A specter is haunting America — the specter of incels. All the powers of the world have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter: chad and volcel, law enforcement and FBI profilers, Twitter and progressives. Wherever there are unf***able men chugging Soylent and posting about ethics in gaming journalism … as long as there is a Reddit … incel culture will maintain its grasp.
“Incel” is short for “involuntarily celibate”—a community of sexless online men who blame the world for their orgasm void. In particular, they resent one part of society. You’ve read the reports. But don’t worry; here to discuss incels comes the least erotic thing imaginable: a Ross Douthat opinion piece.
On May 2nd, in a New York Times column titled “The Redistribution of Sex,” Douthat wrote:
One lesson to be drawn from recent Western history might be this: Sometimes the extremists and radicals and weirdos see the world more clearly than the respectable and moderate and sane.
So far, so good. Douthat and I are in agreement that people who unironically tweet Joker memes are the leading philosophers of the age.
All kinds of phenomena, starting as far back as the Iraq War and the crisis of the euro but accelerating in the age of populism, have made more sense in the light of analysis by reactionaries and radicals than as portrayed in the organs of establishment opinion.
Douthat tickles the contrarian gizzard of his audience by suggesting that, yes, your gun-polishing brother-in-law and your Antifa nephew might have something in common.
One useful path is to look at areas where extremists and eccentrics from very different worlds are talking about the same subject. Such overlap is no guarantee of wisdom, but it’s often a sign that there’s something interesting going on.
Fellow teens, consider this: what if Shakespeare is just another form of trap music?
Then Douthat drops the bass:
Which brings me to the sex robots.
If you thought that Boss Ross was on the path to sober contemplation of the world, get ready to get pummeled in the fruitfuls.
I’d like to pause here and note that Ross Douthat wrote a column about sex robots … I was alive to read it. My God, think of the odds involved — the probabilities dizzy the mind. What a time to be alive!
Douthat cites Robin Hanson, an economist who works at George Mason University, prehensile tail on the body of the Koch Empire. In the grand tradition of clueless white guys dude-splaining the murders of marginalized people, Hanson suggested that the recent series of incel murder sprees were about a lack of sex. See, homicidal monsters weren’t getting scheduled gratifications; that was the real problem. Hanson’s solution was to redistribute orgasms. To quote from Slate:
Over the years, the libertarian-leaning professor has become notorious in certain circles for his odd and disconcerting dips into socio-sexual commentary; he once mused on his blog, for instance, about whether women who suffered a “gentle, silent rape” were really worse off than men who experienced infidelity. ... In a post that left many readers agog, he decided to use a heinous incident of misogynistic violence as an opportunity to contemplate the concept of “redistributing” sex to men who have trouble getting laid.
Like a racial slur in a Tarantino movie, it was only a matter of time until Professor MRA got called out. The backlash against Hanson allows Douthat to trot out the most predictable trope in the far-right bible, “Liberals Are Oppressing Me.”
A lesser author would stop there. Not Douthat: he cites Oxford philosopher Amia Srinivasan, who Douthat describes as a “leftist” and “feminist.” Why, what a surprising inclusion in Douthat’s big book of sad penis stories! What could Douthat be thinking?
Here’s what: Srinivasan recently wrote an article for the London Review of Books asking if sexual gratification was a right we could demand from others. Of course it’s not, Srinivasan concluded.
But Douthat isn’t really interested in the substance of Srinivasan’s argument. You can tell by the way he sneers at her complaints of “trans women unable to find partners and other victims, in her narrative, of a society that still makes us prisoners of patriarchal and also racist-sexist-homophobic rules of sexual desire.”
See, Douthat’s column is a clickbait flirtation with Hanson, and he’s got a purpose for Srinivasan’s argument: he wants make it seem like Hanson and Srinivasan meet in the middle:
But to me, reading Hanson and Srinivasan together offers a good case study in how intellectual eccentrics — like socialists and populists in politics — can surface issues and problems that lurk beneath the surface of more mainstream debates.
Although sexual redistribution seems odd, Douthat writes, it’s certainly interesting to think about it. I’m just asking questions, folks!
Boss Ross drones on for several paragraphs: the sexual revolution has created a neoliberal market for coupling, and yadda yadda gender roles yadda yadda Hugh Hefner yadda yadda my head is an enchanted bowling ball with a questionable goatee yadda yadda how ‘bout them feminists amirite ha ha yadda yadda ... until after the textual equivalent of a 20-month kidney stone, Ross Douthat finally gets to his godforsaken point. The rust-rotted barn-door hinges squeal, and out comes the sputtering Model T of conservative sexual thought:
There is an alternative, conservative response, of course — namely, that our widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility might be dealt with by reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate. But this is not the natural response for a society like ours. Instead we tend to look for fixes that seem to build on previous revolutions, rather than reverse them.
Christ, this is what it must feel like to both give, and receive, cancer.
Boss Ross is not done. Although the “thoroughgoingly utopian reimagining” of Srinivasan is unlikely, as is the “pro-redistribution political lobby” of Hanson, “the logic of commerce and technology will be consciously harnessed, as already in pornography, to address the unhappiness of incels, be they angry and dangerous or simply depressed and despairing.” Douthat ends by predicting that the left will work to make prostitution legal, the libertarian (male) fascination with porn and sexbots will continue, and eventually everybody’s parents will just agree that there’s a right to sex, which will be supplied by robots and escorts, forever and amen.
Douthat talking about sexuality is like a dog talking about Picasso. Sure, it’s scientifically possible, but it’s probably a sin.
Let’s get to the point. As long as contraceptives, education, and consent exist, there is no danger or scandal in sex. None at all. However, because our society places all responsibility for sex on women, sexual shaming is a potent tool for political oppression. Sexual conservatism is defined by the crippling anxiety that the female orgasm may, in fact, exist. And the far-right’s phobias aren’t limited to women. They’re equally terrified of all non-white, non-hetero sex: LGBTQ sex, African-American sex, Latino sex, you name it. No wonder they prioritize angry White Dude sex—or the lack thereof.
Forget the talk about markets and sexbots, and what can we do to buy off the killers?. Here’s the issue: misogyny. Incels loathe women. They have an old agenda, expressed in old words: I hate you, you owe me sex.
Here’s what women actually owe men: jack shit.
Write as many weird op-eds as you like, that rule does not change. If Douthat and his friends confronted that simple fact, then their premise of male sexual entitlement would disintegrate. Their whole belief structure would fall apart like a piñata in a monsoon. Of course, they will do anything to avoid confronting the plain facts. That’s where Hanson’s magical fanfictional market bullshit comes in.
There’s an additional reason sexual redistribution appeals to the weird right. For the Ayn Rand crowd, intercourse is the Gordian knot. You can hoard food, weed, wine, all the pleasures of Earth … but sex still requires other people. No matter how you atomize it, sex still needs a partner, and optimal sex means taking another person into account—that person’s needs, their limits, their preferences. Their freedoms. Their rights. For a philosophy that fetishizes selfishness, sharing is the kiss of death. Removing incel culture is not a neat market-supply problem for us to hack with incentives and nudges. It’s a social problem that requires confrontation with patriarchy. In sex, as in politics, solidarity is the name of the game. Join with care, or not at all.