The Matrix is real, but it is not what you think it is. This is not about AI, or politics, or simulation. It is about the way you live your life. This is not a conspiracy theory. This is not even a theory. If you are not into questioning your own thoughts, decisions and habits, you might want to turn back now, because otherwise you might have a hard time going back to sleep. If you have, this article might be a let-down for you, the same way that the end of Morpheus’ speech in The Matrix was a let-down for me.
Remember Morpheus’ monologue from the Matrix, right before Neo takes the red pill, and wakes up? Let me remind you:
MORPHEUS: 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: [nods 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. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.
This is where I hoped that Morpheus would tell us the truth. The real truth.
Instead, it became an action movie.
But let’s continue.
This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends; you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
If you prefer the blue pill, you should just close this window now, and go back to your merry ways. Thank you for reading.
If you are still here, you might already know where I am going. Or not. Let’s find out.
The matrix is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You are in it when you buy your house with the white fence, when you marry, when you have those two kids because “this is what people do”. You are in it when you go to church, and you call it religion. You are in it when you pay your taxes, and you call it the law, or government. It is everywhere you go, because it is part of you, part of who you are. It is the structure that you, your parents, the school, the society have built in your head, layer upon layer. You help build it in your children’s head when you raise them. It is there when you watch television because everything we produce is colored by it. It is there when you look out of the window, because what you see is filtered by your expectations, by what you are thinking about at that very moment. By evolution.
You can’t help it. This is the way brains work. The primed, “hot” pathways in the brain are the ones that are going to be triggered by what you see. You are going to react to it based on what you know, what you thought last, what you learned, “what people do”.
Take, for example, two men holding hands. Just reading this sentence has probably caused some emotions in you. Unless you are from, say, Turkey, where this is completely normal among friends, and says exactly nothing about your preferences or politics. Same as women holding hands in Southeast Asia. So, why do you react to it, while a person who looks exactly like you in some other country doesn’t?
Why do you want a family? If the answer is “because it is natural”, let me ask you something else: why do you drink alcohol? Or coffee? Or smoke? Or play videogames? Or spend 8 hours a day sitting on your rear at an office? Nothing of this is natural. Which is why so many people have bad posture, a damaged liver, or lung cancer. And do you really want to have kids, or is it just because “people your age are supposed to have children”?
Why do you go to church? Or to the movies? Why do you pay taxes? Why do you listen to a community leader? Why do you think that that a 20 printed on a fancy piece of paper means more than a 1 printed on an almost identical-looking piece of paper? Or why do you believe that a bunch of data distributed over a bunch of computers has any value whatsoever? Only the fact that you and a bunch of other people believe it makes it so. Your belief is what makes a community leader the community leader, instead of Some Random Guy. It makes the stock markets act “unpredictably” but at the same time follow “well-known” patterns: there are no physical laws, no real math behind “technical chart analysis”, the only reason it even works is because enough people believe it, and make it work by acting on their beliefs.
Why do you believe that you owe something to your parents? Or that they owe you something? Which one is it in your country, anyway? In many places, people send money back home to their parents, because there is no social net, because the parents gave everything they had to raise their kids, and the pensions — if they exist — are not enough to survive on. In some other countries it is expected that your parents take care of you and pay your tuition, your pocket money, and your apartment and then leave you their money when they die. Which one is natural? Truth is, neither is a given. But I bet you know at least one person who believes that there is only one way it should be.
In the same vein, why do you believe that your partner owes you anything? Or you owe something to them? Why does one adult owe something to another adult? Why do you even think that you need a partner? What makes you think you are incomplete without one?
Why do you expect to get married? What is marriage? Why are there only two people involved? Why do they have to be different genders? Why are we choosing “a man” or “a woman” to be with instead of “a person”? You have a million reasons, but in the end almost none of them will apply to modern times, to your location. If you believe this is because of natural selection, you probably want to take a closer look at bonobos, one of our closest genetic relatives. Spoiler: they have sex to affirm community bonds. This is their way to say hello to everyone of the group, whether male or female, and to diffuse aggression, ie “why should we fight if we could have sex instead.” Which one of us is more natural, and why? If anything, simple statistics shows us that marriages don’t work anyway— otherwise the divorce rates wouldn’t be so high — and people resolve the tension between tradition and their natural tendencies by cheating — in practically every society on Earth that practices monogamous marriages (and yes, there are plenty that don’t, and this doesn’t just apply to polygamy.) But monogamy is not just part of our beliefs, but part of our law in large parts of the world, and we stubbornly keep marrying no matter what the statistics and common sense tell us — because “it has always been this way.”
In the end, society only works because you believe so many of the same things that your fellow society members believe in, that you believe in so hard that you don’t even see that alternatives exist. This is your matrix. It is a web of collective beliefs in which you are trapped like a fly in amber. You do so many things day to day “because you have no choice”, but the truth is, even the fact that you have no choice is a belief. Even if somebody points a gun at your head and tells you to dig your own grave — even then — you still have a choice. You can decide that the digging of your grave is really the last experience you want to have. Or you could decide that the bastard should just dig the grave himself, after you are comfortably dead. Or you could decide to try and take his gun away and shove it up his rear. This has nothing to do with courage — after all, you are dead either way. The worst case outcome in the last case is the same as the expected outcome in the other two — but you might create an alternative for yourself that you would not have otherwise.
So the lack of choice is just a belief. And this belief itself … is a choice. There is an alternative choice — to think critically. And I don’t mean the fake critical think that lets you ignore the opinions of a thousand scientists, and go for the opinion of that one dude who lied himself into power because he says things that you kinda want to hear (don’t worry, this applies to every politician, not just to your favorite one, because otherwise they wouldn’t be where they are: politics selects for the most popular, most convincing liar.) You can always choose to do things “because this is how we have always done them” — or you could choose to examine critically what it is you are doing, what it is that you believe, and why.
And most importantly, who does it serve. Because most things we do out of “habit”, out of “tradition”, benefit a very narrow group of people at the top. And you are usually not one of them.
Thinking critically is deciding for yourself how to live your life, not according to your beliefs and traditions, but according to your values — not doing “what people always do”, or what the last ad on TV tells you to do, but what you feel makes you the person that you want to be in your future. The thing that will benefit the people you actually care about, and not, say, some abstract “economy”. The thing that will make you feel like you have considered all the alternatives, and consciously made the right choice, not because someone else, be it your mother, your neighbor or that dude on TV that plays a doctor told you, or because it is the easy way out and you just want it all to end and to go to your normal life with the house and the dogs — but instead, because you know that what you do is the right thing. It is hard, it is painful, but if you don’t make your own decisions, you will forever be just another slave of the matrix, feeding the machine that feeds you your beliefs.