The Grill Pill
To the red pill, the blue pill, the black pill, and the white pill, inter alia, we may now add the grill pill. This was brought to my attention by a video from The Distributist (a right-of-center “trad” Catholic — i.e., the kind of person who probably would be identified as the extreme far right by the legacy media), in “The ‘Grill Pill,’ ‘Franklin’s Corollary,’ and the path from left to right.” The Distributist credits the “grill pill” to Matt Christman’s personal seeking after meaning in the wake of the end of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Christman is one of the founders of Chapo Trap House, the bastion of the dirtbag left and a podcast that has brought him considerable fame and fortune (Influence Watch says that Chapo Trap House was grossing $120,000 per month through Patreon).
I enjoyed The Distributist’s concise and articulate description of Matt Christman’s response to the end of the Bernie Sander’s campaign. The Distributist references Love and Solidarity, Matt Christman’s Best Rant, which is a good example of an apparently saddened and on-the-verge-of-tears Matt Christman speaking confessionally of his ideals, but this particular video does not actually mention the “grill pill.” As I do not have the desire to watch all of Christman’s videos, I’m going to take The Distributist at his word, and assume that he is giving an accurate account of the “grill pill.” The idea of the grill pill is sufficiently interesting that, even if I had been misled, it is still worth commenting on.
What is the grill pill? It is the simple idea that, disappointed by the political failure of the Bernie Sanders campaign, leftists and others can still find solidarity, community, and fellowship sharing good food among friends — grilling steaks in the backyard like an oblivious Boomer. A sizeable contingent of Bernie Bros invested a sizeable amount of emotion and energy into the Bernie Sanders campaign, only to find themselves shut out — for the second time — by the institutional Democratic party, which rapidly closed ranks behind an establishment candidate that seemed to offer neither hope nor consolation for Sanders supporters. Of course, many Sanders supporters will hold their nose and vote for Biden in the spirit of “Vote Blue No Matter Who,” but some will not. This distasteful state-of-affairs requires some kind of cope, and one possible cope is the grill pill.
I actually met a young Sanders supporter recently and had an interestingly long political conversation with this young man. Being as isolated as I am, I very rarely have an opportunity to talk to young people, so it was an eye-opening experience for me to speak directly to a Sanders supporter, obviously disappointed by what had happened, but hesitant to say so explicitly to me, as I was someone he didn’t know, and he had no idea how I would respond, whether or not I would be sympathetic to him and his political position, and so on.
As it happened, I was at a cookout with this young man, so it would have been the perfect time to discuss the grill pill, but I had then only recently heard the idea, and I hadn’t yet fully digested it. So we kept to pretty conventional terms of discussing the coming election. My interlocutor was no wild-eyed Antifa supporter hoping for the revolution, but a hard-working young man starting his own business and very much wanting to make a positive contribution to the world. I was impressed by his sincerity and his knowledge; in some ways, he reminded me of my younger self of, say, thirty years ago (except for being much more successful than I ever was).
This brief encounter with a young Sanders supporter really drove home to me a political point that I have often heard, but always been skeptical of: that political parties should make an active effort to bring young people into the fold. This is usually an appeal for youthful energy (which is a valid observation), but also always comes with the implication that young people have a unique contribution to bring due to their perspective on the world and events. Talking to this young man, I could immediately see that an idealistic, hard-working, sincere, and politically-engaged individual like him is exactly what the institutional Democratic Party needs to transform itself from the inside-out to once again become a viable institution. An energetic, solutions-oriented, idealist does not see barriers to progress as a reason to quit or to complain, but as an opportunity to engage and to find a workable way around the barrier — even when, if not especially when, those barriers are being erected by his political allies. It is the sympathetic critic who looks for achieving the same end by more palatable means.
Talking to this young man, I did not seek to challenge his ideas or ideals; mostly I just wanted to hear his perspective, so I kept talking in order to keep him talking, so that I could the more deeply penetrate into an ideological community with which I have virtually nothing in common. Also, it was a friendly cookout, so no place for antagonism or confrontation. And this is, in a sense, definitive of the grill pill. When people gather for the weekend for good times with friends, there is an unspoken rule that, if you have been invited into this group, you don’t insist on your own political or ideological ideals to the point of souring the occasion. Everyone implicitly agrees to keep things as light as possible, as is consistent with the occasion, and if there is someone present who is an unknown, or even a rival, it is part of the social contract of such events that any disagreements be kept friendly, and impasses be broken by a joke that relieves any tension. I’m sure it doesn’t always go like this on a cookout, but ideally this is the case (in so far as my imperfect understanding of social events extends).
In such a context, one does not seek to score ideological points off others, but only to understand, and exchanges are more-or-less kept to the level of “banter,” perhaps friendly rivalry at best. No doubt, if the group that comes together is thoroughly ideological in orientation, the banter takes on a more openly political character, as everyone present can then engage in the ritualistic condemnation of common enemies, and the ritualistic praise of common ideals (which is what toasts among friends are all about).
All of this is very conventional, even, one could say, bourgeois, so why should anyone care about seeking a cope among like-minded friends, and perhaps inviting over a few individuals to join with edgy or indefinable political views? The “grill pill,” such as it is, is potentially powerful because it calls into question a fundamental idea of recent political engagement, and that is the idea that “the personal is the political.” This slogan isn’t necessarily as prominent as other political slogans of our time, but it has done an enormous amount of mischief. If folks can take the grill pill and just enjoy a simple meal with friends that isn’t any kind of political statement, they have broken with the idea that the personal is the political. With the grill pill, the personal is just the personal, and nothing more. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and it should be allowed to remain just a cigar.
Insisting that the personal is always also political has encouraged an angry and resentful outlook on the world in which every personal difficulty is to be interpreted as a direct consequence of larger structural forces that grind down helpless individuals like grain being ground to flour in a mill. The common metaphor of contemporary mass society as rendering the individual as a mere cog in an enormous machine that the individual is powerless to change contributes to a perception of pointless suffering. The potent mixture of cultivated anger and learned helplessness is uniquely conducive to a social atmosphere that poisons even the smallest enjoyments in life, sucking out any genuine feeling from events and reducing them to a political calculation.
While the grill pill could be interpreted in a reactionary sense, it could also be interpreted as the rebellion of the individual against a faceless and unfeeling social context that robs the joy from life and prevents us to enjoying even the most trivial enjoyments that life has to offer, which are also the most authentic enjoyments that life has to offer. When we politicize the authenticity of the small and simple events of life, we render ourselves incapable of appreciating what is most human.
In small groups, mostly composed of individuals whom we know personally, it is possible to experience authentic reciprocity and gratitude for the smallest and simplest things of life, which latter I sometimes refer to as the substance of life, because it is the small things like sharing a meal, enjoying an evening together, and having a good conversation that are ultimately the substance from which a life is constructed. In such small groups, we can enjoy doing small things for others, and they can enjoy whatever small favors we do for them. That is how life is supposed to be. In small ways, life can approach the ideal as long as we don’t aim for too much. Basically, just a few people treating each other decently is about all we can hope for.
In this way the grill pill represents the attainable ideal.