Ignorance is bliss, at least that's what many currently believe. Hell, it was even featured in one of the most pivotal conversations in the Matrix, when Cypher conceded to Agent Smith that he knew the steak he was eating didn't exist, that the Matrix was simply sending signals to his brain telling him it was delicious. He soon betrayed the Rebels, and the rest is unnecessary to recant. Dissecting Cypher's bliss, at base laid a choice. Knowledge or ignorance. He admitted up front that he was aware of reality, and that he desired to choose something else. And so there they stand side by side once again: ignorance and desire.
What made him make that mental shift after 9 years of Rebel service? Don't our habits make our choices and behaviors easier as time passes? Shouldn't it have been second nature for him to fight against the Agents, aka, artificiality? Something changed; either he didn't truly believe in the first place and simply emptily walked the path of a Rebel, or he had a life experience that he allowed knock him out of perspective that reality was worth living for. Ultimately, isn't that was Cypher's choice reflected? That reality wasn't worth truly living for, that he'd rather be unaware and responsive rather than aware, active, and alive?
Cypher is an excellent device for revealing our intellectual orientation. He was very reward- (actually, immediate gratification) driven, in that his eye was on the goal; contentment and complacency. Not much different from the common person. He wanted to be rich, someone important, like an actor, with no memory of his betrayal. He didn't feel shame because he truly believed that after 9 arduous years of serving the Rebel cause and seeing how it had only inched forward, that his quality of life wasn't improving. How many Americans do you think would consciously betray a loyalty if their memory were wiped, and if they would be given all the things they desired? We're talking about a culture who loves fast food, mind you. This is a question we will revisit shortly.
This is simply another version of the Invisibility Scenario, which proposes that if you acquire the means to become invisible, allowed to traipse around doing whatever you please, would you? Would you steal, cheat, attack, seduce, and torture people? Would being invisible change your core values, now that consequences couldn't be levied upon you? Think of it on a micro-level...would you steal because you knew you wouldn't be caught? Simply put, we're dealing with consequences here, and although it may seem odd to have arrived here from the deviation between knowledge and ignorance, a crucial part of knowledge is the consequence of our willed action. Without awareness of the consequence of our will action, we're simply idealists, locked away in our own minds tailoring our realities toward our desires. (Quite convenient how desire reemerged, isn't it...)
I was struck the other day upon hearing what a young man was distraught about. He's a low-income, financially frivolous young man, purchasing expensive things that are indeed fun, though not exactly necessary. His choice though. However, he was distraught about how much the morning-after pill cost (around 40$). Genuinely mad. My first thought was, "How can you justify 70 dollar jeans but pinch pennies over something that could snowball?" This is not a scenario of penny wise, dollar foolish, because neither situation involved intelligent, reflected thought. So I'll do the thinking for him. The consequences to purchasing expensive jeans are less pocket money, higher risk of theft, and participation in a market that indoctrinates one into believing the upgrade-addicted fashion trends are necessary rather than frivolous. The consequences to not having them are potential social ridicule, but more pocket money for other more useful things. Consequences indeed go both ways. What is telling is his attitude, which reminds me so much of Cypher's attitude when he finally betrays the Rebels. He himself feels betrayed. Like the player got played. This young man jettisoned the causes to the pregnancy--and that he was an integral part--for the uncomfortable immediate financial effects that were presented, completely obtuse to the more significant effects of not purchasing the emergency post-contraceptive. Both Cypher and this young man threw their hands up in the air in frustration, "at the end of their line." As if they'd been wronged.
So ignorance is bliss. I'm not so sure. Ignorance manages our lives as well as a pyramid scheme manages money. Both you invest in, but neither are built to actually produce a return on those investments. Pyramid schemes are simple; they're predatory because they market no product or service, and since the scheme isn't based in a definitive return over a finite period of time, the cycle goes on indefinitely until the people at the bottom cannot reap a return on the buy-in. It's self-defeating by design. Ignorance is chosen to produce a return of contentment and complacency, feelings of relaxation and mental lubrication. The problem with ignorance though, is the more ignorant you grow, the smaller your world has to become to maintain that ignorance, because the rest of the world is that much larger and more significant than you. So your contentment and complacency are predicated on a defensive stance, dismissing and sometimes aggressing stimuli that threatens your cloak of ignorance, which in essence is no different than the built-in limitation of pyramid schemes. Ignorance has just as significant of a built-in limitation, it's just we don't look at it the same way we look at pyramid schemes because losing money is so painful so we focus on that, and gaining immediate gratification from ignorance is so pleasing we focus on that.
The significant aspect to both of these issues is the utter lack of accepting consequences. But how can you accept consequences if you aren't even aware of them? Exactly. You can't. Choosing ignorance by default relinquishes one's ability to understand consequences, which is much more significant at this juncture than accepting consequences. Understanding consequences entails humility, sure, but it more so entails putting oneself in the position of potential growth. If you orient yourself toward ignorance, you make the statement that you aren't interested in potential growth. You become a snapshot, fading and greying over time. If that's your prerogative, than so be it. But problems hereby arise, because due to ignorance's inability to calibrate its thoughts and actions, it levies unintended repercussions on the outside world. So not only does one cause things to happen, but they can't understand the causal chain, or help reconcile the effects they caused because they take no responsibility for them. In their mind, since they don't perceive them, the consequences don't exist. This is what Cypher was saying when he reiterated, "I want to remember nothing. Nothing," in betraying the Rebels, because he wanted carte blanche to levy consequences upon others without the moral weight of knowledge. He lobotomized his own conscience, but again, and this is seen through the invisibility example and the stealing-wihtout-getting-caught example, is he really unique, or just a device for showing us our own capabilities?
So back to a central matter: How many of us would betray a loyalty if it were sweetened enough with both reward and ignorance of the betrayal? Part of this answer lies in taking responsibility of our orientation: Do we make choices, or do we fashion choices based on conditions presented? "Realists" will argue the latter, but they forget that no matter what's presented, we have control over our own selves. You can argue that is cliche', but that's a straw man fallacy. Victor Frankl survived the Nazi concentration camps in solitary confinement, founding Logotherapy from this realizations that no matter what someone does to your body, than cannot take ownership of your mind or your self. Apparently he was acutely disappointed upon be freed, due to being relinquished the solitude and it's gift of uninterrupted self-reflection. Does modern man have that strength, focus and discipline? Reaching that level of self-mastery is most likely difficult without those extremes conditions, however, self-mastery in it's nuclear sense can certainly be achieved without a Holocaust, and it starts with understanding that no matter the conditions presented, we don't fashion choices, we create them based on our will and the direction we are willing to will ourselves. Victor Frankl would not betray a loyalty given the opportunity, because his compass is so informed and fortified there's no sparkling prize on the other side of the fence that will tempt him to abandon himself. Falling for temptations by ignorance-marketing charlatans simply demonstrates that we didn't have a solid foundation and value system to act from anyway. This also explains how and why Socrates chose to imbibe the Hemlock instead of fleeing Greece. He chose to philosophize, and thereby accepted the consequences, even if the accusations were bogus. (The majority said he was teaching false gods to the children, which was a deceptive manipulation). Accepting consequences for things you said is one thing, but accepting the consequences for things that you didn't say or do, simply because the oppressive forces cannot instill fear or power over you, is a completely different and purer level of morality. Sadly, Socrates was murdered over 2,000 years ago, and we still haven't caught up to him.
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