There’s a joyless routine to a burst of mass violence in the West. After making sure the people we love who are anywhere in the area are ok (“You live in Canada; you didn’t happen to be in Toronto, did you?”), we pass a pro forma state of horror and revulsion, and then begin feeling around for a reason. Or, rather, we begin searching for a broader movement to blame, and hope that it isn’t ours.
It’s not that we hope the killer isn’t on our side; very few leftists actually consider themselves on the same side as brutal theocrats. It’s that we’ve gotten to the point where we hope that the murderer isn’t someone who could be used against us politically, or who could be used by the other to promote their own rancid ideology.
As what seems to be the case now, the van-driver in the deadly Toronto attack, which has left 10 dead, and dozens (if not hundreds) more traumatized, and which will push cities even further intro entrenched military zones, full of tranches and truncheons and a thin veneer of normal life painted over cracked-wood fear, was someone who couldn’t get laid.
That seems to be…well, a bit simple, and if you are blessedly removed from the world of violent misogyny, this might be pretty confusing. It certainly doesn’t seem ideological. It’s not Islamic radicalism used by the right to dehumanize refugees fleeing from that same violence. It’s not Dylann Roof or a sovereign citizen, with their toxic racism and deep American hatred.
I mean, from time immemorial people, especially men, have not been able to have sex whenever they wanted. 88% of the movies in the 80s were about that. It happened all the time in the aughts, too.
But what we didn’t have were “incels”, or “involuntary celibate”, which is how Alex Minassian, the Toronto killer, saw himself. Well, we had involuntary celibates, but we didn’t have fancy names. We didn’t have a movement. We just called them Caruso.
(note: approximately three people reading this blog will get that, but so what?)
It’s more than just a fancy name, of course. The idea of the Incel Movement, and the Incel Rebellion, which Minassian apparently saw himself as a part of, is wrapped up in ancient feelings and primeval longings, but nurtured in our stupid and self-selecting times. We form new tribes every day, and foster new grievances, and cast our tribe as both heroes and victims. Minassian is an avatar of our times: a disturbed or maybe just annoted individual, lashing out, and finding succor and support in the like-minded, who don’t provide comfort, but encourage anger and violence. He looks for others like him, and they help him find Others.
Twas Ever Thus, But Now More
I am not trying to brush off attitudes toward women before the dawn of internet tribalism. Attitudes toward women have always been largely the same, especially when it came to sex.
There was also a barely-contained misogyny everywhere, of course: the idea that sex was something you had to get, and that the woman had to give, as opposed to a mutual decision. Most interactions weren’t particularly transactional and base, of course, but for the guy who wasn’t able to “score”, it could easily curdle into resentment of women.
I don’t want to romanticize the past; human behavior has been pretty consistent. If there is anything that #metoo has taught us, it is that every woman has dealt with a a guy crossing every line, up to an irrevocably physical one. I’ve written about some of my own experiences throwing around the weight of my gender.
The excuse for that, for many, is that it is human nature, or at least male nature. And there is a certain biological logic behind that: the rushing surge of tomcatting hormones coursing through your veins, the terror and expectation, the mix of confidence and paranoia that comes with every sexual encounter. It’s hard to turn off. It’s hard to control.
But again, for most people, any resentment is channeled into other avenues. For (many) women, this is channeled into self-loathing and questioning, because they aren’t socialized to expect sex on demand. For many men, this is channeled into self-reflection, or at least altered expectations. But for some, who feel that they have a goddamn birthright, a natural right, to getting laid, to having women do what they want, they externalize that loathing, and place all the blame on women.
Now, in the 80s or the early aughts, the answer to that was to say “Dude, cool it. Maybe just try being nice to them?” It’s not that this “dude, cool it” approach would work, but if it didn’t, the guy was just a creep, and maybe you stopped being friends with him. Or maybe you listened to his rants and argued until the time came to talk about something other than girls.
And who knows? Maybe that guy would be a creepy stalker. Or maybe he’d just sort of learn on his own. What would be much more difficult would be for him to find a like-minded community with its own symbols, its own language, and its own ideas of the world. He wouldn’t be able to stumble into a group of people with similar swirling hatreds, who egg each other on, barely hidden under a thin coat of irony.
They wouldn’t find, say, incel. And they wouldn’t build an identity around that.
Incel and Our New Tribes
OK, so if you are lucky enough to not know what any of this means (except Incel), then this is blisteringly confusing and probably really dumb. Chads are handsome dudes who get laid. Staceys are the girls who sleep with Chads but not guys like Alek, because they’re frigid sluts, or whatever.
And Elliot Rodger? Well, he’s the guy who killed six people in Isla Vista because girls didn’t like him. He’s sort of a hero to the incel crowd, and his manifesto is a founding document, except he isn’t really, because they have some ironic distance. He’s not really the Supreme Gentleman, that’s just a funny name, you cuck.
That’s how they distance themselves. They make it just ridiculous enough that it seems like a big lulz, except that, you know, it isn’t, because this keeps happening, and it is getting worse.
Now, not all incel types are MRAs; nor (certainly) are all MRAs incels. Allegra Kirkland explained it today over at Talking Points Memo.
Observers of these communities note that not all “incel” adherents embraced Rodger and that there are divisions between the “incel” and broader men’s rights activist community.
As the journalist Arshy Mann put it in a Tuesday Twitter thread: “MRAs deploy a human rights framework to argue men are oppressed. Incels don’t talk about rights, they just hate.”
These amorphous extremist groups are hard to characterize. Some “incels” are racists; some gamers are men’s rights activists; many members of the “alt-right” and white nationalist community express virulently misogynist views but have nothing to do with these two groups.
But the connective tissue between self-identified “incels” and men’s rights activists is a deeply misogynistic worldview that embraces physical and sexual violence against women.
A “deeply misogynistic worldview that embraces physical and sexual violence against women” has always existed; for proof, see: all of human history. But this movement is something different.
As diverse and amorphous as it is, it is real and growing. It uses the language of the internet, developed for both good and ill, to unite themselves, inspire each other, form bonds, and inoculate themselves against self-reflection or the consequences of their actions.
In other words, they act in the exact same way that every violent group, from cults to religions to states, have since the dawn of time. They create an In, and that, by defintion, creates an Out. In this case, it is all women, and the broader culture that churns out these Chads and Staceys, rejecting actual gentleman like Alex and Elliot.
If it sounds crazy that they consider themselves gentlemen, it is and it isn’t. It is, of course, totally batshit. But language is how people create their own identities, and their own worlds. The slightest remove by injecting over-the-top humor and high-internet jackassery only makes it more dangerous.
There’s something incredibly wild and violent and growing, with men thinking their natural rights have been taken away, and looking to reassert them. They are bolstered by like-minded thumpers, who might start by joking, but quickly fall into the pattern of language and thoughts that leads to a sneering paranoia and in-group protection and aggression.
The gamers and Jordan Petersons and Frank “TJ” Mackeys of the world are all the same. Their virulence manifests itself in seemingly harmless idiocy like trying to hurt the reviews and box office and even just the fans of The Avengers and Black Panther, but even those stupid and doomed causes reveal something more: they reveal a bunker mentality, a siege thinking, that they are holding out together against a sick world that rejects them.
But there are sometimes those in a siege who lash out, who attack the enemy. They gun them down or run them over with a van. They become heroes, and they inspire myths, and they inspire others. This might not be the start of angry and violent men, but it might be the beginning of a new level.