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Alternative Culture Articles

July 9, 2000

The Matrix Metaphor
by Royce Carlson

In the movie, "The Matrix", the world has supposedly been taken over by machines that use human bio-energy as their fuel. Millions of humans sleep 24/7 within pods attached to huge structures while their energy is drained to fuel the machine-world. They involuntarily participate in a manufactured virtual reality that is an imitation of life as we know it. None of them know that the true reality is very different.

"The Matrix" contains all the Hollywood plot twists and effects that you would expect from any other good action-adventure movie. It has a love interest, lots of explosions, violence and spectacular special effects. It has macho dialogue and handsome actors - the usual. But there is a depth to this movie that is just now beginning to take hold in the consciousness of many people.

The metaphor that "The Matrix" represents is not a literal danger of the world being taken over by sentient machines. It is the situation we are in right now in regards to cultural, political and economic systems. We are living in the matrix now and most of us, like the helpless people in the movie, donít even know it. We are the unwitting victims of forces we donít even know exist.

In the summer 2000 issue of Whole Earth Review there is an article by Richard K. Moore called "Escaping the Matrix." He takes the matrix metaphor into the field of politics and likens our two-party system to a set-up by the real powers-that-be to give us the illusion that we have a choice in who is governing us. The Democrat and Republican parties are so similar that choosing between them amounts to no real choice at all. An essential element of the matrix metaphor is, "Give people the illusion of self-determination and they will remain under control."

Another article, published in the July 2000 issue of Yahoo! Internet Life, compares some of the big tech and telecom companies to the Matrix. Once again, we are given the illusion of choice while the actual players win regardless of what we choose. In this article the authors represent that not only is Microsoft a potential danger to competition but that AOL-Time Warner and Yahoo! are equal threats (if not greater) to our ability to choose who to get products and services from. In the early days of personal computing we would buy third party software to add functionality to our personal computing experience. The strategy of Microsoft and Yahoo! is to essentially pirate these peripherals and integrate them into their products. Their sheer size allows them to offer these features for free thereby eliminating any competition almost completely. Why go anywhere else, when the matrix will provide us with everything?

The matrix metaphor exerts its control over us in a cultural context constantly. We are raised to like certain things and dislike others. We are prodded and manipulated from the time of childhood to assert our unique identities by taking pride in the brand of beer we drink or the type of car we drive. Have you noticed the bizarre and childish battle between Ford and Chevy owners? They have these little stickers on their windows showing a little boy peeing on one or the other corporate logos. The matrix takes advantage of our innate human desire to belong to something and twists it to promote products.

We watch the sports we are supposed to watch Ė in fact, the increasing "spectator-ization" of America is result of the matrix. We believe we are exercising our personal choice when we choose which sports team to support. What is the result of that? Ė we pay, they make millions. The matrix wants us to buy our individuality.

In business, one of the current buzz phrases, "think outside the box" is an attempt to escape the control of the matrix. But the powers that are really in control have already built a new box around the one you are supposed to try to think outside of. That bigger box has to do with greed and power, one of the carrots held in front of us to keep us under control. The matrix is clever. It will use our desire to break out to keep us inside by offering us the illusion of freedom, "Be a rebel. Buy our product."

The message that the matrix sends to the less rebellious of us is, "Leave it to the professionals. You just sit there. We have it all under control. If you follow the right (our) path, you will be given everything you ever desired. Think the right thoughts and buy the right products and you will be rewarded."

The Matrix metaphor has a lot of mileage left in it and stands a good chance of taking a significant place in the consciousness of the counter-culture.

Taking the red pill and waking up to the truth is the easiest part of the path to true freedom although itís an essential beginning. Next comes the hard part of trying to extricate ourselves from thinking the thoughts we are trained to think and accepting the pathways and solutions to problems that we are trained to accept.

There is a battle for control of the immense Internet communications infrastructure being built today. The matrix powers are building it but we can use it to help people wake up to reality. We can use it to connect with other people who dare to really think outside the box and we can use it to learn new ways of thinking that can potentially free us from the tyranny of cultural, economic and political coercion. We can, in our daily lives, try to see how we are held prisoner by the matrix in our thoughts and actions.

One simple, but powerful, mental exercise is to assume first of all that the conventional wisdom is wrong. Not that it actually always is, but, if you reject it right off, you are left with non-matrix possibilities to consider. It may well turn out that conventional wisdom is best, but you may also discover life-enhancing ways of thinking that would never have occurred to you before. This is the beginning of the escape from the matrix.

The movie presents, in the form of art, a metaphor that needs to be understood. The message is powerful and is becoming a rallying point for those people working against the multinational corporate politics that is ruling our lives. More articles are being written every month that use the matrix metaphor to make their points and, hopefully, they can help us shift to a more human-oriented culture. So, take the red pill and discover the truth that we have been asleep and under the control of the matrix. Then wake up and find a new way to think and be!


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Royce Carlson