“Life is routine. Monotonous cycles of work, miscellaneous tasks, and sleep are typically broken up by periodic diversions and random chance. For most, tomorrow will look like today, as will the next day, and the one to follow. It’s a consequence of being able to think abstractly and live for a relatively long time. Together, these two things contribute to a long tradition of listlessness and lack of fulfillment that’s defined the common man since the days of classical philosophy.
In the Matrix, Thomas “Neo” Anderson is that common man, haunted by this existential nihilism. Neo’s life has no meaning. He works at a job he isn’t excited about, organizes his free time around it, and is desperately searching for something to justify the existence of the world around him. On good days he’s bored, and he probably prefers it to the alternative.”
“From nothing to something, that’s the goal. While we’re shackled to monotony and expectations, Neo is tethered to the Matrix, realizes he’s one pod in a row of a billion identical pods, and, with enough exposure to reality, is free to make choices to define himself. To potentially escape the nihilism that follows us, we too have to break free, but not everyone becomes a fashionable, zen-calm, kung-fu-fighting demigod. When given the chance to embrace freedom, many people make objectively destructive decisions.
Aboard the Nebuchadnezzar, there’s one unabashed non-believer, Cypher. He comfortably jokes about religion, questions the wisdom of the faith Morpheus holds so dear, and turns hostile when belief can’t measure up to the evidence of life’s pointlessness. Unlike Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus, Cypher has accepted the pointlessness of existence and rejects the possibility of the supernatural. He hasn’t moved far from the starting position of the Matrix. If Neo was shuffling like a corporate zombie at MetaCortex and dreaming of a more meaningful life at his desk at home, is it any different from Cypher drinking moonshine to numb his distaste for living while floating on a hovercraft through the ruins of the real world?”
To remedy this situation, Cypher, like a lot of people, chooses distraction. In a dinner with Agent Smith, Cypher agrees to betray Morpheus in exchange for the life of a celebrity within the Matrix. It’s a wager made with technology to replace the wager Pascal would’ve suggested.
In his observation of kings, which are largely celebrities in the modern world, Pascal notes that the diversions offered by wealth and celebrity don’t last. Eventually, diversion dies out, and the king returns to reflect on the frivolity of it all, putting him back into a position where he yearns for a life that doesn’t leave him feeling so empty.
If we live in an era where gods have been replaced by evolving technology that radically transforms daily life, can we do anything but balance obsessing over our place in the world and collecting diversions to distract us from that truth? Yes, but it might involve even more reliance on technology.
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