In the fantasy you have of being redpilled, you are a small angry creature in a world entirely under the sway of falsehood, a world whose consensus reality you can no longer inhabit. Everybody keeps drawing attention to the anger you’re expressing, which is really a kind of ontological exasperation, not some parochial hatred but the more total condition of having had just about enough of just about everything; but nobody really takes heed of the smallness, the creatureliness, the fact that you are now very mortal and alone. Knowing the truth places you in a condition of immediate existential peril, which is where you think you must be resigned or acclimatised to having to live from now on. There’s a tremendous urgency to this, and it’s liberating to bask in your cosmic exposure, the fact that there’s no longer anything standing between you and the radiant certainty of death. It’s a spiritual awakening, or at least a simulacrum of one.
I periodically have dreams in which I’m undergoing some sort of breakdown, and they feel similar to this. It’s suddenly impossible to abide anything at all, even people’s well-meaning kindness, because every last bit of it is in the service of the false, and no-one can hear me when I try to say what’s gone wrong. It’s as if I were making animal noises or something. I try to explain that I am not crazy, not flipping out, not ranting or raving, but the reactions of people around me continue to illustrate that they think I’ve gone somewhere very strange and worrying indeed. I haven’t, in these dreams, ever quite come to the point of making my peace with being this small angry creature who can no longer make himself understood. It’s always a relief to wake from the dream back into the possibility of human connection, the very sweetness of which is sharpened by the dread that it could so easily be lost forever.
Michael Douglas’s William Foster in Falling Down thinks he is a small, angry creature, a mouse that has decided to roar. What he has really decided to do, as the detective who tracks him to the film’s conclusion already knows, is to die. To die to the world, yes, but also in the end just to die. To “go out with a bang”, like a suicide bomber or school-shooter. For the detective, it’s simply a matter of containing the explosion. The self-detonation of “Heisenberg” in Breaking Bad is slower, a chemically controlled conflagration, but he too is trying to arrange an appointment with death. “I am the one who knocks!”, he declares. (You are never the one who knocks). Heisenberg thinks he’s seen something: the underlying structure of reality. Welcome to the desert of the real, and so on. But the reality of his situation is that he’s just an ugly man, doing ugly things, because he has discovered that he enjoys them. It’s the enjoyment that sustains the fantasy of super-competence; of having cracked the code, finally learned how to win the game.
When someone is redpilled, it’s a kind of disaster — a moral disaster, obviously, as they start believing and saying these terribly ugly things; but also an epistemic disaster, because in grasping after the truth they’ve somehow managed to let slip the very possibility of knowing anything at all in the ordinary kind of way. This can voice itself as heightened scepticism, a heroic determination to bring one’s critical faculties to bear on all received ideas, but it’s more like being in that dream where you’re trying to dial a number on an old-style telephone and you just can’t, you get a couple of digits in and you hit the wrong one and have to start again, over and over. Knowing things in the ordinary kind of way is like ringing people up, it’s easy and you do it all the time, trusting in the muscle-memory in your fingers to guide them to the right numbers, and in the numbers themselves to be the right numbers. The bits and pieces of knowledge that make up our common world are all addressable in some way; you can reach out for them and they’ll be there, and others around you will agree that they’re there: we know that this, we know that that. When someone gets themselves redpilled, they surrender this fluency in exchange for something else: a basilisk, an endlessly demanding absurdity, a bezoar of the mind shaped like a logic that won’t let go.
You cannot build a world from first principles. You get given a world that other people have made, and you get to take part in making it. That doesn’t have to mean simply going with the flow — you can commit yourself to doing foundational or critical work, radical enquiry, kicking against the pricks. If you find that the whole assemblage simply doesn’t suit you, you can make your ill-fittedness within it a guiding principle: what am I, and what is this world, that the two don’t go together quite as they should? In the fantasy you have of being redpilled, this question has an answer, and it has been staring you in the face all along, and it is that everything everybody has ever told you is false and corrupt, designed to keep you weak and compliant. This is not a principle from which it is possible to operate as a social being. It is however very convenient to those who command the loyalty of the redpilled that their followers should be isolated, dysfunctional and afraid.
When consequences start to pile up around you, you say to yourself “but I am a small angry creature”. To the hurt and disappointed people: “I am a small angry creature”. The fantasy you had of being redpilled was not supposed to involve quite so many consequences. It was supposed to lift you out of the universe of consequences altogether, into a brighter world, where the will alone is lord and master. This doesn’t look like that. You feel tired, the bumptious exuberance of the small angry creature rapidly draining out of you. Perhaps it was all some sort of joke, a blague, a satire against stupidity, a weapon of the intelligence at bay? You try that on for size; maybe you’ll get away with it. But you don’t feel particularly clever any more.