Newsletter #54: Taking the Red Pill
Welcome back to the Masculinist, the newsletter about how we live as Christian men and as the church in the modern world.
I’m in the middle of a three-part series on the “Dissident Right,” or the mostly online world of right-wing politics that has attracted millions of followers. If you did not read the first installment, please click over and read it now. It has extremely important background information, including what the Dissident Right is, what groups are included in the Dissident Right, how the Dissident Right differs from the “alt-right” or the “New Right,” and an overview of the key themes or commonalities among the Dissident Right groups.
I noted that the Dissident Right, in both its leaders and followers, is primarily made up of younger (post-Boomer) men. I said that a number of their leaders are from elite backgrounds and concentrated in global cities, and that they should not be intellectually underestimated. I also highlighted five commonalities to cover in more depth:
Atheist or New Age Metaphysics
Red Pill Sexuality
Last month I talked about metaphysic and ethics. This month I’m going to discuss red pill sexuality and transgressive affect.
Part One: Taking the Red Pill
The term “red pill” is a label for the model of intersexual dynamics held by the majority of the people in the Dissident Right. Its origins are in the manosphere, but it has diffused well beyond that. The manosphere is a collection of men’s web sites and social media channels that includes such groups as pickup artists, men’s right activists, men going their own way (MGTOW – a group that argues for avoiding marriage and entanglements with women), incels (the “involuntarily celibate” men who get no interest from women) and some Christian sites. The manosphere is past its prime but its ideas remain alive and well.
The term red pill is taken from the film The Matrix, in which the main character Neo is freed from the computer simulated fake world he thinks he inhabits after taking a red pill. He then is able to see the reality that humanity has been enslaved by sentient machines. Had he taken a blue pill instead, he would have remained in his fake world. In the manosphere someone who has taken the red pill is one of the minority that is able to see reality on gender, while the majority remain mired in blue pill delusion.
As in the Matrix, the red pill view of sexuality is very different from today’s conventional wisdom (though is similar to some historic views that are now officially derided today). I define the red pill as having two fundamental components:
A model of intersexual dynamics based on evolutionary psychology.
A library of applied techniques for picking up or otherwise interacting with women known as “Game” that is tied back to that model.
Rollo Tomassi, one of the biggest names in the manosphere, says that “the red pill is a praxeology, not an ideology.” That is, it’s not focused on a political agenda or a view of what the world should be like, but is rather about understanding what actually is and how to practically achieve your objectives within that. In other words, the fundamental question of the red pill is: What works?
It’s actually quite difficult to summarize the tenets of the red pill. As Tomassi puts it, “There is no elevator pitch for the red pill.” But I will try to give an introductory summary.
An Evolutionary Model of Intersexual Dynamics
The intersexual worldview of the red pill is derived from evolutionary psychology. Virtually all red pill discussion is ultimately framed in that way, even if only implicitly. For example, why are men treated as expendable while women are fiercely protected? Because “sperm is cheap, eggs are expensive.”
This means that the red pill view is typically presented in a materialist manner, in line with the atheist metaphysics that I said are dominant in the Dissident Right.
The appeals to evolution are an immediate turnoff to many Christians. To be honest, I’m always a bit skeptical of evopsych explanations of human behavior myself because they seem to be a form of “just so” reasoning. But I see the use of evopsych here as pragmatic. That is, there’s a need for a coherent model in which the red pill praxis can be embedded, and evopsych is useful for that. The red pill Game techniques were originally developed by experimentation without this model. The theory was added later, I suspect in part because a theoretical model helped them organize all this material into a coherent whole.
The theory is not necessary. Nor is evopsych the only theory that can be used as an organizing principle. There is a Christian portion of the manosphere that rejects pickup artistry and other such ungodly behavior. They mostly accept red pill conclusions, but derive them from the created order and natural law type arguments rather than evolutionary psychology.
The red pill model derives from the different reproductive imperatives of the sexes. Both want to maximize the number of genes they pass on. For men, who produce copious sperm, the incentive is to “fire and forget” and to impregnate as many women as possible like Genghis Khan, or to acquire harems of women. This rewards the most powerful men and disadvantages those at the bottom. In fact, it’s estimated that most human societies were polygamous and that less than half of all the men who have ever lived fathered children that survived (vs. 80% of women having surviving children).
For women, it’s very different. They endure a nine-month pregnancy and are very vulnerable during the early years of raising a nearly helpless infant. So they need not just to be impregnated but ideally to receive ongoing investment and protection from a man or community. Women were also vulnerable to being stolen or captured in battle and kept as wives or slaves (see the slaughter of the Midianites in Numbers 31, for example).
It might be better for men to invest in fewer children rather than try to father many kids with no investment (K vs. r selection). But there’s a challenge. Women always know who their own children are, but men don’t have assurance of paternity. So women can actually separate reproduction and investment, by first having sex and a baby with the guy with the best genes (practically speaking, the most attractive man), then deceiving another man into investing to raise the child. Women’s incentive is to practice hypergamy across both dimensions, optimizing first for “alpha seed” then “beta need” as the manosphere puts it. Men’s incentives are to impregnate as many women as possible, preferring young (most fertile) women with the best genes (again, most attractive), but only invest where they feel confident in paternity. Thus there is some level of competition between male and female sexual strategies.
Basically everything in the red pill world derives from this model. They would say that the old social system of enforced monogamy meant most people married and most men got to have children. The men had to limit themselves to one woman and stick around to invest in the kids, and women weren’t allowed to have separate men for impregnation and child rearing.
But today’s world is different. They would argue that it is “female centric” and designed to allow women to continuously re-optimize hypergamy across both dimensions over the course of their lives. Because women’s attraction is based on looks and age, which peak early, while men’s attraction is based on characteristics like power and status that peak later, women are on average more attractive than men in their 20s and less attractive than men after they reach 30 or so. So today’s world allows women to date or have sex with many attractive men when they are young, even ones who are poor marriage prospects or won’t commit to them. Then around age 30 they can hit the “epiphany phase” in which they say they are tired of “dating jerks” and are now looking for a “good man.” At this point they start looking for a perhaps less attractive man, but one who will actually commit to them and be a good provider and father. (Note that the average age of marriage in the US is 30 for men and 28 for women, which is right before attraction levels reverse from female advantaged to male advantaged). The red pill community has an entire timeline mapped out of what they see as the female behavioral tendencies at various stages of their lives.
The ability of women to continuously reoptimize hypergamy has become so socially accepted today that it has reached the point of what the red pill world calls “open hypergamy.” That is, women no longer need to hide this behavior. You see open hypergamy on display in this ad for Amazon’s Alexa, for example. This woman is married to a man who is attractive and appears to be the very model of the “good man” or “servant leader.” Yet she’s still fantasizing about sexual adventures with a truly hot guy (Michael B. Jordan). The manosphere would also say this ad is a great example of the difference between an alpha and beta male. This is open hypergamy in the sense that Amazon displays this kind of female behavior openly and as aspirational in the ad. There’s no longer any need to hide or disguise it.
The Game Library
I can’t begin to do justice to the red pill’s library of Game techniques, but here is a sample of the things they would say.
Because women are hypergamous (wanting to have sex, date, or marry up as much as possible), men should always be positioning themselves in a high value position. DHV or displaying high value is at the core Game. On the flip side, Game would say that a man should avoid complimenting women or putting them on a pedestal because anything that elevates her relative attractiveness makes him less desirable. In fact, rather than compliment a woman, it’s better to give her a “neg” or backhanded compliment. A classic neg would be, “Nice nails – are they real?” The red pill would thus say that all the Christian men who are always saying things like “I’m not worthy of this women” are behaving in a very counterproductive manner. Not only will she not actually appreciate it, but if you say that enough times, don’t be surprised if she starts believing it and dumps you for a man she thinks is worthy.
One Game technique for demonstrating high value and confidence is “peacocking,” or adding some type of garish accessory or piece of clothing to your ensemble. Being willing to confidently do something visibly outside the norm is high value. Mystery, one of the original pickup artists who at one time even had his own TV show on VH-1, used to go to clubs in a top hat and feather boa. Here’s a famous picture of him
Hard to believe this guy is a legendary pickup artist, right? This just goes to show that in the red pill world, things don’t work the way we’ve been conditioned to believe.
Another key Game element is understanding how to respond to various tests from women. For example, a woman may ask questions whose underlying intent is to suss out whether she is dealing with an alpha male or a beta male. Often this involves throwing out some form of “beta bait” that lures a man into revealing that he’s a beta unworthy of her time and attention (or sex).
The correct red pill response to these tests is often highly counter-intuitive. The most famous response technique in the Game arsenal is “Agree and Amplify.” So if a woman says something like, “You just want to have sex with me,” the red pilled man would say something like, “Babe, I don’t just want you for sex. I want your money too.” Or if a woman asks the infamous, “Do I look fat in this dress?” question, the right answer is not something like, “Of course not, honey. You’re so beautiful!” Rather, it would be to grin, spread your arms as wide as possible, and say, “Huuuuuge, baby!” This assumes she is not actually overweight, of course. And the key in all these interactions is to “hold frame” if she seems to initially be offended by the man’s answer.
For a guy interested in having sex with women, Game would teach that it’s actually better to come across as something of a scumbag than as potential boyfriend or husband material. If you seem like a potential boyfriend, this will only cause her to delay getting sexual in order to make sure she doesn’t come across as a slut. In other words, the pickup artist wants to trigger her alpha seed desires vs. her beta need ones. So in their view it’s actually important to avoid being seen as a “good man!”
Another important concept is to maintain an abundance mentality and not a scarcity one. This is a staple of mainstream self-improvement teachings of course. In the red pill context, it means seeking to become “outcome indifferent.” That is, if a woman you walk up to in a club rejects you, it’s no big deal. There are plenty more out there. In fact, it’s probably her loss. Above all, a man should avoid getting “ONE-itis” where he believes the woman he is dating is his soulmate, the only one for him. To keep from getting ONE-itis, a man should always be dating or chatting up multiple women at the same time – “spinning plates,” as they call it, and something they say women do instinctively.
This is only a small sample of the vast array of rules of thumb, techniques, etc. in the Game toolbox.
Does this actually work? While it’s unlikely that it works as well as promoters claim, undoubtedly it is effective at some level. For example, New York magazine published a story about a pickup artist named Jared who owned a local coffee shop in Asheville. He maintained a pseudonymous blog describing his conquests, steadily increasing over time to as many as 22 per year – and this from a guy who said he didn’t want to do one-night stands but rather build a “harem.” In Neil Strauss’ New York Times bestselling book The Game about the early pick-up artist community, we see that these techniques are extremely effective. From these and other accounts we can readily deduce that red pill Game at some level works, if alas for evil ends in too many cases.
We should not overstate the case, however. Even the manosphere’s leading lights will tell you the red pill can’t turn lead into gold. So men are constantly urged to improve themselves by getting in better shape, better grooming, better style, etc. And it’s always assumed that even a skilled Gamemaster will be rejected by a majority of the women he initiates contact with.
These examples also show that the domain for these techniques is mostly limited to men who are young and single and looking for sex. While some manosphere personalities talk about “girlfriend Game” or are about how to find someone to marry, very few people talk practically about the red pill for people who have been married for more than a short amount of time, and I only know of one manosphere site, a non-pickup self-improvement site called The Family Alpha run by Zac Small, that talks about being married with kids.
What To Think of All This
Everything about the manosphere is an instant turn off for most Christian leaders. Pickup artistry is morally wrong, period. Evolutionary psychology is a deal breaker for many. The manosphere is mostly metaphysically materialist, functionally nihilistic, and not a few of its characters are legitimately misogynistic in the sense of hating women. The MGTOW approach of advocacy for avoiding marriage out of self-interested reasons is far out of the Christian pattern. Incels get nobody’s sympathy. The red pill seems to both have a low view of women and be manipulative.
But the church needs to face the unpleasant fact that the red pill community actually got a lot right in an area where the church gets things wrong.
I have written a lot about this already. For example, I’ve pointed out how the church’s view of attraction is flat out false. Big name pastors like Matt Chandler says things like, “Godliness is sexy to godly people.” Jordan Peterson says, “Girls are attracted to boys who win status competitions with other boys.” Who is more right?
Jordan Peterson is not a manosphere figure but covers much of the same territory. He’s an academic psychologist, and thus is very familiar with the psychology literature on this, which backs up much of the red pill view of the world. Peacocking, for example, is a form of countersignaling, which indicates high status. (Today’s manosphere figures are up on the latest academic findings from social science, as well as insights into human behavior from the classics that are directionally true but treated as embarrassing or backward today).
As I covered in detail in Masc #17, the church has conflated the characteristics that make a man good marriage material with those that make him attractive. A central insight of the red pill world is that these are two separate things. They are driven by two different sets of characteristics. Attraction is driven by what we might call Alpha Characteristics: power and status, confidence and charisma, looks and style, and resources like money. These are almost completely missing or even downplayed in the church’s analysis in favor of what we might label Beta Characteristics that make a man good marriage material: godliness, kindness, conscientiousness, etc.
A Christian man needs to be both attractive and good marriage material. He also needs to have an accurate model of how intersexual dynamics work today. A Christian man who doesn’t understand the attraction curve I described in Masc #18, or how the relationship marketplace functions today as I described in Masc #21, or doesn’t understand the idea of hypergamy as I discussed in Masc #23 is primed to get taken advantage of. He’s not likely to hear any of this in church. In fact, he’s likely to hear things on these subjects that are just plain false. The mainstream secular conservative teachings are no better. We see it in this recent New York Post op-ed that basically argues liberal women really want to date a gentlemanly servant leader.
I believe there is no area where change by the church would be more productive in attracting men to it rather than the Dissident Right than this. That’s because, as former pickup artist Roosh Valizadeh once said, “Game is the gateway drug to the Dissident Right.”
The ordinary American man is what the manosphere calls an AFC – an Average Frustrated Chump. He has a completely flawed “blue pill” model of gender, and thus often has limited success in dating or understanding women. As the years go by, his number of bad experiences – being dumped or divorced, for example – increases.
Eventually he finds a pickup artist site and reads it in disbelief. But something in it nags at him, so he reads further, watches some videos, and so on. Eventually he finds the courage to try to try using the techniques to get a date. After a few awkward failures, they start working. In a fairly short period of time, he discovers that he is now ten times or more better than he used to be at getting women to go out with him.
What do you think that experience will do to this guy? Think back and visualize some of your own worst experiences or failures with women. How did they make you feel? Now imagine if you found out those happened because you were following bad advice from your pastor or other authority figure you looked up to. This might even have actually been the case. How would you feel when somebody else told you the truth, especially when those experiences were still raw?
For many a man, it causes burning anger at all the people who lied to him, maybe even in the church, and all the years he wasted doing it their way. He’s also likely to think the manosphere people who showed him how to find success with women are prophets. He’s primed to believe anything they tell him, to absorb their bad values, etc. He’ll probably also start wondering what else people have been lying to him about it. And that may ultimately lead him into some of the darker corners of the Dissident Right.
Our relationships with the opposite sex are primal. Nothing credentializes someone better than giving out practical advice that works here. On matters like economic policy, or race, or most other things, things are so complex and removed from our own actions and daily life that it’s impossible to personally verify whether or not what anybody tells us is actually true. But when it comes to the red pill, you can try it for yourself in the field and see whether it works. When it does, that is the ultimate credential.
I don’t think most men want to become pickup artists or take advice from them off the internet. I think they’d much rather have a more respectable source of truth. That’s a big reason Jordan Peterson got so huge and sold millions of books. There’s no reason the church can’t step up and start telling the truth here. It’s the proverbial crown of France just lying in the street.
How can we start with that? The first step is to understand the truth about intersexual dynamics. This recent Quillette piece on mate selection for modernity is a good starting point. It provides basic info on attraction preferences and the realities of today’s dating and marriage environment, including plenty of links to academic studies. And read my back issues on male attraction (Masc #17), female attraction and the attraction curve (Masc #18), hypergamy (Masc #23), the neoliberalization of relationships (Masc #21), and the reality of online dating (Masc #50). These will give you the basics that you need to know.
Part Two: Transgressive Affect
Another common element of the Dissident Right is transgressive affect. That is, they deliberately utilize provocative images and rhetoric that violate various taboos of society, or that are designed to offend or shock.
During the 2016 election, for example, various of the online right twitter accounts would post Holocaust memes showing some particular person (sometimes but not always Jewish) in a gas chamber with flames rising in the background. Most are not as extreme as that, but it will give you a flavor of how they operate.
Here’s a Mike Pence meme. I actually used to send this to anybody who wrote to me saying Trump should be impeached.
Here’s one criticizing the Republican party:
Here’s a cartoon mocking activism on campus.
This is one in a genre of many similar memes. This style of drawing actually goes back quite a way. It’s a portrayal of someone who would have been your girlfriend, but was aborted. (As with porn, the Dissident Right tends to be more militantly anti-abortion than mainstream conservatives, although the alt-right group likes abortion because more minority babies are aborted, and some other subgroups support abortion on eugenics grounds).
Again, I’m not going to post highly offensive memes here, so don’t assume from these that these are the norm. There is an incredibly wide variety and much, much more transgressive and offensive examples. But these do show that the memes and rhetoric are designed to be humorous at some level, though with a kind of humor directed towards Gen Z and other young people. I often don’t get the joke myself.
These memes, etc. are intended to be funny, but also intended to raise questions about how serious one should take them. The work of Bronze Age Pervert, for example, uses many humorous techniques such as an affected Russian accent. But there’s no reason to believe he’s just playing an elaborate joke. He’s obviously serious at some level. How serious is ambiguous, and that ambiguity is part of the Dissident Right affect.
In her book Kill All Normies, Angela Nagel does a good job exploring the nature of this transgressive affect. She correctly links it with the style of the leftist counterculture, writing:
Those who claim that the new right-wing sensibility online today is just more of the same old right, undeserving of attention or differentiation, are wrong. Although it is constantly changing, in this important early stage of its appeal, its ability to assume the aesthetics of counterculture, transgression and nonconformity tells us many things about the nature of its appeal and about the liberal establishment it defines itself against. … The genuinely conservative right of Schlafly, meanwhile, is the only force described here that really has died, as the new right is as transgressive and rule-breaking as the new left once was.
The left’s countercultural style has become typical of our society, so the Dissident Right naturally took it up. This was particularly easy for them because they are in the same position of critiquing the mainstream institutions of power and mainstream culture as the counterculture was. So they’ve taken the same approaches, but recast them from the way they were absorbed into the mainstream and back into their original genuinely transgressive valence.
There’s the question of how the church should respond to this use of transgressive affect. I do think that much of the American church’s communications are, as they say today, cringe and need to be improved. However, this is a case where I think the church should avoid trying to be “relevant” or “cool” by aping what the Dissident Right is doing. I would suggest we need to be much more focused on getting better substance, as with our teachings on gender, than trying to act cool and edgy.
But we should understand what we are dealing with when it comes to Dissident Right rhetoric and transgressive affect. This material is shocking in some cases because it is intended to be. It’s the style of people who are weak and on the margins. It’s created with various intent: humor to keep up morale among their own people, a desire to trigger stress and outrage in their opponents, to expose people to extreme positions that make more moderate versions that would have previously seemed extreme seem more normal, etc. It has also been very effective.
For Further Exploration
During this series I will provide additional resources you might be interested in to help make sense of or sample what the Dissident Right is saying. Note that I will not recommend extreme content, so this material is not a full representation of what’s out there. But you should still find these items very informative.
Rob Henderson is a Ph.D. student in evolutionary psychology who publishes a weekly newsletter brimming with insights from academia on intersexual dynamics, social status, and more. Very informative and relatively short.
Neil Strauss’ 2005 book The Game is a well-known book exploring the early pickup artist community. Strauss, a former New York Times reporter, himself became a top pick-up artist and wrote about the experience. This is a mainstream bestseller (published by Harper Collins) but has strong sexual content. It’s certainly not for everyone, so be cautious in reading. One of things this book does well is show how ultimately empty and destructive the pick-up artist lifestyle is for people who get involved in it. The design of the book is actually modeled after the Bible. I think this is less suggestive of being a pickup bible than it is men seeking to find meaning and fill the hole inside themselves where religion used to be with pickup artistry.
Stephen Casper’s The Biblical Masculinity Blueprint is a great summation of the Christian manosphere. This is where the red pill meets Christianity. Recommended and safe to read.
This two-hour interview with Rollo Tomassi is a great introduction to his work.
Rollo Tomassi’s book The Rational Male is a one of the foundational red pill texts. Like much of the manosphere, it is very nihilistic in its conclusions. But it’s also very illuminating in a number of respects. You can also read an overview I wrote of Tomassi’s new book The Rational Male Religion.
Angela Nagel’s book Kill All Normies is a great introduction to the Dissident Right’s transgressive style and its similarities to that of the leftist counterculture.
Instead of pathetically trying to speak the language of this new right by trying to ‘troll the trolls’ or to mimic its online culture, we should take the opportunity to reject something much deeper that it is revealing to us. The alt-right often talk about the mind prison of liberalism and express their quest for that which is truly radical, transgressive and ‘edgy’. Half a century after the Rolling Stones, after Siouxsie Sioux and Joy Division flirted with fascist aesthetics, after Piss Christ, after Fight Club, when everyone from the President’s fanboys to McDonalds are flogging the dead horse of ‘edginess’, it may be time to lay the very recent and very modern aesthetic values of counterculture and the entire paradigm to rest and create something new.
– Angela Nagel, Kill All Normies