In the 1999 film The Matrix, Agent Smith tries to break the spirit of a captured Morpheus by convincing him that humanity isn’t worth saving. He describes humanity itself as a virus, destroying everything in its path, endlessly consuming and unable to find an equilibrium with its surroundings. Smith says: “Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.”
This sentiment appears to be almost too much for Morpheus to bare. He is in pain and anguish. It’s almost as if some part of him acknowledges the truth in this statement. He perhaps begins considering whether his whole enterprise is worthwhile, whether he really is the “good guy” as he imagines.
I think many of us find this scene and this sentiment in general deeply disturbing, just as Morpheus does. Part of us believes it is true. Part of us believes that humanity is not worth saving, a disease, a cancer that must be eradicated.
In 2019, Jason Mamoa speaking at the United Nations Small Islands Event called humanity “a disease that is infecting our planet.” In 2013, David Attenborough said “We are a plague on the Earth.” On Debate.org, 86% of respondents voted “Yes” to “Are humans a disease to Earth?” Even Stephen Hawking remarked: “I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We’ve created life in our own image.”
Our story is not simply that we are outraged. It is not simply that we are in decline. It is also self-loathing. We are disgusted by ourselves and our species. We tell ourselves that we are in decline and fundamentally to blame for it. Our very nature is wicked and corrupt – anathema to the project of life.