Morpheus: What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.
[holds up a battery]
As you might know and have read here or on Facebook and Twitter, I often call the job and office work part of my life "The Matrix!", referring, of course, to the Wachowsky Brothers' iconic movie of the same title (which spawned two only mediocre sequels, sadly). While the movie is a piece of fiction and fantasy, it also offers a critical view on what we call "civilized" life, unmasking it as an artificial world, programmed by living machines to keep human beings from discovering that they live in slavery to them, being abused as living power sources.
Of course, in reality we are not held captive or as slaves by machines (or are we...? Without knowing...? Do we have to get us red pills to realize?).
Anyway, there are parallels in our contemporary world to the work of fiction. In the high-tech and "civilized" world I am living in, I am presented with the glossy, colorful and loud life of skyscrapers, urban culture, media, world-wide communication at the tips of my fingers...
On the other hand, the wealth and gloss of this urban wonderland is a result of a system called capitalism, which is designed to amass money at any cost, including mass exploitation, leaving poor, needy and hungry people by the wayside as well as rapturing natural resources without paying attention to possible detrimental effects such as polluting and poisoning the world we live in. And in order to obtain those resources, exploitation cycles are in operation, too, leaving even more suffering, injured and starving people by the wayside, as "civilization" marches on, towards more and more wealth and splendour.
This is "The Matrix!", where a lot of people are living in, including myself, having and enjoying creature comforts of modern life, such as electricity, central heating, hot water and also the communicative diversity we have and enjoy by making use of high-speed internet connections to share our thoughts and beliefs. On the flipside, taking part in and benefitting from all this requires to bend to the "demands" of that construct we have been born into. I, personally, grew up in a place, where people actually work to make a living. My late father was a repair and engineering foreman in a coal mine ("Maschinensteiger" in German), working underground and above ground on the mine premises. While his job was slightly better paid than the regular miners' occupation, we still were part of the "lower class", especially defined by living in the "dirty" part of my home town, where lots of immigrants (mostly from Turkey) live, too. That also added to the "bad reputation" of coming from and living in these quarters. Back then, and today, too, I am referring to my heritage with pride, though, emphasizing that I am not just coming from Dinslaken, but from Lohberg in particular!
|Lohberg coal mine, 1959|
My parents made efforts of making my brothers and me grow up being critically thinking individuals, by explaining the reality of modern and "civilized" life to us from their points of view as well as they could. They also made efforts of getting us out of the lower-class loop of minimal secondary education and encouraging us to go to high school in order to be able to attend college or university later on, instead of joining the ranks of the working class education loop, which would have led us into working at the coal mine or steel mill. Since they were born around 1930, their childhood and youth was marked and defined by what happened in Germany between 1933 and 1945 - the Nazi dictatorship and WWII. Based on that experience, they became social-democrat leftists, engaging also in the anti-nuke and peace movement of the 1970s and 1980s. My father also worked actively (in his spare time, as well as after retiring from his job in the mid-1980s) in researching about and standing up against antisemitism and old as well as new Nazi connections in our home town. I, personally, had my contacts with the peace and one-world movement in my teenage days, clearly growing into a counter-culture and neo-hippie youth. With my childhood in the early 1970s, and having a then teenage elder brother with a bunch of paisley, tie-dye and multi-colored outfitted friends, smelling sweetly of patchouli and incense, often barefoot as well, I had my genuine hippie role models at home, too. So, awareness of what's really going on in this world, questioning authorities and a critic attitude towards consumerism and the capitalist system as a whole were developed in my youth already.
When I began my college studies to become a high school teacher (subjects: English and Social Sciences - a mixed subject containing Sociology, Politics and Economy), I was intrigued by the various alternative approaches to teaching and education presented in the didactics and pedagogics seminars, offering insights into what learning could be like compared to the rather bland reality. On advancing in my studies, which entailed internships at school, trying myself at teaching, too, I found the reality to be merely another "Matrix", a system based on the necessities to shape and form children and adolescents to later fit into the "civilized" world of competition and capitalism, rather than fulfilling the claim of educating them to be free-thinking individuals, analyzing and questioning what they're confronted with to then make their own way in life. But that's not what is expected of us, or is it? All career systems, be they school, university, work, etc. are based on making the individual fit in and become a part of it. Individualism is not desired there... People are required to function within these systems, assimilated into a collective of students, employees, consumers, etc. This is what I have discovered on terms of defining "living" versus "functioning".
While studying, I also did extra-curricular things, such as being part of the English-speaking student drama group and working as planning exec for an annual student drama festival, hosted by the Duisburg University known as "FEAST" (Festival of European Anglophone Student Theatre). My boss was very fond of acronyms, which also shows in the name of our drama group: "DUET" - the Duisburg University English Thespians. While the festival no longer exists, the drama group is still performing under that name. Towards the end of my college career, I also discovered that communication means known as "internet"... information exchange and interest groups were mostly pure text-based media in the beginning. Web applications like today's "Web 2.x" and social media were far away in the future, when I started. People were rejoicing, when the university was hooked up to a 2 MBit line... the whole of the university, mind you! From today's perspective of high-speed internet access of at least 6 MBit per private household, this seems cutely anachronistic and ridiculously slow. But in the early 1990s, that was state-of-the-art. I began taking part in that early communications circus by joining usenet newsgroups, e-mail listservs and even began putting up my first private web pages at the first free web space providers. That required learning HTML, since the nice WYSIWIG editors and blog templates of today were unknown and also far away in the future back then. I am still able to write a simple HTML template for a page with tables as sub-divisions (I prefer those over frames!) without having to use resource manuals... some knowledge just sticks with me.
|Despite having discovered online life, I spent warm days on campus studying the hippie way...|
|Barefoot in the computer lab|
With all these other activities and getting to know other people and their points of view, I discovered, that there are quite many other people feeling that life has to offer more than becoming an obedient memeber of a hive, a nicely-oiled small cog in the wheel, a functioning part of the system... Many people, I realized in my first ventures into the online world, shared my notion, that the mechanisms of our modern "civilization" are centered around people functioning rather than living in it. That is especially true, when it comes to the highly artificial circles of economy, which are centered around virtual concepts of value, represented by currency and account balance. The value of a thing as well as the value of a person is measured by numbers and represented by snippets of colored paper or shiny metal coins. I became increasingly more and more interested in alternative forms of life, such as communal living without money, outside the system, modelled after what "civilization" referred to as "primitive" society. There were (and still are) groups of people who believe that living is only truly done in accord with Nature, instead of ravaging and raping Her. Taking the life of indigenous people and native tribes as a blueprint to build a gentle and compassionate way of living, communes and travelling groups offered their wisdom also via the internet - making their ideas known to those who desired a different approach. And after drifting between the desire to try something different and developing the will to do so, I left mainstream society to live in an alternative commune who had squatted an unsued piece of land, where a small electronics factory used to stand. Living in trailers which are normally used as rolling work sheds at construction sites (in German called "Bauwagen"), this was a very different approach to housing as well as living aside the trodden paths of "normal" society.
|Tractors and trailers|
|My little orange home|
Living in this place for a bit more than three years, I encountered a wonderfully diverse mix of open-minded, creative and spiritual people. It was also in that place and with these wonderful people, where I was able to fully develop and live out my true self. I re-discovered the impertance of living instead of merely functioning, cultivated my inner child, lived a 24/7 barefoot life (mild winters enabled me to forego wearing shoes all year long, enjoying the best and most natural way of walking full-time) and also began living my Nuddhist life (expanding naturism and natural nudity into the field of spirituality - which I still do, living constantly naked at home). No wonder, that I was among the darker-looking people, when it comes to skin tone... whenever the temperatures allowed it, I was skyclad.
|Spot the Nuddhist - it's quite easy, since my darker skin tone (the naturist's trademark) gives me away...|
Now, I could reiterate that silly proverb "All good things must come to an end...", but whoever coined that phrase had no clue what living is about. Actually, whatever is good for our hearts, souls and bodies should go on, without cease. The best we could hope for is living together with the people we love and care for, not having to worry about famine, illness, oppression... being free to live in accord with Nature - gentle, compassionate and caring about and for the world we live in as well as the people we're living with. I could have done that, making a transfer from the already "outside-the-norm" living in that trailer commune to living as a travelling member of the Rainbow Family, totally detached from the Babylon system, fully following my heart and belly-feeling. However, there were still ties binding me to my old home, which was also near that altarnative commune. I wasn't quite ready to let those ties go completely. Furthermore, the city where our commune was had decided to relocate us (on the old grounds, where I spent a lot of happy naked time, a cars dealer wanted to build a shiny new monument of horsepower consumerism). And, it was becoming more and more obvious, that they planned to evict us completely at some point. So, I decided to stay there, and when it came to the eviction process picking up speed and momentum, also took my chances of fighting that in court. We succeeded in delaying eviction long enough to get away before they drove us out. I had already started a new job, when the last three months of existence of our commune began in June 2001... and that was the beginning of my career with my current employer, now almost twelve years ago - entering "The Matrix!".
For a bit more than five years now I have switched from being an inbound call center agent for various internet service providers and a major computer manufacturer to back-office work, including reports, statistics, personnel planning and monthly statements. Essentially, I am crunching numbers on a daily basis, which has gotten me the nickname "Count von Count" in our team.
|Tools of "The Matrix!" - my desk at the office|
And here, the term "The Matrix!" has a twofold meaning, really. On the one hand, the spreadsheets, report templates and databases I'm working with have matrix characteristics, therefore being literal representations of that term. On the other hand, working on this field makes me part of the system, where I am required to function, to be the cog in the wheel, to play my part in the mechanics of capitalism, too, since I am to plan in order to report success and winnings for our company, as well. I have rejoined with the cycles of obtaining those virtual values, printed on small pieces of paper, in order to pay bills and exist within the boundaries of the system. I have rejoined the world of creature comforts, living in a small apartment with electricity, hot and cold running tap water, central heating, high-speed internet access and cable TV. I am constantly walking the thin line between the artificial "civilized" world and the world of truly living, of being out there, as close to Mama Nature as possible, in order to relax, recharge and be my true self.
I'm not unhappy with the choice I've made so far in my life, but I'm very much aware, that I am part of "that system" again, that I haven't been able to fulfil all the dreams of my life. I'm not complaining though, since I have been able to live a life in a way that was very close to fulfilling all of my dreams.
And, even though the Babylon system has part of me in its grips, I have successfully managed to stay the person I am. My inner child has survived and I am still letting the world know, that I am indeed a different person, someone not willing to fully swim with the mainstream school of fish, someone who howls with a different pack, someone with a voice of his own, not following the chorus of the sheeple.
I know about "The Matrix!" and its ugly truth, but I also have a large personal supply of red pills to take (metaphorically speaking) and evade from it, when necessary.