“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered? Where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilization.” — Agent Smith, The Matrix
The Matrix was released in 1999. Coincidentally, that was around the time I became fond of saying that particular time and place was perfect for me. Living close to a large city with plenty of bookstores, used CD shops, restaurants and many other beloved places to frequent, for the first time my job provided the necessary income and stability to lead the kind of life I wanted. The world seemed wonderfully suited to cater to my interests, needs, and desires.
Alas, the world changes, but that was expected. Some changes would be for the better, and the others… Well, I just thought that disconcerting changes would be of the predictable variety that typically make challenge people as they age. Predominantly, the kinds of technological and cultural progressions that just move too fast for us as we start advancing well into middle age and beyond. In some ways, that is exactly what happened. For example, societal changes in how we consume books, movies, and music just feel wrong, but they are not entirely unexpected. However, there are ominous, mostly unanticipated things inducing feelings of dread — to the point of causing anxiety — about the future.
Where to even begin? Global climate change, the political decline and slide of the American republic into minority rule and totalitarianism, the incessantly-growing power of global metanational conglomerates, the increasingly daunting plastic pollution problem, the largest upward redistribution of wealth in American history… it’s all just one giant backslide, and at the moment there seems to be very little hope that any of this is going to appreciably change for the better in the near future. Hell, I totally get why climate anxiety is rapidly on the rise — I might even be experiencing a touch of it myself.
In addition to all the ways in which the current state of affairs is depressing as hell, it’s nearly just depressing that this battle needs to be fought. We shouldn’t have to. As a species, we are capable of such innovation, insight, beauty, and creativity. Yet, we are also amazingly short-sighted, tribal, selfish, and capable of frightening degrees of both self-deception and deceit. Throw in the rampant misogyny, racism, and religious intolerance that seems to be getting worse, and it adds up to something far more damning than what Agent Kay said in Men in Black: “People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals, and you know it.”
There’s a good reason why I often add “misanthropic” when describing myself as a secular humanist.
I don’t want border on churlish. I want to be optimistic and believe that this world will start becoming a better place again. But, it’s daunting… and exhausting. I will continue to speak out, vote, and attempt to change what I can. I have to, knowing that Brandon will be inhabiting this world for many years after no longer will. Sadly, as it is, 2020 is nothing like any kind of future I would have imagined back in 1999.
Even more disconcerting: at the moment, 2020 is proving Agent Smith right.