October 16th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Cultural Paranoia - Part V

Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Neo: The Matrix.
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
Neo: Yes.
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

     - The Matrix (1999)

Like sleepers we walk through our daily lives, feeding our children, taking them to school, wandering the halls of giant skyscrapers, working at computer stations, sitting in board rooms, going about our business unaware that the world that we live in might just be a virtual program run on a universal computer unrecognized because hidden below the surface of our quantum matrix. Slavjo Zizek tells us that "the ultimate American paranoiac fantasy is that of an individual living in a small idyllic Californian city, a consumerist paradise, who suddenly starts to suspect that the world he lives in is a fake, a spectacle staged to convince him that he lives in a real world, while all people around him are effectively actors and extras in a gigantic show." He points out Peter Weir's The Truman Show (1998), and Philip K. Dick's Time Out of Joint (1959), as being the two most obvious examples.

This kind of thing has happened before. Plato in his masterwork The Republic speaks to us about a story of  several prisoners who spend their entire lives tied to posts so that all they see is a wall in front of them. Behind them secret beings walk to and fro along a path carrying vases, statues, and other artifacts that cast shadows upon the wall in front of the prisoners. Being tied to the posts our prisoners experience these "objects" as shadows on the wall. Plato surmises that these prisoners over time begin to take the shadows on the wall to be real objects in themselves rather than stagecraft, images, appearances. Plato describes the first concept of the matrix for us to show the difference between appearance and reality. The prisoners oblivious of the truth take the false realm of shadows for reality without ever questioning the truth that goes on behind them outside in the real sunlight of the actual world.

Plato tells us it is not enough to awaken these prisoners from their lethargic belief systems. Telling them that what they are seeing is not real but a false semblance of reality would gain you nothing but derisive epithets and hints that you are the one who is crazy. No one must point the way, guide them to the real world where they can experience the truth for themselves. Socrates put it this way: The process, I said, is not the turning over of an oyster-shell, but the turning round of a soul passing from a day which is little better than night to the true day of being, that is, the ascent from below, which we affirm to be true philosophy? Or, as Morpheus said: "I can only show you the door. You must walk through it." The door to reality and the awakening of the mind to a true philosophical knowledge of the way of the world.

It was Edward Bernay's one to the prime movers in the public relations industry who stated that ''the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society." A cynical Reinhold Niebuhr would later declare that ''rationality belongs to the cool observers' who must recognize ''the stupidity of the average man' and fill his mind with ''necessary illusions' and ''emotionally potent oversimplifications.' As David A. Gabbard says:

"Since the time of Plato, the mainstream of democratic theory has recognized these proper mysteries of government. Unlike totalitarian societies, where the state can always resort to outright physical coercion to control the population, the 'permanent interests of market democracies such our own, where the decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of those who control the market, must concern themselves with what people think. Here, the public does have a voice, but the 'permanent interests must make sure that the public voice says the right things. Hence, thought control takes on central importance. The population must be rendered dependent, like children, on the paternalistic state for their proper understandings of the world in which they live. The more deeply enmeshed people become within the fabricated Matrix of 'necessary illusions and 'emotionally potent oversimplification, the less threatening they become to the state. Too much independence from this Matrix might lead to the formation and articulation of other ideas, leading to a 'crisis of democracy that might threaten the security state's ability to protect the 'permanent interests. Democracy, itself, constitutes a threat to those interests and must, therefore, be properly managed by the 'responsible men."

Alfred W. McCoy in a critical article on The Huffington Post recently made this observation about the American matrix:

"In a future America, enhanced retinal recognition could be married to omnipresent security cameras as a part of the increasingly routine monitoring of public space. Military surveillance equipment, tempered to a technological cutting edge in counterinsurgency wars, might also one day be married to the swelling domestic databases of the NSA and FBI, sweeping the fiber-optic cables beneath our cities for any sign of subversion. And in the skies above, loitering aircraft and cruising drones could be checking our borders and peering down on American life.

"If that day comes, our cities will be Argus-eyed with countless thousands of digital cameras scanning the faces of passengers at airports, pedestrians on city streets, drivers on highways, ATM customers, mall shoppers, and visitors to any federal facility. One day, hyper-speed software will be able to match those millions upon millions of facial or retinal scans to photos of suspect subversives inside a biometric data base akin to England's current National Public Order Intelligence Unit, sending anti-subversion SWAT teams scrambling for an arrest or an armed assault." read more...

"Human beings have an almost unlimited capacity for self-delusion. We can justify any amount of sadness if it fits our own particular standard of reality. "
     — John Twelve Hawks (The Traveler

Agent Smith tells Neo that "the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization." 

Umberto Eco in his conspiracy novel Foucault's Pendulum says that we're all part of a non-existent Plan: "We invented a nonexistent Plan, and They not only believed it was real but convinced themselves that They had been part of it for ages, or rather They identified the fragments of their muddled mythology as moments of our Plan, moments joined in a logical, irrefutable web of analogy, semblance, suspicion. But if you invent a plan and others carry it out, it’s as if the Plan exists."

This infinite "web of deceit" as Chomsky called it is a hyperreal world that emprisons us in a realm of our own making. Jean Baudrillard in his work Simulacra and Simulation, tells us that the Matrix (Disneyland) "imaginary is neither true or false: it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real. Whence the debility, the infantile degeneration of this imaginary. It's meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere..."

What if the matrix is not outside us but is hidden deep within our own minds? This is an idea first expounded by Immanuel Kant who taught the radical idea that we are co-creators of the world rather than passive victims of it. John Crowley reminds us that the Romanian scholar Ioan Culianu distinguishes between two types of polity: the magician state -- such as the United States or Italy, where he lived when he came to the West -- and the police state. The police state becomes a jailer state, "changing itself into a prison where all hope is lost," repressing both liberty and the illusion of liberty in order to defend an out-of-date culture in which no one believes. It is bound to perish. The magician state, on the other hand, can degenerate into a sorcerer state, providing only the illusion of satisfaction, keeping the controls hidden; its faults are too much subtlety and too much flexibility. "Yet the future belongs to it anyway," Culianu says. "Coercion and the use of force will have to yield to the subtle processes of magic, science of the past, of the present, and of the future." read more...

Is this the meaning of the Matrix? Is America and the world a "magician state" becoming a sorcerer state? And if there is a hidden, secret history of the world, a plan behind the scenes, what is it; and, who are its secret sorcerors? Let us explore the hidden byways of history and the secret societies that have fascinated conspiracy theorists for ages.