June 18, 2019

The Plight of the Incel

“Truth4lie was 27, depressed, and living in a student apartment after a year in a psychiatric hospital on suicide watch when a friend showed him Neil Strauss’s pickup-artist guidebook, The Game. Together they practiced lines from the book, planning to use them on girls in nightclubs. “Would you like to kiss me? I didn’t say you could.”

In real life, pickup artistry made Truth4lie anxious. One rule stated he needed to initiate conversation with a woman three seconds after seeing her, which felt like taking an exam. Still, he tried the techniques for a few years, with middling success. Eventually, he stumbled on a forum called Sluthate, where anonymous men gathered to “discredit the effectiveness of pickup art.” In one post, a user described coming to the realization that it didn’t matter what he said because of the way he looked.

The user uploaded a selfie, and other Sluthate posters agreed, mocking the flaws in his face. They congratulated him for “taking the black pill,” shorthand for waking up to the tragedy of being ugly. Ugly people, especially ugly men, they said, are destined to lead unhappy lives and die alone.

Reading this, Truth4lie felt exhilarated. In the mental hospital, counselors had told him the roots of his depression and anxiety were repressed childhood traumas. In therapy, he relived getting in physical fights as a kid with his dad and the time he punched his sister in the head. Cognition determined emotions, the counselors told him. By changing his mind-set, he could change his behavior. But what if his problems weren’t inside him but outside? Looks can’t be changed with a mind-set adjustment; neither can the cruelly superficial world that values them above all else. The realization was awful and great all at once, as if someone were finally telling him the truth about himself after a lifetime of fake validation.”

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