The Case Against MGTOW
Back in 2013, I spent some time arguing against the MGTOW ideology. Then I laid the topic to rest and moved on. However, recently several people have been promoting the MGTOW ideology in my general vicinity, and so I decided to revisit the topic and clearly present the case against MGTOW.
First, I should define “MGTOW”. The term is an abbreviation of “Men Going Their Own Way”. It can refer either to an ideology or to the people who believe in the ideology.
By “ideology”, I mean a system of ideas that functions as a social identity. Belief in the ideology implies membership in the community of believers. An ideology has a shared value or values that the members rally around. It gives them a sense of belonging and a shared identity.
As an ideology, MGTOW is the rejection of the sexual contract, on the grounds that it is oppressive to men. In practical terms, this means rejecting marriage, children and long-term relationships with women. The shared positive values of MGTOW are individual freedom and happiness. The shared negative values are women and reproduction. MGTOW negatively values women and reproduction as interfering with the freedom and happiness of men.
By “the sexual contract”, I mean sexual cooperation between a man and a woman, aka “the pair bond”, in which the man does protective and productive labor for the woman, and the woman does reproductive labor for the man. This relationship was formalized and socially reinforced by traditional marriage.
See The Sexual Contract in On the Edge.
In many ways, MGTOW is the male counterpart of feminism. Both reject the sexual contract, but from opposing sides. Feminists view it as oppressive to women. MGTOW view it as oppressive to men. As I go through this, I will point out the parallels between MGTOW and feminism.
Before going further, I should address a rhetorical tactic that is often used by MGTOW to defend their ideology from criticism. If someone critiques their ideology, they will often say that MGTOW is just “going your own way”: that it is just doing what you want, or making rational choices. However, if that were the case, then “MGTOW” would be an empty signifier. Everyone claims to be going his own way in that very general sense. This is an example of the “motte and bailey” fallacy. When under attack, MGTOW will often retreat to an easily defended position that lacks substance. This is analogous to a feminist claiming that feminism is just “equality between the sexes”.
As an aside, maybe we should call this the “hollow man” fallacy, to indicate its relation to the strawman fallacy. The strawman fallacy is when the critic attacks a weak caricature of the opposing position, rather than attacking the position itself. The “hollow man” fallacy is when the defender presents a hollow caricature of his actual position to the attacker.
MGTOW does not mean just “going your own way”. It is a much more complex system of ideas that makes substantive truth and value claims.
The metaphor of “the Matrix” is the core concept of the MGTOW ideology. MGTOW believe that most men are “blue-pilled”, while MGTOW are “red-pilled”. This is a reference to a famous scene in the movie The Matrix, which I won’t bother explaining. The blue-pilled men are either too stupid to see the truth or too weak-willed to face it. They are “trapped in the Matrix”. The red-pilled men have seen the truth and rejected the Matrix. MGTOW thus claim to have a higher level of knowledge and agency than other men.
In this metaphor, the Matrix represents the system that deceives and coerces men into serving the interests of women and society rather than their own interests. MGTOW believe that they have become enlightened (“red-pilled”) to the reality of this system, and have made the rational choice to reject it. That is what “going their own way” means to the majority of self-identified MGTOW. It means more than just making rational choices as an individual. It means rejecting the Matrix, and so it depends on a complex system of beliefs about reality.
What do MGTOW believe the Matrix consists of? Social institutions such as the welfare state and marriage are part of the Matrix. Cultural expectations, such as romantic love and traditional sex roles, are also part of the Matrix. Last but not least, the Matrix includes the biological basis of the sexual contract, including the male desire for sex and the female desire for power. This last part is important, because to a very large extent MGTOW is a revolt against nature itself. (As is feminism.)
The feminist counterpart to “the Matrix” is “the Patriarchy”.
MGTOW have a value system that is hedonistic and solipsistic. They believe that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness. They rarely state this explicitly, but it is a presupposition of most of their discourse. They view society, culture and biology as imposing duties that conflict with the pursuit of happiness.
Because MGTOW reject reproduction, they view society, culture and biology as generally oppressive. We are reproducing machines, and so society, culture and biology have all been shaped to serve the purpose of reproduction in various ways. If you reject reproduction, then almost everything about society, culture and biology will seem opposed to your interests.
In particular, the sexual contract will seem unfair and oppressive, because the benefit to the man is the reproductive labor of the woman. If you don’t value reproduction, then you don’t value that benefit. When you see a man working to support his wife and children, you see an oppressed slave. He must be coerced or deceived into making such a terrible deal. He must be “in the Matrix”.
But the man is getting something out of it: reproduction.
Biologically, men are rewarded with offspring. Psychologically, men are motivated to work for women and children, because our emotions evolved to make us reproduce. Men are willing to exchange protective and productive labor for reproductive labor. Our emotions drive us to make that exchange. Men choose to take care of women and children, because women and children have real reproductive value to men.
The sexual contract benefits both sides. When men work for women and children, they are pursuing their own interests, both psychologically and biologically.
To a man who doesn’t value reproduction, however, the sexual contract looks like a bad deal. To him, it seems that men are being deceived and coerced into working for the interests of women. That is the crux of the MGTOW ideology. The notion of the Matrix is based on ignoring or devaluing the reproductive benefits that men receive from women.
MGTOW will often claim that the life choices of blue-pilled men are irrational: that they are blindly following cultural norms or instincts without any conscious thought. There is some truth to that claim. Most people don’t question their instincts or cultural norms. But are MGTOW any different?
In the modern West, the pursuit of happiness (hedonism) is a cultural assumption. Have the MGTOW questioned that assumption? There is also a cultural ambivalence toward reproduction. Fertility rates are below replacement. Not having children is viewed as acceptable or even morally superior. Have MGTOW rationally devalued reproduction? Or are they blindly following a cultural norm? Also, blindly following your instincts in the modern environment does not necessarily lead to reproduction. Birth control enables people to pursue the psychological rewards of sex and love without the biological reward of reproduction. Our instincts used to drive us to reproduce, but they no longer have that effect. Are MGTOW rising above their instincts? Or are they blindly acting on instincts that are not adapted to the modern environment?
MGTOW sometimes portray blue-pilled men as puppets of their sexual desires, or even of their genes. That is a misleading metaphor. Your desires and your genes are intrinsic to you. They aren’t external forces coercing or deceiving you. They are aspects of you. Also, MGTOW often denigrate sexual desires as illusions or somehow of lesser importance than other desires. In their view, if a man invests effort in getting laid or raising a family, then he is deceived by his desires into acting against his interests. However, if he invests effort in playing a video game or owning a house, then he is not deceived by his desires. They view the former choice as due to deception, but the latter choice as rational and reflecting the man’s true interests.
This view is based on the assumption that sex and reproduction have no real value, but other things do have real value, such as survival, comfort, long life, etc. This makes no sense biologically, psychologically or philosophically. Sexual desires are no more illusory than other desires, such as hunger, thirst, curiosity, etc. Our emotions evolved to make us reproduce. MGTOW reject their biological purpose, and then rage against “the Matrix”, which is just the human condition of being a reproducing machine.
There are real problems with the sexual market and sexual relationships in modern civilization. However, no solution to those problems would satisfy the demands of either MGTOW or feminists, because the problems are caused by the breakdown of the sexual contract, and can only be solved by restoring the sexual contract.
We might have to tinker with the sexual contract to make it work in modern civilization, but we can’t eliminate it without eliminating ourselves. Sex roles and sexual cooperation are an essential part of the human condition.
More generally, life will always be about reproduction. We are reproducing machines. We have emotions that evolved to make us reproduce. Those emotions make us willing to sacrifice comfort, security and even life itself for the sake of reproduction. Men evolved to pursue sex with fertile women, and to support their mates and children. Those behaviors aren’t the result of deception and coercion. They are natural and adaptive.
MGTOW don’t like the deal that life offers them, but there is no other offer on the table. Life isn’t about the pursuit of happiness. Life is about reproduction. Even if you consciously choose not to reproduce, life will still be about reproduction.