Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse is a first attempt at Libidinal Vampirism

Tomas Einarsson

Slavoj Žižek asks: ‘What if the Matrix fucking sucked?’

It’s way too easy to compare Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse to a boring, corporate Matrix. For one, it’s obviously a robot’s idea of natural human interaction (see, for example, Mark being the world’s least normal man in trying to sell the Metaverse), while also just uncanny enough to turn anyone but the most brain-damaged tech-bro off it. But, in keeping with the aesthetic of early 2020’s boring corporate dystopia and having recently re-watched The Matrix, I can’t help but wonder what it is Zuckerberg is trying to parasitically suck out of humanity.

The great realisation in the original film (obviously) is that all along, reality has been a near-infinitely elaborate simulation. Humanity created artificial intelligence and then fought a robot war and lost; what’s left of humanity is bred in captivity to produce electricity via mental stimulation for the robots to feed on. This energy, both materialist and abstract, is fundamentally libidinal - that is, based on the primal desire and urges of the human libido. The robots exploit humanity’s lizard brain by bombarding it with images to stimulate it. Humanity’s core weakness - its lust to navigate and escape the drudgery of the late twentieth century - caused it to lose the machine war, and is now further exploited as a powerful source of life energy for artificial entities.

Of course, you could argue that Mark is such a Matrix-ian parasite in every way: feeling no human emotions but understanding their power, he seeks to build a simulation which tickles the deepest parts of the human psyche. The Metaverse is shiny, professional, totally devoid of charm and, most importantly, an entirely self-contained universe of fictions - in other words, it has no real connection to the dangers of the outside world anymore. This is what The Matrix would call the ‘Blue Pill’, which promises continued immersion in comfortably familiar fictions. But the Metaverse can make a millennial office space out of a crack den, as long as you don’t linger on the fact that your workplace has virtually invaded your private sphere and that your boss is an app and you somehow owe it money.

‘The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from’

The Matrix is divided into two separate realities. There’s the simulation itself, a dizzying - but nevertheless fundamentally human-oriented - matrix of fiction. It’s not a utopia, but a world designed to produce as much libidinal energy as possible. This provides a violent, alienating contrast to the ‘Real’ which the robots rule: antithetical to humanity, those that wake up from their simulacra dreams find that what the world they used to know has become a cold, machinic hellscape. This contrasts the simulated world - as the world the audience knows all too well - with something much worse. Yes, green-tinted life in the Matrix sucks, but it’s still infinitely better than what lies outside it. Furthermore, any resistance against the new robot overlords necessarily leads to the realisation that the Matrix is perfectly suited for their needs as the most efficient way to produce energy.

A perfect simulated utopia couldn’t produce nearly as much libidinal energy as the one depicted in the films. Money, sex, and all things nice which stimulate the self-deceiving lizard brain cannot be accessed directly in the simulation, but must be contextualised, obstructed by the obstacles of capitalism, and wrapped in layers and layers of symbolic meaning, lest they cease to mean anything at all.

Why can’t we have nice things? Local racoon philosopher Slavoj Žižek asks regarding The Matrix. Why can’t our robot overlords skip this cruel middleman and tap straight into the human mind to extract its untamed potential? Why jump through all these hurdles to reproduce the world the audience itself is already immersed in? Why does Mark Zuckerberg’ face always look like it’s about to melt off of his skull to reveal his true metallic self? Žižek’s reading of The Matrix begs the re-examining of the desire for collective fiction, both in terms of escapism from ‘the desert of the real’ and as a kind of self-sabotage - since making things hard to get is easier than facing our deepest desires head-on.

I say escapism because the Metaverse portrays beautiful villas, embarrassing sword collections and beautiful views which most simply don’t have access to due to the inequalities of the world which The Matrix seeks to satirise. The libidinal energy here is not primal: it rather reflects desire for a modicum of stability, self-expression, leisure and freedom - as opposed to food security or a roof over one's head. While Musk and Bezos are actively trying to escape the planet, Zuckerberg retreats into cyberspace.

Self-sabotage reveals itself in the way the Metaverse is presented. It just looks a bit shit, only really touches on a tech-bro’s idea of primal desire and (rightfully so) has drawn much criticism for its invasive nature. But then again, the Matrix is a collective fiction in which every human actively participates (as opposed to each foetal module producing a simulation-for-one). Mark Zuckerberg knows that the Metaverse will only really take off once real people start interacting with each other on it, producing delicious libidinal energy for the algorithm to feed on.

‘Yet let's be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn'd upside down’

But! Žižek retorts: what if we turned The Matrix’s parasitism on its head, or even made it symbiotic? What if it’s not only the machine that feeds on its human counterpart? What if humanity, enslaved and kept in foetal vats in turn feeds on the fictions of the Matrix?

After all, Facebook makes money through data by tracking your online behaviour, selling it on and regurgitating this information for tailor-made advertisements. The robot overlords of The Matrix have direct access to Neo’s brain stem and thus can feed off his energy directly. The algorithm, by comparison, only gets a watered down version of this in form of data as an outline of our desires. What we look at, read and buy online is only a small window into the psyche. What better way to more directly access the libidinal energy of the individual human mind than by immersing it deeper in the fictions of the Metaverse? [1]

Facebook has played an active role in twenty-first century radicalisation, with QAnon owing much to its popularity to the site’s algorithm. This is what brings people to online spaces like Facebook: interactions with other people so stimulating that neither man nor algorithm can help but actively participate in digging the rabbit hole. The Metaverse, on this trajectory, is going to bombard boomers with a thousand insanely racist memes per second (which can be denoted as irm/s), and might well accelerate the slide into dystopian cyber-fascism so fast that we won’t even have time to invent artificial intelligence.

Funnily enough, Žižek’s review of the new Matrix Resurrections notes that ‘The Analyst’ (who replaces ‘The Architect’ of the original) has turned to more emotional engineering to sap more energy out of Matrix-bound humanity. The Analyst notes ‘that humans will ‘believe the craziest shit,’ which to Žižek ‘really isn’t very far off from the truth if you’ve ever spent any time on Facebook.’ [2] This new strategy, which wraps the Matrix up in additional layers of fiction instead emphasising the obstacle course-ness of twentieth century culture, in a way suggests how a more empathetic Matrix does not lessen its energy producing abilities since people will continue to make each other’s life a kind of mundane, muted hell anyway.

It’s funny that internet fascists call themselves ‘red-pilled’ when they owe their outlook to the big Other, the algorithm, which curates their conspiratorial reality for them. If anything, are they not permanently plugged into the hypothetical Matrix? Are they not reliant on a pill dyed in Facebook Blue?

Any debate about the Metaverse should thus also ask Žizek’s inverse question regarding The Matrix. It’s not just a question of why Silicon Valley wants people to move their homes and workplaces into cyberspace. Why is Facebook so attractive to fanatics and boomers? Why does the bland, neutral-looking website become a festering cesspit of far-right extremism when humans touch it? What will happen to the Metaverse? Why do we secretly crave the sweet embrace of the fictional and its power to streamline the libidinal? Why does Mark Zuckerberg always look like he’s about to unhinge his jaw like a snake?

1 In The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, Zizek flips The Matrix on its head by asking: ‘Not: why does the Matrix need the energy. But why does the energy need the Matrix?’Pervert's guide to Cinema - Slavoj Žižek (52:34)
2 This review is also a great recap of Žižek’s Lacanian take on The Matrix films:

Visual selection and editing: Egle Duobaite and Kateryna Skipochka