Monday, April 30, 2018

Incels, Jihadists, and the Problem of Lonely Young Men

Alek Minassian, the "incel" who killed ten people with a truck in Toronto last week, may have had more in common with jihadist terrorists than his anger and his method of attack:
Mr. Minassian is obviously a deeply troubled individual. And mass murder is driven by a variety of psychological factors. But much of Mr. Minassian’s trouble seems to have been fueled or exacerbated by the frustration and shame that accompanied his lack of sexual contact with women. This would have made him feel unfulfilled and indignant, and also weak and unmanly. The sense of shame from not being able to perform a culturally approved sex role may be a key to understanding his murderous rage. It may also be another thread connecting him to other violent actors whose ideology is different from his own, yet whose actions are similar. It is not difficult to spot parallels with the world of jihadism, where women and sex are similarly fixated on to an extraordinary degree.

Among those who identify with the “incel” movement, there is a pathological fixation on sex and women, and there is a self-pitying perception that everyone else, except the community of “incels,” is having sex. Women are craved, but they are also reviled for what the incels believe is their selective promiscuity: They seem to be having sex with everyone but them. This is internalized as a grave personal insult. The function of the “incel” movement is to transform that personal grievance into an ideology that casts women as despicable sexual objects.

The core emotion that animates “incels” is sexual shame. It’s not just that these men are sexually frustrated; it’s that they are ashamed of their sexual failure. At the same time, they are resentful of the sexual success of others, which amplifies their own sense of inadequacy. This explains why they gravitate toward an online subculture that strives to rationalize their shame and redirect the blame for their failure onto women.
Of course this is notoriously true of jihadists, whose veering between naked lust and puritanical religion has excited comment for decades.

In my experience, the fastest way to make a woman angry is to hint that women are somehow to blame for all this: if only some woman had loved this man and taken care of his physical needs, we wouldn't be in this mess. Which, let me emphasize, is NOT what I am going to say.

What I am going to say is that the emergence of a mass class of lonely, angry young men is a serious problem for our society. Young men are dangerous; young men without women in their lives are especially dangerous. Ancient warrior societies (Spartans, Zulus, Comanches) often separated their young warriors from their families and their wives to keep their battle fierceness razor sharp. That fierceness would be refined through group loyalty, competition, and stories of past heroes, the whole generation shaped into a terrible fighting machine for the nation.

The way to domesticate men is to get them married and settled into households where relationships with their wives and children assume the greatest importance. When do young gang-bangers leave their gangs? When they get married.

The danger of our time is that all-male internet groups will fill the role of the ancient war band: providing an echo chamber where male pride and rage can be reflected back on itself until it reaches the level of a scream.

Not so long ago, when a young woman got pregnant, the pressure of the families was exerted to get the couple to marry. This, it was felt, would both solve the immediate problem and provide a path into adulthood for the couple: the responsibilities of parenthood and couplehood would stabilize them, and the father, however dubious he appeared, would be tamed by marriage and apply himself to manhood in a proper way. But if you've ever seen Teen Mom, you know this is no longer the case; these days the teen mom's parents are more likely to recoil in horror from the baby daddy and try if possible to exclude him completely from the picture.

Which is another side of the "incel" problem: we have all these young men that nobody wants to marry or even date, and nobody wants to have as a son-in-law, and who feel economically useless and politically voiceless. Who feel that they are not part of our society or anything else. In them the loneliness of modern mass society is concentrated in its most dangerous members.

I expect a lot more trouble from this disconnect, whether it takes the form of incel terrorism or something else. Because young men without sex, without women, without strong ties to the society around them, are a menace.


JustPeachy said...

Women aren't, directly, of course. But... It is kind of an inevitable result of widespread acceptability of casual sex and non-commitment... and conservative sexual mores have historically been policed and maintained by women, for the benefit of women.

Most single adults can be divided into two "dating" (gosh what a quaint term) pools: pleasure and marriage. In the pleasure pool, you have people looking for commitment-free sex, and the gender ratio is about six men to every one woman: Women in this pool are going to tend to all chase the same men: handsome, successful, alpha, whatever: i.e. a few men are getting all the action. That leaves a lot of men in this pool deeply sexually frustrated.

Meanwhile, over in the marriage pool, you have about six women to every man: It means there are a lot of women who get to thirtyish, realize their odds of having a family are dwindling by the week, and are faced with the choice of raising "fur babies" as a consolation prize, or marrying deeply unsuitable men. And the men in that same pool can marry, get tired of the work of maintaining a marriage, divorce, and trade for a newer model. Because an eligible, employed, reasonably responsible man can always find a willing woman if he's willing to get hitched. A history of divorce and child-support entanglements isn't much of an obstacle.

Historically, the expectation that having sex, particularly if the lady got knocked up, meant getting married (I've seen the stats for colonial New England, I'm not remotely claiming that people were waiting until marriage), kept the ratios more even. It might not have lead to more happy marriages, but it certainly meant fewer single-parent households, and vastly lower numbers of basically untouchable men.

One does want to just reach out and shake some of these guys, though. A huge part of their problem is that they seem to think they're entitled to sex without commitment. But if the could wrap their heads around the commitment thing, they'd likely find there are many willing and available women... statistically, anyway. Same as in many other arenas: the inability to make a choice/commitment and stick to it excludes you from most of the good things in life.

Unknown said...

All human social interactions tend to create hierarchies--that is, categories of winners and losers. For this reason, liberation movements inevitably fail to spread joy and benefits to all, and instead replace the old systems of rank with new ones. Sexual liberation thus changed an old hierarchy of respectability into a new one of desirability.

One could argue that the 60s and 70s saw a whole range of liberation movements designed to free the clever and virtuosic from the stolid but secure systems that the middle third of the century had designed to protect itself from its own crises. Today the beneficiaries of that change have to reckon with the fact that they are the new establishment.

The establishment defends itself in part by trying to retread the slogans that helped it gain position in the first place. Thus public intellectuals claim that society's losers are simply trapped in old ways of thinking, and if they could free themselves, they could enjoy the new dispensation's benefits too. This has largely failed to spread sexual contentment, just as it has failed to turn significant numbers of superannuated steel workers into broadly-smiling self-marketers of the new economy.