By David Futrelle
Yesterday, Washington Post writer and putative progressive Liz Bruenig tweeted out a few thoughts about the Joker movie and “the lonely, disaffected” men and boys who identify the most with the movie’s antihero.
And she offered these sad men — that is, incels and others of their ilk — far more sympathy than they deserve. While critics (of the film and of incels) “assume he issue is aggrieved fury resulting from frustrated entitlement — e.g., “tfw no gf,” no automatic status or power,” she argues instead that these boys and men suffer instead from a society that thwarts their desire to be heroes.
I responded to Bruenig on Twitter, but in retrospect I was too kind to an argument that is both fanciful and pernicious. To begin with the simplest and most obvious flaw in her argument: the notion that there are no opportunities for heroism in the world today is absurd. In this highly fraught moment in history — with the US and other democracies at risk of sliding headlong into outright fascism — there are more opportunities for heroism than there are people.
Consider those who risk their own lives taking on fascists in person or online; think of those who confront the horrors of ICE and the plague of police violence; remember those women who’ve stood up to report their assaults at the hands of powerful men. I could go on, and on, and on. Even those who lack the ability or the courage to put their bodies or their lives on the line to fight the backlash can offer support to those who do; that in itself is a small act of heroism.
The reason incels and so many other “lonely, isolated, downwardly-mobile male[s]” don’t become heroes isn’t because they lack opportunities; it’s because they don’t want to be heroes, except on their own twisted terms, taking “revenge” on the so-called normies they believe oppress them — if not through mass shootings than in acts of everyday terrorism.
Incels idolize misogynistic mass murderers Elliot Rodger and Marc Lepine; they also cheer on more modest terrorizers of women like this man:
I wrote about this remarkable Incels.is post when it first appeared; it’s been making the rounds on Twitter over the past few days. When I went back to check on the original thread, it had been deleted, but commenters on the site remember it (and its author) well, with one recent commenter declaring Classic_Jarvis a “low inhib” — that is, low-inhibition — “God.”
To any of those seduced by Bruenig’s argument: how many times do incels have to show you what they are before you believe them? Sites like Incels.co — and the recently banned Braincels subreddit — are as hateful and vicious as The Daily Stormer forums. In many ways they’re worse, at least in their open glorification of violence.
I understand that, in the abstract, it’s hard not to feel a little natural sympathy for the “lonely [and] disaffected” of whatever gender. But incels and others with similarly hateful ideologies have disqualified themselves from this sort of blanket sympathy with their hatred of women and “normies” in general, just as neo-Nazis have with their hatred of Jews and indeed most of humanity. Hate groups are hate groups.
Bruenig does acknowledge, in a later tweet, that “all kinds of horrible things arise from frustrated attempts at heroism” — which is putting it mildly — but then she goes on to say this is “a problem for society to solve, not the individual. i.e., the answer isn’t ‘get over it, loser’.”
And how exactly would society “solve” the problem of incels other than making mental health available to all who need it without cost? The path of actual heroism is as open to incels as it is to the rest of us; the incels have refused it. In her tweets, Bruenig offers no solutions herself, only a few vague (and not exactly inspiring) hints. Should we drive women from the workforce so that men can feel the heroism of “supporting a family?” Should we enter into some new war so that young men can fight in a “meaningful conflict?” Somehow I doubt that even Bruenig thinks either of these things would be a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, the solutions that incels themselves demand for their supposed problems range from “enforced monogamy” and government-supplied girlfriends to the literal destruction of the entire human race, or at least the “normie” portion of it.
“Get over it” — we can drop the “loser” part — is in fact the only viable solution to the problems of the incels. They need to reject an ideology that destroys their own self-esteem even as it increases their hatred of others and encourages suspicion of mental health professionals who could offer them the only help that might make a difference.
Only those incels who’ve reached a place where they want to be helped can be helped. Committing to real self-transformation is difficult; rejecting the ideology of a community you’ve been a part of, and the community itself, can be wrenching. But it is also — dare I say it — an act of heroism.
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