For just a moment, you could hear a pin drop in the exam room as my doctor, who looked and sounded like a future version of Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters, pondered my question. I rehearsed it in my head for almost a week while waiting for my appointment, but it still felt weird to ask it out loud. He looked away from the clunky tablet with my medical data — what little there was of it — and turned towards me with a very concerned expression.
“Have you been having any symptoms?” he asked. “Any bumps, redness, irritation, soreness, or painful discharge of any sort? Any flu-like symptoms?”
“No, none of that,” I assured him. “I just wanted to make sure everything was fine.”
“Alright,” he stroked his thick gray mustache. “Since you’re not having any symptoms, let’s do a blood draw for now and keep an eye on things. I’ll send the nurse in in just a moment.”
“Thank you,” I muttered, nervously fiddling with the crisp paper laid under me.
“Of course,” he replied as he stepped towards the door. Before opening it, he turned back, raised his brow, and looked at me with an almost parental expression.
“Just don’t have unprotected sex again, okay?” he added.
I silently nodded in reply. What I really wanted to tell him is that it wasn’t my choice, that my partner was impatient and took advantage of her position on top of me and my delayed reaction when trying to push her off, that she ignored my protests, and that in just a few seconds, I was lost in a mix of pleasure and fear. It’s not that I made a poor, risky decision. It’s that I had no autonomy in the matter. But I couldn’t say that out loud. The last time I tried, my concerns were very quickly brushed off and I was told “oh please, I’m sure she had a clean bill of health if she did that.” I didn’t want to deal with that again in a doctor’s office. And really, it didn’t matter. What was done was done.
The results and follow up tests all came back clean to my great relief, and that partner and I had a very firm conversation on the subject in which she expressed genuine contrition. But while I’d love to tell you that was the only time this happened to me, it wasn’t. Another partner did the same thing, ignoring my requests to stop and successful attempts to escape her reach twice before she finally caught me where she wanted. I’ve also been groped and kissed without my consent, harassed after I said exactly the wrong thing in response to a girl’s mocking, and excoriated when I got upset about my boundaries being ignored.
As a guy, I was concerned that any form of physical resistance could be easily misinterpreted as a violent assault, intentionally or not, so my only defenses were vocal objections. If those failed, well, there weren’t many other options available. Being a generally shy and closed off introvert often deemed asexual in high school while having a face for radio, after those incidents, I came to believe that it was my job to play along with those showing me attention because that’s how things were going to work for me. Genuine affection was a mystery and I assumed any sign of it was a setup for a bad joke in which I was going to be the punchline.
Now, by this point, you may be wondering when I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole and started spending my nights binge-reading internet forums lamenting the fate of men in an “abusive, anti-male feminized world” while advocating for “men’s rights” and angrily recounting the woes of inceldom. Well, the good news is that I never did. I simply realized that I let a relatively small group of impulsive or downright toxic people in close proximity to me take advantage of my low self-esteem, worked on myself, and ended up happily married instead of “redpilled” and using my negative experiences as an excuse to hold perpetual grudges. But I had a huge advantage in this regard.
You see, all of this happened in the late 2000’s, before there was a vast, thriving online industry of turning men frustrated by bad sex, toxic relationships, sexlessness, and general male malaise into very lucrative and incessant rage. Instead of being encouraged to find reasons for their unhappiness and improve their situations, they’re now handed convenient scapegoats. Instead of being offered genuine self-improvement and an honest look at themselves, they’re cast as warriors pitted against a veritable hydra of forces of the nefarious Marxist matriarchy whose opening salvo in the class and gender war is apparently to starve strong-willed men of sex, or abuse them until they give up on it voluntarily.
As we’re all spending a lot more time indoors and in front of our computers while COVID-19 brings parts of the world to a complete halt, this subject is due for another look as YouTube and social media creates hundreds of thousands of new conspiracy theorists, incels, and other forms of self-radicalization under the banner of redpilling. If we truly do get a vaccine in the first half of 2021, as experts hopefully predict, and restart the world as we knew it before March, we’ll be facing another iteration of the Tea Party, but this time with far more conspiracies and targets, and far angrier and more cult-like, as hard as it may be to imagine.
What Does It Mean To Be A Man Today?
May you live in interesting times, says an old curse purported to be Chinese — but most likely a loose English adaptation from the 19th century — and we certainly do live in very interesting times. As more and more of the world is reshaped by automation, globalization, and new ideas, many of the traditional structures we used to take for granted are starting to rapidly change. One of those changes is the definition of what it means to be a man. Are we supposed to be open about our feelings or do we maintain stoic facades no matter what? Are we providers or are we partners? Is it courageous to show at least a little vulnerability or does that make us “soy boy cucks?”
Being a man today can be extremely confusing and the serial predators in positions of power, the chronic unsolicited dick pic senders, and “nice guys” animated by incandescent fury on a hair trigger do our gender no favors. We certainly have more than our share of mental health problems and unhealthy coping mechanisms, and we’re only now learning how to come up with and deploy much more productive ones. One in six of us experienced some sort of sexual abuse or assault. We are more than three times more likely to commit suicide than women. The common advice of “suck it up and be a man!” is just not working if you take even a cursory glance at the stats, but there’s a dearth of more specific and productive ideas floating in society right now.
And it’s in this void that the gurus of inceldom thrive in no small part thanks to social media recommendation algorithms which can escalate one’s personal obsessions by distorting feeds and timelines with nightmarish caricatures based on a few wrong clicks. They allow for a very crude form of brainwashing as would-be incels hear rants affirming their biases and channeling their rage towards women, minorities, and liberals not just once, but for hours on end. As soon as one lecture ends, another starts. If they like a post or a tweet, another five come up on their timeline. In a matter of weeks, they could be enveloped in an echo chamber of would-be cult leaders recruiting once defeated soldiers to reclaim their honor in fighting a war for the fate of Western civilization.
They use the sad statistics covered above to present themselves as champions of forgotten men being walked all over by a hostile modernity, often papering over obvious, glaring flaws in their behavior or character to win their adoration. Those little tidbits, like the facts that younger generations are having less sex, not just fewer partners, that men are starting to fall behind career-wise and academically, and the epidemic of suicides in rural and exurban North America, give their argumens weight. When they discuss problems and raise red flags, the issues they point out are legitimate more often than not. It’s the root causes and the solutions they offer that are so disconcerting.
Instead of discussing the complex issues around income inequality, lack of transitional planning to a post-industrial economy, and a dearth of support systems for men to channel frustrations into something positive, all of which left a lot of careerless, directionless, and frustrated guys at a loss for what to do next, they offer convenient scapegoats. Instead of actual solutions, they preach far right hate-your-neighbor-if-he’s-different dogmas, and offer vague platitudes filtered through nostalgic rose-colored glasses about the good old days. You know, the days when men were real men, and so were the women. Or something like that.
Rather than help, the likes of Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, Debrah Soh, and their fellow members of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web” are building their islands of broken, angry toys which they need to keep angry and broken. And with the mass quarantines of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re poised to get an influx of new converts as millions of newly laid off, miserable, isolated men spend their hours binge watching YouTube videos and listening to podcasts which give them handy enemies and scapegoats for everything from the disease ravaging the world, to why it’s so hard for them to get matches on dating apps.
Healthy men with any degree of confidence are a plague on the incel guru’s wallet. They can’t just be told to attack the people their regressive leaders want them to attack, their directives repeated ad nauseum by recommendation algorithms. They’ll question how their lives are being ruined if they seem to be getting on just fine. It’s the same reason why cults prey on people who feel like they’re hitting rock bottom, the outcasts, the hurt, the lost, those down on their luck. If you feel like you have a grip on who you are and where your life is going, you have very little reason to surrender yourself to a charismatic leader for guidance.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
How We’ve Learned To Monetize Misery
Certainly, we can keep diving into the world of the Incel Industrial Complex as we have when I covered proposals to combat the rise of sexually frustrated, angry young men with sex bots. But perhaps we should take in the view from a higher altitude for a moment. Over the last decade, there’s been a rise in publications soliciting deeply personal stories and nudging authors to indulge in ruminating on their tales of woe. Had Rantt’s editorial direction been different, I’d be expected and encouraged to dwell on the incidents with which I started this article and how they supposedly broke me or redefined who I am forever, instead of being unpleasant but formative experiences that I’ve long put behind me after learning the appropriate lessons.
The vulnerability porn format expects me to tell you about long bouts of depression and maybe a dash of substance abuse as I struggled to cope because me going home with furrowed brows, then politely freezing the offending person out of my life, just saying something as simple as “I did not like that” or “that wasn’t okay,” or just letting some things go because they honestly were not worth my time and energy to think about, lacks the required melodramatic oomph. Getting out of your head and just living your life is bad for writers in that genre.
Ideally, they’re supposed to be brooding, self-absorbed neurotics like Hannah in Girls or Jimmy in You’re The Worst, and maybe because I’m an engineer who also happens to be a writer, not a professional essayist, I have a lot of opportunities to get out of my own head for awhile and think about other things in the course of my daily work.
All these dramatic stories that expose writers like crustaceans after a molt are instantly clickable and highly shareable. They pull in eyeballs and revenue which publications need to survive, and there’s certainly value in sharing one’s experiences with a broader audience to demonstrate something important. But the glaring problem is that such emotionally charged articles and the deeply personal nature of social media encourages us to share too much of ourselves and focus on the scandalous aspects of the stories we overshare with the relevant public consolation, shaming, or discovery of problematic social media postings in tow, not the productive outcomes and coping mechanisms.
In short, maybe today we talk way too much about our feelings and explore our own worst experiences and urges and way too little about productive solutions, letting things we objectively have no control over go, or even just accepting that life is not, and never will be all sunshine, flowers, and Earth-shattering orgasms because our public misery has been monetized. And so, a whole lot of people crank out the equivalent of self-help books that never get to the help part. Their main character — them — hits rock bottom and just… sort of stays there, wallowing alone until finally sharing the trauma with the world so the world can wallow with them. Trauma ceased to be what we go through to become who we are. It’s become a personality.
Of course, none of this is to say that we need to swing the pendulum in reverse and pretend that everything is good in the world because objectively, it isn’t and we can’t, and shouldn’t, sweep it under the rug because it’s, like, a bummer man. A lot of those bad things deserve and need to be aired, and there’s a fine line between unpleasant tales for the sake of emotional trauma porn and revealing patterns of systemic abuse and its perpetrators. It’s when we try to blend the two that we get in serious trouble as horrific misdeeds are trivialized and can be swept under the rug while the torrent of questionable and sketchy tales that has readers scratching their heads provides a handy distraction.
At the same time, greeting readers and social media followers with a tsunami of misery and woe only creates the impression that the world is a dark and horrible place, everything is fucked beyond repair, and why bother, we may as well just lay down and wait to die as everything crumbles around us. We’re not just encouraging writers to bear their souls in a public spectacle, we’re also prompting people to look at their own unpleasant experiences until the memories darken, fester, and do pervasive, long term damage to their psyche. And all for what? Clicks?
I’m sure that for some of the readers, imagining the lewd details of what happened to me from general descriptions was a lot more fun than reading the conclusions I drew from these incidents and unhealthy relationships to slowly turn my personal life around without breathless epiphanies or a day that changed everything. Processes and growth don’t make for great clickbait for this topic, drama and TMI do.
We’re often being rewarded in views, likes, and retweets to throw pity parties or assemble digital mobs to voice our righteous indignation because it plays to our need for belonging to a group that accepts us for who we are or helps define our identity. While this mechanism can result in tremendous acts of charity that pay the bills for sick or injured pets and put huge grins on the faces of kids in need, it can also fuel and enable evil.
How Woe Becomes Weaponized
Inceldom, white supremacism, Trumpism, radical Islamism, and neo-fascism are all driven by the dark side of a need for a group identity and support when we feel lonely, lost, or like we can’t get a grip on our lives. They hijack our darkest impulses and launder them through the prism of a pity party in which new recruits to the cause are temporarily embarrassed alphas who just need a push in the right direction, almost always against an easy scapegoat without whom life would be full of light and hope. This cycle of self-victimization and rallying around a common enemy is the hallmark of grievance politics which is the easiest thing for a politician or a grifter to play into and exploit.
All they need to do is to tell you they’ll hurt the scapegoat and restore your honor if you vote for them or pay them. Contribute to their campaigns, subscribe to their Patreons, buy their books, watch their videos on YouTube, and they’ll keep affirming why you belong to the group, why you are on the right side of history, why your struggles are not your fault, why those who criticize you are evil and want to hurt you just because they like doing evil things to you. That message is always the same. The world is broken, you are great, if not perfect, and in due time, that fallen world will recognize your value and sing your paeans.
And from there, it’s not a long jump for some to decide that if the world keeps failing to do that, it should be forced to after staring down the barrel of your gun. Likewise, by becoming more and more isolated and self-radicalized, these groups create a self-fulfilling prophecy. By saying that the world sees their brilliance and righteousness as a threat and is trying to suppress them, and it’s their job to fight back against those designated as oppressors, they begin to produly and loudly identify themselves as threats to others as they lash out in rage, amplified by their social media driven algorithmic echo chambers. Their targets now have no choice but to treat them as threats because that’s what they said they are, validating their propaganda.
Rather than figure out why things aren’t going well for them and trying to make them better, they set themselves up for failure and pretend that the backlash they receive or the further damage they cause is a victory because the other side is “triggered.” To borrow a famous quote, this is a game where the only winning move is not to play. I mean, is hyperventilating about the next grand conspiracy theory of what Satanic pedophile cabal is after you and obsessing about it on social media with thousands of equally unhinged strangers lashing out at the world with their tales of woe and anticipation of triumphs through hurting their fellow citizens and family really that fun, rewarding, and productive of an exercise?
So, how do we avoid getting ensnared into this cycle? If the world was truly simple, this is where I’d say to watch for anyone pointing their fingers to a specific culprit, but sometimes there are culprits behind real problems. But if the solution you’re being given is simply to attack those culprits while being told that their efforts are part of a conspiracy against you, and you should not be debating them or trying to change their minds but writing them off as evil incarnate, red flags need to be shooting up for you. (Though let’s also not pretend that irredeemably evil people don’t exist in this world, it’s just that we should have plenty of affirmative evidence before concluding that’s what they are.)
If the enemy with which you’re presented is a nefarious, faceless group of Others out to hurt you because they fear your greatness or for shits and giggles, run, not walk away. If you’re asked to overanalyze everything negative in your life and nurse a grudge against those who hurt you, you’re being groomed for malicious ends. If you’re actually trying to find answers to the questions and problems that plague you, look for those who tell you what possible solutions would look like and how they would help you and those around you, not who to fear, hate, and target.
The world today is too cold and impersonal for the powers that be to have it out for you directly unless you’re a famous and controversial figure. Don’t poison yourself with bitterness and vendettas, much less become a foot soldier to wanna-be cult leaders who need you to carry out their agendas while dipping into your wallet. It’s one thing to recognize those who hate you or wish you harm for whatever reason, it’s another to base your identity around that fear and loathing. As long as you can avoid that, you’ll probably end up in a better place than when you start.