On Pills, Blue and Red

Here is an analogy I don’t think I’ve ever seen made (though it must have been): the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil <=> the Matrix’s “Red Pill.”

Both involve learning. Both involve exiting one world and entering another. Both have effects that are…morally ambiguous.

The effects are not uniformly good, and in a certain light, are generally bad. When Adam and Eve left the Garden, their eyes were opened and they were empowered by their new knowledge, but also sin and death entered the world. You don’t even have to be “simply” evil like Cain—the knowledge itself is dangerous. Cypher and Denethor are some of the worst examples, as their new knowledge drove them to despair.

But even among the “successes,” damage is done. I quoted this before, but it bears repeating:

‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’

[Frodo replied,] ‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

Something is lost when you start chowing down on red pills. You gain knowledge, but you lose innocence.

Sometimes I feel like I’m writing too dramatically, and I want to write, “This isn’t a big deal.” This is the opposite of that. This is a really big deal. Adapting yourself to the world is (by definition) a utilitarian endeavor. We can become uglier even as we become more successful.

Scott Alexander gave a good description of this in Meditations on Moloch (yes, it’s been seven years; it’s still relevant):

The Malthusian trap, at least at its extremely pure theoretical limits. Suppose you are one of the first rats introduced onto a pristine island. It is full of yummy plants and you live an idyllic life lounging about, eating, and composing great works of art (you’re one of those rats from The Rats of NIMH).

You live a long life, mate, and have a dozen children. All of them have a dozen children, and so on. In a couple generations, the island has ten thousand rats and has reached its carrying capacity. Now there’s not enough food and space to go around, and a certain percent of each new generation dies in order to keep the population steady at ten thousand.

A certain sect of rats abandons art in order to devote more of their time to scrounging for survival. Each generation, a bit less of this sect dies than members of the mainstream, until after a while, no rat composes any art at all, and any sect of rats who try to bring it back will go extinct within a few generations.

In fact, it’s not just art. Any sect at all that is leaner, meaner, and more survivalist than the mainstream will eventually take over. If one sect of rats altruistically decides to limit its offspring to two per couple in order to decrease overpopulation, that sect will die out, swarmed out of existence by its more numerous enemies. If one sect of rats starts practicing cannibalism, and finds it gives them an advantage over their fellows, it will eventually take over and reach fixation.

If some rat scientists predict that depletion of the island’s nut stores is accelerating at a dangerous rate and they will soon be exhausted completely, a few sects of rats might try to limit their nut consumption to a sustainable level. Those rats will be outcompeted by their more selfish cousins. Eventually the nuts will be exhausted, most of the rats will die off, and the cycle will begin again. Any sect of rats advocating some action to stop the cycle will be outcompeted by their cousins for whom advocating anything is a waste of time that could be used to compete and consume.

For a bunch of reasons evolution is not quite as Malthusian as the ideal case, but it provides the prototype example we can apply to other things to see the underlying mechanism. From a god’s-eye-view, it’s easy to say the rats should maintain a comfortably low population. From within the system, each individual rat will follow its genetic imperative and the island will end up in an endless boom-bust cycle.

Much sorrow stems from the innocent-seeming statement that being effective is not necessarily the same thing as being happy, or pleasant, or beautiful.

The solution to this was: split being into two sexes. One to face (and be transformed by) Moloch, and one to do exactly the opposite — to not be monstrous. To enjoy freedom from Moloch, and thus give meaning to the fight against It.

I’m saying really basic things here:

Red pill <-> masculine, blue pill <-> feminine.

Red pill <-> strong, blue pill < – > weak.

Red pill < – > cynical, worn down. Blue pill < – > innocent, fresh

Red pill <-> exposed, toughened. Blue pill < – > sheltered, delicate

I think this lens has legs. Some tidbits I may write more about later:

  • It used to frustrate me, meeting innocents (“sheeple!”). But the Lord specifically praises sheep, and refers to us as sheep. Now I realize that innocence is very valuable, even if it does sometimes require accommodation.
  • What constitutes “virtuous behavior” changes drastically from one pill to another. If your world is curated to be safe: you should be pleasant, agreeable, trusting by default, and more concerned with “being good” than “achieving good.” If your world is not curated at all: you should be alert, discerning, and more concerned with “achieving good” than “being good.”

This does not apply to just men and women—it is also a useful lens for the God<->Man relationship, and Parent<->Child.

Why did I write so much about this? Was there a shortage of amateur philosophy on the Internet?

No. What got me excited is how many different, seemingly unrelated things clicked into place at once:

  • how to live with Moloch and not despair
  • that women (relative to men) exist to be happy, and to make men happy—and, not, primarily, to “do things”
  • that the above is not a lesser calling, but deadly, deadly serious in the long term—though of course you don’t want to talk about that too much, or it kind of ruins the effect
  • I realized that any innocence I may retain brightens the universe from the Lord’s perspective. I’ve made it a new goal of mine to be more innocent.
  • It throws the Fall into perspective. Innocence by definition means there are certain aspects of reality barred to you—but curiosity is persistent.
  • We tend to have a lot of rules for women, and no coherent-sounding reason for them. This lens unties the knot. For women, the bluepilled, the innocent, the reason is “Because I (your father, your husband) said so.” That should be good enough for her (she doesn’t need to agree, just comply), but it’s not enough for him, because he does have to agree. The principle that “Innocence is a good, valuable thing, and that is to a large degree what women are for in relation to men” is an actual principle that isn’t culture- or time-specific.
  • It showed me a new perspective on obedience. It is extremely hard to communicate meaningfully across pill barriers, while retaining them. The Blue may say to the Red, “I love you,” but the Red knows there are dark things out there that would make Blue betray that, so Red can never fully believe Blue. Obedience—particularly blind obedience—is something Blue can offer that does instill confidence in Red. Commandments obeyed is every Red’s love language, be they God, husbands, or parents.