (including by CCTV), the products of labour are owned by someone else (the capitalist), there are poor bonds with other workers, and there is no rational set of ideas why we are all doing this in the first place.  Work is reduced to the means to the end of survival in a dog-eat-dog world.  It is not something desired by the individual, no-one goes to work looking forward to it and with a whistle in their heart.

Labour becomes life’s prime want by removing all these inhibitions to its unleashing.  We shouldn’t have to ‘sell’ our capacity to work – means of production should be free to utilise by all.  The obsession with being ‘productive’ needs to be cancelled out – how productive you are ought to depend on your own will.  Rather than production seemingly for production’s own sake, the worker now chooses when and what to produce according to personal will, hence it becomes creative and rewarding, and there is no-one to take the product from you without your consent (e.g. as a part of consciously determined human relations).  There is no supervision, except perhaps in an advisory capacity.  The free worker now enjoys good quality bonds with his fellows, giving rise to coherent ideas why we do what we do.

With labour now as life’s prime want, capitalist society now looks shameful and embarrassing.  It was Borg-like because it prioritised efficiency and productivity over individual liberty and choice.  What’s worse the fake left-wing politicians of capitalist society must now feel incredibly embarrassed – all they did was to take capitalist slogans and suggest their programmes could do it better, as opposed to operating on the terrain of critique, thus developing a superior notion of human moral value.

Capitalism is Borg-like, but the individual worker even under this system is never quite like a drone.  Rather in a society where all sides have accepted ‘there is no alternative to the Borg,’ the individual worker’s aspirations become expressed through religious or fetishistic forms.  Thus 75% of Americans are still religious in the 21st century.  25% are also on some form of psychiatric medication or another.  These aspects are not the main problem, they are symptoms of the problem, like flowers growing on the chains.  They would be superseded with genuine humanised spirituality and a deeper sense of our social interconnections after we take action to remove the chains.  By contrast, the Borg regarded in this way are a poor metaphor for the human condition under capitalism because they have no delusions.  Ironically it seems it is the capacity to be delusional that is a big thing currently separating us from a race of advanced machines.  It is better to be a human with delusions than a robot without them.  Furthermore, unlike the Borg, we have strong interpersonal contacts such as a family life and enriching down-time.  It is only when considered in the sphere of work which takes up most of our waking lives that the human condition under capitalism can be considered Borg-like.  So, let’s widen the distinction between humanity and the Borg further in the interests of full liberation by changing the way we work.  We shouldn’t have to live as a poor advertisement of ourselves.



What Native Americans Can Teach Us About The Idea Of Human Liberation

High-tech ‘primitive communist’ Chakotay who even former Borg drone Seven of Nine fell in love with in the final season of Star Trek: Voyager

“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” -Massasoit

Human history has been bedevilled by the issue of ownership of the means of production.  It wasn’t always so.  Under the so-called “primitive communism”, there was no concept of ownership of the means of production, which was ‘the land’.  Primitive communists were the hunter gatherers and none of them ‘owned’ the forces that sustained them.  They just used them at will to sustain themselves.  If you think this is odd, it isn’t really.  Even in our society where virtually everything has been privatised, no-one owns ‘the sky’, yet we use it all the time.  Breathing is the first thing a baby does in the world.  Just as it would be weird to privatise the sky, Native Americans did not understand private ownership of ‘the land’, which to them was the entirety of their means of production.

This blog does not argue we should go back to living in a hunter gatherer society.  It argues we have much to learn from these ancient ways, and that if only we could develop a new idea that no-one owns the now technologically advanced means of production, we’d be there – at the stage of total human emancipation.

There is now an abundance of evidence from Native American society before Europeans took it over that there was just no concept of ownership over the productive forces.  Although there was a matriarchal set up, this only meant the women who also took full part in work would encourage the men to hunt and gather.  The products of this primitive work were shared out according to who needed what, be it meat, clothing, or whatever.  This was smashed by bloodthirsty Europeans at the dawn of capitalism, servants of the new Empire of capital.  As researcher Mary Arnold says:

“Since Native American peoples had no concept of land ownership, the European invaders considered the land to be up for grabs. The Europeans used a variety of ways to gain control of the land. They used deception on Montezuma. They ignored Indian political practices by having a few Indians sell the lands. And when all else failed, the federal government passed laws to relocate the Indians and resorted to warfare if they resisted.”

Thus there has definitely been a period of history, prior to the introduction of the idea of private property, in which the means of production – that is the forces available to man to sustain himself – were not considered ‘owned’.  The European invaders with their ‘advanced’ ideas changed all that.  This development was not all bad, it contained some good things.  Humanity became a species where connections were made all around the globe, allowing us the potential to pool knowledge and techniques and develop new frontiers.  The USA today, the world’s leading economy, has scaled heights that were unimaginable to the Native Americans such as putting man on the moon or mapping the human genome.  Life expectancy, and in many respects the quality of life, has also massively increased in comparison to that of the ‘primitive communists’, showing the benefit of development of the productive forces.  Yet something was also lost – not forever, and certainly not to readers of this blog who I hope will take these ideas on board – that something was an absence of inner antagonisms within the society itself that have now become so developed and magnified, they plague everyone’s lives, make them miserable, and even threaten the survival of the human race itself (nuclear war).

Marx initially designated his outlook as “naturalism, or humanism”.  He only later called it ‘communism’ after he saw that the best of the active socialists in the proletarian movement of his day were the communists.  This meant they wanted to topple the system of private property which Marx knew was the basis of the capitalist mode of production that divided society into warring classes, was prone to crises, and failed to enrich individual life.  But what Marx understood as ‘communism’ was most definitely NOT the perversion of it that characterised many countries in the 20th century.  How did the project go so badly wrong?

The material basis for the Marxist project going askew was that the disciples did not understand that the key lay in the issue of ‘ownership’ of the means of production.  Even the great Lenin argued only for social ownership of the means of production.  That was a terrible idea.  ‘Society’ that was in control of ‘the Party’ now became the new owner of the means of production in the name of the abolition of private property!  Private property simply became owned by one entity instead of several, and the basic conflicts within society remained.  To suppress this, the Party had to become a totalitarian regime that directly oppressed the masses.  Terrible result.

But what if instead of society owning the means of production, no-one does.  Not only does this abolish private property, but also social property.  In such a situation, individuals just use the means of production to produce what they and their fellows need, as and when.  Rather than being bled to death as the capitalist and Soviet system entailed, the means of production would be used for human benefit, not its opposite.  The means of production wouldn’t be owned by a single soul, they’d just ‘be there’ like the land was in Native American times.

Best of all, we now have high-tech means of production.  And we can develop the technology even further.  What we are now talking about isn’t the basic subsistence of Native American society, but a life beyond our wildest dreams, full of luxury and devoid of domineering relations between man and man that currently is the source of most of life’s hellish characteristics.