For all the ways The Matrix has infiltrated our “national conversation” as the media likes to call it — red pill, blue pill, Elon Musk, a spoon, to name the most obvious examples — it’s amazing how little of the film’s broader message seems to have been absorbed: That unless people open their minds, do their research and think for themselves, they’re doomed to go through life like an oak stump on a mushroom farm. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing this pandemic has made all too clear, it’s that a vast segment of the population prefers to be stumps.
Carey Smith | Founding Contrarian
Maybe it all comes down to having moved around a lot as a kid. I never lived in one place long enough to feel a part of any group outside my family, and I never wanted to. The herd didn’t interest me. Whatever it was that most people were doing, I wanted nothing to do with. The result was that I grew up to be a proud contrarian, and as I’ve grown older, I’ve become a curmudgeonly one. It seems to come with the territory. And these days, that means that I’m in an almost constant state of perplexity — and occasional apoplexy — concerning the sheeplike public response to the pandemic. Why is it that (most) people want to be told what to do? Why do (most) people care so much what other people think of them? And why, oh why, do (most) people behave as if this pandemic is the worst crisis to ever befall humankind? These are all rhetorical questions, of course. I don’t expect anybody to be able to answer them.
A CNN column about mask wearing provided the latest case in point. The writer was arguing for a change in behavior to reflect what we’ve learned about virus transmission over the last year, but said she’d continue behaving illogically to align with the illogical behavior of those around her. Say what? I guess she just didn’t want to go looking for trouble, because in our current climate, it would surely find her. One colleague here in Austin said he and a friend were accosted for eating fast-food together — outdoors. “I hope it’s worth it,” someone yelled at them from behind a mask. Meanwhile, the numbers in our city keep plummeting, yet we’re still described as being at “high risk” of transmission. Huh? Meanwhile, the talk of “new normal” drones on. Is this the new normal? Will we ever return to the old normal?
If only we could all remember that what’s always been “the” normal, and always will be, is challenge — facing each one as it comes along and overcoming it. As I’ve written before, the story of human existence reads like one harrowing calamity after another, if that’s what you choose to focus on. I prefer to look at how ingenious we are at solving our problems — and, by “we,” I mean independent-thinking entrepreneurs. Not those who follow the flock.
When I was growing up, the specter of Big Brother and a future where independent thinking was outlawed loomed large. Now that 1984 is 37 years in the past, people seem to have put the lessons it taught behind them, too. But those lessons are more relevant than ever, because so many people seem to welcome being told how to think. We hear so much about polarization, but it’s the bigger problem of “groupthink” that’s made it possible. That’s why so many will blissfully fork over money to see the latest Matrix sequel but refuse the red pill when it’s handed to them.
Herd immunity is one thing, and it’s a good thing. But herd mentality is quite another, and for all our evolutionary progress, we just can’t seem to shed it.
I have to admit, that is one reality that leaves me feeling, well, stumped.