Monday, May 28, 2012

What "The Matrix" Tells us About Resiliency

Mr. Smith 2
About a year ago I posted about one of my favorite cinematic statements about natural resources, from the movie "The Matrix" (see Agent Smith on Humans as a Virus). Well, while teaching recently (via my preferred form of metaphorical pedagogy) I was struck by another portion of the trilogy, the end of the "The Matrix: Revolutions." In the film Agent Smith has replicated himself exponentially within the matrix (sound familiar?), threatening to completely overrun not only the matrix (a software system) but also to infiltrate the systems of actual machines back in the real world - potentially leading to their ultimate destruction. Neo perceives this inevitability, and makes a compelling offer to the real world machines: that he will combat Agent Smith in the matrix if they will in turn halt the impending extermination of humans on earth. While Neo, whose physical body is jacked in to the head machine in the real world, battles a seemingly infinite number of Agent Smiths within the matrix, the futility of his efforts becomes apparent. Then, however, the battle takes an intriguing turn, as Neo purposefully allows Agent Smith to turn him, via replication, into what seems like yet another Agent Smith. What has in fact occurred, however, is that Neo and Agent Smith have become integrated within the matrix, allowing the head machine back in the real world to electrocute real-world-Neo's physical body, thus destroying Agent Smith within the matrix.

My class had been discussing the interconnectedness of ecosystems - how a tree cut along a stream bank in Alabama can have an effect on global carbon sequestration capabilities (or rather the aggregated cutting of such trees); how genetic diversity has decreased with regard to crops like, for example, bananas (one species of banana - cavendish - makes up almost the entire worldwide trade in bananas - what happens if an Agent Smith fungus comes along that likes cavendish bananas?); and how our food systems are so integrated with national and global supply chains (if another Katrina hits New Orleans, Walmart and other supermarkets have food for about, what, 2-3 days? But a resilient community has a system of gardens and food producing systems that can alleviate delays in feeding a population). In each case, the interconnectedness of the system or resource puts the entire system at risk if the right Agent Smith comes along to threaten it. Rob Hopkins discusses this below, detailing our need to transition to more resilient systems - ones that are not completely at risk due to a single global crisis, plague, or disaster. While humans could certainly use the dose of humility that Agent Smith provides regarding their basic nature (that of behaving like a virus), his model of governance of a resource (unchecked replication within the resource system in an attempt to control all aspects of the system) leaves a lot to be desired. Indeed, in "Revolutions" Agent Smith proved to be no different than the humans he critically psychoanalyzed in "The Matrix," and in fact it was the humans whose sacrifice and quick thinking saved the earth - I can only hope that will be the case for us back here in the real world.


- Blake Hudson

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