Although it’s too late to rescue the idea of The Matrix from pop culture irrelevance—the patient died of over-exposure and ex-sanguination, which passes for natural causes when it concerns anything of real substance in the American psyche—it’s never too late to do a post-mortem.
It has become the undisputed embodiment of evil, soon to usurp the Devil, the Ego, and Hitler and the Nazis . . . our favorite alternatives to looking in the mirror for the roots of our alienation, suffering, depravity, and insanity. It has become synonymous with “the mess we’re in” or “the human condition on steroids,” or, if you’re a child of the 60’s, “the Man,” or “the Establishment.”
These days “The Matrix” trips off the tongues of grandmothers and political bloggers alike, which is hilarious because it has acquired a rich diversity of mouthpieces to talk about itself. The hot topic of conversation is whether we live in a simulation or not, without realizing that the conversation itself is a product of the simulation that initiates a never-ending loop of contrived investigation.
Now that The Matrix has become fodder for breakroom banter its hold on us is even greater, because nothing pleases us more than to replace incisive examination with superficial chitchat. At least when it was still wrapped in a warm cloak of conspiracy theory intrigue The Matrix had a level of gravity to it. Now it’s about as compelling as Russiagate. What a relief it must be for The Matrix to be able to remove the corset from its bloated abdomen and let it hang out without shame, like a middle-aged man who doesn’t have to retract his stomach anymore around the ladies.
I recently saw a posting on YouTube of a talk by David Icke entitled, “Who Built the Matrix?” and tuned in to witness the unmasking of the scapegoat du jour. Mr. Icke scrolled through the Rolodex of Pure Evil and ruled out the usual suspects–“it’s not the corporations, intelligence agencies, central banks, illuminati, cabal, oligarchy, shadow government, or deep state”—and with each deletion my anticipation mounted. Is he really going to say it, I wondered, is he going to tell the truth in this posh auditorium full of well-dressed followers?
And here was his public enemy #1: “It’s extraterrestrials . . . “ Groan. Anti-climactic doesn’t begin to describe this bail-out of an answer. Once again we tiptoe to the edge of the pool, dip our bare foot in, shudder, and conclude: “Nope, too fuckin’ cold. Maybe tomorrow.”
Now, I can groove on a discussion about ET’s as much as the next person, but in demonizing extraterrestrials we conveniently opt for a source that is even more difficult to corroborate and pinpoint than an earth-based one, such as central banks or the intelligence community. It’s another example of the mind feigning ignorance of its own creation so that it can make a pretense of exploring itself, while twisting the investigative storyline into an exercise in arbitrary judgments and observations based on agenda, identity, and preference.
So, the spotlight gets turned even further from the real architect—it’s us, the human race, homo sapiens, John and Jane Q. Public, who created the Matrix and continue to do so! The Matrix is a product of thought as are we, and we hold it aloft as long as our thoughts make it so. As individualized aspects of consciousness and a collective mind, we all share in the blame because we determine what is real through the persistence of our thought patterns.
Since we’ve constructed the Matrix as a landfill for those aspects of human nature we feel we should revile, it is correspondingly imbued with the cream of humanity’s repressed material. It is little wonder, then, that we resist recognizing it as our own creation and prefer to see it out there as a nemesis and not as a messenger that has something profound to tell us about ourselves. It doesn’t help that we put the Matrix on the largest stage possible, because the higher the drama quotient the easier it is for us to not feel personally involved.
We love watching programs that depict a brave individual who refuses to kowtow to the Matrix and escapes with her fierce individuality intact, and we never identify with the amorphous force of oppression that seeks to squash that hero. (We love to hiss and boo when Mr. Smith enters the scene). We are both, but we fail to recognize ourselves in the latter even as the medium provides us the golden opportunity to see ourselves in all of our paradoxical glory.
And now the spoiler: We don’t really want to be free of The Matrix because we’ve built it according to our own specifications, making it the designer prison that we love to hate. Potentially, there is enormous liberation in recognizing that we are both the jailer and the prisoner, but we prefer a path to freedom that skirts personal responsibility and mortifying recognitions about ourselves and our species.
The only deliverance that can be achieved is freedom from the person within us that constructed the Matrix and accepts it as our fate. So, the self-image has to take a major hit if we want to at least see our role in the Matrix and the life story has to be deconstructed, because it is the blueprint we followed when we built it. Effectively, we have to write ourselves out of the script.
This is a formidable undertaking, since it requires swimming against a treacherous current of non-stop information that reinforces the Matrix both collectively and individually, leaving us very little room to imagine an alternative. A suitable analogy might be trying to find the exit in a hall of mirrors. Collectively, we fashion group agreements about the components, boundaries, and purpose of the Matrix, and use convenient elements from our existing stories (American culture, the military, intelligence, politics, banking, historical references) to construct a convincing argument that it is something separate from us.
At the individual level The Matrix provides a sticky canvas on which to lob and cement our identities of victim, outcast, unlovable, martyr, avenger, righteous one, the oppressed, and a host of other beauties.
Our imagination—currently hijacked and neutered by The Matrix–is waiting to be unlocked, if we can only wean it from the limited menu of myths, fantasies, and possibilities served to it through entertainment, cultural institutions, the educational system, and from our personal contribution to our brainwashing that we call our life story. The imagination can be programmed as easily as any other aspect of a human being, so that its deeper expression is virtually ignored through an IV drip of minimal stimulation administered by the culture at large.
If it sounds like I’m suggesting an escape from reality, it’s actually the opposite. It requires us to deeply examine the beliefs, lies, and misperceptions of our personal narrative that we’ve used as an unreliable guide to navigate this mess. If we can allow the restoration of our personal myths while deconstructing the limited version of ourselves that keeps us safe and miserable, we can forge an alternative experience that both transcends and exists concurrently with the Matrix. For example, will I embrace my destiny as an independent filmmaker or settle for a fate as a weekend wedding videographer?
Even as we consciously dive into these stories we’ve kept hidden and stunted, the price is that we risk becoming an even greater egomaniac than the one that unconsciously maintains the Matrix, because there is tremendous personal power to be reclaimed from liberating the life force expended to keep us immersed in the Matrix. That is one reason it feels safer to just talk about it. We’d rather assume the identity of the oppressed than risk becoming the oppressor. We see abuse of power all around us in every possible context, yet we believe we can somehow stay on the right side of knowing how to responsibly administer power without actually accepting the responsibility ourselves.
We will only flip The Matrix when we stop trying to figure it out or escape it, and instead be willing to engage with the lost parts of our totality that have assembled themselves as its building blocks.