Saturday, March 10, 2012

Man Against Machine

Scenes and catchphrases from many of the great movies from the past are often hard to forget. For example:
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” (1939-Gone with the Wind);
“Eh…What’s up, doc?” (1940-Looney Tunes);
“Here’s looking at you, kid.” and “Play it again, Sam.” (1942-Casablanca);
“Danger, Will Robinson.” (1965-Lost in Space);
“Beam me up, Scotty.” (1966-Star Trek);
“Go ahead, make my day.” (1983-Sudden Impact);
“I’ll be back.” (1984-The Terminator);
“Hasta la vista, baby” (1991-Terminator 2: Judgment Day);
“You can’t handle the truth.” (1992-A Few Good Men); I’m sure you could add more…
The stories I enjoy most are stories that, while standing on their own as pure entertainment, make me think. Their supporting themes inspire me and, in some ways, keep my mind from turning into Jell-O. I’m thinking of stories like The Wizard of Oz, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Moby Dick, The Truman Show, Alice in Wonderland, just to name a few. They're often simple stories wrapped around multi-layered themes.

My all-time favorite modern movie has to be the Matrix. As with other favorites of mine, I am intrigued by this story’s themes, motifs, and symbols, and how they speak to man’s finite humanity in his on-going search for TRUTH. The Matrix trilogy suggests that everyone has the individual responsibility to make the choice between the real world and an artificial world.

I invite you to follow me on a journey into your mind by beginning with a clip from the 1999 movie, the Matrix. This clip will showcase the main theme behind this week’s blog.

When Morpheus (in Greek mythology the god of dreams) asks Neo to choose between a red pill and a blue pill, he essentially offers the choice between fate (blue pill) and free will (red pill)—a one-time opportunity to break free from the machine and see the world as it is. Morpheus believes that Neo is “The One” that will ultimately free the people from the bondage of the Matrix—a world without truth or free will, where pleasure (resulting from personal peace) is the worshiped god of choice.

In the Matrix, fate rules—since the world is preconstructed and actions predetermined, all questions already have answers and any choice is simply the illusion of choice. The people in the Matrix are living in a closed system—a part of a cosmic machine designed by the Architect and policed by Agents. The Agents are fluid, adaptive, and creative. They shift seamlessly throughout the programs (Matrix) and listen intently to human speech, responding accordingly and sensitively—all under the direction of the Architect.

In the real world (open system), humans have the power to change their fate, take individual action, and make mistakes. Neo chooses the red pill—real life—and learns that free will isn’t pretty. The real world is a mess, dangerous and destitute—a broken world.

We learn that the character Cypher, regrets choosing the red pill and ultimately chooses to return to the Matrix. He views any pleasure, even false pleasure, as better than no pleasure at all while Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and the others in Zion, value free will and reality no matter how unpleasant they may be.

In the clip below, Cypher makes a deal with Agent Smith to return to the Matrix where he can once again enjoy personal peace (pleasure) and affluence—all nothing but a deceptive illusion. Cypher’s bottom line is that he wants to “remember nothing” from the real world. After nine long years, he has grown weary of the fight against the machine—always fearing. In the end, he voluntarily surrenders to the machine in exchange for the promise of the illusion of personal peace (pleasure) and affluence. In other words, he sells his soul.

God has made a cause-and-effect universe; therefore we can find out something about the causes from the effects. But (and the but is very important) it is an open universe because God and man are outside of the uniformity of natural causes. In other words, all that exists is not one big cosmic machine which includes everything. Of course, if a person steps in front of a moving auto, the cause-and-effect universe functions upon him; but God and people are not a part of a total cosmic machine. Things go on in a cause-and-effect sequence, but at a point of time the direction may be changed by God or by people. Consequently, there is a place for God, but there is also a proper place for man. This carries with it something profound-that the machine, whether the cosmic machine or the machines which people make, is neither a master nor a threat-because the machine does not include everything. There is something which is "outside" of the cosmic machine, and there is a place for man to be man. Francis A. Schaeffer (How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture).
One of the philosophical precedents for the Matrix was Plato’s allegory of the cave. Plato explores the idea that the real world is an illusion in the allegory of the cave in The Republic. Plato imagines a cave in which people have been kept prisoner since birth. These people are bound in such a way that they can look only straight ahead, not behind them or to the side. On the wall in front of them, they can see flickering shadows in the shape of people, trees, and animals. Because these images are all they’ve ever seen, they believe these images constitute the real world. One day, a prisoner escapes his bonds. He looks behind him and sees that what he thought was the real world is actually an elaborate set of shadows, which free people create with statues and the light from a fire. The statues, he decides, are actually the real world, not the shadows. Then he is freed from the cave altogether, and sees the actual world for the first time. He has a difficult time adjusting his eyes to the bright light of the sun, but eventually he does. Fully aware of true reality, he must return to the cave and try to teach others what he knows—free them from the world of appearances and perceive the world truly as it is.

Neo is pulled from a kind of cave in the first Matrix film, when he sees the real world for the first time. Everything he thought was real is only an illusion—much like the shadows on the cave walls and the statues that made the shadows were only copies of things in the real world.

Morpheus uncovers reality and teaches Neo a lesson about the “real world” in a clip called “Red Dress”.

Plato insists that those who free themselves and come to perceive reality have a duty to return and teach others, and this holds true in the Matrix films as well, as Neo takes it upon himself to save humanity from widespread ignorance and acceptance of a false reality. He understands that standing up against the machine does not come without great personal risk and personal sacrifice.
In this final clip, Neo is able to defeat the machines only after he sees the world for what it truly is. At that point, he is no longer afraid. He is no longer vulnerable. He is no longer a prisoner trapped in a world of lies and deception. The truth has set him free.

The goal of the machine is to keep the inhabitants of the Matrix from escaping or understanding the world truly as it is, for the machine is dependent on the humans for life, and it grows and harvests humans so it can continue to exist. The inhabitants are easily exploited because they do not perceive that they are being exploited.

People function on the basis of their world view—As a man thinketh, so is he. Everything a person thinks is shaped by their world view. Over time, our society’s world view has gradually (and in some instances radically) changed. This changing viewpoint is projected through art, music, drama, and theology. Values and morals have all but died—replaced by a code of relativism. No longer is there right and wrong but instead, it all depends on the time, on the situation, on the current mood of the  politically correct majority.  Ironically, this progressive, enlightened and changed way of thinking is supposed to set us on a path to utopia, but is instead the reason that it is unsafe to walk at night through the streets of many of today's cities.

As we witness corruption at the highest levels of leadership around the globe (public and private sector), why do so many remain silent, unwilling to "unplug"? What keeps people sitting idly by, hoping and praying someone will save them from the fate that waits? Are they trapped in a Matrix of sorts? Where is Neo when you need him? Sure, there will always be Cypher-types reaching for the blue pill, but what about those who have chosen the red pill? Why are so many silent? As Plato insisted, those who have freed themselves and come to perceive reality have a duty to return to the “cave” and teach others. I think I have the answer.

Today, not only in philosophy but in politics, government, corporations, and individual morality, our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis (combining of ideas to form a theory or system) and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people had always thought of truth, has died. If there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute I mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values. If there is no absolute beyond man's ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions and the arbitrary judgments of men.

As the more Christian-dominated consensus has weakened across America and the world, the majority of people have adopted two impoverished values: personal peace and affluence. These two values keep good people silent. They keep them from confronting evil, mistruths, lies, conspiracies, or anything that might cause them to forfeit their personal peace and dreams of affluence. As an economy worsens, so does the individual attachment to these impoverished values making the work of the machine effortless.
Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city-to live one's life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity-a life made up of things, things, and more things-a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance. Francis A. Schaeffer (How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.

There's my answer; it's personal peace and affluence. Think of it as an electric garage door. You drive into your garage from a hard day at the office (or shopping), and click the button that locks you safely away from the world. You eat a nice dinner, watch a few mind-numbing TV shows hoping for a few laughs to lighten your stressed-out life, think about a better life for you and your loved ones and then go to bed. The cycle is repeated day-after-day with the top priorities being personal peace and affluence.

If we care, we must push back from the grips of personal peace and affluence and be willing to use our voices to awaken those imprisoned by their own chains of personal peace and affluence. In other words, we need more Neos and less Cyphers.

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