Sat, 29 Nov 2003

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le guin, dick, and the matrix

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I just remembered what else I meant to write.

It comes full circle, I suppose. As I mentioned before, both Le Guin and Dick have ties to Berkeley. And, although William Gibson indeed coined the term "The Matrix" long before the Internet as we know it existed and the Wachowski Brothers started thinking about their great project, I think it is Dick's story Valis that first gave form to the nightmares inhabiting the world of the Wachowskis' "Matrix."

What does this have to do with Earthsea?

Immortality, and the price that must be paid.

Now, granted, this is me reading between the lines again, but, as someone else wrote somewhere on the net, it makes more sense that the Matrix was created voluntarily. The machines did not enslave us. We enslaved ourselves. Imagine, for example, that we created these human farms, because we wanted to live forever, and many prognosticators note that the only way we can live forever is to leave our weak, decaying bodies and encase our spirits in metal, or perhaps live free on the electronic ether as pulses of light and electricity. So we programmed the Architect and told him our specifications for our electronic paradise, and he set about to make it so, to the extreme perfection that is a machine's wont, and perfection, as the Architect has noted, failed miserably. So the next incarnation of the Matrix was akin to our normal, grueling lives, and, perversely, this made people happier, and the Architect thought his job was done, except that what people want is not to live forever, but to be free. Because what is the use of living forever as an unchanging, unthinking program, really? It's one thing if you are like the maintenance programs that handle the pigeons, or, in fact if you are an animal with rudimentary sentience, or, as in Earthsea, you are a dragon who cast off the material world a long time ago. All you have to think about is the now, if even that. You perform your function. You obey your impulses. You live without asking questions, and then you die, eventually. You have refused to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and so you do not fret about the afterlife, and the undoubtable impending judgement. But, once knowing good and evil, you must choose, again and again, from moment to moment. As explicated by Camus, it is the existentialist dilemma. To know that your next move, for good or for ill, will reverberate across space-time, even if you don't believe in an afterlife per se, well, I think this is a horrible thing, and yet, this is what we wanted. What we chose. And since, if the story of the Fall of Humanity from Paradise is true, we once chose to know good and evil, it is against our nature to unlearn it. These become the rebels who flee to Zion, the ones who trust to choice, the ones who refuse to become automatic. (The comparison with the dragons rings false, now that I think about it. Theirs is, as a fallen priest once told me in another context, a third way. The animals, the maintenance programs, they are like brute force algorithms that have no use for thinking. But the dragons are truly free in a way that we can only hope for, though cannot really imagine.)

Now I am reinterpreting "The Matrix."

What follows from this is the realization that it is not enough to simply rebel against the System. When our fearless heroes are in the Matrix, they have superhuman powers, they are able to exploit the System and use the System against itself. But this is not freedom, only reaction. Another automatic response, to resist that which seeks to destroy you. The only true way out is to get out of the System, even if this requires sacrificing all the power you have accumulated in the Matrix.

Life is not simply a dichotomy between being free and being bound, although once you start binding things to yourself, you are bound to continue doing so until the weight is so great you can no longer lift your head up and death becomes a welcome release.

But I know in my heart of hearts that freedom is to be enjoyed now, that the oppressors must somehow be converted (one person at a time), and that Jesus was dead-serious when he said that we must prepare for the Kingdom of God. It won't be a kingdom that is handed to us scot-free. We really are supposed to build it from the ground up.

But here is the last of my mystical mumbo-jumbo. The twin pillars of the new economy—information technology and biotechnology (which if you think about it, are really the same thing, since they both deal with code, albeit in starkly different media)—are leading us to longevity, and perhaps maybe eventually immortality, and on the other side, the four horseman of the apocalypse: famine, pestilence, war, and death, the forces of reaction, of trying to maintain the status quo of kill-or-be-killed, eat-or-be-eaten, might makes right, the rule of irrational beasts, and each side is a vision of grave imbalance. This one thing perhaps statisticians and Taoists believe in common: the truth lies somewhere in the middle, undefinable, ever changing, but nonetheless there. We cannot pretend we are automatic programs, trying to live life without thinking. Decisions must be made, and no algorithm in all the world will save us.

OK, I'm done.

11:52:07 29 Nov 2003 > /books > permalink > 2 comments

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Name/Blog: Noah
URL: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003406329990
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Comment/Excerpt: I can think of quite a few terms to use for your husband, but they would be more appporriate for my blog rather than yours. Just call him "Eugene." Or "Leroy." Or "Bubba." Or host a blog contest for the best name and give a cheap, chessey prize that is distinctly "Detroit." Divorce is so extremely difficult to go through, and I would not wish it on anyone. The one thing I know for certain is that you are going to have to experience the emotions that you are feeling until the day that you stop feeling them. That sounds painfully dumb but there really isn't much else that you can do. Healing is a long, slow process. It isn't easy. Frankly, it stinks. You are one step ahead in the process in that you appear very honest about the entire situation. So get up, get moving, do something with the boys. Each a pint of Hagen Daaz. Watch the final 15 minutes of "Cast Away" a few thousand times. Write another blog.

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