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Navigating The Matrix and Recognizing the World For What it Is

Navigating The Matrix and Recognizing the World For What it Is

Behind the Blog

The original release of The Matrix was the first time that I watched a movie where the special effects left me in complete awe. The movie takes us along the journey of a young adult called Neo. His technical skills at computer hacking as well as his penchant for toeing the limits of what is socially permitted make him a target of authorities in the Matrix.  So, very early on in the movie, several intense-looking authority figures engage in an ongoing hunt to catch Neo. It is somewhere around this point in the movie that an unexpected stranger offers Neo a mysterious opportunity to escape his precarious situation. Eventually, Neo’s fear of the authority figures overpowers his fear of accepting an unassuming proposition from the stranger – to choose between taking either a red pill or a blue pill. If Neo chooses the red pill, then he can break free from his current life without the option to return. And if he  chooses the blue pill, he can continue with his (now danger-filled) life as he knows it. With seemingly no better option, Neo feels compelled to take the red pill and we’re off into what we learn is The Matrix – a world in which computers control human beings so that they can be used as their energy source.

In the Matrix, humans are the source of energy that powers everything in the world that they know to be true, which is in reality a sort of artificial intelligence (AI) created by machines. By taking the red pill, Neo becomes aware of the truth that humans are being exploited and destroyed to maintain the very AI that they themselves invented. Today, many blue collar or retail workers may echo a similar sentiment following the recognition of their perceived expendability in society after the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. We learn that the truth (or being “red-pilled”), despite being brutal, painful and jarring, is also liberating and transformative. Neo must now quickly learn how to operate in this new existence, which completely conflicts with the life that he had previously known. His prior experiences, social norms and deep-seated cultural beliefs are of limited use in this new world. So, each emerging challenge becomes a torturous obstacle with which to contend.

There are so many themes in this movie that dominate today’s popular culture such as: the broad social awakening among both men and women when it comes to the impact of work and family culture on interpersonal relationships; the pervasiveness of digital technology and artificial intelligence in our daily life; and the inability for us as individuals to reverse these changes and go back to how things once were. Unlike real life, the movie offers us a solution in the form of a singular figure who can quickly master new skills to thrive in a new reality. And in doing so, this hero can save the world from itself by destroying the Matrix. The stranger, who we later learn is called Morpheus, tells us that everyone else in the world (the blue pilled) are incapable of handling the truth about the world, possibly because they are unable to effectively sit with the cognitive dissonance needed to confront and later live in the true reality.

But what is this truth?

Imagine for a moment that each of your five senses tells you that you are sitting on a soft chair  near to a fragrant rosemary bush, using your eyes to read the words in this blog post, while you listen to a the soft hum of a distant fan and sip some warm camomile tea. This is the existence you know to be true because you hear it, you see it, you smell it, you taste it and you feel it! Now, imagine if some stranger comes along and tells you to ignore what you see out of your own two eyes. This is actually an insane proposition!


Becoming Red Pilled

To be red-pilled is to supposedly see the true reality – a reality that usually conflicts with what you have previously lived your entire life believing.  If you have a nagging feeling that something is off, a desire to make a change in your life, a sense of being stuck, or a defeated acceptance of the current way of life, the idea of a red pill, of an awakening, seems very appealing. You are more likely to seek out information to explain why you are in your current situation. And as you go through this discovery process, you gain new perspectives and beliefs about how the world operates. Unfortunately, however, it’s more likely that a distorted picture of a different reality would be formed when new information is filtered through a narrow lens.

So, not surprisingly, the contemporary use of the term ‘red-pilled’ carries with it some negative connotations given its prevalent use in sub-cultures that promote violence and harm towards minority groups. When it is difficult to seek out counterfactuals or alternative opinions on our newly developing picture of the world, we are more likely to end up in a place of judgement and violence instead of grace and peace. As such, patience and deep consideration is badly needed so that clear-eyed decisions on how to move forward with a new reality can be made. Some people, however, contend that sometimes violence is especially justified in situations where there is some sort of moral fault or unfairness in society.

Consider a historical example that can be found in Catherine The Great when she proposed reforms to improve equality in Russian society but didn’t understand the broader implications on the existing class system in Russia until the French Revolution. Catherine’s actions awakened people to the realities of their brutal daily existence against the backdrop of a leisurely elite class. While most can agree about the merits of her actions, this example highlights the ease at which violence can follow the development of new social beliefs despite contributing to a beneficial transformation of broader society. In most cases, however, violence, harsh judgement and unconstructive conflict towards others who do not share the same outlook, which arises when someone starts learning to live in the new reality, is usually unwarranted and diminishes the benefits that come from being “red-pilled”.

“Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Try to understand the truth. There is no spoon. It is not the spoon that bends, only yourself”

Living in different realities is not always a bad thing

Underlying the term “red-pilled”, is a belief that many people are so dependent on the current social and economic system that they will fight tooth and nail to protect it. These are the people that have taken the blue pill and want to continue to live in the Matrix since they are supposedly not ready to be “unplugged”, or to know. But this belief assumes that every one of us experiences the same reality and the same truth. In the real world, facts are easily distorted and memories are fallible. As a result, as individuals around the world go through their own personal discovery process, we are likely to see a more challenging and conflict-ridden world unless met with grace and a willingness to genuinely understand others’ truths.

Today, being “red-pilled” is driving broad changes in existing social constructs regarding topics such as gender expectations, labor relations, and class differences. Think about this – the world that we are immersed in comes from our history, our traditions, our expectations, our wealth and our physical environment. They are so endemic that we barely even recognize that they exist and how they manifest themselves in the way we speak and act. Consider, for example, the increased awareness of unbalanced household tasks that is increasing women’s hesitance to start a family and where terms such as ‘weaponized incompetence’ prevail. These social dynamics were once assumed to be so benign that they either did not exist or were considered inconsequential. Only now do we realize how much of a central role certain social dynamics have shaped our dating and career decisions, how we move through life and fundamentally, our ability to experience happiness.

Unfortunately, the movie never takes us too far beyond the physical battle to free humanity from the Matrix. It relied too much on Neo, our quintessential Western hero who was selected as the only man with the power to wake people to this truth and save the humanity from almost certain destruction. A strong character, and compassion for others was always assumed. This begs the question, should the salvation of the world rest on the resolve and supposed moral will of some unknown hero?

I suppose you get where I’m going here. Our life isn’t a movie. No one is going to come in and save us. Karma may not arrive before our own demise. We have to be our own hero in our own lives. And becoming a successful hero is pretty difficult if we take the red pill without considering the mental and emotion dimensions of any awakening to a new truth. It is without a doubt that as we fight to find our truth, our culture will keep coming back to test us in its many forms. Discovery of new truths should not only force us to confront the frailties of our way of life and of the brutality of our lived realities, but also, to engulf ourselves in the fullness of human compassion and consideration.

Perhaps, we can take a word of advice from the oracle in the movie:  “Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Try to understand the truth. There is no spoon. It is not the spoon that bends, only yourself”. In other words, rather than demand society yields to our new beliefs, it is more useful to accept that the key benefit of becoming “red-pilled” is recognizing the need to make an internal change in ourselves in a way that helps us to more effectively navigate the world.

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