It’s difficult to take anything coming out of Elon Musk’s Twitter account seriously, and I say this as a person who is quite fond of a bit of eccentricity online. Since the pandemic began, Musk has been trying to keep the attention of a bored world squarely on him. He has been unleashing a series of bizarre social media statements that have included a tweet that affected Tesla’s stock market, as well as publicly naming his newborn son X Æ A-12 (or whatever he’s called this week). On May 17, Elon Musk continued with this bizarre streak when he tweeted the following:
Take the red pill 🌹
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 17, 2020
In case you’re not familiar with the term (and I suspect that most people reading this will be quite knowledgeable about it, but bear with me), the red pill refers to the 1999 movie The Matrix, where Morpheus invites Neo to choose between taking the red pill or the blue pill. If Neo takes the blue pill, nothing happens, he gets to go back to his normal life, but if he takes the red pill, he will get to see the reality as it is. See, we’re living in a computer simulation built by the machines to keep us enslaved, and the red pill yanks Neo from the computer world and into a bleak post-apocalyptic hellscape.
Why is Musk quoting The Matrix? Why does Musk do anything these days? It’s hard to tell, one could argue that he’s become a parody of himself, a person striving to continue to have relevance in a world that favours attention over anything else. The Trumpian world has taught us that the most important thing right now is to always be in people’s minds by whatever means possible, there’s no such thing as negative attention. Another argument is that he’s playing to his audience, the Joe Rogan demographic that see him as the closest thing we have to Tony Stark; his legion of fans tend to be a combination of cryptocurrency advocates, tech-bros, and techno-solutionists. Others could argue that he’s just trolling the normies. I have a different theory, he’s mostly trying to impress his young cool girlfriend.
Whatever the reason, this short tweet has proved extremely controversial because the “red pill” has become a well-known right-wing trope, mostly used by a certain brand of conservative to describe how they have stopped believing the lies that perpetuate the existing liberal elite multicultural consensus. This includes everything: anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, but also run-of-the-mill conspiracy theories ranging from anti-vaxxers to flat earthers. There’s no coincidence that a lot of YouTube channels that call themselves “red pill” tend to be filled with conspiracies, everything from anti-evolution to coronavirus misinformation.
And practically with no delay, the right-wing establishment started jumping in. Both Ivanka and Donnie Jr replied that they had already taken the red pill, confirmation that they may be thinking about running for office in the future, relying on the dog-whistle communication that they ‘get it’. The alt-right immediately took the tweet as a sign that Elon Musk is one of them.
But why did the ‘red pill’ meme become such a powerful right-wing signifier? Let’s not forget that the whole idea came out of a film written by two trans-women, and it was mostly an anarchic take on authority in general, the three films are drenched in French philosophy, some of the writers inspiring the Wachowskis are Marxist, or were influenced by Marxism.
To understand the reason why, one has to understand another modern staple of online right-wing thought, and it is the rise of the NPC meme.
For non-gamers, NPC stands for non-player character, most role-playing games have characters that can usually be found in the same place, they either give out instructions and quests, or provide story points so that the player can set out on their adventures. NPCs tend to do nothing other than repeat the same lines over and over. “Can you believe it, dragons! In your own homeland?”
4chan users posted that people in the mainstream tend to be NPCs, mindlessly repeating the same liberal slogans over and over because they have been programmed to do so. The mainstream do not really believe in most of the things they seem to support, such as equality and human rights, they’re all just following a script given to them by their true masters, the globalist liberal elite. According to this meme, anyone who doesn’t support conservative views is not a free individual, just part of the masses of sameness.
This narrative is very powerful, we live in a made-up world where the reality is dictated by powerful elites, our every opinion stifled, the reality of the world has been dictated to push whatever agenda they find objectionable, be it godlessness, the financial sector, Cultural Marxism, multiculturalism, feminism, gayness, a secret cabal operating from a pizza restaurant, 5G, vaccination mind-control, etc. On the other side, there are the true free people, those who have taken the red pill and see the world for what it really is.
This plays quite well with certain type of people who like to think of themselves as the heroes of their own story. You cannot be a truly free and unique individual if you follow what others are doing, so you come to believe that everything the mainstream believes and stands for is a lie. This adds to your own sense of worth, as the only thing that matters is that you are a free individual, the true elite.
I find this mindset baffling for many reasons. The idea that individualism is something to strive for has been around for decades, but it really has gained prominence since Ayn Rand, who sold the idea that most of the world is made up of true heroic individuals, and the rest of the less-deserving masses. Society is only useful as long as it helps the individual achieve their full potential, it’s a tool. Compassion, empathy, solidarity, these are lies that have been indoctrinated onto the NPC masses. The fact that Rand demonstrated by the end of her life just how much society was useful is something that has been lost on a lot of people.
But what really makes me smile is that for a bunch of true individuals, the proponents of these mindset end up repeating the same memes over and over again, they actually fall into a group-think as well in which wrong opinions are also policed, watching certain media, and even playing the wrong games becomes frowned upon in the group. You become part of a group that gets its information from memes and YouTube, so in many ways they become their own version of an NPC repeating the same mantras over and over. Like the NPCs they despise.
So perhaps we should fight back to regain the red pill, and also embrace NPC culture. We are all NPCs in the end because there is no such thing as a true individual, we’re all mostly repeating someone else’s script.
I leave you with the Lilly Wchowski’s response to Elon Musk and Ivanka Trump, a concise attempt to remind them who invented the red pill in the first place:
Fuck both of you
— Lilly Wachowski (@lilly_wachowski) May 17, 2020
I couldn’t have said it better myself.