Black Friday: Unplugged - A Meditation on Our Contemporary Matrix

Today is called Black Friday in the entire United States. A term that encompasses a culture that cris-crosses California to Maine and New York to Florida. Black Friday were the words chosen by the Philadelphia police back in the 1960s to describe a new phenomenon of massive numbers of people creating a traffic jam in the desperate attempt to get out to the stores and buy products on the day after Thanksgiving. Since then we have more than lived up to the name in the ever multiplying numbers of products and the ever increasing numbers of people desperate to buy them. Ours is a culture determined to consume more and more things and people without any wise limits in sight. Black Friday is really a national symbol of the way we think, and relate to things and each other- the way we live our lives.

Flashback some years ago to a popular film called the Matrix. Here was a movie about a culture where everyone was plugged in to a network of machine and computer. The machines controlled those plugged in and created a fantasy world where individuals could get and have anything they wanted. Of course all of the getting and having wasn't real and the price of all this was the loss of our very humanity and freedom. The story follows the adventures of a small group of people who have become unplugged and who are determined to resist the dominant culture and lead a rebellion to free others from the control of the Matrix. Good story.

Like most science fiction this story says more about our present situation than it does about some future one. Our day has seen the rise of a corporate political and economic system that is truly global, reaching into every life everywhere. We are all plugged in to what some have called a consumer and consuming culture. Others have called it by different names. President Eisenhower once called it the military-industrial-congressional complex. Some today would add to that list the media ,which is seen to be the mouthpiece of this complex . And others would add to that list our religion as well. Our contemporary Matrix is very effective and all pervasive indeed. Just watch any TV or read any magazine.

What's especially insidious is that this Matrix invades and controls not just our politics, our economy, our congress, our religion, and our media but it penetrates and lives inside each one of us in the ideas and feelings, values and beliefs we think are our own. Recently I came across a book. Actually it is being loaned to me by a young person who recently visited and who is out to change the world and become more and more unplugged. The title of the book is : SEX , ECONOMY, FREEDOM and COMMUNITY. The author is Wendell Berry. Without a doubt, this is one berry worth picking.
Here's how Berry begins the book:
Dear Reader,
"This is a book about sales resistance. We live in a time when technologies and ideas(often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship and fashion. Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels intent on " doing us good" according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication. These sales people are now with us, apparently, even in our dreams."

Berry goes on to say that:

"... the first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But then, this is also the first duty of everyone else."

So, how might we creatively resist ? There are many excellent responses to this question. Let me offer just one that is not original at all but is gleaned from the lives of individuals like Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King. More and more we need to see things as they really are. All these people struggled to do just this. They spent hours and days, weeks and months in silence, prayer, inner searching, thought and study to see what was happening both within themselves and in the so called world outside. Gandhi is said to have spent one hour every morning and one hour every night in meditative silence. Each week he devoted every Monday to complete silence and prayer. As they began to see more clearly they began to discern what way they wished to go in order to bring about a greater freedom and fulfillment in their own lives and in the lives of those around them. In their discernment they learned to distinguish the good from the better, the false from the true. In many ways they moved toward a greater simplicity and focus of life. And as they acted on this discernment they gained even more wisdom and more peace: the wisdom and peace of lived experience. So, one simple way forward is to give ourselves to this inner work every day. For a few moments each day to consciously unplug, to be in the silence, to pray, to meditate so we can grow as they grew.

A caution: with all these individuals their wisdom and peace came at a great price. In various ways, they were all rejected by family and friends, by the religious and the highly educated, by the cool and hip culture of their day. The Matrix reacted. Their wisdom led them to be with those who suffer and struggle the most in society. Their lives were lived against the current grain of their culture and they experienced the consequences.

Perhaps when the next Black Friday comes around we will be more deeply rooted in the freedom of our inner life and more unplugged from the culture that compels us to consume.

From Long Island , New York with Love,
Your little brother,