The Federation is one huge, warm, fuzzy Collective; more than a few races outside the Federation believe this, too, and the evidence (which Bob and Barry have already outlined in a variety of other posts, so I won't bother with more than a casual paraphrasing here) is pretty hefty in favor of that view.
They show all the flexibility of a titanium rod in an ice storm most of the time. Their view is that everybody is better off in the Federation, and once they decide you might need to join, you will join. It might take a while, but you will join.
My last post was somewhat incoherent I know, so I'll try to clarify my thoughts.
The Federation may be perceived as an assimilating force by outsiders, but I believe its expansion is motivated by the realization that historically, societies which do not expand, either physically or intellectually, inevitably collapse. If we look at TNG, we can see that Federation policy, as enforced by the Enterprise-D was to allow cultures to choose whether or not to join the Federation. Sure they encouraged it. They knew that every race brings a new perspective to the table, new ways of looking at things. Look at the first "First Contact". E makes first contact, aliens say no thank you, and E moves on.
Of course assimilation occurs when a society joins the Federation, it is only natural that that would occur. Aliens realize the Feds do something better than they do, so they adopt it, and vice versa.
It isn't all one sided either. Look at relations between the Federation and Klingons. How many times have we seen humans or Bajorans, or Trills, drinking Klingon coffee, Raktajino.
Assimilation doesn't always have to conjure images of the Borg, it can also be a willing exchange of ideas, where two cultures absorrb something from each other, until they become one and the same.
The major difference between being assimilated by the Borg and being assimilated by the Federation is the degree of coercion involved. The Borg don't care whether you want to be assimilated or not--in fact, they think you are an idiot if you don't want to be assimilated (and gee, so do many in the Federation). The Borg have the power to impose assimilation and they proceed to do so--for the good of the Collective and for your own good (even if you do not recognize that it is for your own good).
The Federation is not quite so powerful. They could force single planets/systems to assimilate, but this would make further assimilations more difficult. Instead, the Federation relies upon moral pressure, the carrot of technological advances, and the economic advantages of being a member versus being on the outside. This will almost invariably work, given enough time. Bajor would have joined the Federation already, except the Emissary counseled against it (which really pissed off SFC). The Federation cares whether you want to be assimilated or not, if only because their present ethical framework demands that they care. Their caring doesn't materially affect the fact that you will be assimilated--it only stretches the process out.
I leave aside for the moment the question of better ways of doing things (I.e. alien societies recognizing that the Federation has better ways of doing things). This is entirely too fraught with subjective factors and considerations of the lure of superior tech and resources.
Assimilation is assimilation--ultimately, you end up with a uniform culture and conceptual framework. The Borg force this unity, while the Federation allows it to occur naturally (in much the same way the US is slowly assimilating many parts of our world--culturally, if not politically). Does how you get to that point actually matter so much in the long run? (this is intended to be a rhetorical/philosophical question--I already know what many of you would say in response).
A concern on my part is, that while the Federation is warm and fuzzy right now, there is no guarantee that it will remain that way. I am sure that the Borg didn't start out quite the way they are now--and it must be remembered that the Borg have been specifically crafted to represent the ultimate ST villains (to Western sensibilities) and that many of us have a somewhat visceral reaction to what the Borg represent. That doesn't mean that many of the same qualities aren't present to a greater or lesser degree in the heroes, as well.
Long term question: We know that the federation survives for quite a long period of time (given the travel from the future Federation that occurred in Voyager and led them back to our time). It also seems reasonable to assume that the Dominion and the Borg will be around for a long time. What you will ultimately end up with is a galaxy that is split between three political/cultural entities--after they ultimately fight it out (and they will, though it may be a thousand or more years in the future--and the fight may not necessarily involve actual shooting) how will you be able to tell who won?
We see how the Federation respects and allows each and every member to operate under the rules of their own culture.
No, actually they don't. At least, not in Starfleet. Starfleet insists its members live by human mores. I specifically refer you to the TNG episode where Worf killed Duras. Picard was very upset, yet Worf's actions were completely ethical within his culture.
Ahh yes, but now we are talking about Starfleet, not the Federation. Starfleet is NOT the Federation. Notice that Picard specifically told him that if he had not been in Starfleet it was his own business. You are right, Picard was very upset, but that was mainly because he personally thought it was wrong. In fact I'd venture to guess that Worf had actually not even broken a Starfleet regulation.
Remember I said Federation members, meaning (I may have been unclear) each member planet. They set up and run their own rules, however the Federation has some "super" laws that can't be broken. If you do, we don't "Assimilate you more" we Kick you out.
More so, it was required under Klingon culture. Picard was upset, but in my opinion, Worf should not have been disciplined for his actions. Had Worf killed Duras on the Enterprise, that would be a different issue entirely.
Would everyone please try to remember that though Starfleet's primary goal is exploration, it is a paramilitary force, with structure, rules, and regulations not unlike our current military. I know there are several people here with military experience, so I will ask you: would an immigrannt who joined the military, be subject to the laws of the military, or the laws of his or her respective birthplace.
Also remember, not everyone who comes into the Federation is a member of Starfleet. Starfleet is purely voluntary, so if someone doesn't like the rules, they can either not join, or officers can simply resign their commision.
Keep in mind that while Worf committed no crime aboard the Klingon Ship, to get there he probably broke a dozen regulations and should have been court-martialed for them. He left the ship without authorization from his commanding officers, he removed his commbadge, which is a big no-no in Starfleet. By leaving the ship, he was robbing it of its main tactician while in close proximity to a hostile vessel(Duras' ship), and thus seriously breached the Enterprise's security. He forced an away team to transport into an extremely hostile environment to retrieve him, and knowingly defied the orders of his direct superior in killing Duras, when he did so after Riker told him not to.
Yes, by rights, Worf should have been fried. Picard is just an old softie, though, :-) and let him off with a reprimand (but--such a reprimand, unless carefully phrased and explained would essentially nix Worf's chances of ever getting his own command or rising above the rank of CDR, UNLESS he did some signal service to the Federation afterwards or had an exemplary service record). Don't look for Captain Worf anytime in the near future (based upon what I imagine his service record looks like).
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