A solution that illustrates the problem


In a recent post, I said that unlike in the case of most groups that share a generalized grievance, in the case of the so-called incels (‘involuntary celibates’), I just could not see what an external solution to their complaint might look like. Via PZ Myers though, I came across this post where the problem is particularized and a solution is suggested.

The problem (as seen by the author of the solution) is that sophisticated makeup techniques that currently exist enable women to look much more attractive than their intrinsic looks warrant (they can lift themselves up from a 3/10 to a 7/10) and hence they have an inflated view of themselves that results in them looking down at men and rejecting them even though those men are really their peers in looks. The solution starts from the premise that makeup should be banned and goes on from there.

The solution is very specific and concrete and also requires governmental action. It is also completely nuts. My guess is that it is from a parody site but while not serious, it does have the benefit of showing how there is no solution to the problem that the incels face that does not start from within themselves, from self-reflection about what they might do and how they might change to resolve their situation.

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall wades into this area and finds a libertarian economics professor at George Mason University who actually endorses a variant of this idea that ‘sex inequality’ (i.e., the differential access to sex that people have) should be ameliorated.

Hanson is talking about the fact that some people have more access to sex with people they find attractive than others. Hanson then sets out to explore policies that might ameliorate this “sex inequality” because to him there’s nothing fundamentally different between differences in wealth and different levels of access to sex with people you find hot. The idea that inequality of access to inanimate objects might be fundamentally different than access to other people’s bodies is one he is either unable to or perhaps unwilling to grasp.

So what are the policy solutions? He is at pains to make clear that “Rape and slavery are far from the only [policy options]!” Thanks! But the gist of his suggestions are actually quite similar to, if more antiseptic and sophisticated, the proposals one finds on the nutso incel message boards.

One is making major cash transfers to men who aren’t getting enough sex on the theory that the wealthier a man is the more attractive he becomes and thus more likely to get sex. More telling are policies for “promoting monogamy” and “discouraging promiscuity.” The idea here is that if people have fewer sexual partners and are locked down into monogamous relationships, the population of unsexed women will go up and thus create what amounts to a captive audience for sexual overtures from members of the incel community. This really is a dumpster fire of law-and-economics nonsense in a high-speed collision with the human condition. What I marvel at is that this isn’t some crank with an anonymous account on Twitter. It’s a tenured professor of economics.

Maybe Hanson is also trying his hand at satire. Who knows these days?

This situation illustrates the importance that people give to physical attractiveness. This is not anything new and has probably existed from time immemorial. But this whole business of quantifying it on a scale of one to ten and then obsessing over that one factor to the exclusion of almost everything else might be relatively recent because of the ubiquitous ranking that is now available. For most people in relationships, I suspect that the value placed on looks is highest at the beginning (because it is the most visible trait) and tends to decrease over time, as other factors like compatibility, considerateness, kindness, sense of humor, and generosity come to the fore and are seen as being more important to one’s happiness. So incels might want to think about how much of those qualities they possess and what kinds of situations bring them to the forefront. Going into any new encounter with a chip on your shoulder and an air of grievance and entitlement is a surefire way to ensure that people will not want to get to know you beyond the superficialities.

Comments

  1. says

    Make-up? Haven’t they ever contemplated David Bowie, and the rather obvious fact that Bowie a) wore lots of make up b) made a lot of money (in part because of the make up) c) was married to Iman d) probably had plenty of sex with all the people.

    They can’t seem to explain what “attractiveness” is – which makes sense, since it’s a multifaceted and vague thing. Basically defined as “whatever is not me.”

    Men have worn make-up for a long time. Not just Bowie: Casanova. Incels, meet Giacomo Casanova, I rest my case.

  2. Dunc says

    This situation illustrates the importance that people give to physical attractiveness. This is not anything new and has probably existed from time immemorial. But this whole business of quantifying it on a scale of one to ten and then obsessing over that one factor to the exclusion of almost everything else might be relatively recent because of the ubiquitous ranking that is now available.

    I have vague memories of reading a paper (or, more likely, a summary of a paper) which looked at the way people’s perception of attractiveness is modified by the media… As I recall, the conclusion was that when the majority of people mostly encounter other people (and images of other people) in a normal distribution of attractiveness, everybody has fairly reasonable expectations and most people manage to find a partner that meets those expectations. However, when you expose everybody to images of extremely attractive people a lot, their perceptions of what constitutes “normal” gets skewed, and suddenly you’ve got large numbers of people holding out for partners in the top decile of attractiveness.

    Writing that out, it all sounds like a remarkably difficult thing to study, and obviously subject to all of the usual caveats that should be applied to almost all research on human behaviour… But I don’t think the basic idea is unreasonable: constantly bombarding people with images of insanely hot (but unattainable) people of their desired gender is going to cause at least some people problems with developing normal romantic and / or sexual relationships.

  3. Owlmirror says

    My guess is that it is from a parody site
    [. . .]
    Maybe Hanson is also trying his hand at satire. Who knows these days?

    “Any sufficiently wry wag is indistinguishable from a fullblown batshit nutcase.”
      — Stephen Coltrin

    (A more colourful, and earlier, formulation of what is now called Poe’s law)

  4. says

    Attractiveness has nothing to do with looks. Looks don’t hurt, of course, but what makes a person attractive are inner traits, such as a sense of humour, kindness, intelligence, and so on.

    Cosmetics have been around forever, and throughout history, men were no strangers to wearing them. In our current time, men have gone away from wearing cosmetics as a part of daily wear, but it’s come back a little bit. The incels should perhaps go shopping, and see what they can do with cosmetics. That said, all the cosmetics in the world won’t make a shitty personality better or magically attractive.

  5. cartomancer says

    I have to say, there are plenty of people for whom physical attractiveness is the only relevant criterion where wanting to have sex is concerned. I would probably count myself among their number. Yes, you hear about people for whom it’s about more than just looks, but I’ve never really found any other relevant factors in my own life. I suspect I’m a product of the culture I grew up in in that regard.

    I mean, I can see that other factors are relevant as far as love and romance and relationships and friendship are concerned, just not when it comes to sex. In fact, I tend to think about sex and relationships as entirely separate phenomena – the one purely hormonal and physical, the other social and mental and emotional. But, then again, to me sex is something to do in secret and not to talk about or think about if at all possible, whereas relationships are something done in the open, to be pondered and considered and obsessed upon. The former is a bit sordid and sinister, the cause of much anxiety, and to be studiously excluded from my self-image, the latter embraced as a part of it. My beloved, for instance, is my best friend. But I have never found him sexually attractive, however deeply I have wanted to be in a proper relationship with him for the last seventeen years.

    Ultimately I think this is about how people construct their identities and how they can be discouraged from constructing them in ways that do not work for them or cause them great harm. I think this is something people need to be made explicitly aware of as they are growing up – not just feeding them messages in an attempt to mould them how we would wish but making them aware that their values and identities are theirs to form and intellectual work needs to be done to achieve that.

    I said at chez Pharyngula that this little rant reminds me of what Xenophon had to say in his Oikonomikos about make-up as a futile deception. But, thinking on it, the difference between Xenophon’s world and our own is instructive. Xenophon’s advice on training a wife was aimed at a society where marriage was overwhelmingly a transactional affair, undertaken to strengthen family ties and create new citizens, and almost never done for love or because the two parties were attracted to one another. Finding a wife was not an issue if your family knew other people, and if they didn’t then you weren’t going to expect a wife and the participation in society that brings. Furthermore, sexual desires were easily taken care of with prostitutes and slaves – a whole class of people existed whose bodily autonomy was compromised. Immoderate sexual lust was also seen as suspect, feminine, barbarous and compromising – the ideal for rational male Athenian citizens was continence and self-control.

    So in Xenophon’s world it took no great step of self-knowledge to arrive at a place where you weren’t caught up in this kind of weird “incel” culture. For many today it does take a great step to avoid that kind of cultural conditioning.

  6. says

    My guess is that it is from a parody site but while not serious…

    I read We Hunted The Mammoth all the time and suspect you’re guessing wrong here, Mano. “Make-up is a lie” is something that comes up at times from the misogynists of all types, and the concept of rape-slavery isn’t something new from incels.

  7. Raucous Indignation says

    Everybody has sex with everybody all the freakin’ time!! How freakin’ odious must one be to be literally unfuckable!?

  8. Dunc says

    Everybody has sex with everybody all the freakin’ time!! How freakin’ odious must one be to be literally unfuckable!?

    No, they don’t. You may do, and most, or even all of the people you know may do, but there are plenty of people who go for long periods of time without having sex with anybody, for a variety of reasons. I went without sex for over twenty years due to an unfortunate combination of self-confidence and mental health issues, despite the fact that I am assured that I’m both quite attractive and fairly charming (although I’m pretty sure I was a lot less of either whilst I was in the grip of severe clinical depression and social anxiety).

    However, most people don’t turn it into an ideology the way these people have.

  9. Paul Jarc says

    Josh Marshall is misreading Robin Hanson. Hanson mentions policy options that could influence the distribution of sex, but he isn’t endorsing them. He’s a libertarian, and if he’s trying to persuade people of anything, it would be to be as leery about monetary redistribution as they already are about sex redistribution. He’s mainly interested here in exploring how people have such different reactions to different kinds of inequality–not just sex vs. money, but levels of wealth between households within a country as opposed to between countries, between time periods, etc. It’s not too long a read to go straight to the source.

  10. says

    Caine @4

    Attractiveness has nothing to do with looks. Looks don’t hurt, of course, but what makes a person attractive are inner traits, such as a sense of humour, kindness, intelligence, and so on.

    Unfortunately, this is bullshit. Hollywood bullshit, actually. It can work this way over time, maybe, but you got to have good ENOUGH looks for anyone to be interested enough to talk to you to find out the rest of that stuff. If you don’t look good enough, you will be rebuffed instantly if you approach someone, and will not be approached.

  11. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Unfortunately, this is bullshit. Hollywood bullshit, actually. It can work this way over time, maybe, but you got to have good ENOUGH looks for anyone to be interested enough to talk to you to find out the rest of that stuff. If you don’t look good enough, you will be rebuffed instantly if you approach someone, and will not be approached.

    yes and no. I think it’s true that if you approach some unknown person as a potential dating partner, most times that person will make a snap judgement based on physical attractiveness (looks, body language, scent, sound of voice, more???) to determine whether they want to spend enough time on a conversation to learn those other things that can be a non-appearance, non-physical basis for an ongoing attraction.

    However, if you are approaching someone for other reasons – making new friends in a new neighborhood or at a new job, whatever – physical attractiveness will have very little to do with whether or not most people are willing to have a conversation and see where it goes. After the first conversation, there’s a possibility of having more conversations, and the willingness to have those will be even less dependent on physical attractiveness than the first conversation. Later attraction may develop (or an original, instant attraction may be later confessed) and at those later points where attraction comes up as a topic with someone you now know, many, many things come into play. Since the person knows so much more about you, physical attraction plays much less of a role in how someone might respond.

    I don’t think that physical appearance has nothing to do with “attractiveness” writ large, at least not for most people. I do think that what constitutes attractiveness is so idiosyncratic that it makes little sense to talk about someone being “unattractive” except in the most personal, “I don’t happen to dig you” sense.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    Dunc @ # 2: … constantly bombarding people with images of insanely hot (but unattainable) people of their desired gender is going to cause at least some people problems with developing normal romantic and / or sexual relationships.

    I’ve long suspected exactly this as a contributor to many cases of domestic abuse, especially for those who spend most of their non-work lives watching tv shows.

  13. jrkrideau says

    What I marvel at is that this isn’t some crank with an anonymous account on Twitter. It’s a tenured professor of economics.

    I believe Jordan Peterson also has tenure. Possibly both are in a premature state of emeritus? It is a dangerous condition.

  14. says

    “Everybody has sex with everybody all the freakin’ time!!”

    Pff, I WISH that were true. Even “some of the freakin’ time” would be an improvement for me.

    “How freakin’ odious must one be to be literally unfuckable!?”

    The bar is far lower than you would expect. Or rather, a person can have problems other than odiousness getting in the way.

  15. Bob Getta Job says

    I practice voluntary celibacy for financial reasons. Seeing people from my past having more and more kids while driving themselves further into poverty is hilarious.

    People in Africa have 20 kids then wonder why they have no food, lol. Not my problem. If they come for my food and make it my problem I will kill them without second thought.

  16. Sophy says

    I’m reminded of the Northern Pikes tune, “She ain’t pretty, she just looks that way.”

    But the desire for external fixes is because part of it is external status related. The attractveness ratings are a means to quantify visible worth. Like Mr Collins showing how wonderful Lady Catherine deBourrgh is by enumerating the windows on her estate and just as silly.

  17. flex says

    There is an old vaudeville song about a man who picks up a woman in a bar for her attractiveness, and while they are undressing in a motel room the song goes through the litany about how she removes her wig, her false eye, her false bosom, her wooden leg, etc.

    Then, on the opposite side, is the Edgar Allen Poe story, “The Man that was used up”. Where a journalist interviews a famous military hero, and as the interview continues, the hero removes wooden legs, wooden arms, wooden head, and even a wooden torso, leaving only a small lump of flesh which is all that remains of the handsome and glorious hero presented for public view.

    It is very true that for the primates that we are, appearances count. However, I challenge the idea that there is a single linear scale in which attractiveness can be rated. A person can be physically beautiful, but not attractive. Conversely, a person can be attractive without being physically beautiful. What seems to count the most, looking back over fifty years, is confidence in oneself. A person who is confident in themselves, even if it took artificial means to create that confidence, for instance, using make-up to more closely conform to the cultural ideal of their time, tends to attract other people.

    I think this trait is probably buried deep into the wiring of the primate brain. If someone appears to know what they are doing and can confidently express themselves, other people will follow them. I think this explains the phenomenon that others have noted that woman prefer “bad” boys and not “nice” boys. I don’t think this is entirely true, but people in general, which includes woman, prefer confident people, and “bad” boys are generally project more self-confidence than “nice” boys.

    I think this trait also is at the heart of authoritarianism. As I wrote above, I think this trait is hard-wired into our monkey brains, and while sufficient education can mitigate the impact, it is a powerful influence on our behavior. It is not always expressed in a sexual manner, but is the reason why cults of personality form.

    To go back to the OP and the incels. It is interesting to me that the incels exist. Certainly, historically there were men who were upset that they were unable to execute their fantasies on attractive women. But they were scattered, and when they did meet the result was a pity-party (“nudge-nudge, say no more”). The Monty Python character in the “Nudge-Nudge” sketch really hit the nail on the head (IIRC he was played by Eric Idol, but I’ve passed a lot of water since then so I could be wrong).

    These people are not attractive to others largely because it’s clear that they lack the confidence to solve their own problems, let alone helping a companion. The incels appear to be men who desire an outside agency to solve a problem which only they feel exists. Should they gain the confidence to internalize their agency, which means understanding and making an attempt at conforming to the current cultural expectation of beauty, their problems will largely cease. Internalizing their agency will give them the confidence they need and attempting to conform to the current expectations of beauty will result in making the connections they desire.

    But, because they have created a culture which rejects the idea that change is possible by their own actions, and blaming their perceived plight on an outside agency (i.e. attractive women), the end result is radicalization and violence. Rather than scattered individual men feeling cheated out of relationships, because there is now the ability for these men to find each other and ratchet up their resentment by feeding off each others complaints, the result is greater resentment which will escalate into violence.

    Such is one of the blessings, and curses, of the interconnection possible due to the internet.

  18. sonofrojblake says

    sophisticated makeup techniques that currently exist enable women to look much more attractive than their intrinsic looks warrant (they can lift themselves up from a 3/10 to a 7/10)

    This conveniently ignores two things:
    1. makeup is not a secret. They have a pretty low opinion of the rest of us if they think we can’t see past it when they apparently can.
    2. sophisticated techniques currently exist that enable MEN to look much more attractive than their looks warrant. Tell me Donald Trump is as physically attractive as his wife, and I’ll guide you by the hand to the nearest optometrist.

    if people have fewer sexual partners and are locked down into monogamous relationships, the population of unsexed women will go up and thus create what amounts to a captive audience for sexual overtures from members of the incel community

    Merely demonstrates how little they know about women. Even the phrase “unsexed women” is hilarious.

    Fundamentally you’ve got a lot of men whose standard of physical attractiveness for sexual partners is skewed too high, complaining that women’s standards of physical attractiveness for sexual partners is skewed too high. The lack of self-awareness is tragic. As I said elsewhere – they’re doing nothing productive to increase the chances of gaining the company of women, and spending all their time around men. Probably the best thing they could do is admit that what they really like is the company of men. From what I hear gay guys have NO trouble getting as much as they like.

  19. says

    @11 Crip Dyke

    I think it’s true that if you approach some unknown person as a potential dating partner, most times that person will make a snap judgement based on physical attractiveness

    That’s literally what we’re talking about here. Everything else is a change of subject, interactions where ‘attractiveness’ is not being judged because it is irrelevant.

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