Don't take the red pill

I have noticed a burgeoning, collective sense things are not what they seem. So many groups nowadays talk about "taking the red pill," led by people who claim to have found a new, hidden understanding of reality only an elect few can recognize. They peddle the idea there is a hidden reason for why things are worse than they have ever been1.

This is not the same as Powering Up.

My rise and fall at a biglaw firm taught me to see the law from more angles than most ever will. My work as courier and computer hacker led me to break open hidden conspiracies and literally bring down governments2. I was lucky enough to see more of the world—past, present, and future—in high school than most will their entire lives. I have stopped active terrorist attacks during my time on the force, busted bands of untouchable bank robbers with the FBI, and read the life stories of a thousand troubled souls as an advice columnist. A monk once travelled to the United States from Bhutan, convinced I was a reborn lama3.

You know what I think? There is no red pill.

The zeitgeist these days is eager to mistake paranoia for wisdom. So many people are willing to believe that just because they want an idea to be true, it must be true. Our weird little monkey brains find it comforting to have a bad guy out there to blame for our problems, but most of us have exactly one enemy and that is ourselves4.

Whether it is building wealth, finding happiness, or healing a damaged relationship, change is difficult. There are no secrets that make it easy or explain why it is hard, only wisdom to (sometimes) help point out the way forward.

Nothing is easy

This does not mean there cannot be real obstacles in your path. Many of these obstacles may even be unfair, or created by organized people.

When has that ever not been the case? People always organize, and life is always unfair. Most people figure this out before they hit their teens. Any pills are strictly incidental / recreational.

When you see shadows where there are none, or mistake obsession for insight, it becomes easy to misallocate your resources.

Everyone of us lives a life of discrimination on the one hand, and advantage on the other. Some of us legitimately have it worse than others... in certain situations.

The explanatory power of those effects differs greatly from person to person and group to group. Each of us can think of times when larger forces (institutions, bureaucracy, the law, societal prejudice) have had it in for us, and other times when we have been given a break we did not earn5.

Red pillers tend to sell a different truth, and to mistake their advantage for disadvantage. The world is simpler than you could have imagined, they say. One big idea explains everything6, they claim. Especially their failures.

Only, it never does.

Red pill thinking hits on the same very common traits that make "one weird trick" advertisements successful. And, like those advertisements, any claim that there is a hidden answer to your problems (or hidden truth explaining them) is more likely than not coming from a con man or someone suffering from delusions.

Real explanations have predictive power

There has been a decade of research into whether people can accurately predict the future7. In this research, the "one big idea" groups are often called hedgehogs, and hedgehogs suck at predicting the future.

The opposite side of the coin is the wisdom of a fox. Unlike the hedgehog, the fox engages with the complexity of reality, is open-minded, and centers its understanding on what is known to be real. Because a fox has more than one idea, it can discard ones proven to be incorrect, or modify its ideas as new information comes in8.

To Power Up and Magnetize™ is the opposite of taking the red pill. It means making a commitment to distrust simple answers and to avoid blaming others for outcomes in your control. It means tempering every belief with error bars, questioning your assumptions, and knowing your biases.

And yes, you have biases.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.

A small question is often worth more than a big answer.

Andrew Reeves is an entrepreneur, touring musician, and practitioner of eleven martial arts. He reached financial independence at age 28 and has dedicated his retirement to fighting crime and helping others.


  • 1

    There is not, and they are not.

  • 2

    One government, anyway.

  • 3

    I said lama, not llama.

  • 4

    I am (sadly) remarkable in this regard.

    Batman's rogue gallery has nothing on mine!

  • 5

    This idea is known as intersectionality.

    It is an important component in understanding the world, real life power dynamics, and your own relative privilege (or lack there of).

  • 6

    One of the few big ideas I do push is, "Be excellent to each other."

    It does not explain anything or expose a hidden truth, but it sure does make the world a better place.

  • 7

    Stay with me here. Explanatory power and predictive power are inextricably linked.

    In reality—in the real world—any tool used to predict must be able to explain, and any tool used to explain must be able to predict.

    Otherwise you are just talking nonsense.

  • 8

    Read more about the research and what it tells us about the two approaches to understanding reality.

    Want the highlights? Turns out people make better predictions when:

    • they are smart
    • they have relevant expertise (i.e., training and experience)
    • they practice making predictions
    • they work with others
    • they are open minded
    • they understand statistics and bias
    • they are given time to think
    • they revise their opinions over time, as new information comes in

    So ask yourself if the red-piller you are talking to:

    • is smart?
    • has studied at all in the field they are trying to talk about?
    • has a good track record with being right in advance about something?
    • does not just preach to the choir?
    • is open to being wrong?
    • is demonstrably numerate?
    • takes their time before speaking, instead of giving a hot take for everything?
    • has a good track record with changing their opinion as new facts come in?

    The more often no is the answer, the more quickly you should run for the hills.

Do you think there is a difference between choosing the red pill and being a hedgehog? When is the last time you meditated? If you could go back in time and tell your 15-year-old self one thing, what would it be?


There are no comments to display. Yours could be the first!

Leave a reply

Comments do not appear immediately. They are reviewed for moderation by an actual human being. Check back later today to see if your comment was accepted.

Most comments that will be accepted are accepted within 24 hours.