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Wake up

“The transition from one order of life to another is not always accomplished by degrees, like sand running through an hour-glass, grain by grain. It is rather like water pouring into a jug floating on a stream. At first the water enters only from one side, slowly and steadily, but as the jug grows heavier it suddenly sinks rapidly and then takes in all the water it can hold.”

—Tolstoy

My roommate can attest to the fact that I watch The Matrix movies too often. On occasion, Kevin will find me engrossed in the saga of Neo, Morpheus and Trinity struggling to “wake up” others from their oppressive un-reality. I get goose bumps every time Morpheus intones to Neo how, in the real world, human beings are grown for consumption and how, in the matrix, we are all manipulated to ward off a full understanding of the truth.

That eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach always reminds me that the Wachowski brothers have captured an uncannily accurate picture of human existence. The Matrix is an allegory for the process of moving out of darkness into light; where once there was confusion, now there is clarity. Like in Plato’s cave, we mistake shadows for the things themselves, duped as we are into blindness. We remain bound by unseen forces. And we each, in our own way, yearn for salvation from the uncertainty of this murky universe.

As in the movies, it is not easy to see the light—to see reality for what it is. There are obstacles around every corner, preventing us from realizing what we should have known all along. Grades, prestige, money, family, power, sex and ego: these ephemeral benchmarks help us forget the infinite contradictions between our lives and our conscience. We choose to live in perpetual hypocrisy, because to grapple with these contradictions would admit the tenuousness of the false world we have constructed—a world of imagined frontiers, divisions, barriers, and hierarchies.

Besides, what incentive do we have in this false world to see the truth? Those who receive the praise and adulation of the masses must surely conform, at least in part, to their complacency. Our brand of complacency teaches fairness alongside abject poverty, non-violence with war, and love in a system of structural hatred.

Those who strive to smooth out the contradictory wrinkles in their lives find themselves without fame or fortune, because they refuse to serve themselves. If asked would they do it all over again, not a few would hesitate to answer.

Self-promotion, however slight, does not sit well in the human spirit. Yet it is what we are taught to do, even though our education suggests entirely otherwise.

Wise people have come and gone, without changing the fundamental nature of human society. Empires built on war are destroyed by war: the great civilizations of the Tigris-Euphrates, the Nile, the Indus and the Yangtze have laid way for the colonizing influences of Europe and the United States. America’s time as the last remaining superpower is coming to an end. Our neglect has nurtured hatred and will ultimately result in our downfall. Others will take our place and will meet their demise accordingly.

And so time marches, ever onward.

What can we do to halt this seemingly endless cycle of death and destruction? Simplify your life. Never commit or support murder. Resist evil non-violently. Accept ridicule. Endure suffering. Give up worldly possessions. Give of your time, give of your talents, and continue to give. Have faith in what you commit to do. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Embrace uncertainty. Seek truth. Be conscious of your faults, and forgiving of others. Strive toward selflessness. Love unceasingly.

Few have anything new to teach the world. Yes, we at Duke are in the business of discovering new knowledge, but the oldest of truths are still the same. While it is strange that my education here has convinced me of its frivolousness, I might never have arrived at this conclusion without it. I would certainly never have reached this point without the people who defined it.

Leon Dunkley, one of those rare cups of water in the Duke desert, writes in his poem “when wars can end”:

have we chosen station beneath the blade?

(each of us) born of the conquering steel that Gabriel betrays

how we worry…the things we’re guilty of…

the reasons we fall to our knees and the ways we love…

 

does Glory sing thy name for the cannons taking aim?

Glory sings thy name and Glory sings of thine

and when Glory sings my name and I’m thine, brother… whole wars can end

Dunkley challenges us to shape a new world from within. Like James Baldwin, he and I really do believe in the New Jerusalem, that we can all become better than we are. But we must be ready. Are you?

Philip Kurian is a Trinity senior. He is happy with his time at The Chronicle and who it has helped him to become.

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