REPRESSION OF THE INNER SHAMAN: MENTAL HEALTH AND IDEOLOGY IN ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST

In this thesis I write about mental health in relation to society, shamanism and ideology. My argument focusses on schizophrenia. To exemplify my case I conducted a literary analysis of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. (Spoiler warning for book and film)

Thesis written by R. E. Junesworth

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Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) (abbreviated One Flew) tells the story of a fictional US-American mental ward under administration of “Big Nurse” Ratched (4). The novel’s narrator is half Indian American “Chief” Bromden (Kesey 4). He inherited the nickname “Chief” from his father, and Bromden is his (white) mother’s surname. Chief has stopped talking or acting on his own will, like many other patients in the ward. However, Bromden is different, because he can see what others cannot see. Bromden is a schizophrenic, and his hallucinations epitomize the imaginative “Combine,” a machine network that connects all things and tries to make people into machines (Kesey 185). Bromden hallucinates a mythical fight between Combine-agent nurse Ratched and new involuntary patient McMurphy, who is fighting for the patients. In the novel Bromden undergoes an inward journey that reveals traumatic experiences, and the repressive effects of ideology on people trapped in the psychiatric system. Bromden has to realize that the Combine is only in his mind, but that his hallucinations were nevertheless true.

 

One Flew has been analyzed by scholars and critics, often revolving around the countercultural background and the stigma of mental illness. Michael Meloy has focused on the concept of masculinity and the “feminization” of the patients by nurse Ratched (4). Elaine Safer, has compared the novel and the film adaptation of the same name (director: Miloš Forman, 1975) and found that only the novel offers an insight experience of madness through the narration of Chief Bromden (134). Mettler found that the Combine “makes literal the countercultural fear that technocracy was turning postwar society into a vast impersonal machine” (178). Mettler further has analyzed in how far the novel holds the potential to change people’s attitudes toward mental illness. She concluded that One Flew “succeeded in reversing contemporary mainstream assumptions about deviance and mental illness” (Mettler 183). However, Mettler found that the book “had little positive effect on the treatment of actual mad people in the real world” (184). Kaiser and Munoz state that the novel does not break entirely with the norms of the dominant culture, which the counterculture attempted to do, and they criticize that the novel “fosters a notable misogyny”(Kaiser 203 and Munoz 668). Kaiser and Munoz are pointing at the infamous scene at the end of the novel in which McMurphy rips the clothes of “Big Nurse” Ratched (Kesey 270-271). One Flew in this light is a story of “machismo hero” McMurphy, who motivates the patients to reclaim their masculinity and autonomy (Safer 134). McMurphy makes it easy to see the novel as an anti- authoritarian story that fits the sentiments of the 1960s counterculture in which many minority groups fought for equal rights and identity. Many scholars focus mostly on McMurphy because narrator Bromden accentuates McMurphy as the central figure. Yet, it is clear in the novel that the story is Chief Bromden’s story. After all, it is Bromden’s “deluded” perspective that transforms McMurphy into a “mythical hero” (Safer 134).

 

With distance to the period of the counterculture, the anti-authoritarian “savior” McMurphy can step aside and make space to analyze the saved, Chief Bromden. Wilson Kaiser sees Kesey’s decision to use a Native American narrator as an outcome of the countercultural desire for “deeper spiritual connection to the environment and a greater sense of personal wholeness” (189). In Genealogies of Shamanism (2011) Jeroen W. Boekhoven explains that “hippie tribes” romanticized the Native American culture, but remained a separate group with their own practices and values, such as psychedelic drugs and sexual freedom (171-172). This might explain why Kaiser saw the use of a Native American narrator as symbolic for the counterculture’s spirituality. However, it is easy to relate the Chief to the category counterculture, but when Kesey wrote the book in 1962 such a unified cultural identity might not have existed but was forming. Therefore, it is more useful to see the countercultural influence as a background – and possible explanation for the character choices that Kesey made – and to analyze Bromden not as a countercultural figure, but as a Native American schizophrenic with insight about the ideological structure of the society that he is part of.

 

What the earlier mentioned scholars have not focused on is the symbolism of the “shamanic” inner journey that Kesey depicts through narrator Chief Bromden. The experience of schizophrenia has been associated by scholars, such as Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, and philosopher Terence McKenna to the shamanic experience. There is evidence that Chief Bromden’s experience symbolizes a shamanic journey. For example, the retrospective narration of schizophrenic Bromden can be seen as the guidance of a healer that has overcome a sickness. Furthermore, his ability to see the oppressive Combine makes Bromden an untrained shaman. In Shamanism (1964) Eliade highlights that the “sicknesses, dreams, and ecstasies” of future shamans “constitute an initiation” (33). Campbell “argued that the ‘inward journeys of the mythological hero, the shaman, the mystic and the schizophrenic’ were in principle the same” (qtd. in Boekhoven 203). McKenna emphasized that the shaman “is someone who swims in the same ocean as the schizophrenic,” with the difference that the schizophrenic has no access to the shamanic teaching and training (AMP3083 “Terence McKenna” 04:28). In accordance with this, Eliade explained that while shaman masters train the initiate shaman, it is the “ecstatic experience that radically changes the religious status of the ‘chosen’ person” in traditional shamanic societies (33). Bromden’s insightful hallucinations and “delusional” thoughts are such ecstatic experiences, though they terrify Bromden. This nightmarish feature is another experience that Bromden shares with the shaman. Eliade assessed that “all the ecstatic experiences that determine the future shaman’s vocation involve the traditional schema of an initiation ceremony: suffering, death, resurrection” (33). Bromden has long been acting deaf in reaction to being treated with silence even before he came to the mental ward (Kesey 175). When he enters the asylum he undergoes a social death from which he resurrects as a talking and acting individual when he breaks free. In The Politics Of Experience (1967) psychiatrist Ronald D. Laing called the schizophrenic experience “an initiation ceremonial” that leads the person on a journey “into inner space” (128). Laing continued that the experience of madness “may be one that all of us need” to form a “sane society” (Politics 129). Boekhoven found that “although Laing did not offer a direct interpretation of shamanism, his work on schizophrenia was more significant for the genesis of a field of shamanism than the views of many scholars who dealt explicitly with shamanism” (181). Boekhoven points out that some shamans find their powers, while others seek them (73). Assuming that the shaman is a type of person, shamans must also exist in non-shamanic cultures. Fictional character Bromden – due to his existence in a non-shamanic society – belongs to the former category, he did not seek his powers but was overwhelmed by them in form of a sickness. It is this sickness that allows him to see the repressive ideology of society, or in his words, the Combine.

 

Louis Althusser’s concept of overdetermination provides a useful framework for a theoretical model of the Combine. Overdetermination refers to the dynamic relationship of the economic base and the superstructure in a society. They influence each other back and forth and in this process, the superstructural (dominant) ideology slowly evolves along in order to remain coherent to the evolving reality within the base (Eagleton 14). Terry Eagleton describes the dynamic relationship of the “economic ‘base’ or ‘infrastructure’ and the superstructure – certain forms of law and politics, a certain kind of state, whose essential function is to legitimate the power of the social class which owns the means of economic production” (5). According to Althusser the norms, values, and behaviors in a society are overdetermined to fit the historical ideas of the ruling class and are organized through “Ideological State Apparatuses” (ISAs) and “Repressive State Apparatuses” (RSAs) (Althusser 303). With the ISAs Althusser “means social institutions, the educational system, language, the media, the political system, and so on” (Fiske 307). Fiske explains that “these institutions produce in people the tendency to behave and think in socially acceptable ways” but these norms are “neither neutral nor objective; they have developed in the interests of those with social power, and they work to maintain their sites of power by naturalizing them into the commonsense” (307). Using Ken Kesey’s One Flew as an example this means that the superstructure defines sane and insane in law and medicine through which it becomes common sense. In effect, people are being confined in mental wards and treated with approved treatments. In response to this, Ken Kesey – considering his countercultural background – produced a piece of art that represents the struggle of the class of people that psychiatry calls mentally ill. Thus Kesey’s book is part of the relationship between the base and superstructure by communicating the repressive effects that ideology has on so called mentally ill people.

 

Althusser’s RSAs on the other hand include institutions such as the police, prisons, and psychiatric institutions which “coerce people into behaving according to the social norm” (Fiske 307). The subjects in a society mostly function “all by themselves” due to the shared ideology, however, some others do not follow the ideology, and thus require the work of the RSAs (Althusser 303). The mental ward in One Flew belongs to the category RSA, and while it claims to help the patients, its job is to ensure that the patients accept the ideological “truth” that they are sick. In Kesey’s words, patient Harding needs the nurse to be happy in his role as a “rabbit” (55). In other words, someone who is affected by the “sickness” of society must accept that it is really him who is sick. This truth represents the ideas of the ruling class, and is, as Marx has argued in “The German Ideology” (1846), not an objective truth, but a myth to “make the one class the ruling one” (253- 254). In accordance with this Bromden says that the mental ward is “a factory for the Combine” (Kesey 33). For the staff that is engulfed in the ideology that gave birth to the asylum this ideology is normality. It is an “obvious truth” that the patient is sick and needs help (Foucault 177). Thus, the treatment is justified and right. In contrast, for an outsider, such as Chief Bromden, the ideological structure of society is obvious because he literally sees it. Bromden sees the overdetermined relationship of ideology, when he mentions that the ward is “for fixing up mistakes made in the neighborhoods and in the schools and in the churches” (Kesey 33-34). Furthermore, the name Combine shows the combined power coming from the connectedness of institutions within the ISAs and RSAs. Unfortunately, Bromden’s hallucinations merge with his ordinary perception of reality and obscure it with their seeming falsity. This would not be an issue in an environment that would guide the patient through these experiences to come to an understanding of them. However, when these symptoms are repressed, and the existence of the “unreal” things denied, we stop understanding the sense of the “madman” and hear nonsense. This is what Michel Foucault meant when he criticized that “confinement did seek to suppress madness, to eliminate from the social order a figure which did not find its place within it” (115). In the confinement of the asylum “madness is acknowledged to be nothing” (Foucault 116). If a (sane) schizophrenic would, instead, be seen as a guide “helping future patients go mad” then he becomes a shaman (Laing Politics 128).

 
Subsequently, the cultural importance of One Flew does not lie merely in its social critique, or masculine anti-authoritarian aspects, nor does Kesey attempt to bring wide social change or improvement for the sick. Although the general focus has been on McMurphy’s anti-authoritarian struggle against the Big Nurse, in this essay I provide a psychology-infused literary analysis of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in which I argue that the book’s relevance is in its depiction of the inward experience of narrator Bromden that demystifies schizophrenia of its psychiatric meaning and alternatively offers a journey into the realm of inner space. This quasi-shamanic experience illustrates the reality-revealing properties of schizophrenia in opposition to the historically created morality of the asylum that claims that the condition is a mental illness. Bromden’s comical hallucinations of the Combine reveal the repressive nature of psychiatry because they exaggerate the events in the mental ward and make them obvious. The hallucinations mock the treatment in the mental ward and demystify the ward as a material manifestation of Louis Althusser’s repressive state apparatus within the larger overdetermined ideology of U.S. society. Kesey, brings the illusion of the caring mental ward to a climax, and unveils that the asylum is not a treatment, but an institution to repress and correct those that do not adhere to the norms, values, and behaviors made by the ruling class. As a result, One Flew is about the class struggle of schizophrenics and other “mentally ill” people trying to find their place in social environments that create dead-end situations and are ideologically built to shield off the natural states of consciousness known as mental illnesses. Thus, One Flew becomes a western form of literary shamanism that plays an important role in representing the qualities of people considered schizophrenic, and unmasking psychiatric violence covered as love. Kesey does not attempt to lift the stigma of mental illness, so that the reader views the sick better, instead Kesey shows that sometimes there is no sickness, but only mundane human nature, and that the patient must heal him or herself.

Michel Foucault’s analysis of the history of madness reveals that mental wards are moral-correction institutions to defend the values made by the ruling authority, and to repress “everything that opposes the essential virtues of society” (Foucault 258). In Madness and Civilization (1965) Foucault offers detailed research on the history of madness in the course of western history. Foucault writes that in the Middle Ages madness was part of social life and “he talks about a dialogue between the ‘sane’ and the ‘mad’ in earlier historical periods, with the mad having a culturally significant role” (Sapouna 613). This significance came from the view that the mad, like comedians, were speaking the truth (Foucault 14). This view places the mad closer to a shaman than contemporary medical views. Foucault places madness and folly next to another to underline their proximity to “reason and truth” (14). Foucault reports that the fifteenth century gave birth to socially repressive institutions that pushed the mad out of society and in to centers of confinement (35-36). The sixteenth century introduced the so called “Madhouse,” which was the predecessor to the asylum and mental wards as seen in One Flew (Foucault 35). A wave of confinement in the seventeenth century that confined “one out of every hundred inhabitants of the city of Paris” further stigmatized the insane because they were confined in the same institutions as the poor, the unemployed, and criminals (Foucault 38-39). At this time it was common to see “mendicancy and idleness as the source of all disorders” (Foucault 47). At the heart of the confinement of the mad was not treatment, but correction of people who stopped functioning in working-life and in following the discipline and order of society. This moral correction was combined with the medical sciences, which allowed doctors to do punishment work for the authorities (Foucault 177). To cover the punishing nature of their work asylums veiled their work with scientific myths. Foucault highlights that “it is within the walls of confinement” that psychiatry was born (Foucault 39). By the eighteenth century medicine was fully entangled into the repressive apparatus. “Medicine was now content to regulate and punish” so that madness could be restored “to the world’s obvious truth” (Foucault 177). This truth is of course that of the ruling class and its goal was to suppress any other kind of truth that was deemed unacceptable with the ways life ought to be lived. The eighteenth century finalized the image of the “animal madman” as an other that could only be treated with brutal discipline (Foucault 75). This effectively demonized the mad and disarmed the (shamanic) power of madness to speak truth and stigmatized it as nothingness. Foucault concluded that “what we call psychiatric practice is a certain moral tactic contemporary with the end of the eighteenth century, preserved in the rites of asylum life, and overlaid by the myths of positivism” (Foucault 276). This development led to the creation of myths that people passively accept as scientific truths. The psychiatric view has no place for a truth in madness, or for alternative approaches, such as shamanic initiation illnesses.

 

In contrast, the 1960s countercultural movements created an audience for the truth in madness and started an ongoing discussion about mental illness and its treatment. The hippies – which Ken Kesey influenced – rejected the established way of culture that preached discipline, waged war, and confined the mad. Instead, the hippies focussed on personal change, community, altered states of consciousness, and love. Unsurprisingly, some hippies saw madness – which is an altered state of consciousness – positively, they favored “insanity over sanity” (Mettler 173). The hippies saw madness positively because of the usefulness of madness as a “tool to make a broader social critique” (Mettler 173). Madness’ ability to speak truths was in line with the hippie’s critical perspectives. Willingly or not, this placed some mad into roles of guidance that are comparable to the guidance of a shaman for his society. However, the “celebration of mental illness,” and “free love, communal living, and LSD were unable to revolutionize society” (Mettler 186). While this is, arguably, the case because psychedelic drugs were banned and authorities continued to endorse ideologically repressive institutions (psychiatry etc.), it is important to note that mere romanticization of a condition of deep suffering does not alleviate suffering nor does it foster moments of insight that help the sufferer. In line with this, One Flew’s Bromden explains to McMurphy that he certainly understands to see the funny side, but he does not see the other side that “parches laughter deep inside your stomach” (Kesey 201). Sickness and suffering are not a free pass to become a shamanic guide or a cultural critic – many psychiatric diagnoses, e.g. dementia, are in no relation to shamanic insight – but the initiation sickness can lead the sufferer to become a healer if the sufferer manages to overcome the sickness. Eliade “recorded no case of a shaman whose professional hysteria deteriorated into serious mental disorders” (31). After their initiation sickness shamans are “expected to be, and usually are, perfectly healthy and normal” (Eliade 31). Others, such as psychoanalyst George Devereux challenged this and instead saw in the shaman “a severe neurotic or psychotic” person (qtd. in Boekhoven 174-175). Nonetheless, Devereux highlighted that the “socially sanctioned” guiding system in shamanic societies allow the shaman to cope with the mental condition (qtd. in Boekhoven 175). Thus, madness in general should not be romanticized because each individual case differs, and romanticizing madness does not provide guidance like that in shamanic societies. To become a healing process madness’ inner journey needs to be allowed to happen so that an understanding of the underlying reasons for the sickness can lead the sufferer back to normality.

 

This is why it is helpful to see the shamanic journey as a framework for the journey of mad people, such as Bromden, transcending from sickness into a new healthy life. Shamanism was very attractive to the hippie’s “longing for individual freedom” and “communal life in tribes” (Boekhoven 201). Hippies and Native American shamans are both known for use of psychedelics, interest in consciousness, and closeness to nature. However, the push to see shamans as “wounded healers” that “had attained a more authentic and integrated, and less inhibited state of mind” was formulated largely by psychologists (Boekhoven 201). Boekhoven writes that the “shaman came to represent an individual who was not restricted by social structures and who was, therefore, in touch with nature, with the deepest layers of the mind, and with perennial knowledge” (200-201). These are features that schizophrenic Bromden shares, though he is restricted by social structures in form

of the mental ward. His dreams and visions of nature, past memories, and symbolic hallucinations of the ideological workings of society make Bromden a kind of shaman stuck in a system that subjects him as a schizophrenic. His mind is sick from his social environment, and hence reveals that sickness to him in vivid images. This makes the sickness a natural treatment similar to how a fever is the body’s treatment to fight infections.

Through Bromden’s narration the reader witnesses such an inner journey from the inside, and although his hallucinations are terrifying the symbolic imagery reveals the repressive morality of the ward. The novel’s first introductory chapter ends with Chief Bromden explaining: “But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen” (Kesey 7). With this key sentence Kesey states a central point of the novel. Bromden’s hallucinations illustrate the machine-like connectedness and control of the ideological apparatus. The oppressive ideology of U.S. society affected his family, and visualizes in form of Bromden’s hallucinations. Furthermore, the hallucinations illustrate the way Chief relates to the mental ward and its staff. They reveal his ”imaginary relationship” to his “real condition[s] of existence” (Althusser 294). The hallucinations, however, do not take realism serious, they exaggerate Bromden’s experience in satirical ways. This is why Bromden sees the epileptic Mr. Sefelt melt into “a gray puddle” when the Big Nurse shames him for not taking his medication (Kesey 147-148). Bromden is aware of the imaginations, but seemingly unable to distinguish between real and fantasy. For a long time Bromden is lost in his hallucinations that enshroud him like the fog of a smoke grenade. He sees the Big Nurse as a machine of the Combine, and while others cannot see her power – but only feel it – the Chief can “see it” (Kesey 202). Bromden hears the “gears grinding” and sees the machine of the Combine work in the walls of the ward and the staff (Kesey 45). Chief Bromden speaks his “mad truths” to the reader when he speaks of the Combine. Such a truth is dangerous to the established ideology of society in which the government and its institutions ought to be taken serious and viewed positively. The staff works to silence such truths, which is why Bromden is not talking anymore. Bromden tells the reader that the Big Nurse on the one hand “adjusts” the “inside” world of the ward, and on the other hand the “outside” world (Kesey 23). Bromden sees how the overdetermined ideology of the ruling class and its myths stretch over all parts of society, inside the mental ward as well as outside. Chief Bromden realizes that nurse Ratched is a mere “high-ranking official” of a much bigger system of oppression that he calls the “nation-wide Combine” (Kesey 159). From the perspective of modern psychiatry Bromden is delusional and has hallucinations of “things that are not there” – such as machine-like humans (ICD 10 F.20). This is precisely how the Big Nurse treats patients. She is the expert, subsequently she knows what is going on, and the ignorant childish patients have to subdue to her motherly authority. However, as Henry Munn argued,“to call such transcendental experiences of light, vision and speech hallucinatory is to deny that they are revelatory of reality” (qtd. in Boekhoven 218).

R. D. Laing has expanded on the reality-revelatory journeys of schizophrenics. Laing argued that madness’ inner journey “need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough” (Politics 133). Laing thought of such ‘illness’ as truth-revelatory, though possibly destructive, and he argued that “schizophrenics have more to teach psychiatrists about the inner world than psychiatrists their patients” (Politics 109). This coincides with Bromden’s schizophrenic insight. Schizophrenics are pushed into an inward journey reflecting over “one’s personal life” and “beyond into the experience of all mankind” (Laing Politics 126). Bromden’s mind wanders through personal memories, and sometimes memories of his father “communicate” with him (Kesey 6). Bromden also escapes into objects, such as paintings from which he observes the happenings in the ward “through the frame” of the painting (Kesey 107). Although painful, such an inner journey can also be “liberation and renewal,” similar to the shaman being “reborn” after overcoming sickness (Laing Politics 133). Laing wrote that the schizophrenic goes on a “voyage from outer to inner” which brings the person to a standstill (Politics 128). Chief Bromden is silent and passive in the mental ward, which indicates that he is halfway through his journey. He entered the inner world and has yet to return. This journey leads the person from “the ego to the self,” and “from life to a kind of death”

(Laing Politics 128). In the optimal case the schizophrenic returns “from death to life,” “back to a movement,” “from self to a new ego,” and finally undergoes “an existential rebirth” (Laing Politics 129). In the ending chapters Bromden goes from this passive condition to a new identity inspired by rebellious McMurphy. The turning point occurs when McMurphy brings Bromden to a conclusion of his inner journey. McMurphy sings “oh, does the spearmint lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?” and makes Bromden laugh about his own desperate behavior to collect chewing gums under the bed (Kesey 182). In the ward Bromden has no money or agency to buy new ones. Bromden is able to look at himself from a point of laughter again. In addition, McMurphy uncovers the nurse’s breasts toward the end and this shows Bromden that she is not a powerful machine but merely a human being (Kesey 271-272). This makes Bromden reach a point of self-realization about himself and his environment that ends his suffering and initiates his rebirth.

Laing’s description of schizophrenia is similar to the process of “death” and “resurrection” that shamans undergo, either through “ecstatic dreams, sickness, unusual events, or ritual” (Eliade 64). The key factor in both cases is that the sufferer comes to a point of self-realization in which previously unconscious things become conscious. In the shamanic language those things are called spirits, and the mental journey is named the “symbolic descent to the underworld” (Eliade 64). In the language of psychology, Carl Jung explained that “the unconscious no sooner touches us than we are it” (22). This means that to solve unconscious problems one has to become aware of one’s “true self” – the self that is conscious of the entirety of body, mind, and outside world. This is perhaps what Foucault called the “animal in man,” our primal animalistic self (73). No guide or doctor can cure a person of the own primal self trying to cure itself. The “ill” person has to heal him or herself. Yet it is precisely the dogma of psychiatry that the doctor can (and has to) cure the patient of this inner journey.

In contrast to the psychiatric view of mental illness as a physical disease, Laing and Gregory Bateson saw mental distress as a reaction to an existential dead-end, either socially or personally. Laing criticized that “there is no such ‘condition’ as ‘schizophrenia,’ but the label is a social fact and the social fact is a political event” (Politics 121). One Flew illustrates the effects of this political event through Chief Bromden. Bromden got sick from traumatic experiences that the government caused to his family, and in the mental ward he gets categorized as mentally ill. Laing pointed at the relation of sociological environment and madness when he wrote that the “disturbing patterns of communication” of schizophrenics are reflective or reactive of the “disturbed and disturbing pattern characterizing his or her family of origin” (Politics 114). The family and other social institutions are conditioned to perpetuate the norms and values of the overdetermined ideology, and they are more significant in understanding the origin of madness than medical explanations. In the ward Bromden has arrived “in a position of checkmate” (Laing Politics 115). This situation is what Gregory Bateson called the “double bind,” “a situation in which no matter what a person does, he ‘can’t win’” (201). Madness, from this perspective, is “a special strategy that a person invents in order to live in a unlivable situation” (Laing Politics 115). This situation is often an outcome of political decisions that discriminate against minority groups, such as Native Americans and the so called mentally ill. In a surreal and comical manner Bromden’s hallucinations show the traumatic experiences that brought him to this checkmate. For instance, his time in the army and the practice to fog battlefields explain why he sees the ward covered in fog (Kesey 109- 110). Furthermore, his parents’ unhealthy relationship and his father’s struggle against the power of the government explain why much of Bromden’s inner journey depicts childhood memories of his father’s losing fight against government men who, ultimately, replaced his tribe’s village with a dam (Kesey 146). Bromden informs McMurphy that his white mother made his Native American father “too little to fight any more and he gave up” (Kesey 185). Bromden faces the power of the “Combine” that – through his mother – coerced his father to give up the whole reservoir of his tribe, and now Bromden projects his oppressive mother on the Big Nurse. As a child he saw his mother to be much larger than her “five feet nine” (Kesey 184). Similar to his mother, nurse Ratched blows up in size – “big as a tractor” – when she uses her authoritarian power (Kesey 5). Consequently, Bromden “turns” into his father and becomes silent and small. Bromden is stuck at a double bind which his mind tries to overcome by looping on the memories and projecting them everywhere.

 

Psychologically speaking, Bromden’s hallucinations are projections of images in his head into his perception of the outside world. However, the images that Bromden projects do not resemble the real events (memories) but his imaginative relationship to them. Jung coined the term imago to explain how humans make unconscious decisions based on the imaginative relationship to our memories. The imago is an imaginative version of a real person. These imagos are – in a way – our personal obvious truth. The most decisive imagos are of people that play a significant role in influencing the way we behave, such as the “parental imagos” (Jung 60). Jung thought that “the [parental] imago is constituted on the one hand by the . . . acquired image of the person[al parent], and on the other hand by the archetype” (qtd. in Donahue 72). The archetype is a prototypical concept (e.g. “mother”) that all humans share, and Jung argued that it “exists a priori in the pre- conscious structure of the psyche” (qtd. in Donahue 72). I think this concept can be expanded to include significant or traumatic memories as well. Many decisions we take unconsciously without the need to become aware of the related memories that taught us how to behave. This is why we usually do not see the images projected but simply know how to act. The ideological conditioning in a society influences this unconscious knowledge, either positively or negatively. Yet, the imagos do not resemble the actual memory, but also the relationship that the person has to this memory. This is why Bromden sees machine humans when he feels that the ward staff acts like machines. Previous traumatic experiences with government people have characterized the imago. This also explains why Bromden acts small like he saw his father. His father was not small. He was big, so big that his tribesmen named him “The-Pine-That-Stands-Tallest-on-the-Mountain” (Kesey 184). Yet, the father-imago that Bromden created in his head was made small by the big mother imago that was tainted by the bigger government imago (Combine). The Big Nurse triggers his mother-imago and the machine-like Combine-imago. In effect, Bromden reacts in the conditioned quiet way. Bromden projects the defeat of his father everywhere and loses himself. Thus, Bromden’s hallucinations are a false reality constructed from his imaginative relationship to his memories. The hallucinations veil his reality in an attempt to remind him of these significant memories to the point where he is unable to live his life. Psychotic conditions, as described in Bromden’s narration, are a process of the mind to overcome a dead end situation. Unfortunately, this costs a lot of time and is unpleasant. Psychiatric treatments, such as medication, and lobotomy repress the symptoms. This keeps the mind facing the dead end but halts the inner journey. The psychotic state, is hence not a sickness, though it is suffering, but a reaction – manifested in symbolic images and thoughts – to the events and conditions that brought one to this point.

 
Huxley’s reducing valve, as described in The Doors of Perception (1954), serves as a helpful concept to understand how such surreal experiences of reality come to be, or to be more precise, how they are prevented from happening unless they are triggered. Through our upbringing we learn how to act, talk, and think. Laing pointed out that “a child of two is already a moral mover and moral talker and moral experiencer. He already moves the ‘right’ way, makes the ‘right’ noises, and knows what he should feel and what he should not feel” (Politics 59). Normal ordinary perceived reality is, hence, dominated by conditioned behaviors that are based on memories. At all times this mass of memories is theoretically accessible to the person (Huxley 16). To prevent all this information to come to our consciousness Huxley theorized that the “brain and nervous system” function as a “reducing valve” which has the primary function to “protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge” stored in the brain (16). However, the brain is fully capable of creating a completely different reality. After all, our perception of “normal reality” is a “hallucination” entirely manufactured in the brain based on incoming sensual perception and memory. If one now enters a dead end situation – a checkmate in which the available information cannot lead to a solution – then the mind’s primary purpose becomes survival. The reducing valve “opens” and accesses the only source of knowledge that the mind has: Own memories and imaginations, which are tainted by the ambiguity of imagos.

 

In such an inward journey secondary things, such as culturally acceptable behavior, ordinary perception, or a culturally agreed external reality become irrelevant. This is why it is harmful that psychiatric wards, as described in One Flew, force patients to keep up their “scheduled duties” and “discipline and order” (Kesey 121-122). The individual reality becomes the truth of the person, just as Bromden’s hallucinations are his personal truth. In this state a person cannot function in the social-cultural system, centering around functionality in working life and conditioned behaviors. This is why the mentally ill often seem so crazy. For instance, a person in such a checkmate might imagine to be dead “as a defen[s]e against the pain of life” (Laing Divided Self 149). With the right guidance this point of false death can be useful to analyze why one died. This might not sound sensible to the doctor who sees that the person is very much alive but it does make symbolic sense to the “psyche in crisis” of a shaman or a person that has arrived at an existential checkmate (Eliade XVII). In Kesey’s words, it is “a sense of your own” (Kesey 113). By figuring out the reasons that “killed” the person – those things that appear as hallucinations, demons, or evil spirits – the person can come to a conclusion and return to ordinary reality. However, this process of self-healing is only possible if one is not misinformed that such conditions are diseases and that the hallucinations and delusions are not real. With the current notion of mental illness it is unsurprising that many who end up in such journeys can only find the confusion and fear that they were conditioned to expect.

Ideological language – defined in the superstructure (law and medicine) – creates social myths that mislead the sufferer into the care of psychiatric treatment. Psychiatry, as a repressive institution, masks its violence as treatment, and denounces other approaches as nonscientific. Psychiatry upholds the myths formulated by the ruling ideology that justify psychiatry as scientific. Due to this, psychiatry textbooks frame the lack of scientific evidence for mental illnesses not as a fundamental problem of psychiatry, but as a danger that gives rise to “competing unscientific views” (Geddes et al. 4). One such view is the shamanic view that acknowledges that the shaman is sane after his sickness and that the sufferer determines the end of the journey and not a doctor. In shamanic societies shamans take the role as “unconventional leaders of the tribe” and heal their people because they can see moral problems (Boekhoven 201). Psychiatrists too deal with these moral problems which “they cannot solve by medical methods” (Szasz 9). To counter these problems psychiatry invented medical diseases to suit symptoms of people that psychiatrists discovered by observing the patient’s behavior (Szasz 12). Modern psychiatry excludes explanations outside its own dogma and develops “mutually-exclusive, non-overlapping diagnostic boxes” to fit symptoms of patients (Miller 690). However, psychiatric diseases were not found through scientific “methods of pathology,” “but by creating a new criterion of what constitutes disease” (Szasz 12). According to nurse Ratched one such criterion is the patient’s “proven inability to adjust to society” (Kesey 140). However, nurse Ratched and psychiatric doctors are not scientific experts on madness, but “personalit[ies], whose powers borrowed from science only their disguise, or at most their justification” (Foucault 271). Psychiatry is no science, though it attempts to live up to the scientific standards of the natural sciences (Miller 689).

To cover up the ideological being of mental illness, psychiatry conditions physicians and limits the agency of the patient by subjecting the patient as a victim not of psychiatry but of an alleged illness. Szasz explained that psychiatry indoctrinates “the young physician into the theory and practice of psychiatric violence,” (qtd. in Breeding 249). Once a patient is diagnosed the psychiatric staff holds the power to decide when the patient is cured. In One Flew nurse Ratched has the “say as to who gets discharged and who doesn’t” (Kesey 161). Breeding notes that “when a psychiatrist decides that a person has a mental illness and that person disagrees, according to the psychiatrist, that disagreement just shows the person lacks ‘insight’ and is in itself proof of the mental illness” (251). Everything that the patient says from that point on can be interpreted as an expression of the alleged illness. Since the ideology of western medicine defines psychiatry not as punishment but as treatment any attempt to escape this treatment will look like resistance against a much needed therapy. In some cases this can lead to forced treatment. The lack of agency is significant in cases of involuntary commitment. A patient might be committed against his will simply because his will is considered mad because he behaved in unwanted ways. In One Flew, McMurphy is involuntarily committed, and the Big Nurse informs him that he is “under jurisdiction and control” of the staff (Kesey 121). This kind of abuse of power is masked as “benevolence of psychiatry as a more humane treatment for mentally ill criminals” (Breeding 245). However, such loss of agency is critical in a society that officially adheres to liberty and human rights. Breeding noted that “from a human rights perspective, an involuntary patient has lost his liberty, without a criminal conviction” (Breeding 245).

Also voluntary patients lose their agency. For example, it is the psychiatrist’s power to “decide whether to invoke powers of compulsory admission and or” treatment that is supposedly in the “best interest” of the patient (Geddes et al. 98) This is “violence masquerading as love” (Laing Politics 58). The psychiatrist can also change the voluntary status of a patient into an involuntary one. The patient becomes a child-like “psychological subject, to the authority and prestige of the man of reason, who assumed for him the concrete figure of an adult” (Foucault 253). In One Flew, patient Taber asks what kind of medication he is given, and nurse Ratched says that he “acts like a child” and he can leave if he insists to not “take his medication orally” (italics added) (Kesey 28- 29). This exemplifies how the nurse insinuates further violence (non oral ingestion) if the patient does as he wants. Szasz emphasized the importance to include “freedom, choice, and responsibility into the conceptual framework and vocabulary of psychiatry” (Szasz 6). Yet, psychiatry denounces this because of the expertise of the psychiatrist and the urgency to treat the alleged illness. The question is, if mental illnesses were diseases like any other disease why is psychiatry so engaged with laws and limiting the agency of the patient?

 
The answer to this might lie, on the one hand, in the legal sanctioning of the patient’s loss of agency, and on the other hand in mental illness’ potential to power. Kesey reveals this side when McMurphy takes Bromden and many of the other patients on a fishing trip. Outside of the mental ward the patients use the stigma of mental illness for their advantage. At a gas station the patients act mad and make many demands while Harding explains that they are “lunatics from the hospital up the highway, psycho-ceramics, the cracked pots of mankind” (Kesey 200). Patient Harding, who self-identified as a rabbit without agency in an earlier chapter, says that “never before did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power” (Kesey 200). Harding continues that he thinks that “perhaps the more insane a man is, the more powerful he could become” (Kesey 200-201). Madness holds a power to make us understand things in new and unexpected ways because it shows us how subjective reality is. These new ways to look at reality are powerful because they allow us to change our views and create new norms, values, and behaviors. If one analyzes the concept of mental illness historically it becomes clear that the definitions of mental illness change over time. At any time the status quo perpetuates itself with myths (e.g. scientific truths), until that truth is undone by another truth. Homosexuality, for example, was considered a mental illness until 1973 in the United States (Hyland 179). Repressive institutions, such as psychiatry, work against this progression of the social reality and silence this own sense, because their primary function is to reinforce the current norms, values, and behaviors.

Ken Kesey exemplifies the strength that such own sense has in the language of Bromden, such as Combine. The word is effective in making the reader understand the power and the danger of the ruling ideology because Bromden does not use the word US-government or the establishment. If Bromden would use already existent words his language would be under the control of the ideology that defines those words. Bromden’s own sense makes the reader understand the ills of society through use of allegories and symbolic language that are removed from the already existing and controlled words. The imaginative Combine mocks the real existing establishment of U.S. government and military industrial complex that try to cover up how machine-like these institutions are. Ideology is powerful if it is being taken serious. Bromden’s mad allegories show how one can free oneself from this power by not taking it serious. Kesey does not describe, a realistic mental ward, but one that is overly violent, overly crazy, and funny. Bromden’s mental illness mocks his experience until he finally understands the message and stops to take the ward and his own experience serious. If one takes Bromden’s words literal one might come to the conclusion that he is hallucinating. Whereas, if one takes them as expressive for his feelings and experience of reality then they are understandable and clear. The hallucinations can show Bromden only the unreal, because he has to realize what this says about reality. This outside perspective – seemingly removed from reality – is where the power of the shaman and the schizophrenic lie. When Bromden returns from his inner journey he immediately shares his knowledge of the Combine with McMurphy (Kesey 185). Thus, Bromden gives his shamanic knowledge from overcoming sickness to McMurphy who is a victim of the same discriminatory sickness, the Combine. Bromden concluded the journey, but by the norms of psychiatry he would still be considered delusional because he still speaks of machines and a machine-network. This is why Bromden realizes that he would never have found help in the ward, and that his friend McMurphy cannot save him but only show him the door. Bromden must save himself.

Conclusion

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is culturally relevant because it illustrates the suppression of so called mentally ill people and offers an alternative view, one in which the patients are not ill, but relatable human beings with understandable life problems. This invites the engaged reader to question the myths manufactured by psychiatry. The fundamental view of such conditions as sickness remains widely accepted and unchanged. Extreme violent cases overshadow the many harmless people that psychiatry “treats” for abnormal behavior, thoughts, and experiences. Conditions, such as schizophrenia, are not helped with romanticization, but they are also not helped with suppressive treatments and condemnation as illnesses. Bromden’s inner journey exemplifies the clash of experienced inner world with the external social reality. Laing warned that “sanity today appears to rest largely on a capacity to adapt to the external world – the interpersonal world, and the realm of human collectivities” (Politics 141). This focus on the ideologically structured outer world, makes “any personal direct awareness of the inner world” a risk for the person experiencing it (Laing Politics 141). Mental illnesses are, on the one hand, real conditions of deep suffering. On the other hand, they are socially constructed concepts to control, correct, and suppress imaginations and fantasies and behaviors that do not coincide with the socially determined outside world. Western societies have treated the matter differently in earlier periods, and shamanic cultures continue to exemplify how guidance, ritual, and spirituality can help a person whose spirit is suffering. The idea of the inner journey is one that has yet to reach mainstream views in western societies. Unfortunately, such shamanic approaches are easily dismissed as “primitive” and unscientific in contrast to the glorified advancements of western medicine. Yet, this advanced “science” fails to provide “valid empirical evidence” that mental illness is a disease like other diseases (Breeding 249). Bromden’s schizophrenia is a fitting example for this. The schizophrenic journey is not a disease for Bromden, but a suffering that points at the things that make him ill. It is unfortunate, but unsurprising, that the mass-audience accessible film version does not make any use of the inner journey and instead transforms the novel into a story about mentally ill people and prankster McMurphy. The film wants to reach large numbers of people, which is why it adheres to the overdetermined ideology and presents a perspective of mentally ill people that fits the paradigm of the status quo. This perspective evades Bromden’s inner journey because it is easier for a cinema audience. Many people in the audience, perhaps the majority, have never heard of any other explanation for mental illness than that of genetics and other psychiatric speculations. The reasons for the condition come rather from many diverse individual risk factors and not from a particular genetic malfunction (Kendler 81). Such complicated views are replaced by simple truths that convince the masses. People that offer more complex explanations, such as Laing, Foucault, and Szasz are significant for the progress of society but often do not reach the wider public. Mental illness might be something that we should not look for in the patient – though there are predispositions to get affected by such conditions – but in the ideological power structures we have built in our society.

Non-psychiatric treatments and psychotherapy play an increasingly important role as a form of therapy for mental illness, but few look at mental illness from a sociological standpoint. The sociological perspective is lacking. This halts mental illness to reach a new status in the superstructure. The mentally ill are a class of people that is disempowered because their struggle is not recognized as a class struggle, but framed as an illness that is treated by psychiatry and psychotherapeutic methods. Other minority groups, e.g. African Americans, and homosexuals are known in the common sense as groups that fight for equality and human rights. The class struggle of mentally ill people, however, (excluding those cases that are affected by actual brain illnesses and old age related mental impairment etc.) is one that is ideologically suppressed and concealed with cultural myths of illness and treatment. This creates social environments in which many are scared of the idea to be affected by mental illness, and when one shows symptoms many people have no available information but the myths spread by the work of the ideological apparatus. From that point on it is easy to end up in psychiatric treatment – voluntarily or involuntarily – and to lose agency and liberty over mind and body. To prevent this, education about the ideological workings of society, alternative views on mental illness, and engagement with the own mind and consciousness are necessary. Artworks, such as One Flew, are seeds of knowledge that deal with these topics and they impact the slowly changing reality in base and superstructure. In recent years there has been development towards lobby groups that fight for alternative views on madness. This goes well with One Flew’s “hire the insane” idea, and the proposed lobby groups for the mentally ill (Kesey 203). For instance, in Ireland the so called Madpride holds events to discuss and review madness from critical as well as positive perspectives. Madpride Ireland hosts events to “show the world that madness is an everyday occurrence that affects us and can be dealt with openly, lovingly and without fear” (Sapouna 615). Such alternative “approaches break the silence of ‘madness’, moving it from nothingness to community engagement and visibility, often celebrating the ‘gift’ and ‘normality’ of madness” (Sapouna 615). Abnormal behavior must not always signify illness, sometimes it just points at the madness of our culturally enforced norms, values, and behaviors, and deserves to be listened to. To form a fairer and more equal society we need less politics that define and categorize experience, and more experience that makes politics.

Works Cited

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TRANSCENDING MENTAL BOUNDARIES: PSYCHEDELIC DRUGS AND DEMYSTIFICATION IN THE MATRIX

red pill matrix .jpg

(http://counterinception.com/sites/default/files/pictures/MatrixBluePillRedPill.jpg)

Bachelor’s Thesis by Merlijn Broersma

Introduction

The Matrix trilogy visualizes the concept of an ideology veiling the “true reality” of a society in the form of a computer generated simulation called “The Matrix.” This simulation is “fed” to the imprisoned humans to prevent them from realizing that they “are no longer born,” but that they are “grown” into bondage by sentient machines. These machines started using the humans’ body heat and electrical activity to generate the required energy for their own subsistence after the humans scorched the sky to cut off the machines’ solar energy source.

The popularity of The Matrix (1999), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) has made the trilogy widely studied by literary, philosophical and religious scholars. Mattias Ågren demonstrates the trilogy’s popularity by analyzing The Matrix for its allusions “in four works of contemporary Russian prose fiction” (249). In this, he argues that “references to The Matrix are made in order to benefit from the film’s eclectic mythological concepts and transpose them to the literary realm” (Ågren 249). Alternatively, Mark Gallagher has studied the films for their stereotypical representations of masculinity, and Cerise Glenn and Landra Cunningham used The Matrix trilogy to “[formalize] a definition of the magical Negro” to demonstrate how it “reinvent[s] traditional black stereotypes of mammy, jezebel, and Uncle Tom” (135). In contrast to these one-sided literary analyses, Jason Haslam argued that “simply seeing the film as such a reproduction of [white male] dominance would miss out on some of the nuances that are created by its explicit mediations on the nature of subjectivity and of ideology ‘itself’” (94). Haslam starts to pick up on the trilogy’s philosophical references and these were elaborately studied in a collection of essays listed in Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix (2003). This book analyzes the film in relation to the “nature of reality,” “postmodernism,” “Buddhism,” “mythology,” “human freedom,” “artificial intelligence,” “simulation,” and religion (ix-x). Slavoj Žižek, in turn, critically studied The Matrix for its philosophical inconsistencies. Žižek argued that the paradox is in the fact that “the desert of the real” that Morpheus shows protagonist Neo is not “the ‘true reality,’ but the void which makes reality incomplete/inconsistent, and the function of every symbolic Matrix is to conceal this inconsistency” (1). These inconsistencies are elaborated upon by Chris Falzon who studies the dialectic interaction between philosophy and film centered on The Matrix. In this he discusses how “the film offers a vision of escaping the flesh, of leaving the body behind” into virtual reality in a similar way to how philosophers Plato and Decartes, but also the theologians Augustine and Aquinas, seemed to be obsessed with such “escapist fantasies” (Falzon 109). For all these philosophers, transcending into the immortality of the self as the “mind” or the “soul” is prevented by the self being trapped inside the human body and the transcendence could therefore only succeed by dying (106).

        What scholars have not done, interestingly, is to take the part of Neo taking “the red pill” literally. The first Matrix film visualizes that the veiling simulation that covers “the desert of the real” can be uncovered by swallowing the red pill. Literally, it would thus suggest that there exists a pill–or a particular substance encapsulated in a pill–that shows reality in its “true” form after consuming it. Resistance to the enslaving machines leader Morpheus gives Neo the opportunity to see the complexity of their multilayered reality firsthand. Morpheus explains Neo that “this is your last chance, after this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” The depth of the “rabbit hole,” a reference to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) that symbolizes the portal to the fantasy “wonderland,” constitutes in The Matrix the astounding reality that Neo was unable to experience thus far. After swallowing the red pill, Neo goes through a process of “rebirth” where his sense of “reality” as he knew it is stripped down until only the naked “true reality” remains.

In contrast to the scholars that studied The Matrix trilogy, the religious sect “Matrixism” focusses on “the red pill” symbolism and has built its tenets around it. In effect, two of their tenets specify “acceptance of the use of psychedelics as sacrament,” to “see the truth and to be freed from the matrix,” and also “recognition of the semi-subjective multilayered nature of reality” (1). Here the fact of the red pill as a psychedelic drug is recognized and consequently sacramentalized in a similar fashion as the Indians of the Native American Church do. These Indians use peyote–a cactus containing the psychedelic drug mescaline–as a sacrament to transcend beyond their own ego-reality to experience religious worship more directly and vividly (Huxley 56). In addition, a user on a forum for psychonauts–people that explore and examine altered states of consciousness–writes that The Matrix “is even an analogy for the psychedelic experience (and acid [LSD] for that matter). Neo’s ‘birth’ into the matrix was very much like the seemingly instant onset of the drug on me. The movie is heavily laden with symbolism that you can really sniff out when you shift perspectives” (RushNerd). The “onset” of a “mind revealing” psychedelic–psyche means “mind” and dèloun means “to reveal” in ancient Greek–drug can be experienced in a similar way as Neo experiences. Since a psychedelic drug directs your perception to a meta-perspective, it reveals “reality” as a multilayered form in which the meta- reality is one “layer” separated from ordinary reality. For us humans, ordinary reality is made sense of in a symbolic order. This order links the visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory sense impressions to mental concepts that are articulated in words consisting of language symbols. Simply put, our reality is made sense of through, and thus determined by, an “ideology” as Karl Marx explained in 1846 in “The German Ideology.” According to Marx, “the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force” so that it can provide the ideal expression of the material relationships in an ideology that constitutes class division as the norm (253-54). Subjects of the ruling ideology thus have a “false consciousness”–as Marxist Friedrich Engels explained–that withholds them from realizing that what they believe are the eternal truths that constitute the reality of their society, are actually historical truths of their time (1). During the meta-perspective–facilitated by the mind revealing aspect of psychedelic drugs–this false “veil” of ideology becomes visible because in the meta- perspective one can reflect back upon the ideology that constitutes ordinary reality as such. Some people feel very disturbed by this mind revealing effect that shows that reality as such can have variable appearances and, in effect, feel their psychedelic experience as a “bad trip.” In extreme cases, such a person might not know when or what is reality anymore and henceforth might experience his trip like a “psychosis.”
Psychologists, but also the philosophical writer Aldous Huxley, realized in the early 1950s already that the “mind revealing” effect of psychedelic drugs could be experienced as what psychology calls a “psychotic state.” In effect, psychotherapists used psychedelics to mimic, understand, and treat psychoses from the mid-1950s onwards until they were prohibited by the “Controlled Substances Act” of 1970 (Neil 39). The prohibition was based on the “high potential for abuse,” the lack of “currently accepted medical use in treatment,” and the “lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substances under medical supervision.” The prohibition of these schedule I drugs demonizes their consumers into criminals, which often results in custody, while schedule II-V drugs are legally prescribed in the name of medicine and psychiatry. Psychiatric prescription drugs of the latter category can in metaphor be seen as The Matrix’ “blue pill,” a pill that rather than transcending the user beyond his stigmatized “illness,”keeps the user within the ruling ideology that constitutes his state of mind as an illness. Although this act shut down medical use and research temporarily, there has been an upsurge of empirical studies since roughly the start of the millennium that prove the value of psychedelics as an aid in treating “mental illnesses.” It appears then, that neuropsychopharmacologist Carl Hart is right in arguing that “much of what we [in the USA] are doing in terms of drug education, treatment, and public policy is inconsistent with scientific data” (4). Research thus proves that the widespread warning that “drugs are bad” is merely an ideological statement, rather than a protective statement by a “concerned” government.
In contemporary US society, the ruling ideology veils the fact that prohibition of psychedelics is actually a response to the cultural panic of the 1960s that surrounded these substances. This panic was fostered by the Manson Family and MacDonald murders of the 1960s and was effectively capitalized upon in “hippy exploitation films” such as Hallucination Generation (1967), Riot on Sunset Strip (1967), and I Drink Your Blood (1970). The latter explicitly starts with “let it be known sons and daughters that Satan was an acid-head.” In effect, it enhances the panic while staying in line with the US puritan tradition by victimizing Satan as an LSD junky. Moreover, even the more celebratory Easy Rider (1969), a film that stars Dennis Hopper in pursuit of “America,” visualizes the use of LSD strictly as a horrifying experience. The domestic policy of the War on Drugs, thus, has led to a misconception that sustains a mismanagement–characterized by repressive symbolic policy measures–of psychedelic drugs from top to bottom throughout society. In effect, the political body not only impinges upon the consumers’ freedom of consciousness, but it also stigmatizes the debate on the medical, intellectual, and transcendental value of psychedelic drugs.

The Matrix trilogy, so far, has been widely studied for its philosophical and religious references. However, in this thesis I will offer a literary analysis of The Matrix trilogy in which I shall argue that the trilogy’s significance lies not in its philosophical and religious references, but in its visualization of the psychedelic experience as an aid to reach beyond what Marxists call “false consciousness” to experience reality in its “true” form. To analyze the psychedelic experience, I will compare Aldous Huxley’s transcendental mescaline experience described in The Doors of Perception (1954) to contemporary empirical studies on psychedelic drugs. To illustrate the contrary of a psychedelic experience, I shall argue that the legal “blue pill” drugs that withhold transcendence mimic Huxley’s “soma” drug that sustains his dystopic Brave New World (1932). In this, I argue that The Matrix films both implicitly and explicitly criticize the US domestic policy of the “War on Drugs” by demonstrating that the policy’s criminalization of psychedelics on account of “protecting” its citizens actually prevents them from transcending beyond the ruling ideology that prohibits certain drugs but allows for others. Transcending the ruling ideology, as depicted in The Matrix, facilitates thinking and reasoning beyond previously assumed boundaries that, in effect, can serve a beneficial role for both mental health and intellectual thought. In line with the recent upsurge of positive empirical studies on psychedelics as medicines and nootropics, The Matrix trilogy thus plays an important cultural role by visualizing the veil of ideology and by demonstrating the benefits of transcending it.

Chapter 1 – Psychedelics, Marx, and The Matrix

The Matrix visualizes altered reality experiences that both implicitly and explicitly refer to psychedelic drugs. According to one definition, psychedelic drugs are those “which, without causing physical addiction, craving, major physiological disturbances, delirium, disorientation,

or amnesia, more or less reliably produce thought, mood, and perceptual changes otherwise rarely experienced except in dreams, contemplative and religious exaltation, flashes of vivid involuntary memory, and acute psychoses” (Grinspoon and Bakalar 9). Another simply states that, “psychedelics affect every aspect of our consciousness” and consequently, they alter perception in such a way that the consumer experiences–just as in dreams–a different form of reality (Strassman 40). In effect, sensual input is experienced differently, and since it feels different from ordinary reality, there are no fixed preconceived interpretations connected to this sensual input yet. Everything looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes differently, and with some psychedelics, such as LSD, there are even experiences of synesthesia where senses “blend” with each other. Consequently, a concept such as time can be felt as being sped up or slowed down, space may seem larger or smaller, and straight forms may seem roundish or vice-versa. The changes in these concepts make, in effect, a natural law such as gravity feel as though there is nothing “natural” (fixed) about this law. Currently, there are many psychedelic substances, and they all enable some of the aforementioned experiences in some degree. In 2010 there were approximately “350–400 psychedelics we know of,” but the most potent and famous ones are LSD; mescaline; psilocybin, to be found in a variety of “magic” mushrooms and truffles; MDMA, the psychedelic compound in ecstasy pills; ketamine, also known as horse tranquilizer; DMT, the psychedelic compound in the Amazon ayahuasca brew; and to some degree even Cannabis (Luke). Interestingly, the first reference to psychedelics in The Matrix comes early in the film already when Neo’s friend, Choi, asks him if something is wrong. Neo replies: “You ever have that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re awake or still dreaming? And Choi answers: “mmm all the time, it’s called mescaline, it’s the only way to fly.” As a result of the altered sense of gravity induced by the psychedelic effect of mescaline, an experience that feels like flying is actually not unlikely to occur. Interestingly, this concept is also visualized when the resisters and the machines hack into the Matrix and jump so high that it seems that they are flying. Moreover, at the end of The Matrix, Neo literally flies away “promising ‘a world without rules and controls, without borders and boundaries, a world where anything is possible.’ His flying, like his words, suggest that humans need not be bound by their physical bodies” (Falzon 105). As Falzon exemplifies, The Matrix visualizes, just like psychedelics and other dreamlike states induce, a transcendence of bodily limitations.

A transcendence of bodily limitations unveils the ideological lens through which reality is experienced and henceforth allows for demystification of the “false consciousness.” In contrast to the idea that our ideological lens through which we experience reality “descends from heaven to earth,” Karl Marx argued that “we set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of ideological reflexes and echoes of this life- process” (253). Thus, the experiences of everyday life and the interpretation of these experiences are conceptualized and given meaning in the brain. Consequently, these meanings only exist in relation to meanings of other concepts and are thus completely relative. Similarly, in semiotics words only have a signified that has its meaning solely in relation to other words and their signified meanings; there is thus no real relation between the word and the material existence of its signified. The complete structure of all those meanings that come with beliefs and emotional value judgments, together, constitute the ideology of a person and hence determine how reality is experienced. Thus, when the way we sense and perceive and henceforth the way we act–our real activities and experiences in Marx’ words–changes under the influence of a psychedelic, our ideology that was determined by everyday life is not coherent with our new reality anymore. In effect, the “language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc.” all become detached from the ideology that held them together (Marx 253). In the psychedelic state, reality is experienced as if it is for the first time. It is as if the psychedelic consumer is reborn just like Neo was after swallowing the red pill. Morpheus explains him that the Matrix “is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth. You are a slave Neo, like everyone else, you were born into bondage … a prison for your mind.” Neo’s ideology keeps him distracted from the fact that the machines use his body to generate their energy; in the same way our Western ideology distracts us from the fact that we are “democratically” coerced into paying taxes that we have to work for in order to exist in this world. This “condition” to live, is, however, propagated, and generally experienced, as being the rational condition to our human existence. This “rationality” is what Marxists call the “false consciousness” that constitutes the ideological lens that its subjects interpret reality through. Thus, the re-experience of the “naked” reality (Žižek’s “void” of reality) as if it is for the first time–without the loss of memory–unveils the ideological lens because the naked reality has no meaning attached to it yet. Interestingly, this aligns with recent research that concluded that “in many ways, the brain in the LSD state resembles the state our brains were in when we were infants–free and unconstrained” (ABC News). Thus the psychedelic reality is experienced as the memory of ordinary reality, with a perception as free and unconstrained as an infant’s brain.
The unconstrained infant perception facilitates a dialectic mode of perception that leads to a demystifying process in which reality is seen in its “true” form–wholly subjective and multi- layered. In this, there is a constant questioning of one’s beliefs and assumptions that constitute the reality of his life. The question of what is real, and what is a “myth,” logically leads to the realization that everything you know is actually reality defined in conventionalized concepts. Because in the psychedelic state, everything is different, the notion of reality as wholly subjective, dependent on the inner state, presents itself. In effect, there is no such thing as the reality, only a reality. Lana Wachowski, director of The Matrix trilogy, explains in an interview that

 

“What we were trying to achieve with the story overall was a shift, the same kind of shift that happens for Neo, that Neo goes from being in this sort of cocooned and programmed world, to having to participate in the construction of meaning to his life. And we were like, well, can the audience go through the three movies and experience something similar to what the main character experiences?” (Poland, italics added)

The Wachowski brothers succeeded very well in their attempt, and started Neo’s “shift” early with Trinity explaining: “it’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.” Neo responds: “What is the Matrix?” When Neo, just like the audience, has seen what the Matrix is, it is as Thomas Wartenberg argued that “once we accept the possibility of the matrix doing what it does, we have to wonder whether we are not in the situation of the inhabitants of The Matrix” (150). In this, he explains that “The Matrix can be seen as doing something distinctively philosophical, namely unsettling our established habits of belief and action, getting us to call into question our taken for granted assumptions” (qtd. in Falzon 100). This is similar to what Descartes does by “making us think about our own situation, bringing us to question how ordinary assumptions about the world and what we think we know about it” (Falzon 100). Essential for this demystification process is as Morpheus explains Neo that “no one can be told what The Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself.” Just like telling someone to question all his beliefs to realize that “true” reality is simply subjective and can be perceived in various forms and thus constitutes of multiple “layers,” is far less effective than the process of a firsthand experience of such a person to come to this realization.

Chapter 2 – The Red Pill

Aldous Huxley’s moments of transcendence during his mescaline trip resemble a firsthand direct experience of naked reality. Huxley writes in The Doors of Perception about various instances of transcendence that make him aware of elements of “suchness”–“the infinite value and meaningfulness of naked existence, of the given, unconceptualized event”–expressed in nature and captured by various artists (19). Neo-Marxist Louis Althusser criticizes Marx’s concept of demystifying the layer of false consciousness to see reality for what it truly is as being an impossible process. Althusser argues that “ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” and according to Althusser, it is impossible to make sense of these “real conditions of existence” without ideological concepts that give it meaning (294). Thus, in Althusser’s theory, stripping away the false (ideological) layer of consciousness would simply result in creating a new system of meanings (ideology) to be able to experience the real conditions of existence again. In this theory, experiencing “naked” reality would be impossible. Interestingly, Huxley’s mescaline induced state of being could arguably be called “ideologically free.” The things he sees–often distorted–often do not entail any conceptualized meaning yet. Huxley writes that he faced “a Last Judgment which after a long time and with inconsiderable difficulty, [he] recognized as a chair–I found myself all at once on the brink of panic” (43). Consequently he explains that “the fear, as I analyse it in retrospect, was of being overwhelmed, of disintegrating under a pressure of reality greater than a mind, accustomed to living most of the time in a cosy world of symbols, could possibly bear” (Huxley 43). Thus during his mescaline experience, Huxley perceives naked reality–“suchness”–without any system of meanings to make sense of it in symbolic terms. In effect, Huxley was confronted by the “last judgment” and although his experience was of “intenser beauty and deeper significance,” it did put him in a moment of psychosis (43). Huxley explains various other moments where he experiences the suchness of material existence: he finds it in a flower, the drapes of Judith (painted by Botticelli), van Gogh’s chair, and Vermeer’s paintings, but during these experiences, he feels nothing but awe for “this cleansed perception” (31). It is thus possible–under the influence of a psychedelic–to be in a state where the void of reality is experienced directly.

Although Huxley’s observations are primarily philosophical, contemporary research on psychedelic substances puts his experience in an empirical scientific perspective. Just a month ago, Robin Carhart-Harris et al. concluded from an LSD experiment that “the separateness of [the neural] networks breaks down, leading to a more unified system” in the brain and that, in effect, “many extra brain areas–not just the visual cortex–contributed to visual processing” (ABC News). Interestingly, a similar result was found in a 2014 study with psilocybin where Giovanni Petri et al. concluded that psilocybin causes an increase in the connectivity of the various brain regions (8). These results explain why Huxley hallucinated the “last judgement” when faced with a chair; the chair was not solely processed and interpreted by the visual cortex, but by a fusion of all the brain compartments. This psychedelic–mind revealing–effect accounts for the distorted image creation in the brain that can go as far as complete hallucinations. Because LSD makes the brain like that of an infant’s again, it then “also makes sense when we consider the hyper- emotional and imaginative nature of an infant’s mind” (ABC News). Since a psychedelic causes the entire brain to process visuals and make sense of reality, Huxley felt, just like babies often experience, overwhelmed by the image creation and responded hyper-emotionally.
Huxley’s experience can be classified as a “mystical experience” that can ultimately lead to a state where the body feels split from the mind. The psychedelically induced mystical experience was studied in 1962 by Walter Pahnke. Pahnke gave half of the twenty participating theology students psilocybin before their Good Friday service and concluded that all “the persons who received psilocybin experienced to a greater extent than did the controls the phenomena described by our typology of mysticism” (220). The typology held that the psilocybin subjects all reported increased sense of: unity, transcendence of time and space, a deeply felt positive mood with a sense of sacredness, an experience that was paradoxical in that objectivity and reality interchanged, and which was allegedly ineffable, transient and gave persisting positive changes in attitude and behavior (Luke). The persisting positive changes are confirmed by Rick Doblin’s follow up study in 1991 where “all psilocybin subjects participating in the long-term follow-up, but none of the controls, still considered their original experience to have had genuinely mystical elements and to have made a uniquely valuable contribution to their spiritual lives” (23). Huxley’s experience was not in a religious setting, but was spiritual nonetheless; at several instances he transcends his physical being and experiences his mind split loose from his body. He writes that “I spent several minutes–or was it several centuries?–not merely gazing at those bamboo [chair] legs, but actually being them–or rather being myself in them; or, to be still more accurate (for ‘I’ was not involved in the case, nor in a certain sense were ‘they’) being my Not-self in the Not-self which was the chair” (15-16). Rick Strassman explains that this state occurs similarly with DMT, and writes that “we feel the body no longer exists, or that the mind and body have separated” (40). Furthermore, contemporary research on psychedelics also explains this phenomenon, and states that “psilocybin caused a decrease of brain activity, primarily in the part called the “default mode network,” which, according to Carhart-Harris, is responsible for our sense of “self” and “ego,” but also “for the maintenance of cognitive integration and constraint” (2142). Thus with the “default mode network” activity decreasing, looking at material existence may feel like being the environment, rather than looking at it. Carhart-Harris also notes that “this finding is consistent with Aldous Huxley’s ‘reducing valve’ metaphor … which propose[s] that the mind/brain works to constrain its experience of the world” (2142).

        The “reducing valve” is shaped in such a form that is most effective for survival, however, by-passing the valve can be beneficial to relativize everyday hardships. Huxley explains that “most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language” and that while schizophrenics are excepted, “in others temporary by-passes may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate ‘spiritual exercises,’ or through hypnosis, or by means of drugs” (17). The reduced valve is ideal for survival on this planet because it gives everything meaning and thus allows for an interpretation of the environment. In our Western society, we have gotten really good at conventionally conceptualizing our reality to our advantage. Westerners have property secured which, in effect, gives the assurance of a roof above one’s head and food and water within survival’s reach. Furthermore, we can survive on any part of the planet and be connected everywhere while we even have our human and civil rights protected in treaties that are enforced by global organizations. There are major downsides to the shape of this valve though, the survivability is extremely outbalanced and happens at the cost of many unprivileged ones. Furthermore, the consumerist production that is supposed to bring even more convenience into our lives, also brings a lot of pollution that slowly extinguishes the flora and fauna of nature. In this overemphasis on “survival” on this planet, our science overlooks and even demonizes the fact that we are not solely highly advanced animals, but also very spiritual entities. Because only in our spiritual states, “as pure mind can we behold the transcendent Forms, things in their purest form” (Falzon 106). As argued before, the experience of material existence in its purest form allows for demystification that, in effect, allows for the insight that everything that constitutes reality is simply a concept relative to all other concepts. This insight is depicted in The Matrix when Neo asks “why do my eyes hurt?” and Morpheus answers: “you’ve never used them before” when he is freed from his simulated life. The “hurtfulness” of true reality is also captured by Huxley who writes “anything rather than the burning brightness of unmitigated Reality– anything!” (44). The naked reality might be shocking for a brain that is used to the symbolic valve at first, however, when the brain gets used to it, reflecting back on past hardships with the “cleansed perception” allows to put them in perspective. Negative feelings around these experiences are then completely relative to the inner state and thus completely subjective. In effect, alleviating the hardship and being happy merely requires a more positively accepting attitude towards the memory, instead of escaping the memory by actively trying to become happy in other ways.

 

Chapter 3 – The Blue Pill

Contrary to mind revealing red pill drugs, Huxley’s “soma” numbs the brain down to such an extent that it withholds it from thinking critically and hence mimics the “blue pill.” To solve “‘the problem of happiness,’–in other words, the problem of making people love their servitude,” Huxley writes in Brave New World (BNW) that “since reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays, a substitute for alcohol and the other narcotics, something at once less harmful and more pleasure-giving than gin or heroin” is a necessary precondition (xxiv). To sustain his dystopic society, Huxley created “soma” which allows you to “take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache or a mythology.” It is designed to have “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol, [but] none of their defects” so that BNW’s citizens will have both their spiritual and their sedative needs satisfied (Huxley 81-82). Protagonist Bernard Marx describes his mandatory every two weekly Solidarity Service during which he and eleven others partake in a ritual under the influence of the “euphoric, narcotic, [and] pleasantly hallucinant” soma (81). During the Service, the twelve participants sing and dance on drum music for the “Greater Being” to transcend their egos and become “Twelve-in-One” so that “I am you and you are I” (114-15). Bernard, however, is the only one who does not hear the Greater Being calling for him, and neither does he feel himself fusing with the other eleven into one. Bernard is highly discontent with the globally controlled world that he lives in and rather wants to be free to be different instead of being forced “to be part of the social body” (124). When talking to his date Lenina he tells her “I’d rather be myself … myself and nasty. Not someone else, however jolly” (123). Lenina in response tells him that she does not understand him and asks “why you don’t take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly.” (125). It appears thus, that soma is like the blue pill, it makes you forget about your problem and be jolly instead. Soma has a transcending element that makes you connect to other people more, though, the transcendence is in such a way that it reinforces the oppressing controlled dystopia instead of allowing you to transcend your ego to be able to reflect critically on your situation. In effect, soma keeps you within the dominant ideology in a similar way that alcohol and nicotine do, but without the negative side effects. The latter two do allow for a moment of relaxation that makes social interaction easier, but they do not contain a psychedelic compound that facilitates a “cleansed perception” that allows for demystification.

To sustain a dystopic society that is completely geared towards consumption, it is crucial to have a drug that withholds critical thought. In Huxley’s eyes, a “really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude” (xxiii). The Director of BNW’s “Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre,” clarifies that “liking what you’ve got to do,” is “the secret to happiness and virtue (38). Conditioning to make its citizens like what they have got to do is done during the fetus phase already. Every person that is “hatched” in the test tubes gets a certain amount of oxygen “fed” to create castes from Epsilons (least amount of oxygen) to Alphas (most amount of oxygen). Besides the caste conditioning, humans are conditioned towards their predestined jobs. In the Hatchery and Conditioning Centre it is explained that some of the babies that are predestined to become miners, spinners, or steal workers in the tropics are conditioned to “thrive on heat” (38). Moreover, some babies are predestined to do “repairs on the outside of a rocket in mid-air” (Huxley 39). These babies get their nutrition halved when they are upright, but get twice as much nutrition when upside down. In effect, “they learn to associate topsy-turvydom with well-being; in fact, they’re only truly happy when they’re standing on their heads” (39). In addition to fetus conditioning, BNW’s citizens get sleep conditioning (hypnopaedia) during which certain phrases are repeated for thousands of times until they feel as eternally rational truths. One of these phrases of hypnopaedic “wisdom” is that “wheels must turn steadily, but cannot turn untended. There must be men to tend them, men as steady as the wheels upon their axles, sane men, obedient men, stable in contentment” (68-69). Similarly, in the Matrix are the wheels–the sentient machines–fueled by humans who are sanely, obediently, and contently (since they do not know better) living inside a simulation. Another expression of hypnopaedic conditioning presents itself when the Director reminisces about a girlfriend lost in a storm and says that “it upset me very much at the time. More than it ought to have done, I dare say. Because, after all, it’s the sort of accident that might have happened to anyone; and, of course, the social body persists although the component cells may change” (130). Everything is in service of “the social body” and even the “fact” that “everyone belongs to everyone else,” is created so that sexual desire can steadily be satisfied by polygamy (66). Monogamy would keep the pressure of sexual desire too high and, just like thinking critically, would result in an unstable society which is the ultimate deathtrap of consumerism.

Chapter 4 – The “War on Drugs”

The “War on Drugs” is fought by the USA on account of protecting its citizens, however, the policy rather reinforces governmental control than that it leads to the wellbeing of the American people. The “congressional findings and declarations” of the “Controlled Substances Act” include that “many of the drugs included within this subchapter have a useful and legitimate medical purpose and are necessary to maintain the health and general welfare of the American people and that “the illegal importation, manufacture, distribution, and possession and improper use of controlled substances have a substantial and detrimental effect on the health and general welfare of the American people.” Though these legalized drugs might “have a useful and legitimate medical purpose,” they only cure on a superficial level; instead of treating the cause of the illness, they merely cure the ill expression of the cause. In effect, there is no medicating element that forces the ill person to reflect on his situation to find the source (personal or environmental) that causes the illness. Interestingly, the illegal psychedelic substances that supposedly “have a substantial and detrimental effect on the health and general welfare of the American people,” do have this self-reflecting effect due to their mind revealing compound. Moreover, researcher David Luke explains that there is an instance where someone even survived ten thousand doses of–supposedly “detrimental”–LSD. The prohibition of the substances has led to “street myths” that are perpetuated by the media and consequently resemble BNW’s hypnopaedic conditioning. Often these media sensationalize their product to sell better, which results in a distorted image revolving around these illicit substances. Carl Hart–who grew up in the ghetto and became a neuropsychopharmacologist–explains that these myths “had originally misled and misdirected me. Some of that, as we shall see, may ironically have helped me at certain times. But more often, it was a distraction, one that prevented me and so many others in my community from learning how to think critically” (Hart 8). Hart saw how his family, friends, and neighbors suffered from the notorious pitfalls of the ghetto where shoplifting and unplanned pregnancies were common and where marriages broke, children were displaced from home, and people were shot. Virtually all these pitfalls were ascribed to the “deadly” and “addictive” drug crack cocaine by the War on Drugs policy, and interestingly, Hart admits that he bought right into the demonizing rhetoric that was popularized by President Ronald Reagan and continued by his successors (16). Consequently, public opinion was redirected from these pitfalls as being related to poverty–influenced by racism and classism–towards a common enemy that was destroying the American society from within. Instead of victims of poverty, crack consumers became criminals and could henceforth be taken from the streets to be put safely away in prison. Consequently, the prisons overloaded, and henceforth, drug criminals were not learning to cope with the roots of their problems to be prepared to enter back into society, but were simply separated from the preferred Americans. Those are the people that are not seeking refuge from everyday hardships in illicit substances, but rather adhere to the culturally accepted options that might include sugar, cacao, alcohol, tobacco, or even prescribed opiates, but certainly cannot include marijuana, crack cocaine, or MDMA.

The Matrix both implicitly and explicitly criticizes the War on Drugs since the only way to transcend the visualized dystopic simulation is by taking a pill. This simulation is designed in a symbolic code that contains, just like our computer programs, everything that exists and happens inside the Matrix. Elie During explains that “the green code symbolizes or signals that there is simulation, while suggesting that trained people can literally see through it” (141). In The Matrix, the resisters–and later Neo too–are able to “see through” the code; in our world Carl Hart became “trained” and learned to see through our codified ideology. He grew up “surrounded by people whose lives are limited by their own lack of knowledge,” but by studying and changing his environment he became able to separate myth from fact (7 Hart). Hart writes that while there is chemically no different drug compound in crack cocaine than in powder cocaine, crack is punished more severely as a result of the War on Drugs (160). This is an obvious example of governmental policies being incompatible with empirical evidence, but as Hart highlights, “unfortunately, many people–both blacks and whites–fell for the idea that crack cocaine was the key cause of our problems and that more prisons and longer sentences would help solve them” (19). These measures are merely symbolic and are akin to the USA’s “War on Terror” policy that fortifies security measures, while it creates potential fundamentalists by intervening in their society. Realizing these paradoxes is like seeing through the code to see such policies for what they are–social control rather than protection of citizens. When Neo starts demystifying his ideology, Morpheus tells him: “I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees, because he’s expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth.” Consequently, Morpheus challenges Neo philosophically by asking him: “have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream, how would you know the difference between the dream world, and the real world?” In effect, Neo comes to the realization that he lived his entire life in an oppressive simulation and that Marx, just like the philosopher Michel Foucault, was right in claiming that “what counts as knowledge in a given era is always influenced, in complex and subtle ways, by considerations of power” (Duigman 1). However, after he took the red pill, Neo is able to give his own meaning to his reality and consequently choses to be “the one.”

Chapter 5 – Transcending Boundaries

The Matrix depicts that transcending the ruling ideology facilitates in thinking and reasoning beyond previously assumed boundaries. Cynthia Freeland criticizes the movie for “feed[ing] escapist fantasies of a mental reality where the elect few are unencumbered by rules,” but since the Matrix is such a perfect simulation, the brain will make the experience seem real rule-bound nonetheless (214). Consequently, the physical body will be limited and damaged when the mind thinks so. One is thus not completely unencumbered by rules when still dependent on physical well-being, however, since it is only the brain that is hacked into the Matrix, thinking something will result in doing it. Thus when you are able to think without boundaries, you are able to act without them as well. In the beginning of the movie, Neo is still limited by his ideology and whereas Morpheus believes Neo to be “the one,” Neo says “this is insane, why is this happening to me? What did I do? I’m nobody. I didn’t do anything. I’m gonna die.” Though, when Neo starts believing, and thus thinking he is “the one” which, in effect, leads him to reason from the fact that he is “the one,” he becomes an extraordinary martial-artist that is able to fly. Also, when Trinity admits and expresses her love for Neo when he dies, she truly beliefs the Oracle’s prophecy that she would fall in love with “the one” and, in effect, Neo–as the invincible “one”– resurrects from death. Thus when they let go of their ideological boundary in which coming back from death is impossible, it becomes possible.

 

The boundary absolving–demystifying–effect of psychedelics can serve a beneficial role for both mental health and intellectual thought. Psychologist David Luke explains that “psychedelics facilitate disinhibition, loosening of the ego, and access to the unconscious and repressed memories.” The latter is effectively capitalized upon during MDMA assisted psychotherapy research with people suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Rick Doblin, founder of MAPS–Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies–explains in “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast that, the test subjects are only half of the time in contact with their psychotherapists. The other half is spent inside their own “trip” where they listen to music, reflect on themselves, and recover repressed memories. During this session there is no specific order and this freedom is given so that the patients will be guided by their own unconscious. Some will go to the trauma directly, while others go to childhood memories to build strength first. The cure is in the fact that MDMA causes serotonin–the peaceful happy hormone–to be released in the brain, so that patients can access repressed traumatic memories without suffering from too much pain. Consequently, the fear of the pain connected with the memory alleviates so that the trauma can be reflected upon, but still remains as something that belongs to the past. In effect, the neural patterns in the brain will reconfigure according to the newly formed emotional associations with the memory that is induced by the peaceful undertone of MDMA. Similarly, a 2015 US national survey found that “lifetime classic psychedelic [LSD, psilocybin, mescaline] use was associated” with lower incidence of “psychological distress and … suicidal thinking … whereas lifetime illicit use of other drugs was largely associated with an increased likelihood of these outcomes” (Hendricks et al. 280). Moreover, Luke explains that psychedelics can also be valuable on an intellectual level. He explains that “psychedelic substances such as iboga, psilocybin, ketamine, and cannabis seem to be related to [neurogenesis], the production of new brain cells” (Luke). In addition, people on psychedelics report that they feel more drawn to nature as a result of feeling “a greater sense of connection with the outside world, with plants and animals” (Luke). These people realize that being in nature can have a soothing effect compared to–often stressful–urban environments and Luke explains that “schizophrenia occurs mostly in urban, more developed environments,” therefore, a “reconnection with nature can be probably quite useful as a treatment in itself” (Luke). A peaceful environment allows for both intellectual and psychological breakthroughs because a more relaxed state of mind facilitates a less judgmental–cleansed–perception in which creative thinking thrives.

 

Conclusion

Thus, both The Matrix trilogy and Huxley’s works play important cultural roles in line with the recent upsurge of empirical studies on psychedelics as medicines and nootropics. By visualizing the veil of ideology and by demonstrating the benefits of transcending it, The Matrix forces the spectator to wonder whether he is not in a similar situation as Neo and whether the “red pill” actually exists. Psychedelic drugs that the red pill alludes to ought to be viewed like a tool, and just like other tools such as cars, knives, computers, or medicines, there are various dangers that come along with improper use. Because the consumer of a psychedelic transcends his everyday experience of reality and, in effect, his everyday ideology, he is free to create his own morals, rules, and interpretations of his surroundings. In some cases this can lead to a total rejection of the world around him which can be experienced both as a “bad trip” and as “a state of enlightenment.” An extreme case like Charles Manson (“father” of the Manson Family), however, occurs when someone gets carried away in his own beliefs. He might have felt both at the same time–a state of enlightenment while rejecting the world around him. However, just because a tool can be dangerous with improper use, does not mean it has to be illegal altogether. Similarly, tools such as the aforementioned cars, knives, computers, or medicines can be very dangerous in the hands of people with harmful intentions, but particularly useful for most people’s daily lives. Psychedelic drugs are not substances that people should think lightly about, and simply take at random occasions to “maximize gains,” just like people should not use cars for every little distance they have to cover. The environment, the psychological state, and the intention in which the consumer goes into a psychedelic experience are very determinate factors and should be prepared well. In tribal civilizations this environment was often shaped in the form of a ritual that could take days at a time, but in our contemporary society the environment can be a psychotherapy session guided by an expert, a calm place in nature, or simply one’s own home. This tempering instead of maximizing aspect is sadly in sheer contrast to the capitalistic tendency to “sell” experiences. Instead of guaranteeing success, Huxley explains that “the full and final solution can be found only by those who are prepared to implement the right kind of Weltanschauung by means of the right kind of behavior and the right kind of constant and

unstrained alertness” (32). For him, “mescaline can never solve that problem: it can only pose it, apocalyptically, for those to whom it had never before presented itself” (32)

 

A psychedelic, thus, requires for a dynamic interaction with the substance, the environment, and the subconscious. Just like Ellie During explains that The Matrix “asks for active engagement,” and that Marx calls for an active demystifying to get rid of oppression, psychedelics give you the opportunity to actively create your own reality that “can turn out to be as supple as the Matrix” (132-149). The fact that the American government demonizes a change of consciousness induced by drugs indicates that there is a resilience to understand the reason why people want a change of consciousness in the first place. Part of it has to do with a longing for sedation from everyday hardships and boredoms, but also with the fact that many people feel a need to transcend beyond their own ego to become part of a larger social body. Some find this in religion, or politics, but the problem with these is that these social bodies do not promote critical thought to give power back to the individual. Just like a Marxist revolution that aims to redistribute the power over the masses, psychedelic drugs and other meditative states of mind allow the masses to seize back the power of creation. Just like God simply speaks a word to create a concept that consequently “spawns” into reality as he did with earth, does a cleansed perception allow to create any meaning the individual chooses to fill the void of reality with. The individual becomes “the one”–divinely creative. Perhaps the “religious” Matrixism cult is not that far off in their sacramentalized psychedelic ethos after all.

 

 

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