Red pill?

I’ve never been attracted in any way to speaking of myself or even thinking of myself as “red pilled,” as the kids say. I was reflecting recently that that’s a little bit interesting, since on the rare occasions when I’ve looked into what this terminology signifies I find that I do have some areas of sympathy or agreement with some of them. So why the automatic distancing?

I think it’s in very large part a matter of “vibes.” It seems like the sort of people who call themselves red pilled are bitter, sarcastic, angry, ironic, very online, and not infrequently bigoted in ugly ways. (Perhaps “ugly” is inherent in the meaning of bigotry?) To speak of being red pilled is to signal membership in a group of people or identification as a type of person. I happen to have no desire to identify with that particular type.

The people who speak of themselves as red pilled want to be seen as muscular, bronzed, athletic, magnanimous, knowledgeable, suave, admirable. People who fit that description, however, do not spend their time acting like the people who self-identify as red pilled. When we read their online presence or watch their videos, the rest of us come away more with an impression of pale, oily, unhealthy, resentful, impotent, small-minded immaturity.

So then where do I find myself in partial agreement with some of them? Many of them at one time believed a version of the dominant social orthodoxy and then later came to realize, correctly, I think, both the falsehood of the doctrine and the hypocrisy of its purveyors, and learned it in the most painful ways.

Be yourself. Be proud. No one can judge you. We celebrate your diversity. We don’t think you should be held back for being who you are. We don’t think you should be denied love for being who you are. We don’t think you should be shamed for being who you are, for looking how you look, for living how you want to live. A well intended message, loudly proclaimed, with many good effects, and we heard it loud and clear for many years. I think in some form this is still the official truth.

Many of us believed that this was the world we were entering into, or at least that the people who most vocally supported the doctrine actually believed it. We thought that the people who focused on maintaining good looks and athletic ability were superficial and hopelessly behind the times. We thought that people who tried to seem cool, charismatic, conforming to cultural tropes of how we ought to be, were not only wasting their time but actively suppressing the delightfully idiosyncratic self hidden beneath the conventionality. We thought that those people focused on growing up to be rich as soon as possible were selfish and heartless.

Some of those suspicions were no doubt somewhat true. But it turns out that there’s value to having an external standard to live up to that can pull us out of our inward-turned, pointless, immature tendencies. And when you realize that fact only as an adult, it’s actually too late to do very much about it, for most of us; our decisions have been made, our path has been set, our habits and character have been formed, our health has been irreversibly compromised.

What is most painful, though, is to learn this harsh truth at the hands of the progressive people who continue to insist on that same orthodoxy. The employers who never call back, the myriad romantic interests who use the phrase “just not my type,” the respected figures who will secretly or openly demean those who had bought into the promise. Eventually we realize the truths that suddenly seem so blindingly obvious: unattractive people have more difficulties in romance and employment and social situations, as do weird people with strange interests or unconventional senses of humour, as do people who have not strived selfishly and strategically to be financially ascendant.

But blaming humans for acting like humans is a waste of time. That’s the way the world is, for better or worse. And blaming the generations before us for passing on the wrong message is useless too, and unjust. They were doing the best they could, at an unprecedented moment in human history. They deserve no special blame. The best thing to do is to recognize our mistakes as well as we can and as soon as we can, and correct them for ourselves as far as is possible, accepting the consequences of our past decisions. And we need to try to build on what our parents and grandparents gave to us, respecting and continuing their best aspirations while trying to fix their mistakes. We should do this in the messages we implicitly and explicitly communicate to all the people we interact with, and especially for our children’s generation. That’s all we can do, and if we do our best and don’t succeed as well as we hoped, then we still have nothing to regret. I think this is the attitude that is too often missed.

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