Ready for the Red Pill?

By Andreas Tiedtke

This article first appeared recently at the Ludwig von Mises Institut, Deutschland. It has since been translated with permission from the original German into English, by Andy Duncan. Here is the original article. The references in the article below link directly to the glossary attached to the original piece. 

The fight for public opinion currently consumes the Internet. Campaigns like Hatespeech, Fakenews or Post-Facts try to denounce dangerous opinions. Two types of keyword are employed [1]. First, we have the absolutely good keywords. These triggers include ‘social democracy’, ‘justice and education’, ‘freedom and democracy’, and so on. Second, we have the necessarily bad keywords. These triggers include ‘alt-right’, ‘right-wing populism’, ‘the evils of capitalism’, and so on. Why does this never-ending fight for public opinion end up becoming so important? Well, it’s because it concerns your beliefs. It’s ultimately about your perception and your thinking. It really is all about the generation of propaganda and the consequent indoctrination of the masses, one mind at a time.

Propaganda and Indoctrination – The Matrix: A “prison for your thinking”

The Wachowski Brothers artistically described “indoctrination” within their seminal 1999 movie, The Matrix. This was understood by many at the time as simply a science fiction romp. However, it also became a Kafkaesque metaphor to describe our entire modern western society.

If you’ve seen the movie, you may recall the following pivotal scene [2] : Our hero ‘Neo’ feels that something has become misplaced within the world around him. He feels that his appraisal of reality may have always been incorrect. This confuses him, and then he encounters the enigmatic Morpheus [3]. This coolly-bespectacled figure then offers to show Neo the reality of truth. In this relatively early scene, upon which the entire movie turns, Morpheus offers Neo a choice between one of two pills; a red one or a blue one. This is the temptation he lays before Neo:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no return. You take the blue pill – then the story ends right here, you wake up in your bed and you can believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” [4]

Neo wants to know what’s going on, so he immediately chooses to swallow the red pill. He fails to hesitate for a second!

Morpheus explains:

“The Matrix is ​​everywhere. It’s everywhere around us, even now, in this room. You can see it when you look out of your window or when you turn on your TV. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, or when you pay your taxes. It’s the world that’s been placed over your eyes to blind you to the truth.” [5]


“What truth?”


“That you’re a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage and into a prison that you can neither taste, nor see, nor touch. It is a prison for your thinking.”

In typically science-fiction fashion, within the remainder of the film, Morpheus demonstrates that people are abused by the rulers of this alleged Matrix and then consumed as energy-producing batteries. These human batteries never notice this all-pervading  manipulation. They live enmeshed inside an artificially created reality that they consider completely true.

For the security and protection of this belief system, there exist artificially-intelligent ‘agent’ bots equipped with seemingly endless powers. These agents are tasked with the duty of hunting down and persecuting every potential and real critic of the Matrix.

As the movie progresses, Neo learns to correct his previously mistaken beliefs about the ‘reality’ of his existence. This fails to happen overnight. This life-altering and mind-bending process requires practice. [6] When Neo finally manages to correct his old attitudes, the Matrix agents lose their formerly powerful hold over him. At the end of the movie, Neo realises that the government’s biggest fear is that their ruled-over ‘subjects’ will come to recognise reality. The movie then closes with Neo’s own words addressed directly to these Matrix rulers, via one of their own constantly-tapped phones:

“I know, you’re afraid, afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I do not know the future. I did not come here to tell you how this is going to end. I have come to tell you how it will begin. I’ll hang up this phone now, and then I’ll show these people what you do not want them to recognise. I will show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, one without borders and limitations. A world in which everything is possible.”

Morpheus has successfully explained to Neo how he can perceive the Matrix everywhere; whenever he turns on his TV, whenever he goes to work, or whenever he pays his taxes. But what does this have to do with you and the state that you currently reside within?

This is how we can relate the movie to our own lives. Those who want to govern over us need the willing approval of the governed. This idea was well-known to the important Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises:

“A permanent government power can only set itself up when it can count upon the consent of the ruled. Those who want to see the world governed by their senses must seek to gain control of the mind. It is impossible to subjugate people against their will and in the long run force them to obey a system that they ultimately reject.” (Liberalism, 1927, p. 41.)

From an ethical point of view, the Austrian evolutionary biologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt  [7] described how a state gains sovereignty over public opinion:

“It requires special social techniques, such as indoctrination […] Without civic education, the community disintegrates. Indoctrination, however, restricts people mentally. […] Infantilisation by fear with its increased inducement and willingness to follow, is also used in modern states as a means to bind crowds to follow a leadership.” (The Biology of Human Behaviour, 1984, 5th Edition 2004, p. 843 ff.)

According to Eibl-Eibesfeldt, the use of ideological warfare methodologically deals with intra-group conflict. It’s about getting into the brains of the target population, who are viewed ideologically as state opponents:

“[…] build up convictions and ways of thinking that will eventually convince your opponent to do what you want them to do. This purpose is served by ideological warfare, from open propaganda to more subtle forms of persuasion and influence. Mostly this method is combined with a psychological method of courting, intimidation, and the induction of anxiety.” [8]

How much one lone man can be influenced by indoctrination and propaganda can be simply frightening:

“The high risk makes it unlikely that the individual will gain selectionist benefits through warfare. [9] […] The killing of a person is preceded primarily by strong inhibitions, which, I suppose, have a biological cause. [10] They are overcome by the de-humanisation [11]  of an enemy and by a pronounced cessation of contact. [12] […] Man proves easily prone to indoctrination on this point.” [13]

The German philosopher and psychiatrist Godehard Stadtmüller described this in his book ‘Attitude and Destiny – How Attitudes Change Our Life’ (2010). This explains how deep-seated attitudes and partly unconscious psychological convictions can help to determine the later upwellings of conscious thought:

“It is important to realise that it is not our perceptions that determine our attitudes, but rather the contrary; it is our attitudes that determine our perceptions.” (Attitude and Destiny, 2010, p. 10)

Our partly unconscious attitudes thus determine our evaluation of reality, our feelings, and thus consequently our human actions (Attitude and Destiny, 2010, p. 29).

From a medical or neurobiological perspective, the German philosopher, psychiatrist and psychologist Manfred Spitzer, in his book Learning (2002), demonstrated how the psychic processes in our brain also form physical representations. The brain is entirely neuro-plastic. Its synapses, dendrites, axons, neurones, and indeed its entire functionality change dependent upon its pattern-matching usage.

For instance, if like me you occasionally stay in Franconia or Bavaria and listen to the local news [14], then every half-hour you may hear the name Horst Seehofer [15]. Given enough such stimulation, the dendrites, axons, and synapses within your brain biologically alter themselves and their weighted signalling processes, to match the pattern of this name. Eventually, once the pattern is embedded deeply enough, your brain will have plastically and physically remoulded itself into a Horst Seehofer brain!

The psychological effect is that it makes Horst Seehofer better known and therefore more familiar to you. As I have described above, in the case of conflict, the removal of contact (by walls, borders, and barriers – both physical and virtual) is often employed as a propaganda tool. The unknown and the unfamiliar tends to deter people literally from ‘thinking outside of the box’. In the case of the almost permanent name-referencing of politicians in news programmes, the opposite happens, as an acquaintanceship and familiarisation with the named politician builds up.

From this interdisciplinary perspective on indoctrination and propaganda, we can thus head towards a clear conclusion. Whoever dominates the convictions of the people from their earliest childhood gains control over their later thinking and actions. Why indeed are most schools and universities state-owned?

The Frankfurter Allgemeine talks about this in one of its articles from earlier this year: How pupils become market-skeptical. After examining school books in geography, history, and so on, they explain how most of them generally tend to undermine the consent of children towards a free market economy. [16]

If you’ve read up to this point on how people can be so easily manipulated – especially in anything like wartime – it may fail to surprise you that Ludwig von Mises himself possessed a very skeptical attitude towards state schools:

“You can not de-politicise [the school] if you keep it as a public and compulsory institution. There is only one means to do so. The state, the government, and laws should not be allowed to concern themselves with schools and school lessons in any way. Public money should not be used for it. Education must be left entirely to parents, private associations, and private institutions.  It is better to have a number of boys grow up with no schooling than to have public schooling, which increases the chances that once they’ve grown up, they’ll have more of a chance of being beaten to death or mutilated. A healthy illiterate is always better off than a literate cripple who reads and writes.” (Liberalism, p. 102)

So what is the state?

Let’s take a look at three common statements:

  • The state is a good thing
  • The state, that’s us
  • In democracy, all state power arises from the people

Let’s examine these beliefs critically. In order to stay within the metaphor of the Matrix, let’s suck on that red pill for a while [17].

The modern state is a group of people who rule over a people living within a given territory by means of threat and the use of force. The state is not limited to defensive violence. It also awards itself the right to act with aggressive force. If you do not pay its taxes, or its pseudo-taxes such as a BBC license fee, direct coercion will be used against you [18]. (Many people suppress this uncomfortable thought from their direct consciousness.)

This situation does not exist in civil society. If you do not pay for a service, you are simply excluded from using it. Netflix and Amazon Prime will let you watch their movies, but only if you pay their subscription fees. No fee, no movie. But that’s it. No free market company – unlike a state-owned entity like the BBC – enjoys the power to force you to pay for a ‘service’ that you neither want nor care for.

Let’s move to that second important point. The state is not you! Sometimes, you may come across headlines such as Britain is still waging war in Afghanistan or Germany is expanding its military involvement in Syria. However, it is not a country that is at war. [19] Any ‘country’ or ‘land’ is simply a geographical description of part of the earth’s surface, with definitional ‘borders’ invisible from space. Nor is it a ‘people’ who are at war. On a specific aircraft bombing mission, there may a specific and identifiable crew in a specific state-badged plane, acting at the behest of a small known group of state politicians gathered in a particular government’s  cabinet office. However, an amorphous entity such as a ‘country’ or a ‘people’ does not wage war. Instead, a war is carried out by specific government actors and their direct helpers and supporters.

And on that final third point, it is state politicians that enact new state laws – and the tight ‘lobbying’ and bureaucrat groups that surround them – rather than the people that live within any particular country. This is similar to the way that state politicians get driven around in ‘public’ vehicles. Woe betide you should you, as a member of the public that is said to own all state property, attempt to gain access to one of these ‘public’ vehicles, especially if a state politician is riding around within it.

The democratic legitimisation of aggressive violence

Now you could argue that the aggressive violence of the state is justified, because the state’s rulers are democratically legitimised. But does state power really emanate from ‘the people’ and do ‘the people’ ultimately retain this power? [20]

Here’s the reality, in which we’ll use the example of Germany. In the German Federal Republic, the state’s authority is based upon the executive branch of a federal government and its sub-organisations, such as the individual states and municipalities. Within the structure of the state, there also exists the judiciary branch and the legislative branch.

All the politicians, judges, and bureaucrats within this vast melange do all retain one thing in common, however. They’re all on the same payroll, paid for by the state. The state ultimately collects this single payroll from those taxpayers it controls. Thus, although modern state ‘powers’ often appear separated into three parts (typically the executive, the judiciary, and the legislature) they’re not really separated at all. They’re all united under a single fiscal roof.

It is true, perhaps, that the governed are allowed to occasionally vote for the legislators and the state executives. But a substantive vote on whether a state can employ aggressive violence against its own citizens or upon other states never takes place. You may choose which political party rules over you, but you’re never asked to judge whether you want to be ruled over.

And if the democratic majority principle is something that always needs to get upheld, you can ask yourself this question: If the state decides that all those wearing glasses should get completely expropriated and thrown out of a country, and if a majority of voters have democratically elected state officials who have stood for election under this policy, is this really a moral and ethical policy to now uphold and institute, simply because a majority voted for it?

Can a state have more rights than the sum of its citizens?

The key question to tackle from the Matrix [21] is how can a group of some people (collectively known as the state) have more power than all the other people in a country combined together in companies, clubs, communities, and other co-operative entities?

No individual or non-governmental organisation in either Germany or the UK possesses the right to employ aggressive violence. Only defensive force is permitted (self-defence, emergency aid, and so on). In addition, each individual does possess a right to redress if they’re injured, raped, or robbed. However, in these cases too, only defensive violence can be used and only when someone has been violated in their ownership of their body or in the ownership of their property rights. In addition to the self-ownership of the body and property [22], nobody can acquire things through coercion, theft, or fraud.

So, if the state now derives all of its power from its citizens, how did it magically acquire this right to aggressive violence that nobody before previously possessed? How can anyone transfer more rights to their state government than they currently own right now?

Herein lies the logical disconnect that everyone ought to think about. If a company insisted that I pay it $1,000 dollars per month, on pain of being kidnapped and placed within one of its private jails if I refused to do so, this would quite clearly constitute a severe predatory extortion and a clear legal offence. However, when the state engages in identical behaviour with its ‘claim’ for value added taxes, this remains formally legal under the state’s monopolised legal system. This is mainly because the state says that it’s ‘legal’. But wouldn’t it be a major criminal offence for any other group or individual to do the same thing?

In the end, even in modern democracies, some people possess more public privilege rights than anyone else enjoys. Like princes or despots, they exercise aggressive violence, but they see themselves as justified by the fact that a majority of those affected chose them in a state election, or that in the case of a more minor bureaucrat, that they were ultimately selected by an elected state official.

Today’s ‘state’ does not primarily and exclusively protect and preserve the rights, freedoms, and securities of its citizens, but instead aggressively uses force to preserve its own power against that of its own subjects and against other states. It is an ‘interested-party’ state that uses aggressive force to enrich one client group or another at the expense of other less well-connected groups, through tax-and-subsidy redistributions, compulsory affiliations, compulsory levies, monopolies (especially on money production), or licenses (such as the BBC licence fee). It forces some unfortunate citizens to provide subsistence for those fortunate electoral and special interest groups that support it. It forces virtually all citizens to behave differently than how they would do voluntarily. For instance, the state has been ruthless for many decades at suppressing recreational drug usage. And yet, how many politicians enforcing such drug prohibitions have broken their own drug ‘laws’ and engaged in recreational drug use with ‘banned’ substances? More than 50%? More than 99%? A 100%?

There can be no freedom in such a state.

Democracy and state as it could and should be [23] 

Now that I may perhaps have shaken your beliefs in the state a little, [24] I would also like to explain to you what Neo meant when he spoke to the rulers of a world without you, a world without rules and controls and one without limits and limitations. A world in which everything is possible.

Voluntary cooperation or coercion – there is no “third way”

The Austrian School of Economics lucently describes how people can access assets and the work of others in defined ways. You can either do this through voluntary cooperation, or by forcing others to do something, or by refraining from action. If you are acting positively, the only means available are voluntary cooperation or coercive force. There is no third blended way.

Although we can voluntarily provide gifts, the focus of voluntary cooperation circulates around exchange. Since evolution compels humans act to improve their situation – ceteris paribus – compared to any current situation, a voluntary exchange is always advantageous for both sides. If a buyer pays one euro for a loaf of bread, he considers the bread more valuable than the euro. The baker considers the one euro more valuable than the loaf of bread. If this were not the case, then either the buyer would not hand over his euro for the bread, or the baker would not hand over his bread for the euro. A voluntary exchange is thus always a win-win situation.

This is different in the case of compulsion. If the state forces you, for example, to pay for the broadcast programs of the BBC, you lack any choice to say no, even if you don’t want to watch any of them (and even if you consider just their general broadcast as a threat to civilisation). There may be some who like to pay their BBC licence fee and there may be some who would rather not pay it at all. But nobody has a choice in the matter. At the sharp end of any such state order or prohibition is always the use (or at least the ultimate threat) of some level of coercive force.

In short, there are two ways for a particular individual to achieve prosperity. You can either engage in voluntary trade (along with free exchange and the division of labor) or you can choose to loot others. A mystical third way, to just loot a little bit, is simply impossible.

There can be no general prosperity if the state dictates the use of assets and funds

Benefit is always a subjective opinion of an individual and cannot be determined or measured objectively via a collectively defined yardstick. Everyone has their own unique preferences and these are always changing, even within the same individual. If a state determines how scarce resources are to be used, the citizen must do what the state wants. But compulsion is always selfish, because the will of the other is disregarded. When a politician issues a prohibitory ban or a mandatory compulsion, he demands that the citizen act differently than they would otherwise voluntarily act, to be better off in their own estimation. The previous use of any assets or funds, which the citizen had in mind before the ban or the compulsion, is thus made impossible for him or her by such measures.

Ludwig von Mises and other economists discovered that the goal to increase the prosperity of all can only be realised in a free-exchange economy and not within a state-directed economy. In a coercive state economy, funds can only be distributed from one to another. Individual wealth, where both sides benefit, cannot be created this way. The alleged goal of the state economy – the increase of the prosperity of the masses – cannot be achieved by their typically coercive means and fiat ‘commands’ from above. Therefore, within total socialism, monetary bills become impossible [25] because prices disappear [26]. Every activity becomes the whim of a politician or a bureaucrat. In other words, no expression of individual preferences is allowed, so that any unit for economic calculation disappears. Ludwig von Mises logically explained this in his work Socialism (1922). Socialists have never been able to refute his thinking and if they ever do think about it at all, they merely try to skirt around it.

Only a society free from aggressive violence will ever create a complete cascade of win-win situations. Any attempt to impose coercion always leads logically to win-lose situations. So it makes sense – not only ethically but also economically – that no one should be allowed to employ aggressive violence, not even the state.

The strange thing is that a lot of people I talk to approve of such a non-aggression principle. It’s also obvious to us from a culturally religious point of view, since Jesus preached and exemplified non-aggression.

Society without aggressive violence is the only permanently enforceable social order [27]

Ultimately, the only permanently enforceable polity must be in line with the ethics of the Austrian School of Economics and, ultimately, Christian Ethics. Nobody should be allowed to use aggressive force and everyone has the right to protect themselves from aggressive violence and to join others in protective co-operation. Citizens could even form a state, but one understood here as establishing or mandating one or more institutions to ensure mutual security and the protection of rights. However, since no individual possesses the right to employ aggressive violence, neither can this ethically-defensible ‘state’. Nobody would be forced to pay its voluntary protective institutions. However, although experience has shown that most people do value security as one of their most important assets, it cannot simply be assumed that people will be willing to pay for personal security, even from reputable private protection agencies.

In such a community, aggressive force would simply not exist as a legitimate exercise. And only in this way could revolutions, civil wars, and external wars become permanently prevented. If aggressive force is legitimised as a means of earning income and ordering others around, then there can be no peace in the long run. Exploiters and the exploited will once again re-appear and the latter will eventually try to rise, to overcome the exploiters, who so long as they remain within their privileged position will continuously fear the loss of their position of power.

We have not reached the end of history

You may believe that all of the above is absurd. “Nothing is certain except death and taxes,” remains a popular expression. However, the very fact that things never change goes against all common experience. We have not reached the end of history and the aggressive state is not the last chapter of humanity. The ‘state’ may even be peaking at the current moment, but such historical highlights have also always been societal turning points.

So let me conclude with a final quote from Ludwig von Mises:

[…] all human progress has had to prevail against the state and its coercive power. [28]

Why should our generation be any different?

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