In 1999 film The Matrix, the main protagonist Neo is a regular computer programmer or some such at a regular corporate office. In his side-life, he engages in hacking.
He also notices things which cause him to doubt the reality of the world he is living in. He doesn’t know what precisely, but he still knows nevertheless that something is amiss. When he meets the mysterious Morpheus, he asks Neo the question he has been waiting to ask for some time.
What is the Matrix?
There, he is offered two choices: Take a red pill and learn the truth; or, take a blue pill and forget he ever asked the question.
He later finds out that the “reality” of the world he lives in doesn’t exist. It is an entirely virtual world humans are hooked into to provide electricity for machines that run the planet. Unplugged from the Matrix, he joins the band of human resistance against the agents inside the Matrix.
The Libertarian Red Pill
So what does this have to do with libertarianism?
There are many people out there who are not libertarians, but like Neo they comprehend that something is not right with the world, particularly in the world of politics. They don’t know what, yet they perceive the flaws in the system. Many will quietly harbor these thoughts, but never seek out answers.
Others will try to get explanations. They will go to all sorts of political groups and organizations who, as state priests espousing their version of The Vision, provide comforting rationalizations to justify or discount the incongruities these people witness.
However, some will come to libertarians for answers. There, they will either ask, or be asked, The Question.
What is the state?
And like Neo discovers about the Matrix, they will learn the truth about the state: it is, by definition, a criminal entity. It is based entirely on coercion and aggression. The “will of the people,” “majority-rule,” “social contracts” and “democracy” do not change this. Written constitutions are not legally binding. Taxation is theft. Conscription and arrest for victimless crimes are kidnapping. Unjust war is murder.
In the film, Neo has a brief conversation with a young child who is able to bend a spoon simply by looking at it. When Neo asks how, the boy points out the reality of the fact that “there is no spoon.”
Likewise, there is no legitimate authority for the state.
Accepting this basic fact about the state, the truth of its essence, is to take the libertarian red pill. Once you’ve embraced the NAP, once you’ve unplugged, everything is different.
Unplugging and Re-plugging Into the Matrix
The reason I use the Matrix analogy is because it provides so many excellent allegorical situations to help explain and interpret human behavior concerning libertarianism.
We live in a world in which the state’s legitimacy (not its actual existence) is the Matrix; it so ingrained into people’s minds, starting in early childhood, that it is regarded as a part of reality itself when is in fact completely reliant on people’s will to believe. For someone still plugged into the Matrix, to deny the state’s legitimacy is to deny the sky. Acknowledging it exists is not sufficient; it must be validated.
This makes the implications of unplugging from the Matrix particularly immense. It forces you to confront unpleasant, possibly life-changing facts about life and leaves with you the choice of what to do about it.
Imagine taking the libertarian red pill while serving in the military, or mid-career at a government agency. Or when your father is a well-known politician who hobnobs with defense contractors. Compared to this, changing your whole outlook on history will seem simple.
Too often people mistake libertarianism with a specific, prescribed political system when it does no such thing. It is not a complete moral theory. When he was unplugged from the Matrix, Neo could not deny the truth, but there was no prescription for what he must do after that. What he chose to do was based on the remaining values unaffected by his unplugging because they weren’t based on lies (or at least that particular lie). The difference of preexisting values determine what you do following your unplugging.
If those values are contingent upon the state’s legitimacy, there is a huge risk of someone trying to plug back in, and usually in a less honest manner.
In the film Cypher, one of the characters unplugged from the Matrix, is unable to cope with the austere living conditions of real life and decides that “ignorance is bliss.” He plots to betray the group, all in the hope the machines will plug him back in and wipe his memory so he remembers nothing. Cypher demonstrates something libertarians need to grasp; knowing the truth doesn’t require you to accept it.
Even as he was betraying his comrades and collaborating with the machines, Cypher still knew what the Matrix was. In the same way, you must decide what to do when you realize the state is not a legitimate entity. So many “unplugged” people will continue to support the state despite knowing it has no legitimate authority.
I am more than content to offer the red pill and help people unplug from the Matrix, as I once was myself not too long ago. But I would add that those who evangelize for libertarianism have to come to terms with another truth; most people will not unplug, and even if they do, they will willingly plug themselves back in once they see the costs of taking the red pill, even if they don’t admit it or realize they’re doing it.
I constantly see libertarians grow frustrated when they fail to convince their sibling or relative to accept our beliefs, no matter how many family Thanksgiving dinners it spoils or how many debates they have on Facebook. I would highly advise those who participate in such bickering to not engage unless fired upon and even then to launch defensive measures only.
Apart from what is actually being argued, public environments are antithetical to the type of conditions that foster a man’s willingness to reconsider his beliefs. If a person is going to change, it’s going to be over a private chat with a confidant who respects them and doesn’t make it a matter of honor for him to defend his views.
I haven’t watched The Matrix in years, but recently it dawned on me that Morpheus doesn’t just shove the red pill down Neo’s throat, which he could have done. He offered the choice to take it, but also to walk away.
Ultimately, you cannot force someone to take the libertarian red pill. They have to take it because they want to know the truth. If they don’t want to know, no amount of badgering will unplug them against their will. Yes, yes, there are always exceptions, but they’re called exceptions for a reason. And even then I would argue that seemingly involuntary unplugging is really just the result of a person’s unwillingness to surrender their first principles in order to maintain belief in the Matrix; so that in sense they still made a choice, they just didn’t realize it.
Contrary to how their protestations make them seem, people’s motives for staying plugged aren’t always based on hatred or ill-will, but self-preservation. They have spent their entire lives investing in the Matrix. This is why it is so hard for war veterans to unplug; admitting they fought in an unjust conflict means they suffered under false pretenses. For those invested in the Matrix, admitting it is a false reality is to renounce parts of themselves; in a metaphysical sense, they must kill a part of who they are.
This is also why the liberty movement’s been successfully with younger people; they have little to no investment in the system.
However, there are also those whose version of The Vision is so powerful that it overrides reality, so much so that the delusion is greater than their belief in the state; The Vision is the state’s raison d’etre.
It’s why trying to unplug these people without requiring them to scrap beliefs that are predicated on the Matrix was, and will always be, an unmitigated disaster.
The Libertarian Red Pill Is Just One of Many Red Pills
There is also danger of libertarians trying to unplug others without them first understanding what it is we are and are not offering; this applies to both libertarians and their converts.
The reason it’s called the libertarian red pill is because, as the Manosphere has shown, there are many kinds of red pills regarding truth on a specific topic. This is just one. If you want to know the truth about other things, you’ll have to take the necessary pills.
We’re only unplugging you from one type of Matrix you are living in unknowingly.
This is troubling for many who join the liberty movement. For some, this pill is too bitter to swallow because, pardon the expression, it’s not “thick” enough to answer other questions pertinent to the rest of life. The debate over what libertarianism is and isn’t, is really a struggle between those who are at peace with the truth the NAP offers and those who still cling to preconceived notions they developed prior to their unplugging. They don’t just want the truth; they want the comfort and security of a belief system that addresses social, moral, cultural, and religious questions their previous political ideologies handled and which the state is more than happy to comply with. They want The Vision that libertarianism can’t and won’t create by itself.
Really, they’re like Cypher; they want to get plugged back into the Matrix.
To paraphrase what Morpheus says to Neo just as he is about to take the red pill, libertarianism only offers you the truth about the state, nothing more.