I only heard about the people who call themselves as incels (standing for ‘involuntarily celibate’) late last year when I wrote about them after their 40,000-strong Reddit group was banned from the site. What started out as a support group for men who could not find women who were willing to have sex with them turned into rampant misogyny, even on occasion leading to the advocacy of rape.
I had been aware of the case of Elliot Rodgers who in 2014 had gone on a rampage and killed six people in Santa Barbara but had seen him as an isolated case, one of the many lone mass killers that the lax gun laws in the US enable to carry out their violent fantasies, not a symbol or a leader of a widespread phenomenon. And yet that is what he and the manifesto he published have apparently become. Alek Minassian, the person who on Monday killed ten people and injured many others, mostly women, by driving into them on a sidewalk in Toronto was apparently also an incel who admired Rodgers.
First off, we need to commend Ken Lam, the lone Toronto policeman on the scene, who apprehended Minassian without firing a shot, even though Minassian was clearly baiting him to do that by pretending to point a gun at him. The Toronto police have had a bad reputation, just like US police departments, for using excessive force and they had apparently had their officers get frequent de-escalation training and this was a textbook case of how to do it that US police would do well to study.
But what I want to focus on in this post is the futility of the incels’ quest. They clearly have a sense of being unjustly treated by a segment of the world, in their particular case that segment being women. It must be hard for them to live in a world where it seems to them like everyone else is in romantic relationships except them. In having a generalized grievance, they are similar to other groups that have similar grievances about how they are treated. But in most cases, one can postulate an ideal world where the source of their grievances would no longer exist. But for the life of me I cannot imagine what incels think the solution to their predicament is. They seem to think that women are rejecting them despite their good qualities in favor of men who are handsome, rich, successful, etc, or what are known in their world of slang as ‘Chads’ who are the men whom attractive women (the ‘Stacys’) are drawn to. But very few men are like that. Most of us are really ordinary people, ordinary looking and leading ordinary lives and yet somehow we seem to be able to find people with whom we share some closeness. This suggests that exterior features, while not a negligible factor, are not determinative of whether one can have close relationships or not.
There seems to be nothing about an incel that distinguishes them from others. So when their advances are rejected by women, it cannot be that the women said to themselves “This is an incel, I should turn him down”. They are being rejected for the same reasons that non-incels get rejected, for a variety of mundane factors. Even if they were to introduce themselves as incels, which would be strange, are they suggesting that this imposes some kind of obligation on women to accept them? That would be truly bizarre. It is not the duty of women to provide sexual succor to any random person who says he is in need of it.
The problem that incels face is one experienced by anyone in the world of interpersonal relationships, of finding kindred spirits and creating bonds of friendship that may or may not blossom into something more but are a source of well-being either way. It seems to be a purely idiosyncratic world with idiosyncratic solutions, which is what makes the idea of an incel ‘movement’ with manifestoes and the like and seeking a general solution somewhat problematic.
So what is the incel end game here? What state of affairs that is not purely individualized and idiosyncratic would take away their sense of grievance? What exactly is the general solution that they are seeking? Maybe their group forums have the answer but I am hesitant to enter what seems like a pretty toxic environment just to find out.