Take the Red Pill

"You take the blue pill, you wake up in your bed and the story ends. You believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill…and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

Morpheus to Neo, The Matrix

What’s happened to America? That’s the question I keep asking myself. How could one administration implement the most radical, anti-democratic, anti-environment, pro-war agenda in American history so easily and unnoticed? Though there are signs that a gradual public awakening is under way, why did it take so long? Will it be enough? Or is it already too late?

In a short and numbing three years we’ve seen the waging of a war based on lies, an "us against the world" approach to foreign policy that has angered allies and empowered enemies, the dismantling of critical environmental and health protection laws, over a trillion dollars in tax cuts given to millionaires and drastic reductions in government services to the poor, the creation of the largest deficit in American history from what was recently the largest budget surplus in history (endangering our country’s long-term ability to provide assistance to the elderly, sick, and poor), and a frightening assault on the most fundamental tenet of American democracy: our personal liberties.

How did all of this happen without a massive public outcry? Why hasn’t the Bush administration been held accountable? I’ve found the 1999 film The Matrix to be a useful analogy for explaining the widening chasm between reality and what too many Americans perceive as reality; and may help answer some of the questions first posed.

"It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."

Morpheus to Neo, The Matrix

In The Matrix a simulated dream world is created to enslave humanity. So effective is this "prison", that its subjects are unaware of the truth: they are slaves living in a manufactured, "false reality". A world so real that its authenticity isn’t questioned, in fact, it’s embraced. But there’s a larger question the film ponders: Would you even want to know the truth if the dream world of the Matrix was more comfortable and secure than the real world?

First, I don’t believe we are slaves, and I don’t believe there is one unified force that seeks to imprison us, as in the film. The false reality that has been pulled over our eyes is due to a complex combination of factors that when combined, do create a system of control and do help conceal the truth. "America’s Matrix" is a "reality" that arose primarily from the increasing corporatization of our culture, including the mainstream news media, and the gradually expanding control and manipulation of information by our government.

As a result, too many Americans have been lulled into a dangerous complacency. Overwhelmed and intimidated by the complexities of the real world, they’ve begun to tune out. Many are fed up and too busy to bother caring about politics anymore, believing their vote doesn’t count, their opinion doesn’t matter, they don’t have the time, and their choice of leaders uninspiring. Instead, many have opted for a simpler reality; an essentially fabricated, consumer oriented, market driven world that has become so pervasive that a great many Americans have accepted it as an alternative, and even legitimate "reality". A primary explanation for this acceptance is that Americans, from birth to death, are subjected to a mass media barrage in which rarely a moment goes by that we aren’t bombarded by corporatized words and images designed to excite the senses, entertain, and encourage us to buy and consume. Imagine how many of these you receive everyday, be it through television, the Internet, radio, movies, billboards, magazines, or other mediums? Or imagine how many times children of today will be exposed to these stimuli by the time they reach adulthood? Indeed, the competition for the attention of our minds is a fierce one. This mass media overload produces short attention spans, short memories, and conditions us to seek what is entertaining and simple, not what is complex or demanding. In other words, how does the truth, in all its uncomfortable detail, get through all these competing messages? And if it does, are we really going to recognize it?

Sadly, our mainstream news, which should serve as an important tool in deciphering the truth, has largely degenerated into another layer of "America’s Matrix". A profit driven industry controlled by just a handful of giant corporations, the news media increasingly care more about ratings than providing the public with the information needed to be effective, critically thinking citizens. The result is coverage driven by hours on end of scandal, murder, tragedy, tabloid journalism, and anything else that quenches our society’s insatiable thirst for entertainment. The reason is simple: the more "exciting" the news the higher the ratings and the larger the profits.

Since when is news supposed to be entertaining instead of informative? Think how much coverage stories like the Monica Lewinsky affair, OJ Simpson murder trial, Chandra Levy disappearance, and the Laci Peterson case received? Do these "mind candy"; "soap opera like" stories serve the public good? Lost in this layer upon layer of infotainment style news is the in depth investigative reporting on issues that truly matter: America’s looming budget crisis; global warming; the world’s deteriorating natural resources; the real motives behind our country’s push for war(s); the expanding disparity between America’s rich and poor; rising poverty rates and lack of basic child health care coverage; corporate crimes and welfare; big business’ influence over our political leaders; public financing of elections; and the monopolization of our media by corporate conglomerates. Instead, like facts, reality is routinely overwhelmed in our news coverage by image and drama. In such a distorted "news" environment, how do we get the relevant information necessary to effectively distinguish truth (and even reality) from fiction? It’s no wonder then that so many Americans have become politically inactive and increasingly apathetic, ambivalent, and uninformed.

"What is the Matrix? Control." — Morpheus to Neo, The Matrix

A foundation has now been laid to help better understand how the Bush administration has so successfully implemented its agenda. However, two recent, additional layers of "America’s Matrix" must be addressed to adequately and more fully answer that simple, but all important question: "How could so many Americans be unaware and un-interested in the radical change of direction that their country is being taken?"

The first additional "layer" to our Matrix was spawned by the attack on the World Trade Center. Who could have dreamed that such a tragedy would be used to push an agenda so antithetic to our country’s principles? The attack was turned into a marketing tool by the Bush administration to sell its radical agenda to the American public. By essentially trademarking patriotism, the administration was able to portray opponents of its policies as soft on terrorism…even un-American. The 9/11 tragedy served as a timely rallying cry for the Republican party, and was effectively used by the Bush administration to justify key aspects of its agenda: ensuring re-election and Republican control of our government; increasing the power of America’s corporate aristocracy; stifling public dissent; and expanding U.S. economic and military global dominance. The Patriot Act, the War on Iraq, giant tax cuts for the rich, increased drilling for oil in publicly protected lands, and the creation of a space based laser weapons defense system were all shamelessly, and for the most part successfully, sold to the public as critical solutions to "the war on terror". Within the constructs of "America’s Matrix", it is then understandable how the Bush administration manipulated an intimidated press into inaction and complicity, and convinced a largely shocked and angry public that sought answers and craved retribution into acceptance of (or at least not rejection of) its agenda.

The second more recent "layer" to our Matrix has been the continued rise of the right wing media machine, most notably Fox News (and LOTS of radical right wing radio). This sham of a "news" organization was created by conservative billionaire zealot Rupert Murdoch to balance what he viewed as a liberal media, going so far as to call CNN "socialist". A laughable claim, but when you consider the ramifications of Murdoch’s comments it suddenly becomes very serious. If Fox’s owner views a mainstream, for profit news corporation as socialist (and the media as liberal), and believes his network’s job is to balance that coverage, imagine the extreme right wing bias that Fox News must have? News is supposed to present the public with unbiased, reliable information to help foster an educated, engaged, and informed citizenry. In contrast, Fox News was created to, and serves as, an ideologically driven "marketing machine", functioning as an effective propaganda tool for the Bush administration and its right wing allies.

The power Fox News has in shaping public opinion should not be taken lightly. Already, more Americans watch it than any other news network. If you doubt its agenda, you probably never saw the regularly occurring "Bombs to Music" segments it aired throughout the Iraq War in which bombs were shown exploding on Iraq as inspiring music played in the background and an American flag waved in the corner of the screen. What about the women and children who were losing lives and limbs to those bombs? Have we become so de-sensitized that war is supposed to be fun to watch? Does this kind of news coverage promote critical thinking? Quite the contrary, instead, it de-personalizes war to such a degree it becomes entertaining, consumable, and even appealing to the American public. This kind of coverage strips war of its inherent horror and inhumanity, making it easier for the public to support the war on Iraq…and future one’s as well.

"As soon as we started thinking for you it became our civilization."

Agent Smith to Morpheus, The Matrix

Clearly, the Bush administration has benefited greatly from "America’s Matrix", and expertly uses it as a tool of control. The accepted false reality that was created, facilitated by a too easily manipulated public and an unquestioning press, enabled the White House to implement the most radical agenda in American history without the opposition that should be expected in a free society. Enough Americans are either unaware or un-interested in the truth, and so confident is this administration that they will remain so, its policy proposals are promoted as solutions to problems that in actuality aren’t remotely meant to solve, in fact, often are meant to do just the opposite.

Consider, Bush called his plan to open 191 million acres of public lands to increased commercial logging, "The Healthy Forest Initiative", weakening the Clean Air Act, which will cause 30,000 additional pollution related deaths over the next 20 years (10 times the number killed in 9/11), "The Clear Skies Initiative", stripping us of freedoms and circumventing the Constitution, "The Patriot Act", and drastically cutting promised spending on education, "No Child Left Behind". As might be expected, the machinery of our Matrix efficiently prevents the true nature of these policies to adequately penetrate the public consciousness. Unfortunately, our press, so concerned with ratings, fuels this trend, as less coverage time and honest analysis are given these stories out of fear they could be viewed as biased against the administration, viewers would be uninterested, ratings would decline, and profits reduced.

"Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. So hopelessly dependent on the system…" Morpheus to Neo, The Matrix

If you doubt the power of "America’s Matrix", look no further than the shocking poll taken in August of 2003 that showed 70 percent of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein played a direct role in 9/11. Of course, there never was a shred of evidence to suggest Hussein played any part in the attack (Hussein and Bin Laden actually detest each other), and the Bush administration recently even admitted as much. No matter, the damage had already been done. The White House had repeatedly been saying there was a connection for over two years, and the press failed to adequately challenge these lies at every critical juncture. So the public, wanting a scapegoat, craving a villain, needing things to be as black and white as a Swarzenegger movie, and too trusting of its leaders in a time of crisis, bought the lie. The administration knew Americans would support a war if they believed the country they were invading played a role in attacking them first. So a fitting false reality was created. Now, an American is still being killed on an almost daily basis in Iraq, tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children have been murdered, we’re going to spend $100’s of billions of US taxpayers’ money to rebuild a country we just spent $10’s of billions destroying, and terrorists are uniting against us throughout the world. Have so many Americans really reached a point where they don’t realize or even mind being manipulated no matter how obvious the deceit? Due to the pervasiveness of "America’s Matrix", the answer for many, I believe, is yes.

"I know you are afraid of us. I know you are afraid of change."

Neo to the Machines, The Matrix

Thankfully, I’m an optimist…and I love this country. In fact, it’s that love, and the vast, and largely unrealized potential of America that makes our present situation so infuriating. In many ways, Americans are faced with a similar choice offered to Neo. Do you take the blue pill, and continue living your life in the false comfort of the Matrix? Or, do you take the red pill, and decide you want the increased responsibilities and challenges that knowing the truth will bring?

Make no mistake. The Bush administration is taking this country in a catastrophically wrong direction. It is stealing more than our future; it’s redefining the very principles that America was founded upon: a common good, where people work together, care for one another, and lift each other up.

But there are signs of hope: Millions marched against the war on Iraq, the most ever in American history; the media is beginning to challenge the lies of our government; and there is a rising tide of dissatisfaction with the Bush Presidency. But more is required. We need a re-energized citizenry that will reject the Matrix itself. Without that, "leaders" no different than our current ones will come into power again. We must not let that happen.

So what to do? Thankfully, the bright side of American life is as positive as the dark side is negative. As the Hopi say, "We Are the Ones, Who We Have Been Waiting For." In other words, the change we are looking for begins with ourselves. This "reality", this Matrix, can be changed by the collective and individual actions of each one of us. We still have the freedom to dissent and we still have enough remnants of a free press. Americans must re-engage in the public debate of ideas, realize our government’s policies really do affect peoples’ lives, question authority, get informed, and vote.

The Internet alone poses a threat to "America’s Matrix" as it provides unlimited access to information and alternative news sources. So, I will offer a few suggestions to those who would appreciate some help getting started in our collective (and individual) challenge to reconfigure this "reality". Read through the news (esp. politics) sections on Google or Yahoo. Seek out alternative and more independent sources of information at Salon.com, Truthout.org, Mother Jones, CommonDreams.org, and Alternet.org. See how you like reading syndicated newspaper columnists Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, and Robert Scheer. Learn the truth about the disastrous affects (esp. in the future) of Bush’s tax cuts from the Citizens for Tax Justice. Sign up for email updates to keep track of Bush administration lies, important grassroots political movements that need your help, and in depth and honest analyses of the critical issues that will affect your life (and how you can take action) from MoveOn.org or The True Majority. Get the facts about Bush’s assault on our environment and health from the Sierra Club or the Union of Concerned Scientists. If you prefer television, try PBS’s the Lehrer NewsHour, Frontline, and NOW with Bill Moyers. For radio, listen in on Pacifica’s Democracy Now or other local and more independent stations in your area. Those are a few of my favorite sources of information…you’ll find yours too.

"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 show these people a world…without controls, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you." — Neo, The Matrix

When armed with the truth, the majority of Americans will reject this Matrix and Bush administration style politics. This program is broken; it’s time to reload.

Take the Red Pill.


Copyright, Zack Kaldveer, 2003