This is what happens when people are mad as hell and utterly determined to continue taking it.
Before continuing to a piece from Peggy Noonan from last summer in the Wall Street Journal, let’s define what we mean by the metaphor “the Matrix.” No doubt we could fill the comments section with minutia and hair splitting, but I’m talking a very high-level definition. Some talk about red pill vs. blue pill thinking and actions; I might mention buying hard into “the system,” such Leif Erikson buying into Being a Nice Boy, or Hannah Horvath’s parents buying into Narcissism as Helicopter Parenting.
Those are each mere tactics, i.e., methods to reach a desired destination. Leif wants comfortable lazy bear life with sex on demand, Hannah’s parents want a life accessory they can #humblebrag to their friends about. Buying into a system means: pull the lever and get a cookie. But what state do we seek to attain? Here’s a hint: what do you do with a cookie?
You consume it. Let’s skip to the thesis: the Matrix is consumption as a state of being. The Matrix = consumption.
But here’s where we understand only half of it, because when you consume (you are in the Matrix) then the Matrix is also in you. Yeah, kind of a co-dependence I guess, except while you may care deeply and individually for all the life-giving the Matrix seems to have for you, the Matrix does not care about you so much as it cares about Everyone. We all need the Matrix to live, and so we all need Everyone to shut the fuck up and keep on producing/consuming. Thus the new American Dream!
Go back to sleep, Neo.
Incidentally, unless you’re firing up some child pornography or pirating a song, Google, Apple and the NSA don’t give half of one shit about what you do online. Google doesn’t care about what you do as much as it cares about what Everyone does. Capitalism in a Big Data age.
“Dude, I’m 100% Occupy Wall Street and I’m against these goddamn capitalists and bankers and bailouts!” I can totally tell you are, because you typed that on the iPhone your parents still pay for, using a cellular network built by filthy capitalists and bankers. I won’t bother mentioning the Chinese peasants who built your iPhone for you.
I know Neo sees the Matrix as slimy people-batteries in pods, but I look at the Matrix like this (also the tagline for this blog):
Oar-rowing slaves in a Roman galley. “We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well, and live.” If you are unfamiliar with the novel and film Ben-Hur, it follows a Jewish prince just during the times of Christ who was unjustly accused and then condemned to live the remainder of life his as a galley slave. He subsides on the life/sustenance provided by his jailors and in turn helps power their ship. If you think life for you/Neo in that other version of the Matrix is any better, then sweet mother of Jesus will the red pill hurt your stomach when it goes down.
(Eventually Judah Ben-Hur happens to save the life of the centurion in the film, and the centurion recognizes him as a strong/worthy man, frees him, and adopts him as a son.)
That’s all nice, but where does the American Dream, Peggy Noonan, and the Matrix as consumerism come into this?
Obvious first point we left out for a reason so far: the American Dream used to mean self improvement, doing better and making more money than the previous generation. Greater success upon greater success. Parents working toward an even better life for their kids. Instead, today, we have an ultra-consumerist Dumbest Generation of Narcissists in the History of the World that will soon finish raising the much-maligned Generation Y, the Millennials.
Making a better life for their children became children as life accessories, i.e., something I do for just for me. Their kids are discovering what less fortunate people (middle/lower class, many non-whites, basically everyone except for upper-middle class white liberals) have been mucking around in for years now (back to Peggy Noonan):
“I am sick and tired of giving bailouts to the folks at the top and handouts to the folks at the bottom. I’m going to fire people [politicians] until my life gets better.”
That is as succinct a summation as I’ve seen of how the American middle class has been thinking the past few years: The guys at the top and the bottom are taken care of while I get squeezed.
(Here’s the link to Peggy Noonan’s piece, but it’s behind the subscriber wall. It’s actually mostly about how Obama still somehow managed to convince the middle-class guy from the quote above that, hey, at least Obama wasn’t as rich as that bastard Romney! “Yeah, screw him! And he’s Mormon and stuff!” If you don’t think that many people voted with that in mind, then I’m not sure how you found this blog.)
Yep, the middle-class guy’s sentiment is indeed frustrating, and I feel you, brother. But there our agreement ends, because I think this system exists because we need it to exist—it’s the Matrix. The Matrix needs rich people and Everyone to consume and be consumed. Saving money is only for people who already spend a lot as it is, e.g., rich people. The Matrix demands complete obedience toward everyone consuming as much as possible, otherwise there will be riots in the streets. Don’t believe me? Remember what happened in Greece when the government started limiting the Greek equivalent of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?
You see the problem already. We absolutely want as much consumption as possible, but not everyone is willing to work (have viable employment) toward that end. What’s the ultimate answer (at least to keep people from rioting)? We just mentioned them in the previous paragraph–Social Security, SSI, SSDI, WIC, food stamps, TANF, years of unemployment income… it’s a long list, folks. If you won’t/can’t work, at least take this so you can consume at some level. In environments where there are no poor people or non-white people, like say Cambridge, Mass., nice white upper-middle class liberals call this “universal income.”
I call it today’s American Dream.
“WTF, you are such mean creep, would you rather those people starve and just go without the basics until they die??” No, jackass, I don’t want to change a goddamn thing—I don’t want my leisurely Starbucks run marred by poor people rioting.
But rather than feed them to the Matrix, why can’t we permit them to hope for something better? Instead, we keep them alive to serve this ship. So row well, and live. “Hey, wait, are you implying I’m the Romans in this analogy, and I’m keeping the poor slaves there powering my lifestyle?”
I am definitely implying that, and if we all want to be feudal lords (rich, or at least not work hard or make difficult life changes) then we will need to use up a lot of peasants. Thank God for all those Chinese workers, am I right?