The Wachowski brothers’ 1999–2003 film series, The Matrix gained worldwide popularity and since its release has been very influential. It is not simply a film, but has become a cultural phenomenon. In past ages, it was philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Immanuel Kant that engaged youth with deep questions and the search for meaning in their lives. Yet Neo’s conundrum “What is real?” has become the question of our age.
Throughout history, each new generation has questioned and rebelled against what had come before. Generations X and Y grew up with the dot-com bubble and ubiquitous digital technology. This group of teens and young adults today has largely been viewed as tamed, apathetic, and glued to their screens. Yet, now the little known underground subculture of hackers that was brought to worldwide attention by WikiLeaks seems to call for a shift in this view. Here arose a pocket of passionate activists united through sharing ideas beyond cultural and geopolitical boundaries in the spirit of the open source principles. This has brought fire to a public contaminated by cynicism. Perhaps this generation is following the age-old tradition of youthful idealism rebelling against the inequities of the established order after all.
Each age has had a literary imagination that guided it. There was the Tolkien masterpiece, Lord of the Rings and then Star Trek. Now, The Matrix has become a central story of this generation. What is emerging now is the Matrix Generation.
In an article called Generation W: WikiLeaks Ignites a New Generation of Hacktivists, Urizenus Sklar (Jan 4, 2011) described how the challenges of this age have ignited a new generation of hacktivists that is indicative of an emerging worldwide culture of dissent among the younger generation. He characterizes this as reacting to the governmental abuses of the George W. Bush era. But, in reality the current malaise goes much deeper than a particular regime, as an ever evolving cancer of corruption and abuse of power has been emanating from Washington for some time and has become pervasive as a corporate and government model all over the world. People are now starting to confront in a more widespread fashion the systemic moral corruption that has been building and WikiLeaks has catalyzed and empowered this backlash.
This generation is unique in that it is comprised of many ages and is inherently transnational. This age is generating answers to the emptiness of corporate culture. People have found part of the answer in the vision of WikiLeaks; transparency as a method to bring justice.
The images and themes from the Matrix film have taken on a life of their own. For those applying the questions raised in the film to their life, the line between fiction and reality blurs. That which was depicted as science fiction, as an age of machines taking over humanity, appears to uncannily reflect aspects of current reality; the artificial machinery of corporations and their courtiers of technocrats and politicians reducing human social identity to consumers through mass communication and corporate controlled news and advertising. The theme of “Individual VS Institution” (Assange, Dec 3, 2006) has become a modern battle against the Matrix, which is a system that enslaves humanity through commanding their very definition of reality. Morpheus said to Neo that “It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth!” (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1999) The current Infowar highlighted by WikiLeaks appears to have become the very fight that many in the world are engaged in to unplug humanity from the Matrix.
Anonymous: Neo vs. Mr. Smith
When WikiLeaks sites were under DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack and cuts to their funding, there arose a group of hackers and citizens around the world under the name of “Anonymous” who came forward using similar crowd-source DDOS in defense of the organization. They succeeded in disrupting some of the online services such as Visa and MasterCard (BBC, Dec 9, 2010) who had cut off WikiLeaks funding.
Anonymity takes different forms and has different connotations. One type of anonymity is what can be ascribed as a default position for virtually everyone in the world. In this case a person is an unidentifiable “nobody” as opposed to a “somebody” until some notoriety comes to them. Another is anonymity found in uniformity. In Western consumer culture, people are made anonymous whether they choose it or not. Naomi Klein (2000) in No Logo depicted how the advertisement industry packages and sells the kind of pseudo-individuality that finds its meaning through people branding themselves with images and products of corporations. Individuals who wear Nike shoes are taught to think that owning that particular brand makes them a distinct individual. The acquisition of such product grants them a certain social status and recognition within a group. In actuality, it is a fake individuality that dissolves ones true uniqueness into manufactured uniformity.
Chris Hedges in Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009) sheds light on this consumer culture as one characteristic of the Corporate State, which encourages the populace to seek for outer recognition of the fame and achievement that comes with celebrity status. In many Western societies, especially in the US, anonymity is equated with being nobody, and individuals are urged to engage in a competing game to rise above the masses to become somebody. An example of this is the encouragement for people to look up to corporate approved branded sports, political and entertainment personalities. The actual result is often a real loss of their individuality and meaning they might impart to their own lives.
On the other hand, the experience of anonymity can mean something different when it is chosen consciously. Often an altruistic and devoted working for others is done and carried out in a gesture of anonymity. For instance, donations can be made and kind words passed on anonymously. One particular work that was the result of a lifetime of effort and a powerful inspiration for self-development, entitled Meditations on the Tarot (1985) was published anonymously. This act of choosing to be anonymous rather than having one’s name on something can be seen as a deed of sacrificing one’s individuality to become an instrument for something higher. Another example of a higher anonymity is found in AA and NA; that is, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. These are powerful collaborative group methods of recovery from addiction. Similar to the open source movement, groups work with the principle of mutual support for each other’s recovery. The meetings are open to everyone, and members remain relatively anonymous. The vessel is created through a unique agreement that protects from all commercial interests. This is a new social model of the shared commons. With the AA example, it starts with the individual acknowledging that they are powerless over addiction and that there is a higher power within that can give strength for recovery and move into a new life.
A move toward anonymity is the first conscious action taken in the 12 step program. It is to step into a potential self that diverges from the old habitual self, to allow something larger than this self to lead to a new freedom. The collective effort of a group of individuals eventually can transform a community into a kind of spiritual communion.
In the film, The Matrix, one can see this contrast in the expression of anonymous being depicted by the battle between Mr. Smith and Neo. Mr. Smith is one of the agents who are steely faced software programs. They “can move in and out of any software still hardwired to their system. That means that anyone who hasn’t unplugged is potentially an agent. Inside the Matrix, they are everyone and they are no one ….” (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1999). Like the modern PR machine propaganda engineering consent, Agent Smith carries the system’s agenda through deeply interfering with the will of those who are plugged into the system. He is like the unaccountable artificial face of transnational corporations, hiding behind multiplicity and limited liability to carry out a single minded goal; the expansion of a rapacious, economically driven system that has no room for the higher virtues of humanity.
In the film, Neo was depicted as the One. His journey of becoming the One can be traced back to a man named Mr. Thomas A. Anderson, when he received a strange message on the computer, urging him to wake up. Mr. Anderson split his identity between computer programmer during the day and hacker during the night. The plot revolves around him constantly confronting questions of reality and life and death decisions centered on his identity.
In the Matrix Reloaded, multiple Mr. Smiths surround Neo. Like genetically modified crops destroying the life of unique seeds, Mr. Smith clones himself, saying “Me, Me, Me…” trying to penetrate into Neo’s spirit, to turn his individuality into uniformed corps – infected with commercial motives and selfish greed.
Just as the multiple agent Smiths confused Neo and caught him in the facade, journalists, pundits and politicians as agents of the system hide in camouflaged corporate news outlets that serve one master in echo chambers of power to distract the American people from the truth. From one channel to the other, agents jump through the network of fallen light to chase those who are free within the system. From one country to the other they exploit the land and move to cheap labor, degrading and enslaving man to an inhuman system.
The film is well known for its visual effect called “bullet time” that engages the audience in a moment of slow-stop motion. Within this effect, time appears to slow almost to a standstill. The impact of this new technique goes beyond simple entertainment. It reveals the deeper psychological reality of the clash of two forces, represented by the characters Neo and Agent Smith. It gives a glimpse of the working of those forces in the activity of perception in everyday life.
In the film, Neo took on this battle. When Neo chose the red pill, to go down the rabbit hole, it brought death to his identity as Mr. Anderson. There was no turning back. He sacrificed his ordinary identity to become the One. Even the Oracle could not tell Neo that he was the One, as he had to earn it and choose it out of his free will. This choice made him anonymous by releasing him from his previous identity as Thomas Anderson.
This type of anonymity is a state of consciousness where one’s previous identity and experience of self is not sufficient ground for reality any longer. Here emerges a possibility of self-transformation, making a space for something larger. It is this choice that made it possible for Thomas Anderson, the anonymous everyman to become Neo, or “new”: free within time to creatively act within the system and meet Mr. Smith on his own terms. He could now combat the power working through Mr. Smith, stopping bullets aimed at him and making them simply fall to the ground. Mr. Smith tries to attack Neo and short-circuit this great transformative process. He works to keep people in an anonymous mass to be used, or seduces some to an illusion of individuality through recruiting them to become ‘chosen’ agents, when in actually it is simply a replica of Mr. Smith.
Neo’s anonymity is accomplished in sacrifice or service to others, while Mr. Smith uses his anonymity in the interests of maintaining the system. Neo is the One that becomes permeated from the source, transcending enforced collective will. In this way the light of the true individuality shines upon others’ unique differences, creating the Every-One. On the other hand, Mr. Smith is a fake “one” that denies and swallows each person’s distinct individuality into a devolution of humanity.
In a nutshell, the battle between Neo and Agent Smith is really about the will toward anonymity, in that becoming truly individual is a choice rooted in common will or shared ground, instead of succumbing to a force that would keep us asleep in a kind of collective oblivion.
In the article Anonymous, WikiLeaks and the Age of Online Activism, Paul Sims describes the engine behind Anonymous groups, saying those who engage in it “say that they are doing what they are doing on behalf of ‘Anonymous’” (Dec 9, 2010) and that individuals who collaborate under “Anonymous” are said to be natural allies of WikiLeaks, participating in the same movement. Assange himself pointed out in a Q and A with Guardian readers (Dec 3, 2010) that the site was founded on the principle of anonymity and that the organization initially worked hard to not to have ego play too much part in it. From this point of view, the whole idea of anonymous can go beyond simply working for source protection. The act of the anonymous whistleblower is a form of higher moral deed. One chooses to sacrifice their individuality, becoming Anonymous in service to a higher humanity. Everyday people with ordinary backgrounds and occupations; teachers, computer programmers, lawyers and secretaries, many came together under the umbrella of WikiLeaks.
The Wachowski brothers’ imagination in the Matrix later found a new expression in the adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel series V for Vendetta, in the 2006 film, “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bullet proof” (McTeique, Wachowski, & Wachowaski, 2006). Ideas held in people’s hearts can become ideals that cannot be killed. After a recent G-20 protest in London, a 15-year-old boy passionately spoke truth to the establishment. His speech can remind us how we do not have be adults to become somebody. Society can try to make one feel like nobody, but the truth is we are born as somebody with a moral center. An enlivened childhood idealism can break up the rigid mask of adult persona, and fresh skin emerges out of the ‘One’-self. These ideals come alive within those individuals behind the masks of V around the world, and they are growing within movements like Anonymous and WikiLeaks.
Leaders and Leaderless Movements
Many identify WikiLeaks with the face and personality of Julian Assange. It is undeniable that his single-minded vision and charisma helped spread awareness of the site and its mission. Many social movements in the past had charismatic leaders, for example, Gandhi in India, Che in the Cuban revolution and Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights movement. People find inspiration in these figures. Some followed the lead, and collective effort became a movement. That is perhaps one of the positive aspects of having a recognizable face and natural leader. Yet, there is also a potential negative side of high- profile figures. It is tempting for people to simply give up their power to those figures. Projection of follower’s worship upon leaders can feed power to destructive ends, especially with characters that have not worked on themselves in relationship to the typical ego traps of power and fame. This can undermine the vital force behind a movement. Even figures who do not fall into a falsely inflated sense of self, and who can successfully mobilize a movement, may find that their visibility makes them targets of attack. King was under constant surveillance, and he and others, such as Malcolm X, were even assassinated.
The Matrix Generation is hungry for a movement that speaks to the age in which they have been born. This is shown by the huge grassroots worldwide support for the efforts of Anonymous and WikiLeaks. Paul Sims elucidated the bottom-up democratic and anarchistic nature of these ‘Anonymous’ groups:
The whole point of Anonymous is ultimately a label for a leaderless, loosely-coordinated collection of activists – it doesn’t exist as an organization, there is no membership in the traditional sense and there are no clearly-defined aims …. Those involved can range from pranksters and hackers in it for the sport, to highly-principled activists. Anyone can get involved …. (Dec 9, 2010)
Unlike those movements led by high profile individuals in the past, WikiLeaks is helping facilitate a social movement that ultimately no single person can lead. In an interview with DemocracyNow! Assange spoke about the inspiration behind his work:
What keeps us going is our sources. These are the people, presumably, who are inside these organizations, who want change. They are both heroic figures taking much greater risks than I ever do, and they are pushing and showing that they want change in, in fact, an extremely effective way. (July 28, 2010)
The vital fuel for the anonymous movement is inspiration that comes from the source. It is ordinary people within society finding themselves dominated in an hierarchical oppressive system, who will speak truth against the inhumane operation of illegitimate governance and empire. By putting her life on the line in front of a Bulldozer in the Gaza strip, Rachel Corrie gave her life to defend Palestinians. Perhaps she was a nobody, just another college student. She did not achieve fame as is worshiped in this superficial celebrity culture, like Brittany Spears, Brad Pitt or Barack Obama. Neither was Rachel like a Martin Luther King or Gandhi. But she was and is somebody. Her act of putting her life on the line on behalf of others brought her back to the source. She became the One who inspires. Before her death, Rachel said, “We should be inspired by people… who show that human beings can be kind, brave, generous, beautiful, strong-even in the most difficult circumstances.” (as cited in BrainyQuote, 2001). She can remind us of the source of inspiration within, how the life of an ordinary person itself is actually extraordinary. She is one of many. This source of inspiration remains anonymous, and it is everywhere, beyond borders, regardless of religion and nationality.
The movement of the Matrix Generation is not a single ideology, forcefully battling the way through. Instead it creates the space that allows each to inspire the other. Such leaderless movements can be chaotic and spontaneous. They are accompanied by a sense of the unknown. Yet, every engagement and striving toward freedom unleashes the latent creative forces of imagination and the will to act.
The Matrix Revolution: Redemption of the Light
Where does this movement lead? As it was with Mr. Anderson, the Matrix Generation might have found daily escape into aliases in cyber space from the harsh corporate reality and the danger of a lawless government. Just as Neo first ran away from agents, but eventually started confronting them, many have been hidden underground, using anonymity as protection. Loyd Blankenship (a.k.a. The Mentor), computer hacker and writer wrote:
We explore…and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge…and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias…and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals …. (The Mentor, Jan 8, 1986)
But what is there really to run away from? The call is to turn around, to build the strength to face what the Matrix prefers one to be afraid of.
In Matrix Reloaded, Agent Smith told Neo of their connection. He spoke of how at the moment that Neo and he ‘killed’ each other, something happened; Neo destroyed and at the same time freed him from the system. Agent Smith’s freedom was deeply tied to Neo and his actions. The light cast by WikiLeaks shows us the face of the enemy. This light reveals the illegitimacy of empire. Professional politicians, bankers and journalists who perform as gatekeepers, protectors and mouthpieces for powerful corporations and governments are like shadows that cloak themselves and haunt the people with a Darwinian misconception of our essential humanity. They are not something to be feared or hated. Perhaps darkness and light are opposite sides of the same coin. The darkness of the world, corruption and abuse of power represented by these shadowy forces are within each person. Now many are coming to realize that they cannot run away from their own selves and that the darkness within must be confronted.
In the last battle between Mr. Smith and Neo in Matrix Revolutions, something new happened, when Neo stopped running away and confronted him. He saw him for who he was. Neo’s act of allowing his formidable opponent to fully enter into him generated light that emanated from within and penetrate out into the darkness. It was his love given to what was thought of as his enemy that brought an end to the battle. That force of love is within each person. Each becomes the One only through choosing to take responsibility for this great power out of free will. The Matrix Generation has awoken. Gathered together, Anonymous as the new commons have nothing to fear. We are Anonymous; the One history has been waiting for.
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