L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 223, May 11, 2003
The Morpheus Proposal
Special to TLE
When we first meet her, the character Trinity is in a room numbered 303. Throughout the film, "The Matrix" there is a delightful motif of numbers. A little later, we meet the character "Neo" who, we are told is "the one." Delightfully, Neo is an anagram of "one." After a knock on the door, we learn he is in room "101."
"Let me give you a piece of advice: be honest. He knows more than you can imagine," says Trinity at a critical juncture in the film. As with the other advice throughout the film, this advice is excellent.
Neo enters a non-descript room. Standing against the windows opposite the door is a tall, bald, black man in a long leather coat. After introducing himself as Morpheus, he says, "I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole? I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he's expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth."
Morpheus continues, "Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there. Like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
With a voice full of uncertainty, Neo asks, "The Matrix?"
"Do you want to know what it is?" Morpheus inquires very deliberately.
At a nod from Neo, Morpheus continues, "The matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."
"What truth?" asks Neo.
"That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.
"Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back.
"You take the blue pill. The story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe ... whatever you want to believe.
"You take the red pill. You stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
"Remember. All I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."
As everyone who has seen the film "The Matrix" quoted above recalls, Neo chooses the red pill. "The Matrix" is available for viewing on VHS or DVD. In a few more days, its sequel will be released in theaters everywhere. You should buy this film, you should watch it, and you should understand it. Then go watch the sequel, which promises to be excellent.
The Matrix of the film is a metaphor for another system, a system which is also designed for control. It is designed for the benefit of those who operate the system, and it endeavors to hide the truth that all of its subjects are slaves.
To understand this metaphor, we should examine a bit more of the dialog from the film. Reading this dialog is no substitute for watching the film, and you should certainly go to great lengths to rent or buy and watch this film. It is possibly the most interesting film of the last fifty years. It stands up to other excellent films such as "Casablanca," "Grosse Pointe Blank," and the "Star Wars" serial as commentary on the nature of political society.
What Is the Matrix?
"You wanted to know what the matrix is, Neo?
"You've been living in a dream world, Neo. This is the world as it exists today. Welcome to the desert of the real.
"Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
"The human body generates more bio-electricity than a 120 volt battery and over 25,000 BTUs of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion the machines had found all the energy they would ever need.
"There are fields, Neo, endless fields where human beings are no longer born. We are grown. For the longest time, I wouldn't believe it. And then I saw the fields with my own eyes, watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living. And standing there, facing the pure horrifying precision, I came to realize the obviousness of the truth.
"What is the Matrix?
"The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this. <Holds up battery>
"As long as the Matrix exists the human race will never be free."
The above quote comes from the Warner Home Video DVD, "The Matrix" by the Wachowski Brothers. I've transcribed the actual lines as delivered by Laurence Fishburne, though the subtitles available on the DVD are somewhat similar.
The average American makes $38,000 per year annual income. This figure is somewhat deceptive, since it includes a large number of non-working persons, and fails to count the incomes of a wide array of non-filing adults, children, and "illegal aliens" among others. Over the course of a forty to fifty year career, the average American will make over $1.5 million in income. The government will obtain up to 38% of the income, and various other governmental systems will take a further 12% of income. Plus, the funds the individual spends on rent, food, transportation, and other incidentals will be taxed as income of others.
In other words, the system has found all the money it will ever need. Better still, the currency used in all these exchanges will very likely not be free market money. Instead, it will in most instances prove to be Federal Reserve Notes. This fiat money is allegedly legal tender, though there are no penalties for refusing it. Redeemable for nothing, the Federal Reserve Note is a promise to paybut only in further Federal Reserve Notes. The system which issues these notes is not a part of the Federal government, it is not a constitutionally authorized entity, and it benefits from monetary inflation to a considerable degree.
As Beardsley Ruml pointed out in the 1940s, with the ability to issue currency, the government has no need to tax. It can print as much money as it will ever need. Therefore, in his view, the function of taxes such as the income tax and the inheritance tax, is not to fund the government or provide for constitutionally mandated functions. Instead, the function of these taxes, he wrote in his article for American Affairs magazine, is the redistribution of wealth. From whom? From those capable of producing wealth.
To whom? To those unable or unwilling to produce wealth.
In other words, the tax system exists to plunder. It loots from the productive to provide salaries for bureau-rats and payments to those unable or unwilling to work.
A similar scheme is the Social Security system. It loots from the productive to provide, not only for those unable to work, but also for those who have "retired" without regard to whether they are poor. The Social Security system has no "trust fund." Funds paid in currently are paid out immediately. There is no investment of the funds. The entire system is a Ponzi scheme. As long as new investors are compelled to pay into the system, and as long as more of them, or more productive ones, can be found, the system can remain afloat. However, it is not moral.
The average person paying into the system as of 1998 when Forbes magazine did an analysis, makes $35,000 per year. The average person receiving payments from the system makes $65,000 per year. At that time, those receiving payments were estimated to get $70,000 or so more out of their Social Security checks than they had ever paid in. However, those paying in were estimated to have as much as a quarter million dollars less paid out "eventually" than they had paid in. Between the $250,000 in lost payments and the $70,000 in excess receipts are one generation and $180,000 worth of bad bureaucracy.
Moreover, these optimistic figures are based on a scenario of continuing operations. Most Americans under the age of 45 believe that they have a greater chance of being abducted by aliens than they do of receiving a penny from Social Security. The system is bankrupt, it is unable to provide for the security of those contributing to it, it provides payments to many who are wealthier than those being taxed, and it is not ethical. It is theft, the same as all other taxes.
Do not be misguided by the ideal of order. The average individual seeks useful order. He wants to be able to conduct business with his neighbors and with complete strangers with a certain amount of confidence. He prefers that the tall buildings in his neighborhood not be devastated by thugs who hijack passenger jets. He prefers to stay far from wars so that his property is not looted or plundered.
In contrast to this useful order, this modicum of order, we have the surplus order imposed by the state. The term "surplus order" appears in the book Powershift by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. It is an excellent book which you should buy and read. Surplus order does not benefit the individual. It exists only for the benefit of those who control the state. Surplus order consists of terrorizing all individuals everywhere so they obey whatever dictates the rulers attempt to impose. It includes kicking in doors at 4 a.m., revoking passports, refusing travelers the opportunity to fly, tearing children away from their screaming parents, and burning seven dozen Texans to death in their church, to name but a few of its more dire consequences.
Free Your Mind
Morpheus continues, "You have to let it all go, Neo ... fear ... doubt and disbelief. ... Free your mind!"
The advice is extremely good. You can do worse than follow this advice. Let go of fear, let go of doubt, let go of disbelief. Don't be limited by what you've been told all your life about how the system is your friend, how the government is necessary, how you are the beneficiary of its protection, its largesse, its regulations. Understanding is the first step on the path to freedom. Free your mind and everything else follows.
How? How can you free your mind from a lifetime of conditioning? By refusing to fear, refusing to be beguiled, refusing to be taken in. Strip away the illusions and realize your own potential.
Lesson of the Other Potentials
"Do not try to bend the spoon," says the young boy. "That's impossible. Only try to realize the truth."
"What truth?" asks Neo.
"There is no spoon."
Doubtfully, Neo replies, "There is no spoon?" He can clearly see a spoon in his hand.
"Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends; it is only yourself."
Later in the film, Neo repeats the words "there is no spoon" while shooting at an elevator cable. He obtains the results he desires.
I submit that there is no government. "The government" is an illusion, sometimes consensual. In fact, there are only individuals. Individuals in "the government" get away with murder, theft, lies, deceit, fraud, violence, viciousness, and betrayal. Were those individuals without governmental sanction, they would be merely bullies, killers, and thieves. They would deserve no greater respect and no swifter punishment. As "the government" however, they are understood to be immune from prosecution, immune from lawsuits, immune from criticism. Even their own treason against the constitution is considered acceptable, whereas it is considered treasonous to accuse them of treason.
About 155 years ago, Henry David Thoreau composed a speech called "On Civil Disobedience." In that speech, which is available here, he said that the government had not done anything. It had not settled the West. It had not educated the people. It had not opened new avenues of trade and commerce. All that had ever been done was done by individuals.
He pointed out that if trade and commerce were not made of a substance akin to India rubber, it would not be able to bounce over all the obstacles constantly put in its path by government. Indeed, if legislators, he said, were tried and punished for the results they produced, rather than understood for their intentions, they would be equated with the miscreants who put obstructions on railroad tracks.
Moreover, the government was simply a tradition, passing itself down from generation to generation. It was nothing more than traditionthe special treatment of those in the government nothing but a habit. He also wrote, though I believe mistakenly, that the government could be bent to the will of one man, and (correctly, in my view) was therefore of less consequence than one man.
However, if there is no government, then what is bent? Not the government, but the individual. If you attempt to bend the government to your will, then you will find that it is you who bends.
In this particular fashion, I believe, all the efforts of Libertarian Party members, Republicans, Democrats, and others are made pointless. You cannot reform the government. There is no government for you to reform. You cannot make the government better. There is no government to improve. You cannot make the government obey the constitution. There is no government to be made obedient.
Your efforts to bend the government only result in you being bent. You may believe that you can stick to your guns, remain true to your principles, and bend the government. However, you will find that you are bent in the process, whether corrupted or made weary and stooped over. If you remain, as some noteworthy individuals such as Dr. Ron Paul, unbendable, you will still not find the government bent to your will. Why not? Because there is no government.
Lesson of the Agent
"Do you hear that Mr. Anderson?" asks Agent Smith. "It is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death."
The sound folio is of a screeching subway train. Why is a train so interesting as the metaphor for inevitability? Those of you readers who have ever been arrested may know why. It is often used by the agents of government or "law enforcement" to intimidate suspects, perpetrators, witnesses, and others.
The government agent would say that there is a train coming. You can either get on it, or get run over by it. The train is too powerful to stop. You can't stop it. So, are you going to get on it? This type of false reasoning is used to coerce plea bargains, guilty pleas, false testimony, and a host of other ills. Don't be taken in.
In his confrontation with Agent Smith, Neo proves the train is not the sound of his death. His death comes, but is hardly inevitable. Miraculously, Neo recovers from death with the metaphorical love of a good woman. He recovers from death because that isn't real, either.
Centuries ago, Ben Franklin wrote that three things are inevitable: the weather, death, and taxes. I disagree on all three counts. I'm for weather control, life extension, and free markets.
Another Lesson about Agents
Earlier in the film, we are introduced to a crowd of people walking down the street. Morpheus and Neo seem to be wading through them, against the stream as it were. They are ordinary people from every walk of lifeteachers, lawyers, tradesmen. Most of them have become so inured to the system they are not ready to be unplugged, says Morpheus.
A beautiful woman in a red dress walks by, distracting Neo. Morpheus asks if Neo is still listening, or looking at the woman in the red dress. Neo, flustered, turns toward Morpheus who tells him to look again.
Suddenly, behind Neo, there is an Agent holding a gun at him. Morpheus has the simulation frozen.
He points out that anyone still hard-wired into the system is a potential enemy. Anyone in that condition can be turned into an Agent at a moment's notice.
Indeed, subsequently, while Neo is fleeing from Agent Smith and others, he races down a hallway. Then he bursts into an apartment where we see two old ladies. As he rushes to the back door, we see one old lady on the sofa, another in the kitchen chopping vegetables. As he reaches the back door, THUNK! A knife is embedded into the door jam. He turns back and sees the second old lady has become an Agent in just the split second since we first saw her. He continues to flee.
By analogy, this ability of Agents to corrupt any individual who is "still hardwired into the system" is much like the ability of government agents to corrupt individuals who are still trying to obey the government. If you are filing taxes, you are certainly making errors. Obedience to the law is no excuse, for the laws are so convoluted, so byzantine, so hard to follow that you must inevitably break many of them, even in the process of scrupulously obeying others.
In her novel Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand has a character point out that the purpose of these laws is not to keep the people honest and law-abiding, but to make them all guilty. Guilty of something.
By attempting to obey the law, by filing taxes and participating in the process, by leaving your children in public school or your family at a known address, you leave yourself vulnerable to coercion and control. Many individuals have been turned into informants on the strength of the threats to their way of life, their families, or their health. If you are dependent upon the good will of agents of government for your survival or your lifestyle, you may become very disappointed when you learn that those agents have no good will. Indeed, they are not agents of the properly constituted government, which is nowhere to be found.
Don't rely upon the good will of others, wrote Robert Heinlein. After all, some men don't have a good side. If, instead, you find a way to engage their self interest, you are much better off.
The Neo Proposal
"I know you're out there," says Neo. "I can feel you now. I know that you're afraid. You're afraid of us. You're afraid of change."
I think these statements are very well delivered. The script writers were brilliant in coming up with much of this dialog. The system is afraid of change. The system is terrified right now of the Internet. The ability to bypass the mainstream media and get information without their approval or knowledge is frightening to those who believe in a hydraulic empire of information.
George Carlin points out that we call the mainstream a stream because it is far too shallow to be a river.
Neo continues, "I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin. I'm going to hang up this phone and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible."
Indeed, that is the opportunity before us. We have the opportunity to break free from the matrix of control, from the system. We have the opportunity to live in a world without government, without rulers. We have the opportunity to have no borders, no boundaries, no rule except self-rule, no control except self-control, where anything is possible. Which world would you rather have?
Many years ago, I wrote a couplet as part of the Anthem of the Ama-Gi.
"I don't believe in predestined fate
It isn't up to me to create the future for you. Nor is it up to me to free your mind. "I can show you the door, but you must walk through it," says Morpheus. I cannot free you. You must free yourself.
Once you've asked yourself which world you'd rather have, and once you've taken time to watch this film "The Matrix" I urge you to go see "The Matrix Reloaded" which should prove to be as excellent a film as the first. You may be especially pleased to learn that the Wachowski brothers envisioned the Matrix as a trilogy.