The most overlooked among all the philosophical premises of The Matrix is the very concept it is based upon, which is the choice an individual makes when given a choice between the Matrix and the real world. There are only two types of people in the Matrix universe; the Bluepills who are all the people who chose to stay in the Matrix to live on with their comfortable but blissfully ignorant lives connected and controlled by the Matrix and its machine overlords, believing what they saw around them is real and true; and the Redpills like Neo, Morpheus, Trinity etc. who questioned the world the saw and the systems around them and were then “liberated” from the Matrix into the real world of a ruined earth where remains of humanity eked it out in underground cities amidst constant warfare. Like everything else in the movie, most of the Matrix is an analogy to our real world.
In our real world (though I have my doubts on how “real” it is), we can find the same two types of people based on their level of conformity. The Bluepills who follow the rules and set path society has laid out for them as it is the norm at that given period of time without question (conformists) and the Redpills who refuse to conform to those rules and systems of the society but instead question it and try to find reasons behind the rules, who try to follow a different path by trying to do what they really “want” to do (non-conformists). The first category will be the majority at any given time of course, while the other will always be a tortured minority. In our current times, the other can be anyone ranging from people who marry (their lovers) outside their caste/religion or refuse to marry and/or have kids or those who do not want to pursue a mainstream or career or play office politics or those who don’t wish to emigrate or don’t want to buy an apartment or don’t want to generally do what “everyone is doing.”
Conformists and Non-Conformists
Conformists always go with the flow. They grow up doing whatever their parents tell them to and later do exactly what everyone else is doing. They study whatever they are told to, obtain a degree, then either find a stable job like everyone else does or migrate overseas, marry without question someone their parents selected for them, then buy a car and apartment on loan, produce a couple of kids, put them in a school like everyone else, travel on some pilgrimages and to the occasional foreign country, change a couple of jobs, live their lives silently and contentedly, retire peacefully, watch their kids fly away, and then die. They live a smooth life, hardly bothered about anything other than their immediate surroundings and immediate future. They are conditioned to be that way, by their parents, relatives, and community. They choose to stay “safe”.
The non-conformists however, struggle. They refuse to do what everyone else is doing, question the reason behind every aspect of their lives and like to believe they are doing the right thing by taking the off-beaten path. But are they? They end up struggling through their education and their careers, make few friends and powerful enemies trying to change/fix things or simply by the virtue of the decisions they make and their non-conventional ways. They get little support from friends or family and end up broken and frustrated, as they realize their decisions never led them anywhere, and the answers they were searching for weren’t forthcoming, though a very few will get to taste glory and change the history of humankind. For that, though, they will usually have to either endure great sacrifices in their lives or die horribly: Socrates, Jesus, Galileo, Mandela, Lincoln, Tesla and so on.
Among these two types, wager a guess on who is happier?
The general perception of those who defy everyone else and live their lives on their own terms, who like to think themselves as the more “enlightened” and saviors of the world, who try to fix the system and blaze a different path and all that are happier, is wrong. Despite conformity being an ugly word these days and people are expected to “think outside the box” and express their own individuality by not doing what everyone else does and all that, this ends up window dressing as almost everyone ends up being conformist in the end. This is because that is what “society” wants us to do, and it is almost impossible to live otherwise.
Conformism as the Key to Happiness
The conformists who are called blissfully unaware “sheep” (sheeple) who always follow the herd and go with the flow, who have no desire or intention to do great for the world or the larger common good but only want to be small and survive in their small worlds, who toe the societal line on their dos and donts are definitely the happier people around. Those who live me-too lives doing what everyone else is doing, who make the same choices and live the same way millions of others do without reading much into it or look beyond the surface will live a linear and mostly boring life with nothing to show for it. There will be no stamp on history of they even ever having existed, but they are fine with that because they will enjoy a full, stable, prosperous and contented life, just like the Bluepills are not bothered by the fact that their entire life is an elaborate lie pulled over their eyes.
Look at all the people in all those cars wearing formal clothes going to office to play politics and suck up to their boss to get that onsite assignment and to make it in life, which they will. All of them. Happy people. They are not bothered by the world around them beyond their immediate selves like their next car or gadget or promotion and don’t give a damn about anything else as long as it directly does enter their homes and make them uncomfortable. Poverty? They deserve it. Global warming? Buy an AC. Public Transport? Losers. They are happy, having no temp files clogging up their brains. They take everything at face value, believe India is a free market and glass-and-steel office buildings and swanky malls reflect “development” and that (some) politicians or bureaucrats are really working to improve the country. Yes, ignorance is bliss. And almost 90% of people in society are conformists.
Still, why are conformists happy? In The Matrix, Redpills fight (the machines) for freedom and try to liberate people from the Matrix, which is why they are seen as a threat to the balance and stability of the system and hence are constantly hunted to be eliminated. In our “real” world, non-conformists also fight the system that is our society, and in the same way, are hence seen as a threat to its stability and resultingly, the power of those who run this system. To keep people in their blissful ignorance of the Matrix, Bluepill conformists who abide by rules and live their lives as dictated get richly rewarded, while those to refuse to conform get punished. This goes in real life too. Those who conform to the wishes of society and follow its norms and rules are rewarded with happiness, a stable and predictable life with no sudden or unintended hangups. Your level of conformism (conformity) decides your level of happiness in today’s present society. Conformists might not like their jobs or lives, but they don’t mind that because of the goodies life brings as a reward for conformism.
“You want to play house, you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, then you got to have a job you don’t like. Great. This is the way 98.9% of the people work things out, so believe me, buddy, you’ve got nothing to apologize for.”
― Richard Yates,
Non-conformists, however, aren’t enticed by those rewards bought by lives they do not want to live. They feel suffocated in this system and among such people and try to break free. They are rarely happy and almost never achieve material prosperity in their lives on the levels of their Bluepill brethren, though it is not that they don’t want to. They fight for their causes and are led by ideals that seem to be misguided to many especially the conformists who don’t understand why Redpills are wasting away their lives instead of doing what everyone else does to earn themselves a happy life. Redpills try to create happiness out of their lives by doing what they love to do, be it from founding corporations to creating art, all of which are off the beaten path for which they will usually a huge price in the form of non-achievement, and there is no guarantee that happiness will actually come with it. Ayn Rand believed in the same thing, and her philosophy of Objectivism states this as its goal; but in real life, Objectivism is as existent as Taggart Transcontinental. Ayn Rand would be devastated to know that today the happiest people are those who follow the exact opposite of Objectivism.
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter seem to be full of people who outrage at the system and stuff. But they are only a minor part of society, and most people don’t bother and visit these only to post happy photos. That is because they are happy. I have always ranted about how to not do what everybody else does, to stand apart and think what is good for you, like not buying an apartment or a new car or to travel by public transport. It looks like I was mistaken. It was those who made conformist choices who ended up with happy, stable and prosperous lives, with lots of material gains, respect in society and other associated perks to show for it. However, it is too late to change now.
India – The Ultimate Conformist Society
The Indian society is engineered to create conformists. Our society is filled to the brim with carbon copies. Everyone thinks and acts and behaves exactly the same way. Everyone wants everyone to become B.Tech victims, get jobs in software companies, get married (with lots of dowry), buy a hatchback and an apartment and have two kids and send them to schools so that they can repeat the sequence. We are not just given subtle hints that we have to conform, we are pushed and threatened and forced and even physically assaulted. Any other ideas that we might have will be ruthlessly culled. Want to become an artist? Shove that and do a B.Tech/MBBS like everyone else does! We are not allowed to make your own choices, because even for married couples, decisions are made for them by elders. There is no choice here other than confirming. There are exceptions, though, one notable being one guy who I had mentioned in another chapter – Nivin Pauly – who dared to break mores and was handsomely rewarded. But these more of exceptions than the rule. Our education systems that teach us only to obey and follow rather than how to think critically and rationally plays the biggest role in this process.
Indian society pushes us to be conformists because of the uncertain and unpredictable nature of this country that has undergone strife of every imaginable kind on an unimaginable scale since time immemorial. The society knows that the best way to propagate the family is by keeping heads low and thoughts to themselves. You are always safer doing what everyone else does rather than risking to stick your neck out, because taking a risk is taking chance at failure, and failure is unacceptable in Indian society, as of the sheer number of people and limited resources and absence of any kind of governmental safety nets mean that once you fall, it will be very difficult to get up. “everyone is doing it, so there must be something right in it. You can never know what might happen tomorrow.” All the annoying aunties who keep asking you about your marriage and kids and buying apartments are manifestations of the society pushing you to conform to its norms. Any attempt to stray off the path will be met with terrible consequences.
The ultimate purpose of our Indian lives as dictated by our conformist society seems to be to “settle down” and further the “family parampara” because that is all we are worth. “Get a stable job, marry from your own caste, preferably emigrate, have kids and make a lot of money – all as soon as possible“. No more fooling around post-marriage as you have to “settle down” and lead a linear life, forsaking everything you were and had dreamed until then, to live as per society’s diktats. Any deviation will be quickly corrected: “You are not putting your kid into IIT coaching? Why are you so callous about his future?” All this is also why we have no Zuckerbergs or Einsteins or more Sachin Tendulkars or Olympic medalists or Nobel laureates, despite us being 20% of world population.
However, there are some people, or maybe many people, who are born or by the virtue of their upbringing or early interactions have an innate desire to change things in the world, or who see that there is something wrong with the world they live in and strive to make things to function ideally, who get disillusioned quite easily with this system and decide to fight it. They refuse to take the “safe” options and feel proud of themselves at first, but later, when things do not work out as they planned because of the system heavily biased towards the conformists, they start questioning their decisions, and when everything goes wrong they end up trying to get back to the conformist path, but by that time it will be too late, and even if they manage to do this, they won’t be able to live with themselves anymore. Even when they get ridiculed, derided and shouted at they will not yield to a monotonous, soulless conformist existence, going against their own consciousness. They will ultimately say that they stayed true to their ideals, but unfortunately, ideals aren’t worth a hoot in today’s world.
The Revolutionary Roads of Conformism and Non-Conformism
Revolutionary Road is a critically acclaimed 1961 novel by Richard Yates, made into a 2005 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, often considered to be the defining narrative of the 1950s and 1960s suburban American life with all its conformity and pitfalls. Frank and April Wheeler seem to be the model couple, living the peak 1950s American Dream in suburban Connecticut in a two-story family house, a car, lawns, picket fence, and two kids. He works in the city as a salesman and she is a housewife. While they seem to be conforming to everything American society demands, they are burning inside, lives of unfulfilled promises. She mourns the death of her dream to be an actress while he hates his boring, monotonous office life. And they both cannot stand their creepy, boring, monotonous suburban lives.
April then proposes a plan to uproot themselves and shift to Paris, where they can start afresh and inject a new spark into their lives. Frank agrees at first but backtracks when he is offered a promotion, using April’s third pregnancy as a convenient excuse. April, however, refuses to budge. This clash between Redpill April and newly-converted Bluepill Frank results in a terribly tragic climax. When they were younger and had just met, April was an aspiring actress and Frank a free-bird full of life and ideas, wanting to break out of himself and change the world. They believed that they were special, different from the other (boring) couples around them. And they were until they decided to conform like all of us and decided to “settle down” once they had kids, forgetting what they were before.
Our whole existence here is based on this great premise that we’re special. That we’re superior to the whole thing. But we’re not. We’re just like everyone else! We bought into the same, ridiculous delusion. That we have to resign from life and settle down the moment we have children. And we’ve been punishing each other for it. – April Wheeler
Everyone thinks they are special. But just as April says, they are not, until they realize that they are just like everyone else, as long as you make the same decisions everyone else does. In Frank’s and April’s case, they bought into the bogey of conformism and were “punishing” each other for it ever since, which is why she wants to break free and fly away to Paris. April is the typical non-conformist, who says “If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t mind being completely insane”, without fully realizing what that statement entails. Frank, though non-conformist at first confirms to the system when he saw the rewards it offered in the form of a predictable, stable, high-paying career, though his life was as monotonous as before, in the face of an exciting, though unpredictable non-conformist life in Paris. Revolutionary Road teaches us many lessons about life and the choices we make.
Who would you rather want to be? A conformist with a B.Tech degree, bank/Gulf job, Samsung phone, Maruti car, arranged marriage, 3BHK and a linear but boring and blind life, or an outraging Redpill who refuses to sleep with the fakery of the world and rebels against its diktats, tries to change society and the system and gets punished throughout their life for it? In The Matrix, a large number of Redpills ultimately die in the Battle of Zion while all the Bluepills slept peacefully in the Matrix. Choose wisely.