In his very interesting article Colonizing the Western Mind, Jason Hirthler refers to the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, who pioneered the concept of cultural hegemony. Gramsci suggested that the ruling ideologies of the bourgeoisie were so deeply embedded in popular consciousness that the working classes often supported leaders and ideas that were antithetical to their own interests.
Gramsci's suggestion is depicted in the famous scene of the cult Sci-Fi movie The Matrix, in which Morpheus explains the Matrix to Neo:
The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.
In The Sane Society, Erich Fromm describes something similar:
What kind of men, then, does our society need? What is the "social character" suited to twentieth century Capitalism? It needs men who co-operate smoothly in large groups; who want to consume more and more, and whose tasks are standardized and can easily be influenced and anticipated. It needs men who feel free and independent, not subject to any authority, or principle, or conscience - yet willing to be commanded, to do what is expected, to fit into the social machine without friction.
In other words, almost in every historical period, the social, political and economic parameters of a society, what we could call as Matrix, were being set by the ruling classes in order to secure their domination through the consent of the majority. That Matrix is in a sense a cultural totalitarianism through which the individual is being trained to serve the dominant system from the day of his/her birth.
During the last four decades or so, the dominant neoliberal ideology has penetrated in the minds of entire generations, shaping their cultural characteristics. Essentially, a significant part of the Generation X as well as the entire Generation Y (Millennials) was born and raised inside the cultural totalitarianism of neoliberalism with radical individualism, economic cynicism and uninterrupted consumerism as key characteristics. This cultural totalitarianism is actually the Matrix of our times.
As Hirthler concludes:
Today, that cultural hegemony is neoliberalism. Few can slip its grasp long enough to see the world from an uncolored vantage point. You’ll very rarely encounter arguments like this leafing through the Times or related broadsheets. They don’t fit the ruling dogma, the Weltanschauung (worldview) that keeps the public mind in its sleepy repose.