Going Down the Rabbit Hole

The Society gathered for the tenth debate this semester to consider: Resolved: Take the Red Pill. Chancellor Christopher DiMisa (COL ’15) of Maryland keynoted on the affirmation with, making his induction, Mr. Brian Bies (MSB ’18) of Maryland. Mr. David Edgar (SFS ’15) of Ohio keynoted on the negation with, making his induction, Mr. Benjamin Ellis (COL ’18) of North Carolina.

In this thought experiment based on The Matrix, Mr. Bies laid out the potential effects, motivation and ethics of taking the red pill. Invoking Don Draper in Mad Men, he observed that our perception of the world is influenced by marketing. Only by taking the red pill can we perceive the truth and act independently. Affirming last year’s Merrick resolution: Certainty is a worthwhile pursuit, he also considered it worthwhile to take the risk of disliking the truth. Quoting Ghandi, he asked us to be the change and to imagine the endless possibility of people taking red pills together – “Stand up but don’t stand alone.”

Returning to the story, Mr. Ellis reminded us that we only know Morpheus as the most dangerous terrorist alive and are not sure what the red pill might lead to. So on the pro-choice side of negation, it is morally permissible not to take the red pill. Furthermore, the movie is biased in portraying the red pill with glorified heroism because not everyone should be expected to be a soldier. The Matrix, though lacking heroism, affords reality in love and friendship.

Having clarified Neo’s splinter in mind before meeting Morpheus, Chancellor DiMisa analyzed our motivation to take the red pill from a higher power, from those around us and from ourselves. Citing early Christian martyrs and the fruit of knowledge, he argued that taking the red pill involves risk but ultimately improves our existence and gives us freedom. Celebrating Neo’s hacker community, he introduced Tocqueville’s concept of self-interest rightly understood and emphasized the benefits to community. Finally, Chancellor DiMisa displayed (yet again) his profound interest in video games and preferred the hero to be an average person in the right place at the right time as in Oblivion.

Mr. Edgar refocused us on the Oracle and defined the central theme of The Matrix as destiny and faith. Neo’s autonomy in taking the red pill fulfills the Oracle’s prophesy and his destiny as “the One,” just as Cypher fulfills his destiny as “the deceiver.” Thus, the Affirmation trivializes the decision with a normative standard. Furthermore, “the red pill must be sought, not imposed.” As our different upbringings result in our different approaches to the world, we do not all choose the red pill as Mr. Anderson does. Denying moralism but not morality, Mr. Edgar asserted that “there is a right and wrong choice for every individual” but that “we should not deny a right choice with a righteous one.”

Ms. Grace reminded Mr. Edgar of his own speech on the Allegory of the Cave and argued that the concrete real second world allows Neo to participate in the full of humanity. We have an obligation as productive citizens to step out of a cave. Mr. Mazzara responded that the light is blinding outside of the cave and asked in his kilt, “Do I look like a man who has dignity?” Perfectly fine to be a battery without dignity, he doubted if people would still seek the truth outside of hypothesis if they are faced with the tragedy of James Sunderland. Sgt. Willis took on Mr. Edgar’s argument with the movie Minority Report, in which John Anderton fulfilled prophesy despite free will. He argued that nobody chooses blissful ignorance when a choice is presented.

Mr. Mouch countered that only perfectly rational beings act the same way with free will and that “what matters is what we do with the red pill” because we can do good or bad in both worlds. Not everyone can take the red pill but they can still do the good. Wondering if Mr. Mazzara’s choice is cowardly, Mr. Eisen argued that we cannot ignore our prior life. He also asserted that we owe it to others to do real good in real world at our personal risk. Vice President Thanki reminded us of other people in the thought experiment, especially Cypher, who has to decide with limited information. According to her, the Affirmation is simply good at risk.

Vividly portraying the Negation as dodging points, Mr. Young commended Neo’s affirmation of free will despite the probability of a terrible truth. Neo’s choice, having nothing to do with truth, leads to free will and more choices in the future.

Quoting “All I’m offering is the truth,” Mr. Perez-Reyes questioned the value of truth when deception offers greater ability to live for those unequipped to see the truth as in The Wild Duck. Furthermore, the world is built around small falsities to offer us happiness that should not be. Mr. William Blanchette (COL ’18) contested that truth is always worth pursuing to prevent the inaction of a group. The American frontier and the landing on the moon furthered the human race and we have a duty to the truth. Mr. Connor White (COL ’16) argued that there is truth and agency in the Matrix because Neo, designed in the Matrix, still pursues the truth.

Mr. Kendrick pointed out that objective standards still exist and regarded the evasion of reality as human evil. To live as human beings, we have the responsibility not to act instinctively but to live in reality. Ms. Kurek countered that it is impossible to live in complete illusion because people are aware of the reality without the red pill. She considered the red pill as a matter of dosage and decided not to take it when the dosage is too high. But according to Ms. Egan, the red pill is a tool for us to have the perfect vision. Through her own experience, she concluded that “we are all blind in some way” and that we should listen to advice to deal properly with ourselves and others.

Mr. Ahmed asked us to imagine seeing all flowers stained by blood after taking the red pill – “It would be crippling”. No one has ever taken the red pill because every pill taken has a little bit of blue in our ignorance of the injustice involved in the creation of our reality. The flowers ceased to be beautiful with the labor of Kenyan wage-slaves. Ms. Coccia contested that the blue pill is complete ignorance of the reality but only by knowing, can we change anything. Take the red pill is a speech-craft that does not force actions but creates the right cultural narrative to affect real change at the level of real truth.

Ms. Christensen pointed out the danger of claiming access to a higher truth and a radical external change of reality. Such a belief fails to recognize that we are limited and incapable to access the truth. Ms. Christensen left us with the image of a mad man who dreamed of his reality. Mr. Naft considered death to be the red pill and the rabbit hole and asked “What are you willing to die for?” He would like to think that there is something worth dying for because taking the right pill is ultimately doing the right thing.

Mr. Weiner warned against the mentality that “we are the truth.” Since Neo is allowed to kill anyone in the Matrix, everyone taking the red pill will leave nothing behind. Ms. Wilson rebuked that we do not run to truth every day but we are still pushing forward. Death, the ultimate red pill, is the ground for beauty and not apathy. Mr. Fletcher questioned if the red pill is a truth forced upon us, “a perverse invention of others to keep us blind to the chain.” Mr. Wang analogized taking the red pill to opening the medicine box and acting upon our own priorities.

Sitting in his armchair, the philosopher Mr. Edgar dismissed the allegory of the cave as one without choice. He valued the inner resonance of believing in God, of falling in love and of picking a major as much as the pursuit of truth as the right thing to do. He further accused the affirmation’s suggestion as pernicious because it prescribes a way to look at life and precludes an authentic action on a personal level by turning it into a reaction to truth.  He asked us to “redefine ourselves in the search of truth.”

Chancellor DiMisa turned to three questions: Should, Could and Would I take the red pill? He first drew the alternative to red pill as seeing nothing and unable to react. He then argued that we can handle the truth because we escape the falsity of the world every single day by media and because humanity is strong enough to handle reality as cruel as childhood losses. Finally, all of Zion receive a chance to function in another world through the red pill when they already do not fit in the world of the Matrix. Empathizing with them, Chancellor DiMisa declared that “absolutely I would [take the red pill].”

Not fooled by the affirmation, Mr. Ellis called speech craft a moral command under the right person and situation but asserted that “the decision is entirely mine.” He also recognized the possibility of doing the good and enjoying agency in the Matrix. In the end, he called it “condescending and bad” to project our decisions on others. Mr. Bies walked onto the floor to connect with the members because human relationship is the fundamental truth. Stepping up the podium, he announced that “I won’t quit” and issued everyone a challenge to meet with him on the next day. (I am still waiting for my coffee, Brian.)

The Society then voted to award Merrick points to the five most eloquent speakers that night:

  • Ms. Coccia and Mr. Edgar – 2 points
  • Ms. Christensen – 3 points
  • Mr. Ahmed – 4 points
  • Mr. Young – 5 points

And this brought the Merrick totals to:

  1. Ms. Coccia – 31 points
  2. Mr. Wilson & Mr. Edgar – 17 points
  3. Ms. Christensen & Mr. Young – 13 points
  4. Ms. Egan – 8 points
  5. Mr. Dinneen & Mr. Mouch – 5 points
  6. Mr. Ahmed – 4 points
  7. Mr. Kendrick & Mr. Mazzara & Mr. Perez-Reyes & Mr. Vishwanathan – 3 points
  8. Mr. Patrick Musgrave & Ms. Spira – 2 points
  9. Ms. Landau – 1 point

With a vote of 46-1-28, this resolution was affirmed! At the depth of the rabbit hole, I heartily congratulate the two inductees and wish Mr. Mazzara and Ms. Ludtke a happy birthday.


Xinlan Hu

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