The Red Pill Overlap
Why New Age Yogis Have Swallowed QAnon Conspiracies
“The Matrix is everywhere… It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
“This is your last chance. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
There is a perplexing phenomenon taking place in yoga-land. The tatted-up, skimpy-goddess vegan Instagram-influencers, and their Burning Man scarf-wearing man-bun quantum raw-chocolate-eating partners in polyamory are spreading conspiracy theories about the global pandemic that often have a lot in common with extreme right wing QAnon Trump supporters.
Don’t get me wrong —these, to a large extent, are my people. Idealistic, adventurous, open to a liberated exploration of body and mind, and usually progressive in their political views.
Sure, there is a libertarian anarcho-capitalist entrepreneurial tone that often resonates with disturbing beliefs linking financial success to a Jedi-like spiritual prowess in the supposed art and science of “manifestation,” but the love-and-light crowd tends to be aligned with liberal attitudes on social issues and an almost Utopian optimism about the future we can create.
Nonetheless, many yogis, ecstatic dancers, bodyworkers, meditators — you know, people focused on health and well-being, are all clogging my social feeds these days with the ever morphing paranoid conspiracy theories.
They frame the quarantine, the pandemic, WiFi/cell tower technology, and vaccines as all being part of a vast conspiracy designed to take away our freedoms, track our movements, poison our bodies, and enact an ominous new world order.
Some variations of these theories even lurch between wild QAnon claims of pedophile rings in which the elite feast on the addictive adrenaline-rich blood of tortured children, and those of Alex Jones about the reptilian aliens secretly controlling our planet. Jones and his Info Wars organization was given a White House press pass shortly after his friend Donald Trump was elected.
How are my people buying into this stuff?
Pssst… This article led to me collaborating with Derek Beres and Matthew Remski on the Conspirituality Podcast….
Taking The Red Pill
As a yoga teacher, teacher trainer, bodyworker, ecstatic dance DJ, and writer, I have been in and around this subculture for almost 30 years, and I love many things about it. However, there are some fatal flaws at the heart of popular New Age beliefs that I have always seen as dangerous.
My tribe found incredible inspiration and validation in the first Matrix movie when it came out — so it is perhaps fitting, though ironic, that the “red pill” moment in that hugely influential film would now be the central metaphor that connects alt-right Trumpian gun-totin’ quarantine-protestin’ QAnon folks with New Age feminine empowerment coaches and juice-cleanse-quaffing yogis.
On our side of the Venn-diagram lies a self-serving misinterpretation of “taking the red pill” and what The Matrix was really about; as if spiritual awakening is about developing super powers. This same misinterpretation already lay at the heart of how many New Agers think about the purpose of practices like yoga and meditation.
On the left, being red-pilled might also be a way of talking about becoming woke on social justice issues — a term that I think is useful and on point to some extent, but can also have its own conspiracy-style adherents.
On the other side of that Venn-diagram, the red pill metaphor has been more recently adopted by alt-right figures like Candace Owens as representing a conservative awakening from their perceived conditioned trance of being liberal, anti-Trump, and concerned about inequality and the oppression of minorities.
In the overlapping center of the Venn-diagram lie figures like yoga community YouTube comedian JP Sears, whose recent video satirizing people who believe the “mainstream media” on Covid-19 is approaching 4 million views. His legions of subscribers and followers see him as having taken the red pill.
Sears today published another video satire featuring a pathetic, fearful quarantine-follower who is painted blue (because he took the blue pill and chose to stay enslaved and asleep you see) weakly accepting being told what to do by the government and media.
I am gonna go ahead and predict that Sears will soon be appearing on FOX News and alt-right YouTube podcasts aplenty. Next stops: Steven Crowder, Candace Owens, Dave Rubin, Tucker Carlson.
Who knows, Joe Rogan may even have a slow week and invite him on. My friend Bridget Phetasy, who hosts Dumpster Fire may well appreciate the humor of the absurd in all this. It almost makes me wanna feel good for JP. Almost.
This overlapping zone also includes David Icke, RFK Jnr., and others who are not really on the right, but that’s because in some cases they’re not even on planet Earth! They range from liberal anti-vaccine activists to full-blown believers in reptilian alien shape-shifters.
This motley crew have been in rotation lately as interview subjects on Bryan Rose’s hugely popular London Real channel. Rose of course describes them as having taken the red pill on their way down the rabbit hole in search of the hidden truths of our time.
David Icke and Alex Jones do seem to agree on those reptilian aliens —and this sci-fi sub-plot is present in the early New Age writings of one Barbara Marciniak. She published a series of supposedly channeled books that started with Bringers of the Dawn back in the 90’s, when claiming to be receiving transmissions from the Pleiadians was a big spiritual selling point.
It would appear, dear reader, that delusions have no political affiliation.
I want to go deeper into The Matrix, and Neo’s quasi-psychedelic awakening in a moment, but first let’s look at some of the characteristic aspects of New Age beliefs with which it intersects, because these prefigure a vulnerability to conspiracy theories.
Ancient & Exotic Natural Cures
There is a huge, and valid, admittedly privileged focus on health and wellness amongst us yoga mat carrying Whole Foods shoppers.
This often goes with some version of the belief that all of our maladies can be cured by being as “natural” as possible. We reflexively embrace anything labelled organic, non-GMO, and herbal, and subscribe to a grab bag of ancient and exotic cures and treatments, including herbal cleansing, juice fasts, acupuncture, homeopathy and the perfectly named, naturopathy.
In this worldview, much disdained and lowly “Western” medicine only makes us sicker, only treats symptoms, is “unnatural” and amongst many of my friends is seen as originating a big lie perpetrated on us in a conspiratorial way that actually keeps us sick.
This corrupt agenda prevents the supposed true evidence for a slew of actually failed, ineffective, outdated and even dangerous pseudoscience claims from coming out and stealing too big of a slice of the Big Pharma/medical model pie.
Along with this rebellious and almost puritanical, luddite stance on health, healing and being more natural, there is also a rebranded religious disdain for science and technology as something that interferes with our energy like a genetically-modified apple of temptation that corrupts our garden-of-eden-dwelling true nature.
From the perch within these in-groups we see ourselves as more “conscious” and in tune with nature and Spirit. We might be vegan, and/or eat only raw food, cleanse frequently to eliminate all those nasty toxins, and spend big bucks on slickly marketed spiritual snake oil.
This is not to say there not some partial truths in some of this narrative —Americans are over-medicated, and should be given more support to eat healthy, exercise more frequently, and learn how to manage stress better.
There is another, deeper level: For many New Agers, individual health and well-being, as well as that of the global community, is often framed as only ever really being at risk from one thing: wrong thinking and beliefs.
This little nugget of faux-profundity comes straight out of the so-called Christian Science of Mary Baker Eddy circa the late 1800’s.
Here the original sin is a lack of spiritual awareness. It is failing to be rooted in an ultimate higher truth that is some combination of thought created reality, being a quantum-Jedi manifestor, and believing fully that Spirit is always guiding us and showing us synchronistic signs in patterns I sadly usually find quite random and superficial.
The higher truth, then, is that nothing is really bad, sad, or painful, because it is all a lesson perfectly designed, indeed co-created for the spiritual curriculum we need on the way to awakening as pure light and love.
Cue my slack-jawed face when even the Holocaust or child abuse is described this way.
I usually get a lot of push back when I talk about spiritual bypass — but that’s what this is.
It’s simple, and seemingly harmless in its good intentions at first, but its implications are complex and numerous.
Spiritual bypass works like this:
For understandable psychological reasons we become ensconced in a worldview that uses metaphysical beliefs as a way to defend against, distort, or reframe legitimate human suffering, vulnerability to illness and accidents, trauma, injustice, and painful emotions as not really being what they are.
We then fetishize the supposedly “spiritual” ability to dissociate, rationalize (i.e. make up a dishonest story about an unpleasant truth), deny and endlessly put a light-and-love spin on events.
What I have found is that via these core beliefs, we end up engaging in a practice that, rather than shaping outside reality, as is often claimed in media like The Secret, instead burns a distorted operating system and perceptual lens into our neuroplastic brains.
Dressed up as becoming more enlightened, this operating system demands the daily practice of being defiantly out of touch with reality.
It’s the practice of thinking facts and evidence are relative, mutable, and can be made to mean whatever we want via the narcissism-enabling belief in absolute subjectivity — the divine “I” that alone creates reality and stands all-powerful within it.
Hint: there is some rhyming here with the “don’t tread on me” mantra from the alt-right. The language of sovereignity and being an almost monarchical ruler of one’s own domain has ironies a plenty in its overlaps between feminine empowerment coaches and 2nd amendment, “we need an armed and vigilant militia to resisit leftist tyranny” folks.
This particular matrix of belief in absolute subjectivity is indeed all around us in the New Age marketplace, with many millionaire authors and speakers endlessly repeating that quantum physics, neuroscience, and ancient teachings all prove it to be true.
From this belief system, we practice a defensive stance that says anytime we don’t like something, some unspiritual force of darkness must be out there forcing this illusion on us, and the only way to prevail is to dig our heels in and repeat the spiritual bypass mantras and affirmations, no matter what.
Sickness, negativity, painful emotions, and limited materialist science opposing any of our emotionally held beliefs, are all the many faces of this new version of a malevolent Satan who tries to keep us asleep.
Sadly, this is not a pathway to really healing trauma, facing the world and life on their own scary, chaotic, often painful terms, discovering clarity of mind and resilience of heart via a deeply honest set of practices that support healthy critical thinking, an understanding of science, and grounded compassion that recognizes the value of human decency precisely because the world is in many ways brutal and unfair.
Instead, it is an entirely false landscape, dissociated from those painful and complex realities, that has been imagined and invested in as the ultimate spiritual truth.
For many New Agers, waking up to this fabricated and ungrounded romantic and passionate vision of reality, is what is meant by taking the red pill— and just like Neo in the Matrix, learning to bend reality with our all powerful minds.
Neo & Morpheus
Early on in the first and by far most beloved installment of The Matrix Trilogy, we find a prophetic Morpheus sitting in a red leather armchair on a glaringly white soundstage.
His swaggeringly precise monologue reveals to the still sleeping savior figure, Neo, that everything he has taken to be real is in fact a lie, a simulation, a way of keeping him and all of humanity docile, enslaved, plugged into a massive computer system that is draining their very life-force.
“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
“You are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
It’s riveting cinema that simultaneously invokes postmodernism, Eastern religion, psychedelic mind expansion, and a counter-culture desire to buck the system, shake off the chains of consumerism, and trust our vague intuition that all systems of power are corrupt and dishonest.
The brilliant story-telling that follows tracks our hero as he learns how to use his mind within the computer simulation to perform feats of agility, learning, combat and mental focus that draw heavily on our associations with, for example, martial arts as a path of mind over matter.
He develops an almost paranormal realization of perfectly attuned physical grace and intuitive immersion in the flow of consciousness and energy, a la Neo and Morpheus’ predecessors, Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker and the cryptic zen koan spouting Yoda.
Here’s the thing though: the reality that Neo wakes up to is actually super-vulnerable and stark.
Contrary to pop spiritual interpretations — Neo doesn’t wake up into being an all-powerful mental manifestor who can transcend the laws of physics.
This is key: The grim reality he wakes up to is sackcloth clothes on emaciated and frightened human bodies, in an industrial wasteland.
It’s only inside the computer simulation matrix that Neo and Trinity and their crew are all sexy, sunglass-ed, leathered up —and most importantly, able to mentally hack the code and perform feats that would be impossible in the world outside of the matrix: the broken, painful, vulnerably human world they are trying to save.
I wonder sometimes if many in the yoga teaching subculture want to live inside the Matrix as idealized and magical two-dimensional versions of their social media avatars, while selling others on the empty and ironic promise that they too can “wake up.”
Red pill? Not so much, actually. This aspect of our subculture insists that to be spiritually awakened, we see a curated and fanciful illusion as reality, and the more nuanced and bittersweet reality longing for our compassionate attention, as the lie.
What I am saying is that the spiritual subculture I have been in and around for almost three decades, that can be so beautiful and life-affirming, liberating and healing, that provides a juicy alternative life style which actually does remedy so many modern woes, also has at its core this self-perpetuating spiritual bypass mandate to convince ourselves that truth is illusion, and make-believe is true.
It is Orwellian double-speak in light-worker drag.
This can be harmless and even helpful when you’re setting goals, or trying to get out of an objectively distorted and self-limiting mindset, but when pushed to its logical conclusion and applied to reality writ large, it is a disaster.
This philosophical and psychological disaster is the perfect seeding-ground for the conspiracy reasoning we see creating an ever larger Venn-diagram overlap between the alt-right/QAnon/libertarian/2nd amendment/prepper-bunker crowd and our pseudoscience/natural medicine/the Secret/higher truth crowd.
For spiritual folks the threshold into the overlap is crossed via a quick trip through Alice’s looking glass into just the exact shadow reflection of the light-and-love delusion. It is the positive, synchronistic all-is-perfect obsessive pattern-seeking confirmation bias turned on its head and set on fire — and that fire fantastically fueled by the explosive emotional gasoline kept buried until now by spiritual bypass.
The overlap is organized around 5G, vaccines, and the right to not have the government tell you what to do. The shared and now oddly bi-partisan conspiracy reasoning style perceives itself as skeptical, independent, open-minded and brave.
But it is actually something I call “freshman skepticism.”
Freshman skepticism arises in that magical place where a lack of general knowledge, critical thinking, and scientific understanding, collides with paranoid speculation, fallacious reasoning, and glib over-generalization.
It is driven by an in-group emotional conviction that all experts, career public servants, scientists, government agencies, and the “mainstream media,” are part of a complicated, evil, miraculously co-ordinated yet conveniently vague and ever-morphing plot.
This many-headed Hydra born of a preconceived dark emotional mood ever-seeking an ad hoc explanation, is given life by a small army of loud Quixotic renegade heroes trying to find the impossibly convoluted myth they feel destined to play out.
Only YouTube “researchers,” conspiracy websites, alternative doctors, and fringe voices know the truth, even though they may disagree on the details. Still, the true and revelatory shape of the meta-narrative Hydra is there somewhere.
It’s like the specter of an evil Virgin Mary visible from just the right angle, there — in the negative space created in the overlapping patterns suggested by otherwise contradictory stories dug up from the dark unconscious of their paranoid prophetic psyches.
There. It’s all a hoax.
There. New World Order.
There. Microchipped and depopulated.
There. Rob us of our freedoms.
In terms of the community I inhabit, what does this Achilles heel show us?
Twenty years after the Matrix, and about twelve after The Secret, I still think the antidote lies in integrating a more emotionally honest psychological understanding of trauma and painful emotions into how we think about the inner work of yoga, meditation, and related practices.
Rather than championing pseudoscience and extreme relativism, we do well to promote a better-informed and humble understanding of how science works, and a more intellectually unpacked philosophical conversation about reality, reason, consciousness, causality, and the human condition.
Instead of idealizing a kind of non-attached otherworldly transcendence, how about a more this-worldly realism about politics, injustice, and victimization.
Yea. Just that.
For years I have been told I was exaggerating the problem. To be better liked and respected, to be more successful, and appeal to a broader audience, it was suggested I swallow the actual blue pill. To accept the cognitive dissonance created by swallowing the contradiction that spiritual beliefs are simultaneously sacred, and so not to be criticized —but also somehow exist in a kind of trivialized subjectivity that doesn’t really affect the world or how people act.
Who cares what anyone believes?!
Well, this pandemic shows otherwise. When the stakes get high enough and the chips are down, what we believe and why actually become extremely significant questions.
**If you enjoyed this piece, you might appreciate the Conspirituality Podcast that grew out of it and also features the stellar work of my co-conspirators Derek Beres and Matthew Remski.
- Per the tweet thread below, I am glad to see that one of the Wachowski siblings behind the Matrix Trilogy seems to be with me!