When a man withdraws from the influence of a stupefying drug, he finds the world takes on a new shape. For some of these men the new shape is a dreary flatness, like the first day back in the office after a splendid vacation. But for others, and for most in time, the new shape is vivid, solid, and stimulating. Many liken the experience to awakening on a sunny morning after a night of tossing and morbid dreams.
When a man withdraws from the influence of a stupefying culture, his experience will be much the same. For some, the removal of signposts and boundary stones causes the gloomy bewilderment we call anomie. But for others, and for most in time, there is a sense that phantoms have been scattered by sunlight and that dread has been banished by day.
In either case, the first step towards a new life is getting “off the sauce.” That is off, mind you, and not “on the sauce but not so often.” To use a metaphor I have never quite understood, “cold turkey” is the way. Cut yourself off and wait for the dawn.
If you wish to change your culture, you must also cut yourself off, since what you read and hear will be, in time, what you think and believe. I know that I have, at one time or another, fallen under the mesmeric influence of the sauce that is dispensed in the Economist, the New York Review of Books, and even—I blush—the Village Voice. When I swallowed this twaddle, I was truly “under the influence,” and therefore not in my right mind; but when I at last mustered the grit to refuse it, the fever passed and the sun came out again. The stories at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous are not more moving than the stories of men and women who have recovered from their addiction to National Public Radio.
For many years now, “taking the red pill” has been the fashionable phrase that described this experience. I believe the phrase is passing out of fashion, but the experience will be with us until our national enchantment is universal, inescapable, and complete. Before the phrase passes into the pages of history, I would like to stress that the “red pill” is in no way equivalent to the “blue pill.” These are not just two brands of soma. The “blue pill” is a stupefying drug and the “red pill” is its antidote.
If you stop taking the “blue pill” (perhaps aided by some “red pills”), you will come out from “under the influence.” Once you are “clean,” as the junkies say, you will not need additional “red pills” because you will have become sensible. Here is how the Southern poet Henry Timrod described a culture that fell under the influence, cut itself off, and in time became sensible.
“The people are beginning to think with an independence which they never evinced in their former provincial position . . . . It is an improvement which . . . we owe to the very blockade that has cut off so completely our supply of Northern and of English books. Forced to supply ourselves, we have, also, learned to criticize without regard to foreign models, and criticism in growing independent has likewise become sensible.” (Henry Timrod, “Southern Literature,” Daily South Carolinian (January 14, 1864)).
Another item in the same newspaper gave a similar description of the deadening grip of cultural domination and the restorative remedy of cultural secession.
“This precious characteristic [the nationality of the South] we were in danger of losing by means of the thousand Yankee influences which were brought to bear upon every side. Almost everything that we ate, drank or read, was Yankee. We grew fat upon Yankee butter, we plied our daily avocations with Yankee tools, we taught our children in Yankee books on Yankee principles, we amused ourselves with Yankee magazines . . . we went into ecstasies over Yankee poetry and Yankee romances. In this way, we were rapidly imbibing Yankeeism at every pore, when secession and its consequences came to save us.” (Daily South Carolinian (April 2, 1864))