The “Incel Movement” and the Redistribution of What?
We say it all the time: Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims. The “Incel movement” proves that the sexual revolution was full of bad ideas. On April 23, 2018, a van allegedly driven by Alek Minassian, drove onto a sidewalk in downtown Toronto, killing ten people and wounding eighteen others. Many, I admit myself included, had the initial thought that the motivation for this attack had something to do with ISIS or radical Islam. But the truth turned out different, and in some ways more disturbing. On his Facebook page, Minassian pledged allegiance, not to ISIS, but to the “Incel Rebellion.” “Incel” stands for “involuntarily celibate.” As Vox.com explains, the “rebellion” is “not an organized militant group but rather an ideal developed by . . . an online community of men united by their inability to convince women to have [intimate relations] with them.” This sounds like the stuff of a Saturday Night Live skit until you remember the bodies on the ground in Toronto. And not just there: In 2014, Elliot Rodger, before killing six people in Santa Barbara, California, made an “explanatory video” whose principal complaint was that attractive women wouldn’t sleep with him. In the same post in which Minassian pledged allegiance to the “Incel Rebellion,” he hailed Rodger as the “Supreme Gentleman.” And he wasn’t Rodger’s only fan: Alleged Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz is said to have written “Elliot Rodger will not be forgotten” in response to Rodger’s video. That’s at least thirty-two deaths that can be linked at least in some way to young men’s frustration over “their inability to convince women to have [intimate relations] with them.” This has understandably prompted an examination of what’s been dubbed the “Incel movement,” an examination that tends to focus on the undeniable misogyny of some of the young men involved as well as “the power of online communities to radicalize young men.” What’s left unexamined, however, are the ideas and beliefs behind their frustrations. At least until now. In a recent New York Times column Ross Douthat did just that. He wrote, “the culture’s dominant message about sex is still essentially Hefnerian . . . a message that frequency and variety… is as close to a summum bonum as the human condition has to offer.” In this worldview, “virginity and celibacy are at best strange and at worst pitiable states.” The problem is that while the sexual revolution elevated intimate relations to a kind of sacrament and told people that sexual freedom is the most important freedom, it made no provisions for the fact that, in this new regime, there would be winners and losers. Certain kinds of men and women—the beautiful, rich, socially adept—would enjoy the lion’s share of the promised “frequency and variety,” while others would be relegated “to new forms of loneliness and frustration.” The “dominant message” created an expectation and even sense of entitlement concerning sex that cannot be fulfilled in the real world. This reality, plus the lethal violence in Toronto and Santa Barbara, led George Mason University economist Robin Hanson to muse that “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 (and I’m not making this up) for redistribution” of the benefits of the sexual revolution. What? That’s insane! What on earth would “redistribution” entail? But it’s no more insane than telling young men that sex is everything, exposing them to countless hours of pornography, and then being shocked when these young men feel “cheated.” As we say, ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. The victims of the sexual revolution are really adding up.