You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes
—Morpheus, The Matrix
Ted is 23, fictional, and one night stays up late browsing the web. He starts on Wikipedia, finds himself reading the page on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, follows the links to conspiracy theorists, and eventually lands on YouTube. He watches videos all night. His brain stews in the information.
The sun rises. He’s convinced. 9/11 was an inside job.
But Ted has a problem. If 9/11 was an inside job and anyone with an internet connection can find out the truth, why are so few people believers? It’s unlikely that Ted just happens to be one of the select few that has figured out the truth. He needs some sort of justification. In general, weird beliefs are wrong beliefs, so why isn’t this weird belief wrong?
Ted stumbles around for a while, grasping at nothing, until… Eureka! No one else realizes the truth, he thinks, because the truth is so horrible. Our own government was in on it. Ted figures that he can see the truth because it’s his nature not to shy away from the painful things in life. He’s a stoic, don’t-you-know.
Except 9/11 wasn’t an inside job. Ted’s belief system has been poisoned.
Swallowing the Red Pill
I’ve heard this phenomenon described by adherents of outside-normal beliefs as “swallowing the red pill” — like when Neo accepts Morpheus’s offer and realizes he’s been living inside of the matrix.
It’s rhetoric. Sure, there are terrible truths about human existence, but:
- Something that is painful to think is not true by virtue of being painful to think.
- Too much emphasis on the negative aspects of something blinds people to the complexities of that something.
Regarding my second point, consider the worst of the pick-up movement. They took something with a kernel of truth — that women find
dominance behavior attractive — and expanded it into a philosophy.
The trouble with that, of course, is that it misses out on all the complexity of relationships — you know, the whole reason why
you might want a significant other in the first place. Social interaction isn’t zero sum. Both parties can benefit more by cooperating than they would otherwise.
All of this is to say: If you stumble on some group of people that claim to have recognized a terrible truth that no one else can bear, beware nonsense.