YouTube video here: Challenge of Red Pill Philosophy for Progressives
Over the past few years the progressive ideology, the ideology that tends to structure the leftist or liberal world, has been fundamentally challenged by a new form of traditional conservatism that is often referred to online as “red pill” philosophy. In this blog we are going to be analyzing the basic claims of the red pill philosophy, both in terms of what it negates in contemporary progressive liberalism, and what it affirms as a replacement ideology capable holding the contemporary political discourse. The point of constructing this video is to reintroduce the nuances and complexities that come with dialectical thinking, as opposed to naively or dogmatically holding to a particular viewpoint. When we think dialectically we are constantly thinking in terms of the movement of figures of consciousness, and specifically the movement of figures of consciousness that tend towards a structural becoming organized within the domain fixed oppositions. Thus, in this video we apply dialectical thinking to the contemporary horizon of liberal progressivism and traditional conservatism to see the nature of its current oppositional determination, and how we can start to think towards a different horizon.
The Red Pill philosophy is based on a metaphor from The Matrix. As is well known, in The Matrix, the protagonist, Neo, or, importantly “The One”, is given an option: take the blue pill and remain in the realm of illusions; take the red pill, and break free from your illusions to confront the brutal harsh reality that sustains the illusion. Of course, Neo takes the red pill, which totally transforms his world forever. Neo can no longer operate in the world of illusions and is instead thrown into the harsh brutal real behind the scenes to fight the true fight against the algorithmic processes that keep everyone else in shadows.
This metaphor structures the basic coordinates of what red pill philosophy says about progressive liberalism. For the red pill community, the “blue pill” world is represented by the ideological dominance of progressive liberalism, which is seen to be an illusory domain of fantasies which not only have no connection to reality, but which are actually detrimental for the continued development of civilization, specifically “Western civilization”. Thus, the red pill community invites “blue pillers” to take the red pill, to take the dive into the red pill world and confront the brutal harsh reality behind the scenes of the progressive illusions.
To be specific, the red pill philosophy claims that the contemporary progressive illusion is structured by three main axes that we will categorizes as political, socio-sexual, economic. The economic dimension is structured by a belief in a Marxist utopian communism, and consequently, a naive anti-capitalism. In this economic dimension people tend towards believing that their lives are being unfairly regulated by capital and that capital is at its core evil and oppressive, producing structural inequalities and divisions. Furthermore, the way to overcome this capitalist monster is a type of universal socialist policy, typically carried out by State agents, towards basic social measures, like health, education, banking, and so forth.
The socio-sexual dimension is structured by a belief in intersectional social theory which analyzes universality in terms of a hierarchical matrix of identity relations, which are most often categorized by gender and race. In this hierarchical matrix cis-white-males are perceived to be the most dominant identity category, both in the present and throughout history, and every other gender and race category is situated on some complex of identity beneath the cis-white-male. Consequently, from the socio-sexual perspective the contemporary progressive tends towards attempting to revolutionize the socio-sexual identity matrix by attempting to equalize representation and opportunity for non-cis-white-males.
The political dimension is structured by a narrative of rights without responsibility. In other words the contemporary progressive landscape is only capable of articulating a narrative that highlights the need for rights and the agencies which are supposed to guarantee rights. In this narrative there is a consistent belief that rights have not been sufficiently extended to various identitarian networks and that all or most suffering and injustice in the world is being caused as a result of lack of political rights.
To counter what the red pill philosophy sees as the problems with contemporary progressivism, they affirm three alternative principles that can be seen to fix the problems in the contemporary economic, socio-sexual, and political landscape. We will call these three principles the structure by which contemporary conservatism is renewing itself with a very diverse demographic of individuals who feel alienated or intimidated by contemporary progressive liberalism.
In the economic dimension there is the emphasis on pragmatic capitalism. Red pill philosophy claims that capitalism is the foundation of modernity and has allowed for a higher level of material and psychological flourishing than any other economic system in the history of humankind. Consequently, although they tend not to deify capitalism as a universal force capable of producing a perfect utopia, they tend to see in capitalism the best mechanism that human has to thrive in the 21st century. In this sense red pill philosophy tends away from positing state mechanisms and tends towards positing market mechanisms as the solution to many problems at multiple levels of analysis.
In the socio-sexual dimension there is the emphasis on tradition, and specifically the tradition of marriage, the nuclear family, and clear gender norms. Red pill philosophy claims that marriage, the nuclear family and clear gender norms are the foundation of civilization, or at least Western civilization, and that our culture is suffering because we have too intensely deviated from these values in the past several decades. In that sense, instead of emphasizing the liberation of a multiplicity of socio-sexual identity categories, they tend to emphasize socialization towards marriage, children, and strong masculine and feminine categorical regulation.
In the political dimension there is an emphasis on a narrative of self or personal responsibility. In that sense there is the tendency to always reflect back into the self in the face of misfortune or adversity as opposed to projecting out at the lack within the state or legal apparatus. There is also a recognition that the best way to success in life is through self-determination and self-work as opposed to looking from without for opportunities.
If we put this entire triad together with its progressive negation we get a life praxis that roughly structures itself around a matrix of conformity to capitalism, family, and the self-development; over a matrix structured by communist fantasies, socio-sexual identity liberation, and collective rights activisms. How should we view the relation between these oppositional determinations?
Let’s consider a quote from Slavoj Žižek in regards his interpretation of The Matrix as read through the lens of Hegelian dialectics and Lacanian psychoanalysis (1):
“The choice between the blue and the red pill is not really a choice between illusion and reality. Of course, The Matrix is a machine for fictions, but they are fictions which already structure our reality. If you take away from our reality symbolic fictions that regulate it, you lose reality itself. […] I want a third pill. What is a third pill? Definitely not some kind of transcendental pill that enables a fake fast food religious experience. But a pill that would enable me to perceive, not the reality behind the illusion, but the reality in illusion itself. If something gets too traumatic, too violent, too filled in with enjoyment, it shatters the coordinates of our reality, we have to fictionalize it.”
What we get in this analysis is extremely helpful for thinking the hole in the red pill philosophy without regressing backwards into defensive progressive posturing which only serve to mask the holes and the lack within contemporary progressivist philosophy. On the one hand we have the emphasis that the binary of progressive illusion and conservative reality is too simplistic and fatally flawed. On the other hand we have the emphasis that we need to see the real in excessive enjoyment, to see the way in which the most naive dimensions of the progressive liberal ideological architecture, may hold a truth that we have not yet been able to transform into actions grounded in rational sense. Is it possible to articulate such a real?
In order to work through this problem dialectically let’s start with the proposed matrix of the oppositional determination. On the side of the progressive blue pill we have a belief in communist economics structured around a new socialist revolution; we have a belief in a type of identitarianism where all ethnic, racial, and gender categories are liberated from their traditional coordinates perceived to be oppressive and limiting; and we have a belief in universal rights that are recognized or given by some state or international bodies capable of ensuring that all life is expressed by a higher sense of justice.
On the side of the conservative red pill we have a belief in pragmatic capitalism structured around the power of the market to recognize and benefit the most useful and intelligent individuals; we have the belief in traditional socio-sexual structures as the best possible matrix for the long-term expression of human identity that is inclusive of life-long well-being; and we have the emphasis on personal responsibility for one’s own position in life and ability to move up the status hierarchy in life.
If we are to synthesize these two pills into a third pill we are thus confronted with the basic challenge of articulating a new economics, a new sexuality or socio-sexuality, and a new politics. A new economics would be able to transcend capitalism in its actuality without recourse to ideological communist formations; a new sexuality or socio-sexuality would be able to transcend the traditional marriage and nuclear family structure for a more nuanced and healthy expression of desire and well-being; and a new politics would be able to think in a new way the relation between the individual and the collective without recourse to a universal political body giving rights, or a simplistic assertion of self-responsibility as a panacea for structural injustice.
When we apply these oppositional determinations within the strange twisted space of historical antagonisms where one field is fundamentally at war with itself; here represented by the topographical structure of a Mobius strip; we see that there is a ideological confusion on both sides which prevents a more nuanced discourse. On the side of blue pill progressive liberalism we can apply the axiom of “there is no one” in order to capture the way in which it handles economic, sexual, and political divisions. What this means is that the tendency in blue pill progressive philosophy is to emphasize the field as a pure multiplicity of differences that cannot be captured by any binary logic of oppositional determination. For example, in the economic field, there is no such thing as proletariat or bourgeoise, simply a complex matrix of various oppressions and slaveries; or in the sexual field, there is no such thing as man and woman, simply a complex matrix of various genders and sexualities, a continuum of possibilities; or in the political field, there is no such thing as left and right, liberal and conservative, simply a complex matrix of ideological formations that serve capital and its instrumental overdetermination. This logic of multiplicity was most famously articulated by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who was principally concerned with articulating a philosophy of multiplicity with no connection to the one.
On the side of red pill conservative traditionalism we can apply the axiom of “two unites into one” in order to capture the way it handles economic, sexual, and political divisions. What this means is that the tendency in red pill conservative philosophy is to emphasize the field as an a priori guaranteed unity that obfuscates the cracks and the holes in the given universality. In other words, the fundamental antagonisms of oppositional determination are masked by the best face of the hegemonic condition. For example, in the economic field the logic of capitalism is presented as capturing the best of all possible universes without much room for internal critique and deconstruction of its structural problems or failings; in the sexual field the logic of monogamy and marriage is presented as capturing the best of all possible ways to express true love, respect and trust; and perhaps the only possible way to live a fulfilled existence over the course of an entire life history; in the political field the logic of hierarchal power is seen as the highest value towards which we should strive and express our self-worth, and that any failure to climb this power structure is a failure to which we should first attribute a reflection of personal responsibility. What this analysis does is thus propose a unified traditional coding for capitalism, marriage and hierarchy which may give a sense of stability and continuity, but fails to accurately analyze the short-comings of our current universal order, short-comings which have already been psychically negated for reasons that may have more to do with the unconscious then anything else.
Thus, in this analysis I attempt to replace the progressive liberal axiom of “there is no one” and the conservative traditional axiom of “two unites into one” with the purple pill axiom of “two divides into one”. In other words, any oppositional determination whatsoever, in this case the matrix of blue and red pill ideology, is see to be a two that is in reality a one. In this sense the economic, sexual, and political binaries can be seen to temporally stabilize themselves in a binary field of figures of consciousness that in fact guard a singularity of being in thought. What this means is that the truth value of both blue and red pill ideologies can only be found in their immanent historical dissolution. The question is what this dissolution will look like and how will it happen. Since, in Hegelian philosophy, we assume the future is to be determined by figured of consciousness, we can only assume that it is our own very engaged partial stance which will overdetermine how this occurs.
The first thing we can pull out in this process is the fundamental paradox which structures the becoming of both the blue and red pill ideologies. The paradox of the blue pill ideology of “there is no one” seems to be structured around something like a paradox of futures illusions. In this paradox the futures illusions always claim universality, in regards economic order of communism, in regards socio-sexual order of intersectional identity expression, or in regards political order of horizontal flattening of the hierarchal patriarchy. However, the problem with this logic is how a metaphysics of multiplicity can claim such a universal form without in some sense admitting that there is in fact a one, a one of future expression of multiplicity? The image we get here is of a pure commune of infinity diverse identities in a horizontal harmony. Is this equilibrium structurally possible? Is this equilibrium desirable?
The paradox of red pill ideology of “two unites into one” seems to be structured around a paradox of claiming reality while itself clinging to the most fundamental essences of traditional illusions: the illusion of capitalist thriving without antagonism; the illusion of sexual harmony between man and woman; and the illusion of hierarchical recognition without exclusion or discrimination or injustice.
How does the purple pill deal with these paradoxes?
For the purple pill, as already mentioned, we operate on the axiom of “two divides into one”, which suggests that the “real in the illusion” is in fact a singularity that holds the binary field in its totality. From this perspective there is no just a pure becoming, but a becoming that attempts to continually reorganize itself around the singular real of enjoyment and its diverse expresses are the red and blue pill ideologies, respectively. Does this metaphysical claim allow us to make any meaningful observations that break contemporary antagonisms between figures of consciousness?
In this axiom of “two divides into one” we bring two triangles into their interdependent rotary motion. In symbolic logic we must recognize that absolute meaning cannot exist independently of its opposite which stabilizes and allows it to exist. If the blue pill dominated the field there would be no blue pill; if the red pill dominated the field there would be no red pill; they both each exist as a determination of the other, they both only exist as a identity contradiction internal to and constitutive of the historical process.
To analyze this unified twisted or curved field I will borrow a term from the contemporary discussions in quantum gravity: background dependence and background independence. In quantum gravity literatures background dependence refers to the way in which fundamental physics theories of quantum gravity require an assumption of absolute spacetime in order for their them to remain internally coherent and consistent. In our universe and in this analysis I would claim that the double triangle of the blue and red pills are our background dependence, the background upon which our structural formulations of economics, sexuality and politics operate. If we were to remove the ideological backgrounds of the red and blue pill, the rest of our conjectures of economics, sexuality and politics would cease to remain internally coherent and consistent. To re-quote Žižek:
“If you take away from our reality symbolic fictions that regulate it, you lose reality itself. […] I want a third pill.”
So let’s take them away.
In order to approach a purpose pill, and the core of the unified field that structures our becoming, we thus play with a background independence. We pretend that the field is open to determination by future figures of consciousness. What, realistically, can we say then about the economic, sexual and political fields? What can we say about the real in the illusion as a singularity? Here I only offer my own conjectures, which I do not claim to be absolute solutions, but merely things that stimulate and provoke my imagination. I would say that this is an exercise that may be useful for others interested in approaching the nature of a synthesis between the contemporary liberal and conservative universes. In the economic dimension I would point towards the possibility of the sharing economy or digital currencies as opening the field of current antagonisms between capitalist pragmatism and communist utopianism. In both the sharing economy and digital currencies there is nothing but a radical openness, a radical unknown, a radical to-come. Depending on how we act this field could transform capitalism fundamentally, allowing for totally new socioeconomic relations, or this field could be consumed by capitalism, allowing capitalism to keep its same basic form. In the socio-sexual dimension I would point towards the possibilities for both radical individuation and the power of networks in order to move around conversations that fall within either the identitarian matrix of intersectionality or traditionalism. When we emphasize or develop a language of individuation and networks we are able to articulate a thinking about our sexual and social lives that may be able to escape group level reductions or traditional historical determinations. In the political field I would point towards a new ethics of responsibility beyond the self. This is perhaps a more controversial idea only because it is difficult to cultivate a responsibility beyond the self when one cannot even afford to maintain one’s own self in the current political-economic order. However, I see that idea of a responsibility beyond the self as something that allows us to set the positive feedback loop we need to stop pretending that some universal international order will save us from ourselves, and at the same time, to stop pretending that all of our own short-comings and failures are a result of our own lack of self-responsibility.
Again, these are merely suggestions for what could structure a conversation in a new background. These are not absolute suggestions, but merely ideas. If this video provoked you or stimulated your imagination, propose your own! The background is open!
This brings me to the end of my attempt to articulate the challenge of red pill philosophy for progressives. Over the past few years I have personally had my worldview challenged by the conjectures of those in the red pill community. I have been influenced by their ideas and they have allowed me to see my own ideological holes. At the same time, I never found the red pill philosophy to be one that is capable of ultimately resolving all of the problems of contemporary economics, sexuality, and politics because it is too much grounded in a return to the old. It has only been in recent months of reflecting on red pill philosophy through a dialectical lens, that I feel I have been able to find its own paradoxes and structural flaws that render it internally inconsistent and thus likely to undergo a future identity dissolution.
I hope this blog provoked your imagination and your thought, and I thank you for your attention.
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(1) Žižek, S. A third pill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-0VMnFmnL0&t (accessed: June 14, 2017).