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.