The pill as a symbol of choice and change of an individual’s relationship to the surrounding reality goes back at least a century. The alternative between the red and the blue pill in The Matrix – between living in the unbearable truth or remaining under the delusion of the system – dates back to 1999, although jumping into the rabbit hole has a much longer history. The very choice between truth and simulation is questionable in aworld where the existence of objective truth is doubtful and fictions structure reality.
The fact that the red pill chosen by Neo, associated with oestrogen administered to people in transition, has become an emblem of people fighting for men’s rights on the Internet, is in itself an excellent example of the instability of meanings. In the Internet jargon, to be “pilled” may be a shorthand for a general political awakening – as is the case with the red pill – and taking further steps towards extremist views (most often alt-right, but not only). The ideology encapsulated in pharmacological symbolism suggests a corporeal relation, in which partaking in a given worldview means embodying it.
Taking psychoactive substances is both increasingly common and systematically growing, which is sometimes regarded as a symptom and effect of socio-political, technological and systemic changes. The history of legalising and criminalising individual psychoactive substances is an important testimony to cultural, social and political transformations. The forms and purposes of using them – from escapism to pharmacological violence to healing rituals – indicate complex and unapparent relationships between consciousness and the surrounding reality. On the one hand, there is growing consumption and popularity of non-medical consciousness-altering substances, such as alcohol and drugs, which are most often used for recreational purposes. On the other hand, increasing numbers of people are being prescribed psychotropic drugs to bring them closer to what is considered normal and enable them to participate in social life.
Recognition of the mental health crisis as not only a social issue, but also a political one, is connected with the rejection of the logic of “privatisation of stress” (M. Fisher), which assumes individual responsibility for mental problems. From this perspective, depression, anxiety or panic attacks are attributed to the individual and result from their experiences, mental construction and neurology – not from contemporary labour systems, technologies and other features of capitalism, such as work precarisation, self-surveillance and constant monitoring, the compulsion towards constant productivity and availability and internalised competitiveness.
These considerations follow the hauntological perspective of capitalist realism, in which we can only look back because we are unable to envision a positive future, an alternative that would go beyond the logic of capitalism with its ultimately destructive principles of constant growth and social inequality. Some of the concepts developed in recent years that search for new models of social organisation and distribution of resources are resources relate to drugs and counter-cultures.
In response to “psychedelic socialism” (J. Gilbert) and “acid communism” (M. Fisher), McKenzie Wark in her recent analyses of rave proposed the concept of “ketamine femmunism.” Opposing the ideological connection between ownership and masculinity, but also the mistakes of feminism, femmunism is the communal love of all femmes, of all whose agency is to open themselves to the otherness of the world. (…) A love that is lateral, a sorority of those who have nothing to lose but their chains, and nothing to give but their availability.
While the hippie movement is associated with psychedelics, punk, with inhaling glue, and electronic dance music was accompanied by ecstasy, Wark points out that contemporary rave culture is best characterised by ketamine, a dissociative anaesthetic. Paradoxically, today’s search for a space of radical possibilities and potential forms of community is associated with a substance whose action is based on limiting of the transmission of external stimuli to the brain. Dissociation, which leads to depersonalisation and a sense of unreality, turns out to be more than turning one’s back on reality – when both the self and the world disappear, they can no longer clash. Perhaps this outlines a new mode of relating; perhaps it is just another leap down the rabbit hole.