Rachel's Democracy & Health News, February 8, 2007
ESCAPING THE MATRIX
[Rachel's introduction: In the movie The Matrix, a false reality is manufactured by computers to keep the enslaved population happy and deluded so they can be exploited in a scheme aimed at world domination. Does this ring a bell, folks?]
By Tim Montague
In the movie, The Matrix, a computer hacker named Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) is living an ordinary life in what he thinks is 1999. However, when he is contacted by the enigmatic character, Morpheus, Neo learns that he is actually living in the year 2199 where some malevolent computers have created a realistic but totally false version of 20th-century life ("the matrix") to keep Neo and the rest of the population happily enslaved. It turns out the computers are "farming" the population to fuel a campaign of total domination being carried out in the real world of 2199. To gain freedom and justice, Neo must first make a decision to confront the awful truth, then join forces with Morpheus and others to figure out how to escape from the matrix.
Like Neo, we have a choice -- to go on pretending that everything is as it appears, or to search for a deeper truth about the nature of our reality. In our matrix, we live in a democracy where everyone is created equal, with liberty and justice for all. Our school books, television shows and politicians assure us that if we work hard and play by the rules we can all get ahead and have "the good life." In reality we live in an economy that is wrecking the planet and destroying the future for our children, increasingly benefiting only a handfull of elites.
Richard Moore's slim new book Escaping the Matrix: how we the people can change the world (ISBN 0977098303) is an intriguing indictment of our 'dominator' society, how it's killing the planet and what we might do about it.
Moore's analysis of the situation -- a world on the verge of a nervous breakdown -- is that corruption by corporate and political elites is an inevitable aspect of societies like ours, based on domination and exploitation by a warrior class -- the "military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about in 1961.
Moore begins by framing events and organizations as diverse as World War I, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations as guided by capitalism. "Capitalism is basically the belief that those who have the most spare money -- the most capital -- should decide how our societies develop. This is a political belief, a belief about who should make the important societal decisions. It is an entirely undemocratic belief; in fact it is a belief in the virtue of plutocracy -- rule by the wealthy."(p. 54)
This has created a modern crisis. "...[C]ivilization is suffering from both a chronic disease and an acute, life-threatening infection. The acute infection is the unsustainability of our modern societies; the chronic disease is rule by elites -- a disease we've been suffering from ever since the first Mesopotamian kings, some 6,000 years ago."(p. 58)
This pretty much sums up the first third of the book -- which includes a compelling recap of world events from this point of view. Recent events, like the decline of the American manufacturing economy and the war on terror, suddenly make very good sense. Capital is finding its way out of slow-growth markets into faster growth markets. Government's role is to protect those corporate interests at any cost, including manufacturing excuses to start a nasty oil war.
In the middle third of the book, Moore serves up a brief history of humanity and what led to our violent and oppressive ways. He asks, How did hierarchical society come to be in the first place? Were human cultures always so competitive and war-like? Citing the work of Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, Moore says that there is good evidence that prehistoric European humans lived in 'partnership societies' that were egalitarian and based on cooperation not domination.
While the first agrarian societies were evolving in what is today the Middle-East (the fertile crescent), nomadic herding culture emerged on the Russian steppes. The herding cultures were inherently more aggressive than their agrarian counterparts by virtue of their nomadic lifestyle and relative scarcity of resources. "These were male- dominated warrior societies, with strong chiefs. Archeological evidence reveals that human sacrifice was practiced, warrior deities were worshipped, and that chiefs were buried with impressive caches of weapons. Eisler places these societies in the category of dominator societies."(p. 75)
When dominator (nomadic herder) society mixes with partnership (agrarian) you get a volatile mix: "Thus hierarchical civilization seems to have arisen as a hybrid between these two cultural strains: the partnership strain contributed the civilizing technologies and the slave to till the soil; the dominator strain contributed the ruling hierarchy and the dominator culture."(p. 77)
"With the production afforded by slave-based agriculture, rulers could afford to pursue conquest and expansion."(p. 79) Bringing us to where we stand today -- the product of 6,000 years of dominator expansion. And as we see, when dominator culture runs into more cooperatively based cultures like indigenous hunter-gatherers, dominator culture tends to absorb or exterminate the others.
"Over the centuries we've seen warrior chiefs replaced by kings, and kings replaced by corporate elites, but always there have been a few who made the rules and the many who obeyed them, a few who reaped the rewards and the many who paid the taxes and fought in the wars. We've seen slavery replaced by serfdom replaced by employment, but always it has been a few at the top who have owned the product of our labors."(p. 83)
Moore then explains, "The source of our crisis is the dominator culture itself. Environmental collapse and capitalism are merely the terminal symptoms of a chronic cancer, a cancer that has plagued us for six thousand years. No matter what dominator hierarchy might be established, or which group of leaders might be in charge, things would always evolve toward something similar to what we have now. Such is the path of domination, hierarchy, and rule by elites."(p. 84)
Then Moore lays out a path back to "...a culture based on mutual understanding and cooperation rather than on war and conquest, a culture based on common sense rather than dysfunctional doctrine, on respect for life rather than the pursuit of profit, and on democracy in place of elite rule."(p. 85)
This clearly will require nothing short of a radical awakening and transformation of our culture. Moore then reviews two social movements from which we can draw important lessons.
The first is the anti-globalization movement embodied in the World Social Forum gatherings. But Moore is uncertain of this movement saying, "It is a very large choir, but it's not a quorum of the congregation. In its current form it is unlikely to have even a restraining effect on our descent into oblivion."(p. 87) However, he acknowledges that the anti-globalization movement will likely be embodied in whatever larger transformative movement does eventually shift us to a partnership society.
Moore believes that the populist movement (which began as the Farmer's Alliance) -- is another example we should study. "The Farmers' Alliance began in 1877 as a self-help movement in Texas, organizing cooperatives for buying supplies and selling crops. The cooperatives improved the farmers' economic situation, and the movement began to spread throughout the Midwest and the South. By 1889, there were 400,000 members."
But the movement was hobbled by two things. First, it failed to build a broad and diverse base; it did not expand beyond rural farming culture. "Although movement activists sympathized with urban industrial workers, and expressed support for their strikes and boycotts, the culture of the Populist leadership did not lead them to bring urban workers into their constituency, to make them part of the Populist family. From an objective strategic perspective, it is clear that this was a fatal error of omission." (p. 93)
Second, it dove headlong into partisan politics -- a logical progression for this kind of social movement but one that created a no-win situation. "In order to promote their economic reform agenda, and encouraged by their electoral successes, they decided to commit their movement wholeheartedly to the political process. They joined forces with the Democratic Party and backed William Jennings Bryan in the election of 1896." Then the backlash: "Corporations and the elite- owned media threw their support to the Republican candidate, William McKinley, in what [Howard] Zinn calls "the first massive use of money in an election campaign." Bryan was defeated, and the Populist movement fell apart."(p. 90)
Harmonization -- group dialog
Moore believes that to avoid the fatal flaws of partisan politics we should build consensus through a process he calls 'harmonization.' Harmonization is a form of group communication where participants work together, usually with a trained facilitator, to solve common questions or problems.
You can learn much more about harmonization at Moore's website. Harmonization is about coming up with creative solutions to common problems -- solutions that take into account everyone's concerns.
There are a variety of techniques for achieving harmonization. One is the Wisdom Council, a technique developed by Jim Rough that brings people from diverse points of view together for an extended conversation. Through dynamic facilitation the group members achieve mutual understanding, respect, solidarity and community.
Another leader in this movement for creative dialog is Joseph McCormick, founder of Reuniting America which aims "To convene Americans from across the political spectrum in dialogue around areas of mutual concern to build trust and identify opportunities for collaborative action." As Moore point out, 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.
Moore goes on to describe how we could scale harmonization up from the community level to the regional or national level. Moore believes that harmonization has the potential to become the basis of a 'community empowerment movement' that would transform our current adversarial culture into a cooperative partnership culture.
The core principles of this movement are local sovereignty and harmonization. The local community level is where everyone involved finds a shared common interest and motivation to strengthen and protect the community. Regional or national issues can be taken on by creating delegations from local constituencies. Local wisdom councils would delegate individuals to represent their community's interests at larger regional gatherings, and so on, up the geographic scale. Moore argues that centralized governments, corporations and institutions that currently make most of the decisions will be unnecessary and counterproductive in this new partnership society.
Making the transition to a culture based on sovereignty and harmonization will require 'repossessing the commons' -- all the things we share together but none of us owns individually including air, water, wildlife, the human genome, and human knowledge. Moore also includes the financial and monetary systems in the commons. "Each community doesn't necessarily need to maintain its own currency, but it must have the right to do so at any time it chooses."(p. 174)
Moore argues that only locally owned and independently operated businesses are good for the community. And that non-local ownership is a pitfall to be avoided entirely. And though it's a radical departure from our current system, this form of sovereignty would be a huge step in the right direction. In the meantime we can get on with exploring harmonization techniques.
"Any movement, which aims to create a transformed and democratic society, needs to keep this in mind: when the new world is created, everyone will be in it -- not just the people we agree with or the people we normally associate with. A movement must aim to be all- inclusive if it seeks to create a democratic society that is all- inclusive. Is there anyone you would leave behind, or relegate to second-class citizenship? If not, then you should be willing to welcome to the movement anyone who shares the goal of creating that new world," Moore concludes.(p. 93)