31 March 2007

There's a reason that pill was RED

It's an observation made several times that The Matrix can be seen as a very Marxist movie. The basic idea: there is a vast system which relies on exploiting us for its fuel. It creates an illusion of reality that encourages its victims, not only not to fight it, but not to even see that it's there. (To misquote C S Lewis: "Capitalism's greatest triumph was convincing the world that it didn't exist" - or that it was the same thing as nature.) And, of course, that there could be a small but bad-ass organisation of people who have broken free and are determined to break everyone else free too. I actually own a vinyl dress and have been called "Trinity" on occasion.

And then there's this fellow. Now, to see where I think he's going wrong, remember what the Marxist definition of ideology is - "an imaginary solution to a real problem". Because on one hand, Mr Draven has certainly got a hell of a lot right:

The Matrix, here, IS real: but here, it is the societal construct that in fact creates, maintains, and controls the collective 'reality', and forces people to accept their own limitations.

But here is where the ideology kicks in. The dude mistakes the map for the territory. He is seriously attempting to live in the metaphor. And - crucially - this has led him away from making revolutionary change in order to promote a religion - a kind of private "opting out" of what he sees as the Construct:

The point - there or here - was never, ever to destroy the Matrix. To destroy the System. I wish, wish, wish that people would see that, hear me say that so desperately, before they go forward and judge my words based on the PC[films]... even Morpheus was wrong... God forgive me for saying so again. "As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free..." No. Wrong. The Matrix, the Construct, the System, is not evil. Blowing up the prison isn't the point. They'll just find another one, as they must. And even within its walls and its bars - as within its pods and programs - the System sustains life for those who cannot live without it.

Opening the door, showing those who want to see the sky that they certainly can, if only they look this way, shed their fear... giving them the choice to make that decision, to define their reality, for themselves, and letting the System CHANGE AS IT MUST as more and more of them realize that the door's not locked after all...

This fellow has all the passion that could have made him a great revolutionary. But his central mistake is one of his basic axioms:

Reality is subjective, not collective.

In a word, bullshit. Tattoo the very opposite on the inside of your eyelids. Once you accept that - an idealist, rather than a materialist analysis - you are no longer a threat to the system. You are lost inside your own head and can only build a castle in the air which has nothing to do with the real world. Just because you might persuade other people to live in that castle doesn't mean diddly-squat. You could have changed the world and instead you just invented a new painkiller. To make people happier in their slavery rather than to help liberate them. To offer escapism instead of escape. Way to go, Neo.


  1. "Reality is subjective, not collective."

    Ugh. Does this mean that I'm a figment in Neo's imagination?

    I had something written in response to this post of yours, but it went down the wormhole of something-or-other, and I'm not going to exactly reconstruct what it was, but, let me tell you, it was pretty good. I know, the Matrix must be trying to keep me down.

    Two questions come to me immediately.

    The first is, why do people so elaborately defend solipsism? And solipsism seems to be the end product of individualism, a mythic individualism. The proliferation of Phil Dick-like narratives in film, expansive drug use (Americans take more drugs, legal and illegal, than the rest of the world combined), ontologically radical statecraft ("we create reality"), the general climate of paranoia engendered by the war on terror, the explosion of autism, even the growing popularity of magic--all manifestations of the hardening of the self. (Although the topic of magic is a tricky one; I think there is an orientation to magic which has been historically suppressed--or else erected specifically in order to create a spectacle of suppression as a dodge for the masses.)

    The other question: What exactly are the limitations which can only be exceeded by the "individual," which fellows like this and many libertarians, for instance, are always arguing to abolish? And what kinds of behaviors are they advocating? Obviously, there is some of the language of "self-improvement" here. To exceed one's limitations could perhaps mean to run a faster mile, cook a better meal, lower one's cholesterol count, improve one's sales figures, etc. But in what context and for what purpose? And yet, I still don't think this kind of "self-improvement" is exactly what he's getting at.

  2. Solipsism is also the end product of commodity fetishism. The most important thing about lifestylism is that you don't actually have to build relationships with other people. All you need is the right consumer goods.

  3. Wow.

    Exceedingly good way to miss the point.

    Try taking more time to sort through it. And watch the news sometime.

    Oh, and the radio show's good, too. Mistaking individuality for a dream is the trouble - especially with people like you, who think you know so much better.

  4. But I *do* know better, Neo. For example, I don't believe in "individuality".