Unplugged from the Matrix
I used to believe that all the social and political strife in America would be resolved if people just sat down and talked with each other. If humans just talked to other humans, they would find the reasonable person hiding underneath the rhetoric. If humans just listened to other humans, they could come together to meet the human needs underneath passionate political demands.
About eight years ago I was on a business trip, staying in a hotel where other business people frequently stayed. The hotel offered a complimentary happy hour, so after work I joined dozens of other folks in the lobby lounge to sip wine and snack on the cheese and vegetable platers. Conversation flowed at every table, covering all the usual networking small-talk topics.
I happened to sit at a table with three people from Brazil and one other American. We chatted amicably about our industries, careers, and kids. As the event began to wind down, staff collected empty glasses from empty tables, and turned the TVs on to news and sports. Treyvon Martin had recently been shot to death by George Zimmerman and it was the top story on every channel.
The folks from Brazil asked why there was such a controversy since the police seemed to know exactly who shot the victim. I explained that the point of controversy was actually a law that would allow Zimmerman to face no consequences for killing Martin as long as he believed in that moment that his life was in imminent danger. That law didn’t make any sense to them. It didn’t make any sense to me either.
The other American at our table tried to explain it. Unfortunately, he tried to explain in a way that omitted the relevant context of racism in America. He tried so hard that he ultimately turned red in the face and left in a huff. That also didn’t make any sense to the Brazilians, although his expression of passion made perfect sense to me.
I thought we could sit at the table and talk to each other and that our reasonable sides would just come out. I thought we could talk ourselves into recognition of the human needs underneath passionate political posturing. But I hadn't yet realized we could not do that without acknowledging the racist context for George Zimmerman’s reaction to the circumstances that day he looked at a black teenager and saw a dangerous criminal.
Much of my process the last few months has been learning the context for why things are the way they are in America. As soon as I began to pull at one strand of the façade holding my comfortable life together, I saw all the other frayed edges. So I started to pull on those strings too, and pretty soon the whole tapestry of white supremacy and other superiority games was unravelling. Now I see more clearly the totality of the system keeping itself running in the background of all our lives.
Now it feels like I have been unplugged from the Matrix. I took the red pill. I can’t go back to sleep and I don’t want to. I want to see the truth of what our world is and how we got here. I also see that some folks are still completely plugged-in, either because they don’t realize they have a choice or because they chose the blue pill and the comfort of their ignorance.
Recently, I found myself in a part of Facebook I have never seen before. A friend of mine shared a post by a friend of theirs without adding commentary or explanation. The shared post made absolutely no sense on its face. I could tell it was making a point, but it was fully unclear to me exactly what that point was.
I clicked on the post, which led me to the wall of the friend of my friend. I clicked on the original story, which led me to a conservative news media site I had never heard of. I read the story, full of inflammatory conjecture, and returned to the wall of the friend of my friend. As I scrolled through their feed, I began to put together a picture of this person’s belief structure. The principles on which their opinions were founded began to take shape before me.
Absolutely all of their pronouncements, all the posts they shared, and all the memes they passionately presented, were utterly lacking in consideration of context. Consequently, the conclusions these posts were steadfastly drawing made no sense at all. This is an ineffective method of interacting with information if what you want is a complete understanding, and it is very effective if what you're after is surface-level confirmation of conclusions drawn out of context.
Unfortunately, I have watched this disregard for context and propensity toward oversimplification increase in popularity in the wake of the last presidential election. As the presence of Federal troops sent to Portland on the President's orders stretches into its fourth week, the false narrative that violent anarchists are attacking the city continues to maintain a foothold. Despite the many very clear videos available every day showing exactly what occurs at these protests, some people continue to see only a perverse fantasy version of what’s actually happening.
I want to say that I cannot fathom how someone can watch the same videos I am seeing and still buy-in to a totally false narrative. The same videos with all the lead-up of peaceful assembly, and the very clear moment where local police or federal agents (or both) attack protestors apropos of nothing. The same videos of Federal troops collecting people into unmarked vans without identifying themselves. But I understand exactly what is happening. These people are ignoring all the context and have already decided what they are going to see before they even begin to watch.
So how do I reach those people? I used to think changing hearts and minds was the way to create better policies. But the more fully I uncover the context of this moment we are living in, the more I understand we have to change policy first. Then the hearts and minds will be able to follow. We have to create a new context to enable a different future. Then even the people who swallow the blue pill will at least be operating in a different Matrix.
Information and Inspiration
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.