Friday, March 24, 2006

The Red Pill - a summary of Escaping the Matrix

The metaphor of the red pill, borrowed from the Warner Brother’s film, The Matrix, refers to waking up from illusion—suddenly realizing that everything is quite different than how you always thought it was.

Each chapter of this book offers it’s own red pill. Our civilization is based on a great many illusions, and each chapter attempts to dispel one of these, peeling one more layer from the onion of deception. Below is a brief description of each chapter’s red pill.

The Matrix—The consensus reality that we see portrayed on television and in school history books is a fabricated illusion. The lies of politicians are repeated in the media and then become the basis of histories, the fabric of the Matrix. The war in Iraq provides an excellent current example: in the Matrix we read about bringing democracy to the Iraqis while in reality the US is seizing control of petroleum resources and establishing a permanent military outpost in the Middle East.

A brief history of humanity—The history we are taught in school is not the story of humanity, but rather the story of hierarchical civilizations. Our species has been fully human for about 100,000 years, and only the last 10% of that—a brief episode for our species—has been characterized by hierarchy and centralized governance. We are presented with the Hobbesian illusion that early humans lived a short and brutal life, and the Social Darwinist illusion that our evolution has been driven by dog-eat-dog competition. In reality, early societies were highly cooperative and egalitarian. Civilization is not a reflection of human nature, but is rather a system of domination and exploitation by ruling elites. We are like animals in cages: our behavior under these stressful conditions is not representative of our nature, just as the pacing of a caged cheetah are not representative of the natural behavior of that beautiful animal.

Our Harmonization Imperative—Our societies and political systems are characterized by competition and struggle among cultural factions and political parties. When we try to change this system by forming adversarial political movements we are playing into this game—a game rigged so that elites always win. If we really want to change the system, we need to learn how to come together as humans, moving beyond the ideological structures that have been created to divide us from one another. We are all in this together, and a better world for one is a better world for all. It’s not about winning, nor really even about agreement: it’s about working together in pursuit of our common interests.

The dynamics of harmonization—Our usual models of discussion and deliberation reflect the adversarial nature of our society generally. We argue for our position over the other position: one side wins, the other loses, or we settle for a compromise—and the underlying conflicts remain unresolved. Harmonization is about a different kind of dialog, based on respectful listening, and aimed at developing solutions that take into account everyone’s concerns. This kind of dialog can be readily facilitated in any group of people, and it is an ancient human tradition, capable of transforming conflict into creative synergy.

Envisioning a transformational movement—Harmonization provides the means by which we can overcome our differences and find our common identity as We the People. If we pursue harmonization in our local communities, on an all-inclusive basis, we can create islands of grassroots empowerment—of direct democracy—within our existing societies. Harmonization can become the basis of a community empowerment movement, transforming our adversarial cultures into cooperative cultures. When We the People have woken up on a society-wide basis, we will be in a position to transform our societies, replacing elite rule with grassroots democracy, based on the principles of harmonization and mutual-benefit exchange.

Envisioning a liberated global society—The core principles of a democratic society are local sovereignty and harmonization. Only at the local level is it possible for everyone’s voice to be heard, and harmonization is the means by which those voices can develop a consensus agenda. The residents of a local community share a common interest in the local quality of life, and are in the best position to manage their resources and economies wisely. Large scale issues and operations can be worked out by delegations from local constituencies, meeting together to harmonize their various agendas and concerns. There is no need for centralized governments, corporations, or institutions, which inevitably become vehicles for the usurpation of power by would-be ruling cliques.

The transition process—Political sovereignty is meaningless unless it also includes dominion over resources and economic affairs. In our transition to a democratic society, one of the first steps will be for each community to repossess its commons—assuming ownership of all land, resources, buildings, and infrastructures that are currently controlled by absentee landlords, banks, corporations, and government agencies. Under the control of local communities and workers, conversion plans can be worked out, gradually repurposing existing facilities toward sensible and sustainable uses. We can expect considerable variety in local economic practices—ranging from communal operations to market economies—to be determined by local cultural traditions and the democratic process.

Reflections on humanity’s future—Which comes first, personal transformation or social transformation? This question, often debated, turns out to be much like the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” That is to say, the question cannot be answered in its own terms. Humans are above all a social species, and it should not be surprising to realize that personal transformation and social transformation can be most readily achieved together. To a considerable extent, existing paths of enlightenment must begin with a rehabilitation of the individual, helping them find their own center in the midst of an oppressive and stressful society. When we create societies that liberate our spirits and involve us in our own governance, the path to enlightenment will be a much easier one.


Blogger Rex said...

YesYesYes! Well said, Richard!
Let's look again at our world.
Can it be denied?
Just like a moebius strip, it too has but one side!
So since war never can have a winner!
Let's invite the "other" side quickly to dinner!

March 25, 2006  
Blogger Rex said...

I'm frustrated! Richard has defined our predicament so well in this post, but if only one or two other people participate in this much-needed site, not much harmonization will take place! I wonder if "0 comments" or "1 comment" are off-putting.
I know we can't make others contribute but I think I'm going to try encouraging my friends to seriously consider active participation to see if that might get things stirred up a bit! Would you, too, consider doing the same?

April 28, 2006  
Anonymous said...

if god was the answer why are so many people lost.10,000 years of looking,we need not look past ourselves, f god. to you who reads this and the world, peace!

June 09, 2007  
Blogger dheinrich said...

Ahh, if it were only true. While I applaud a great deal of what you say, and honor you for your passion and commitment to human betterment, unfortunately I must disagree with your romantic, ideologically-driven prescriptions.

It seems you’ve traded one set of blinkers for another, in this case the ideology of radical decentralization liberating the power of the autochthonally wise “people”.

You attribute our various crises to the centralizing of national governments. Why stop there? We are a global civilization with a global commons. Could the source of our problems not be more plausibly attributed to the historically decentralized government of human civilization as a global whole?

I would argue our problem on a global level is precisely that we are already radically decentralized (in exactly the manner here being touted as an ideal!). Humanity has not yet created the democratic institutions that can govern human action in relation to our largest commons, so its tragedies continue.

Here are your ideals in action. How are they working? In what way is the example of the dysfunctionality of our globally decentralized society not a complete boot to the head for anarchist theory?

By having vacant power at the center of human civilization, we maintain an empty political space for exploiters to use to ream us even harder. We are also missing out on the possible uses of power to do good by defending the commons.

Absent global regulation, transnational corporations are having a field day, playing the standards of countries off against each other, and shifting profits around to where they will not be taxed (Caymen Islands).

As a result of this vacuum, there is also an open field for the most powerful player, the US, to do as it pleases.

Then again, if centralization is such a good thing for the power elites, why isn’t it them pulling harder for world centralization? Why instead is the US so opposed to the International Criminal Court and the United Nations? That alone should tip us off that maybe some sort of centralizing via such institutions may a good thing. But the idea of world institution-building is antithetical to the ideology being proposed here.

Reality is too complex for simplistic ideologies that try to make ultimate virtue out of just one side of every duality: local yes, central no, cooperation yes, competition no, intuition, yes, reason, no, freedom yes, duty no. It takes two wings to fly straight. We have to avoid extremes, embrace life’s dualities in their ambiguity and complexity, and look for principles to guide us in the arts of judgement.

Then we can admit to reality: central authority also has its uses. It can empower the progressive inclinations of elites as well as their selfish ones. Without it there might still be segregation in the American south. There would also be many fewer natural protected areas in the world.

In any case, "the people" are, by any objective measure, far from ready for the kind of faith you place in them. (Eventually, yes, but not yet -- let's not confuse ends and means.) Go out to the malls where the people are. Look at what they eat. Look at what they watch on TV.

The “people,” in their present state of consciousness, absolutely WILL over-exploit their environment for their immediate enrichment, screw the kids. Farmers will poison their lands, fishing communities will strip mine the stocks until they are gone. It's happening locally everywhere on the planet. It's been happening for 40,000 years. Read Jared Diamond.

In Clayquot Sound, British Columbia, it was environmentalists from around the world trying to save the rainforest for future generations, against the wishes of the local population that was trying to clearcut it out of existence for the sake of their few measly but immediate jobs.

So please, let’s retire this mythic idea of the intrinsic virtue of “the people.” The people are as much responsible for our mess as the elites they keep electing.

Just as people are born ignorant and need to be socialized into virtue, civilizations are born brutal and mean and need to evolve into maturity and wisdom. Our problem is, we aren’t there yet, and the solution to that is not to apply the brakes, but to go further faster.

My alternative vision would be a world of democratic federations, nested from the local to the global, within which governing authority can be systematically devolved to its appropriate level.

To that end. instead of vacating central authority, which at the very least is not going to happen in time (realism again!) I would propose that we should be trying instead to figure out how WE earth activists can become — or gain influence over — the ruling elite. Employ the methods of harmonization among a few thousand smart committed people with an indomitable competitive zeal to win the fight against the neo-cons and ecolocaust-denying Neanderthals, and maybe we'll get somewhere.

One of the first things we should be working for is democratic world governance. One immediate objective would be a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.

In addition we should form a new global organization by following the tried and very realistic development path of the European Union, this time among all the democracies. The goal would be a fair trade and collective security zone of the democracies that would reinforce human rights, free trade unions, environmental legislation and demilitarization.

National governments would be gradually relieved of their role in global affairs to focus instead on fixing the problems at home that they are qualified to deal with.

The people in the democratic zone would be freed from having to compete down to the low standards of autocratic regimes.

We could put a stop to the game of corporate evasion.

We could unwind the US from its self-appointed role as global policeman by obligating it to work within the Union or leave and face its united opposition.

In fact, we might prefer to create this union initially without the US, to prevent the US from undermining it with its hesitations, or swamping it with its arrogant demands of special status.

Once created, the democracies would no longer need the World Trade Organization and its corrosive neo-liberal regime.

Development and democratic support would flow to the weakest members and prevent more debacles like Kenya.

The vast sums of money, and huge environmental burden of military spending would be lifted from the democracies, because they would be no danger to each other, and far too powerful as a group for any outside country to pick a war with.

And that, I submit, is how we’ll realistically secure a guaranteed peace on earth, just as it is guaranteed today in continental Europe, for the first time since humans walked there on two legs, thanks to civilization and its centralizing, “harmonizing” institutions. For all their problems, which I also recognize, but believe can be ameliorated, the securing of the peace alone makes them worth the trouble.

Best regards, and let’s keep thinking.


February 13, 2008  
Blogger rkm said...

Hi Dieter,

Thanks for your comments. I'm sure you speak for many others. Indeed, fifteen years ago I would have agreed with you across the board. And then, one by one, I found my assumptions were in error. If I were to try to respond to your long comment, I would need to write a whole book. And I have. Perhaps you'll want to give it a look: Escaping the Matrix.


February 21, 2008  

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