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April 2004
Editorial: A Steady Diet of Violence
By Catherine Clyne


Five years ago on a wet spring day, a colleague and I snuck an early day and slipped into a theatre to see a new sci-fi movie, The Matrix. Although I lived in the middle of New York City, I had no idea what it was about. Back then I still believed TV was evil (or at least the opiate of the masses), so I’d missed all the hype.

As the framework of the futuristic dystopia was revealed, all sorts of sirens and red flags went off in my head. A-ha!, I felt someone finally understood the world we live in and conveyed it in a way that people could understand. (Well, that wasn’t exactly how everyone interpreted the film.)

When I got home, I called my best friend telling her she just had to see the movie. She laughed at my paying money to see a Hollywood blockbuster—one starring Keanu Reeves, no less. No, I insisted, it really explains things from the point of view of those of us who have chosen to open our eyes to the cruelty and violence our world is based on.

That’s right, we’re living in The Matrix.

For the uninitiated, the “matrix” is an illusory computer-generated world where humans wear cool designer clothes, live normal, urban lives, and walk around freely, breathing fresh air and soaking up sunlight. But the “reality” is, the planet is overrun by evil machines that harvest and feast on the flesh of human beings. They grow us in underground factory farms, each in our own pod-like cocoon—plugged into the matrix, believing we’re living normal lives in the city. You see, human greed and violence had spun out of control, leaving the earth’s surface a black, smoldering wasteland. The machines we’d created became more intelligent and powerful than humans and eventually turned the tables. The chickens, so to speak, had come home to roost.

And to keep us quiet, they created the matrix, feeding us a constant dream reality, so we can live our lives in virtual comfort. Who in their right mind would want to screw that up?

The thing is, they may not be aware of it, but there’s an itch, that eyelash stuck in the eye, that persistent gnawing feeling that you were meant for something else: no creature really wants to be farmed as food for someone else. It goes against all instinct, no matter how comfy the conditions.

In The Matrix, humans can respond to that itch. They can become “enlightened” and learn the truth about the world. Through a rather painful process, humans can extract themselves from their cocoon and see the matrix for what it is. In other words, they can wake up to the nightmare that’s all around them and choose to do something to change it.

The Dream Machine
I found this a scarily accurate description of the way we currently choose to live in the world as we know it. We can remain in a dreamy matrix that disguises the suffering our comfortable lives thrive off of; or we can remove the screens from our eyes, however painful a process it is, and wake up to reality. And we can choose to act to change it for the better.

Unlike in The Matrix, however, we don’t have to wage an all-out bloodbath to change things. (But we can look just as cool doing it!) Michael Nagler, a teacher of nonviolence writes, “Nonviolence has two faces, that of cooperating with good and that of non-cooperating with evil.” (See interview in this issue.)

Far from being passive, in today’s world non-cooperation with evil takes guts. It requires a willingness to recognize the “matrix” we live in, but to not stop there. Active nonviolence necessitates more than simply opting out of cruelty. It involves opening our eyes and taking that extra step into the madness around us by engaging with those still asleep, to help them realize what they have missed. Only by actualizing the two key aspects of awareness and action can we be weaned from the steady diet of violence, the matrix, surrounding us.




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