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The Real

Scuttling Bad Trade Agreements














By Professor Steven Yates
September 27, 2014

Part 14 - The Materialist Matrix

“Billions of people just living out their lives, oblivious ...” ~Agent Smith, The Matrix

[Author's note: a couple of readers emailed me regarding Kennedy's assassination that I'd missed the slain president's most telling remark, allegedly made a week before his assassination: “There's a plot in this country to enslave every man, woman, and child. Before I leave this high and noble office, I intend to expose this plot."

This quote has been widely circulated. It does not occur in any official speeches (I listened to quite a few). I knew of it but couldn’t find a reference for it. There are grounds for doubting that Kennedy actually said it. I would have noted this, but had length considerations in mind. If some readers made this mistake, probably others did as well.

It's worth reiterating what I’ve said previously. There are people out there who plant bogus quotes and perpetuate hoaxes just to throw us all off track. There are entire websites devoted to spreading rubbish. Their authors discuss “conspiracies” but never reference anything. Relying on them will discredit a person through guilt by association. As I also noted, the attack dogs are out in force! Parts of the blogosphere has become a war zone between defenders and skeptics of official narratives, leading to the weaponized language I wrote about. It is a good idea to always rely on original sources for a quote. When one cannot be found, and your search leads to a round-robin of websites repeating the quote with no actual citation to a legitimate document, your best bet is to be skeptical.]

Is Christianity a component of the Real Matrix? Is it conceivable that once we've “unplugged” and awakened in the Desert of the Real we find ourselves in the quiet but empty universe of those for whom nothing exists except physical nature—a natural, self-existent order in which the Christian God is no more real than Santa Claus? Some readers will have heard of—or be familiar with—a film called Zeitgeist (2007). It was popular enough to have generated two sequels, Zeitgeist Addendum (2009) and Zeitgeist: Moving Forward (2011). These films, which have spawned a substantial cult following, purport to do much the same as we are trying to do here: free your mind. The first film contains useful segments on 9/11, for instance, and why some see 9/11 as an “inside job” that used terror to set the stage for perpetual war and a domestic police state. Fear is a potentially powerful instrument of control. The film’s other main theme: Christianity is no different and never was. It’s all about control over populations through fear of damnation and hellfire? Despite its being overtaken, supposedly, by science and rationality, are Christianity’s methods different today?

The first segment of Zeitgeist tries to refute core Christian claims by citing supposedly numerous accounts all throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, hundreds of years B.C. and in some cases older, all relating the life of a messianic figure born of a virgin at winter solstice whose “star” was followed by astrologers (the “three wise men”). The figure preached, performed miracles, had twelve disciples, died on a cross, and rose again in three days. The “fish” symbol used by Christians is also astrological, the sign of Pisces; the twelve disciples are symbolic of the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The fixing of Christ's date of birth on December 25 renders Christianity as pagan as pagan can be. Zeitgeist leaves the casual viewer who doesn't look further with the impression that a historical person named Jesus Christ never existed, insinuating that there are no records of such a person at all from the period when he was supposed to have lived and preached. The film is not alone. Others (e.g., this author) have joined the chorus; the idea seems to be catching on among militant atheists.*

Zeitgeist's and others’ accounts of the supposed pagan sources for the story of Jesus collapse under scrutiny. To make a long story short, most of the myths cited in Zeitgeist do not say what the film says they do. The anti-Christian segment of the film is responded to in great detail, e.g., here. Almost no reputable historians contend that Jesus never lived. Allegations that there are no references to him from his time are wrong. Josephus (born around 37 A.D.), a leading chronicler of the time, discusses him in some detail. Josephus was a Jew who did not become a Christian, and there is no reason to doubt the veracity of his Antiquities of the Jews.

The four gospels, moreover, are among the most scrutinized texts of all time. Scholars have found copies dating back to within the lifetimes of those who witnessed Jesus’s life and works. This is not the case with major works by Plato or Aristotle; yet no one questions the accuracy of those. Minor discrepancies between the gospels are on the order of witnesses who would not use the exact same language to describe an auto accident and might differ on the number of people on the sidewalk observing, but are clearly talking about the same event. There is neither any Biblical suggestion nor evidence that Jesus was born on December 25, or that the date had any special significance for early Christians. The only thing the Zodiac and Jesus's twelve disciples have in common is the number 12. Sadly, there is so much wrong with Zeitgeist's attempt to debunk Christianity that it casts doubt on everything else the film says, putting it in likely false-lead territory and playing into the hands of the militant atheists.

Western civilization supplies us with essentially two worldviews: Christianity and materialism. There are, of course, variations on each. (To simplify our discussion I am leaving Islam aside, although there are reasons for classifying it a worldview in my sense. I also leave aside ideas based on systems theory, which despite possibilities are too intellectual and have yet to find popular expression.) A worldview is a broad, general, and often half-articulated conception of how the world works, how we fit in, what is of value in life, a diagnosis of society’s problems, etc. It is not just a religion or philosophy, though it will usually have a religious or implicit philosophical system at its core. The latter can be presented in a tract such as the Bible taken as revealed by a Supreme Being, or formulated as a philosophical thesis, but it is more than these. It is not an intellectual product, nor just a body of doctrine. A worldview is lived by a people; it is central to their culture. They are immersed in it, identify with it, cannot fully articulate it, and usually do not think to question it. Thus it can be used to lead a people in a desired direction. It would be foolish to think Christian beliefs have never been used this way.

How does all this tie into the Real Matrix? Please be patient. We're getting there.

Numerous thinkers—as we've seen elsewhere—have viewed civilizations as going through stages of development in some sense of that term. The stages are not historical but levels of cultural life which can coexist, often uneasily. To review Auguste Comte's theory of the Law of Three Stages, the first stage of a civilization is its religious and mythological level. The presumed primary actors are supernatural agencies which men try to serve and placate. The high point of this level was/is Christianity, with its personal God. The second stage of a civilization is its metaphysical and abstract level. Philosophers and theologians reason from first premises to grand systems of thought. The highest of these were systematic philosophies like Aquinas’s and Kant's, and doctrines such as natural law and natural rights. Second stage philosophers may try to prove God’s existence with logic. Such proofs invariably fail.

The third stage is the positive and scientific level, which relinquishes the supernatural and the grand system in favor of empirical inquiry, embraces pragmatism over a quest for certainty, and favors utility and action over idle speculation. Civilization entered this level in the 1800s with thinkers from Darwin and Freud to titans of business like Rockefeller and Carnegie. Its prime movers became science, technology, and commerce. Education was bent to service these; religion and philosophy were accepted as academic decorations if they kept out of the way. Discussions of worldviews were pushed aside as part of the impractical intellectualism of the past.

Materialism became the third stage worldview. It focused exclusively on this world, on what we could see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and make money on, replacing Christianity’s emphasis on the world to come. Does materialism contribute to a Real Matrix existence? Yes it does.

Materialism as a worldview contributes to a Real Matrix existence in three ways, reflecting three divisions in philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. For those unfamiliar with how philosophers use these terms, metaphysics is the theory of reality, of what the world is made of at its most fundamental level. Is reality exhausted by the physical universe discoverable by science, or is there a Creator outside of nature? Is the mind just the brain (a physical or material object), or is consciousness incapable of scientific explanation in material terms? Epistemology is the theory of knowledge—what is it, how do we acquire it, and what are its limits? Empiricism is then the theory that all knowledge comes through the five senses, and has no other sources. Rationalism is the idea that we can identify a bedrock of indubitable first premises and reason our way to absolute truth. Ethics is the theory of morality, including if morality consists of propositions—commands in some sense (to ourselves or to a culture)--that stand “above” cultures (are absolute), or if morality is relative to culture—a cultural artifact, as an anthropologist might put it.

Confusion results if we confuse a worldview taken for granted or believed very strongly with reality itself. The most common mistake I see intelligent people making is confusing reality with their beliefs about it, especially very basic beliefs. Most of those immersed in a worldview literally cannot see or think outside the mental boxes their worldview supplies. They therefore see it as reality, and if your basic beliefs differ, you are “out of touch with reality” or “reality challenged” or some such (the word reality is sometimes used as a weaponized term; for abundant examples go here). Doubtless there are Christians to whom this applies. But it also applies to many scientists and “science writers” who identify strongly with the epistemic authority of what they take to be scientific method, seen as a rigid package of rules engraved as if on stone tablets, explaining the results of science, and not a process drawing on many different ideas at different times including “prescientific” ones, using methods available at hand, always being revised, and always changing.

The Christian worldview posits God as Creator (Gen. 1:1), the Supreme Logos (John 1:1), at its center. It diagnoses the human condition as rooted in sin (Rom. 3:23), rebellion against the true moral principles revealed by God (e.g., in Exodus 20). Jesus Christ is the sole source of salvation from the consequences of sin (death, separation from God—Rom. 6:23), and guarantor of an afterlife in heaven instead of in hell (John 3:16 and elsewhere in Scripture). The human choice is to accept this or reject it. Materialists and films like Zeitgeist reject it. That is their choice, a choice everyone must make and then assume responsibility for.

Materialism holds that reality is exclusively physical or material reality—the universe discoverable by science—self-existent and uncreated. There are no gods or other supernatural agencies—we do not inhabit a “demon-haunted world,” as Carl Sagan once put it. Science, according to the materialist, has proven to be the sole source of reliable knowledge about reality, whatever its limits. Our moral lives must have an evolutionary basis. Darwin thought so. Contemporary thinkers such as Francis Fukuyama think so.

The rhetoric of materialism asks: how does one investigate God's existence scientifically? One can't! One can only scientifically investigate what we can observe, or test. God doesn't fit such parameters. Therefore belief in His existence is pointless. All that science discloses is material reality—and life that ends in death, the extinction of individual consciousness once brain waves cease.

We've entered epistemological confusion, however. We cannot infer the basic beliefs of a worldview, which are universal, from experience. Our experience of the universe is in fact extremely limited. What we can rely on from science is that we inhabit a possibly typical planet in a remote corner of a typical galaxy in a very big universe—its size and age are matters of inference based on our limited experience plus mathematics. Our range of sense experience itself is very narrow, although broadened by scientific instruments. The point is, much of the universe and many of its processes are probably forever inaccessible to us in this life; our senses and brains aren't put together to allow us to apprehend them.

Thus it is a mistake to infer universal materialism from particular scientific findings. To be as clear as possible: materialism is a worldview. It goes beyond what science can conclude. Science is a range of methods exploring a set of finite domains (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.), getting results that may seem final and definitive for one generation but are likely to be rejected by the next in light of new findings. Science is not a worldview, although for a time it may presuppose one. To the extent it does, it constrains itself and its practitioners. Many historians and philosophers of science have wrestled mightily with the implications of this.

We have not mentioned the ethical confusion. An implication of materialism is that, in an important sense, if there is no God we are on our own, morally. The most we can say that certain actions and ways of organizing our societies are more likely to help us survive and prosper materially. The first philosopher to have this epiphany was Friedrich Nietzsche, who argued—prior to going insane—that it was up to us to create “new values” to get us through the “advent of nihilism” to come. Nihilism is the idea that there is nothing “higher” to believe in. One might as well live in the present and pursue pleasure—enhancing material comfort for as long as possible. To see the “big picture,” however, is to see despair lurking around the corner—for just as life ends in death, ultimately the human race will go extinct as have all dominant species of the past such as dinosaurs. All the achievements of civilization will be lost. Arguably this is where Comte's third stage unintentionally brought us. We can avoid pessimism by living in the present. Or can we? Comte's “scientific and positive” conception of the third stage of civilization was cheerful and optimistic. He didn't anticipate the world wars, the multiple genocides, weapons of mass destruction, the arms race, or the use of technology to enslave instead of liberate. (Bertrand Russell did; as Russell was fully committed to “scientific materialism,” I recommend readers have a look at his “A Free Man's Worship” if they believe my diagnosis of the implications of materialism is in error. It is difficult, but worth it. Or try “Man Against Darkness” by Walter T. Stace, which takes Russell’s observations as a starting point and is somewhat easier going.)

The ethics third stage civilization embraced was utilitarian: pursue the greatest good for the greatest number. Utilitarianism’s greatest goods are happiness and pleasure, although defining these is the next problem because what pleasures the sociopath is not what pleasures you and me. To be sure, those applying its ideas didn’t think about them. That would be idle intellectualizing. Instead, they just became part of the modern worldview. Implicit utilitarianism gave rise to public health atrocities such as the Tuskegee Experiments, which eventually elicited a presidential apology. But the damage was done.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: if materialism is true, a human life has no intrinsic value. Your value is what you bring to your employer if you have one, what you do to please others whatever it may be, what you pay in taxes to “your” government. Even “family values” are ephemeral and optional. This is as compatible with euthanasia for infirm elderly people who can no longer contribute and are seen as “useless eaters” as it is abortion for unwanted unborn children. Because materialism has not entirely triumphed among the masses, many of whom retain a memory of the “religiosity” of their parents and grandparents, these are still unresolved public issues, in which a “woman's right to choose” is seen as conflicting with an unborn person's “right to life.” If human life has no intrinsic value, however, then no such choice has any rational basis. It will be decided politically, i.e., by force. The losers will be suppressed, and be demonized if they persist. With abortion, this has already largely happened. According to Roe v. Wade (1973), after all, abortion is legal if not totally unlimited. Radical feminists won't let you forget it! As a result, over 50 million unborn babies have been killed in abortion mills. It is worth noting that acceptance of euthanasia is gradually spreading through Western civilization. Will we see a movement to euthanize, e.g., late-stage Alzheimer's sufferers in the near future? I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Such are the consequences in a civilization whose most influential minds regard God as a superstition, systematic ethics as an idle pastime for philosophy professors, and in which we should get back to business. Indeed, I do not think many believers in liberty (libertarian philosophers, members of the Austrian school in economics) really grasp the implications of materialist premises in civilization, or of the necessity of a discussion of whether or not human life has intrinsic value—value that transcends individual subjective choice or institutional arrangement or cultural convention. There are freedom-oriented thinkers who are uneasy with the implications of a political philosophy limited to one premise: the non-aggression axiom (one should never initiate force against others). Hence recent debates over “thick” and “thin” libertarianism.

In sum: the Materialist Matrix has two sides to it. There is the intellectual side, which may seem remote from our workaday concerns but, in reality, isn’t. Then there is the economic side, which is obviously pertinent to those concerns. We are in the Materialist Matrix if we confuse materialism with reality and invoke the authority of science exclusively. To reiterate: we cannot begin with any specific findings of science and infer that materialism is true. From the fact that science has been spectacularly effective in some areas, it does not follow that it can solve all human problems. We are also in the Materialist Matrix if we are simply “living out our lives,” buying things we don't need to further a mass consumption culture—transferring our hard earned money to corporations.

But is there something wrong with pursuing personal pleasure in a mass consumption culture? Shouldn't this be one's personal choice? Clearly there are better versus worse ways of handling one's money, and better versus worse items out there to spend it on. And whether such things are always a matter of choice is a much more complicated story.

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*In response to this article I posted a comment on the comment board asking, Once you’ve succeeded in destroying Christianity’s credibility and, along with it, the beliefs and hopes of millions of people all over the world, what then? Given the poor track record the idea has, what was their next brilliant plan for establishing a secular Utopia? It took less than ten minutes for hostile responses to begin. I ceased reading and replying after two posters cursed at me. Some people regard participating in such forums as a waste of time. I find them interesting as an index of the degree to which the masses “took the blue pill” and believe what they want to believe.

Next: the Market Absolutist Matrix

Click here for part ----->  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,

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Steven Yates has a doctorate in philosophy and currently lives in Santiago, Chile. He is the author of Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (Brush Fire Press International, 2011). He also owns an editing business, Final Draft Editing Service.

Steven Yates's new ebook is entitled: Philosophy Is Not Dead: A Vision of the Discipline's Future.




The ethics third stage civilization embraced was utilitarian: pursue the greatest good for the greatest number. Utilitarianism’s greatest goods are happiness and pleasure, although defining these is the next problem because what pleasures the sociopath is not what pleasures you and me.