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The Borg were right: Resistance is futile


The captain finished his spiel, and tiny TV monitors dropped from the plane’s ceiling. One every third row, all broadcasting the same image, giving us instructions. “Resistance is futile,” murmured my husband, quoting the line from “Star Trek” about the Borg -- the giant composite cyberorganism that assimilates every individual into the Collective.

It did look a bit Orwellian, in the fluorescent twilight of the airplane’s interior. But my mind snapped onto the quote’s secondary meaning. Resistance is futile. Resist pain, and the anxiety of the resistance will only intensify your discomfort. Resist a new experience, and the dread mounts until you cannot face the challenge. Resist the vulnerability of your human condition, and you’re left with a hollow inhumanity. We know all this. Yet we continue to resist.

The morning after our Borgian flight, for example, those friendly skies opened in a torrential, Sturm und Drang downpour. Undaunted, the dog sat by the streaming window waiting for her ritual morning walkies. Sighing heavily, I shrugged into a slicker, stuffed a good-citizen plastic baggie into the pocket and fastened her lead.

For the first half hour, I kept glancing nervously at the lightning streaks and cringing at the rain dripping down my neck. Then -- wetter than I’ve ever gotten in a shower, every article of clothing sopping twice its weight in water -- I gave up and started enjoying it. Splashing deliberately through puddles six inches deep, I laughed along with Sophie, who flopped on her back whenever we reached a particularly thick, cushy lawn, blissfully wriggling away the excess water.

Why had I bothered to resist the inevitable? We’re hard-wired, I suppose, to resist things that could endanger us -- cold or wet, novelty or risk, pain or sorrow or longing. Yet such experiences can only be peacefully endured -- and even transformed -- if we don’t resist them. It’s the ancient wisdom of every tradition: “Go with the flow. Accept. Trust, have faith, continue.”

Could biology be wrong? Or is it that the medievalists were right when they set the body in opposition to the soul? Our physical instincts drive us toward self-preservation and pleasure, and those impulses do seem to pull us away from the spiritual life. In a relationship with God, our biggest enemies are fear, selfishness and insatiable appetite, all of which are grounded in base instincts.

So perhaps the war is inevitable, and life’s goal is to squash the physical by strengthening the soul. I don’t think so. Jesus was gentle toward sinners driven by instinct; his own life balanced an honoring of the body with a natural transcendence of its limits. The rest of us may share in divinity, but we are begotten of flesh and blood, unhaloed. We need our God-given instincts. Survival is indeed good, pain is often a necessary warning, new territory does require extra caution.

By suffocating instinctive drives, some early Christians may have strengthened their souls -- but others, less surely guided, simply added emotional pain to physical deprivation. Unable to calmly acknowledge the presence and force of instinctive reactions, they had to condemn them out of hand, thus distorting human nature and disproportionately elevating denial, abstinence, asceticism, masochism and martyrdom.

The trick is not to destroy instinct but to recognize when it no longer serves us. Love can mean sometimes ignoring your own well-being to foster someone else’s; pain can outlast its purpose and turn chronic. And caution can overstep its boundaries until it has confined us to a small corner of our lives.

It’s tiresome being this vigilant, though, staying up nights to sort the healthy instincts from the knee-jerk ones that inhibit a free-flowing life. I keep wanting to trust my instincts across the board, or suffocate them once and for all and let my mind take over, or hand the reins to my heart. Balancing it all feels like juggling eggs while standing, in high heels, on a slippery slope.

And resistance is futile.

Jeannette Batz is a senior editor at The Riverfront Times, an alternative newspaper in St. Louis.

National Catholic Reporter, October 9, 1998