Pills are often used as metaphors on the internet these days, perhaps because they cause an instant transformation. Take an Advil and your headache vanishes more or less immediately. According to this internet vernacular, taking pills reveals the truth of how things work politically, of who has power and how we are affected. To take a take a “red pill” means adopting alt-right thought, in a reference to the red pill in The Matrix which lets users see reality. The bleaker “black pill” signifies men rejecting women altogether, and has overtones of nihilism and violence, which are core planks of the Incel’s fatalistic world view. In certain feminist corners of the internet, being “blue-pilled” means adopting a progressive, lefty stance. Lately, I’ve seen mention of another kind of pill: the “Jewpill.”
On alt-right frequented message boards like 4Chan, Jewpill is slang for anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medicine, which, these days, means an SSRI—Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, etc. For the record, I’m a Jew and I take Lexapro. By reducing how we suffer from anxiety and depression, 4Chan says, Jewpills rob us of our agency, because anxiety and depression are the symptoms of our bitter, poisoned time, they are telling us we need to change and fight, not continue on our sated path to ruin.
Neoliberal capitalism, the age in which we live, began in the seventies as a rejection of the social safety net which had existed since before World War Two. Under the stewardship of people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the government abandoned public services to the guidance of the market, with the idea that private investment would rejuvenate the country, it would spill out over everyone like a flood. Instead, the massive wage disparity we see today began to take effect, which, by now, is so entrenched there seems to be no hope of anything else. For a small and lucky few, the experiment worked, but everyone else is basically screwed. Few young people today will be able to buy a home or pay their college loans, if they even go to college, so why shouldn’t they be depressed?
The dogma of privatization feeds American mythologies of individuals and bootstraps, pitting us against each other in the name of competition and free markets. It’s a zero-sum game with millions of losers, and most people are necessarily left out. According to some communities on the internet, examples of this market ideology include Uber, in which we chauffeur strangers in our cars, for barely any money; AirBnb, which is like Uber, but for guest rooms, with the bonus that so many urban spaces have been gobbled by investors that our cities are too expensive for the people who have jobs there; social media, in which our thoughts and friends and feelings, our entire inner lives, are categorized and sold, for money that we never see a dime of; 401k plans, which are linked to perilous market forces and have replaced the stable pension; charter schools, which have sucked up all the funding public schools used to get and then blamed public schools for being broke; the vanishing of unions, which has stripped away the notion of community from workers, and whatever means of justice they once had, forcing them to turn against each other, along the lines of race; adjunct labor (your kid’s professors all make minimum wage and don’t have health insurance); Amazon.com, where we have to shop for everything, dating apps like Tinder, where we scroll through faces blankly and acquisitively, hoping someone beautiful will love us, which, they won’t; and the self itself, which now is just a brand. Every part of the individual is for sale. The surrender of our lives to market forces has driven us insane, say certain critics. In this era of deregulation, disaggregation and privatization, no two people’s search results are the identical and we exist in tubes of demographic solitude. The market is a kind of outer space of instability, a place of ontological uncertainty and terror, and if you don’t like these conditions, 4Chan says, your only choice is take a Jewpill and keep shopping, unless you choose to blow your brains out.
So Neoliberalism broke life into parts and sold it off for scrap. And lest you think that this is 4Chan propaganda, one finds a surprising unanimity in the way that Neoliberalism is seen across our politics. The progressive website Vox explains it this way: “… [given] the extension of markets or market-like logic to more and more spheres of life… we can increasingly view ourselves as little more than human capital maximizing our market values.” A poster on 4Chan says the same exact thing: “The ultimate goal is a global common market and the elimination of pre-capital identity. Identity is to become a collection of commodified consumer objects…” It is painful to see identity described this way, and one aspect of this pain is we are not supposed to blame anyone but ourselves. Even as we’re being flogged like car parts in a chop shop, Neoliberalism teaches that identity is personal, uniquely formed by every individual and more or less impervious to outside social forces, such as poverty, state violence, misogyny or racism. You can do anything, Neoliberalism implies, but given the blessed egalitarian meritocracy of the marketplace, your failure to achieve is your own fault and no one else’s.
No matter where the Jewpill falls upon the spectrum of our politics, those who use the term think living in this world is causing mental illness. Mark Fisher described this in his book, Capitalist Realism, which laments how capitalism came to be accepted as the only possibility for our world. “Capitalist realism insists on treating mental health as if it were a natural fact, like weather… it is necessary to reframe the growing problem of stress (and distress) in capitalist societies… how has it become acceptable that so many people, especially so many young people, are ill?”
If so many of us are sick, it makes sense that pills are a prevailing metaphor of our time. Red, black, and blue pills are a way of describing medicine that will cure us of the disease of Neoliberalism. Jewpills, on the other hand, do not operate this way. They’re a toxin that prevents us from from attaining what the other pills deliver: a fuller understanding of our suffering. Connecting pills to ideology is extremely well thought-out in certain corners of the internet, where SSRIs are seen as tools of almost metaphysical oppression. Says an Incel on the anonymous message board Incels.me, “You don’t need ‘Jewish therapy’… We have legit reasons to be angry. We’re missing the most essential things after basic needs such as food or shelter.” Another poster writes: “Therpahy (sic) is a scam similar to brainwashing…Do yourself a favor, cancel your appointment with your therapist and flush your jewpills down the toilet.” A similar post on 4Chan puts it this way: “I’ve had depression since I was 14 but I refuse to take a single dose of those Jew pills.” Says another poster in that thread, “We’re depressed because deep down we know we live in a propaganda lie.” These people think that we should drop the pills, and fix the world itself. What’s the first thing we should do to change the world? For the alt-right, the answer is kill the Jews.
Blaming Jews has pedigree, which is why the alt-right does it. So many beliefs have been commodified to death, but anti-Semitism has a kind of hoary authenticity you cannot buy on Amazon, an ancient sense of truthiness recovered from the past, like a magic totem dug up from an archeological site. It is something to believe in for an era when all other things have failed, it is the final stable signifier. Jews were seen for centuries as itinerants and interlopers, with no homeland of our own. We murdered Christ; we raised the price of goods that others made and sold them at a profit, with no benefit to those who did the real work. Jews have hijacked whole economies, and made our victims think and speak and spend in ways that benefitted us, like a demon that possessed a helpless child. Jews are that which ruined stable signifying; we split the atom of the sign and caused Modernity itself. And being parceled out that way is awful—it seems that people need a kind of existential constancy around them—so Jews drugged everyone with Jewpills to be sure they’d keep on shopping. Jews have outsourced all societal destruction to ones who are destroyed as a way to pick up money on the side. Because of Jews, everything’s a side; there is no middle anymore.
Blaming Jews has been a winning strategy for centuries. The Nazi website The Daily Stormer—which is a current publication, not something out of World War Two—puts it this way in their style guide: “Prime Directive: always blame the Jews for everything…as Hitler says, people will become confused and disheartened if they feel there are multiple enemies. As such, all enemies should be combined into one enemy, which is the Jews…This is pretty much objectively true anyway, but we want to leave out any nuance.” The goal is keep it simple and direct, so that no one is “confused and disheartened.” Confused and disheartened is a pretty good description of how I felt when I started taking Lexapro.
Like I said, I am a Jew, but if I am exploiting everyone, I’m doing a pretty crappy job. And yet the alt-right is correct that something is wrong—the marketization of everything has seeped into our brains, and it makes us feel despair. No one gleans a shred of lasting satisfaction from the act of scrolling through Facebook or Tinder. But blaming Jews this way reduces Jews to a pure, homogenous other. Jews are not a single substance; you should try discussing Israel at Chanukah this year and see how much consensus you can find. Anti-Semitism is ideological, it naturalizes Jews the same way Neoliberalism naturalizes markets. It acts like Jewish qualities are innate, they are eternal and unchanging, like the hills. Instead of rejecting Neoliberal ideology, anti-Semitism continues to enact it. One thing Neoliberalism does extremely well is separate people from each other—into faces on a phone, empty vessels we project desire into, and also fear and rage. Jews are not our neighbors anymore, they’re a simple explanation for our problems, and killing them solves everything. Margaret Thatcher, the Lady Macbeth of Neoliberal politics, put it this way: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”
As Mark Fisher says, “It’s harder to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Neoliberalism is so good at being ubiquitous—if not at curing social ills or bringing people together—that it makes meaningful transformation seem like fantasy, like a joke. Look at our impotence at stopping school shootings, racial violence by the police, or the opioid epidemic, all the cruelty and absurdity you don’t want your child to know about. Our current anti-Semitism is also a kind of joke; the man behind The Daily Stormer, Andrew Anglin, says, “The Alt-Right is non-ironic Nazism masquerading as ironic Nazism.” Even Nazism has to be imagined as content now, to be engaging enough to compete with other content. Nazis must adopt the irony of Seinfeld to persuade the kids that Seinfeld should be gassed. And remember how Anglin put it: anti-Semitism works because it’s a classic, and it doesn’t baffle anyone.
The metaphor of pills is Neoliberal in its craving for a kind of dreamy speed that slides by like a finger on a phone, as if freedom could be drawn into the body like a Xanax. But this fantasy of extraction just obeys the system it is trying to critique; it tries to use the tools of oppression to build fulfillment. And the disease is indiscriminate, afflicting both the left and the right. A telltale symptom is you kill potential allies first, before you find a way to band together. Margaret Thatcher’s awful nightmare has come true: we are not quite a society anymore. It feels as if the bees inside the hive are turning on each other, except that we’re the bees.
Absent new horizons of shared purpose, we are doomed to keep on fighting ancient wars of endless othering, while the future marches off into the distance. It reminds me of a meme that I just saw. Knowing that the orcs have breached the gate, King Theoden of Rohan says to Aragorn, “Let this be the hour we draw swords together.” In the next frame, they hold drawings they have made, of little swords. They look placid; they are going to be destroyed but they are hunky-dory, thanks; they made their tragedy a joke and now feel lightly entertained. They are probably taking Jewpills.