March 16, 2015 by Liberty
Many libertarians like to use the red pill metaphor to describe teaching other people the lessons of libertarianism. I find it to be one of the most irritating metaphors ever for a number of reasons. Not only is it a downright confusing metaphor, it is also offers a completely distorted view of teaching libertarianism.
Forgive me if this is a minor subject but after hearing it so often, I think it’s worth mentioning.
The red pill is a metaphor from the Matrix. When I’m explaining this, keep in mind that I haven’t watch the Matrix in around a decade, so, sorry if I’m slightly off with precision. The main character of the movie, Neo, is given the choice between the red pill and the blue pill. The blue pill will make him forget everything he ever learned about the strange other world and the red pill will permanently change his perspective. The red pill lets him see things as they really are.
Now, as much as I love to trust movies for my political narratives, this is an absolutely stupid metaphor to be using. (I do happen to have a strong opinion about this.)
Oh, yea. This is a rather small point to add but I think it’s worth noting that libertarianism is a movement with a high young male demographic. I find it absolutely hilarious that the movie this red pill concept has been taken from is one of the most cliche’d young male movies ever. Perhaps that is a reason it’s a good choice but I still find it amusing.
The Real Red Pill
If you’ve been completely entrenched in libertarian circles for a while then you might not know this but libertarianism isn’t the only movement using the red pill metaphor. In fact, virtually every unpopular cultural opinion uses this metaphor.
The movie doesn’t go into deep libertarian philosophy. Sure, the movie has some very clear connections but like any Hollywood movie, it’s designed that way. Major movies are intended to target as many people as possible. The movie suggests a counter culture narrative that can easily be accessed by absolutely any unusual philosophy.
Whenever you describe “red pilling” someone, you could just as easily be referring to nazism, mens rights, communism, socialism, or even authoritarianism. Each and every time you’re using the term, you’re adding to the confusion of what a red pill really is. In fact, from all the stupid “red pilling” around in the world, many people will just assume that you’re full of crap when you use the red pill metaphor.
All these communities are sharing this single annoying metaphor. Despite all the competition to use this metaphor, it’s an absolutely stupid and poorly correlated metaphor.
5 Reasons The Metaphor Sucks
1. One Time Fix
In the movie, Neo takes the pill and nothing is ever the same. Libertarianism is not at all like that. Even anarcho-capitalism doesn’t go that far. The red pill causes everything to instantly be different. Philosophy isn’t even close to that simple.
It can often take people years to change their opinion on any particular area of politics. They’ll tell you, sure, you’re right about this one thing but it doesn’t work that way in this other area. So, how does that relate to the red pill? Does that mean they took part of the red pill?
Libertarianism is not a one time fix. It’s years of being slammed in the face by the idiocy of government. Anyone that goes from mainstream to full anarcho-capitalist in one pill swallowing is absolutely not committed to the empiricism that all this is reliant on. It’s a slow and painful process.
It’s not a pill. It’s more like cheese grating your skull or something.
2. Prison For The Mind
In the movie, the matrix is referred to as a prison for the mind.
The government is not all that good a prison for the mind but it’s a damn good prison for the body. Sure, government spends billions of dollars indoctrinating people for decades but, just like anything government does, they suck at it.
A huge number of libertarians don’t need to be given a red pill to change their mind. Heck, I was a libertarian before I even knew there was a category for what I believed.
Oh yea, and after you’re fed the red pill of libertarianism, do you suddenly get to dodge the cops bullets? Nope. Your body will always be trapped in this matrix.
3. Wise Teacher
To me, it seems really arrogant to be offering someone a red pill. Neo is given the red pill by Morpheus. Morpheus is this super cool wise teacher dude. (I love that description. I’m keeping it.) He’s essentially a big black Yoda.
Whenever you’re offering this red pill, you’re putting yourself into that wise teacher position.
That teacher position doesn’t exist in real life though. It’s a movie. There is no Yoda. We’re all just boring old people with stupid things and smart things to say.
What makes you think it’s you that has the red pill for them? Perhaps they have the red pill for you?
Libertarianism shouldn’t just be a list of political positions. It’s a way of thinking. Empirically, maybe they know a better way. The red pill concept isn’t very open to that.
4. Everything Changes
Everything seems to change when Neo takes the pill.
Nothing changes when you become a libertarian. (Or almost nothing.) 95% of your day is going to be the exact same when you become a libertarian. Sure, you might not like watching the news anymore. You may look at the taxes coming out of your paycheck a little differently but this is a fraction of your time.
You’ll still go to the store. You’ll still eat eggs in the morning. You’ll still lose your keys. You’ll probably still hold onto most of your relationship. (Even if that’s not always the right choice.)
Virtually nothing changes with the red pill.
5. Hero Complex
You may be putting yourself in the slightly arrogant position of Morpheus in this metaphor but you’re putting the red pilled individual in the other important position of Neo.
The movie is seriously defined by the same heroic bull crap that’s been promoting governments forever. Quite frankly, if a Neo existed then I wouldn’t care if I put him in charge of every aspect of my life. (That dude can dodge bullets, he knows something right?)
Neo, however, doesn’t exist. That means we need to avoid creating this absurd positions of power that no one will ever be good enough to fill safely.
One Hard Pill To Swallow
To this day, I’m still struggling to swallow every bit of this red pill. It’s a constant struggle.
Those are the 5 reasons I think it’s a miserable metaphor to be using. Sure, it was an awesome movie (I think) but that isn’t even close to a good enough reason to be using that metaphor.
What metaphor should you use? I have no idea (but personally I’m falling for my cheese grating skulls.)
The worst part about this metaphor, in my opinion, is that it gives the false impression that you can change people by just getting them to swallow this pill. Instead of offering the pill to people, you can ending up pushing the red pill on them. (“Come on… all your friends are doing it.”)
You don’t just red pill people. It’s a back and forth that may or may not result in the person changing their mind. More than likely, they won’t change their mind. That’s not your failure to give them the pill (well, maybe it is but it isn’t necessarily,) it’s the nature of trying to convince anyone of anything.
Don’t get caught up trying to red pill people. Even if you choose to use the metaphor. Don’t expect it to work that well.
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