The incel movement was, until recently, just one of the numberless Internet-based factions that operated without anyone in mainstream culture taking notice of them. Most of us had never even heard the word before. But a when one killed ten people in an act of terrorism in Toronto last month, the world took notice of this band of outcasts and started to realize the danger inherent in their particular brand of madness.
Incels—a Newspeak-style contraction of involuntary celibates—once were confined to the weirder parts of the Internet, where they could complain among themselves about their lack of success with women. By spreading his message through murder, however, the Toronto terrorist drew the world’s eye to the bizarre ideas he and his cohort espouse.
Those ideas, unusual though they are, fit into a pattern of statist rhetoric followed by many other groups who, failing to achieve their aims in life, seek to use state power to force the result they desire. Their reaction against the results of the Sexual Revolution is little different from communists’ reaction to the Industrial Revolution, but the methods by which they would achieve their aims—state coercion and, now, terror—are identical. Incels are merely statists of sex.
Another Philosophy of Envy
Incels’ rage comes from their observation that other men are in sexual relationships with women, while they are not. Their philosophy proceeds from envy. The reasons women refuse to sleep with them, in the incels’ minds, have nothing to do with their own shortcomings, but with other men’s trickery and women’s poor judgment. The social hierarchy is stacked against them, they claim. Their online conservations go quickly from coveting women to hating them.
These men don’t just whine about not getting any: they have plans. Vast, detailed, weirdly bureaucratic plans will ensure, they believe, that no man should go without his proper quota of sexual intercourse. They posit elaborate rule structures to govern sexual relations and keep women in these men’s beds regularly. It makes for a weird idea of a morals code, one based not in puritanical piety but in regimented licentiousness.
Forgotten—or more likely ignored—in all this is the matter of consent and the idea that women are independent human beings. These people see a problem and propose a solution, but their solution necessarily opposes human nature, violates human rights, and lacks appreciation for the idea that other people are not merely the means we use to achieve our own desired ends.
The Socialism of Sex
Taken at face value, incels’ demands are nothing less than the socialism of sex. From each according to her ability, to each according to his needs, sex is to be taken out of the control of the individuals having it, placed in the hands of the state, and distributed equally. How will this bureaucratic nightmare of state-sponsored rape work? As with the usual plans of statists, the answer is simply “We’ll pass a law.”
It is hard enough to get people to obey ordinary low-level laws like those governing traffic rules. People also violate more important laws all the time. Yet here we are meant to believe that the state will, by fiat, change the deeply held beliefs and customs of humanity just by scribbling a few words in a statute book.
It would be laughable, except that this is the same theory socialists pursue. Their focus is different—people’s property, not their sexuality—but the aim is the same: take what does not belong to you and distribute it as you see fit, using the coercive power of the state.
That the “thing” they wish to control is sexual intercourse makes the incels’ proposed revolution more personally disgusting than the communists’, but the logic is the same in each. As a non-market good, sex is more personal to us than property, but the right to choose your sexual partners is no less inalienable than the right to enjoy the fruits of your own labor.
It’s About Control
To take these things at face value only misses part of the point. Ross Douthat’s column in The New York Times makes the mistake of engaging incels purely on their own terms, and suggests that prostitutes and sex robots could someday reduce the sexual Gini coefficient.
But prostitutes already exist and, although their trade is outlawed in most American jurisdictions, sex for hire is never too hard to find for those who are interested. Likewise, sex robots are just a more elaborate form of masturbation, something else that has existed since before the dawn of civilization.
These alternatives to a normal sexual relationship are out there. That incels reject them suggests there is more at stake here. They don’t just want sex, they want to control sex and, through it, control women. It’s not enough that they get some, they also demand that other men not get too much. They insist that no one should be having the wrong amount of sex or having it with the wrong people. Who determines the “right” amount? They do, of course.
This, again, is communism for coitus. Karl Marx envisioned a society free of class, where everyone would produce what he could and share what he had and the state itself would no longer need to exist. It is the beautiful dream of a naive child, which is why every country that tries to achieve socialism claims this statelessness as its goal but, when things don’t work out like they planned, continually increase the power and scope of the same state they sought to destroy.
This leads to the none-too-clever dodge that allows modern-day socialists to disclaim any of the many, many failed attempts to achieve socialism throughout the years. “That wasn’t real socialism,” they’ll say, and in a way, they’ll be right because Marx’s vision of “real socialism” cannot exist. It does not survive contact with actual humans.
At least most incels recognize that their dark vision of human sexual relationships cannot be achieved without force. That makes them more honest, perhaps, than socialists. It also means they are more self-consciously evil.
In the days before the Sexual Revolution, early communists were often accused of wanting to upset the sexual order. The association of “free love” with socialism was often used to discredit it among decent people. Marx himself wrote in “The Communist Manifesto”:
But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the whole bourgeoisie in chorus. The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women. He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production.
This sounds, indeed, like a refutation of the incel’s cause long before that cause existed. As in many things, life after the red revolution was different from what was in Marx’s book: Soviet opinions of sexual matters were often more regressive than the libertine West’s. But consider the words farther down the page of Marx’s book: “Our bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives.”
That sounds like nothing so much as the incels’ complaints about the other guys, the guys who are having altogether too much sex and leaving none for the denizens of their various subreddits. The rejection of prostitution is also a common theme. Marx and the incels both come down to the same point: some people have too much, some have too little, and I will decide which is which. That is statism, whether of bodies or of labor. It is utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number—or else.
Socialists’ reaction to the disruption of the Industrial Revolution was to say that everyone deserved property, whether they worked for it or not. Incels’ reaction to the Sexual Revolution is no different. In the new sexual order, virginity is no longer prized and failing to have sex is cause for derision. We can blame the Sexual Revolution for the shifts in society and the good and harm they have caused, but the incels’ mad reaction to it is all on them.
Everything is free under socialism, but also nothing is. The childlike confidence of socialists that everyone will just someday get it and join their program inevitably gives way to bureaucracy, secret police, and dictatorship. Utilitarianism always ends in the gulag.
The quest for equal results is doomed to fail because, while all men are created equal in dignity, we are not equal in ability and never will be. Incels make the same mistake socialists seem doomed to make generation after generation despite the mounting evidence of its futility. They will fail, but hopefully the rest of us can learn a lesson from this latest incarnation of misguided statists.