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Excerpt from The Myth of Human Supremacy

The Matrix (p. 222)

From chapter "The Dictatorship of the Machine"

In their film The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers, producers and directors, described some aspects of our culture. Early in the film we see people walking through their days pretty much as we do ours. But that “ordinary” life was an illusion, a computer program, and the machines running this program were actually using energy extracted from human bodies. It was an extraordinarily clear and powerful metaphor for the workings of the machine.

But the brothers also got part of it wrong (besides the unfortunately simple cure of taking a pill). In the film, when you leave the matrix you find yourself surrounded by a drab, ruined world, by ugliness, by people still relying on machines, only less sophisticated ones. The problem here is that the filmmakers have confused the loss of some physical comfort and the illusion of emotional security—both of which the machine does provide for some—with the loss of beauty and of wildness, neither of which the machine provides anyway.

That is a huge mistake. Let me speak for myself. In leaving the matrix, the Panopticon, the megamachine, the system—all of these modes of thought that enslave us—I have found myself surrounded not by drabness but by ecstatic beauty. To provide one example among scores each day, I worked late last night, hour after hour in front of the computer, writing. But when I left the machine I went outside and saw more beauty than I could create in a thousand lifetimes of writing, more beauty than the machine will be able to manufacture before it all collapses. Thin clouds ran in front of a moon sharp and bright enough to make the clouds translucent. Near the ground, the air was still. The tops of trees did not move. A bat fluttered in the partial light. In the distance I heard the barking of sea lions.

We can see ecstatic life anywhere. We pretend that the natural world does not exist in cities, but it does. I always stroke the trees I see there, let them know I care, and that I am sorry for their imprisonment in concrete and brick and asphalt. Even people who live in cities can still find nonhumans with whom they can interact, and to whom they can listen. There are ants and spiders. There are birds. There are plants. I love to watch and encourage and thank the plants I see pushing up sidewalks. That is work we should all be doing, and they are leading the way, teaching us how. These plants reaching through the concrete from the soil to the sky, these ants and birds and spiders going about their lives, all remind us that at all times and in all places—even in cities— ecstatic life continues beneath the machine, waiting for the chance to return, to recover, and to reenter into relationship with those of us who are ready to live.

That said, to leave the matrix entirely, to enter places not yet too ground up by the machine, is to remember what it is to be alive. The world smells different in a living forest. Time changes meaning. Sounds change texture. To listen to the hollow booming of a pileated woodpecker is to be reminded that we do not inhabit a world ruled by computers and two-cycle engines, that these minor artifacts are peripheral to our lives, that our real home is the wild, that we ourselves are wild.

I do not need a heaven, either technological or religious.

This life is good enough.

The Wachowski brothers were making a Hollywood movie, after all, but the truth is known to every wild human, known to every crane fly and every willow, every amanita mushroom and every bear.

This life is good enough.