When Morpheus Comes
Just as the Matrix offered a pleasant fiction to humans in exchange for their subordination to the machine world, American society offers such an "opiate to the masses", in a variety of forms through a variety of channels. When Morpheus presented Neo with a choice between the red pill, which would lift the veil of illusion provided by the Matrix, and the blue pill, which would enable Neo to maintain the comfort of his illusory life, Neo went with red. Like others before him, Neo chose reality, complete with its harshness and challenges. However, this choice enabled him to shed the smothering comfort of the soul-engulfing Matrix.
From a young age, American society bludgeons us with propaganda that diverts our attention from reality, and impedes us from aspiring to spiritual fulfillment. The natural human instinct to self actualize through finding a deep-seated sense of self, and sense of purpose, is shunted by Madison Avenue, think tanks, political propaganda, government-manipulated mainstream media, churches that manipulate through fear, and a patriarchal system that continues to fight for the preservation of the dominance of white, heterosexual males. Individuality and personal freedom are the realm of the much harangued "fuzzy-minded liberals" who have the audacity to challenge the status quo.
Corporations like Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and Microsoft have staked their claim on the economic landscape, and continue to steam-roll the competition in their endless quest to expand their empires. They have helped created a sterile, mundane uniformity in how people shop, eat and use their computers. Hundreds of millions of American consumers save $20.00 a week shopping at Wal-Mart, buying goods imported from China, which are stocked by Wal-Mart employees making sub-standard wages, and receiving sub-standard benefits. Meanwhile the locally owned vendors go under, further ensuring Wal-Mart's dominance in the marketplace, and further enhancing the prominence of their hideous yellow smiley face as a cultural icon. Watch out for falling prices, and for falling wages! Where do 99% of children under the age of ten want to go when it is time to go out to eat? The allure of toys and play places has kept McDonald's thriving despite their cookie-cutter continuity and unhealthy food. Ah, the comfort of familiarity and loads of cholesterol! With 90% of the desk-top operating system locked up, Microsoft does not have much competition. Most Americans would not have an inkling how to change operating systems, or even realize they had an alternative to Windows. How can one seek individuality, freedom, and a sense of purpose in a sterile landscape dominated by these and other monopolistic corporations, which exist to generate unconscionable profits, manipulate American consumers to part with their hard earned dollars for products and services they do not necessarily need, pay the lowest possible wages, and crush the competition.
From the age we learn to speak, our gender roles are assigned to us with a rigid delineation. Boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls. Boys are taught not to cry. Girls learn to be fragile and sweet. America inculcates boys with its twisted compulsion to compete and dominate the opponent. Losing is cause for shame, and winning is the only thing that matters. The drive to be "number one" is the only goal worth pursuing. Many boys are seduced by the alluring myth that they are valued solely for their performance, and when they perform well, they feel the rush. Unfortunately, when they do not "perform well", whether it be in school, at work, in the bedroom, or on the football field, their feelings plunge to extreme lows as their sense of worth dissipates. Girls learn that they derive their self worth from their beauty and ability to attract men. America's obsession with the "ideal woman", created with silicone, personal trainers, tanning salons, and air brushes, has driven many females to engage in the horrors of eating disorders. How can one know one's true self or one's true purpose on this earth when one is compulsively striving to "be number one", or to be the next Pamela Anderson?
Madison Avenue bears much of the responsibility for manufacturing the alluring lies that Americans swallow so readily. The illusions and pleasant fictions that they project to us through television, magazines, the Internet, and on radio border on the obscene in their disconnect from truth and reality. These propagandistic wizards use intricate forms of manipulation to entice us to buy what we do not need, use products that are unsafe (or of low quality), and to our greatest detriment, waste our precious drive and energy attempting to be someone we are not. Sprite's slogan is to "obey your thirst". If I were to truly obey my thirst, a physical drive to maintain my body's water volume, I would drink water, not Sprite. Wearing the "right cologne" or driving the "right car" is not going to get me the "right girl". Drinking Coors at an NFL game is not going to morph me into Kid Rock and surround me with scantily clad women. Madison Avenue projects a steady stream of garbage into the minds of the willing. Unfortunately, most people engage in the mediums used by advertisers to hock their wares, and some are readily seduced by the images, sounds, and enticing lies evoked by commercials and ads.
Government plays its role in the oppression of the individual's quest for self, freedom, and purpose. One need look no further than the Bush administration to find numerous examples. They have convinced 150,000 military personnel, and millions of voters, that America was performing a patriotic act by invading Iraq. They continue to recruit new "patriots" each day with false claims that the war was, and is, justified. The Bush administration brands those who do not support their imperialist endeavors as "unpatriotic" despite mounting evidence that they lied to the American people to garner their initial support of the invasion, and despite the fact that we attacked Iraq without provocation. From a very early age, we are taught to "pledge allegiance to the flag, one nation, under God". What young elementary school child has the cognitive development to truly understand the meaning of those words as they put their hand over their heart and swear a loyalty oath to the symbol of a concept as abstract as that of a nation? Our psyche is pummeled with the message that a significant portion of our self worth rests on our willingness to support our nation, and even die for it by going to war. But what if our nation's decision-makers are corrupt, and the real cause they are asking us to die for is to enhance corporate and elitist financial interests? Are we still unpatriotic if we refuse to sacrifice ourselves to fatten the wealthy, or are we just using our innate moral sense and intellect? I say it is the latter. If they knock on my door and ask me to participate in their imperialistic crusades, they will get a resounding no, regardless of the consequences they impose upon me.
The oppression of minorities, including racial minorities, religious minorities, women, the disabled, the mentally ill, and gays, is woven into the fabric of American society. Immigrants built the America that we know. The only true Americans are Native Americans, and they were shamefully relegated to a subordinate role long ago. Blacks are called separatists when they express their cultural heritage and individuality, and continue to face discrimination at many levels. Middle and Near Easterners are eyed with suspicion and distrust when they wear their traditional garb in public. Women who act in masculine ways and achieve "masculine goals" by attaining positions of power are shunned by men and women alike. Hispanic immigrants are vilified for not learning English quickly enough. Disabled individuals are still denied equal access to buildings, facilities, and employment. Mentally ill individuals are shunned and treated as pariahs as governors (like Matt Blunt of Missouri) slash funding for treatment facilities. Therapists and medication can enable the mentally ill to lead productive, fulfilling lives, but only if they are allowed access. The Religious Right, a movement of conservative Christians, is giving moderate and progressive Christianity a black eye by attacking the judicial system and attempting to impose their narrow beliefs (including homophobia) on the rest of America through legislation like the Constitution Reformation Act. Homosexuals are mocked, beaten, murdered, and, perhaps worst of all, face government sponsored discrimination. How can a person be who they truly are, and act for the purpose for which they were intended, if they are oppressed because of an innate aspect of their being?
9/11 enabled George Bush, our Evangelistic president, to use fear inspired by the terrorist attack to create false dichotomies of good versus evil. USA good. Middle East bad. Christianity good. Islam bad. Karl Rove and his fellow conspirators preyed upon this fear to propel Bush back into office in 2004, despite the corrupt nature of his administration and his personal incompetence. The Religious Right also seized the opportunity as they moved in to fill the spiritual vacuum felt by many Americans laid vulnerable by fear of more terrorist attacks. What a tremendous relief and comfort they offered by providing one book that has all the answers to the many complexities of the human condition. Guaranteeing eternal salvation and the key to heaven through acceptance of Christ as one's personal savior drew many to their "oasis of certainty" in a world of perpetual fear fostered by the Bush administration. They offered the Bible as an instruction book to resolve any problem, a guarantee to go to heaven, the smug satisfaction of knowing that one was indisputably right, and the powerful feeling of piety derived from the "knowledge" that those who embrace different beliefs are destined to burn in Hell. One's intellectual freedom and further spiritual growth are small prices to pay for such "treasures".
Wandering in the barren spiritual desert of our society, it is small wonder that some fall prey to the "quick fixes" and easy answers. Instead of continuing, or in some cases even beginning, their spiritual journeys through the sometimes destitute land-scape of the journey of self discovery and fulfilling one's higher purpose, some remain mesmerized by the tempting, tantalizing "Matrix" emanating from various sources in our society. These individuals focus their attention and energy on attempting to attain society's definition of "success" by becoming the next Michael Jordan, pursuing wealth for the sake of accumulation in an effort to emulate Donald Trump, embodying the patriotic ideal projected by Big Brother, becoming a member of the Religious Righteous (and embarking on a crusade to stamp out homosexuality), or a combination of such hollow objectives.
I am not saying that people who engage in these institutionalized, inculcated practices are the problem. I have bought into the lies many times in my life, and still do on a day to day basis, although to a lesser degree. The problem arises when a person sells oneself out for the false security these snake oil salesman are peddling, and chooses to live in the "Matrix". Each human being has the potential to be so much more than we are told we can be. We have the capacity to do so much more than we are told we can do. The tragedy occurs when one swallows the blue pill. Once one sells out, the elite and the ruling class have a new pawn with which to further their interests, and they take no prisoners. Human misery only matters to the elite when it translates into financial liability or diminished control over the "great beast", as Noam Chomsky calls the "masses".
The world has entered a dark age. America represents a significant blight on humanity's well-being. The current administration's insatiable desire to spend money and incur massive debt has placed the world economy on a precipice. America has become a debtor nation, beholden to its lenders, not unlike the so-called "Third World" countries, which many Americans view with such condescension. Despite its scandals, the United Nations represents a unifying body of nations, which if properly managed, could offer solutions to many of the world's problems, including poverty, war, and natural disasters. Yet if this administration has its way, the UN will be little more than a puppet to further American imperialistic interests. America is involved in an illegal, imperialistic war in Iraq, and a potentially "never-ending" war which Bush has launched against terrorists, a nameless, faceless enemy. Bush, and his successors, can justify engaging with this "shadow enemy" as long as it fills the military-industrial complex's coffers. Bush and his followers have created the real judicial crisis in America as they are attempting to railroad several unfit candidates onto the federal bench, are attempting to do away with the filibuster in the Senate, and have endorsed a variety of attacks and threats on the judiciary. Bush and the Religious Right both have an intense resolve to severely cripple the judiciary because it is the only remaining significant check on their power. Since stocking the judiciary with "their people" was not effective, their new plan is to render it impotent. America's Religious Right mirrors the dogmatic followers of Islam in the Middle East, and is garnering the political power to convert our republic into a theocracy. Many of these events have unfolded because people have been beguiled by the propaganda of Karl Rove and the Religious Right, or because their obsession with attaining the "American dream" of "success" has kept them too occupied to be aware of what these schemers have been doing.
It is not too late for a change of course. I believe that Morpheus comes into each person's life at some point. When he visited me in 1993 in the form of my lesbian mentor, I chose the red pill. I chose red, because at that time, my version of reality was not something I would want to wake up to the next morning. The Matrix had lost its luster; I simply needed the red pill to realize there an was an alternative to the "Matrix". As I swallowed the red pill, reality unfolded before my eyes as I learned to emphasize reason, logic, and critical thinking over faith, fantasy, and self delusion. My worldview changed. Human dignity, human rights, parenting my children, educating myself, respecting myself and others, empathy, honesty, taking responsibility for my actions,and engaging in love as an act of will (as defined by Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled) became my core values. Certainly, I have my limitations, make mistakes, backslide, and above all, do not claim to have THE answer, or even a complete answer. However, throwing off the yolk of the "Matrix" made me a better person. Through applying myself to my core values and striving to evolve spiritually, I am taking action to make the world a better place. When my Morpheus knocked, I answered, and my eyes were opened to a world of hope, love, and possibilities for spiritual growth without harming others. I also became highly aware of the many lies, manipulations, and abuses of trust that confront us frequently as we go about our daily lives. As Nietzsche concluded, THE answer does not exist. Each human being has the capacity, and bears the responsibility, for finding THEIR answer, whether it be in Humanism, Christianity, Buddhism, atheism, or whichever philosophy, or combination of philosophies, they choose to adopt. Many have taken the red pill. My suggestion to those who have not? When Morpheus comes, take the red pill......
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