“Everything we know” said Hillary Clinton would win the nomination, Barack Obama couldn’t, John McCain was finished and The Patriots would win the Super Bowl, but The Oracle of The Matrix would tell us it ain’t necessarily so!
There’s a line from a sketch by the comedy group Firesign Theater: “Everything you know is wrong!” This much I know.
Recent events have me pondering this line. I’m tempted to speak like the Merovingian in “The Matrix: Reloaded,” and declare it as the only real truth, but modify it thus: “Everything we know is wrong!” or “What ‘everyone knows’ is wrong!”
There are people who “know.” Call them “professional knowers,” or experts, consultants, gurus, etc. In the media, we call them, as a group, “punditocracy,” “the chattering classes,” or “denizens of the blogosphere,” — or shall we call it “the blowhardosphere”? Every field has its experts. Let’s call them “ProKnows” — one characteristic of ProKnows is to coin phrases. Politics is rife with ProKnows. Some of them have bona fide credentials — degrees in this or that, or experience covering politics; others have forced their way into the public forum through tenacity, or high volume or because they provide quotable copy for other chatterers. And yet, particularly in the past year or so, the one thing we really know about this crowd is that all of them have been consistently wrong.
Just think of what the ProKnows “knew” at some time in the past year:
- Hillary Clinton will walk away with the Democratic presidential nomination because of her name, her connections, her money, and the army of ProKnows at her beck and call, but she can’t win in November;
- Okay, so this Barack Obama guy has thrown his hat into the ring, but he doesn’t have a chance (see previous item); besides, he’s black, or not black enough, and he has that unfortunate name, and nothing to his name but a nice speech from 2004; only starry-eyed neo-yuppies longing for the next JFK will vote for him;
- John McCain has no chance to win the nomination because he’s too old, the Christian Right doesn’t trust him, he spoiled his independent creds by pandering to the Christian Right (that doesn’t trust him), his campaign stumbled early on;
- Rudy Giuliani’s (short-lived) front-runner status, despite his divorces, and pro-life, gay rights positions, proves the Christian Right doesn’t matter any more (even though John McCain won’t win because of the Christian Right), and besides, once people get a look at him, they’ll drop him (actually, that turned out to be the case);
- Mike Huckabee’s success proves the Christian Right still matters;
- Mike Huckabee’s success proves the Christian Right doesn’t matter any more;
Some of these declarations were contradictory, while others were nearly universal, such as “Hillary is inevitable.”
I like to go back to “The Matrix.” For me, not all roads, but a representative sample, lead to “The Matrix.” Agent Smith, Neo’s archnemesis in the trilogy, keeps declaring the inevitability of his victory and Neo’s defeat and death. He’s wrong repeatedly — although ultimately kind of right, but that’s another topic. Also central to “The Matrix” is the battle between the computer programs named The Oracle and The Architect. The Architect is the archetypal ProKnow: Even though, by his own admission, he has failed six times to create a flawless Matrix, he still searches for the technological fix, the more elegant equation, the extra bit of data that will somehow lead to a stable, infallible system based purely on everything “knowable.”
The Oracle, the archnemesis of The Architect and guru to Neo and his crew, possesses her own “knowledge,” but it is knowledge that escapes the known and the knowable, a.ka. the empirical, the verifiable, the quantifiable. As she explains to Neo, The Architect’s job is “to balance the equation,” hers: “to unbalance it.”
We, the ProKnows, find ourselves often just like The Architect: confounded by what escapes our cultivated, quantifiable or at least rationally comprehensible “knowledge.” And so, when we find ourselves, for instance, watching the New York Giants defeating the flawless New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, we witness the limits of our ProKnow knowledge, and fumble for some empirically feeble answer, such as “the Giants wanted it more” or “they found a way” (“life finds a way” sayeth the chaos theorist in “Jurassic Park”). In other words, there was something beyond the playbooks, something we couldn’t draw on the screen with X’s, O’s and arrows — something that unbalances the equation.
Let’s go now to the final scene of “The Matrix: Revolutions,” the end of the trilogy. The Oracle sits on a park bench, basking in the blazing new sunrise created by the child-genius Sati in honor of Neo. Seraph, the Oracle’s faithful companion, asks the Oracle about this improbable outcome:
“Did you always know?”
“Oh, no,” the Oracle says, the sun illuminating her face, “I didn’t. But I believed. I believed.”
Coming soon: More examples of “everything you know is wrong.”