Psychosocial Transformation by “Pill Pushing”?


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Model-Making, Strategic Advocacy and the Myth of the “Red Pill”


8 May 2017 – At the time of writing, a primary theme of the cult movie The Matrix (1999) offers pointers to an unusual way of reframing engagement with the current challenges of society. The movie highlights the choice between the Red Pill and the Blue Pill, namely a choice between enabling knowledge, freedom and the sometimes painful recognition of reality — in contrast with a blue pill reinforcing more-of-the-same, namely falsehood, security and blissful ignorance of illusion (Jenny C. Yip, Red Pill or Blue Pill? What You Don’t Know May Hurt You! Psychology Today, 6 September 2012).

The “blue pill” course has long been celebrated in mythology and popular culture by Lethe as the spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion — from which lethargy so appropriately derives.

The 2017 presidential campaign in France echoes the divisive characteristics which emerged as a consequence of the 2016 presidential campaign in the USA, or from the debates regarding Brexit in the UK. The populations are effectively implicated in the choice between two “pills” — the “My Way” articulated by each of the opposing candidates in the final round.

There is however an extra twist to that offered by the science fiction movie, namely that for each candidate their own strategy is framed as the “red pill” of painful reality necessary for fruitful remedial change. The strategy proposed by the opposing candidate is then reactively framed as a “blue pill” reinforcing the dangerous illusion of complacent continuity and inappropriateness. The “red pill” is necessarily framed as a “radical” solution calling for a courageous degree of daring — in contrast with the blue pill more readily associated with the cowardly, complacent. and potentially dangerous.

The argument is repeatedly made that these are complex times, rendered more complex by the nature of claims and counter-claims in a new post-truth era of fake news in which all authority is called into question — including proponents of any “My Way”. The “pill metaphor” has the advantage of offering further insight in that physical and psychological health is now readily understood as dependent on a balanced course of medication. Many consider it reasonable to take one or pills a day (Medicine Use Statistics, Eurostat, 2014; Michael Zennie, Americans consume eighty percent of the world’s pain pills as prescription drug abuse epidemic, Daily Mail Online, 10 May 2012). Potentially more relevant is the manner in which “health” is defined to encompass the need for recreational drugs, performance drugs, and complementary medicines — with relatively little recognition of deleterious “side effects“.

In exploiting the metaphor, the point to be stressed is the widespread familiarity with the use of a “pill” for remedial purposes — as well as the manner in which any problematic resistance to “health” may be framed as a negative “poison pill”. Advocated solutions to the problems of society can thus be explored as “red pills” — with the psychological transformation that any paradigm shift may imply — a pill for every ill. Similarly the dramatic problems of society associated with failure to change can be seen in the light of the “blue pills” which cultivate the illusion that all is reasonable, reinforcing comfort zones, cocooning and business-as-usual. Also intriguing is the sense in which values, to which reference is so frequently made as a source of inspiration, can themselves be understood through the pill lens.

Through echoing bullet points (made at the micro-level) and the global nature of the remedial transformation (variously sought at the macro-level), the familiar pill of medication offers a valuable lens through which to interrelatee and comprehend a disparate variety of phenomena (typically confusing phenomena).

The following discussion is a further development of points previously made (Remedies to Global Crisis: “Allopathic” or “Homeopathic”? Metaphorical complementarity of “conventional” and “alternative” models, 2009; Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society: speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures, 2008).

Ironically it raises the question as to whether the online Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential could also be explored as an Encyclopedia of Blue and Red Pills.

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