Beyond the Red Pill and the Blue Pill

Andrew Sweeny
6 min readFeb 10, 2018


The world appears to be is divided in two. We have two brain hemispheres, two sexes, two eyes. This is true of our own interior monologue: we are always talking to ourselves. The ‘eternal adversary[1]’ lives within in us and without him or her there would be no conversation, no dynamic aspect to reality. One side of us is always negotiating with the other: the left hand with the right hand, God with the devil, man with woman, our reason and our feelings, et Cetera. Carl Jung wrote about how, spiritually speaking, there is a male soul within ever female and a female soul within every male: the anima and the animus. These, often contradictory, polarities live deep within us, in a state of relative peace or war.

One our oldest tales, The Story of Cain and Abel[2] is not necessarily about two separate people, but the warring sides of our own person: there is the self-sacrificing ‘good person’ and the self-loathing ‘bad person’ in all of us. Except for the purest archetype of good or evil, we are all a combination of Cain and Abel—almost nobody is morally pure, or completely evil. What complicates matters is that the person doesn’t always match the persona: the model citizen or ‘nice’ person may have an unrecognised dark side; similarly, the ‘monster’ or freak may have great potential for heroisms — precisely because he knows how to do battle in the shadow-world effectively. Integration, rather than separation, is the key.

Recently, I read an article by Jordan Greenhall, which described our current geopolitical landscape as being divided into two warring tribes: there is ‘the blue church’ and the ‘red religion’. I think this is an insightful division. Greenhall spoke about this in terms of media: there is the ‘lying’ traditional media on one hand, and there is the chaotic frenzy of alternative medias on the other. This is the war between control and freedom, between the official story and the untold story.

The ‘church’ of mainstream media (there are many kinds of churches both secular and religious) is constantly trying discredit the revolutionaries, and of the revolutionaries are always trying to tear down the gatekeeper. When things go too far into apparent ‘freedom’ then the blue church comes down hard with its doctrines; conversely, when things becomes too dogmatic and doctrinal, a certain revolutionary spirit is awoken.

Usually, we find ourselves on one side or the other of this seeming abyss. There is a tendency towards blind orthodoxy and narrow tribalism, which keeps us in ideological camps. The better way, as Johanthan Haidt has argued, is a more pragmatic ‘heterodoxy’[3]: this word implies dialogue between real individuals, rather than the usual toxic online wars between ideological tribes.

In times of chaos, orthodoxy will re-instate itself; in times of extreme orthodoxy, the ‘red religion’ will start to tear things down — one hopes that revolutions can be without actual violence. But revolutions are dangerous. They are blood red symbolism, and red brings fire and change, it comes with a certain romanticism. Blue, on the other hand, cools down an overheated system: the ‘blue church’ provides shelter from the storm, a still and unchanging ‘safe space’. Blue is cool and apparently rational, but the danger is in a certain sterility. Heterodoxy, on the other hand, is a conversation between the two, seemingly irreconcilable camps. It prevents both violence and dullness, and keeps us on the fine line between chaos and order.

When the ‘new world order’ becomes decadent, a new ‘turning of wheel of revolution’ will arise spontaneously. And there are times to fight against the blue church certainly. Chaos is inevitable in a system that has become too reified, too sure of itself, too authoritarian. However, it’s good to remember that the more violent the ‘red’ chaos is, the more strict the ‘blue’ new-order will be, on the ‘morning after’ the giddy revolution. A new monster will always emerge from the rubble; new set of monstrous behaviors is always the result of revolutionary violence.

Today we are in a weird situation were the leftists — traditionally the red — have become ‘blue’ or reactionary. They do not represent the free attitude of ‘live and let live’. The counter-culture are now the mainstream culture and can be weirdly conservative and intolerant in their ‘social justice’ values; while the right — traditionally ‘the blue church’ — is filled with revolutionary fervor and desire for change, which is a bit disturbing to somebody (such as myself) who leans to the left. We are apparently living in a time of inversions, in the upside-down world. It’s hard to predict such a capricious future, when one side is constantly collapsing into the other.

World systems go up in flames like a phoenix and re-emerging in some new combination — nobody can really predict if the blue church or the red religion will be in ascendance. Samsara, a Sanskrit world for ‘wheel of birth and death’ (which apparently also means ‘dizziness’ in Tibetan) is constantly spinning[4]. The wheel just keeps spinning faster and faster, and the old traditional dualities keep inverting. How to balance this wheel in a sort of equilibrium? How to get behind the wheel and have a more panoramic view? Those are some of the big questions.

This argument, between the ‘blue church’ and the ‘red religion’ can be observed on a micro level, on the level of personality and ego. We want things to change, and yet we are attached to old patterns. We are contradictory creatures, we have this ‘double bind’ within ourselves, a schizoid aspect built into our all-to-human natures. This is why we act so irrationally and against our own interests; why we build things up at the same time as we tear them down; why we become so blindly possessed by our various entrenched ideologies.

Ideologies may make us clever and combative, but the will never make us intelligent or deep. Depth requires seeing beyond dualities, beyond the famous red pill or the blue pill in the Matrix movie. Let us start with ourselves, with what is near, before we take any pill, before we sell our souls to the blue church or the red religion.

But how to find wisdom within the warring, divided brain, let alone in the world outside? I would say this: find the position that is the most deep and wide, and which challenges your nature — avoid being a mouthpiece for ideology. The answer is always in attention and meditation, in a kinder but at the same time a more rigorous view of reality. We have to see how those two sides operate, we have to have a panoramic ‘higher’ view. We don’t really need to be ‘right wing’ or ‘left wing’ anymore — we can dispense with that old duality — even while observing both the red and the blue within ourselves.

A mature and free person can see over his own fence, can perceive the virtue in multiple perspectives — he doesn’t need to be loyal to an ideological cause, only to the truth. The red is fierily, alive, and is fiercely innovative — the blue is noble and deep and keeps the monsters at bay. Neither side is going away, the eternal adversary keeps resurrecting. And again: I’m not talking about political positions here, but existential ones. The point is: we have to go beyond ‘either/or’ logics’.

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[1] Peterson, Jordan B. Maps of meaning: the architecture of belief. New York: Routledge, 1999.

[2] Peterson, Jordan B. “Biblical Series V: Cain and Abel: The Hostile Brothers.” YouTube. June 27, 2017.

[3] See Heterodox Academy.

[4] Selected Teachings | Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche | Teachings and Activities.



Andrew Sweeny

Compressed scraps of angel melody, stories, essays, rants against reductionism, commands from the deep.