Recalling Our Matrix

Recalling Our Matrix June 1, 2019

I missed the 20th anniversary of the movie The Matrix, which transformed science fiction, cinema, and my life in a variety of ways. Just as today’s university students are too young to remember the movie as anything other than a “classic” their parents or an older sibling introduced them to, many readers of this blog may no longer recall that the original title of my blog was Exploring Our Matrix. It began as a venue for exploring side interests such as science fiction, and in doing so helped foster those interests and convert them into a research and teaching focus in their own right. Some of my earliest publications about science fiction focused on the Matrix. The blog also provided an outlet where I could find my voice while addressing issues that were controversial in the conservative Christian context that I had recently emerged from and still felt linked to. It also gave me a place to talk about my faith in ways that did not seem appropriate in a classroom at a secular university. It is probably no exaggeration to say that much of who I am and much that I have done in the past decade or so owes something to the Matrix franchise, at least indirectly.

The Matrix movies seem more relevant now than ever, as “deepfakes” bring us increasingly into a world in which we cannot trust our senses any longer. Here is one example:

Trump Cultists Spread Fake Video Of “Drunk” Pelosi

Can information literacy skills help us to wake up, to take the red pill. Or do we need government oversight and not merely resistance?

See further articles about efforts to combat fake news that appeared recently in CNN and Inside Higher Ed.

Also of related interest (in ways that you will understand if you have seen the movie):

Translating Descartes

How I Learned to Stop Worrying About The Existence of An External World

Rumors of something new in the Matrix series being in the works by the Wachowski siblings was apparently just an illusion…

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  • John MacDonald

    I feel the same way about Palpatine in Star Wars: The way that someone could be so brilliant to have crafted a completely alternate narrative behind the socially perceived series of events to gain absolute power still moves me. Not that I want power, just that it’s a portrayal of intelligence and wisdom that I admire. That’s the true power of the Dark Side – not might, but manipulation.

    Obi-Wan Kenobi : The Chancellor is behind everything, including the war.

  • arcseconds

    Ironically, ‘take the red pill’ is also used as a slogan by the promulgators of fake news. You know that world of climate change, feminists, and black people doing good things? That’s just what the liberal media wants you to believe. Take the red pill.

    Someone recently proposed on this basis that the red pill is actually the one that leads you to fantasy. Rather than subsisting through a boring, unfulfilling and anonymous life as a cube-farm worker, Neo becomes involved in a climatic rebellion against an evil empire that controls the reality that the sheeples buy into. Sorry I can’t remember who this was!

    One of the narrative flaws of the Matrix is that Neo is actually far too credulous. Once you know that your entire experience can be faked, on what basis do you conclude that the world in which you awaken in a tank is any more real than the one in which you work in a cube farm? It should be particularly concerning when your new friends you’ve only known for a few hours talk you into acts of terrorism involving the deaths of innocents.

  • arcseconds

    The Matrix‘s conceit of an apparently real world which is actually fake is not really a unique feature of the film. This idea had been played around in science fiction literature for a long time before (and in philosophy a long time before that, a really long time if we take Plato’s Cave rather than Cartesian doubt as the precedent), and there were at least three films released around the same time (two the year before, one a month later) that explore a similar theme: Dark City, The Truman Show, and Existenz, the last in particular in my view did a better job of exploring the idea of fakeable reality.

    I think what The Matrix really achieved was bringing together a number of elements that hadn’t been bought together before, in a ‘two great tastes taste great together’ kind of way. These elements being: film noir (including a neo-noir/goth aesthetic for the cosutmes and makeup), fantastic martial arts from wuxia, rapid-fire gunslinging action which I’m going to say comes from the more over the top 80s action movies, and science fiction, including a grimey dystopia.

    While the science fiction does allow for a bit of pop-philosophy now and again, it’s main function isn’t actually the thought experiment, which on the whole isn’t that important for the movie, but rather as a justification for the super-powers, entities, and supernormal geography we find in the movie.

    In these respects perhaps the comparable film is actually Star Wars, which similarly combined science-fiction elements with stuff inspired by samurai cinema, and Biggles-style dogfights. Again in Star Wars, the science fiction is not really there to function as an imaginative extension of modern technology, or to explore ideas, but rather as a backdrop for cool stuff to happen.

    • Scurra

      There was also the (now long-forgotten) curio The Thirteenth Floor which came out in the same month as well I think. There was clearly something in the air at the time. And I think that all four of those films (DC, tTS, Ez and 13F) do the “fake reality” idea better than The Matrix.

      But yes, The Matrix clearly wins hands-down on surface style – and that surface is very hard to beat…

      • arcseconds

        I’ve only seen bits of The Truman Show. I haven’t seen The Thirteenth Floor and have only heard about it in the most vaguest terms… looks interesting, thanks!

        Dark City, if I recall correctly, doesn’t do much to explore the epistemological or metaphysical implications of a fake world. It does capture something of a dream or a nightmare, though, a creepy atmosphere where nothing is stable and stuff moves around when you’re not looking (and there’s no daylight).

        If we say science fiction proper is to explore ideas through and implications of new technology and/or a future society then we could say that Existenz and The Truman Show are solidly science fiction proper, whereas the other two more use science fiction trappings to do something else. The Matrix is really an action-adventure movie with more kinship to fantasy and superhero fiction than anything else, and Dark City has at least one foot in the horror camp.

        Speaking of unsettling horror, how is the whole Brexit madness going? Some new and exciting results in the EUelections I see. BJ for PM? I’m starting to feel like the Europeans might not want you back in their club…

  • John MacDonald

    I wonder if The Matrix was influenced by the “Frame of Mind” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A lot of similar themes.

  • arcseconds

    I was less happy with the sequels because The Matrix is a nice little superhero movie with a cool premise for the superpowers and an interesting setting which moves along nicely and comes to a conclusion. It’s a nice piece of fantastic fiction in the sense there’s a small number of fantastic elements you have to buy into and everything else follows from that. It’s also fairly tightly plotted. There’s a bit of pop-philosophy, which isn’t explored a great deal, which is probably for the best.

    The sequels turn into this rambling epic where the underlying metaphysics is quite unclear and appears to be being made up as it goes on, in order to advance its pop-religion themes, which eventually take over completely. And there’s a lot of boringness: the fight scenes are boring (Neo can’t be hurt, which doesn’t help, but the battle for Zion at the end just goes on and on and on), there’s a massive expository dialogue lecture given by the Architect halfway through the second film, the huge dance party/orgy… and the religious themes are not very interesting. Neo is Christ (and we’ll lay it on thick), the End.

    But I wasn’t a fan in the first place, so I didn’t feel betrayed or anything…

    Don’t get me wrong, there was some interesting material in the sequels, but overall I think they’re an example about how letting creators loose doesn’t always work out 🙂

    It seems impossible for the current Parliament to do anything but waste time. There is no majority support for anything, and no willingness to compromise (the withdrawal agreement probably represents such a compromise) and everyone seemingly prefers grandstanding. There is also no real guarantee that things will improve after another general election.

    • Scurra

      Well, yeah, that’s partly why I suggested that part of the problem was that the Matrix sequels shifted away from “what is reality?” and more into the realms of “what is free will?” which is a significantly different philosophical rabbit-hole… I do like the implication of the ending though; I don’t think it’s so much “Neo as Christ” as the machines realising their mistake and – just possibly – learning from it.

      As for Brexit: no, it has also broken our political system so that a general election would not get anyone anywhere. I don’t think that grandstanding is the problem as such; merely that senior people all made massive tactical mistakes after the result and instead of admitting those mistakes, they are doubling (if not trebling!) down on them. Meanwhile the Farage Party thinks it had broken through (it may even win the by election on Thursday) but it hasn’t really been exposed to any bright lights yet – or, rather, the prior incarnation did and melted totally, and I can’t see how that won’t happen again.

  • Scurra

    Matrix: Oh, I’m not suggesting that the heavy-handed symbolism isn’t meant to relate to that – it clearly does!. It’s just that it’s the contest between the Oracle and the Architect that I found more interesting in terms of what the struggle was; the notion that the Architect keeps persisting with belief in the machines, whereas the Oracle persists with faith in the humans. But that particular battle is being pursued through proxies (Neo/Zion vs Smith/Machines) and the outcome of this particular encounter, whilst never in doubt in “story-telling” terms, is at least put in perspective by the notion that the loop has been repeated a number of times before. Which makes it a little harder for the simple “Neo as Christ” reading to be completely convincing for me.

    But hey, this has been done to death over the last twenty years or so! And essentially, I think most people probably agree that The Matrix is a fun popcorn movie that is always going to be worth a couple of hours of your time, and the sequels are… not.

    Brexit: Well I guess that’s why neither you nor I have gone into elected politics? Because I think we’ve both still got souls!

    • arcseconds

      Well, I’ve had approximately five serious conversations about it over the last 20 years, so I’m not tired of the topic! I’m also not particularly invested in it, and I get the impression you’re getting bored of the conversation 🙂

      I’ll just note that I had the impression that this time it’s different – didn’t the other cycles result in the machines winning, and the humans either dying or being incorporated back into the Matrix? The idea that the current Neo has done something different this time also fits in with the free will stuff. And the idea that an eternal, unforgiving struggle has ended as a result of Neo’s sacrifice and a future characterized by grace ensues (it’s not assured, but we must have faith!) is also totally in keeping with the Christ motif.

      What is your attitude to Leavers that say “yes, we know it’ll be economically difficult, but we’d still rather be self-determining than rich”? I have seen a few people make this argument, which on the face of it doesn’t seem terrible. Comfort and safety vs. autonomy (corporate salary drone or starving artist?) is something that people rationally trade off against one another on an individual scale, presumably the trade-off can also be made at the national level, and arguably pursuing the converse trade-off is how the UK ended up in the EU in the first place…

      • Scurra

        Matrix: I think my point is that this time is only different because we’re seeing the story this time rather than hearing about it. It would be terrifying to have had a version where we got to the end and it all just loops back to the start again! (Personally, I think that it’s more notable that Neo clearly does it for love of Trinity rather than generalised love of humankind though.) As I say, I’m certainly not against the Christ motif – the question is perhaps whether or not the Jesus Story is merely a Hero’s Journey that hit it big. 🙂 And, to be honest, it’s the Hero’s Journey conversation I am probably more bored with… [If anything, I’m more surprised that the discussion isn’t being had about e.g. Thanos and Iron Man when that’s the same basic confrontation and even a very similar “only one way we can ‘win’ out of billions of variations” idea, albeit expressed more overtly in the Marvel films.]

        Brexit: The bizarre thing about “take back control” is that ultra-Remainers probably believe in it far more than ultra-Leavers, because we support the concept of subsidiarity; the concept of taking decisions at the most appropriate, lowest possible level. It’s just that the consequence of this is probably the death of the nation state as we understand it, in favour of a commonwealth of regions – or even a United States of Europe!
        And no, most ultra-Remainers don’t see the current EU as the solution either, but we do see it as part of the route forwards (and, speaking personally, I see the EU as a better bulwark against the serious risks of genuinely undemocratic and unaccountable multinational corporations than any national government outside of perhaps the US. And that’s because the US is exactly the sort of continental arrangement that the EU is emulating!)
        I have yet to have a conversation with any Leaver (or see one in the media) in which they can adequately explain exactly what this “self-determination” means, or, rather, how it is any different to what we currently have. Sure, there are some rote examples (like ‘state aid’ vs ‘national industries’) that are trotted out but they are dangerously akin to the straight bananas nonsense.
        (And, of course, they also use the entirely ridiculous ‘loss of national identity’ argument, that somehow one can only have one national identity and once we are forced to be ‘European’ we will stop being English, German, Spanish or Polish etc. Yeah, tell that to the Californians, Texans and New Yorkers…)

        • Gary

          Just my simplified opinion.
          Over bloated bureaucracy versus freedom to make your own decisions. In trade, commerce, banking, defense, are you subject to a set of restricting regulations, determined by a whole gaggle of political bureaucrats, or are you free to minimize your restrictive regulations? Similar comparisons can be made in:
          United Nations and NATO.
          The more countries/bureaucrats that get involved, the less effective the organization. The more bloated, and overpaid, the bureaucrats become. Might I add our own U.S. Congress, as another example.

          • Scurra

            The answer to your initial question is, of course, that “regulations” are in the eye of the beholder.
            For starters, no regulations are made in a vacuum; they are almost always the consequence of malignant or malicious behaviour by bad actors or, if you really want me to be contentious, by the inevitable processes of markets. We shouldn’t need such a thing as “health and safety” or workers’ unions because, in an ideal world, people would already be the priority. (Hmmm, that’s a bit ‘liberal wishy-washy Jesus’, isn’t it?!)
            If, however, regulations are portrayed as being determined by “a whole gaggle of political bureaucrats” then the system is close to having won already. It proceeds according to those precepts that were determined most famously by Adam Smith and Karl Marx (even if they differed as to what they thought the ultimate consequences would be.)
            Likewise “bloated and overpaid” is an argument from fear rather than anything else. Or one might draw equal comparisons with the private sector which is similarly bloated and overpaid as, say, Dilbert has been documenting for decades!
            Centralisation inevitably leads to problems (and that’s true whether one is talking about government or private enterprise); I have often joked that any organisation that needs managers to manage the managers that manage the managers is getting dangerously large and is going to be forced to take decision by spreadsheet, which is rarely has a good long term outcome because those decisions will be divorced from any human interaction.
            (In passing, and even more controversially perhaps, I tend to think that we underpay our political representatives. They shouldn’t need to be scrambling around for funding which then inevitably comes from special interest groups and often leads to corruption of some kind. But that would require such a fundamentally different restructuring of our very systems and a proper facing up to how we as citizens shirk our responsibilities that I’m not sure it’s really feasible. Oh yeah, we’re doomed.)

            Indeed, to return to the original theme of the thread, I think that’s the core of the mistake made by the machines in The Matrix. They use humans as batteries and it never seems to occur to them that using humans as humans might be effective! Instead, they let Agent Smith guide their thinking and that clearly doesn’t work out very well for them. ;-))

          • arcseconds

            Does this not apply also to the US? Would it be better for it to be 50 independent nation-sates? If not, why not?

          • Gary

            If you want to debate state’s rights, why don’t you try to reconcile the late term abortion laws in California (abortion on demand), Alabama (no abortion), or a middle of the road state with early abortion being ok, and late abortion not ok. Then reconcile one size fits all. States rights don’t really have anything to do with my comments about bloated bureaucrats trying to come to a compromise in the UN or NATO. The organizations, as they get bigger, they become more useless. However, I do admit that the state’s rights argument could be used in Brexit. Why don’t you comment on Europe being one nation, instead of different countries? However, I think we should not pursue arguments for or against abortion. Just brought it up in response for your bringing up the state’s rights issue. Too hot to handle in specific examples such as this. On the bureaucratic issue, I’ve actually sat in NATO meetings, where the country reps are all arguing about specific issues, usually in expensive locations, arguing over trivial issues, and end up accomplishing absolutely nothing, with the trivial issues being tabled for the next meeting, in a more expensive location, at a higher per diem. UN has a similar approach to spending money, and accomplishing nothing.

          • arcseconds

            No, I’m not interested in arguing “states rights” or discussing junkets or abortion, these have basically nothing to do with my question. I agree that “States rights don’t really have anything to do with my comments” so I don’t know why you bought this up (or abortion or junkets, for that matter).

            The only sentence which really has anything to do with what I’m asking in your response is ” The organizations, as they get bigger, become more useless”.

            You see the EU as big and useless, and (I suppose) the UK as being a better size for a political entity, so it would be better for it to go its own way and avoid the big and useless polity.

            The EU has 28 member states and a population of around 500 million.

            The US has 50 member states and a population of 300 million, so roughly speaking it’s about the same size and with a similar number of constituent parts. So do you see this as also being big and useless, and if not, why not?

            The UK has a population of 67 million. You seem to think that’s a better size for a political entity and it shouldn’t bother with membership in a larger one. Does this thinking also apply to California, with a population of 40 million, and if not, why not?

          • Gary

            “Would it be better for it to be 50 independent nation-sates?”
            That’s pretty much the definition of state’s rights in the U.S..
            “and if not, why not?”…
            Total population has nothing to do with bureaucracy. Bloated leadership at the top does. Each state brings it’s own bureaucracy, but it tends to not be linear. State A + State B + … + State N does not equal N X one state bureaucracy. It’s probably more exponential.
            If you’re so interested in staying on topic, who brought up Brexit anyway.? I’ve lost track.

            “and if not, why not?”… if you’re interesting in asking questions, do you really think EU, NATO, the UN, or the old defunct WARSAW pact were efficient organizations? “and if not, why not?” And if so, why so?

            On subject, the Matrix was an efficient organization (in maintaining itself), but accomplished nothing, except assuring survival of the Matrix. The smaller unit, the individual person, actually accomplished something. Destroying the Matrix. I’d say the Matrix was very much like the UN, and other organizations I mentioned. Big, self perpetuating, and always wanting to grow bigger, at the expense of the individual units. But pretty much useless the the individual members.

          • arcseconds

            It’s a very simple question, Gary, which you now seem to be intent on avoiding answering: is the US a bloated political entity that the individual states would be better off away from?

            You seem to want to do everything except address this. I do not understand your reluctance (or inability?) to answer it.

            If you don’t have a settled view on the matter, just say so!

          • Gary

            “is the US a bloated political entity“…
            As you know, there are no black and white issues/answers. It is a matter of degree. Certainly the U.S. is a bloated political entity (in certain areas). So are all bureaucracies. So is the administration of big universities (like the UC system – California, that is). But degree – UN, NATO, EU, are, in my opinion, on the extreme end of the spectrum. The U.S. political entity actually accomplishes something, even with the bloat. So does the UC system. However, the UN, NATO, and the EU (and I’m sure we could add other bureaucracies), accomplish nothing compared to the amount of money they absorb. They deserve to go the way of the WARSAW Pact, or the Matrix, for that matter!

            “If you don’t have a settled view”… don’t see why you are so concerned about pressing for answers? This is a simple blog comment, not a PhD dissertation!

          • arcseconds

            I’m concerned about pressing for answers because when I’m told something like “the Matrix sucks”, that on its own is pretty useless to me. What I want to know is why it sucks. If I’m told that, then I have the opportunity of revising my opinion, and at the very least I learn something about how that person thinks about the Matrix, and films in general maybe. If, on the other hand, they can’t articulate why it sucks, then I can just treat it as a subjective reaction and not think about the matter further.

            Also, they might learn something from the interchange, too, either by being able to articulate their views on the Matrix better, which may lead to them revising their views, too, or by realising they don’t really have any good reasons for thinking it sucks, in which case even if they don’t want to revise their opinion they might at least acknowledge it’s a subjective reaction.

            I thought this was obvious, actually. You seem to think otherwise, so feel able to make sweeping statements about all sorts of things without troubling yourself to defend them?

            Anyway, now we’re getting somewhere.

            It’s not entirely true that the EU accomplishes nothing, though, is it? At minimum it allows for free trade, some uniformity of regulation, and free movement of people between the member states, and that’s actually quite a bit. The US provides these too, of course.

            For anyone with the slightest belief in the free market and some understanding of the economy, facing no trade barriers and a single set of regulations and being able to hire whom you like from among hundreds of millions is surely a vast improvement over facing tens of different sets of regulations and tarriffs and having barriers put in place to hiring anyone outside a few million.

            I would have thought these benefits would be worth a great deal. In fact, I think these might be really the main benefits for belonging to these unions, and that anything else they might do is small cheese.

            What kind of money are we talking about here? I must admit I assumed that probably the EU was far less expensive than the US federal government (as it doesn’t fund a (very large) military, nor does it provide any form of health care or social welfare.

          • Gary

            Just wanted to make sure you know when I said, “They deserve to go the way of the WARSAW Pact, or the Matrix, for that matter!”…
            I was referring to the evil Matrix in the movie, not the movie itself. I actually liked the first one. I’m a sucker for Kung Fo acrobatics avoiding bullets. And computers sucking off our bio-energy (every time I use my iPhone – I realize it controls me, I don’t control it). Although the sequels were a little too mystical for me. Should have just stopped with the first one.

          • Gary

            Actually, regarding Congress. The first thing that should be done, is outlaw Congressional junkets to exotic, expensive countries, to, as an example, check the local sewage treatment plants in France, Norway, or Sweden, while staying at 5 star hotels, flying 1st class (of course, for security reasons), and bring their wife, mistress, and a multitude of staff members. Send them all to Iraq to spend time in the Green Zone. I don’t know, but I’d bet that the EU bureaucrats have a similar mode of operation.

        • arcseconds

          It would be terrifying to have had a version where we got to the end and it all just loops back to the start again!


          And this remark implies that you think the Matrix trilogy wouldn’t supply us with a terrifying ending, which I think is exactly right too. The Matrix trilogy are kind of feel-good movies at their heart. They provide ‘happy’ endings (the endings being the end of The Matrix and The Matrix: Revolutions, the two sequels are really Part I and Part II of a single narrative). The final ending isn’t exactly “they all live happily ever after” to be sure, Neo has died and it’s unclear what the future is going to be like. But the Oracle believes he’ll turn up again, Agent Smith has been destroyed and isn’t going to absorb the entire machine world into his own being, and the humans are free to do as they want, and it appears that, for now at least, peace reigns.

          A couple of further points to motivate the feel-good nature of the movies:

          1) there’s a schmaltzy love story floating around (you allude to this too).

          Trinity wakens (brings back from the dead) Neo with a kiss in the first movie. (A friend of mine thought this was quite brilliant: people who like romance can read this as “the power of true love”, but hard-nosed science fiction viewers can realise that the kiss nor the love are doing anything causally here at all: Trinity knows Neo will survive because she realises he must be The One. )

          And Neo saving the world for Trinity’s sake is similar. Neo’s state at the end of the trilogy could plausibly result in him ceasing to love Trinity in the ordinary, libidinous, self-involving romantic way at all, but rather moving on to a “God so loved the world” sort of thing, or the unattached compassion-for-all-beings of an Enlightened being (which might not preclude having special personal relationships, Neo isn’t an infinite being after all). But that would be kind of unsettling and alienating, so that isn’t what we see.

          (Cf. Watchmen, which does aim to be unsettling, so we do see roughly this trajectory with Dr. Manhattan)

          And even a more ordinary “I have to sacrifice myself to save the world” is less cuddly and romantic than “I have to sacrifice myself to save the Woman I Love”.

          Imagine being in love with Jesus or Buddha. That would be extremely difficult. I think there is the barest hint that Trinity is experiencing some difficult or concern with her relationship with the apotheotic Neo? But it’s certainly not explored in any depth.

          This kind of brings me on to my second point:

          2) Philosophical problems are deployed a bit like any other conflict or difficulty in a summer blockbluster — they produce temporary tension, but they are all nicely resolved by the end of the narrative. The Matrix trilogy ultimately comforts people, it doesn’t unsettle them.

          This is very clear with the cartesian doubt thing. The whole world is illusory — but you can just take the red pill, and then you’re in the real world! Obviously if you think about it for five seconds there’s no particular reason to think the world of Zion is any more real, but the films show little sign of recognising this. (Neo seems to have access to a deeper reality or something, but this is something like a supernatural or spiritual reality, it isn’t the ordinary reality in which we live our lives).

          And that’s pretty much what happens with the determinism/eternal return/free will problematic in the sequels. Yes, determinism happens and so do cycles, but our Neo has free will! And he breaks the cycle by rejecting the Architect’s hobson’s choice, and deciding to save Trinity rather than rebooting the Matrix.

          Is there any real doubt that this is what happens? I thought this was pretty explicit…

          So, a terrifying ending is not what we’d expect. And I don’t think we’d expect an ending which implies a terrifying eternal return either (moreover, the films aren’t really about hinting at things).

          And it seems to me that the situation we see at the very end, the Architect seeems uncertain about the future. He wonders whether Neo will return, he’s not “so here we go again, and Neo’s going to be back next month like normal. Yawn.”

          When we first encounter him in the interminable expository dialogue scene in the control room, he’s not uncertain, he knows exactly what Neo is going to do, because he has seen it several times before, and he even has videos to prove it.

          It seems to me that some of the normal stuff that gets trotted out are in fact fair examples of less self-determination for the UK in the EU, and more if it leaves: immigration, regulation, taxation (paying money to the EU), the European Court of Justice, trade treaties, etc.

          Take immigration, for example. A completely independent nation can set whatever immigration policy it likes, but an EU member state must allow freedom of movement (which includes non-discriminatory employment) to citizens of any other EU nation.

          Obviously you might be fine with this, or value freedom of inviduals and disvalue any ability of states to restrict their movement, but it is an example of something that practically speaking can be controlled by the state, and is controlled to a considerable extent in most modern nations, and Leavers clearly value the ability of the UK to control this, so it’s not clear to me that the ones that perceive the economic downside of leaving are being incoherent or anything, they just value the ability of the UK to control immigration (and enter into trade pacts on its own, and regulate things as it feels like it, etc.) more than they value economic return.

          It’s also not clear to me that this requires any sophisticated notion of self-determination, or a determinate vision of what a self-determining nation looks like, it just requires noting that currently Australia could reduce immigration to practically zero if it wanted to (or for that matter open its borders completely) whereas the UK can’t.