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It’s a success story we’ve read in our favourite books, watched in the most-inspiring of cinema, and possibly even binge-watched on Netflix. An intelligent, suave man who knows his mind fighting the system, questioning authority, struggling, stumbling, getting back up, and finally, being heard.

Jordan Peterson, back in the nineties, is a professor of psychology at Harvard. In a bid to document the development of his faith and ideology, he writes a book called Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. In 1999, when the book is published, Peterson is back on home turf, Canada, teaching at the University of Toronto. He is now starting to establish himself as a voice to be reckoned with, but his book, though popular among scholars, isn’t accessible to the lay reader. It is only in 2016 that Peterson truly “arrives” for holding an opinion opposed to the establishment.

A Canadian bill seeks to expand human rights laws by including gender identity and expression. Peterson, discomfited by the pronouns that come with varied gender identities, vehemently opposes it. Pronouns such as he, she, ze/zir, they/them, as preferred by the individual. Ze and they are gender-neutral pronouns that don’t abide by the male-female binary. Pointing towards “left-wing ideologues”, Peterson says that this language was concocted by them. “I don’t like left-wing ideology; I don’t like ideology, period. I know where corruption of speech leads, and I’m not going there,” he says on a podcast.

“I am not saying those goddamn pronouns,” he declares.

Today, Jordan Peterson has a mind-bogglingly popular YouTube channel, with 1,178,141 subscribers, where he talks about religion, God and beliefs. His latest book—a rulebook, and therefore, a far simpler read than his first—12 Rules of Life, has sold over 1.1 million copies. His followers worship him, revere him, hold him up as an example of both an ideal man and a man with the right ideals.

Peterson advocates in favour of monogamy. Of a certain kind. Manufactured monogamy.

What’s that, you ask? Well, on one hand there’s the monogamy we know. One that’s consensual. Peterson’s preferred brand of monogamy though is “enforced”.

Peterson advocates ‘enforced’ monogamy, where women are somehow “locked down” to a single partner, so that the game is fair for the ‘less-desirable’. The exact dynamics are unclear.

In a New York Times interview, published 18 May, he opens up. “Enforced monogamy is, to him, simply a rational solution. Otherwise, women will all only go for the most high-status men, he explains, and that couldn’t make either gender happy in the end,” the author records.

The dangers of Peterson’s success story start where your average book or movie end. At 55, he is held up as an example of delayed validation, of perseverance, and all that seems well and good till you realise that he feeds into a culture of violence. A culture which robs women of all agency and equips men with the confidence to perpetrate violence. A culture that now has a name.

Meet the incels

Start of thread: “I live in an apartment block with 3 women in their 20s and can confirm if women don’t get Chad they’ll just hold out”

About an hour ago: SelfCrucified – Women would rather have a vibrator than someone who isn’t Chad.

52 minutes ago: universallyabhorred – This is why rape should be legal against females for sub8 males.

Identity crisis

Incel is short for “Involuntary Celibate”. The term originated from a blog in the 90s where INVCEL was introduced as a concept, ironically by a woman—a Canadian college student called Alana.

This is an ongoing conversation on—a website dedicated to men who identify themselves as incels or involuntary celibates. As I write, the discussion has moved on to a plan to brainwash all women “as religion does”. “Brilliant!” they agree. Someone notes that that would take time. Someone else suggests a quick-fix—operating in gangs to corner women, and trigger warning, rape them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The incels are a group who see themselves as the victims of a culture that sexually favours good-looking people. And of course, taking a leaf out of Peterson’s book, their entire premise is that their demands for sex should be met via enforced monogamy, or else…

Interestingly, incels don’t usually count the socially disadvantaged such as the differently abled, survivors of violence, transpersons, lower classes, castes, etc, in their definition. And as you can tell by the conversation above, they have an internet-solidified language.

A Chad is an American jock-variety male (or basically anyone they consider better looking than them); Chad’s female counterpart in these spaces is a Stacy (a woman who rejected them). Chads and Stacys are to be hated—and also acquired in the latter’s case. These are men and women ranked eight and above on a scale of 10, and thus, not “sub8”. Beyond these allegedly super attractive humans, there’s the Normie—anyone that incels don’t see as their own. Women, by definition, aren’t accepted as incels.

All of this could be dismissed as some disgruntled men venting on the internet. Except, incel “grievances” have resulted in shocking crimes. Now, I’m not one to make cause and effect associations, but when a man murders people and claims he did it because the incels are enjoying their moment in the sun, their “movement” serves as an incisive point to hold the magnifying lens of public scrutiny over.

Less than three months ago, incidentally also in Toronto, a 25-year-old man named Alek Minassian killed 10 people and wounded 16 others by running them over with his van. Prior to this, he announced an “Incel Rebellion” on Facebook, calling Elliot Rodger (and 4Chan, but we’ll come to that in a bit) a hero. Rodger had killed six and injured 14 before killing himself in California on the pretext of a “War on Women” for “depriving” him of sex. This was 2014.

Since then, incels have only multiplied on the internet. A murkier space within what’s called the manosphere—men’s rights groups, etc.—incels, go deeper into the men’s rights abyss, staring into the darkness and painting their post-truth with the colour they see. Black. Literally so.

Let me explain.

A large number of men’s rights activists (MRAs) believe in a concept called “the red pill”. This postulates that men must swallow the bitter pill and see the world for what it is—against them. A concept borrowed from the 1999 film The Matrix, it refers to the choice the film’s protagonist, Neo, is given: the red pill or the blue pill. The blue pill allows him to live a blissfully ignorant life, unaware of the matrix; whereas the red pill…

In the MRA universe, reiterated by filmmaker Cassie Jaye, whose controversial documentary on men’s rights was titled The Red Pill (giving weight to this coinage), she swallows a metaphorical red pill. The film starts with her identifying herself as a feminist and speaking to MRAs and listening to their stories. She dedicatedly records her thoughts (serving as “asides” in the film), and ends it by declaring herself a “no-longer-feminist”. The feminists portrayed in the film are angry, violent and the MRAs are more accepting, plural and united. It’s hard to swallow; best taken with a tablespoon of salt.

Now, the red pill has given birth to a new monster, and as mentioned above, it’s black. The black pill rids one of the red pill-blue pill choice/dilemmas. An incel darling, the black pill applies nihilism to ascertain that some are destined to fail. And so they’re right to hate the world.

Before moving forward, here’s a quick illustration to understand the three pills better.

The black pill applies nihilism to ascertain that some are destined to fail. And so, they’re “right to hate the world”

Redistribution of sense

Now, Peterson isn’t an incel himself. But when NYT asks him about Minassian, he stops just short of calling the Toronto killer’s decision to run people over understandable.

“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Peterson says of Minassian in the interview. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges,” he adds.

“Half the men fail,” he says, referring to their inability to procreate. “And no one cares about the men who fail.”

In ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’, a TV show based on a novel, “fertile” women are periodically raped for breeding purposes. Sex, therefore, is redistributed.

Peterson, however, is merely a representative of a toxic ideology that is standing almost as a countercurrent to women finally speaking up. Powerful men such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and most recently, Morgan Freeman have come under fire as a result of global movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp.

Peterson’s argument even draws a surreal parallel with the TV show A Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel by the same name. The show, which has now gone beyond the book, looks into a dystopic America, called Gilead, set in the present day, but under the autocratic rule of the so-called Republic. In this world, “fertile” women are periodically raped for breeding purposes, thereby redistributing sex.

Kate Manne, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University who reviewed Peterson’s book, notes that he has since tried to tone down his explanation of “enforced monogamy”. She calls bullshit on this.

In an interview with Vox, she says, “I’m mostly interested in how the proposal would naturally be understood by ordinary readers, which leaves little room for charitable interpretation or plausible deniability in this case.

She further stresses that even if he meant consensual heterosexual monogamy being enforced, it is problematic.

Peterson is very close-mouthed about the prevalence of domestic violence, marital rape, and intimate partner homicide in the context of the idea of enforced monogamy. So if you’re trying to prevent male violence, enforcing heterosexual monogamy seems a remarkably poor way to go about it — as well as obviously infringing on women’s entitlement to orient themselves toward whatever and whomever they wish (other women, multiple partners, and their own projects and ambitions).

As the toxicity within masculinity which has historically protected and encouraged harassment—or “accessing” women without their consent—increasingly becomes answerable, the insecure retaliate.

While some attack with guns and vehicles, others do it with words.

As the toxicity within masculinity which has historically protected and encouraged harassment increasingly becomes answerable, the insecure retaliate.

A massively controversial piece, penned by columnist Ross Douthat for, again, the NYT on 2 May made a case for the “Redistribution of Sex”. Douthat argues that with the left demanding legalisation of prostitution and with the advent of sex robots, it is only but natural that “without anyone formally debating the idea of a right to sex, right-thinking people will simply come to agree that some such right exists, and that it makes sense to look to some combination of changed laws, new technologies and evolved mores to fulfill it.

Douthat also quotes economist Robin Hanson, who, while writing about the Toronto van violence, validated the incel excuse. Hanson wrote, “one might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income, and might similarly hope to gain from organizing around this identity, to lobby for redistribution along this axis and to at least implicitly threaten violence if their demands are not met.”

“Without anyone formally debating the idea of a right to sex, right-thinking people will simply come to agree that some such right exists.”

Ross Douthat

Douthat and Hanson’s argument is based on two assumptions. Both questionable.

  1.   Sex is a commodity people deserve. Women, as suppliers of this commodity, are answerable to these “demands”. This line of argument suggests that the victim of violence (for denying sex) is also accountable for the violence they’re subject to. Which then plays back into the same old loop of victim shaming.
  2.   Sex workers and sex robots, both acquired through a monetary transaction, are a viable solution. First, this serves to placate more than resolve, circling back to point one. Second, incels, often misogynists, hate women and, more so, sex workers. They remind incels that they do not get free sex unlike the Chads of the world.

Reacting to Hanson’s “creepy”, as he calls them, views, Slate journalist Jordan Weissmann notes, “Women (and many men) are terrified of rape because we view our own bodies as sacred and vulnerable, and crimes that violate them are more frightening, and do more to diminish us, than things that merely hurt our pride. People worry about income inequality because money and wealth shape every aspect of our lives, and distribution is deeply intertwined with our political choices. Whether a few Redditors can get laid is, comparatively, not that important. If Hanson is baffled by that, it betrays a basic lack of human understanding as well as intellectual laziness.

Weissmann alludes to Reddit with reason. Because it’s safe to say that the internet is nothing short of incel haven.

The Online Black Hole

If you’re an Indian reading this, you’re probably familiar with the breathless spamming and trolling that happens on social media, especially when it comes to politics.

Now multiply that by about 100, throw in a tad more eloquence, some ruthless memes, and you’d get about 50 steps closer to 4Chan. A space to feed off hate and vitriol, the website serves as a popular incel haunt.

Example, this gentleman:

But no matter how much misogyny 4Chan rehomes, why would the Toronto killer acknowledge 4Chan in his incel war cry? Because 4Chan (and previously, Reddit) operates as the headquarters for something called “the Beta uprising”. That’s right, incels who see themselves as “Beta” men, because they aren’t “Alphas”, talk about an “uprising” where all wrongs will be righted and they’ll end up with girlfriends.

Most disturbingly, school shootings that have happened in the US of late are often celebrated, or worse, potentially announced, before they occur.

I am not kidding. I couldn’t possibly.

The “Beta” men collect and hide behind 4Chan mascot Pepe the frog, using this symbol as a front to air problematic views, ranging from applause for terrorism to a call to arms. The pages of their choice being /r9k/ or /b/. Most disturbingly, school shootings that have happened in the US of late are often celebrated, or worse, potentially announced, before they occur.

In the 2015 Oregon school shooting case, 4Chan users had apparently shared jokes on Beta Uprising. More recently, on 18 May 2018, 17-year-old Texas school shooter Dimitrios Pagourtzis could have had an incel agenda. His first victim in the school shooting was a 16-year-old girl named Shana Fisher whose mother alleges that Pagourtzis showed aggressive behaviour towards her daughter. Fisher finally called him out in class. A week later, he killed 10 students, wounding many others.

Then there’s Reddit.

Up until November 2017, Reddit had a subreddit r/Incels/, which it then banned. This was a 40,000-strong group, with topics ranging from women characterised as evil/sluts and many other colourful descriptors. Its watchdog subreddit called r/IncelTears/ continues to call out incel tropes and memes and has now grown to 88,300 members. The subreddit now serves to highlight incel hate posts and help take incel websites down.

The incel subreddit, according to Redditors on r/news, was taken down following a post from a man who couldn’t handle his Chad roommate having a girlfriend. What followed were suggestions to carry out a “medically accurate” castration of his Chad roommate.

It needs to be noted here that the final straw for Reddit was an incel post that suggested violence against a man. Repeated heinous, violent language against women went unnoticed.

Speaking of language, r/Incels/ also helped form a new language. Beyond Chad and Stacy, “Femoid,” a term invented on this channel, is used for women. It combines female and humanoid to establish that women are sub-human. Some incels also use the term Female Humanoid Organism, or FHO. A derogatory term across incel channels for women is “roasties”—a reduction of women to “overcooked” vaginas, so much so they’re roasted. A derogatory term for men is “soyboys”—a term of emasculation used for men allied with feminists, to suggest that consumption of soy results in a weak libido.

Reddit continues to host incel subreddits such as a private channel and r/IncelsWithoutHate. More prominently though, subreddit r/TheRedPill continues to exist, with a whopping 268,000 members. While it isn’t an incel community, the discussions on there, nonetheless, are largely about controlling women, getting younger girlfriends, stereotypes about what women want, etc. The Red Pill MRAs detest betas for not being man enough, but a large number of them, whether they admit it or not, concur with incels on one thing—men deserve sex.

These stereotypes are furthered by the MRA canon. There’s one overarching assumption within the manosphere about cisgendered women and men—women chase money, men chase women. And so, men must stop chasing women and start controlling them. (A cisgendered person is one who identifies with the assumed sex of the body they’re in, as opposed to trans or gender non-conforming persons.)

Incels, however, stop at nothing. Their hate starts as resentment, takes the shape of jealousy, and as it walks down the women-hating hall of fame, it uses racism, classism, ableism as crutches.

Their hate starts at resentment, takes the shape of jealousy, and then uses racism, classism, ableism as crutches.

This means that while they almost always hate women, they hate poor, “racially backward” or different looking women more. For an incel to “settle” for a woman they, as a community, disapprove of, is worthy of ridicule.

Here’s an example:

Now. You’ve made it this far. You understand how the “rights” in men’s rights can sometimes clash with human rights. You understand that these men could exist among us, hiding behind their computer screens, quietly nodding along to many of the things said in this piece. In agreement.

It is important to note that lack of distinction between who was once seen as an average Joe and an incel. In fact, sexual violence and crime is almost never associated with such socially accepted “Mr Nice Guys”. The toxicity of masculinity doesn’t just contaminate those who force themselves to abide by it, but also those who hate themselves for being unable to.

Feminism, which is seen as a common enemy by the two parties, incidentally, seeks to rid one of these pressures of masculinity. Get a girl. Get a hot girl. If you don’t get a girl, you’re no man. Hate girls for making you feel like a non-man.


Look around. Is this where our society is headed?


Durga M Sengupta

Durga edits for The Ken Southeast Asia from Bengaluru, India. She also works closely with reporters on pitches, drafts, and ideas.

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