The Sexual Underclass and Romantic Illusions

The van attack of Alek Minassian in Toronto has suddenly pushed the concept of “incels” into mainstream consciousness. Most of the jabbering class are responding in a predictable way. They are defending status quo assumptions by portraying incels as dangerous misogynists. In this narrative, incels are sexual losers who blame their failure on society, when it is their own fault. Incels are portrayed as disgusting, evil, ugly monsters who are fully responsible for their plight.

Despite this predictable spin, the discussion of incels is raising awareness about the sexual problems of the modern world. A large number of men have no access to love and sex. This was not supposed to happen. Sexual liberation was supposed to create a sexual utopia. Instead, it has created a sexual dystopia in which many people are denied love and sex.

The existence of a large sexual underclass poses problems for the left and the establishment. Incels are have-nots. Supposedly, the left is about helping the disadvantaged. Incels are disadvantaged, but the left has nothing but contempt for them. The attitude of the left (and the establishment) toward these men is that their problems are their own fault. They should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They should make themselves into better people.

This attitude is an almost exact parallel to the ultra-libertarian attitude toward the economically disadvantaged. To the ultra-libertarian, the poor are responsible for their fate, and they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The left has exactly the same attitude toward incels. This is yet another hypocrisy in leftism. The left is socialist about wealth, but libertarian about love and sex. The unequal distribution of wealth is viewed as a huge moral problem that must be solved by society. The unequal distribution of love and sex is viewed as a natural and acceptable outcome. Getting love and sex is viewed as a personal problem that the individual must solve for himself.

The left is supposedly all about “love, not hate”, and yet it is willing to see a huge number of men shut out of love. If those men complain about their situation, the left responds with hatred.

The modern sexual dystopia is a big problem for the humanist worldview, on which both leftism and liberalism are based.

The reality of love and sex has been hidden under a veil of ignorance that includes both false assumptions and a taboo on rational thought. We pretend that love is magical, mystical and inexplicable. This applies to both sexual love and the “brotherly love” we are supposed to feel toward all human beings. “Love” is almost synonymous with “good”, and “hate” with “evil”. Humanists view love as the solution to almost every personal and social problem. Sexual love is viewed as a mystical union of souls that shouldn’t have anything to do with economics or other social conditions. Supposedly, we fall in love with others because of some kind of deep, mysterious compatibility. Of course, the basis of attraction is only mysterious because it is held off-limits to rational thought.

Humanists can’t accept the reality of human sexuality, because it conflicts with their ideal conception of human nature. They believe that human nature is essentially rational and good, even if it sometimes deviates from that ideal. Maybe we are a little bit selfish, they admit, but we can find it in our hearts to “do the right thing”. Humanists believe that all problems have causes that are extrinsic to human nature. Given enough resources and freedom, human nature should generate a utopia. In their worldview, problems are caused by deprivation, bad ideas (usually “hateful” ones) and oppression. Thus, the solutions to problems are to alleviate poverty, educate people, and free them from oppressive constraints. This should allow human beings to “flourish”.

Given those assumptions, the welfare state and sexual liberation should have created a sexual utopia: a flourishing of love and sex. But the sexual utopia didn’t emerge. Instead, there is a sexual dystopia: a breakdown of sexual relationships and an epidemic of loneliness. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Love isn’t magic. Sexual relationships are cooperative, not altruistic. Men and women evolved to play different and complementary roles in relationships. The woman bears and raises the man’s children. The man protects and supports the woman and her children. Human emotions evolved to create this arrangement, which I call “the sexual contract”. When it is mediated by emotions alone, we call it “the pair bond” or “love”. When it is explicitly defined and enforced by society, we call it “marriage”. Either way, it is not magic.

The sexual contract is an exchange of different types of labor. It is not a mystical union of souls brought together by fate. It has a biological function, which is to produce children, not to make people happy. This truth is almost an unspeakable heresy in our culture, but without understanding it, you cannot understand human behavior. In particular, you cannot understand the effects of modern civilization on sexual relationships.

In modern civilization, we subsidize survival for everyone, and especially for women and children. The state protects everyone from danger, and it guarantees that everyone will have enough resources to survive. We have collectivized survival. However, the modern state does not collectivize reproduction. Sex and love have been fully liberalized, while survival has been fully collectivized. That, in a nutshell, describes the social conditions of modern civilization.

The collectivization of survival has unintended negative consequences. One is dysgenics, due to free rider reproduction. Another is the breakdown of the sexual contract.

Women can get what they need from the state and the market. They don’t need individual men as providers and protectors. The justice system protects women from violence, and they can either live on welfare or sell their labor for wages. Modern jobs are comfortable, safe, and require little physical strength. Thus, the protective and productive services of individual men are devalued, while the sexual value of women hasn’t changed. The result is a dysfunctional sexual market.

Women still find men attractive to some degree. Female sexual emotions evolved to respond to signals of male power, such as height, strength and social dominance, and those signals are still present. However, female-to-male sexual attraction is weaker than male-to-female sexual attraction. In the past, men and women were brought together mostly by male desire, not female desire. To the extent that female desire was involved, sexual attraction wasn’t the main factor. Women wanted men as protectors and providers, not primarily as sexual partners. If women are well fed and secure, they start to view most men as useless appendages. They will only find the most handsome or successful men attractive.

Men, on the other hand, still want women for the same reasons as before. Men find signals of fertility attractive in women, such as a youthful appearance, full breasts, wider hips, a narrow waist (indicating the woman is not pregnant), etc. Those physical signals are still present, exactly as before, even if a majority of women have made themselves infertile by using birth control. Men still desire women, while women are largely indifferent to men.

The result is the sexual dystopia of modern civilization. Sexual relationships are breaking down. Fertility is low, not just because of birth control, but also because men and women aren’t forming stable relationships. Many men drop out of the market for sex and love. Many women also effectively drop out of the market, by ignoring the majority of men. The imbalance starts to correct later in life, when women become less attractive and men acquire more resources. But by then it is often too late to start a family, or have more than one child.

Another problem for the left, and for feminism in particular, is that the modern sexual market is driven by female preferences and choices. Women have the majority of sexual power. Women choose men, not vice versa. Feminism assumes that women have less power than men. This requires ignoring or denying the sexual power of women. The ability to get sex and love is a very important type of power. In the modern world, women are more powerful than men.

Sex and love are not egalitarian. Some people are beautiful or handsome, while others are ugly or bland. Feminists rage against beauty standards, which they portray as a social construct and an unfair imposition on women. But feminists are silent about female standards for men, and the highly unequal distribution of sex and love among men. When women have sexual freedom, comfort and security, the distribution of sex and love is determined by female sexual preferences. That leaves a lot of men out in the cold.

In The Redistribution of Sex, Russ Douthat admitted (to his credit) that a lot of men have dropped out of the market for sex and love, and that this is a problem. He was responding to Two Types of Envy, an article by the edgy economist Robin Hanson. Douthat suggested that we will solve the problem, not by fixing the sexual market, but instead by creating new and better illusions, such as sexbots and virtual reality porn, to satisfy the desires of men who can’t get sex and love from real women.

Douthat’s response was predictable. Our culture has the assumption that more technology is always the solution, even if the problem is social, psychological or philosophical, and even if the problem is partly caused by technology. But more technology is not the solution.

Sex and love are ultimately about reproduction. Lonely male nerds might be able to engineer better masturbation aids, and Japanese animators might be able to create waifus for lonely men to adore, but sexbots and waifus won’t replace the female side of the sexual contract. They might simulate sex and love, but they won’t give birth to children and take care of them. And if male nerds don’t reproduce, there won’t be anyone to create technological solutions in the future.

Modern civilization has created a sexual dystopia. It has undermined the sexual contract. It has created a sexual underclass of men who can’t get sex and love. We can’t solve this problem with illusions. We have to make our civilization compatible with human nature.


  1. I am a woman frustrated by the unwillingness of today's men to marry (it is not personal, I am married), so I have no sympathy for incels because I do not see any of them proposing to homely ladies.

    1. What do you think they should do? Walk around and propose to random women on the street? These are guys who can't get dates, and I don't think they are holding out for perfection. I'm not sure what you think they should do.

    2. Those "homely ladies" are rejecting them, too. The idea that incels are "3's seeking 10's" is a bullshit myth. They might talk big and troll on the internet, bashing a girl for not being "perfect", but in real life they had the "standards" beaten out of them a long time ago. Being rejected by fellow "2's and 3's" is a common theme on the incel forums.

    3. There are many opportunity to meet potential partners. Apart from places of study and work, there are clubs, dating sites, festivals. They should try to form a relationship. If they do not hold out for perfection, most will succeed. The ones who really cannot are a small minority, fewer than the women in the same position.

      There are some simple rules to form a relationship. Don't make it all about yourself. (I have observed many nascent relationship ruined by precocious attempts of the man to make the woman support him.) Have a job. Be reliable. Women are not "fed and secure", they just don't want to carry hungry and insecure men on their backs.

    4. To Anonymous: I think that incels should abstain from incel forums and stick to dating sites instead! If a man wants sex and a relationship, a male-only assembly is of no use - unless he is gay.

      One should not be afraid of rejection. Maybe this is the problem of some incels. Women cannot help here. When they get rejected, they are expected to put up with this and start anew.

  2. Another think that could help some single men is to try to do some extraordinary achievement. Young women are sexually attracted to heroes. My first love was a boy who spoke truth to power. He didn't like me, though.

    1. Maya, I'm not trying to be rude, but your responses demonstrate that you really haven't thought this through. Obviously most men can't be extraordinary achievers -- by definition. You admit that you are attracted to heroes. That is a relative notion. Most men can't be heroes. You say there are many opportunities to meet potential partners. That's true for women, at least when it comes to sex, but it isn't true for men. It is very difficult for ordinary men to connect with women, because women tend to just reject ordinary men who try to talk to them. For the most attractive and outgoing men, there are lots of opportunities, because they can get past the initial rejection. For the rest, it is a struggle.

    2. I see I was not clear enough. I mean "extraordinary" not in relation to human abilities in general, but to a routine of everyday life. To volunteer a month in the summer to buld a nesting island is extraordinary (even if you are just one out of 50 volunteers and have been of little use). To help disadvantaged people for 2 hours per weekend is extraordinary. To run in a marathon is extraordinary. Maybe some women would be impressed by someone who has learned to read music from sheets. In my case, all needed for the extraordinary achievement was to open one's mouth and to call bullshit for what it was, with little real risk. Maybe there were some incels in the crowd who missed a golden chance to get a girlfriend.

      The incels I know go to a date, talk about what they need and want, all about them, in a way that could draw sympathy only from their mothers, then wonder why the girl doesn't want to sleep with them, and finally blame it on her. They want from women sex (historically an enormous investment, and our female instincts still work this way) while offering nothing of value. Such men have remained sexless from time immemorial. The only thing that has changed now is that, for some mysterious reason, they feel entitled to sex.

    3. I don't think you are talking about incels, but just about men who haven't had sex for a month or two. Generally speaking, if a guy can get a date, he can get sex or a girlfriend. The biggest hurdle for men is getting a date or phone number in the first place. There are plenty of men who find it difficult to impossible, for various reasons, to get a date at all. There might be things they could do to improve their chances, but it isn't easy. The things you imagine would help men to get dates (volunteering, etc.) aren't very effective. If they worked, trust me, every guy would do them.

  3. I'm trying to figure something out and maybe you have a clearer idea about it.

    Monogamy, by limiting both men and women, results in a more equal outcome for most men (provided they can support a family, of course). Without socially enforced monogamy, a few men have monopoly over a lot of women. So we assume monogamy is good, because it reduces conflict and gives men a reason to be productive (and productive people have the opportunity to reproduce). But socialism (which also aims to increase equality) is disastrous. What's the difference?

    I'd like to have consistent views: how is the free market in sex different from the free market in capitalism? Why heavily regulate one and not the other? Is it the fact that capitalism is not a zero sum game (we can produce a new product that didn't exist before, creating value that wasn't there before), whereas with sex the resource is always limited, so a win for someone is always a failure for someone else? Is it that capitalism has a higher social mobility and despite existing monopolies, it's possible to get richer in your lifetime? Where's the most important difference?

    1. There are a number of different issues involved here.

      First, it isn't true that a few men would have all the women without socially enforced monogamy. No matter what, women will be pretty evenly distributed, because if a few men had all the women, the other men would simply kill them and redistribute the women. It's like wealth. It can't really be that concentrated. (Modern paper wealth is an exception, because it's mostly fake.) In societies that had polygamy, monogamy was still the norm. In a casual sex game, 20% of the men might get 80% of the sex, but we don't have that kind of situation now, because most women still want relationships. If we ever got to a pure casual sex game, civilization would collapse and women would be redistributed.

      I don't think we assume monogamy is good. We used to have a norm of marriage (a socially enforced sexual contract) but there were monogamous and polygamous versions of it. Until very recently, most societies around the world allowed men to have multiple wives. Polygamy encouraged men to be productive, because if they were very successful they could afford multiple wives.

      You might be conflating monogamy with marriage. Marriage had the function of making men responsible for children. That was the ultimate reason why marriage was viewed as morally good, although most people didn't understand that function.

      Marriage is a deal between a man and a woman. Just as society acts as the guarantor that allows trust between market participants, society acted as the guarantor that allowed trust between a man and a woman. In both cases, there is a prisoner's dilemma, and in both cases society solves the prisoner's dilemma by creating an incentive not to defect.

      A "free market" is a regulated exchange system created by state power. Without the state imposing the rule of law, there is no "free market". The same is true for marriage. When marriage is not an enforceable contract, sexual relationships are harder to create and maintain. We are seeing the breakdown of the relationship market, partly because society does not enforce trust, and so it has become much easier for the parties to defect. There are other reasons too, but that's one of them. Men and women can still be held together by cooperation, but each takes a bigger risk when society does not punish defection.

      You could say that monogamy is a kind of sexual socialism because it imposes a flat distribution of women. That's true, although not all women (or men) are equal. It does produce a flat distribution, although the "goods" are still distributed via the relationship market and voluntary arrangements, and no one is guaranteed a relationship.

      I don't think monogamy is better than polygamy, and we don't have monogamy anyway. (Even if you can only marry one person at a time, if you can divorce and remarry then a successful man can have two women in their prime, at different times of his life.) But if a society has a lot of polygamy (some men get all the sex) then it won't last long.

      Hope that answers your question, in a rambling way.

    2. Thank you for putting the effort to explain.
      I had to think for a while. It makes sense, but I'm still struggling with the concepts.

      This may be a speculation, but my concerns regarding polygamy come from observing Islamic societies. Islamic societies have both a contract that punishes defection AND a possibility for polygamy. However, it's interesting that there is also a lot of in-fighting between men there and a lot of young men choose the "ideology" (in quotation marks, because ideology often supports biology) to kill others via suicide - which, as you know, is a typical behaviour of a young man who is at the bottom of the hierarchy and can't find a wife. In fact, this is the very thing he's promised to get in heaven. And if a lot of boys that die get their wives "in heaven", this means that someone else gets them here, on Earth. Maybe I'm severely misunderstanding the situation (there are other factors that make their society violent) but this is how I see it: some get their wives in heaven because others get them here, on Earth. Also, this is the reason why they would have an incentive to expand and conquer others in search of new women, isn't it?

      Modern capitalist, productive societies are monogamous and I'm not sure if it's even adequate to compare them with anything else that is or was polygamous.

      The regulation of the sexual market through monogamy is basically like a cap on how much you can earn. On the other hand, with polygamy and "fake paper money", like you put it, I can turn out to be much richer than other men. And, like you pointed out, if I can afford a castle with a big harem, why wouldn't the have-nots get violent and "redistribute" what I have? And I may have a lot.

      By the way, I think it was easier to be an incel back in the day because at least you weren't bombarded with visuals about what you could have if you were a rockstar, but won't ever have. Also, sexuality was mostly out of sight, and this helped with staying calmer. (In my part of the world the sexual revolution arrived in 1990, before that there was no pornography and no public display of affection by couples, even kissing or holding hands, or too sexual clothing, so I know what such a society looks like. Women were getting pregnant at a younger age than they do now, but marriage was socially expected. Birth rates still declined but a big part of that was the fact that women, like everyone else, were forced to work by the regime and shortly before the collapse noone believed in a good future anymore). Being a child born out of wedlock was a big stigma and it took about 10 years after the collapse of USSR for that public perception to die as if it never existed. You have to keep in mind that what I'm saying doesn't apply to more western countries under Soviet control like Poland, where the situation was a bit different. But I digress.

      Anyway. I'd be happy to be convinced that polygamy actually doesn't cause social unrest - in this case the sexual market regulation is basically, like you said, ensuring just that BOTH parties don't defect.


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