Sympathy for the Incel?
By Wil Forbis
July 1, 2019
I first heard the term incel spoken several years ago during the news coverage of a killing spree by a young man named Elliot Rodger. Rodger, a self-proclaimed incel (the term combines "involuntary" with "celibate"), took time out his day to knife, shoot and otherwise murder several people, two of whom were women of the type he felt had a tendency to ignore him.
Rodger killed himself during his attack and left behind a manifesto of his beliefs. The distribution of this manifesto, called "My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger", brought into view the strange world of incels, a world populated by young men who feel that because of various physical and psychological flaws they are doomed to be ignored by women and mocked by better looking, sexually successful men. There's no doubt that the realization of such sexual exclusion is a bitter pill to swallow. Some men deal with it by turning their focus to the intellect, others drown their pain in booze and drugs. Incels seem to confront this unwelcome truth with a particularly vituperative form of rage---rage primarily directed at women whom they think own them attention and sex.
Here I must pause and make a confession. This article, as I'd originally conceived it, was supposed to be quite different than it turned out. My original premise was that I would introduce Rodger and incel culture, make a couple jokes about virginal, misogynistic dweebs, and then somewhat facetiously speculate that I could have turned out an incel because I wasn't particularly popular in high school. From there I would recount a couple amusing stories from my dating history and finish things up with a light-hearted closer.
But I don't think that's going to work here. Why? Well, in the process of researching this article I read sections of Rodger's autobiographical manifesto---the 141 page treatise he posted right before he launched his killing spree---and, frankly, reading it sucked any potential humor out of the subject.
Rodger's manifesto is his attempt to explain his actions by detailing his development and experiences over the years. What it mostly does is recount just how miserable his life was. It's an unending onslaught of episodes of humiliation, emasculation, envy and of one person receiving the message that they didn't count for shit in the world.
Rodger, as he appears in his manifesto, was someone with almost everything going against him*. In high school he was slight, short and not particularly good-looking. On top of that he was clearly socially awkward, devoid of any particular charm or charisma. And he paid for this dearly, being endlessly bullied by boys and ignored, if not overtly mocked, by girls. He had a few friends of similar social stature, but even those relationships were tenuous. (He describes, with particular rage, a friend who started out a dork but managed to navigate his way into the crowd of popular kids at which point he turned on Rodger.) Other friends came and went, some of them doubtless turned off by the boiling rage that must have been evident in their young cohort.
*I imagine I might get some pushback here with my claim that Rodger had "everything going against him." He was, for example, upper-middle class and spent some time in private schools. But really, who would you rather be: a loathed and mocked rich loser or a poor kid with friends and romantic prospects?
A particular moment stands out in the parts of the manifesto that I read. Rodger is invited over to an event at the ritzy house of a family friend. There he observes the children of this family doing what successful teenagers do: bonding, flirting and generally enjoying life. Rodger, at that point a "never-been-kissed virgin (as he remained for the rest of his life), breaks down in front of this group and essentially starts weeping about his miserable life, saying that he wants to kill himself. By his account it took some adults several hours to talk him out of his spell of misery.
It's the unceasing march of stories like these that make the manifesto so dark.As you read it you encounter one story of rejection, loneliness and humiliation after the other, all slowly building to the inevitable conclusion. As I mentioned above, I had originally thought I could spin a light-hearted "I could have been and incel" narrative from all this. But it was clear reading the manifesto that I did fine in high school; I had good friends, I went to parties, I made out with cute girls. I had nothing to complain about.
Now, I don't want to make the impression that Rodger's problems were all the fault of the world around him. It's clear browsing "My Twisted World" that something was off about him. I've seen him described as self-loathing but that doesn't seem right. He was, in fact, something of a narcissist. He felt that someone as great as he was deserved much more than he got. In a video he posted before his murders he aimed his rhetoric at the women who had rejected him and said, "I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman." He didn't hate himself, he hated his life.
He was also something of a classist, concerned that people would look down on him because he, at points, lived in an apartment (boo-fucking-hoo.) In his late teens he began dressing in the kind of high fashion only a rich kid can afford, and was baffled that this did not earn him any romantic affections.
Additionally, parts of Rodger's persona, as seen in his writing, strike me as psychopathic. (I'm not a profession capable of making diagnoses of course.) He seemed incapable of any kind of empathy, of any ability to put himself on other people's shoes. Having said that, psychopaths are famously often quite charismatic and blessed with an ability to "read" people, a trait Rodger clearly lacked. If I had to guess, I'd say Rodger's murderous rampage was the result of a perfect storm that combined a horrible life experience with innate mental malignancies whose exact nature will never be known.
In the end, of course, we must realize that Rodger was a homicidal maniac and deserves no sympathy. But the obvious truth is that most incels are not mass killers. They are, from what I've read, lonely, frightened, envious kids who spend their teen years coming to a profoundly dark realization, that they, for reasons of appearance or social awkwardness, have been granted a losing ticket in the lottery of life. They're destined to sit on the sidelines, forever denied the experiences, in particular the romance and sex, that we are told define one's teenhood.
What do you say to these kids? They've run head first into the uncomfortable truth that most of us flee from: that life is not fair, that there are winners and losers. Most people's lives are a balance of positives and negatives, and that's enough for them to get by, but basic statistics tell us some people's lives will be overwhelmingly negative. What do you say to those people?
I was recently listening to an interview with contrarian rabble rouser Michael Malice and he spent some time decrying the evils of public education. Usually when people do that it's to condemn the taxation and government bureaucracy mandated by public education systems. I image Malice, an anarcho-capitalist, shares that sentiment but in this case his issue was more about the trauma public education inflicts on some children. I wasn't particularly sympathetic to his point, but after reading Rodger's manifesto I am. What is like to be be forced every day to go to an institution who inhabitants inflict daily mockery and physical threats all the while reminding you of your total insignificance in the social hierarchy that has always defined human existence? To be reminded that you're buried six feet underneath the low man on the totem pole?
Now, I'm not saying we scrap public education. I'm not sure what the solution is to these problems. You can't force people to like other people, you can't force people to become romantically involved. But, maybe in the era of renewed investigation into ways to deal with the inequities inherent in life we should be thinking about ways to make life a little better for people like Elliot Rodger. To say this is not to excuse their rage or misogyny, it's is simply to recognize an obvious truth: if you torment a certain population enough, some of them are bound to snap and act out. And that takes a toll on all of us.What do you think? Leave your comments on the Guestbook!
Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - email@example.com
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.