By James Corbett
It’s not the flashiest scene in The Matrix and it’s far from the bloodiest, but one scene that everyone seems to remember is the one where Cypher is in the restaurant telling the agent why he’s selling out Neo and his friends. “I know that this steak doesn't exist,” he says, a juicy, red morsel of meat quivering on the end of his fork. “I know when I put it in my mouth, the matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious.” He savors that piece of steak with relish and the implication is clear. Whether something is a reality or an illusion doesn't matter as long as we believe in it.
Long story short for those who haven’t seen the 1999 Hollywood action flick: The “matrix” is a computer-generated illusion designed to trick everyone into believing that they are living in 1999. In reality it’s the 22nd century and humanity has been enslaved by a swarm of dastardly robots. The human species has been imprisoned in a vast network of pods where their bodies are being harvested for electrical energy to power the very robots that are enslaving them. Everyone has been jacked into the matrix, a virtual reality role-playing game of sorts, in order that they never learn the truth of their horrible situation, much less do anything about it.
So in one sense Cypher is completely correct. He is not in a restaurant, he is not eating a steak, and he is not, in fact, talking to anyone. All of the things he is experiencing are an illusion, conjured into existence by an elaborate computer program and fed into his central nervous system. But his brain is telling him that he’s eating a delicious steak and drinking vintage wine and that’s good enough for him.
So what does this tell us?
Well what if I were to tell you that those dollars or pesos or Euros or yen that you carry around in your wallet have all the reality of a matrix steak? That you have slaved away your entire adult life in a store or an office or a factory day in, day out, year after year after year for something that isn’t even real? And what if—just like the matrix—someone, somewhere, some day could simply throw a switch and all of those matrix steaks you’ve spent your whole life chasing could just disappear. Would that disturb you?
Now I know what you’re thinking. “What, this guy’s trying to analogize our economic system to The Matrix? Next you’re going to tell us there’s some army of robots trying to keep humanity enslaved by pumping a fake reality into their brain to keep them from learning the truth.”
Don’t be ridiculous. I didn’t say anything about robots.
But let’s take a step back for a second. After all, one cannot be shown the matrix; one has to see it for oneself. So let’s take a look.
Open up your wallet. Go on, open it. If you’re lucky enough to have one of those slips of paper that passes for money in your locality, take it out. What do you see? Something of value? Something that can buy you a meal or rent you a movie or fill up your car? Or a brightly colored piece of paper? Well, just ask any counterfeiter: money, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Of course, this is hardly revolutionary stuff so far. We all know that money is just colored paper in the same way that we know a Monet is just paint on canvas. The point is that it represents something. In the case of Monet it may represent the French countryside or a bowl of fruit or a celebration of Bastille Day. In the case of money, it represents value itself, wealth, that nebulous product that results when we mix our time and labor with the world around us, whether that’s to build a house or write a new computer program or refine a barrel of oil. So that colored paper you’re holding in your hand is the physical representation of an idea.
“So what? Big deal. How does this affect me?”
In order to understand why this is important, even revolutionary, we have to look into the history of these pieces of paper, because of course money didn’t always used to look like this. Many things have been used as money at different times in different places, from seashells to lengths of wood to playing cards, but by far the most prevalent form of money in civilization after civilization has been precious metals like gold and silver. They are portable, divisible, malleable and durable, they’re scarce enough to be valuable in their own right, and they have historically been prized for their beauty as ornaments, decoration or jewelry. Precious metals don’t just represent value, they contain value.
So to “primitive” man it only made sense that coins made from these precious metals would make an ideal medium of exchange. Carry a purse full of these coins to the marketplace and use them to buy your goods. Governments may come and go, civilizations may rise and fall, the faces on the coins may change, but the metal itself never goes out of style. At the very least, it’ll always make a nice ring.
But then a funny thing happened. In 1095 Pope Urban II called for a crusade against the Turks who were threatening the Byzantine Empire and for the next two centuries crusaders and pilgrims traveled far and wide to show their piousness. In those days it wasn’t exactly a case of calling up your travel agent and booking the next flight; traveling long distance was an expensive, arduous and often dangerous endeavor. Carrying around all the coins necessary for feeding, clothing and lodging a small entourage as they made their way from town to town, the crusaders were easy prey for highwaymen (or the medieval equivalent).
Never fear, traveler, for the Knights Templar (an Order of skilled crusaders who had built up an economic infrastructure along the major trade routes to and from the holy land) had a solution: At the beginning of his trip, a crusader would deposit his money with the Templars and he would in turn receive a certificate for that money. Anywhere along the main routes, the crusader could give his certificate to the local Templars and they would pay him back as much of his original deposit as he wanted. All the Templars asked in return was that they hold a portion of the crusader’s land in his absence. They could sell whatever was produced from that land while he was away and that was their profit.
An idea was born.
The idea spread. Villagers began to store their gold in goldsmith’s vaults for safekeeping. In return, they would receive slips of papers showing how much money they had in the vault. Of course, it was easier to exchange the slips of paper than the coins themselves and before long the villagers began to think of the paper as money. The goldsmiths, realizing that only a fraction of the villagers ever came to collect their gold at any one time, began to print more certificates than they had actual gold in their vaults. As long as everyone didn’t come to collect their gold at the same time, no one would even notice that the goldsmiths were printing their paper money out of thin air.
Do you smell that? Those goldsmiths just grilled the very first matrix steaks.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the rest of the story. You can read it for yourself. How the central banks were formed. How the financial system developed. Fractional reserve banking. Fiat money. The stock market. Derivatives. Collateralized debt obligations. Subprime mortgages. Fannie and Freddy, the brothers Lehman and AIG. I think we all know how that story goes, and even if you didn’t, you could work it out in your head a priori.
You see, it all goes back to these paper bills. Once we’ve accepted these bills as money, once we’ve decided that this matrix steak is a steak, then the rest is inevitable. They can replace our paper dollars for paper stocks and bonds and treasuries and tell us these pieces of paper are valuable, too. But then the stock market collapses and we find out that all they did was swap our matrix steaks for matrix ground beef. Not only is it not real, it doesn’t even taste good.
Then it’s just a question of how far they can take it before the system collapses. They’ll replace the matrix ground beef of stocks and bonds for the matrix spam of derivatives. Then they’ll serve us the matrix ‘mystery meat’ of collateralized debt obligations. Then they’ll force feed us chemically-processed meat substitute with cardboard filler and call it mortgage-backed securities. And on and on and on and on…
Still not bothered by this? “So it’s all an illusion. What does it really matter? As long as everyone believes in the illusion then no one’s the worse off for it, right?”
Look at that bill in your hand one more time. Who issues it? It should say right on there. In Canada it’s the Bank of Canada. In Japan it’s the Bank of Japan. In England it’s the Bank of England. In Europe it's the European Central Bank. In the U.S. it’s the Federal Reserve. Whose signature is on it? Your President or Prime Minister? No. Your Treasury Secretary or Finance Minister? No. The chairman or governor of your central bank. An unelected, unaccountable, unknown banker.
Here’s the real secret, the real key to the entire matrix of control: Starting with the Bank of England in the 17th century and spreading slowly around the globe, country after country has ceded the government’s power to print its own debt-free fiat money to privately-owned central banks. Let me repeat that: government after government in country after country has allowed private shareholders to set up unaccountable institutions headed by unelected bankers to literally create money out of thin air.
But wait, it gets worse. We all know that governments have debts and they have to pay money (i.e. your tax dollars) to service that debt. But who are these governments in debt to? Where do they borrow this money from? Why, the central banks, of course! Not only have governments given away the power to print money to private bankers, they then turn around and borrow that money from the banks. And since we live in a system where every new dollar is created as debt owed with interest to the bankers, then as soon as that first paper bill goes into circulation there is automatically more money owed to the bankers than actually exists. The money to pay the interest on that bill must be created, but it can only be created by going further into debt with the banks. That further debt comes with further interest payable to (guess who?) the bankers, and so on and so on ad infinitum.
It becomes mathematically impossible to ever pay off the debt. It will never be retired. Your taxes will never go down. They can’t. You will have to work more and more hours to pay higher and higher taxes to service the larger and larger debt forever and ever until the day you die, as will your children, as will their children, all the way to the crack of doom.
You have been a slave since the day you were born. And it all goes back to this simple, colored piece of paper.
Now as I say, the matrix can be turned off at any time and all the matrix steaks will disappear back into the abyss from which they were conjured. For those who think such a thing unlikely, I’m here to say that it is not only likely it’s inevitable. Every fiat currency eventually collapses.
In Weimar Germany the slips of paper that passed for money became less valuable than toilet paper. People carried wheelbarrows full of bills down to the store to buy a loaf of bread. If they went out to eat, they would pay for their food at the beginning of the meal because prices would rise before they could even finish eating. People in Germany in the 1920s knew the value of a matrix steak.
So what is the point of all of this? Some giant revolution? A complete overthrow of the existing economic system? Well, yes, ideally, but the system wasn’t set up overnight and it won’t be dismantled overnight. It will be a process of gradual change over time and will only be achieved through organized, concerted, informed action. But something that everyone can do right here, right now, is to make the conscious decision to see these slips of paper for the matrix steaks that they really are.
Because there will come a time in your life, as it does in everyone’s life, where you will be asked to compromise your ideals, your beliefs, the very core of who you are, for a few of these colored pieces of paper. Many have, many do, and many will accept just such an offer each and every day. People are turned to crime and vice in its pursuit. Great loves are torn asunder for the lack of it. Wars are fought, murders committed, and honorable men brought to disgrace in its name.
So how about you? What are you willing to do in the pursuit of the almighty dollar? If you're willing to find out the answer, all you have to do is ask yourself one simple question: If someone comes along asking you to sell your soul for a matrix steak, are you going to take a bite?