Empathy for Incels

Separating the venom from the genuinely pained and human core of inceldom could be the first step in saving society from the vileness of incel ideology and saving some of these lost young men from themselves.

Original image from lookism.net

Technically speaking, dating is easier now than it has been at any other point in human history.

Even in the early 2000s, a person's relationship options were largely limited to the people they knew through work, school, or their local community––meeting new people meant going to a bar and hoping to click with whoever happened to be there that night. Today, the options are limitless. Dating apps like Tinder and Bumble expand potential relationships from social circles to entire cities. On the modern dating circuit, everything is public and everyone seems to be hooking up. But in a hyper-connected world, people who can't seem to make connections feel lonelier than ever before.

Incels are people who self-identify as "involuntarily celibate" and participate in an online subculture marked by rampant sexism, hate speech, and conspiratorial thinking mixed with intense self-loathing. It's easy to write them off as just another group of entitled, mostly-male reactionaries who are angry about the modern equality movement and the increased social clout women are gaining. After all, the political landscape is rife with those (see Gamergate). Considering the type of rhetoric commonly found on incel forums––expressions of admiration for the "Supreme Gentleman" Elliot Rodger are not uncommon, for instance––anything short of outright condemnation of the entire incel subculture can be seen as condoning a dangerous hive of radicalization.

And yet, while incel ideology is dogmatic, dangerous, and inherently flawed, recognizing that the experiences they stem from are overwhelmingly human––pain, loneliness, social anxiety, and self-loathing––might bring to light new solutions that could lead incels to genuinely recovering and reacclimating into modern society. So, too, could the acknowledgement that incels aren't just born from dangerous, sexist feelings of entitlement, at least not at first, and while their larger ideology certainly sits upon a heap of misconceptions, there might be a kernel of truth somewhere at the bottom.

The Cut recently published a phenomenal article about incel plastic surgery, a growing trend whereby incels seek cosmetic surgery to fix perceived facial flaws in order to become more "Chad-like." To clarify, incel subculture calls the most attractive men, who "hoard" most of the world's sex with women (or so they believe), Chads. Chads are men with square jaws and prominent brows, but they can also be lithe or vampiric as long as they possess an aesthetic that Stacys and Beckys––attractive blonde women and basically every other kind of woman, respectively––typically find hot.

zac efron shirtless Zac Efron, total Chad. MCCFL / Splash News


While some incels who opt-in for this kind of cosmetic surgery experience a noticeable difference in their lives afterwards, specifically in the way they're treated by others, many find that their lives don't change very much at all. The core subject of the article, a man who uses the alias Truth4lie, is stuck in an endless cycle of surgeries, post-op elation, discovering a new flaw, suicidal ideation, and then more surgery. Ultimately, his account suggests extreme body dysmorphia, an isolating mental illness far more likely to cause "involuntary celibacy" than his perceived physical flaws.

In fact, the most standout revelation upon browsing many incel forums is that the users––on the rare occasions they post pictures of themselves for critique––are usually pretty average looking guys. Granted, many of them are not, but they're not hideous or grotesque either. Countless men who are just as "ugly" by conventional measures of attractiveness can be found on dates in every restaurant in every major city. So, then, what's really "wrong" with incels?

incel chin The difference between an incel and a Chad according to incels.reddit.com/r/incels

The answer most likely varies from person to person, but chances are high that two common scenarios account for most members of the community. The first is mental illness and neurological atypicalities, which manifest in multiple ways that could lead to "inceldom." One, as outlined in The Cut's article, is body dysmorphia. Others might include social anxiety, depression, or autism––anything that causes one to feel isolated or leads to confusion regarding social contacts. The second is the possibility that these individuals are genuinely physically unattractive and don't have the proper tools or social skills to make up for that disadvantage when dating.

The underlying issues for both groups of incels––and there's likely a good deal of overlap between the two––make their initial involvement in incel communities all the more understandable. Connection with others is a core human need, and long-term loneliness can lead to severe mental and physical repercussions, from insomnia to suicide. For people in circumstances like these, incel communities offer support and a soothing––albeit incorrect––scapegoat for their problems.

"The black pill" is the incel community's core ideological offering: the fatalistic, sexist "truth" of biological determinism––that unattractive men are simply doomed to be rejected by the selfish, shallow creatures known as women. Black pill ideology is repugnant and patently disproven by every single average and below average-looking guy in a healthy relationship. But for someone who has convinced himself that his face is the bane of his own existence and for whom every glance in the mirror is a brutal takedown, black pill ideology shoulders the burden of rejection through absolute affirmation. Black pill ideology says, "Yes, you are ugly, and no, your lot can't be changed." For someone struggling and failing to climb out of a dark, deep, lonely pit, that kind of affirmation, however damaging, can seem like a ray of light.

Perhaps, then, the best solution to dealing with inceldom is offering that same sort of empathy and understanding to struggling people before they turn to incel communities in the first place. The most common "normie" advice (which is always derided by incels) is that if someone wants a girlfriend, all they need to do is "hit the gym and take a bath." This suggests that the core problem incels suffer from is poor hygiene and bad lifestyle choices. But while this may be true for some incels, hitting the gym and taking a bath won't solve deep-seated psychological ailments, pervasive neuroses, or self-hatred.

The truth is that dating is significantly harder for people with mental illnesses or social anxiety. And dating is way, way harder for physically unattractive people. That being said, attractiveness is not stagnant or binary, and plenty of traditionally unattractive people find love and hold successful, lasting relationships with people who subjectively find them attractive. The solution is not to demonize incels for their flawed reasoning, but rather to destigmatize therapy for men, along with undoing so many other traditional, rigid standards that dictate what is and isn't "masculine." Ideally, with genuine empathy and support structures in place, incels wouldn't become incels in the first place.

Unfortunately, incel communities aren't just limited to sad affirmations––empathy would be a lot easier in that case. Black pilling naturally leads to anger and resentment, mainly directed towards women. These views compound and fester within echo chambers, oftentimes resulting in genuine hatred and, sometimes, real-world violence. But separating the venom from the genuinely pained and human core of inceldom could be the first step in saving society from the vileness of incel ideology and saving some of these lost young men from themselves.

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