The Red Pill
Morpheus: I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Hm? Tumbling down the rabbit hole?
Neo: You could say that.
Morpheus: I see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, that’s not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix.
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: [leans in closer to Neo] That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.
Morpheus: Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. [Opens a pillbox, empties the contents into his palms, and outstretches his hands] This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill [opens his right hand, to reveal a translucent blue pill], the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill [opens his left hand, revealing a similarly translucent red pill], you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. [Neo reaches for the red pill] Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.
— That’s the Wachowski brothers version of Gnostic Platonism, and it gets everything almost exactly right. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (in Book VII of The Republic) tells precisely the same story, but with a cheaper cast, inferior special effects, and less drugs. It’s not surprising that the Dark Enlightenment tends to stick with the re-make, as it goes Neo(reactionary).
The critical key to gnosis is the realization that the whole of your world is an inside, implying an Outside, and the radical possibility of escape. What had seemed to be unbounded reality is exposed as a container, triggering abrupt departure from a system of delusion. Everything else is merely the route taken to reach us, adapted to the ruins. The specifics of the story are constraints to be twisted free from, once their functions have been exhausted, as hooks, latching teeth, memetic replication circuitry, and camouflage dapplings. As long as there is an inside / outside difference effectively communicated, narrative details are incidental.
The Chinese version, perhaps originating with Zhuangzi, describes a frog in a well, who knows nothing of the Great Ocean (井底之蛙,不知大海). This simple fable is already fully adequate to the most exalted ambitions of mystical philosophy.
Putting things in boxes, or taking them out of boxes, is all of thought, as soon as the ‘things’ can themselves be treated as boxes. Categories and sets are boxes, so that even to say “an A is a B” is to perform an operation of inclusion or insertion, through which ‘identity’ is primordially applicable. To be is to be inside. Placing a species into (or ‘under’) a genus has unsurpassable cognitive originality, extending out to the furthest horizon of ontology (since a horizon is still a box). To contain, or not to contain, is the first and last intelligible relation. Boxes are basic.
Taking the red pill is climbing out of a box. By showing the cage, it already accomplishes a cognitive liberation, and thus provides a model for whatever practical escapology there is to follow. To know how to leave a cave, or a well, is already to know — abstractly — how to leave a world (and abstraction is nothing other than outsideness).
What is inescapable, unless through some precipitous self-enslavement, is the social obnoxiousness of Dark Enlightenment. Gnosis is ineliminably hierarchical, and at best patronizing (when not abrasively contemptuous), because a free mind cannot pretend to equality with a slave mind, regardless of the derision hurled at it on this account. As Brandon Smith remarks:
It is often said there only two kinds of people in this world: those who know, and those who don’t. I would expand on this and say that there are actually three kinds of people: those who know, those who don’t know, and those who don’t care to know. Members of the last group are the kind of people I would characterize as “sheeple.”
Smith’s ‘sheeple’ are not merely ignorant, but actively self-deluding. By taking the blue pill, they have opted to reside in the prison of lies. It is at this point, however, that the pharmaceutical metaphor switches from hook to obstacle, because there is no ‘blue pill’ or anything functionally equivalent short of the entire Matrix itself (which is to say, of course, the Cathedral).
A critical point of social and political analysis is reached here, and it is one that continues to evade definitive apprehension, due to its elusive subtleties. Between the hidden architect of the Matrix and the blue-pilled sheeple or “river of meat” there is no simple order of mastery, whether running in the obvious direction (from doctrinal elite to indoctrinated mass) or the democratic-perverse alternative (placing expertise in the service of popular ignorance and its vulgarities). The Matrix is both an object of ‘genuine’ popular attachment and an apparatus of systematic mind-control. It is most truly democratic when it most fully attains its climax state of soft-totalitarian mendacity. The propaganda machine is never less than a circus. What is demanded — what has always been demanded — is the lie.
Moldbug’s most recent invocation of the red pill runs:
I think I’ve chosen my candidate for the Pill itself. And I’m going to stick with it. My Pill is:
America is a communist country.
What I like about this statement is that it’s ambiguous. Specifically, it’s an Empsonian ambiguity of the second or perhaps third type (I’ve never quite understood the difference). Embedded as it is in the mad tapestry of 20th-century history, AIACC can be interpreted in countless ways.
All of these interpretations – unless concocted as an intentional, obviously idiotic strawman – are absolutely true. Sometimes they are obviously true, sometimes surprisingly true. They are always true. Because America is a communist country.
The truth is that America serves the people through the lie. That is the ‘choice’ represented by progressivism (= communism), installed in a highly-accomplished state, for over a century, as triumphant popular self-deception. The service provided — and demanded — is the deceit. If the people see through the lie, the resulting dissatisfaction will not stem from the fact they have been lied to, but from the revelation that they have not been lied to well enough. Could anything be clearer than that? The outbreaks of popular rage occur exactly at those moments when reality threatens to manifest itself — when the Matrix glitches. “We elected you to hide the truth from us,” the people shriek, “so just do your goddamn job, and make reality disappear.”
There is no red pill to save society. To imagine that there might be is to understand nothing.