In the 1999 science fiction film The Matrix, protagonist Neo is offered two choices: Take the blue pill and return to an illusion or take the red pill and see ‘just how deep the rabbit hole goes’. You are offered the same choice every day, though the fantasies of Lewis Carroll are unimaginative when drawn into comparison with the realities of the early 21st Century and their potential consequences.
Our evenings are spent wading through an embarrassment of mindless talent contests and laughter tracks and self-indulgent patriotism broken up by pockets of propaganda shoving things we don’t need to people who can’t afford them. We consume plastic dross and cheap tat, we have left behind us a true sense of citizenship and in the process been sold off to entities we cannot name or point to. Our identities, our well-being and our altruism have been boxed and wrapped and are peddled back to us at an extraordinary cost. We are sold labels and logos to make up our character and allocated days to offer our charity.
Beyond the Ponzi-based back and forth that comprises our deconstruction of the Middle East and the murderous responses in retort, (a saga that consumes our daily lives on every screen and in every paper we come across) lies awesome ecological destruction, brutal dictatorships and a fundamentally flawed, inescapable economic structure that intrinsically values profit over people. Take each alone and you will find yourself counting more lives lost and ruined than every terrible act committed by those poor men and women brainwashed into believing that by taking the lives of countless civilians in an act of suicide they are offered a noble death and the guarantee of paradise as soldiers of a greater cause. They are surely just as worthy of our attention as the rise of Islamist extremism, our new common enemy, the focus of all our attention, hatred and energy. I.S. and its connotations are strapped to our heads like a pair of blinkers, inciting tunnel vision, fear and little reprieve.
It is only that these other threats are not so glamorous, so to speak, they have no recognisable face, nor flag, nor mission statement we can repeat with repulsion and disbelief, they are not economically lucrative and host no acronym we are taught to loathe. The sacrifices required to contest them stretch well beyond whether we add western boots to those of Kurdish forces on the ground, whether we enter another endless war with no contingency plan, whether we increase defence or foreign aid budgets. Instead demanded of us are seismic shifts of such complex proportions that we cannot be sure of where to start, nor where we are going or how to get there.
As raised by George Monbiot in a recent article in The Guardian, the fires raging through Indonesia are destroying priceless and irreplaceable treasures that have existed since long before Palmyra was erected. The latter is an act to which outrage was offered by every outlet in the country and in turn by the public too. And where does the difference lie? Only that we have not seen this world heritage destroyed with artillery in the name of Allah by militants threatening our destruction, but with skin lotion in the name of soft hands and rampant profits by a corporatocracy promising the very same thing. Our oceans and forests are buckling under the weight of burgers, steaks and cheap eggs, in great swathes we are stealing from those who are not here to protect their rights because a world without bacon and moisturiser is for some reason inconceivable. The canaries are dead in the coal-mine.
The impulse to take the blue pill can be found in a number of forms, it is one we are fed, subliminally sprinkled amongst our entertainment, blown up on billboards and laced into our education. Our priorities and perceptions are so warped, so sadly molested by the best funded and most sophisticated propaganda machine there has ever been that we find ourselves with insular, self-indulgent desires and a rapidly growing apathy that threatens not only the world we’re leaving to our descendants but the one we offer ourselves.
There is an argument to suggest that a disposition to turn away lies within us too; we have in one form or another for many millions of years lived amongst small communities of family units on local scales whereby our actions impacted only local geographies. Relatively speaking, it was only recently that the choices we made on a day to day basis began affecting people and places we’ve never heard of and will never meet or see, our ability to impact societies and eco-systems has accelerated with such indiscriminate pace that it is perhaps unreasonable to expect us to comprehend the world, its arteries and functions as it is today. This is a capacity we have never needed to utilise, it is perhaps raw and primitive as a result and it is one beleaguered by sinister institutions, but that is not to say it is non-existent.
When experiencing the ‘Overview Effect’ astronauts have gone on to profess an immediate sense of oneness after seeing the world from space, of recognising the earth as ‘the pale blue dot’ as it was once described, a pale blue dot with no boundaries, flags or national sentiment, an awareness that when we bomb another nation, we are in fact bombing our home, when we displace pollution we do so in our own back garden, and that most significantly, our planet is a finite one.
We use our environment as a crutch on which in one hand we rest all of our weight, in the other we saw away at it in favour of GDP, trinkets and ease. The consequences of these actions are already evident, concealed by their regularity and the pace at which these disasters fall upon us, by a misplaced faith in the size and complexity of the earth and the seemingly diminutive action of the individual, concealed by faith in God, by misnomers thrown around concerning the cyclical nature of global warming and by rampant PR campaigns doled out by multi-national conglomerates on behalf of their shareholders, we are drowning in rhetoric, lies and empty political allegiance;
Public opinion stands firmly against terrorism, as long as it’s the right kind, we sigh at fires and floods, as long as the victims are from this place, and not that. We grumble about corruption, as long as it’s been committed by the right people and condemn tax avoidance, as long as they’re of the right sort. For every I.S. there exists a wealthy, totalitarian state forgiven of its crimes, for every monster toppled at the head of some unchecked, failed country, war criminal after war criminal passes through the White House unabated, we watch still as UN Security Council vetoes are tossed around by the United States to devastating effect and largely against the tide, as mammoth industries manipulate, bully, steal from and murder labourers from across the world and obliterate our ecosystems in the process, as we clumsily stumble towards the terrifying prospect of a post-antibiotic existence, as suicide rates and depression amongst the population climb, as too many millions of people drift away from each other and fall into their phones. These are the realities we must challenge, these are the great evils that threaten you, your loved ones and your country (if you’re that way inclined), and it is toward these entities, amongst countless others that the press and our elected leaders feel are best kept in the shadows that we must direct our attention and muster our creativity, our compassion and our courage if we are not to lose our way.
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.
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