When authors and pundits want to highlight some incongruity in the world, they’ll often say we’re in the Matrix, referring of course to the 1999 film. But we’re not in the Matrix. We’re in its complete antithesis: the anti-Matrix.
The world of the Matrix seemed real but was actually fake. It was rational and stable. It broke predictably, which was what gave the characters their fantastic powers. (Even The One was foretold.) Human beings generally wanted to stay inside. The heroes of the story had to trick them out. Machines controlled humans, but tech was liberating. We could learn Kung-fu with the press of a button. To fight the system, the rebels escaped the digital world to hide in the physical, which was blighted and unsalvageable. Freedom was bleak.
By contrast, the world of today seems fake but is actually real. It’s irrational and unstable. It breaks unpredictably and in increasingly spectacular ways. “Glitches” are not fixed. People generally want out. Corporations and governments have to trick us into playing along. Humans control machines that control humans, and tech is oppressive. We can be destroyed, personally and collectively, with the press of a button. To fight the system, rebels escape from the physical world to the digital, despite that the earth, however blighted, is still salvageable and freedom still possible.
Hopefully, the comparison is a little disconcerting.
To escape the anti-Matrix, we would have return to a minimum of collective sensemaking. I’m skeptical that’s possible absent a precipitating crisis. Among other things, it would require a large portion of us to reject not only the counter-narratives we love to hate but our own. We would have to stop participating in political theater, stop watching cable news, stop listening to talk radio, stop posting political memes, and start listening to each other. Nothing prevents that from happening but ourselves.
For those curious about how we got here, British filmmaker Adam Curtis presents a quirky take in his 2016 documentary HyperNormalisation.
For those curious about how we might move forward, the guys at Rebel Wisdom released a fantastic conversation last year on the failure of collective sensemaking by futurist Daniel Schmactenberger.
Both are fairly long. But then, that’s part of the problem. If we don’t already know what’s right, or if we can’t agree in the lesser of 90 seconds or 240 characters, then why try?