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.

I Need You! We Need Eachother!

I Need You! We Need Each Other!
In order for us to harmonize our differences, I need, first, to state my beliefs about the kinds of behavior each of us (over 6 billion of us now!) ought to manifest our citizenship in a radical world democracy (even though, I know, we are nowhere near achieving it yet!). These beliefs should be, of course, the way I am trying to live each day, now, in the world as it is! Then (I hope) you will tell me where you disagree (& if possible, why).
If we disagree about matters that matter, it is important for us to try to harmonize those differences (so our actual behavior won't cancel each other out!)! The more people we harmonize with, the closer we will come to achieving real (radical) democracy!
Since you can't see how I behave, we both have to do our best to put our beliefs into words that, we hope, will be understood. But since we each have grown up in perhaps widely different milieux, it may take a lot of back&forthing before we can be fairly sure we have understood each other accurately! It's a long slow process (& the need is urgent!), so I hope we can get started. [I feel fairly confident that the more of us who actually make that effort, the more we will all notice that the world is getting better&better!]
The most urgent change needed, seems to me to be for us to try to abandon our natural tendency to be arrogant about our own beliefs. If we realize that, often without our awareness, we all make mistakes in perception & in judgement, we should be able to appreciate every disagreement as an opportunity to catch some of our mistakes & proceed with more humility to catch more of them!

I hope some of you will share what you consider to be our most urgent needs for deep change. Each of us has a treasure house of wisdom that can become available to the whole world if we all realize that wisdom is what makes the world a better place for everyone and that it never comes with a guarantee of success! We always must proceed with caution! We must always wait&see whether what we thought was wisdom actually does make the world a better place for everyone!