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Incel anger stems from social isolation

Sex won’t necessarily solve the problem.

White House Trail, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. © Dave DuBay

Mass murder by incels — involuntary celibates — has many of us wondering what the hell is going on. Not being able to get laid can be stressful. But to the point of mass murder?

We don’t know who incels are. Plenty of low income men and unattractive men have sex, so there’s got to be more to it. I’d venture these men lack social and emotional skills, resulting in social isolation.

Of course, only the smallest fraction of incels commit violence. Still, I question the assumption that violence prone individuals would be less violent if only they could get laid. Plenty of sexually active men are violent — even murderously so.

But we continue to debate the question of how to help these guys get laid. Opining for the New York Times, Ross Douthat acknowledges that a return to traditional values is unlikely. He regrettably thinks society instead will legalize prostitution and sexbots.

Douthat references George Mason University economist Robin Hanson’s “provocation: If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?”

The problem, of course, is obvious. Redistributing people isn’t the same as redistributing money.

Besides, lack of sex isn’t limited to heterosexual cisgender men. YouTuber Riley J. Dennis claims it’s discriminatory not to date transgender individuals. But would Dennis take incels’ claims of discrimination seriously?

Refusing to date someone, however, isn’t discrimination in the same way that refusing someone a seat at a lunch counter is. Human beings are not public accommodations.

Douthat also quotes Oxford philosopher Amia Srinivasan, who asks, “Does Anyone Have the Right To Sex?” Srinivasan agrees that there’s no entitlement to sex, though she does think sexual desirability “is a political question.”

The feminist slogan that “the personal is political” is simplistic, however. Some things are just personal. If you want to have sex with someone you can’t sue them in court if they say no, nor will you be able to pass a non-discrimination dating law.

The primary issue — regardless of identity group — is the rights of the individual. Other people’s most intimate choices belong to no one except that individual. Every individual has right to say no — which can come in the form of not asking someone out, declining when asked out, or breaking up with someone.

Personal distress does not diminish the responsibility to respect the rights of others. And learning to deal with rejection in a healthy way is an important skill.

Unlike incels, however, transgender individuals are not out there committing mass murder. And legalizing prostitution — which should first and foremost focus on the rights and interests of sex workers — won’t decrease social isolation. Neither will sexbots.

At the same time, scolding men for “toxic masculinity” or “fragile masculinity” is backfiring. This doesn’t mean that a sense of entitlement isn’t a problem. But it’s not being approached in an emotionally intelligent way. Instead we should be asking how we can best support people who struggle with social isolation.