Eleanor Robert­son on why ‘in­cels’ feel left be­hind

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - By Eleanor Robert­son. ELEANOR ROBERT­SON is a writer and edi­tor from Syd­ney.


I find my­self go­ing back and forth on the ques­tion of how valu­able it is to in­ves­ti­gate the plight of in­cels, “in­vol­un­tar­ily celi­bate” men who des­per­ately want love and sex but find them­selves in­ca­pable of form­ing re­la­tion­ships with women. Many peo­ple – mostly fem­i­nists – ar­gue that de­mands to un­der­stand or em­pathise with in­cels are of­fen­sive, given the deep misog­yny that un­der­pins the in­cel world view. The strength of this ar­gu­ment is clear: why should women put ef­fort into un­der­stand­ing a group of peo­ple who hate them? “Women are es­sen­tially cor­rupted and robbed of any ro­man­tic po­ten­tial after they start pa­tron­iz­ing night life for just a year, and sleep with even a min­i­mal num­ber of men,” writes one poster on an in­cel fo­rum.

Nev­er­the­less, I have been a vol­un­tary ob­server of in­cels for years now, ever since in­cel poster boy El­liot Rodger killed six, plus him­self, and in­jured 14 in a mur­der­ous ram­page in

Isla Vista, Cal­i­for­nia, in 2014. On April 23 this year, sus­pected in­cel Alek Mi­nas­sian rammed a rental van through a crowd of pedes­tri­ans in North York City, Toronto, killing 10 and in­jur­ing 16. It is al­leged that shortly be­fore the at­tack, Mi­nas­sian posted the fol­low­ing on Face­book:

“Pri­vate (Re­cruit) Mi­nas­sian In­fantry 00010, wish­ing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The In­cel Re­bel­lion has al­ready be­gun! We will over­throw all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gen­tle­man El­liot Rodger!”

In the lingo of in­celdom, Chads and Stacys are men and women who are at­trac­tive, so­cially com­pe­tent and sex­u­ally ac­tive, or at least ap­pear to be so un­der the en­vi­ous gaze of the in­cel. The mo­ti­va­tion here is clear – a toxic brew of bit­ter­ness, jeal­ousy, en­ti­tle­ment and ob­ses­sion. Less clear is why this in­ter­nal con­di­tion is shared, to vary­ing de­grees of in­ten­sity, by the thou­sands of other men who make up the in­cel sub­cul­ture.

Given the in­creas­ing propen­sity for in­cels to com­mit heinous acts of vi­o­lence against in­no­cent peo­ple, it prob­a­bly be­hoves at least some of us to take a closer look at why they ex­ist. If you want to un­der­stand in­cels – and that’s a big if, given how trou­bling the in­vol­un­tary celibacy sub­cul­ture can be – there are two places to look. The first is the in­cels’ var­i­ous on­line haunts, the mes­sage­boards, im­age­boards and fo­rums.

The sec­ond is the work of French author Michel Houelle­becq, es­pe­cially his de­but novel, What­ever. In What­ever, Houelle­becq’s pro­tag­o­nist, a dis­af­fected and men­tally un­sta­ble soft­ware worker of 30 who hasn’t had sex in two years, writes:

“Just like un­re­strained eco­nomic lib­er­al­ism, and for sim­i­lar rea­sons, sex­ual lib­er­al­ism pro­duces phe­nom­ena of ab­so­lute pau­per­iza­tion. Some men make love ev­ery day; oth­ers five or six times in their life, or never … Sex­ual lib­er­al­ism is like­wise an ex­ten­sion of the do­main of the strug­gle, its ex­ten­sion to all ages and all classes of so­ci­ety.”

This is an eco­nom­i­cal for­mu­la­tion of the ba­sic in­cel world view, es­pe­cially strik­ing be­cause What­ever was orig­i­nally pub­lished in French in 1994, 20 years be­fore in­cels came to any kind of main­stream at­ten­tion. The book is a funny and dis­turb­ing por­trait of the ut­ter alien­ation suf­fered by its main char­ac­ter, known only as Our Hero, and his work­mate, an ugly 28-year-old vir­gin named Raphael Tis­serand. Our Hero is sec­onded to ac­com­pany Tis­serand on a se­ries of work trips. Tis­serand, not yet as psy­cho­log­i­cally des­ic­cated as Our Hero, is on a fu­tile quest to lose his vir­gin­ity.

Both char­ac­ters are con­temp­tu­ous of women. Our Hero is re­pulsed by “women in anal­y­sis”, by which he means psy­cho­anal­y­sis, whom he be­lieves to be “ab­so­lutely un­fit for use … vile scum­bags of such deliri­ous ego­cen­trism as to war­rant noth­ing but well-earned con­tempt”. The “women in anal­y­sis” could be a metonym for any em­pow­ered, ur­ban woman, and this de­scrip­tion is very close to the in­cel archetype of the Stacy. One Stacy meme posted on Red­dit de­scribes Stacy as fol­lows: “has count­less or­biters and Chads blow­ing up her phone … Nat­u­rally curvy body gives men in­stant erec­tions … Never works a day in her life, lives in lux­ury.”

The nexus be­tween Houelle­becq’s de­pic­tion of male sex­ual alien­ation in the 1990s and in­cel cul­ture in the present points to an un­der­ly­ing fea­ture of life un­der mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism for many young het­ero­sex­ual men. It’s dif­fi­cult to ac­knowl­edge the de­scrip­tive cor­rect­ness of this po­si­tion without giv­ing the pre­scrip­tive fea­tures of in­celdom suc­cour, but I have found this to be the most fruit­ful way of look­ing at things.

Women have been ri­val­rous goods in hu­man civil­i­sa­tion for a very long time. This is not some quirk of ide­ol­ogy out of which we could have ed­u­cated our­selves: it has been a cru­cial fact of ma­te­rial re­al­ity. Dif­fer­ent so­ci­eties have mit­i­gated the dis­rup­tive po­ten­tial of this ri­valry in dif­fer­ent ways, but most have used vari­a­tions on the so­cial struc­ture we now call pa­tri­archy. In or­der for so­ci­ety to be able to re­pro­duce it­self in a more or less peace­ful fash­ion, women have been re­duced to the sta­tus of prop­erty, with var­i­ous ta­boos, pro­hi­bi­tions and in­sti­tu­tions gov­ern­ing our be­hav­iour.

One of the main func­tions of these prac­tices is to pro­vide men with some mea­sure of cer­tainty that their women, their prop­erty, are not at risk of be­ing stolen by other men. In pre-1960s Western so­ci­ety, the favoured prac­tices were vir­gin­ity, mar­riage and house­wifery. Fem­i­nist le­gal the­o­rist Ca­role Pate­man, in her ground­break­ing 1988 book The Sex­ual Con­tract, de­scribes mar­riage as “the ve­hi­cle through which men trans­form their nat­u­ral right over women into the se­cu­rity of civil pa­tri­ar­chal right”.

The key con­cept here, and the one whose ab­sence per­me­ates both in­celdom and Houelle­becq’s What­ever, is se­cu­rity. Pa­tri­ar­chal se­cu­rity, de­liv­ered through monog­a­mous mar­riage, en­sured that most het­ero­sex­ual men could be sure of ac­cess­ing sex, af­fec­tion, re­pro­duc­tive labour and so on, through mar­ry­ing a wife. Dur­ing the past 50 years, this se­cu­rity has evap­o­rated. Out of the ashes of com­pul­sory mar­riage has emerged a more or less free mar­ket in sex. Like the su­per­s­es­sion of feu­dal­ism by cap­i­tal­ism, this state of af­fairs has pro­duced some big pros and some big cons.

On one hand, women are granted mea­sures of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion that would have been unimag­in­able in the past. We are no longer con­sid­ered pa­tri­ar­chal chat­tel. I do not yearn to re­turn to a time when my per­sonal ac­tiv­i­ties would be ruth­lessly po­liced, and my sex­u­al­ity strictly reg­u­lated, to en­sure a sta­ble so­ci­ety.

On the other hand, the death of these rules, as with the death of feu­dal rules, pro­duces a ruth­less and un­sta­ble state of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween in­di­vid­u­als for re­sources. This ex­presses it­self most in­tensely in in­celdom. When women are free to choose their sex­ual part­ners, they un­der­stand­ably tend to­wards men who are some com­bi­na­tion of at­trac­tive, psy­cho­log­i­cally sta­ble and fi­nan­cially se­cure. The free mar­ket, as al­ways, isn’t ex­actly free – it pro­duces win­ners and losers, and the sort­ing of peo­ple into these cat­e­gories cor­re­sponds closely to var­i­ous forms of un­earned ad­van­tage, such as phys­i­cal looks, in­her­ited wealth, the ben­e­fit of early so­cial­i­sa­tion and com­pe­tent par­ent­ing, and so on.

It seems the rea­son in­cels are largely un­re­spon­sive to the ris­ing tide of rad­i­cal left­ism in first-world coun­tries is be­cause it can­not guar­an­tee them a girl­friend. This is where the anal­ogy be­tween eco­nomic and sex­ual lib­er­al­ism breaks down – it is pos­si­ble, highly de­sir­able even, to dis­trib­ute ma­te­rial re­sources in a way that pro­duces some mea­sure of equal­ity be­tween peo­ple. If one ac­cepts women’s in­her­ent en­ti­tle­ment to per­sonal free­dom, the same can­not be said of sex. The best that the left can of­fer to in­cels is the hope that, un­der con­di­tions of di­min­ished com­pe­ti­tion for ma­te­rial re­sources, sex­ual com­pe­ti­tion might also re­cede.

In­cels are not un­aware of this. Many post on left­ist fo­rums and im­age­boards, plead­ing, de­mand­ing to know: “What will hap­pen to in­cels un­der so­cial­ism? Will the state al­lo­cate us girl­friends?” How can we re­spond to this in a con­vinc­ing way, without af­firm­ing twisted feel­ings of own­er­ship over women? I don’t know.

Once you see the depths of des­per­a­tion in in­cels, their un­re­spon­sive­ness to tra­di­tional pa­tri­ar­chal re­van­chism on one hand and so­cial­ism on the other, it be­comes eas­ier to un­der­stand why many are so ob­sessed with de­struc­tion and vengeance. There is noth­ing left for them here, or at least it can feel like that, and in that ab­sence grows an en­ti­tle­ment and dis­torted re­al­ity nour­ished by pa­tri­archy and the pa­pered-over misog­yny that ac­com­pa­nies it. As Houelle­becq’s Our Hero says, “Only sui­cide hov­ers above me, gleam­ing and

• in­ac­ces­si­ble.”

Mourn­ers at a vigil for vic­tims of last week’s Toronto van at­tack.

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