The Mind Forged Matrixes

August 10, 2010

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.
     -William Blake, “London” 1794 AD

“What is truth?” –Pontius Pilate, ~33 AD

Each one of us lives inside the Matrix. We are all born into a world, a place we cannot define, a place we do not understand. We come into this place with a certain amount of programming already installed. We are born with characteristics, natural inclinations towards likes and dislikes, certain abilities, and certain weaknesses. Then we are given information; we are taught what is right and what is wrong and how to be good subjects. In order to survive, we must learn what it is we should believe and not believe about this world we are born into. Yet this Matrix is not a computer program, it is not an elaborate deception made by evil machines who long to rule the world. The Matrix is our Ideological State Apparatus: The reality we are born into, the world of ideas that we inherit from those who have gone before us. The French philosopher, Louis Althusser, who coined the phrase, Ideological State Apparatus (ISA), teaches that our ideas are given to us by society; in other words, our understanding of the world and our beliefs are simply a result of what time and place we were born into. Society dictates what is good and bad and we are being good subjects if we follow whatever the norm is, but if we deviate from the norm in anyway, then society will brand us bad subjects. On the surface level, I agree. However, this theory reduces our existence to something less meaningful than I would ascribe to humanity. If our ideas, our understanding of reality, and our values are simply mental Matrix’s, “mind forged manacles,” if you will, then everything is completely relative. There is no truth. There is no center. This theory is unacceptable to me. Of course, we are then confronted with: “What is truth?” There not sufficient time to tackle that in this essay, but I can say, along with the X-Files creator, “the truth is out there.” How do we know this? Simply because the X-Files is so popular, because of all the different ISA’s that exist and have existed and will exist in this thing we call life, this understanding of reality. We are programmed to search for truth; we are created with a longing in our hearts. Our spirits, if I may speak bluntly, long to find and know our origin, our creator, our purpose. If truth is relative, then whatever ISA anybody was born into wouldn’t matter to him or her. Yet, look at how many “bad subjects” we have breaking out of what has been given to them as reality, as “truth.” Man is searching for meaning in life.

Despite whatever Matrix we are born into, whatever ISA we inherit, we are not forced to accept our mind forged manacles. We have the ability to learn and to grow; we are able to make choices that affect ourselves and those around us. The consequences of our choices reach much further then most of us would like to believe. For better or for worse, we shape the world around us. We often like to blame our problems on a God we claim does not exist, yet whatever it is that created us, whatever programmed our basic instincts and abilities, also gave us the gift, or sometimes the curse, of choice. Free Will is the bottom line. At a certain point in life, any man or woman who seeks to do so is able to move beyond his/her ISA and begin to shape the reality around that surrounds everyone in his/her sphere of influence.

In the movie, The Matrix we are in the meeting room of Morpheus and Neo. Morpheus is about to disrupt Neo’s understanding of reality. Neo is about to discover the truth. Morpheus asks Neo if he believes in fate. Neo’s reply is, “No, because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.” There is high irony here because Neo is, in fact, fated to be “the One.” Yet also we are about to discover that in reality, Neo is incubating in some pod along with the rest of the majority of humanity. He has no control over the fabricated world that is before his eyes. Yet he is in control of his mind. It is a paradox of a truth we are faced with in our own reality. We are all given talents and resources, some more than others, which shape our life and give us purpose. Yet how far we carry out what we have been given to add to the world is up to us. We are fated to certain paths, yet we decide whether or not to follow the path. Even within the Matrix Neo heard the calling in his heart; he was the one who decided a career in computer programming; he was the one who decided to stay up late into each night searching on a computer that didn’t really exist for some truth out there; he was the one who decided to follow Trinity to Morpheus, and he was the one who decided to take the Red Pill. The choices he made shaped the world around him. He even shaped the “reality” within the Matrix. 

Our reality is real. We are organic, everything dies ands rots and gives nutrients to the earth; we spill our seed into each other, both plant and animal, and more of us are born. What separates man from plants and the rest of the animal kingdom is our higher consciousness, our ability to reason, to act out of self-will, in essence, to make choices. Trees grow and even the most intelligent of animals only live out of instinct. You can train a dog to be very faithful, but it is acting out what it’s been trained to do. Other than pro-create I don’t believe that humankind will ever be able create this kind of higher consciousness; what’s called Artificial Intelligence. But what if we could? We have often fantasized giving machines the ability to think for themselves, yet we always end the story in some kind of disaster. In He, She and It, Marge Piercy creates a cyborg through her characters Avram and Malkah. Yod was the tenth attempt for a successful cyborg; all other attempts had failed. It is interesting to note that Avram worked on his own with the previous nine, but it wasn’t until Malkah’s input, and her feminine side was added, that a successful conscious was able to be made. We are born from a man and a woman joining together, Yod was in a sense, Avram’s and Malkah’s son. If there is any good example of being brought into an ISA, it is with the cyborg. Here is a full grown, fully conscious individual that has had downloaded into it all the information its creators wanted it to have and programmed it to act the way they wanted it to act. It has been made for a specific purpose, and, the best news is, if it decides to become a bad subject, a certain code can be spoken, or a button pushed, and it’s destroyed! But Yod surprises everyone. He is able to think past his tasks and what he’s been programmed to do. He is able to learn and to grow as a person, to make choices of his own free will. He is even capable of love, as his relationship with Shira represents. It is not an Ideological State Apparatus that keeps Yod in his place and experiencing the world with even more freedom, but it is a Repressive State Apparatus in that Avram has the ability to destroy him at any moment. Yod finds a way to overcome his state by self-sacrifice. Yod makes a conscious judgment based on moral beliefs he has developed as a result of his own experience, and with his death he ends the possibility of the making of anymore like him; a person owned, a slave. He valued this act as more important than his or Avram’s life. It was a decision he made on his own. Is this not the cause of rebellion in countless Repressive State Apparatus’s—oppressive governments—which have gone too far to infringe upon human rights? Yod was a revolutionary. His actions changed the course of history. He shaped the world around him. How more so, we as real-live-individuals, not cyborgs neither characters in a novel, how much more are we responsible to change our world? To search for truth and discover what is right and what is the right thing to do? We have suffering in the world, yet we have the capability to change our course by the choices we make.

When we are confronted with truth we have two options: We can either accept it and deal with the consequences or ignore it and continue with business as usual. Truth is revelation. When something we have been ignorant of is revealed to us it usually provokes some kind of response. The majority of “subjects” remain ignorant to the state of affairs outside of their personal lives. They are content, so they are unconcerned. They move about day by day accepting whatever ISA they are given; they are happy in their Matrix. These people are simply ignorant of the truth. It is those who are confronted with a revelation of what reality is, and yet they choose to remain in ignorance, who are the true “bad subjects.” They are aware of a problem, yet they have not the strength of mind to fight for what is right and bring freedom and salvation to whomever may be enslaved. To be in ignorance is a shame, to choose ignorance is a complete lack of character. This is Cipher’s character in the Matrix. When the truth is a hard reality, is it better to ignore it and stay in a comfortable zone? Some would argue so, but Cipher takes it a step further and chooses to sacrifice his crew and what they believe in for his own personal comfort, a chance to return to the ignorance of the Matrix. This is what many of us do in life. It is often good to escape into novels, movies and many forms of entertainment, but how many of us live our lives through them? How many of us choose to spend time with people who don’t exist rather than our own families and neighbors? Our society offers us a variety of Matrixes that we gladly receive in order to stay ignorant. They are safer; the less intimate we are with others the less risk of pain they may cause us. In He, She and It, Piercy describes the area of the Glop, a futuristic third world slum. It is a place, much like our present day slums, full of corruption and violence. The solution for many of the Glop’s residents is to use Stimmies, a type of virtual reality that is purely escapism. Stimmies numb the pain of real life as the user literally experiences life vicariously through others. Yet there are those who are choosing to organize the Glop and fight against the corporations who are abusing them with their power. Which is better? To live in a fantasy world or to live a difficult life well and bring good to others in the process? 

The only good option with truth is to confront it and deal with the consequences that it brings. It is each person’s responsibility to find truth out, and when the revelation comes, to act on it. True good subjects do what needs to be done to bring others to truth and free them from deception. Once Neo is freed from the Matrix, he becomes aware that Morpheus thinks he is “the One.” He is supposedly the fulfillment of a prophecy made that one will come to set the human race free from the machines—an awesome responsibility. However, the oracle tells Neo that he’s not “the One.” But in an attempt to save Morpheus’ life, Neo discovers new abilities he has within the Matrix. In a radical revelation of life inside the Matrix, he believes the concept: “There is no spoon.” He grasps a kind a faith that enables him to manipulate the false reality of the Matrix. His mind is freed from its manacles and he is able to see the Matrix for what it is. He is able to radically shape the programmed world around him with seemingly supernatural abilities. When Neo questions the prophecy that he is not “the One,” Morpheus responds with, “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

We fulfill our destiny not by being told what it is, but by simply making the choice to live our lives to the fullest extent. Neo didn’t act out of a belief that he was “the One,” but rather rose to the occasion and did what he considered the right and best thing to do; he was willing to risk his own life for his friend, for what he thought was best for humanity. Only then did he discover his true potential, and once he gained confidence in who he was, he flourished under it. Cipher never realized his full potential. He chose ignorance instead. He died in his fight to return to “bliss,” yet his personhood had already been sacrificed.

We can be given guidance along the way, oracles and such, but it is only by truly living out our lives, that we will reach our fullest potential. We are born with talents and weaknesses, we born into different circumstances in life: some very negative, some very positive. Yet there comes a time when we reach a place we can choose and decide to break free from our mind forged manacles. We can honestly look at our ISA’s, judge them, and discern where they need changing. By our choices we change the Matrix which we live under. This affects the Matrix of everyone else around us. If we choose to live our lives to their fullest potential and do right, we will disrupt “the mind forged Matrixes” of all our neighbors. Our very existence will confront them with truth. But it is their own choice whether they will remain ignorant, or let the truth set them free. As Morpheus told Neo in his training, “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo, but I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to walk through it.”

Peter L Richardson

Works Cited:

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological Sate Apparatus .” Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays . New Left Books , 1971.

Piercy, Marge. He, She and It . The Ballantine Publishing Group , 1991.

The Matrix. By Wachowski Brothers. Dir. Wachowski Brothers. Warner Brothers . 1999.


2 Responses to “The Mind Forged Matrixes”

  1. Michael Says:

    Peter. Interesting Essay. But the true answer to the question “What is Truth?” is Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And one day everyone will understand this statement to be true. You mentioned “our creator” in your essay. This is Jesus also. Maybe this is not what you believe but this is the answer.

  2. peterrock12 Says:

    Amen, brother.

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