Why 95 Percent of Software Engineers Lose Nothing By Unionizing

Should software engineers unionize?

I can’t give a simple answer to this. There are advantages and disadvantages to enrolling in a collective bargaining arrangement. If the disadvantages didn’t exist, or weren’t considerable in some situations, everyone would unionize. So, we need to take both sides seriously.

The upshots of collective bargaining are: better compensation on average, better job security, better working conditions, and more protection against managerial adversity. There are a lot of improvements to employment that can only be made with collective negotiation. An individual employee who requested guaranteed severance, the right to appeal performance reviews, transparency in reference-checking and internal transfer, and waiving of onerous (and effectively nonconsensual) but common terms in contracts– e.g., mandatory arbitration provisions, non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, anti-moonlighting provisions– would be laughed out of the building. No individual can negotiate against these terms– it is, for example, embarrassing for an individual to discuss what rights she has if a manager gives a negative performance review– but unions can.

So what are the downsides of unionization? Possible losses of autonomy. Often, an increase in bureaucracy (but most often a tolerable one). Union dues, though usually those are minimal in comparison to the wage gains the unions achieve. Possible declines in upper-tier salaries as compensation moves toward the middle– however, not all unions regulate compensation; for example, unions for athletes, actors, and screenwriters do not seem to have this problem.

There are a small number individuals in software who would not benefit from unions, and there are a few firms (mostly small, or outside of the for-profit sector) that do not need them.

To wit, if you’re a high-frequency trader making $1 million per year, you probably do not need a union– free agency is working well for you– and you may not want one.

And, if you work in a federally-funded research lab that pays for your graduate education, and that allows you to publish papers, attend conferences, and perform original research on working time, then you probably don’t need a union.

If you’re a Principal Engineer at a “Big N” technology company, making $500,000 per year, who picks and chooses his projects– you’ve never even heard of Jira– and wakes up every morning excited to implement the ideas he dreamt about over night… you may not need a union.

If your boss is personally invested in your career, so much so that the only thing that could prevent you from making senior management within 5 years would be to commit some grievous crime… then you might not want to unionize.

If you’re anyone else– if you’re part of that other 95+ percent, probably 99+ percent; the IT peons– then, chances are, you lose nothing by unionizing.

For example: if you have to justify weeks or days of your working time; if you work on Jira tickets rather than choosing and defining your own projects; if you know for sure that you’re never going to be promoted; if your work is business-driven and you have little or no working time to spend on your own technical interests… then you are hopelessly nuts if you are not in favor of unionization.

Here’s why I say that. If you’re the typical, low-status, open-plan programmer, forced to interview for his own job every morning in “Daily Scrum”, then all the bad things that unions can bring have already happened at your job. Whatever negatives unions might bring– bureaucracy, reduced autonomy, lower status of the profession– have already occurred and are therefore moot.

Is there a risk that a union will introduce bureaucracy and reduce worker autonomy? Yes; sometimes that happens. But, engineers under Jira, Scrum, and Agile (technological surveillance) already have so little autonomy that there’s nothing to lose.

Might a union will create an adversarial climate between management and the work force? Sure. But, most software engineers are low-status workers whose jobs their bosses would gladly ship overseas, and who live under the surveillance described above. They’ll be fired as soon as their performance dips, or a cheaper worker comes on the market, or they piss the wrong person off. The adversarial climate exists. Again, nothing to lose.

Do unions tend to pull compensation toward the middle (or, more accurately, the upper middle)? Of course, they do. Software engineers making $500,000 per year might not see a use for unions. That said, any engineer who works on “user stories” is highly unlikely to be anywhere close to that number, and within her current company, never will be. The same applies: nothing to lose.

What do unions do? For good and bad, they commoditize work. The technician, artisan, or engineer, once a union comes in, is no longer fully a creative, unique, lover-of-the-trade (amateur, in the original sense) valued for his intangible, cultural, and long-term (looking back and forward) importance to the organization. Nope, he’s a worker, selling time or labor for money. If both you and your employer believe your work is not a commodity– this attitude still exists in some corners of academia, and in some government agencies– then you might not want to involve a union, since unions are designed to negotiate commodity work.

Let’s be honest, though. If you’re the typical software engineer, then your work has already been commoditized. Your bosses are comparing your salaries to those in countries where drinking water is a luxury. Commoditizing your work is, quite often, your employer’s job. Middle managers are there to reduce risk, and that includes diminishing reliance on singular, high-value individuals. Running a company, if possible, on “commodity” (average) talent isn’t good for us highly-capable people; but it is, when possible, good middle management.

Chances are, you don’t get to pick and choose your projects because “product managers” have better ideas than you (so says the company) about how you should spend your time. You’re told that “story points” and “velocity” aren’t used as performance measures, but when times get tough, they very much are. Open your eyes; when middle managers say that Agile is there to “spot impediments”, what they mean is that it makes it easier and quicker for them to fire people.

A union will also commoditize your work– this lies behind all the objections to them– but it will try to do so in a fair way. Most employers– in private-sector technology, the vast majority of them– will commoditize your work just as readily, but in an unfair way. Which one wins? I think it’s obvious.

If you’ve been indoctrinated, you might think that unions are only valuable for the stragglers and the unambitious, and that the services they offer to workers are useless to average, but less high, performers. False. “I’ve never been fired,” you say. “I could get another job next week,” you say. “The working world is just,” you say.

Most people hope never to face managerial adversity. I have, so I know how it works. When it develops, things start happening fast. The worker is usually unprepared. In fact, he’s at a disadvantage. The manager has the right to use “working time” to wage the political fight– because “managing people out” is literally part of his job– while the worker has to sustain a 40-hour effort in addition to playing the political side-game of fighting the adversity or PIP. It’s the sort of ugly, brutal fight that managers understand from experience (although even most managers dislike the process) and, because they choose the time and place of each confrontation, have every advantage possible. The worker thinks it’s a “catch up” meeting because that’s what the calendar says. A stranger from HR is there: it’s an ambush. Two witnesses against one, and because corporate fascism-lite is under-regulated in our country, the employee does not have the right to an attorney, nor to remain silent.

What might be able to counterbalance such disadvantages? Oh, right. A union.

What, though, if you’re happy with your compensation and don’t consider yourself a low performer? Do you still need a union?

Saying “I don’t need a union because I’m a high performer” is like saying “I don’t need to know about self-defense, because I’m so good-looking no one would ever attack me.” Real talk: that meth-addicted, drunk scumbag does not care one whit for your pretty face, buddy. Run if you at all can; avoid the fight if he’ll listen to reason; but, defend yourself if you must.

Have you, dear reader, been in a street fight? I don’t mean a boxing match, a prize fight where there are still rules, or a childhood or middle-school fight that ends once one person has won. I’m talking about a real adult fistfight– also known as: for the attacker, an assault; for the defender, a self-defense situation– where multiple assailants, deadly weapons, and continued (and possibly lethal) violence after defeat are serious possibilities? I, personally, have not.

Most people haven’t. I’ve studied combat enough to know that most people (including, quite possibly, me) have no idea what the fuck to do when such a situation emerges. Many victims freeze. Given that an average street fight is over in about ten seconds– after that point, it’s more of a one-sided beatdown of the loser– that’s deadly. But it’s something that untrained humans are not well-equipped to handle.

Even people with excellent self-defense training avoid street fights– there are too many bad things that can happen, and nothing good. Sometimes, they lose. Why? Because their training, mostly oriented around friendly sparring, has them primed to stop short of hurting the assailant. That’s noble, but against someone who will bite and eye-gouge and resort to murder, this is a disadvantage.

What sorts of people are experienced with street fights (not sparring)? Criminals, reprobates, psychopaths…. Thugs. They’ve been in a few. Pain that would stall or incapacitate the uninitiated (that is, most of us) doesn’t faze them; they may be on drugs. They’ll do anything to win. They’ve stomped on necks and heads; they’ve pulled knives and guns; they’ve possibly committed sexual assaults against their victims. They know and choose the venue. They select the target and the time. They may have friends waiting to get in on the action. They may have weapons. They know almost everything about the situation they’re about the enter and, most of the time, their target knows nothing.

The odds for an untrained defender, in an unanticipated self-defense situation, are extremely poor.

It’s the same in the corporate world, when it comes to managerial adversity. Most workers think they’re decent performers– and, quite often, they are– and when they’re hit out of the blue with a PIP, they don’t know what’s going on. Was it a performance problem? Often, no. Perhaps the manager found a 2013 blog post and disliked the employee’s political views or religion. Perhaps, as is usual in private-sector technology, the company dishonestly represented a layoff as a rash of performance-based firings. Perhaps the employee is working in good faith, but performing poorly for reasons that aren’t her fault: poor project/person fit, or life events like health issues, sick parents, or divorce. Perhaps some stranger three levels up made the call, to free up a spot for his nephew, and the hapless middle manager got stuck doing the paperwork.

The corporate world is a might-makes-right system where there is no sense of ethics. There is no line between abuse of power and power as those on top see it; what we plebeians call “abuse”, they call “power”; what use would power have, they ask, if there were rules put on it?

People suffer all sorts of career punishments– PIPs, firings, bad references, damaged reputations– for reasons that aren’t their fault. The idea that only bad workers end up in this situation is analogous to the idea that the only people who can be assaulted on the streets are those who asked for it.

As in a street fight, the odds are overwhelmingly bad for an employee under managerial adversity. The other side has more information, more power, and more experience. Management and HR have done this before. The worker? It’s likely her first or second time.

In a non-union, private-sector organization like the typical technology company, to be an employee is to walk down the streets, alone, at 2:30 in the morning.

For everything one can learn in a self-defense class– proper fighting techniques improve one’s chances from impossible to merely undesirable– the best defense is to avoid dangerous places altogether. In the corporate world, that’s not possible. This is a country where at-will employment is the law of the land, so every time and every place is dangerous. Every street should be considered a slum; it’s always 2:30 in the morning.

If one must go into a dangerous place, what’s the best means of defense? The same rules that apply in bear country: don’t go alone. Wild animals rarely attack humans in groups, and criminals tend to be similar. But the corporate system is designed to isolate those it wishes to target. In the meetings that unfold under managerial adversity, the boss can bring in whoever he wants– HR, higher-level bosses, “Scrum Masters” and miscellaneous enforcers, even his 9-year-old son to laugh at the poor worker– while the target can bring in… only himself.

I do not intend to peddle illusions. Unions aren’t perfect. They aren’t good in all situations. However, most of private-sector technology needs them. Why? Because they allow the worker to exercise his right not to go alone. The HR tactics (e.g., stack ranking, performance surveillance, constructive dismissal) that are so common in technology companies to have become accepted practices would simply not survive under a decent union.

The average non-managerial white-collar worker has never been in the street fight of managerial adversity. Unions have. They know exactly what to do– and what not to do– when a situation turns nasty. Fights, albeit for the side of good, are much of what they do.

Again, if you’re in that elite cadre of software programmers who get to work on whatever they want, who find $400/hour consulting work just by asking for it in a tweet, and whose bosses see them as future leaders of the company… then you’re probably not reading my blog for career advice. On the other hand, if you’re in that other 95-plus (to be honest, it’s probably 99-plus) percent, you should unionize. All the bureaucracy and commoditization that you fear might come from a union is already around you; you can’t make it go away, so the best thing to do is to make it fair.

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Incel: the Strange Identity That Became a Weapon Against Feminism

The incels are coming. Hide the socks.

The word incel means different things to different people, which makes for dangerous discussions. On the surface, all it takes to qualify as an incel is to be involuntarily celibate, a fairly common turn of fate that most people experience at least once, and yet a community of homegrown extremists and terrorists have taken up the label incel to describe something darker: a defeatist mentality asserting that women (and especially feminists) have doomed a large percentage of men to implacable misery.

If by “incel”, one means a misogynist or extremist, than nothing is acceptable but an utter desire to end that culture. Of course, to attack incels as people risks association with one of the oldest pillars of patriarchy: virgin shaming. This is why I don’t like the term incel: the extremists began using it to sympathy, but also to recruit, because although pathological misogynists are uncommon, people suffering annoying dry spells (and in the ages of 15–25, when people are most susceptible to propaganda, they are mostly men) are not.

Make no mistake about the incel identity, though: whatever the word meant once, it has lately been used as a self-identification by a culture and ideology so frightening, retrogressive, misogynistic, and downright insane that it takes a strong stomach to look at it square-on.

In an age of proliferating identities, where personality traits become labels, and we have terms like demisexual, otherkin, wagecuck and NEET flying about, the identity of incel is perhaps the strangest, because it fixates on what is, for almost everyone in fact, a transient frustration. Sexually speaking, there’s an order of magnitude more demand for young (18–23) women than men of that age, and so this period of time is unpleasant for most men. It’s so much so that societies have to invent ways to deal with it: prostitution is an old one, and martial culture (giving young men a source of worth) is another. College is yet another technique that tries to handle it, by culturally and geographically isolating 18–22 year olds so young men have a chance. Mostly, though, this problem is managed privately using wealth transfer, especially around social and cultural capital where there’s enough ambiguity to make it socially acceptable. Young men from privilege get set up, by their parents and inherited networks, with precocious career advancement to give them esteem, build their confidence, and make maximize their “eligibility” when they hit the golden score of male sexual attractiveness (25 to 44) and look for marital partners. The rest of the young men can go die, as far as conservative patriarchal societies like our late-stage corporate capitalism are concerned.

That’s what’s so weird about incel rage. These men are blaming women for something that patriarchy did to them. Women didn’t create the Hollywood narrative under which only young sex counts (quite opposite from the truth) and a man is a loser if a virgin at 25. Women didn’t crash the job market. Women didn’t drive up college tuitions. Patriarchy– and about 90 percent of the people running it are men– did that.

Inherent in the incel worldview is the notion that this transient state– an unfavorable sexual power balance, since women reach high levels of sexual attractiveness so much earlier than men– will last forever. Average- and even above-average-looking incels declare themselves “ugly” based on facial bone structure traits that haven’t been fetishized as much since the racist pseudoscience of the late 19th century. Male grievance culture isn’t new; it’s been around forever. What is new is the degree of despair and violence. It wouldn’t have been able to hit a critical mass until recently. Male grievance culture– from mainstream sexism in the 1950s and ’60s, to the rakish porn-star chauvinism of the 1970s and ’80s, to the pickup artistry of the 1990s and ’00s, to the raving misogyny of incels today– has been increasingly cult-like with each iteration. What gives a true cult its ultimate hard-on? Apocalypse. What did it take to bring the incel phenomenon about? Socioeconomic collapse.

The economic changes of 2008 were managed well-enough to protect the wealthier and older people by keeping asset prices up. Socioeconomically, however, they were cataclysmic and most of society is underappreciative of the damage that has been done. We’ll be reeling from this, fifty years from now. The shithole we let our society become, that’ll kill people in the future even if we fix everything now. For example, people will die in 2060 because of anti-medical prejudices and bad habits developed, right now, in this era of unaffordable, lousy care, atrocious coverage, and adversarial behavior by employers and insurers who’ll break a social contract (and often a legal one) as soon as there’s a dollar in it. The world changed; an apocalypse actually happened.

What does this have to do with incels? Well, they are a post-apocalyptic creature. What makes them unnerving and sometimes disgusting is their complete lack of insight into the nature of the apocalypse inflicted upon them. They blame women for a social calamity– one that has left them hurting and miserable– that was, in fact, caused by corporate capitalism.

Incels believe that priapic creatures like “Chads” (the male entitlement figure of yesteryear) and “Tyrones” (an offensive African-American stereotype) scour the wasteland of modern human sexuality and fight over the last remaining “pure” women like junkyard animals. Names that Chicagoans and Twin Cities residents used to describe less-sophisticated Midwesterners who gave the region a bad name– Trixie, Chad, Becky and Cam– have mutated into supposed creatures one would expect to fight in the 2300 AD world of Chrono Trigger. Anyway, in this post-apocalyptic, over-fucked and semen-drenched world, everyone’s having lots of sex– frequent, amazing sex, because that totally happens at 18, and also inexplicably stops around 23– except them.

 

I’ve spent months studying human sexuality, in part as background research for Farisa’s Crossing, since I’m having to build characters with sexualities different from my own. You’d think there’d be data to support this sexual apocalypse, if one were going on. Nope. For example, infidelity and marital failure are becoming less common, as is participation in high school and college casual sex. The culture’s healing, not falling apart. What’s driving it? It turns out that feminism is a good thing, especially for so-called “beta” males who lack the glib charm, aggressive presence, irresponsible risk-seeking and financial resources to succeed at high-frequency casual promiscuity.

It’s patriarchy that drives women into the arms of boorish alpha males– the sorts who climb corporate hierarchies– not feminism. When women don’t have to marry early out of economic necessity, and when they choose their husbands instead of having those choices made by their fathers or economic forces, so-called “beta” males win (contrary to “Chad” phobia) more often than the aggressive, boorish men our society deems “alpha”.

Incels and MRAs halfway acknowledge female maturation, but because they’re so obsessed with casual sex, they’ve built up another toxic narrative to explain it.

The worst men seem to win at casual sex. No one disputes this. Even if decent men are having casual sex– and one must be careful about terminology here: does it count as casual if it becomes a legitimate relationship? what about if it happens between two close friends?– it is most often the case that the indecent are loud about it. Perhaps normal people are doing all kinds of stuff only they know about, but the loudest cultural narrative one sees in casual sex is that of macho, entitled men taking advantage of women with low self-esteem (often, victims of abuse) with copious alcohol in the mix. This is unhealthy; it’s hideous. Is it the sexual mainstream? No.

There is no sexual apocalypse. Terminological debates aside, casual sex and in particular stranger sex (to which incel fantasies about hyper-aggressive demonic men absconding with superficial women might apply) seem to be going down. This variety of sexuality, perhaps deserving of its vilification for its superficiality and tendency to spread disease, isn’t common at all. Most women have no casual encounters; or they have one, don’t like it, and never do it again; or they only have them when led to believe (often by unscrupulous men such as “pickup artists”) that romantic relationships are forming, which is not their fault. Few women knowingly have causal sex and they don’t enjoy it: only about 10 percent of women orgasm on a one-night-stand. In this light, the incel mythology about women pining for selfish “Chads” is a bit absurd to anyone who understands sex. Monogamous relationships, which women overwhelmingly prefer (with a few exceptions), are very much in, and feminism is no threat to them.

There’s a difference, of course, between a dry spell and an apocalypse: between weather and climate collapse. Like most 20-year-old men, I was socially and romantically unsuccessful compared to what I wanted to be at that age, but I knew it would get better. At that age, women have all the options and men have maximal competition; it improves. Incels, on the other hand, have tied themselves to the mast with an extreme notion that there’s no hope. Most of these guys aren’t unattractive or seriously disabled (except, perhaps, for often-treatable mental illnesses) and they come overwhelmingly from the middle class of the English-speaking world. They live in diverse countries where they could easily meet women from all sorts of cultural backgrounds. It is not hopeless, at least sexually speaking, for them at all; if they evicted the misogynistic, cultish garbage from their heads, they’d be fine.

They just need something better to do with themselves. See, the way we handled dry spells, back before the 0.1 percent trashed the economy, was to focus on our careers. Those existed back then. There was a time– in 2018, it’s hard to imagine this– when applying for jobs actually worked. Transiently sexless men had something to do other than stew about experiences they weren’t having.

We are not in a sexual apocalypse caused by feminism. We are in a socioeconomic apocalypse caused by corporate capitalism– also known sometimes as “the patriarchy”, though I dislike this term because it demonizes fatherhood, and it gives too much credit to an oppressive system. We must know who our true enemies really are. Incels have allowed themselves to become useful idiots, who blame the malfeasance of corporate patiarchy on women.

Incels aren’t miserable because of women. They’re not miserable because they aren’t getting sex, because it’s always been hard for young men to get sex, and because sexless doesn’t always lead to such rage. To wit, most 60-year-old widows become involuntarily celibate, but don’t fall into rage. These men are miserable because society has subjected them to a long con. They’ve been swindled. Society has stuffed their minds full of rotten ideas that are leading them down a bad road.

When a corporate-capitalist society such as Mussolini’s Italy or Corporate America perceives peace, it does not go out of its way to differentiate gender roles: for example, in overt governmental fascism, men and women are both told they must support the state; in our covert employer-nucleated fascism, the directive is to support a manager’s career and hope to be invited to ride his coattails. When such a society perceives war, though, gender roles emerge: the woman becomes a soldier factory, favored for her ability to produce children of the master race; men become sacrificial and are told to accept posthumous glory, for not all will survive what the society decides it must do.

Our time is unique, in that peace and war have become one, like the gas and liquid phases of a supercritical fluid. Most Americans do not sacrifice, as we would in war– meat and sugar are not rationed, gas prices of $3 per gallon are cause for complaint– and the wealthiest quarter of us can live in peaceful prosperity. At the same time, war surrounds us: two campaigns we started (with unclear intention) last decade still rage in the Middle East; our appetite for drugs has financed violence and upheaval from Juarez to Medellin; and social media drama can render an individual unemployable (and blacklisting is, I would argue, an act of war). In what state are we? A peace with pockets of war, or a war that looks like peace? If war, who is fighting whom?

Patriarchal and fascistic societies ramp up toxic masculinity in preparation for war, especially when they intend to be the aggressor, and wind it down (into smoldering chauvinism, as in the 1950s) during peace. So what’s our state today? We live in a mostly-peaceful but tenuous time of asymmetric economic war. Overt acts of aggression (health insurance denials; negative employment references and blacklisting; social-media harassment campaigns; poisoning of public water resources) are fairly uncommon, but terrifying, rapid in their onset, and hard to prevent or control. We live in a time where 140 characters from a powerful person can send fifty unconnected strangers to harass any target in the world. We live in a time when workers get fired, quite literally by computers whose sole purpose is performance surveillance; the manager’s only function is to read the monthly print-out and deliver the bad news.

It’s important to understand that, while this war is different from any other, it is a real war. The 0.1 percent has not been waging “class war”, some inferior category thereof, against the rest of us. It is, and has been for a long time, an actual war. People have died because of it.

Incels get the nature of this calamity wrong. They’re too young to know about health insurance, and they haven’t gotten in the corporate world yet, which is why they think it’s only women who are capable of maltreating people. It’s impossible to sympathize with the militant incels, because they lash out at innocents, but they are perceptive of the fact that an apocalypse is underway. Their mistake is that they mischaracterize it. Millennials really have been fucked over by previous generations.

Had the upper class not stabbed us in the back, we know what society would look like, and we know because this is what was like, forty years ago: if you had a car and a college education, you could talk your way on to a job anywhere in the country. You’d call an executive on Thursday, have an hour-long lunch with him on Friday, and start on Monday. If you were 27 or older, you’d get a management-level job. If you were 32 or older, you’d get an executive job. If the job required an advanced degree, the company would send you back to school. If it was 1:30 in the afternoon and you were still working, you were a go-getter who’d get every promotion. This is the country we used to have, and our elite took it from us, and we should be willing to fight them– to die, and even to kill, if necessary– if we stand a chance of getting it back.

What killed our society, starting in the 1970s? The right wing wants people to believe that social advances (feminism, gender liberalism) had something to with the economic degradation that began around the same time. That could not be farther from the truth. In fact, the situation for women and racial minorities has been declining of late, specifically because of worsening economic inequality and job prospects. So what did go to hell in the late 1970s? Again, the culprit is toxic masculinity.

The elite of the 1940s–70s saw themselves as a national elite and took pride in making the country better: building libraries and museums, supporting progressive causes, and making education more available. To the extent that this can be gendered (and at the time, it was) this was a productive masculinity that brought society (and, over time, women) forward. Toxic masculinity never took a break, but in economics, it was on defense for a solid forty years, only to rage back into focus in the 1980s. Why?

One might be tempted to pin our society’s self-created decline on “the Reagan Era”, but I don’t think one conservative politician can be blamed for everything that happened. Rather, as we became increasingly connected, our national elite re-polarized. This ties in to our hatred for Baby Boomers. Most Baby Boomers aren’t the privileged assholes we love to hate on– the traditional Boomer narrative ignores black Boomers, gay Boomers, dead-in-Vietnam Boomers, and Boomers who fought for the rights of minorities or engaged in the (alas, losing) battle against corporate supremacy. But the Boomer 1% deserves its horrible reputation. These were the guys who compared themselves to oil sheikhs, third-world despots, narcotraficantes, and (after 1990) post-Soviet kleptocrats and decided that the American CEO– making $400,000 per year, and having to follow his country’s laws– was the short man in the group.

The lesson from the Boomer 1% is to forget Milton’s comparison of reigning in hell versus serving in heaven. From a material perspective, it is even superior to reign in hell over reigning in heaven. The 1980s is the decade when our elite began intentionally de-civilizing us in order to join the slurry of kleptocratic garbage that is the global elite.

It is hard to imagine reversing the above. The national elite, as it once was, is dead. After selling us out, it was subsumed into the malevolent global one. Toxic masculinity runs the world again– to everyone’s detriment. It’s the force that drives a man with $1 billion to want $10 billion, or a man with a beautiful wife to cheat because he has decided that the world owes him 10 (and then 100) beautiful women. It is not enough for him to drink and enjoy his milkshake. He must drink all the milkshakes, even if he throws up afterward.

Incels are not the men running the world, of course. They’re not drinking any milkshakes. In fact, they’re triple-threat losers. They’re sexual losers because of their social alienation and self-sabotaging tendencies, perhaps inherited from our puritanical culture’s views of sex as dirty (amplified by an envy of the mature and less inhibited). They’re social losers because toxic masculinity says in no uncertain terms that low-status, unsuccessful men are worth less than garbage and ought to be viewed with suspicion. They’re economic losers because the high-autonomy middle-class jobs (which would be fantastic plum positions by today’s standards) have been replaced by technologically surveilled and menial subordinate work. They exhibit toxic masculinity in their odious attitudes toward women, but they’ve also been crushed by it.

The logical fallacies of the male grievance culture are too numerous to list– each one could get an essay of its own– but the most prominent (no pun intended) is the apex fallacy. An apex fallacy exists when one compares the most successful or fortuante of one group against the average-case performance or outcomes of one’s own. Reactionaries and nostalgists often indulge in apex fallacies, comparing their lot as average people today to those of kings, knights and ladies– not peasants who die at 33 of typhoid. Likewise, incels believe that women drown in male attention because they’re hyperfocused on the white, blonde, young “Stacies” that so many other men are chasing. Apex fallacies exist, likely, because it is advantageous to observe the most successful individuals. When the pinnacle of a society is corrupt, calamity is likely to follow for that reason– bad examples are being set– and we should be scared for that reason. Incels look at the top of society and see people devoid of virtue– the unaccountable, unscrupulous, self-indulgent “Chads”, almost always from well-connected families– winning. Their most noted reaction, “Why can’t that be me?”, is hardly sympathetic, but their problem is. In terms of male role models, our society is in dissolution.

Corporate capitalism, and other forms of dysfunctional patriarchy, cannot keep themselves afloat without using various narratives to manipulate people’s desires and therefore allay the resentment that would otherwise accrue to the corrupt top. For example, it is patriarchy (not feminism) that tells men they are worthless if they cannot support a family on one income. To be a “basement dweller”, under patriarchy, is to be less than human. The system tells men to derive their sense of worth from capability, especially as expressed in competitive endeavors– even if those contests are dehumanizing or stupid. In high school and college, one of the most fetishized (but also most detrimental to personal growth) competence metrics is the ability to procure sex when one wants it. (And, further according to this narrative, men always want sex; or else there is something wrong with them.) When incels struggle with a normal, benign thing– that it is difficult for men under 25 to find sexual partners– they begin to see themselves as useless incompetence, doomed to fail in all other areas of life. They shut down; they lose contact with their friends, their grades drop, and they become addicted to video games and internet trolling– living out their power fantasies behind a keyboard.

What does patriarchy think of this massive waste of male talent? Patriarchy couldn’t be happier. See, virgin shaming is what keeps men going into work, in order to procure those pictures of dead people, that can be traded for social experiences like overpriced meals and recreational neurotoxins, that may on occasion lead to sexual access.

There’s a response I can imagine coming from incels and MRAs, which is that women, as much as men, can participate in virgin shaming, gold digging, and various other behaviors that keep toxic masculinity in place. Of course, that’s true. See, feminism doesn’t require a conviction that women are innately morally superior to men. I am a feminist and hold no such belief. I think the distributions of moral character are most likely equivalent across genders. And just as there are good men aligned with feminist causes, there are plenty of women who lend their support to patriarchy, who enforce its doctrines, and even who prefer to live within it. Women actually exist who uphold toxic values by making themselves available to the sorts of malignant, aggressive men running our civilization into the ground. It is not acknowledge of their existence that makes MRAs and incels problematic; it is their inaccurate believe that immature, damaged women are somehow representative of the gender (they are not) that makes this dangerous. The truth is that, in a world with billions of people within it, you’re bound to find everything.

What is feminism? I think it has two components. One is the belief that women ought to have equal political and economic rights to men. That, on itself, doesn’t need to be called feminism. If this were all there were to the feminist cause, I’d have no issue with people who say, “I’m not a feminist; I’m an equalist”. The second component pertains not to biological femaleness but to femininity. This gets tricky, because it’s not clear that any of the differences between “masculine” and “feminine” nature exist in any innate way. Any discussion of masculinity and femininity must be relative to a cultural frame. There’s a lot of virtue– compassion, judgment, quiet competence, collaboration over competition, sexual restraint– that lives in what out culture construes as feminine. What makes toxic masculinity so virulent is that it’s built to destroy the feminine. It does not necessarily hate females; it hates femininity in women, but especially in men. What we’re learning, as our late-stage corporate capitalism destroys the planet ecologically, culturally, and socially as well as economically, is that in order to survive for another century, we’re going to have to become more feminine. It is not about women as superior to men (I do not think they are) but the need for us, as humans, to evolve in a more feminine direction and, while retaining masculinity’s virtues, purge it of its aggressive and toxic elements.

Feminism also has tons of historical support. Making things better for women also makes the world better for men. Gender is not a zero-sum game.

Self-indulgence is often marked by misogynists (most likely, a case of projection) as a female vice, but it’s actually the core of toxic masculinity. This is not to say that female self-indulgence and toxic femininity don’t exist– every woman who demands an expensive carbon crystal before she’ll marry is engaging in an instance of toxic femininity (manufactured by toxic men in the diamond industry)– but it seems to be toxic masculinity that is most capable of metastasis. Toxic masculinity says: one must grow up and acquire, acquire, acquire; one must do it fast; and one who acquires less than other men is inferior and not really a man at all. Accrued wealth and paid work– the influence of family contacts, though it accounts for almost all of what actaully happens in the career game– become the sole, numerical metric of male value. One cannot criticize the might-makes-right corporate system, either, unless one wants to risk being called “whiny”, “weak”, “a snowflake”, or (who can forget this classic?) “a fag”.

Corporate capitalism and toxic masculinity are cruel, and there’s no moral justification for shoehorning 50 percent of the population into it (and forcing the other 50 percent to clean up). But is this brand of masculinity a con? I don’t think it always was. In the 1950s, there was real work to be done, and people could make a living by doing it. Competence and merit actually mattered: there were more small businesses, it was easier for a skilled person to escape a reputation problem and reinvent himself, and there was high federal investment in R&D, resulting in 4–6 percent annual economic growth. For all the flaws of that era– I can’t think of anyone sane who’d want to restore 1950s gender or race relation– it was a time when work worked.

Keynes predicted that, by now, we’d be working about 5–10 hours per week. That turned out to be right. So where’s our leisure society? Nowhere, because of the Graeberian imperative to hold position. People now spend 10 hours to work a 2-hour day, the rest of the time full of useless anxiety in open-plan offices that exist largely to humiliate them. If the bosses figure out how little work is necessary, they’ll cut jobs and workers will lose, so it must be hidden. The work being done almost never matters; it is mostly a commodity, and little respect accrues to people who do actual work. Instead, we’re a nation of professional reputation managers. If you’re not disgusted by the notion, you’re not human. Of course, this means that the winners of the new economy are those people (mostly, physically imposing men, because even though such violent confrontations have been rare for thousands of years– it’s now how we like to do business– it is just easier to ask for favors when one could physically end the other’s life) who can force others to manicure their own personal reputations. Neofeudalism sets in: those who have permanent staffs of reputation managers (of course, the firms that employ them fully believe real work is being done, and occasionally it is) become lords, and those who support their campaigns for relevance in a blandly decadent, pointless economic system become the vassals.

One can see this most prominently in that people do things that are more work-like for their hobbies– gardening, hunting, hiking, learning new fields, writing– than the stupid, sedentary, humiliating subordinate bullshit they endure in under the proto-fascist corporate regime of status reports about status reports they call “work”. Men (and women) used to go to work and do things, but now they go to work and subordinate to other, almost always completely useless, men.

Isn’t this ancient, though? Hasn’t work always been about subordination? Well, yes and no. This topic requires more words than I can give it, but complex endeavors always require operational subordination. That is, some people have to take direction from others, and apprentices need more direction than seasoned masters. There’s nothing wrong with operational subordination; we do it every day, to our benefit, when we stop at a red traffic signal. It is better to follow a sound order and wait two minutes than to disobey it and possibly die in a preventable traffic accident. Operational subordination isn’t humiliating; it’s just something we need to do. In today’s corporate climate, though, the demand has gone beyond lawful operational subordination into personal subordination. It is not enough for the worker to take direction; he must fully accept the total superiority of the manager. It is not enough to do the job well; he must pretend to like it, he must ask for more grunt work when he is underutilized, and he can never for a second allow anyone to hold the suspicion that he might be smarter than the mediocre apparatchik doling out the tasks.

Here is where I offend some leftists: it may be entirely due to socialization, but men and women are different. Women are, to put it bluntly, better actors. They learn how to be pleasant to people they dislike, to mirror emotions without feeling them, and to engage in the ceremony of personal subordination while, in fact, avoiding major compromise. They’re socialized to put a crumple zone between them and abuse that is coming from uphill. Perhaps that’s why, even though corporate culture is terrible for women, it’s devastating to men. Women can play a humiliating, stupid game– powdering the bottoms and attending the whims of adult babies called “executives”– without total personal collapse, whereas men seem unable to do so. I don’t think the explanation is that men are weaker; I think we are not socialized as well to be actors– to be able to play a humiliating, subordinate role for 8 hours per day without internalizing it– and that we are also pushed to identify with paid work (a problem, in an economy where humiliation is the only thing left most people will pay for) more than women are.

If you tell men that the highest expression of masculinity is to go into a workplace and subordinate to other men– not the temporary operational subordination of the apprentice, but a permanent personal subordination to better-placed, my-daddy-made-a-call mediocrity– you’re going to have a masculine crisis on your hands. And we do. While I won’t get into detail about Jordan Peterson, his appeal seems to derive from his willingness to address the masculine crisis head-on, without fear. (This is not to say that he knows how to solve it.) But here’s the truth: our masculine crisis will not be solved until we eradicate artificial scarcities (which exist to manipulate men into working hard, on the promise that those proxies for female sexual attention– job titles, higher salaries– actually mean something) and corporate capitalism itself. To kill corporate capitalism, we’ll need to institute a more compassionate society– one that takes care of people, sending them to school if they wish, paying favors forward without expecting immediate return– and that would be, traditionally, more feminine. So we have the odd-sounding-but-true conclusion that the solution to our masculine crisis is (in part) feminism.

What was done to these incels was not done by women. It was done to them by patriarchy: a system that has inculcated the notion of women as sexual objects and rewards for participating in an economic system that professes to be meritocracy but that, on closer inspection, is no further along an evolutionary journey than might-makes-right barbarism. They are just entitled-men-the-enemy. They have been infected by terrible ideas and they are suffering intensely. And while their expressions of rage, both on and off the internet, are often unacceptable, we must raise our focus away from this particular element, and smash the woman-hating, racist, elitist, proto-fascist corporate system that created them in the first place.

The Green Pill: the Case for Doing the Right Thing; Why Feminism Is Good for Men, Too; and What to Learn from “Incels”.

Fifteen years ago, I got taken in by the male grievance cult and swallowed its nonsense whole: pickup artists, Chads, dual mating strategies… all that garbage, though we had different names for the stuff. It was the same ugly culture, thought it seems to have gotten worse. I was what would today be called an “incel”: unsuccessful with women, and seething with rage. I’m ashamed of my participation in that world, and in the then-fledgling art of internet trolling, seeing what all the nonsense has led to.

Today, for a contrast, I’m happily married to a feminist woman, and I’m writing Farisa’s Crossing, a novel with a female protagonist. What changed? Well, the time in between has been quite interesting, and I think there’s something one could learn from my own zero’s journey into (and, later, out of) the “red pill” world of male grievance culture. Yet, every time I sit down to write “that” essay… I just fucking can’t. I don’t like reliving it. Today’s incel phenomenon hits too close to home. I read delusional, angry screeds on the “braincels” subreddit or various other incel forums, and I remember a time when I could have believed (or even said) such things. It gives me a headache.

Forgive me if this is raw. I’m not a saint. I don’t judge the male grievance community– increasingly like a cult in its commitment to a set of incorrect, self-defeating, and misogynistic beliefs with no bearing in reality– from a place of superiority. I was there once. I got taken in, and I got out. I know how it operates, and I know why it appeals to some young men.

What is it that drives young men, while they endure that oppressively quotidian and not especially harmful problem of early-adulthood sexual infrequency, into such rage and despair? Well, I think everyone should watch this video about charismatic anger. Rage spreads. Fear sells a story. Angry memes stick in the mind, regardless of truth. Add to this some confirmation bias, apex fallacies, and ready-made excuses for one’s own sexual infrequency– “it’s not me; it’s all women”– and you get a self-defeating complex that takes years to evict from one’s head. As with a cult’s illogic, smart and otherwise rational people don’t seem to be immune to this.

Most of the guys who get taken in male grievance culture are like me around age 20: decent men in a vulnerable, difficult time where the rules are unclear, it’s hard to know what’s going on, and everyone else seems to be doing better. That said, the luminaries of this culture seem to be an assortment of loathsome creatures, such as: white nationalists (who argue that multiculturalism and miscegenation have caused the incel’s problems), domestic abusers, pedophiles (who wish to normalize their perversion by demonizing adult female sexuality), and the sex addicts who call themselves “pickup artists”.

The male grievance cult, in other words, draws its strength from the worst of the male gender.

Blue, Red, Black and Green Pills

Mainstream American culture doesn’t indulge in the overt misogyny of incels or pickup artists, but one of politically correct hypocrisy. We claim to be liberal and vote conservative. We support a might-makes-right economic system, corporate capitalism, in which economically successful men (until 2017) were able to maltreat women with impunity; it was one of the perks of being an executive. This corporatized, paper-thin, dishonest culture I call chauvalry: a combination of chivalry and chauvinism. It’s what the male grievance culture calls the blue pill.

The blue pill’s not feminist. It’s the worldview of the Hollywood movie where being “a nice guy” and working for hard for his boss is enough that a man “ought to” get sex any time he wants it. In romantic comedies, it shows us male behaviors that would actually put someone in jail: ticketless airport runs, stalker-level displays of singular attention at the Act-2/Act-3 transition, punching guys in the face who look at one’s girlfriend the wrong way. It tells men that if they do the right thing, two hours of cat saving ought to be enough to attract women– even if a man is still in high school. That’s not how it works. An exercise montage stands in for the hundreds of hours it takes to fix or improve an ill-cared-for body. Adults know this, but adolescents might not fully get it.

The blue pill, “nice guy” worldview is casually misogynistic. It indulges in just world fallacies that suit our corporate masters. Do what you’re told for fifty weeks, it says, and your beautiful wife will give you hot sex on your two-week vacation. Be the hard-working “all-American” guy, and you’ll get laid, no problem. It presents sex as the ultimate validation of male virtue, and women as a sort of “insert compliments and free dinners, receive blowjobs and nookie” vending machine. You don’t have to go to the gym and become an attractive person, or read books and become an interesting person; just show up at your job, and a pretty girl will come by and touch your dick, we promise.

Of course, sex is not (nor should it be) the measure of male virtue. Men are not owed sex for being productive members of society; they are not owed sex at all from anyone who does not want to have sex with them.

Usually by the first or second year of college, men realize that the blue-pill story is fraudulent. They see useless men getting ample sexual activity in high school and they’re told that it’s different in college. Whether they go to a state school or to Harvard, it isn’t. Actually, I don’t think that useless men are getting more sex on average than anyone else; they’re just the ones who make a trophy out of it. The decent people are having sex, too; they’re just not talking about it.

In The Matrix, the protagonist is offered a choice: take the blue pill and persist in self-deception, or take the red one and engage reality, starting on a hero’s journey. The male grievance community co-opted this metaphor, and starting using the term “red pill” to describe their alternative, less corporate but more vicious, misogyny. Of course, what they call “red pill” isn’t any more reflective of reality than the blue pill worldview they reject (and that all thinking adults know to be a facade). But, they took that term first, and we’re stuck with it that way.

The red pill view of women and relationships is much more dismal. It views all of us (male and female) as selfish, hypersexual, narcissistic and obsessed with physical appearances. Coming from a mix of failed providers who fared poorly in divorces– most divorces aren’t “won” by the woman, but impair both parties’ finances– and sex-addicted pickup artists, the red-pill view that dominates male grievance culture is intensely negative. For example, the typical red-pill view of women is that they all secretly long for domineering men (“Chad”, in incel lore) who will degrade them.

In the early 2000s, the process was called “speed seduction” or “Game”; now it’s known as pickup artistry. The truth about pickup artists is that they’re often insecure, disease-ridden, broken men. Their lives aren’t enviable. Their high-frequency promiscuity is mostly made possible by lowering of standards. A bona fide sex addict doesn’t care if she’s a “9/10” marriage-worthy chemical engineer or a “3/10” disease-ridden drunk party girl, and relationally-impaired men often can’t sustain the effort necessary to attract the former. However, their unhealthy lifestyles have given them hypertrophic social ability. They know what a certain subclass of women, selected for rapid sexual availability, want.

What makes pickup artistry so dangerous an art for a young man to learn is that (as with cults) the first courses and modules will focus on what 97% of people (i.e., the ones who know it) would call common sense: basic social skills and grooming: don’t talk about sex on the first date, wear dark colors to seem more masculine, do between 25 and 40 percent of the talking. All of this advice actually works, contradicting that two-word blue pill myth, Be Yourself. It’s the later material in the pickup world that’s more disturbing. Ultimately, pickup artists’ views of women are not based on the best sample, but on the small percentage of women on whom cheap tricks work. Since pickup artists are rarely able to achieve long-term, mutually enriching relationships, they deny their possibility. Run Game forever, they say. Never let your guard down, they say. Don’t be vulnerable, they say. All girls are basically the same, they say. It’s best not to listen to that shit. None of it’s true.

Pickup artistry doesn’t work, not as advertised. The high-pressure sales tactics that lead to quick lays will undermine genuine relationships. “Dread game” is abuse. Finally, having sex with a lot of different women never cures insecurity. Sex is amazing when it exists on its own, in the context of a loving relationship, but sex rarely solves problems. It does have a fascinating history of creating them, though.

Though the blue-pill lie ignores corruption, the red-pill lie exaggerates it, and advises one to manipulate it for personal benefit. This doesn’t work as most people hope, because few people get away with aggressive non-virtue for very long. Con artistry is a great way to get a one-night stand, and a shitty way to find relationships. In the long run, most people don’t find it fulfilling, men who indulge in pornified casual sex lose interest in “7/10” women, in the same way that porn addicts tire of vanilla scenes and gravitate toward the extreme, and obsess over the “9/10” they can never have.

It shouldn’t be surprising that men selling the secrets of how to con women into reluctant sex will also swindle men buying their services. They overpromise. Bed Models In 21 Days, only $26.99. Those who dip into these corrupt games find that they’re not winning enough, but the losers become enraged and disgusted. Despair sets in, and that’s what incels call the black pill.

Blue pillers view the world as just and indulge in hypocrisy. Red pillers view the world as corrupt and seek personal benefit, making the world a little worse with each move. Black pillers see the world as hopeless; it must be destroyed. That’s what produces the Elliot Rodgers and Alex Minassians.

When I was a redpilled guy trying to up my dating game, I learned about “negging”– an exaggerated refutation of the blue-pill notion that disingenuous compliments lead anywhere– and how to deal with those pesky interlopers called “AMOGs”. One learned how to play hot-and-cold games. I don’t like that I indulged in this, but the blackpill incel discussions of today’s world are worse: one finds martyr worship for murderers like Elliot Rodger, fantasies involving Westworld-esque sexbots, and female sexual slavery from the “pro” side of a debate that should not exist. These blackpilled men are, of course, deranged and need psychological help. I doubt many of them, in a country without universal healthcare, will get it.

Red-pill pickup artistry, at least, had better exit options than black-pill incel rage. In the mid-2000s, I used cheap tricks to get dates and make-out sessions, and to improve my confidence. It may have improved my life, though I doubt it. Eventually, with enough dating and relationship experience, I learned (spoiler alert) that women are people. Even when women I dated rejected me, they didn’t seem like terrible people; they were only quicker to perceive that it wouldn’t work out. Successes kept me going: the odds are always low, but the payoff is high.

With black-pill misery, though, there seems to be no exit. If I believed I lived in the world that these guys think is the real world, I’d be just as enraged. See, they believe that all women secretly want to sleep with their high school bullies, mythologized as “Chad”. In their view, romantic relationships are impossible, because they’ve used stunted male sexuality for their model of the adult female. Women who show genuine sexual interest in non-Chads, they believe, are settling for a “betabux” provider and, like a cat in heat, will do anything to get alpha sperm when she’s ready to have children. The red pill turned men into pickup artists; the black pill is turning them into suicides or, worse yet, murderers.

Most cults have an eschatological narrative, because cultish behavior is unsustainable and therefore the world’s imminent end must be, at least, wished-for. The recent turns in male grievance culture show us belief in a post-apocalyptic landscape. It says that women like their mothers and grandmothers no longer exist. It says that today, every “Stacy” has been fucked by 100 Chads before age 15. Ask a blackpiller about adult sexuality, and you get a picture of junkyard animals fighting over scraps of meat, ten weeks after the end of the world.

Fuck the blue pill. Fuck the red pill. Especially fuck the black pill.

There is corruption in the world; it has always been there. But, it is rarely so hopeless as to merit nihilism and destruction (black pill) and one need not get involved and add to the corruption (red pill). Are there women so damaged that they’ll sleep with men who deploy cheap tricks? Of course there are. That doesn’t mean that one has to take part.

I advocate what I’d call, in response, the green pill: to acknowledge reality as it is, with no self-deception, but then to do the right thing, rather than the easy thing that everyone else seems to be doing, anyway. If the world’s dirty, be clean. Plant a fucking tree. This is the approach of the ancient cynic or stoic, whose wisdom has not decayed with age. Don’t support women’s rights because you think it’ll get you laid (it might, or it might not); support women’s rights because it’s the moral thing to do.

In our might-makes-right, corporatized society, the green pill isn’t fashionable. We see bad guys winning, all over the place. Our president bragged about (and, almost certainly, has actually committed) sexual assault, and still got elected. Am I really going to make a case for virtue– as an end in itself, with no expectation of reward– when corporate capitalism reigns and so many bad people seem to be winning? Yes.

No one tells young men this, but being male sucks from ages 18 to 23 for most people. Men have a higher sex drive than women their age, but also the women in that cohort are attractive to the full age range of men, whereas men in that group can barely attract their own counterparts. Women have all the options; men have lots of competition. It gets better for men as the years pass, but the male initiation period has never been a positive experience. I went through it as well. Most men do.

Here’s what I’ve learned. The sex I didn’t have at 17, 18, 19, 20, 21… never mattered. In the long run, whether one loses virginity at 16 versus 26 is unimportant. That said, what I do remember, and not in a good way, is how often I acted like an asshole. I’d be lying if I said I was fully over that.

The results of actions fade in importance over time; the actions themselves stick around in one’s mind, and a person has to live with them forever.

Perhaps that’s the strongest case I can make for virtue on its own. I don’t know that I need a stronger one.

 

The blue pill is the chauvalry of disingenuous “nice guys” in a patriarchal corporate system where sex is a reward for good male behavior, rather than an immensely pleasurable expression of deep love. Blue pillers are just-worlders who go to work and believe their companies are “meritocracies”. Red pillers are men who’ve internalized how capitalism’s alpha males actually behave– they’ll lie, cheat, and steal to glamorize themselves– and apply it to sexuality. The black pill prescribes aggressive nihilism– humanity is hopeless; best to kill everyone. None of these are virtuous attitudes, and they’re all expressions of our right-wing corporate society. I advocate something else entirely: let’s be honest with ourselves about the world’s corruption– and fix it.

Why the Black Pill’s So Relevant

Red- and black-pill thinking, two branches of the male grievance culture, have always existed, but the red pill was always much more prevalent. People would rather believe they can manipulate their way to a better life than convince themselves that they’re terminally fucked (or the lack thereof). When I was taken in by the male grievance cult, wannabe pickup artists were common and no one identified as a permanent incel, or discussed murdering innocent people (as Rodger, Cruz, and Minassian have) to prove one’s point. So what changed? I’m going to borrow a dumb 1990s catchphrase: “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”

Back in my day, when we walked uphill (both ways) nine miles through the snow (now get off my lawn) we had something that doesn’t exist anymore: a functioning labor market. As I said, it has always been difficult to be an 18- to 23-year-old man– the supply/demand imbalances leave a lot of young men single. But, there were other things to do than stew about not getting laid. Let me explain how the whole “work” think used to work.

In the 1970s, a college degree and a car was all it took to talk your way on to a job– if you were 27 or older, a management job; if you were 32 or older, an executive job– anywhere in the country. So, what did you do, if you were a decent 22-year-old who couldn’t get laid? You worked, because these things called “careers” existed back then, and because if you actually showed up on time at your job and were still working at 1:30 in the afternoon, you’d be flying business-class by age 35 and running a company by your mid-40s. If you were what is now called an incel– back then, we just called it “not getting laid”– you could invest time and energy at work and distract yourself from the sex you weren’t having. That economic world doesn’t exist anymore; the 1% took it away from us. Thanks to offshoring and automation, the only thing left to do in the corporate world, except for those born into elite connections, is subordinate make-work with no career value, creative fulfillment, or redeeming social value.

It shouldn’t be surprising that our society would be throat-deep in a dangerous masculine crisis. Work sucks for women as much as it does for men– actually, it sucks even more for them– but men have been told for hundreds of years to identify themselves with their paid work, and that success in business is the ultimate expression of masculinity. With corporate consolidation and an imploded job market– one that hasn’t recovered from any of recessions we’ve had since 1973, although the stock market has and property prices are sky-high– this setup has produced an untenable situation where men are told that masculinity is to be found by… subordinating to other men. Of course the system would collapse. Ex falso quodlibet.

When I was an unsuccessful 22-year-old man, in 2005, I said a lot of shit that I now regret, but I held out hope (and was right) that my lack of social and sexual success was transient. The difference, in the post-2008 world, where housing is unaffordable in places where there are jobs, and where third-world corruption has become the norm in the “lean” private sector company, is that “incel” now stands as a permanent identity. Not knowing it, young people have conflated their permanent (unless we overthrow corporate capitalism) economic misery with their transient socio-sexual difficulties and become hopeless black-pillers. I don’t blame this on the women who are exercising their right to turn down men; I blame this on the 1% for stealing everything– for wrecking our economy and culture, and for perpetuating the simmering (blue pill, mostly) misogyny that makes these rages possible. The Elliot Rodgers of the world are like Japan’s hikikomori, but with the misogyny of an emerging fascist movement, and (scariest most) the guns of America.

So what are we going to do about it? We must overthrow corporate capitalism– a might-makes-right system of cancerous masculinity– before its corruption spreads further and the masculine crisis becomes an all-out war. We need to overthrow the red-pill corporate executives– the ones who perpetuate corruption for personal benefit– and the blue-pill establishment enablers, before this black-pill psychosis can fester and its shit really hits the fan.

In the Meantime

Angry young men such as today’s incels do not tend to believe facts put in front of them. If they listen to reason, they’ll still find their way to extreme interpretations. It’s very hard to change a mind in the moment. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t blast bad ideas. People will eventually come around. It’s good to plant the good ones, even knowing they’ll be rejected at the time.

I’ve argued for feminism with incels. What these men don’t realize yet (and won’t be convinced any time soon, but there’s hope) is that feminism is actually good for the decent man, the “beta male” who’d rather play with his own kids than do 3 extra hours of work for a company that poisons someone else’s kids in Brazil. When I explain why feminism’s good for average beta males like me, the reaction tends to be either “well, obviously” (from the leftist progressives) or shock (from the zero-sum-thinking incels). Either way, here me out.

The incels have mythologized their high-school bullies, with a bit of male porn actor thrown in, as “Chad Thundercock”, the priapic Norse god of white male douchebaggery. The rest of us just call this loathsome creature “frat boy” or “bro”. The thing is, Chad is the guy who wins out under misogynistic structures like corporate capitalism. In societies where women’s fathers and economic forces parcel women out as a sexual commodity, Chads rule. Meanwhile, the more feminist a society is, the better results will come to the patient, caring, and less-macho men that women are more likely to choose– because they’re better fathers and far superior lovers than the Chads.

Incels tend to come, I’d guess, from the earnest lower-middle-class– the ones who once believed in all-American mythologies about corporate meritocracy, and who bought into the blue pill worldview– so they have a sense that the men women choose when directed by economic forces (or, better yet, economic necessity) are somehow superior to the brutish or monstrous men– there may be racial attitudes here– that women will choose if left to their own devices. There’s no evidence that bears that out, though.

Some women, of course, choose skid-row rotten men, just as vice versa. To the extent that there is a “Chad pattern” in some women, I think it comes from our puritanical attitudes about sex (paradoxically?) more than anything else. Tell young girls that sex is a disgusting thing, and they’ll do it with disgusting men: the abusive frat boys of the world.

There is one painful but beneficial result of feminism for men: we get rejected more. They have more options life. It may be counterintuitive, but all this rejection is a good thing. In the long term, relationships are symmetric: a marriage that’s good for one person is good for the other. Women are choosier not because they’re mean, but because they’re quicker to perceive mutual non-matches, while men are prone to “we can make it work” quixotry. Female choosiness, in the end, saves us time and emotional energy. A polite, respectful turn-down is a favor.

Why does rejection hurt so much, then? My guess is that it has to do with our evolutionary environment: small tribes of about 100 people. In such a small world, being rejected means being humiliated in front of all of one’s whole social world. Rejection and breakups feel like major, life-ending events because, twenty thousand years ago, they were pretty close to it.

In a world with 4 billion sexually active adults, though, rejection is harmless. You can get rejected 300 times and nothing bad happens. Our society is capable of discovering exceptional matches that would never have been found decades ago– I grew up in Appalachia, my wife grew up in the Philippines, and we met in New York– but the price of this is an ultra-high rejection rate.

Under the old patriarchal systems, women were pushed into marriage because they needed economic security, and as a way for their families to improve their social standing or achieve political goals. Love was optional, and long-term marital love seems to have been the exception rather than the rule. True, middle-class (and above) men were assured wives and the loss of their virginity, but “dead bedrooms” were pretty common after the baby-making stage ended.

Although lasting romantic love was the hoped-for marital ideal, it didn’t happen often in the old world that incels seem to want to return to. Old-style family sitcoms where the goofy dad always wants (and almost never gets) sex once seemed that’s-life funny and now, from a 2018 perspective, seem pathetic. Perhaps this is a cultural change more than one in reality, but when I look at the Everybody Loves Raymond marriage and its lost sexual chemistry, it’s not what I think people want, or will settle for. Feminism is forcing men to up their play if they want to get married, and almost everyone seems to be winning.

In sum on this matter, pairings that can generate long-term romantic love– the kind where a couple still want to jump each other’s bones after 10 years of marriage– are rare, and female choice isn’t 100% accurate in finding them, but it seems to be doing a better job than corporate patriarchy (“take it from your father: this boy’ll be a good provider.”)

It seems counterintuitive that heterosexual female choosiness– a source of extreme frustration in the short term– would lead to benefits for heterosexual men. If we accept though that relational health is, in the long term, mostly symmetric, it shouldn’t surprise us that much.

This would require another essay to explore, but I call it the Control Paradox. Relinquishing control can lead to better results, especially when that control is illusory. What’s magical about mature female sexuality, from a male perspective, is that it can’t be controlled. Nothing’s better than a woman going after what she wants.

Our economic system is brittle– corporate capitalism is breaking down already, and will probably shatter in the next fifty years– in the face of control paradoxes. See, we work in firms built on zero-sum thinking. The Graeberian bullshit jobs exist largely because corporate executives believe their subordinates’ happiness equals their misery. The more (stereotypically, at least) feminine open allocation approach to corporate governance results in more innovation than toxically masculine zero-sum command-and-control regimes… but the working world hasn’t learned that, and won’t until corporate capitalism has been overthrown.

It’s extremely counterintuitive that a system where men get rejected far more than ever before would be, in truth, better than all those other mating regimes we’ve discarded. The teens and early 20s are absolutely brutal. But here are things becoming rarer: divorce, loveless marriages, infidelity, and dead bedrooms. It’s sometimes amazing to me that, after all the rejection and false starts and misbehavior (on male and female sides) that I endured, I ended up getting what I wanted all along: marriage to the best woman, at least for me, I’ve ever met.

In Sum

When the blue-pill, politically correct, lies fall away, it’s a vulnerable moment for any man– much like what we are all going through as corporate capitalism’s total failure reaches a point we can’t ignore. Red-pill contempt and black-pill despair can set in, but I’d like to make the case for something else: to acknowledge the world’s corruption, without self-deception or undue negative emotion (for emotions themselves are useful data, but not recreation). I’d like to argue for the green pill: to do, in the face of corruption, the one thing that’s truly rebellious: to be better than that.