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The Shooters in the Rye

Photo source sagesolar | CC BY 2.0

The recent slaughter in Toronto has many people chattering away about “Incels”, or involuntary celibates. Several people have taken to Twitter to offer explanations via links to sites in the “manoverse” – that is, web pages dedicated to the notion that men are somehow the real victims of gender discrimination and, more specifically, misandry. Many of these sites hoist the Incel flag as a way to demonstrate their bona fides to a supposed terrorist army of young (or youngish) men whose self-alleged sexual frustration has reached murderous proportions.

The great irony of this is that “involuntary celibacy”, as a socio-cultural development, was first identified by the Georgia State University’s Department of Sociology in the late 90s, after which they published a paper about it here. It was a new social trend of large numbers of people in the United States who had become sexually and romantically redundant due to social dysfunction, or disability, chronic illness or obesity. These are people who are hardly ever or never able to engage in romantic relationships and sexual congress. One of the chief emphases of the study is that this is a problem afflicting both men and women, gay and straight, young and old, white, brown and black.

And yet somehow, through the often bilious alchemy of the Internet, this problematic social trend became appropriated by angry, sexually frustrated young white men, who have proceeded to weaponize and aim it at those they perceive as more sexually successful, referred to on their sites as “Chads” (socially successful men) and “Stacys” (socially successful women).

Alek Minasian frequented many sites associated with this utterly bizarre “movement”, and may have been inspired by Elliot Rodger, the sociopathic killer who gunned down six people in Isla Vista, California after uploading a ludicrous “manifesto” onto YouTube, in which he described the on-coming “Day of Vengeance.” Apparently Rodgers is referred to as “the Supreme Gentleman” in Incel circles, a kind of hero.

In my opinion, the real question is just what, exactly, is driving so many young men to identify themselves as Incel in the first place, what is making them hate with such ferocity. As usual in such cases, the answer is much more systemic than most people would care to admit. It is not so much their rejection by women that drives them, but what is behind those rejections, the how and why.

Here in the United States we have failed miserably to educate our adolescents about their budding sexuality. Moreover, we have over the decades allowed a culture of poisonous masculinity to develop that abates and feeds the sexual and social ignorance created by this failure. Boys grow into adolescence completely unprepared for the powerful onslaught of directionless lust that begins to fill them, while the surrounding culture gins up that lust with endless images of gorgeous women who appear available but in fact are, as figures of fantasy, not at all. Girls of the same age are given no clue what their male peers are going through, or how they might sympathize with and help them emotionally as opposed to sexually. Buttressing that ignorance is an equally poisonous form of femininity taught to females starting in early adolescence, usually by the women in their family, especially their mothers. The latter is one of the great unmentionables of modern America.

Too many women simultaneously teach their daughters that nice girls don’t “give it up” to a boy without respect while implying – or, in some cases, openly stating – that said respect is made up of dates and gifts and, therefore, their vaginas somehow have a price tag. If a boy or man doesn’t take a girl or woman out on a certain number of fancy dates while being polite to a fault, then he has not “earned it.” In this way are girls taught to understand, however unconsciously, the enforcement role they play in our socio-economic system. Meanwhile, too many fathers are teaching their sons that if they want to “make it” with a girl, they’ve got to “earn it” with – guess what? – dates and gifts. These venomous “lessons” have been taught for a very long time in this country and, despite valiant attempts by smart feminists to change them, continue to be taught to this day.

Because of all this, commentators in the media make mistakes when trying to grapple with the sometimes tragic aftermath of the Incel problem. Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in Salon, “It’s not because they’re lonely. It’s not because they can’t get laid. It’s the misogyny, stupid.” Of course, this gets the problem precisely backwards. The loneliness and frustration of these young men leads them to lay the blame on women, rather than on the societal system that created the rejection in the first place. Their justifiable anger and frustration is mis-directed. And writers like Williams likewise fail, however understandably, to place the onus where it belongs. For example, Williams correctly argues how wrong-headed is Russ Douthat’s idea that sexbots will douse the Incel flame, but not for the reasons she thinks. No young man I have ever known, including myself at that age, has ever found it appealing to fuck a piece of plastic, however “real.” All of us understand that to do such a thing is a kind of creepy social failure, similar to having to go to a prostitute. And yet Williams implies that while, yeah, young guys can and will enjoy purging their lusts with an anatomically semi-correct robot, that won’t cool the ardor of their hate because, well, misogyny.

What is truly remarkable about this mess is how similar it is to what is going on in China. Young men in that country endure sexual frustration because of a demographic nightmare created by the Chinese government’s former one child policy combined with rural Chinese culture’s elevation of sons and denigration of daughters. At the moment there are about 33 million more young men than women. Here in America the problem is purely cultural in that entirely too many women of all ages believe most men are just plain bad and therefore of no use romantically or sexually. There was more than a whiff of this in Lori Gottlieb’s Marry Him: The Case for Choosing Mr. Good Enough. The women featured in that well-researched but disturbing book are filled with a breathtaking sense of entitlement that, ironically, none of them would tolerate in men. And rightly so; self-entitlement of any sort has no place in relations between couples, gay or straight. But there it is, angry opinions creating here in America what only the communist party could accomplish in China.

Combine all of the above with a nation as steeped in gun culture and violence as the United States (and, to a lesser extent, Canada), and you end up with young psychopaths like Rodgers and Minasian. But tranquilizing the culture and seizing all the guns won’t help. All of us, male and female, young and old, must take stock of our own attitudes about relationships and how the nature of same are warped by the demands of commerce, and do something about it. Perhaps it will take a kind of socio-cultural Marshall Plan, with an intense focus on early and adolescent education and, perhaps, adult re-education of some sort (preferably benign). I’m not sure. But something must be done, and quick. Otherwise we can expect more and more young men identifying as Incels, and ever more massacres.

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Robert Anderson is a resident of Fremont, California and a screenwriter, technologist, composer of novels and short stories, insatiable reader and lover of words, and, last but not least, an enemy of tyranny and exploitation in all of its forms.

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