The following article was originally published December 6th 2019 on Medium. Two years later, I think the overall national zeitgeist is starting to understand echo chambers, at least in my circles, but it’s important to understand that echo chambers are not merely silos bounded by information filtering, but by thinking processes themselves.
I love John Carpenter movies, especially the less popular ones. Dark Star, his first film produced on a shoestring budget, should be required viewing for anyone who wants to know how to track vicious alien beach balls or teach the fundamentals of subjective existence to self-aware AI nuclear warheads. Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York are fabulously fun, and Prince of Darkness was one of the scariest movies I’d ever seen as a kid. But the one I keep coming back to, in terms of modern 2019 cultural relevance, is quite surprisingly They Live. And not for the reason you might be thinking.
The storyline for They Live is relatively straight forward. A drifter construction worker named Nada meets a raving lunatic conspiracy theorist who thinks that the rich are alien invaders. Nada then finds a pair of (magical?) sunglasses, that when he looks through them, show him the raving lunatic conspiracy theorist is in fact correct. The rich are all either alien invaders or collaborators with them, and the media is infused with subliminal messages to “OBEY,” “CONSUME,” and such. Nada goes on a violent alien killing spree, becomes a fugitive, fights against the alien overlords with the aid of a few others whom he has given more pairs of these sunglasses, and then in the end dies in the process of destroying an alien transmitter, exposing the truth to the world.
We could talk about the idea that Nada might have just been crazy, and that his actions viewed without knowledge of the conspiracy would look a bit like many of our modern deranged mass shooters. Maybe we’re viewing an allegory for the psychotic break of a nutcase. We could talk about the influence of Freudian psychology on the advertising industry, as propagated by Edward Bernays, whose methods lay the foundation for not only modern media marketing principles but also the platform for CIA regime change operations in banana republics. Obey. Consume. More on that here:
But I don’t want to talk about either of those things. I want to talk about the magic glasses.
Social Justice Wokeness
Let’s open with a web comic that’s quite popular, and see what it can tell us about wokeness.
When feminists or adjacent social justice types talk about being woke, they often refer to a moment of realization that shifts their entire world view. They stop seeing the world in the way they used to see it, and instead they see every interaction between every individual as a nested system of power play, with each group attempting to dominate other groups, and each individual acting out these tendencies to dominate. Every individual becomes classified inside an “intersectional matrix of privilege and marginalization” based on group identities and the relative amounts of “power” each of these groups is perceived to have. When they hear words, they apply this cognitive filter to the words they hear, and then derive different meanings from the words than someone who isn’t “woke” would derive. Their ability to interact with non-woke others sometimes suffers, because people outside this woke sphere of influence aren’t speaking the same language. People talk past each other.
No argument can be resolved, no agreement can be made, across this linguistic boundary while one interlocutor is wearing these sunglasses, and the other one isn’t. Just like the movie. There’s a scene in They Live where Nada gets into a protracted fist fight with one of the other characters who refuses to wear the sunglasses. Only after they beat the tar out of each other does the other character put them on, see Nada’s world view, and then off they go to kill aliens. We now have entire fields of academia dedicated to installing these magic sunglasses onto college students. But in the end, donning these sunglasses remains a choice that people either make, or don’t make.
While the social justice tribes are commonly branded with the term “woke” in our modern media, sometimes derogatorily so, this same sort of thing happens elsewhere, to vastly different effect.
Red Pill Wokeness
The term “red pill” has been coopted of late to simply mean turning Republican, or more specifically turning away from Social Justice Wokeness. But it has its origins in The Matrix movie, in almost exactly the same way as the feminist comic above, albeit from a diametrically opposite framework. It originated on Reddit, in a subgroup called The Red Pill, which began as and still is purely an area to discuss male dating strategies. (see footnote 1 way down at the bottom) There’s a bit of irony in that, given some talk on the ground that the blue pill and red pill in the Matrix movie may have been allegories for the transgender experience, but let’s set that aside and look specifically at Red Pill Wokeness.
The Red Pill is a system of dating strategies drawing from the online pick-up artist subculture detailed in Neil Strauss’s largely autobiographical book The Game, blended with certain building blocks of evolutionary biology and psychology. The central belief in Red Pill is that the behavior of both men and women is rooted largely in primate biological drives, and this behavior has evolutionary origins tracing back to mankind’s emergence as a social species. The strategy that forms around this belief, is to first understand the hypergamic tendencies of women, who are attracted to men of strength, power, and social status, and to cultivate those qualities and adjust their social signaling so they might better achieve the goals of their own biological hypergamic tendencies, which are to seek out women who are more fit and physically attractive. I won’t go into details, other than to mention that these approaches to dating are generally effective for what they intend to achieve, if you’re in to that sort of thing.
But Red Pill Wokeness ends up having similar problems to SJ Wokeness. Once you put those magic sunglasses on, they act as a different kind of reality filter, just like the Social Justice ones do. If you start viewing every opposite sex social interaction in the workplace through the lens of “branch swinging” through a hierarchy of “sexual market value” then all communications become filtered, the words people are saying take on different meanings than the person might have meant, and such. It becomes another communication barrier to authenticity, just like the SJ barrier. Strauss even gets into this very concept towards the finale of The Game. And just like the case of SJ wokeness, donning these magic sunglasses is a choice.
Classic Marxism is another class of wokeness, where every social interaction is viewed as a class struggle between the rich and the poor, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. While the folks who wear these glasses do fall on the left, the ones wearing pure ones have just as much problem with the Social Justice types as they do the capitalists. They view intersectionality as a red herring, obscuring the raw issue of access to capital. Donning these glasses is also a choice, that can seriously interfere with your ability to get gainful employment.
Antisemitism is a class of wokeness. Don those glasses, and the fact that the Jews have better socioeconomic outcomes than other races or religions becomes explained not by the fact that Jews are smarter, or the possibility that their cultural indoctrinations are better crafted to achieve success, but that the Jews are simply working in a grand conspiracy to gather all the money and power. Donning these glasses is also a choice, that can seriously interfere with your ability to process the news, go to the bank, or interact with any organization owned by or operated by Jewish folks.
Nationalism is a kind of wokeness, where you assign a value to a piece of dirt, and the culture that inhabits it, in excess of the value of a different piece of dirt on the other side of a line on a map. This has game theoretical value at the society level, because it helps you make sure some other nationalists don’t come storming across that imaginary line to kill your men, impregnate your women, and steal your resources. That sort of thing tends to happen, historically speaking. Donning those glasses is also a choice, which can lead you to volunteer to die overseas on less valuable dirt.
Flat Earth is probably a kind of wokeness. Religions are a kind of wokeness. Categorical trust (or lack of trust) in authority are kinds of wokenesses. All are a choice, and all have advantages and disadvantages.
Diligent readers of this publication should have adopted two things at this point in our long thought experiment. First, a skepticism about the prevailing narratives of gun math, but more importantly in my opinion, an understanding about how all these wokenesses interact. This is a kind of meta-wokeness, we detailed in November here.
Most people’s interactions most of the time are purely running automated behavioral scripts, which find their origin in social indoctrination by their parents, peers, and institutions. And when you put on a pair of these magic sunglasses, the glasses filter the reality to which you’re applying the script. Sometimes the glasses and the scripts are coincidental.
A cult leader masters control of their cultists, a nation leader masters their citizens. A mass movement is, by its nature, mastered by a central cabal or an intellectual abstraction that’s spread virally, often both. Sometimes it’s the abstraction itself that becomes the new Master of humans. A culture is a wider entity still, comprised of a blend of personality cults and overlapping abstractions that found their origin in mass movements, all working to Master the humans to achieve X.
That X tends to vary.
These things evolve and die out, and are replaced with better ones. The very first priority on the X list, for any modern Master of humans, must be to not let the Master die. If they didn’t have this first priority, they’d be dead by now. This is game theoretical proof that all modern cultures, having been tested in the fires of historical Darwinism, have preservation as their number one priority.
In short, most people’s scripted behaviors flow from training to spread a particular abstraction. A meme. You can go to Twitter and watch this happen real time. If you engage in the culture war at all, you can go back through your own conversations and see it happening. Try it out. Whatever you just said in that Twitter or Facebook argument, you’ve been trained to say.
That’s the HWFO analysis framework. And every tiny bit of culture war weaponry churned out by our media organizations fits into that framework. An article or TV show is a tool, written by a human tool, to control other human tools, who each trace their marching orders back to a master meme, that is playing that game. Understand that, and apply it to every single thing you see on your glowing screen, and you will be “HWFO Woke.” Every article, every TV show, every book, is this thing happening in real time.
Now. There. Did you notice it?
It’s the same trap. In trying to build an analysis toolkit for societal interaction, we have built yet another pair of magic sunglasses. Donning these glasses is a choice. If you did as instructed above, recognizing your own online culture warring for what it is, then you’ve donned these glasses. Even if temporarily.
I can’t take these glasses off.
And I can’t, with good conscience, tell you these glasses have no disadvantages. I don’t have the perspective to do so. Allow this to serve as your warning. Here be dragons.
(footnote 1 post publication: It has been brought to my attention that one of the earlier uses of “the red pill” in a context similar to what we describe above may have been by Mencius Moldbug’s neo-reactionary blog post “The Case Against Democracy” in April of 2007, and that r/theredpill on Reddit may have lifted the terminology, although the “dating strategies” Red Pill we’re referring to in the article above has very little to do with neo-reactionary philosophy.)