"Resistance is futile” is a catchphrase that has become synonymous with the adoption of new technologies . The idea was popularized with its use in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation,1 where the “Borg,” a cybernetically enhanced humanoid drone, has a role to play in forcing other species into a collective to connect to the “hive mind” . The Borg's singular goal is the consumption of technology, not wealth or political power.
If we track back to the origins of the phrase “resistance is futile” in science fiction film,2 we can find variants such as “resistance is useless”,3 and “your struggles are futile.”4 The exact phrase “resistance is futile” was first used in Space: 1999 (1978), and later in an episode of Doctor Who's “The Cybermen” (1983). In the written form, refer to Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) and his radio series (1978),5 and more importantly Arthur J. Burks's (1930) spectacular short story Monsters of Moyen .
Dr Who “The Centre” (1965)
00:15:18 Approach, Earth people.
00:15:21 Your struggles are futile.
00:15:28 It doesn't work.
00:15:31 It doesn't work!
Space: 1999 “The Dorcans” (1978)
Consul Varda: Commander, the Psychon [Maya] will tell you how futile it is to resist us.
Maya [nodding with obvious discomfort]: Resistance IS futile.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
A huge young Vogon guard stepped forward and yanked them out of their straps with his huge blubbery arms. “You can't throw us into space,” yelled Ford, “we're trying to write a book.”
“Resistance is useless!” shouted the Vogon guard back at him. It was the first phrase he'd learnt when he joined the Vogon Guard Corps.
Monsters of Moyen: Chapter IV “A Nation Waits in Dread” (1930)
With this mechanism, guarded at forfeit of the lives of a score of men, the men of the Secret Room could peer into even the most secret places of the world. The old men had peered, and had seen things which had blanched their pale cheeks anew. And when they had finished, and the terrible pictures had faded out, a voice had spoken suddenly, like an explosion, in the Secret Room.
“Well, gentlemen, are you satisfied that resistance is futile?”
Just the voice; but to one man in the Secret Room, and to the others when his numbing lips spoke the name, it was far more than enough. For not even the wisest of the great men could explain how, as they knew, having just seen him there, a man could be in Madagascar while his voice spoke aloud in the Secret Room, where even radio was barred!
The name on the lips of Prester Kleig!
What does it mean to consider that resistance is futile? Resistance to what? To the creature? Perhaps in modern times we can speak of being resistant to the status quo and to the collective, or to mass surveillance and privacy invasions, or to unrelenting advertising and to endless apps. Nowadays, anyone who is seen to oppose any form of perceived “progress” is considered an obstacle to its adoption. The measurable targets and business aims (which include “transfer pricing”) of mega corporates involved in hi-tech innovation and manufacturing is to ensure that consumers are in a constant mode of upgrades. It is for consumers to be locked-in to not only high-tech gadgetry but one appliance after another, albeit in the home, in the workshop, and outdoors. (See . For the script, see .) The 3D industry will only spawn an even greater level of consumerism and give rise to new and novel underlying challenges.
Now, let's get down to the business of sucking every loose penny… out of Mr. and Mrs. Average-Knucklehead.
What's our big-ticket item? Upgrades, people. Upgrades.
That's how we make the dough.
Now, if we're telling robots that no matter what they're made of, they're “fine”… how can we expect them to feel crummy enough about themselves… to buy our upgrades and make themselves look better?
Therefore, I've come up with a new slogan. “Why be you when you can be new?”
I gotta tell you, I think it's brilliant…
But the truth is that struggles are not wasted, opposition is not useless, and resistance is not futile. The worker unions which rose from within the very bowels of the Industrial Revolution itself are proof enough that power bases can be challenged and defeated. Over the last ten years especially, there has been a backlash with respect to researchers who ponder on the conceivable harms of new technologies. It might well be easy to be positive about everything that is invented, optimistic about its use value in society, and even to be seen as with-it and progressive about something that is showcased to be “convenient” and “efficient.” But how many are paying attention to the trajectory implications of our Future Tech which is become increasingly irreversible, and the long-term fallout of these technologies on our humanity, on our ontological freedoms and individual rights?
We have been led to believe by the transnational “puppeteers” and the global marketers that we have unlimited choices, but the reality is these “infinite” choices have in the main to do with the most immaterial of things: from an endless selection of television channels and lifestyle magazines right through to typically redundant application software, and the limitless supply of “brand name” mobile phones. All this to keep the illusion of choice operating.
One of Marshal McLuhan's stock apothegms hits the mark: If it works, it is already obsolete! Bruce Springsteen's clever song “57 Channels (And Nothin' On)” also sums up this condition very well. On things that truly matter we have either no choice or limited choice: on those who will govern us; the accountability of the corporates; on sending our children to war; the distribution of wealth. The choices we can make as consumers are more often than not meaningless, and make little if any difference to anything, except to establish and to legitimize the positions of the power elite. Or as globalization theorists today argue, it makes better sense to speak of a transnationalist capitalist class.
Lots of different choices will often mean amusement and distraction. But this is nothing new. “Entertainment” was always a ploy to numb and to “dumb down” the masses when things were not going too well or when “changes” needed to be introduced on the sly. The Romans were masters at this and the arena spectacles the imperial court would stage to appease, to control, and to “educate” its people are legend. Pliny for instance, makes this plain in his panegyric to Trajan, xxxi.1. In more recent times the Nazi theater with all of its pomp and ceremony is a prime and monstrous example. Hitler knew too well the stupor a good show could produce, and so did Stalin who was directing his own militaristic and political shows in the Soviet Union. “Only the mob and the elite” wrote Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), “can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda” . It is not only the “bright lights” that can disengage us from deeper reflection but non-stop noise as well, something that Arthur Schopenhauer reflected upon more than a century ago.
Turning the notion of resistance is futile on its head gives us the confirmatory message that “this is inevitable”, whatever the “this” happens to be. It says that no matter what I say to you, no matter the red flags that I identify, and no matter the harms I have revealed through my investigations, that “this” (whatever this might be in a given context) is inevitable. I become powerless to choose and I am told what will happen before it happens. Who holds this iron fist control over the future? This has nothing to do with prophecy, religious or not, for when seers foretell they will typically point to an alternative path. But in this instance we are in fact dealing with the macroeconomic doctrine of the Chicago school which advanced the idea that profit values are the absolute and market decisions are unerringly right.
Media moguls or media maestros as they are every so often referred to, want us to believe that our stance is normally contradictory to the majority; that our position is not only unimportant but warped. They try to convince us that the vocal minority will soon stop speaking out because they simply don't have the resources to keep going. This proselytization is shameful trickery. Those conscientious members of large corporations who have glimpsed behind the veil have been the first to admit that the future they are selling is a potentially terrible one and that they will be glad to not be a part of it . Bill Joy the former chief technologist at Sun Microsystems was severely criticized for being narrow-sighted, even a fundamentalist of sorts, after publishing his brave paper in Wired (2000), but all he did was dare to ask the questions: “Do we know what we are doing? Has anyone really carefully thought about it?” He wrote:
“We are being propelled into this new century with no plan, no control, no brakes. Have we already gone too far down the path to alter course? I don't believe so, but we aren't trying yet, and the last chance to assert control – the fail-safe point – is rapidly approaching” .
Machinery and technology are to be used for the betterment of humankind and not for its subservience. The essential difference between technique “then and now” is that it used to be complimentary to our endeavors and we were in partnership with the engineering. We have gradually moved away from this healthy synergy where we are not only becoming faceless numbers but are deconstructing the basic building blocks of our very being. The catchphrase with which this editorial started has snuck into every pocket of life. It is our responsibility as researchers and investigators to speak out and point to the alternatives. We need consumer advocates who have at heart the representation of consumers, and the everyday people. We need to have a balance that verbalizes “because you can, it doesn't mean it is the right thing to do.” We need people marching on the streets if they do not agree with what is happening in their local, national, and international community of interest. And we need engineers to take upon themselves an increasing and commensurate responsibility, both at the building and ethical levels of their own work.
The paradox more often than not, is that the “resistance is futile” reprise comes from the very few who allegedly represent the many. These are the multinationals and corporates acting as a single entity. They are not the everyday consumer, the school teachers, the elderly, or the disabled. But we have swallowed the adage to believe in the reprise and its inevitability. This is reminiscent of DreamRift's side-scrolling platform game Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion. But life is not a game, though we are increasingly led to believe that almost everything is now become a game or possessed at least of some entertainment value.
In this world nothing can be said to be “inevitable.” The only thing that we can say for now that is inevitable belongs ironically to another cliché: death and taxes. The question remains, why do researchers who believe that trajectories mapped out by marketeers and engineers given the principle of exponential growth will invariably be realized (uberveillance or human-machine meshing for example), continue to spend time and resources on the subject? The answer need not be intricate. It is because a large group of these researchers believe that ultimately whatever the cost, individuals will still possess the freedom to decide to what extent they integrate themselves onto the electronic grid and into the “Borg.”
Resistance is not futile, do not despair.
1. "Resistance is futile", Proc. 19th Int. Symp. on Electronic Art, 2013-June-7–16.
2. Rikeromega3 Productions 1999-2013, [online] Available: http://www.moviesoundclips.net/sound.php?id=148.
3. "Borg", 2015, [online] Available: http://www.startrek.com/database_article/borg.
4. "Resistance is Useless", Dr. Who, 1992, [online] Available: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0328791/.
5. A.J. Burks, "Monsters of Moyen", Astounding Stories, Apr. 1930, [online] Available: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29390/29390-h/29390-h.htm.
6. Robots animation movie, 2005, [online] Available: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0358082/.
7. [online] Available: http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/r/robots-script-transcript.html.
8. H. Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Harcourt, Brace, 1951.
9. K. Michael, "Have we really thought about the consequences", The Technological Trajectory of the Automatic Identification Industry, pp. 335-337, 2003.
10. B. Joy, "Why the future doesn't need us", Wired, Aug. 2000, [online] Available: http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html?pg=9&topic=&topic_set=.
The authors would like to thank privacy advocate Katherine Albrecht for the affirmation that an editorial had to be written on the notion that “resistance is NOT futile.”
Citation: M.G. Michael, Katina Michael, "Resistance Is Not Futile, nil desperandum", IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Volume: 34, Issue: 3, Sept. 2015, pp. 10 - 13.