An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Reposted from Stålne's "Fication" blog with permission of the author.
Kristian Stålne is a Swedish researcher from Lund University, Faculty of Engineering, who performs research in adult development psychology. He is a co-founder of ESRAD, the European Society for Research in Adult Development and part of a Swedish network of researchers teaching and applying Adult Development theories. In his academic career he has moved from physics to structural mechanics, to acoustics, to adult development and he now has a growing interest in sustainability.
An introduction to the alternative perspective of Tomas Ljungberg – part 2
- Wake up, Neo.
In order to illustrate the basic principles of Ljungberg’s theory that was introduced in part 1, I’d like to use some mainstream popular cultural references. Let’s start with the famous and technologically groundbreaking The Matrix from 1999. We all know the plot, humans have been enslaved by the machines and are being kept in giant fields where they are harvested for energy and fed nerve impulses so that they experience that they live a normal life. The typical analysis of the problem that the characters in the Matrix are faced with, how we can know for sure whether we experience real life or a simulation, comes from a philosophical or spiritual point of view. But when we look at it from Ljungberg’s alternative perspective we can give another interpretation of this movie, one that is based on a psychological point of view. Let’s first recall one of the movie’s famous key dialogues between Neo and Morpheus:
Morpheus: Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
Morpheus: I know *exactly* what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix.
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.
This description of the Matrix fits well with Ljungberg’s theory. “A prison for your mind” corresponds to ego and the conditioned thinking that we are socialized into (practically born into bondage). We can’t see it or examine it since it is what we use in order to see and to examine. The simulation, the Matrix itself, can be seen as our modern society and culture that we are embedded in (“matrix” is synonymous with womb). The “splinter in your mind” corresponds to the impulses from id, perhaps bodily impulses from the real body of Neo.
The point is, according to Ljungberg’s perspective, right now we are Neo. We are being enslaved by technology. Not machines, not internet (it’s ok, keep reading), but technology which includes the thinking required to run a civilization and to relate to each other and ourselves in a civilized manner. And taking the red pill means acknowledging the truth that we have been thrown out of the Garden of Eden, instead of taking the blue pill and staying in ignorant bliss. The question is if we really have a free will to make this choice, as it is presented and as Neo wants to believe… This is something that the Oracle later brings into questioning.
Anyway, of course Neo chooses the red pill and is reborn. This rebirth can symbolize the annihilation of the capitulation or submission role. He wakes up, in a psychological sense, not a spiritual. After this Neo needs to rebuild and train his real body and senses that he have never used before.
Ken Wilber and Cornel West commented the Matrix trilogy and this interpretation did not come up, not surprisingly. However, in the second and third movie Wilber makes the interpretation that the Matrix symbolizes the mind, Zion (the underground city were the free humans live) symbolizes the body and the machines symbolizes spirit. Thus, the first movie is about freeing oneself from the technological mind in order to return to the body. The second and third (IMO much crappier) movies is about integrating body, mind and spirit, at least according to Wilber. The Wachowski brothers were wise enough to never give their own intention and interpretation, but my guess is that they weren’t that pleased with how the sequels turned out. Because in their next movie they returned to the theme from the first movie, but now from another angle.
V for Vendetta
In 2006 the Wachowski brothers returned and made V for Vendetta, where they are even more explicit on how we can be subdued and be made to capitulate, on a societal level as well as on an individual. But when Matrix is about how we cognitively are subdued and enslaved, V is more about the affective aspect and about fear.
The scene is a future England where a fascist party has taken the political power by using the people’s fear of outer enemies and fear of each other. Dissidents, homosexuals and others that don’t fit into the frame of normality are being imprisoned, culture is being censored and people are being monitored. It is not hard to find relevance in this scenario in our post-9/11 surveillance society. The freedom fighter called V has an agenda of fighting the system and also to have his own vendetta. His means is to wake the people with this classic speech:
V: There is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there.
V: If you’re looking for the guilty, you need only to look into a mirror.
The rhetoric as well as the mask of V has become popular symbols in e.g. the Occupy movement and of Anonymous. It is a symbol that itself is used in the end of the movie when the entire population marches against the army, all wearing the same mask, hat and cape. If we are not afraid of each other, we can challenge the oppressors who are dependent on our support, or at least on our silent consent. But how can we become free from our fear? The short answer is, you need to die.
Natalie Portman’s character Evey meets V and is introduced to his world. But she is still paralyzed by fear that she will meet the same destiny as her family, abducted by the regime never to be seen again. According to Ljungberg, one thing that keeps us in this state of capitulation and submission is the hope we cling on to, the hope that if we only play our part as good citizens and obedient servants to the oppressor there awaits salvation at the end of the road, the hope that stayed in Pandora’s jar. Besides, we are totally dependent on the system for our survival. So in order to be free from the capitulation or submissive role, hope for the future needs to die and we have to be prepared to die with it.
It is only by means of a long process of torture and of reminding of that last inch that is the truly beautiful and true in life that she is able to let go of her fear, and that is when she is ready to give up her life and calmly accepts her fate.
Valerie: Our integrity sells for so little, but it’s all we really have.
Evey is now in her mind and soul free from the system and reborn as she walks out:
“God is in the rain.”
Finally, a brief look at another blockbuster, James Cameron’s Avatar from 2009. Here the plot is quite obvious and not very original (compare with A man called Horse, Dances with wolves, The last of the Mohicans, Pocahontas etc, or why not the history of practically every modern civilization): a modern industrialized army try to subdue an indigenous tribe, here the Na’vi on the planet Pandora. By means of an avatar, Jake Sully gets to infiltrate the Na’vi where he learns their customs and ways and is more and more infused in it as he starts to identify with them instead of with his original military “tribe”. When there is a military confrontation between humans and the Na’vi, Jake has to choose sides. The movie ends with Jake completing his transformation to leave the (modern) human tribe to be a full member of the Na’vi, even in his physical appearance of the avatar body.
The world of the Na’vi is a great illustration of the hunter gatherer’s connectedness to nature and all living things, they are physically connecting with the animals and with the nature goddess Eywa with their hair. The movie with its stunning and hypnotic visuals resulted in many cases of depression among viewers, a sort of Avatar blues. That could be interpreted as a longing for an ideal phantasy world of dragonriding, tribe community and great landscapes as an escape from the boring real life, or it could be seen as a painful reminder of that splinter in the mind…