A former incel speaks out

The strange and disturbing world of the ‘incels’ (involuntary celibates) has come into the limelight following the violent acts by some of them. After the recent killings in Toronto by a self-proclaimed incel Alek Minassian who killed 10 people by mowing them down on the sidewalk with his vehicle, mostly targeting women pedestrians, Jack Peterson who had until then also identified as one, tried in interviews to defend the group, saying that they were not violent nor did they hate women but were adopting an ironic pose. The reaction from his fellow incels was not what he expected.

The message boards threw the interviews back in his face. One poster wrote that he wasn’t a “true” incel. They called him a “normie”, incel-speak for someone who isn’t. Others said he wasn’t even terribly ugly, nor was he a virgin. One wrote that in Peterson’s media appearances he put “100% blame on incels” instead of focusing on “how women’s behavior has changed”.

Peterson had tried to tell the world that the incels didn’t hate women – only for the incels to cry foul.

“The response I got,” he says, was: “‘You’re misrepresenting us: we really do hate women. We’re not joking.’”

I think that Peterson has learned the lesson from his fellow incels’ harsh reactions to his defense of them that when people tell you who they are, it is prudent to believe them.

He claims it is a community riven by lack of self-confidence. Many of the posters, he says, are teenagers grappling with social anxiety or depression.

Most seem to be obsessed by their physical appearance: members regularly post pictures of themselves, only to be told how unattractive and ugly they are by other members.

In fact, many of the members are perfectly good-looking guys. Peterson agrees. “Looks are probably not the primary factor, here,” he says.

Peterson says an overarching theme is one of victimization – leading to the anger and frustration expressed by many on the forums, and a central theme in Rodger’s manifesto.

“A lot of incels think they’re owed shit from the world,” Peterson says. “The mindset is kind of like this: ‘I’ve been bullied and rejected my whole life so because of all the suffering I’ve experienced. Now the world owes me sex, it owes me friends, it owes me success, because of all the failures I’ve had.’”

Peterson has left the movement and is trying to become ‘normal’.

He hopes others will follow his lead. “Exposure to social situations, exposure to women – stuff like that will probably solve it for most guys,” he says. “It’s not this black-and–white thing you’ve created it to be, in these fantasies and these delusions that are often talked about on the forums.

“The first thing I’m really trying to do is really to get out there more in the world and become more social,” he says. “It’ll be tough to maintain this level of confidence and productivity if I don’t have a strong circle of friends.”

The internet produces contradictory dynamics. On the one hand it enables people to reach out and find like-minded people and thus can reduce the sense of isolation many feel. On the other, if the group of like-minded people form a closed circle that is hostile to the rest of the world, as seems to be the case with groups like the incels and hate groups, then it can actually increase the sense of isolation by having the group validate your sense of grievance and feelings of isolation.


  1. says

    That Guardian link has a picture of Peterson, and based on just that photo he looks nice, leaning towards handsome. Granted, I just have that one picture to go by but even taking things like lighting into account, there’s no way he looks like an ogre who should be living in a cage.

    I remember when I first saw photos of Elliot Rodger I thought he was decent looking as well.

    It never occurs to these guys that may it’s not their looks that are throwing women off.

  2. says

    Tabby Lavalamp@#1:
    I remember when I first saw photos of Elliot Rodger I thought he was decent looking as well.

    I thought the same thing. He’d have been cute if he hadn’t been such an asshole.

    When I was in college we didn’t call them ‘incels’, they were just “guys who bought a nice car and some clothes but had repellent personalities and we stayed the fuck away from them.”

    Back around 1983 or so, one of the guys who hung out with the computers a lot (I lived in the computer room) woke up to the fact that he was a bit of a repellent personality and opened up to a few of us and literally asked “what should I do? nobody likes me?” One of the guys made a fascinating and brilliant suggestion: change his name and move across the country, and re-invent himself as an interesting, suave (but not in a creepy way), helpful (but not in a creepy way) friendly sort of person. And he did. He left a couple months later. As it happened, he went to a silicon valley company that made him very rich, too. And he’s a popular bon vivant friendly sort of guy with a circle of friends that’s the envy of many. I still wonder if it’s an act or if he simply reached down inside himself and changed? “Fake it ’till you make it.” I do believe that a person can change their personality (because personality is public perception of what we do and say, so if we change those things the public perception will change, too) it’s called “growing wiser” I suppose. We should allow and encourage that.

    If Elliot Rodger had sold his guns and his BMW and gotten dancing lessons, learned how to cook, and spent some time hanging out in museums or reading a book -- making himself a more interesting person -- he’d have probably done quite well for himself (though that raises the whole question of whether someone is just being manipulative -- do they have a “true self”? And does it matter?)

  3. invivoMark says

    Marcus Ranum @2:

    This post describes me.

    I realized right around the end of high school that everyone else’s social skills had been improving since childhood but mine really hadn’t. I believe strongly that I had some undiagnosed autism spectrum stuff going on (I have more than a few reasons to believe this).

    I wasted my undergrad days trying to play catch up, but didn’t really figure out how to be a social human being until I started grad school. Now I’ve got a pretty good circle of friends and I’m way better at interacting romantically with my preferred gender.

    I can confidently say it’s not an act. I actually changed a lot. I’m more compassionate than I was, my autistic tendencies are mostly gone (autism, it turns out, is something that some people “grow out of”), and I’m way more interesting than I used to be.

    It can be done. But more to the point, I think it can be taught. It’s possible to teach people to be better at being social, making and keeping friends, and interacting romantically when and with whom one prefers to. I hope that we, as a society, figure out a better way to teach young people to be more socially competent and compassionate.

    I never called myself an “incel,” and I think the biggest reason is that I always accepted personal responsibility for my social ineptitude. That’s a big part of what Elliot Rodger et al. are missing.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    When I hear about people like this, I often think that, if these folks had been around thirty years ago when I was single, I might have gotten sucked into their victimized little world. I remember feeling tremendously sorry for myself, and a bit angry at women for my loneliness. In retrospect, I was lucky that I didn’t have the internet to feed those emotions. It’s basically a cult, and a dangerous one at that.

  5. drken says

    @brucegee1962 #4

    I think about the very same thing. I hear a lot of the stuff (at least the self-pitying suff) they’re saying and I think “yeah, I know that voice. That voice is not my friend”. The Incels are an intrusive thought pride rally. When you think you’re broken and will never be able to be in a relationship, or even have sex, the last thing you need is to have somebody else say “Me too, let’s form a club.” I’m just glad there was no where quite that toxic for me to go.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    @invivoMark, #3:

    (autism, it turns out, is something that some people “grow out of”)

    Extremely hard to remain civil in the teeth of this. No, it really fucking isn’t.

    Being an asshole who has self-diagnosed as being “on the spectrum” as an excuse for being a non-empathetic asshole is something some assholes might be able to “grow out of”. On the strength of this comment I would suggest you haven’t grown out of it completely yet.

    Autism, it turns out, is something real that you absolutely cannot “grow out of”, any more than you can grow out of cerebral palsy or schizophrenia, and it’s insulting and cheapening to suggest otherwise.

  7. Johnny Vector says

    sonofrojblake @6:

    Autism, it turns out, is something real that you absolutely cannot “grow out of”, any more than you can grow out of cerebral palsy or schizophrenia

    I don’t know about autism, but you certainly can grow out of schizophrenia.


    That’s what happened to John Nash, for instance. In the movie, they say it’s due to “the new medications”, but in reality he was refusing to take any medication; it was just remission. The literature suggests that a large fraction of schizophrenics recover.

  8. invivoMark says

    sonofrojblake @6:

    I would like you to take your suggestion that I’m using “the spectrum” as an excuse for being an asshole and shove it right up your nose. DO NOT FUCKING PRESUME TO KNOW ME.

    Absolutely nothing that I have said implies that autism is not real, nor is that remotely close to a belief that I hold.

    Autism is a spectrum disease, and diagnosis is made by evaluating a range of symptoms. These are things like eye contact and verbal skills -- things which can obviously change over a child’s development. So quite trivially, a child on the edge of an autism diagnosis can be re-examined at a later time and be found to no longer qualify for the diagnosis.

    This has been frequently observed by doctors and psychologists, and it’s common enough that it’s investigated in the literature. It’s controversial whether these are cases where the child was “never truly autistic” in the first place, or whether the recovery is “real” or just a child learning to compensate for their mental difficulties. But there is evidence that some children who fall under an autism diagnosis can lose effectively all symptoms and behave like neurotypical people.

    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jcpp.12037 (Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2013)

    And in fact there are commonalities observed among those who “grow out of” autism, such as anxiety and speech problems:

    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/01/18/peds.2011-1717 (Pediatrics 2012)

    If you want to believe there’s some fundamental cause of autism that doesn’t exist in people who stop exhibiting the symptoms later in life, then fine. There’s pretty limited evidence to support that position, but we all get to have our opinions on the matter. That doesn’t give you the right to insult people who hold the opposite opinion, though.

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that recent studies linking altered gut microbiota (and the resulting deficiencies of certain nutrients) to development of autism are on to something. And that’s pretty consistent with the idea of a changing autism diagnosis, given that gut microbiota can change and the brain continues physically growing throughout childhood and early adulthood.

    I’m also of the opinion that you are an asshole and you can fuck right off.

    Oh, and some people do seem to “grow out of” schizophrenia: https://academic.oup.com/schizophreniabulletin/article/35/2/370/1908368

  9. karmacat says

    Symptoms can overlap among different diagnoses. Sometimes social anxiety/phobia can look like autism in terms of social awkwardness and avoiding people. Some people do grow out of shyness. unfortunately, people don’t really grow out of autism but can learn how to interact with other people.

  10. anat says

    Regarding autism, much depends on who makes the diagnosis and how specific their training is. According to a specialist in autism research, about half of the kids who come to her office with diagnosis of autism made by school psychologists and pediatricians turn out to be non-autistic. Usually these are kids with anxiety, and some of their ways of dealing with anxiety are behaviors that overlap with diagnostic criteria of autism, but once the anxiety is treated the behavior becomes neurotypical again.

  11. Mike Columcille says

    When I first heard of “incels” I felt a bit of pity for them- I too remember feeling quite inadequate in my late teens and 20s due to having acne and Tourette’s and various mental problems, probably even the same “dysmorphophobia” the Incels seem to suffer, even though I was actually decent looking and had been with a few women by 17, and been in long term relationships in my 20’s. Now I should mention, feeling inadequate for me didn’t translate into hating women at all! But I’ll never forget, that feeling sucks. So at first, it was easy to feel empathy for the Incels.

    However, when I took the time to actually read what these guys talk about (I scrolled a few pages on incels.me)… it is TERRIFYING.

    First of all, it’s evident right away that they view women as property, similar to how Islam treats it’s women. But of course it gets creepier quickly… They openly advocate rape, rape-dungeons filled with teen girls, slashing good looking people in the face and splashing acid on “roasties” (their lame term for slutty girls). And racist too. They put down men of colour as “currycels and ricecels” and straight up call certain races subhuman (similar to, ironically, both neo nazis and the self hating whites of the Cult of Intersectionality!)

    I thought that was it, but no… many of them are paedophiles, too! So we’re at misogynistic, violent, paedophilic, how about terroristic? They could “Go ER” at any time (Elliot Rogers attack reference there) Couples HOLDING HANDS trigger them. A couple making out in a park triggered one into a meltdown. Imagine what they’d do if they lived in an apartment and their neighbour had loud sex!!

    I have a daughter. And a mother and a sister and female relatives and friends. To know that these men see my FAMILY as just some disposable sluts makes me want to choke the life out of each and every one of those goofs. But they are cowards and work in the shadows until they decide to lash out against people for the crime of not being miserable like them, these guerilla tactics are what makes these wimpy males scary.

    (And it’s not just leftists who don’t like the whole idea of Incels. I’m not a feminist, I’m a libertarian who supported Trump.)

    What I think the Incels’ problem is, is not looks, but NEGATIVITY. First of all, why the fuck SHOULD women want to fuck you if you’re so miserable? That’s no fun and women will and should avoid you for being a 100% negative, bitter person.

    And I believe strongly (and some interpretations of quantum physics such as Bohm’s seem to suggest) that negative thinking brings negative results and positivity will get you ahead. It is literally “all up to you” if you know this fact.

    Every single thing they say is doom and gloom. As the great George Clinton says in one of the most amazing songs ever made… “good thoughts bring forth good fruit… bullshit thoughts rot your meat!”
    (that’s taken from an amazing little book from 1901 called As A Man Thinketh… all Incels ought to read that book and have a long hard look at their attitude and where it’s got them!

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