Todays essay will explore some of the problematic thoughts of the so-called ‘incels’, an internet neologism derived from the words ‘involuntary celibacy that seems to have gained a lot of creepy extra dimensions over the recent years in a rather scary corner of the internet. A recent mass murder in Totonto for example brought the word in the news again as a potential new source of violence originating from the internet:
An Ontario man accused of using a rented van as a weapon in Canada’s deadliest mass murder in decades declared himself to be a soldier in the “incel” rebellion, a term referring to a loose social media movement of men who blame women for their celibacy. (Reuters)
Elle has some more disturbing details on this movement, with its very distinct own lingo:
“The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” he declared. “We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”Welcome to the world of the “incel,” a world in which well-adjusted, sexually active young men (“Chads”) and women (“Stacys”) are somehow responsible for the misery of the dateless. A world in which the misogynistic spree killer Elliot Rodger is not only the “supreme gentleman” he sometimes imagined himself to be, but a bona fide saint.
The world got its first look at the incel subculture in 2014, when Rodger murdered six people in what he saw as an act of “retribution” against the women of the world for rejecting him. Rodger, who ended his murder spree by killing himself, left behind a hundred page autobiography-cum-manifesto in which he detailed what he called his “twisted life” and set forth the rationale behind his murder spree, which could be reduced to a simple proposition: if others were getting laid and he wasn’t, they deserved to die. (Elle)
These kinds of mass murderers are the most visible part of the movement, and they should probably be called terrorists and treated as such. But the worrying thing is the size of the movement on the social media and the toxicity of the ideology. Reddit deleted an incel group of 40.000 people because they promoted rape and violence last fall. But there probably are even bigger groups active now in darker corners of the worldwide web.
The 40,000-strong ‘Incels’ community was nominally a “support group” for people who lack romantic relationships and sex. “They are involuntarily celibate or ‘incel’.” However, popular posts from the last few months include ones titled “all women are sluts”; “proof that girls are nothing but trash that use men” and “reasons why women are the embodiment of evil”.Members describe women as “femoids” and the men they have sex with as “chads”. There are many examples, documented on a watchdog subreddit called IncelTears, where incels have condoned or advocated rape, or described it as a made-up construct. (the guardian)
I think it’s clear from the quotes what the word ‘incel means in this splinter of our universe: far beyond just people who are ‘involuntary celibate’ it appears to be a movement of violent and frustrated men (never women as they are rather excluded and often completely dehumanised by the movement) who are locked up in an impossible self-defeating dilemma: they seem to want to have lots of sex, but also express a lot of violent hate towards women, and also view women (and other men) who have lots of sex as worthless and worthy of violent destruction. There seems to be a lot of frustration behind the violence. And a worldview that is completely unhealthy, violent and also self-defeatingly incoherent.
A first thing to note is the completely unhealthy archetypes that are used in their lingo. The ‘Chads’ who are sexually active accomplished men and the ‘Stacies’ who mostly are pretty and have sex with their ‘Chads’ and not with the incels are extremely thin characters that might or might not exist but that are in no way worth emulating. Maybe it’s a mutation of the American dream or so; but I see nothing desirable or interesting about the people these incels are so envious of. The grass can be greener on the other side because it’s made of plastic, which makes it very sad that people are willing to get violent over envy at empty stereotypes…
But even worse, both for themselves and any potential partner, is the weird sense of sexual entitlement that these people have. They think that someone owes them sex, which they have been denied. That’s not a new idea but always a destructive one. Let’s get this straight. Sexual entitlement is always a dangerous illusion. Sex is not some kind basic right that you deserve and that needs to be given to you.
No-one owes you sex.
Sex is freely given between people who love each other, but can never be claimed from anyone. Otherwise it becomes rape, one of the most destructive deeds a human can do to another human. Certainly, sexual entitlement is not confined to a new internet movement but probably as old as humanity as a divisive force that destroys healthy relationships. The idea that women are less interested in sex as men but just have to do it for their husbands is another version of the same destructive thing in ‘conservative’ Western ideology. But on the other side of the political spectrum (if such a thing exists) there’s people in very creepy versions of hook-up culture that implore people to not deny sex to people if they’re trans because otherwise you’re trans-phobic. It’s all the same destructive thing.
I owe sex to no-one and no-one owes me sex. Otherwise the sexual revolution has become a new form of enslavement as so much revolutions do…
But the creepy thing about the incel version is how closely their sexual entitlement is linked to very violent agression:
This idea of male sexual entitlement can take many forms in society, often “less explicitly and less grotesquely” than what’s seen in the incel community, Hankes said. It can look, for example, like a husband who believes his wife should consent to sex even when she doesn’t desire it. On the other side is a redditor who said when a woman stops texting him back, “I send them a message saying ‘Ted bundy was a pretty cool guy, I wish it was legal to rape and murder women.’ I mean, id (sic) rather make them upset and fearful then just let them fade out and forget me and treat me like some subhuman.” (USA today)
And here we see the utterly self-destructing tendency of the movement again in clear terms. Nothing is more dangerous or destructive to human sexuality than sexual entitlement without any consideration of the feelings and wishes of the other. Nothing is a better guarantee for a fucked-up sex-life than thinking that people owe you sex without even caring about what they need. Intimacy that’s been won over by violence is not intimacy at all.
The sad thing is that even sex will probably not bring any actual fulfilment either for people that are so damaged; The problem is also that sex itself is not our deepest need. Our need is for love, intimacy, being accepted. As Shane Claiborne says:
If we are able to have a healthier understanding of sexuality and to celebrate singleness as well as marriage and family, then we can transcend some of this. One of my mentors is a celibate monk, and he says we can live without sex but we can’t live without love. And there are a lot of people who have a lot of sex and never experience love, and people who never have sex [but] have deep experiences of intimacy and love. (the irresistible revolution)
There’s a lot of celibate people (voluntary or unvoluntary) on this planet who are happy and have deep meaningful relationships. There’s people on the other hand who are lonely, fucked-up and empty who have a lot of sex. Sex is not the actual thing we need as humans. And the idea that sex alone can fulfill us is a dangerous lie that’ll lead to any real satisfaction. Sure, sex can be very fulfilling, but not without connection, intimacy, love. It’s always a part of a bigger whole.
And yet there’s a lot of propaganda that tries to tell us otherwise in this brave new world. Adverts use the emptiness inside of us and the idea that sex alone can fill it all of the time to sell a lot of stuff that’s completely irrelevant to human intimacy. And if you think that’s bad already, there’s a whole world of porn where sex is completely disconnected from love.
The fake and self-centered view of sexuality that porn indoctrinated people with is especially destructive if you’re shaped by it before you’ve even had a real relationship. You’ll be formed by lies that reduce what should be partners to thing to use, and your sexual growth as a person will go completely wrong. If your view of sex comes from certain kinds of porn you might effectively be vaccinated against love and intimacy… And you’ll always crave for things that don’t even exist outside of the sexual fantasies of some perverted producers.
Recently it even came out that porn can rewire peoples brains, and not just make relationships impossible but also make people impotent for real-life partners in some cases:
From Time magazine, Porn and the Threat to Virility :
A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic–more prone to permanent change–than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning. The results of the experiment, they claim, are literally a downer.
Of course there are much broader concerns about porn’s effect on society that go beyond the potential for sexual dysfunction, including the fact that it often celebrates the degradation of women and normalizes sexual aggression.
Having a partner with ED [Erectile Dysfunction] isn’t the primary problem most young women face with porn, and only a fraction of women report feeling addicted, yet they are not immune to the effects of growing up in a culture rife with this content. Teen girls increasingly report that guys are expecting them to behave like porn starlets, encumbered by neither body hair nor sexual needs of their own.
So we see the source here of the crisis that turned these poor young men in violent incels: Apart from the probably very real rejection there is the damage of how porn and toxic archetypes create an impossible world that cannot exist but that people want more than the real world. And people are so hurt by that are willing to kill for that world…
Now, as a Christian I believe no-one should be written off. These people need and deserve healing. (But before that time it’s safer for any potential sexual partner to stay faraway from them!)
My radical proposal here might be surprising to some: friendship.
Without being friends with someone on a equal level you cannot be intimate with them. Without looking someone in the eyes as equally human you cannot be one with them. If you can’t be friends with the other sex you can’t have a meaningful relationships of any kind with them, and ultimately you can’t have meaningful sex with them.
We also should never forget that sex is not an end in itself, but part of the whole of a relationship, and that there will always be destruction if we use other people as means to get sex.
Let’s really treat everyone like brothers and sisters, and put a needle in all the balloons of destructive archetypes of men, women and sex wherever we encounter them so we can all be human with each other.
We certainly can live without sex, but we can’t live without that!