Blissful Beginnings: Elliot Rodger’s Sexual Awakening

“Viewed externally, Hamlet’s death may be seen to have been brought about accidentally… but in Hamlet’s soul, we understand that death has lurked from the beginning: the sandbank of finitude cannot suffice his sorrow and tenderness, such grief and nausea at all conditions of life… we feel he is a man whom inner disgust has almost consumed well before death comes upon him from outside.”

Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik

This is the story of how I, Elliot Rodger, came to be. This is the story of my entire life. It is a dark story of sadness, anger, and hatred. It is a story of a war against cruel injustice. In this magnificent story, I will disclose every single detail about my life, every single significant experience that I have pulled from my superior memory, as well as how those experiences have shaped my views of the world. This tragedy did not have to happen. I didn’t want things to turn out this way, but humanity forced my hand, and this story will explain why. My life didn’t start out dark and twisted. I started out as a happy and blissful child, living my life to the fullest in a world I thought was good and pure…

Elliot Rodger, My Twisted World

What makes an incel? Is an incel born or made? Or a bit of both? To understand the incels as a whole we should start in medias res—with Elliot Rodger’s crime—working our way from the particular to the universal, from the single case to the community. But to understand Elliot Rodger, we start where his novelistic narrative starts, at the “blissful” beginning.

My Twisted World is not a manifesto, it is a bildungsroman. It is a novel that tells the story of one’s formative years or spiritual education, a coming-of-age story. It’s the story of how Elliot Rodger came to be an incel. Only at the very end, in the final pages where he lays out his plan to kill people, is there some semblance of a misogynist “political program”—and even then it is only a vague, fantastical outline. That it’s called a manifesto is only a reflection of the surface, the crime itself, the final act. The Unabomber’s Industrial Society and Its Consequences, another text adored by yet another overlapping internet community, is a manifesto: its object is a critique of the industrial revolution and technology, its aim is for a return to wild nature. My Twisted World does no such thing. Elliot Rodger is more interested in telling us how he became who he was.

The text is a bildungsroman with a tragic structure. What he learns—what makes him an incel, what constitutes his moral development—is also what kills him. It is his tragic flaw. And it is apparent from his early childhood.

Elliot Rodger describes his early life as “blissful” because it precedes his awareness of sex’s “cruel hierarchy.” His narrative starts from his earliest memories with incredible detail, but always foreshadows the misery to come. Childhood is a bucolic utopia where the things that he wants are readily available, offering themselves to him. His parents give him the presents he wants. They go on exotic vacations. Boys and girls are equal. Everyone plays together, and everything is fulfilling.

The young Elliot Rodger interacts with things in their immediacy. The world itself unfolds as a gift to him. He “acquires” things—the same term he uses in reference to girls. We aren’t at the absolute existential terror of sex yet—but it’s coming, he tells us.

Gradually, the harsh truth of growing up becomes apparent. In time, he starts to realize that some kids are “cooler” than others. They seem to have this thing about them that gets the attention and respect of others, but he can’t quite identify it. With his “superior memory” he remembers so many minute details about his early life, things that others would have surely long since forgotten. He remembers the cacti around the house when he went to Spain at age three. He remembers what kind of birthday cake he had at every birthday party and the names of everyone else who attended. Of his interactions with others, we hear names of children he plays with. But other than the ominous warning that particular children would later grow up to be “everything he hates,” we learn almost nothing more about them. They are just names. But the social reality behind the names, the truth of the other people, he never learned in the first place. Perhaps that truth contains the secret to being cool?

We read how he tries to make sense of this concept of “coolness.” Skaters are the cool kids, so he asks his parents to give him a skateboard. They do that, and so he has something do to with the other kids. The skateboard is the object through which he plays with the cool kids, the same cool kids he says would later cause him endless torment and suffering. The same goes for Pokémon cards and computer games at the local cyber café. And it works for a little while.

But objects do not retain their allure forever. Eventually he gets tired of skateboarding and Pokémon cards. The other kids get gaming computers of their own, so there’s no reason to go to “Planet Cyber” with him anymore. He abandons the fixations on the particular objects, but never acquires whatever it is he’s supposed to get next. Once he no longer possesses those objects that he shares in common with others, nobody has any reason to hang out with him at all.

But the impenetrable hierarchy of coolness in prepubescent children is just a prelude to the hierarchy that emerges with puberty. The hierarchy of sex that plays out in an oedipal drama.

He introduces his family ominously. His father is first mentioned with clinical, veterinary coldness. “My father, Peter Rodger, was only 26 when he impregnated my mother.” Peter is “of British descent, hailing from the prestigious Rodger family; a family that was once part of the wealthy upper classes before they lost all of their fortune during the Great Depression. My father’s father, George Rodger, was a renowned photojournalist who had taken very famous photographs during the Second World War, though he failed to reacquire the family’s lost fortune.” Elliot is born deprived of his ancestral inheritance. His family possessed something, once upon a time, something that his ancestors enjoyed but is lost to him.

Both Elliot’s father and grandfather are photographers. The family profession is one of creating titillating images. Left unmentioned by Elliot is what specific “very famous photographs” George Rodger had taken in the Second World War—scenes of mass death at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. George Rodger swore off working as a war correspondent ever again after realizing that, in documenting the carnage of the camp, he had spent most of the time looking for graphically pleasing compositions of the piles of bodies lying among the trees and buildings. Nothing repressed stays repressed forever: the brutal reality of these images will reoccur in the violent fantasies at the end of Elliot Rodger’s text. Peter Rodger’s photography and filmmaking career took a different trajectory, bringing the family to Hollywood, where they would schmooze with the entertainment industry elite.

Elliot himself is “an accident.” His mother, “of Chinese descent” (but born in Malaysia), got sick while working as a nurse on one of his father’s film sets and the medication she took for her illness cancelled the effect of birth control pills—“their lovemaking during this period resulted in my life.”

Against the backdrop of a great aristocratic family’s epic decline he describes the whimsies of his infancy.  He was born in London but moved out to the countryside. A pastoral life in a red brick house in Sussex, with fields of grass. “The Old Rectory.” They vacation in France. His mother leaves her job as a nurse to care for him. His grandma moves in to help. He calls her “Ah Mah” and they take walks in the fields picking berries. “She would always warn me not to touch the stinging nettles that sometimes grew in our fields, but my curiosity got the better of me, and I got stung a few times.” He remembers his third birthday party and the helicopter cake and the tantrum he throws when he doesn’t get the first piece. They vacation in Malaysia to visit his mother’s family. They vacation in Spain. He goes to pre-school and gets lost during a field trip to a park. The pre-school is strict and makes him wear a uniform. He plays with George and David in the sandpit. He rides a toy tractor and runs through fields. They vacation in Greece. The hot Mediterranean climate is not like the England he’s used to. In Greece his father learns of his grandfather’s death. It is his 4th birthday and the first time he sees his father cry.

Soon they’re off to America. Father buys a new house in LA. It has a pool, which makes Elliot happy. But father passes up the opportunity to buy the “Old Rectory,” which they had only been renting. It’s a decision he would later regret, as “it would have been a fine investment”—one of many instances Elliot feels his father squanders his wealth or passes up financial opportunity. His father always appears as a provider, both financially and romantically, but it always appears to Elliot that there is never anything left over for him.

So the Rodger family moves to Los Angeles. We hear more names: of children, of schools, of parks, of toys. His memory is a cascade of mundane details. He gives us a map of his world: Topanga Valley, Calabasas, West Hills. On the other side of the mountains is Malibu, Santa Monica, the ocean. Valley View Drive. Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Dumetz Road. Ventura Boulevard. Frequent moves—both in residence and in school—make his attachment to the specific places fleeting. This sense of rootlessness only intensifies further when his parents get a divorce.

Elliot Rodger is, of course, not alone. People travel from all over the world to have their dreams broken here. Southern California: sun, warmth, dry Mediterranean air. A desert, essentially, buried under suburban sprawl as far as the eye can see, sustained by water stolen from the faraway Colorado River, all concealing the fundamental inhumanity of the terrain itself. A sprawl inhabited by people equally superficial and lost. An industry town and its industry is beauty. Equal parts paradise and hell. We could imagine Elliot Rodger inhabiting the uncanny fever dream of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

Divorces are traumatic for children, and Elliot Rodger was no exception. The stability of the nuclear family is broken, and Elliot has his first lesson in the art of love:

After only a couple of months since my seventh birthday, a new and very important person would come into my life. After father picked us up from school one day and took us to his house, I saw a woman with dark hair and fair skin standing in the kitchen, and she introduced herself as Soumaya. She would become my stepmother. Father told me she would be living with us from now on. At first I thought she was just another friend who was temporarily staying with father, similar to what Uncle Dan was doing. My father having a girlfriend so shortly after divorcing my mother didn’t even occur to me. I couldn’t understand it. Soon enough, though, I realized that Soumaya was, in fact, his “girlfriend”, and they were together just like how my father and mother were together. It was the first time I learned the concept of a “girlfriend”, and it was hard to grasp. Before that, I always thought a man and a woman had to be married before living together in such a manner, and that it would take a long time for such a union to happen. Father finding a new girlfriend in such a short amount of time baffled me. I was completely taken aback.

Because of my father’s acquisition of a new girlfriend, my little mind got the impression that my father was a man that women found attractive, as he was able to find a new girlfriend in such a short period of time from divorcing my mother. I subconsciously held him in higher regard because of this. It is very interesting how this phenomenon works… that males who can easily find female mates garner more respect from their fellow men, even children. How ironic is it that my father, one of those men who could easily find a girlfriend, has a son who would struggle all his life to find a girlfriend.

Elliot’s father has what it takes to effortlessly “acquire” women. The term governs his relations to things and people.

To “acquire.” The Latinate word sticks out wherever it appears. It suggests a certain passivity—as opposed to the forceful “seize” or the simple Anglo-Saxon “get.” To acquire is to be given something, something formal enough to be legally-recognized property. Grandfather “failed to reacquire the family’s lost fortune.” Acquisition suggests a diplomatic manner that conceals the naked brutality of a conquest—acquisitions are the spoils of war, the agreements worked out between parties in the negotiations of a peace treaty. Applied to all objects and contexts, it reveals an awkward disjunction of meaning.

“I went to James’s house soon after I acquired my new hair color, and the look of surprise on his face when he saw me gave me a good laugh.”

“The only pets I’ve had previously were my turtle and iguana, who both died within a year of acquiring them.”

“The upside of moving to the apartment was that my mother acquired high speed internet.”

“James Ellis also acquired Xbox Live with Halo 2.”

“I acquired a very nice piece of armor for my character.”

Elliot’s use of the word expands to mean a more abstract object of desire, barely concealing an aggressive desperation under its stately aura as his romantic situation grows ever more dire:

“I had absolutely no idea or plan of how to acquire any sort of power.”

“I imagined buying a beautiful, opulent mansion with an extravagant view, and acquiring a collection of supercars which I would use specifically to attract beautiful girls into my life.”

“I had no talents, so it was impossible for me to become a professional actor, musician, or athlete; and those were usually the ways that young people acquired such money.”

Like the parapraxis in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, finding a new girl is for Peter Rodger a matter of “mergers and acquisitions”—for Elliot it is one of “murders and acquisitions.” Elliot’s resemblance to Ellis is uncanny. Both are rich, spoiled brats raised in the San Fernando Valley, both experienced “idyllic” California childhoods torn apart by divorce, both describe their cartoonishly materialistic enjoyment with an affectless nihilism. Both are writers. But whereas Ellis succeeds in sublimating his own “incel” tendencies into art that is recognized as such, Elliot is so concerned with the immediate payoff of writing a blockbuster “epic fantasy” novel for the literal, sole sake of getting rich and attracting women, that the genuine sublimation of his anxieties—realizing oneself in art—can never get off the ground.

Pondering the question of how his father “acquires” women is something that would take up his entire life. His mother could be discarded, and a new mother, one that he would quickly come to hate, acquired. Ex girl to the next girl.

Elliot’s father is Jupiterian. He is conspicuously absent but has total sovereignty from distant Olympus. Elliot writes of his father’s career taking off: “the only downside of this was my fathers’ absence from my life. In spite of this, I always looked up to him as a powerful and successful man.” Unlike Elliot, his father has an art form that does seemingly enable him to realize himself: he goes away to do his work for long periods of time, and when he is present, he oozes sexual power. His true form is manifest at a dinner party. With a wink and a lax nod between conversations with grown-ups, against the arid Mediterranean backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains, father, the giver-of-laws, allows Elliot a taste of the ecstasy of Bacchus.

“I celebrated my birthday again at father’s house on the night we returned to America. I was allowed to have my very first glass of beer for this celebration. I always thought of alcoholic drinks, such as beer and wine, as mysterious drinks that were forbidden to children like myself. Father would let me have only a small sip of wine from time to time. Having my first glass of beer felt like a big honor.”

Mother, by contrast, is tender and loving:

Despite father’s move to a much larger house and all the benefits that came with it, I still preferred my time at mother’s house, just because of her gentle and fun attitude and the energy of her household. My mother indulged in me more than my father and Soumaya ever did. She knew what I liked and what I didn’t like, and she would go out of her way to make my life pleasant and enjoyable.

Whereas father is the powerful white man Elliot wants to be, the man that has whatever it takes to get the adoration of women, Elliot is stuck with the “effeminate” Asian characteristics of his mother.

“This revelation about the world, and about myself, really decreased my self-esteem. On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with.”

Mother doesn’t have the secret to unlocking the secret world of sexual delight contained within objects—rather, she is the sexual object. His mother’s value is acknowledged in the men she dated: celebrities like George Lucas. But even with access to the glamor of Hollywood, his mother just doesn’t have the same effect:

Finally having something to brag about, I told everyone at school the next day that I went to the [Star Wars] premiere because my mother is friends with George Lucas. The problem was that most Eighth Graders thought of Star Wars as being a “nerdy” interest, and they didn’t really care. I was left frustrated and disappointed by their reaction.

Elliot perceives his mother as poor and is ashamed:

“My father cut off a portion of the child support he had been paying my mother, which forced my mother to move house. We moved to a small blue house on Glade Avenue in Canoga Park. I didn’t like Canoga Park at all. It was a very ugly and low-class area to the north or Woodland Hills, and I felt it demeaning that we would have to live there during mother’s week.”

“When I stayed back after school one day, my mother saw me with Connor when she came to pick me up. She has been concerned about me not making any new friends at Pinecrest, and I suppose she was relieved to see me with a “friend”. She invited Connor to come over to my house, which he accepted. I was a bit hesitant to invite anyone from Pinecrest to my mother’s house, because it was located in Canoga Park, a bad area, and most of the kids at Pinecrest were upper-middle class who would look down on me for living there. But I couldn’t back out of this once my mother invited Connor. He came over and all went well, we played a few video games for a couple of hours. But after that playdate, he would always rip on me for living in a “poor” house. He would also tell other kids at Pinecrest about it. This infuriated me to no end, and I would keep proclaiming that my father lives in a prestigious three-story house in the Woodland Hills Heights. I became vehemently obsessed with proving to Connor and everyone else that I wasn’t poor. I went so far as to bring pictures of my father’s house to school.”

Elliot Rodger is the human personification of the McMansion ideology—the mass-produced dwellings characterized by an oversized, disharmonious mix of architectural symbols to suggest wealth or taste. The McMansion of Woodland Hills views its spiritual brother, the slightly-more-modest suburban tract home of Canoga Park, with disgust. The McMansion’s size and gaudy assemblage of architectural styles barely conceals its awkward, uncomfortable interior. Elliot Rodger is a child of the McMansion, his psyche is mapped out by its tasteless contours. Its tensions and contradictions are endlessly reproduced in his perspective of the world: one could say he is a McMansion McManson. The McMansion wants to see itself as “old money,” but it has a “new money” susceptibility to boom-and-bust cycles. Elliot is even more contemptuous of his mother when she moves yet again:

“My mother decided to move to an apartment in Woodland Hills. I reacted indignantly. An apartment! I had never lived in an apartment before, and I always thought of apartments as being poor and low-class. I would be embarrassed to admit it to anyone.”

Much later in the text, when Elliot is in college:

I was glad that she moved to a better place, but I would have much rather she got married to a wealthy man and moved into his mansion. Even though she was no longer seeing Jack, she dated other men of high class. She had a special way of charming them. I continued to pester her to get married so that I can be part of an upper class family and enjoy all the benefits that would come with that, but she always refused, claiming that she never wants to get married due to her unpleasant experiences with my father. I told her that she should suffer through any negative aspects of marriage just for my sake, because it would completely save my life, but she still refused.

It is the men who possess the money that attracts women. Elliot’s mother is not as independently wealthy as his father, and thus she has little of value to offer him. Elliot himself is no more than the “accidental” leftover of their sexual intercourse, the heavenly sex that father experiences but he never will.

Elliot directs his racist self-loathing toward his mother because he contains the effeminate mark of her exoticism, the intolerable, excessive mark that prevents him from realizing his “true” white self, the wholesome masculinity that was promised to him, owed to him by his Anglo-aristocratic ancestry. Paradoxically, one could say that Elliot Rodger is a colonized subject: his indignant racism plays out the tension between the western-patriarchal master and the oriental-feminine subject. The empty, pathological enjoyment derived from his fixation on his own Asian ancestry conceals its own meaninglessness. In other words, when faced with the fact that it is not his “Asian-ness” that alienates him, but rather something simultaneously more simple and more inscrutable, the truth is too horrific and cruel for him to accept.

“As my frustration grew, so did my anger. I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl!”

It’s not that girls won’t talk to him because he’s half-Asian. He is just awkward. How much simpler things would be if all his troubles were the direct consequence of his mixed race!

The irony in Elliot’s intersectional contempt of his mother is that she is the one who facilitates social interaction by scheduling playdates with other children—these would be the only “dates” he’d ever know.

“I always had a pleasant experience during mother’s week. She always arranged playdates for me, because she knew I was too shy to initiate them myself.”

Playdates mediate Elliot’s childhood friendships. Most playdates are with his mother’s friends’ children. By contrast, playdates never occur under his father’s watch, where domestic sovereignty is handed over to the illegitimate judicial authority of his stepmother:

“I once had a playdate with Philip at father’s house, and when I yelled at my sister because she was annoying us, Soumaya punished me by sending me to my room for an hour, embarrassing me in front of Philip. After this incident, I never had a playdate at father’s house ever again.”

Mother facilitates playdates. Elliot’s skateboard offers the promise of replacing his mother as the gateway to social life, but the transformation is never fully completed. Although the skateboard gives him a ticket to interacting with the cool kids, he never fits in with them on his own. His “playdates” never evolve into the more adolescent “hanging out” with friends. Mother is always there in the background, buying him things, driving him to the skatepark, “indulging” his interest.

“On mother’s week, I spent more and more time practicing skateboarding, and I had lots of playdates with James where we would skateboard together.”

“I needed a skateboard for mother’s house too, and so my mother took me to Val Surf and bought me a gray Val Surf skateboard. I would use this skateboard much more than the red skateboard I had at father’s house, since I had all of my playdates during mother’s week, and mother would make more of an effort to indulge in my new interest, eventually taking me to skateparks every weekend.”

“For the first few weeks of summer, mother arranged playdates with various friends and acquaintances I made from Topanga Elementary, including Trevor Bourget, Matt Bordier, Charlie Converse, John Jo Glen, and Philip Bloeser. It was interesting to have Trevor and Matt over. I never thought I would have playdates with them. Matt was one of the coolest kids in the school; he was a skateboarder and a baseball player who seemed to garner respect from everyone. I envied him during Elementary School even when we were friends, and I would deeply envy and hate him later on in life, when I find out how much success he would have with girls.”

Elliot is very clear on the symbolic meaning of the skateboard. It is an object that promises some tangible social reward. The skateboard is coolness crystallized into a tangible object.

In the public imagination, the skateboard is associated with danger, carelessness, and laziness. Skaters themselves are a subculture that value creativity, risk, and freedom. It is not a sport run by adults. The authenticity of skateboarding is ensured not through the organization of a “little league” but through the spontaneous creativity and danger that makes it “cool.” This democratic social organization contributes to a relative lack of emphasis on competition. Being too competitive can even be a sign of inauthenticity as a skater. The genuine skater is a carefree slacker whose mastery of the dance is expressed in effortless cool.

Although skaters can practice skating in constructed spaces such as skateparks, real skate culture also occurs in “found spaces” in an urban or suburban environment. Skaters often seek out found spaces where skating is specifically prohibited—grinding on benches, jumping staircases, doing tricks over garbage cans—which contributes to the public perception of the skater as a “deviant.” Skating is distinctly Californian, originating in the late 1950s to mimic surfing on land. Skate culture is inextricably embedded in its surrounding environment, and Los Angeles is its epicenter. Skaters occupy an almost-mythic point of resistance against the formal suburban sprawl and alienation of Southern California.

“For the first week of Fifth Grade, I was at mother’s house. I considered myself to be very “cool” by now. I had gotten better at skateboarding, I had blonde hair, and I dressed like a skateboarder. I felt great anticipation for what the cool kids would think of me once they saw my transformation. To my disappointment, no one really cared. They were all in their own worlds. I don’t remember any kids showing recognition of my new “coolness.””…

 “Once again, I used skateboarding as a way to increase my standing, telling the skateboarder kids that I knew how to skateboard and that I could do some tricks. This got them to treat me more cordially. I even talked to Robert Morgan a few times, who I hated and yet subconsciously revered for being so popular. Whenever a so-called popular kid would say a word to me or give me a high five, I felt immense satisfaction.”

A skateboard can be acquired by a transaction mediated by mother, but the phantom coolness that lurks beneath it is not so simple. While the skateboard provides a semblance of coolness, it can never deliver on the promise of truly earning the respect of the cool kids. Elliot is always an impostor around the skaters because he is categorically incapable of internalizing the social structure of the subculture. His relationship to the culture is stuck to his motherNo matter how well one dresses the part, the cool skater kids don’t have “playdates.”

On multiple occasions he decides to abandon skateboarding for a while…

“I had been trying very hard to get better at skateboarding, but when I saw that there were boys a lot younger than me who could do more tricks, I realized that I sucked. I was never good at sports or any physical activity, and when I discovered skateboarding, I thought that finally here was a sport that I could excel in and even became a professional at. It crushed me a little inside to see that I was a failure at skateboarding after more than a year of practicing it. I could never master the kickflip or heelflip. All I could do was the ollie jump and ride down a few ramps. I saw eight-year-old boys at the skatepark who could do a kickflip with ease, and it made me so angry. Why did I fail at everything I tried? I asked myself. My dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder were over. I felt so defeated.

Because of this, my interest in skateboarding slowly faded away during this summer. James had recently told me that he was no longer interested in the sport, so I no longer had him to skateboard with anyway. I just decided to forget about it for the moment.”

…but his discouragement is initially only temporary. Elliot does not yet gives up on skateboarding because he continues to be reminded of how the skateboard seems to function successfully as a gateway to social acceptance for others. The skateboard comes to embody everything that Elliot lacks:

“Alfred was just getting good at skateboarding, and he was starting to become popular with the skateboarders. He once brought his skateboard to school and landed a kickflip, the move I was never able to master in the past. I was secretly jealous, even though I insisted to everyone that I was no longer interested in skateboarding.”

But by the time he is in high school he has finally disavowed skateboarding:

My life at Crespi got even worse. Alfred and Brice apparently told everyone how weird I was at Pinecrest, and people in my own grade started to tease me. They found out that I didn’t like being called a skateboarder, and it was true. Because I failed to become good at skateboarding, I developed a hatred for the sport, and whenever someone called me a skateboarder, it reminded me of my failure and I got very angry. The whole school started calling me it just to anger me, along with other insulting names. They teased me because I was scared of girls, calling me names like “faggot”. People also liked to steal my belongings and run away in an attempt to get me to chase after them. And I did chase after them in a furious rage, but I was so little and weak that they thought it was comical. I hated everyone at that school so much.

The sign of the “skater” has run its full course in the Elliot Rodger story, finally twisting back to a complete inversion of its original cool. In this new context, to be called a skater is to be called out on one’s fraud, to be outed as a poser. Having failed at the sport that values fitting in more than winning, the very mention of skating exposes the ever-widening chasm between Elliot and the unattainable object of his desire.

The skateboard no longer stands for coolness, and coolness no longer stands for itself. As Elliot becomes older and enters puberty he comes to the awareness that coolness is merely a placeholder for sexual appeal. Coolness is a precursor to sexiness—it reveals itself to be and to always have been meaningful not in and of itself, but in the service of sex. This is confusing and unsettling:

 “Even through watching movies and T.V. shows I got a glimpse of what was in store for a Middle Schooler. There was talk of girls, and how it would soon be “cool” to be popular with the girls.”

Introduction to sex is the dark closure to his idyllic youth. Sex is a looming menace…

“I heard stories of how boys are expected to start kissing girls in Middle School! Such things overwhelmed me. I tried to dismiss it as much as I could and enjoy my life in the present moment.” 

…but it can only be ignored for so long. A traumatic experience at Planet Cyber:

One time while I was alone at Planet Cyber, I saw an older teenager watching pornography. I saw in detail a video of a man having sex with a hot girl. The video showed him stick his penis inside a girl’s vagina. I didn’t know anything about sex at the time. I barely even knew what sex was. I was slowly starting to develop sexual feelings for hot girls, but I didn’t know what to do with them. To see this video really traumatized me. I had no idea what I was seeing… I couldn’t imagine human beings doing such things with each other. The sight was shocking, traumatizing, and arousing. All of these feelings mixed together took a great toll on me. I walked home and cried by myself for a bit. I felt too guilty about what I saw to talk to my parents about it. I was quite shaken for a few days.

This was among the very first glimpses I had of sex. Finding out about sex is one of the things that truly destroyed my entire life. Sex… the very word fills me with hate. Once I hit puberty, I would always want it, like any other boy. I would always hunger for it, I would always covet it, I would always fantasize about it. But I would never get it. Not getting any sex is what will shape the very foundation of my miserable youth. This was a very dark day.

Soon enough, I would inevitably find out about what sex was, whether I saw that foul video or not. Boys at my school started talking about it. Connor Hanrahan and his friend Jordan Carlton one day told me exactly what happens when a man and a woman have sex. Finding out about sex was just the beginning of my horrific downfall.

Sex sets the tragedy in motion. Sex disrupts the harmony of his youthful body. Sex introduces a conflict between his desire and what is possible, an impossible impasse. A gaping chasm separates the two, the chasm of the woman. Sex—the beginning of the horrific downfall! He will always want this, but it will never be there. The skateboard, Father with his new girlfriend, the hierarchy of coolness, all just innuendos that barely conceal the truth, the “shocking, traumatizing, and arousing” video in the Planet Cyber, now sprawled out in the open, naked, plain as day. The brutal, grotesque contortions of animal flesh—why would humans want this? And then the shameful question: Why does Elliot want this for himself?

There is, for now, one way out of the relentless onslaught of unwelcome sexual awareness, one that promises total control and customization of his own “body:”

“One day, I was looking up things on the internet about Warcraft 3. That is when I found out about a new, revolutionary Warcraft game coming out, called World of Warcraft. I didn’t think much of it at the time, ignorant of the effect it would have on me in my later life.”

I made a WoW account with my father, and then I created my first character, a night elf druid. It really blew my mind. My first experience with WoW was like stepping into another world of excitement and adventure. It was a video game world, but they made it so realistic that it was like living another life, a more exciting life. My life was getting more and more depressing at that point, and WoW would fill in the void. It felt refreshing and relieving. I was only able to play it for a few hours for my first session. It was all I would think about when I wasn’t able to play it.

To avoid the looming reality of sex, Elliot retreats into video games. WoW is “revolutionary;” it is a disembodied object of obsessive fixation, a virtual world he can entirely submerge himself in that affirms him, detached from his own awkward teen body and real-life social inelegance. Video games offer anyone a sense of power and immediate gratification that completely bypasses the difficulties inherent in real-life communication. WoW fills the void left by the skateboard. Video game culture welcomes someone like Elliot in a way that skate culture never could. Wow!

Elliot himself sees this new fixation as demarcating a major transition in his life—he writes the story of his own life as the succession of phases of object-fixation. The final paragraph of “Part 3: The Last Period of Contentment, Age 9–13” sums it up:

This was the point when my social life ended completely. I would never have a satisfying social life ever again. It was the beginning of a very lonely period of my life, in which my only social interactions would be online through video games, with the sole exception being my friendship with James. The ability to play video games with people online temporarily filled in the social void. I got caught up in it, and I was too young and naïve to realize the severity of how far I had fallen. I was too scared to accept it. This loss of a social life, coupled with the advent of puberty, caused me to die a little inside. It was too much for me to handle, and I stopped caring about my life and my future. I even stopped caring about what people thought of me. I hid myself away in the online World of Warcraft, a place where I felt comfortable and secure.

So goes Elliot Rodger’s sexual awakening. Sex—the unattainable, utopian, heavenly sort—then presents itself as something sinister, an evil tease lurking around every corner. For Elliot Rodger, every object in the world either reminds him of the thing that he lacks—or offers him the promise that the object could be the thing that finally makes him “cool.” Everything Rodger interacts with is recruited into the task of attaining this unattainable thing. And there is no shortage of things to recruit. He asks his parents for gifts, whether they are, as at this point in the narrative, video games, or later, new designer clothes and accessories, a fancy BMW, or first-class tickets to exotic European vacations. Every one seemingly offers the opportunity for Rodger to reinvent himself, to finally make him cool and desired by others. But they never fulfill their promise.

For Elliot Rodger, and for other incels, attempts to reach the unattainable object of desire take the form of extensive inventories. Incel forums are filled with analyses of the particular ways the incel subjects (the forum posters themselves) are deficient and how that means they will never be able to possess the thing. This is not only encoded in luxurious objects that can be bought, but in the body itself: bone structure, jawlines, height, shoulders, penis size, and so on. The incels fixate not only on their alienation from the world around them, but also on their alienation from their own bodies.

Celebrities, of course, apparently possess the elusive thing. They have both the wealth and the physical characteristics that deliver on the promise of fulfillment. They check off all the boxes in the inventory. On incel forums we see an endless kaleidoscopic k-hole of side-by-side comparisons of shrimpy incels with chiseled A-list superstars, all to drive home the nihilistic “blackpill” message: “this is what you aren’t.” Elliot Rodger would know—he was surrounded by celebrities. And increasingly, with Instagram and Twitter and everything else, the rest of us are too.

Could the difference be that he broke down? That he just snapped? That he was unable to navigate the codes and cues of dealing with women, couldn’t conceal his desires and expectations under the mask that well-mannered men can? Or did the logic that produced his desire also produce his breakdown?

This post is an excerpt from a broader work that is intended to cover the entirety of the Elliot Rodger text. Here, only the first parts of the manifesto are covered. To be continued…

A Cure for the Incels: Preliminary Notes

I theorize about the incels, but how can one treat them? This is among the most frequently asked questions on the subject.

First, there can be no single, universal method because the practical approach needs to be based on each individual, rather than trying to fit the individual into a preconceived set of answers. There’s not really a single therapeutic method—even within the Lacanian psychoanalytic field the incel can be both a neurotic and a psychotic, which would entail very different approaches in the clinic. (The difference between a neurotic and a psychotic and its relevance in the clinical context is handled in more detail in Bruce Fink’s Against Understanding Part 1.) Not to mention the very different ways that cognitive-behavioral theorists, evolutionary psychologists, and so on, would frame their conception of the incel, and thus of their conception of a possible cure. I will not go in great detail on those because, to my knowledge, no one in those fields has provided insight into the incels with any real depth. In fact, the fragmented and inadequate science of the incels, the dismal science that affirms their hopelessness and the general cruelty of the world (as can be seen on the Incels Wiki) tends to come from insights gathered from these fields.

Second, many incels will grow out of being incel. For many, it really is only a phase—for these sorts it can be seen alongside other, often harmless, forms of “youthful alienation,” and it is especially in this light that we can speak of a “poetry” of the incels: perhaps such that an “incel period” in a poet’s life would be their tumultuous early work, from which they emerge with a serene, stoic new sobriety, or for another kind of poet it would be a morose and somber “blue period” that transforms into cubist experimentation.

And even though there are many that may never grow out of it, inceldom should not be thought of as only a terminal condition, as many mental illnesses have come to be understood. This is the trap that is set by attempts to reclaim mental illnesses as constitutive of positive “neurodivergent” identities, whereby the subject enjoys their symptom and in doing so gives up on any attempt to overcome the impasses in their desire, effectively giving up on, or suspending, their desire. This suspension of desire takes form in, for example, the “depressed” identity in vogue among today’s youth—the subject has depression and will have depression forever, all attempts to work through this must do so without abandoning that crutch, positively embracing this condition is seen as a positive act, or even a revolutionary political one. Embracing one’s own misery should not be seen as liberation.

But what does a “cure” even mean?

Is the goal of the cure to normalize the subject to their surroundings? For the incels to adapt themselves to the inescapable tyranny of bourgeois family life and gender roles, a tyranny that is nonetheless preferable to the anarchy of its absence? This is the “Freudian” position. But to some extent, wouldn’t this normalization, this adaptation of the incel-animal to conform to his social environment, mean a “doubling-down” on the mad logic of inceldom, which is none other than the “normal” logic of our patriarchal-bourgeois-capitalist-consumerist society without any polite or ironic distance from its unpleasant truth? That is, that the logic of inceldom is the logic of our society stripped of all its innuendo and doublethink, rendered completely literal and “autistic”? The Law of paternal authority, but autistic, and demanding nothing short of patriarchal omnipotence. For the incel to fit into normal society, in this sense, they would continue to be incels, but “ascended” (their term). They would be incels that fuck. They would not be cured, because their desire is not simply contained in fucking. If anything they would be worse off, because now they would have to face the insurmountable otherness of the woman in her naked immediacy, which before, in their loneliness, was mercifully distant.

The cure needs to have both some adherence to the structure of “the Law,” the “Name-of-the-Father,” while not forgetting about the subject who, despite being prey to the structures of the unconscious, manages to not give up on his desire. The cure must be truly “emancipatory.” The political implications of this should be obvious, but one should be careful not to reduce the incel and the incel cure to a particular political programme.

For Lacan, analysis does not have as its final aim a “recovery;” it should lead to a real point where the subject can lift himself back up and live again. Lacan’s own definition of the cure to “raise impotence to the impossible.” The analysis is to unblock a situation that is initially experienced by the analysand as an impotence, so that it leads to a real point where the subject, bogged down in the imaginary, can once again recover some of its powers of symbolization. (Here I have been paraphrasing Badiou in his conversation with Roudinesco.) The curative act remains intelligible from the point of view of the form, the point of view of the structures of the unconscious. The goal for the incel in analysis should therefore be to bring the subject to the real point where they are able to “remove the impasses in their desire.” Whatever that goes on to look like, it should mean a clear break from the emphasis on pure “normalization.”

For better or for worse, the role of the analyst is nothing like what it was in the time of either Freud or Lacan. This is especially true in the United States, where Freud, Lacan, and psychoanalysis have almost no legitimacy in the medical institutions of contemporary psychology. It will no doubt be necessary to think of the psychoanalytic cure outside the context of the psychoanalytic clinic, not least of all for economic reasons. It goes without saying that the incels will sooner watch the videos of Jordan Peterson (and even pay the subscription fees for his services) than pay hundreds of dollars a session to see the rare Lacanian analyst that is up-to-date enough to help them.

Stop Calling Me a Psychoanalyst

There is a common misconception of psychoanalysis that claims that it reduces all psychological problems to one particular schema that inevitably returns “sexual repression” in some variation, like a magic 8-ball’s answer to everything. This is an response I’ve heard to my writing on fascism and “masculine anxiety,” ostensibly to refute that there is any connection between the two at all. I am not an analyst so I have no grounds or reason to defend the practice itself, but it is nonetheless worth addressing because my work is generally informed by Freud, Lacan, and others.

Usually this is intended to resist an “uncovering” of some obvious surface aspect in “manosphere” or other far-right phenomena. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a licensed psychoanalyst to see that a general group like “fitcels” bodybuilds to compensate for a perceived weakness, wish to make their flesh literal armor, that they’re terrified of women, and so on. In fact these sorts of points are more often than not openly admitted by their members. It should go without saying that this sort of truth—about a collective—is well outside the range of psychoanalysis. The truth of these observations are so mundane as to be banal.

It is the obviousness and banality of the truth that makes it unspeakable. And so the members of these online fandoms must mediate their relationship to it with an ironic distance. The leaders see themselves as characters, Roosh is a performance, BAP is a performance (undoubtedly they themselves know that most of their followers are idiots). Irony mediates everything these days because there is such an abundance of noise that the various channels need to be distinguished from each other. It feels almost impossible to have an unironic position on the internet.

The ironic position in these far-right/manosphere contexts means that, in short, since they talk about sex they can’t be sexually repressed in any sense. With the BAP fandom, the overt and excessive homoeroticism specifically defends them against the accusation that there is anything “gay” or “weak” about them, since they are supposedly aware of their fixation on male bodies, the “Dominated by Doug” text, and all the other artful parts of that whole hyper-erotic fascist mythos.

The misconception implies that since we now live in a permissive society—sex is promoted everywhere you look: at the cinema, at the theatre, at the Super Bowl, on TV and in newspapers, in songs and on beaches, in podcasts and Twitch streams, in our cars sitting in traffic, in schools, and even in churches—people are supposedly less anxious about problems linked to the sexual sphere. The taboos have fallen, they say, and people are no longer afraid of sex.

Lacan called the idea that sex is invading all aspects of life “an advertising phenomenon”—and we know it probably applies now even more than back then. And it’s clear that even in a so-called permissive society people never fail to find a way to be immiserate themselves over their sexuality. You can teach teenagers how to use condoms and practice safe sex and they’ll still turn into incel spree killers (although that shouldn’t necessarily dissuade us from doing so).

It is interesting how many of my critics (from the Right) who take issue with the connection between a new fascism and masculine anxiety seem to implicitly accept the unmistakably “boomer” ideologeme that removing the public taboo of sex will completely undercut all the “old” problems and anxieties. In other words, that free love will liberate us from the authoritarianism of the nuclear family. Many of these people talk openly about sex and engage in a kind of discourse that could be described as pornographic—always at least figuratively (Elliot Rodger), sometimes also literally (BAP). It doesn’t matter whether they come down as “pro-sex” or “anti-sex” at the end of it all, because either way they are compulsively, fearfully fixating on it.

Whatever the case, people (people-qua-“subject” and not people-qua-“multitude”) are going to continue to find ways to be alienated from their own bodies, no matter how advanced our collective social-engineering mechanisms become. People are going to find new ways to have anxiety, and they’re going to find new ways to talk about it.

But they will always talk about it. And that’s why we haven’t even come close to the limit of Freud.

Dream Analysis 1: The Math Test

Patient A. dreams she is taking a math test, a test that she is very worried about. She also has a biology test later, but she is not so worried about that. A fat black woman, presumably an administrator of the test, tells her that she cannot use her math book to help her. The test is difficult, and as she looks at one of the problems she sees that the numbers and letters are gibberish. However, this gibberish of symbols is assembled in such a way that it resembles a diagram of Sternberg’s triangular theory of love. The testing ends, and Dr. Nowzaradan from the show “My 600 lb Life,” now her math professor, says “I hope you all used your math books.” Patient A. worries that she won’t do as well on the test since she was told she couldn’t use her book.

Patient A. dreams she is taking a math test, a test that she is very worried about. Patient A. has recently been studying for the GRE test, particularly the math part, so it is logical that the idea of taking a math test would appear in a dream. Examination dreams are a common form of anxiety dreams that Freud talks about in The Interpretation of Dreams: “having done something wrong or failed to do something properly, we expect to be punished by the event—whenever, in short, we feel the burden of responsibility.” Often, these dreams occur in patients that have long since passed all the tests they need to take. So, the source of the anxiety is not so much the test itself, but rather something deeper that takes the form of the test in a dream. However, that this test likely relates to an actual future event for Patient A., one that she is somewhat justified in worrying about, is an exception. Although Patient A. is very smart and will likely do well on this test, she has always had an excessive anxiety about tests throughout her life, even on tests that she found herself with perfect scores on. She also reports that she has had such dreams long before she decided to start studying for the GRE test. It is probably safe to say that there is more to this than just that she had a math test on her mind in the days prior to the dream.

She also has a biology test later, but she is not so worried about that. Patient A. is good at science, especially biology. I am not quite sure what to make of this detail, other than that it suggests the anxiety is not fundamentally about “taking tests” in general, but something specific to the “math test.”

A fat black woman, presumably an administrator of the test, tells her that she cannot use her math book to help her. In her job, Patient A. (who is white) regularly has to deal with people in bureaucratic roles that fit this racially-coded description. This is a form of the racist “DMV worker” caricature—black women as lazy and incompetent, occupying government jobs from which they cannot be fired, seemingly deriving some kind of satisfaction in just how unpleasant they can be. Incidentally, Patient A. has had to deal with endless bureaucratic complications in getting a correction/update to her driver’s license in the past year, which often leaves her at the mercy of particular DMV workers who often do not seem to understand the actual state laws/bureaucratic processes they are supposed to implement. In other words, this represents a sort of arbitrary or possibly illegitimate authority.

The test is difficult, and as she looks at one of the problems she sees that the numbers and letters are gibberish. However, this gibberish of symbols is assembled in such a way that it resembles a diagram of Sternberg’s triangular theory of love. I have attached an image of this triangle. In the dream, the math test is not a math test at all, but rather a puzzle of love. Patient A. reports not being able to trust her boyfriend, who in the past had lied to her about his previous relationships. Not being able to trust her boyfriend undermines the “Intimacy” aspect of the triangle of love, which throws a wrench into the schematic of the whole desiring machine. In the dream, the test essentially asks her to mathematically solve the issues of her relationship. Of course, she lacks access to “the book,” which would help her decode the meaning of the gibberish on the page. Thus, she is powerless to figure it out. Since Patient A. loves her boyfriend and tends to want to avoid confrontation with most people, especially him, it makes sense that her dream would resist and censor the latent content message of her relationship anxiety by presenting it in the manifest form of her math test.

what-is-sternbergs-triangular-theory-of-love-1.jpg
Sternberg’s Triangle

The testing ends, and Dr. Nowzaradan from the show “My 600 lb Life,” now her math professor, says “I hope you all used your math books.” Patient A. worries that she won’t do as well on the test since she was told she couldn’t use her book. In the previous days before the dream, Patient A. had been watching the reality show “My 600lb Life”, which, incidentally, my wife and I are also familiar with. For those that aren’t familiar, Dr. Nowzaradan has a very important role in the show. He performs the gastric bypass surgery for the patients, but perhaps more importantly, he is the one that reviews the patients’ monthly weight-loss targets and whether or not they are met. In doing this, he often scolds the patients who are unable to control their own eating habits. This part of the show is a recurring “moment of truth”—the patients often pathologically lie to themselves about their eating addictions, but they are unable to trick the doctor (who to them is seemingly all-powerful) when it is revealed on the blind scale of Justice just how little weight they have been losing. The Doctor then asserts that the responsibility for the weight loss is entirely on the patients’ own choices. For the (presumably-not-600lb) viewer of the show, Dr. Nowzaradan scolding his patients induces a feeling of “perverse” satisfaction.

(It’s also important to note the obvious truth that weight-loss and body image issues have a different meaning for women than they do for men. Women, even at a healthy weight, tend to insist that they are “fat” and need to lose weight. This is not at all the same for men that aren’t overweight, who would perhaps tend toward the opposite, and insist that they need to “bulk up.” We do not need to dwell on this point much more, other than pointing out that Patient A. is not an exception to this general tendency of women to pay attention to their body image in such a way.)

Rather than scolding the Patient A., the Doctor assumes a more friendly role. In the dream, the Doctor tells the patient what his patients on the TV show would always like to hear themselves: that their failure to achieve their goal was not their fault, but rather the fault of the test itself. That she did not use her book in taking the test, when in fact she was allowed to all along, means that she is not responsible for whatever her score is. Her worry about not doing as well on the test conceals her wish that she be held not responsible for it.

When we put these pieces together it makes sense to interpret this dream as a fulfillment of Patient A.’s wish that she not be held responsible for the problems in her relationship with her boyfriend.

The Thing that the Incels Desire

The incel—the pathological incel—is mysteriously drawn to repeat the trauma of his own suffering. The incel is drawn back to the scene of what we will call The Thing. The Thing is the object of the incel’s desire. The Thing involves the physical act of sex and it involves what we would call “love”—but it cannot be reduced to either. The Thing is beyond signification, but it is Real. It is empty, but it is filled by the incel subject’s fantasy. The Thing is something that, if the incel were to have, would make him cease to be an incel. For the pathological incel, The Thing contains a traumatic reminder of his own misery. The Thing taunts the incel by showing him what he does not have, and it suggests (wrongly) that others have The Thing that he does not. The Thing is presented as good, but the idea of The Thing being accessed is experienced as suffering and evil. The excessive goodness of accessing The Thing in its immediacy is intolerable, impossible. The Thing is the object of the incel’s intense desire and it also brings him face-to-face with the horrific truth of himself. The Thing, in its deepest core, also promises to contain the most sinister riddle: the code to what exactly it is that women desire.

This description of “The Thing” as it relates to the incel’s pathology may seem abstract, obscure, or a needless indulgence in Lacanian terms, but to see its relevance we may look no further than Elliot Rodger’s “My Twisted World” manifesto. For Elliot Rodger, the archetypal incel, The Thing is heavenly. Whenever he is talking about the “heavenly” things, he is talking about The Thing. (Keep in mind what one must cross to reach “heaven.”) Here is the scene of The Thing:

After I left the campus I drove around downtown Santa Barbara to explore new areas. I went up and down State Street, the main common area of the city where everyone frequents. Countless restaurants and shops lined a magnificently designed street with wide walkways. It was absolutely beautiful… a true paradise, for those who were thriving there. I can only imagine how heavenly it would be to walk with a beautiful girlfriend down that street. My life would be complete if I get to do that. It would be the epitome of gratifying perfection. To have a beautiful blonde girl by my side, to feel her hand clasping my own as we walk everywhere together, to feel her love! That is what I want in life. Instead, I had to watch other men experience my idea of heaven while I rot in bitter loneliness.

For Elliot Rodger, fantasy surrounding The Thing is particularly symbolized by blonde girls, but the Thing itself isn’t simply the blonde girl, or simply sex-qua-fucking with this girl. To say that The Thing is “to feel her hand clasping my own as we walk everywhere together, to feel her love!” comes closer because it includes the desire of the other, but that does not encapsulate it adequately either. The Thing is situated in this scene, this street in downtown Santa Barbara, “the common area of the city where everyone frequents”. Rodger describes The Thing psychogeographically, as if it is embedded in the terrain, which comes in his account before the nameless, anonymous blonde. Dante’s Paradiso and his beach-blonde Beatrice. The Thing is tied to a place, signified by a place—and a public, social one at that. It is where one is recognized not just by a single other, a partner, but by all others, the Big Other of society. But the thing also isn’t simply the place in its inert, materialistic immediacy. It is the place as saturated with the fantasy, it is the place as it is with the presence of the blonde girl, the place as it is with all the people there, the place as it is with everyone belonging and playing their part: it is the Scene.

We must also pay close attention to the ending of this paragraph, which is a perfect representation of the horrific aspect of the Thing, the Terror, as it relates to its total experience. This Terror comes out of The Thing, as its consequence, an afterthought, a closing punctuation. The Terror follows The Thing like its shadow. It reveals itself as the hole, the emptiness that characterizes the real truth of The Thing. It comes after the Scene, like the ending of Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain,” when the Alchemist, Jodorowsky, the author himself, reveals that the whole thing was a fiction all along, and smiles a geeked up smile with shroomywide pupils—he is seeing something that you aren’t, or rather he’s seeing the absence of The Thing you see, which is to say he sees nothing.

The excess of heavenly goodness in The Thing means that it becomes experienced as suffering and evil. It is simply intolerable, unacceptable. Approaching the goodness of The Thing is a violation of morality, an injustice:

Sex is by far the most evil concept in existence. The fact that life itself exists through sex just proves that life is flawed. The act of sex gives human beings a tremendous amount of pleasure. Pleasure they don’t deserve. No one deserves to experience so much pleasure, especially since some humans get to experience it while some are denied it. When a man has sex with a beautiful woman, he probably feels like he is in heaven. But the world is not supposed to be heaven. For some humans to actually be able to feel such heights of heavenly pleasure is selfish and hedonistic.

We know, of course, that Rodger is not simply talking about “sex,” but The Thing. And anyway, if The Thing is so evil—and not just evil but “the most evil concept in existence”—inducing such suffering and misery, self-evident proof of the fundamental flaw of life itself … why does he always return to it? Here is another scene in which the horrific reality of The Thing reveals itself to Rodger, exciting him so intensely that he acts out:

Another incident happened on the following day, near the same location. I went to the Starbucks at the Camino Real Marketplace by myself, like I usually did every morning. I ordered my coffee and sat down on one of their chairs to relax. A few moments later, when I looked up from my drink, I saw a young couple standing in line. The two of them were kissing passionately. The boy looked like an obnoxious punk; he was tall and wore baggy pants. The girl was a pretty blonde! They looked like they were in the throes of passionate sexual attraction to each other, rubbing their bodies together and tongue kissing in front of everyone. I was absolutely livid with envious hatred. When they left the store I followed them to their car and splashed my coffee all over them. The boy yelled at me and I quickly ran away in fear. I was panicking as I got into my car and drove off, shaking with rage-fueled excitement. I drove all the way to the Vans at the Fairview Plaza and spent three hours in my car trying to contain my tumultuous emotions. I had never struck back at my enemies before, and I felt a small sense of spiteful gratification for doing so. I hated them so much. Even though I splashed them with my coffee, he was still the winner. He was going home to have passionate heavenly sex with his beautiful girlfriend, and I was going home to my lonely room to sleep alone in my lonely bed. I had never felt so miserable and mistreated in my life. I cursed the world for condemning me to such suffering.

Rodger experiences The Thing traumatically. His account is unambiguously unpleasant for him; it does not seem fun. And yet he comes here to order his coffee, like he does “every morning.” Presumably he always sees people like this, not just here and but the many other places where all the “beautiful blonde girls” congregate with their “obnoxious punk” boyfriends. He does not avoid this. Not only is he not a complete recluse but he instinctively seeks out places he can assume the tortured voyeuristic gaze. For some reason, he is compelled to always come back to The Scene of The Thing, to experience the trauma of The Thing over again, this hellish, humiliating, hours-long shock-experience that affects him both emotionally and physiologically—an instinctive compulsion that comes into contrast with the pleasure principle.

So far I have described the concept of The Thing in the Elliot Rodger case and tied it to the repetition compulsion. We also see this dynamic in play in a virtual, discursive space like the r/Braincels subreddit, as well as other “Manosphere” sites, particularly those with comment/message boards, in which the experience of The Thing is fragmented and distributed across a collective.

In incel/manosphere internet spaces (scenes) like r/Braincels, most posts have certain characteristics:

  1. Anecdotes of women’s sexual activities that serves as a reminder of the unjust distribution of sexual pleasure in the world. Women are gushing with eroticism, it is flowing out of them constantly. Stories about women that are out there in the world, being sluts and having some sort of heavenly utopian fulfilled sexual life, a utopian life that is real but always absent to the incel subject, always behind closed doors, the pearly gates. Women are just out there, all of them sluts, getting their heavenly holes filled, and someone is enjoying it, but it sure ain’t you!
  2. Anecdotes of women who cheat on or want to cheat on their weak “cuck” boyfriends or husbands. Women say one thing but mean another. They are liars and hypocrites, and no matter what they say (such as when they say they like guys with a “nice personality”), their small brains are programmed in such a way that their insatiable sexual appetites override their limited capacities of reason—they will cheat on you the first chance they get once they meet a stronger, taller, more attractive, “bad-boy” male. One recurring thing is links to posts from the “relationship advice” subreddit, which often includes stories of various “cuck” men in relationships with women who are cheating on their boyfriends or husbands.
  3. Anecdotes of stronger, more attractive “Chad” men and how they are desired by women, and satisfy that desire. The Chad will always melt the walls that these “sluts” put up to keep the incels out. Whereas incels and cucks, who together are the majority of men, hopelessly throw themselves at the feet of women, the Chad enjoys women throwing themselves at him. One recurring type of post includes pictures of Tinder conversations between women and a (presumably fake) attractive/buff/male-model Chads—the Chad goes straight to the point and says he wants to fuck them, or otherwise treats them aggressively and disrespectfully, such as opening a Tinder conversation by saying he wants to rape them, and the women are shown to still be interested, flattered, confessing to deep-down rape fantasies, giving out their numbers, and so on, presumably leading to, of course, something heavenly.
  4. Analysis of the particular ways in which the incel subjects, the forum posters themselves, are deficient, discussions and comparisons of all the qualities that they have that characterize their lack, and how that means they will never be able to possess The Thing. This entails a special attention to the eroticism of various body parts: bone structure, jawlines, height, shoulders, penis size, and so on. It also can include racial comparisons. For example, the black incel laments that he is not a “Tyrone” (the name for “black Chad”). However, the sometimes-charming intersectionality does not extend to women: the existence of “femcels” (female incels) is denied. This policing of the borderlands of the conceptual incel includes such things as a quasi-scientific analysis of why it is impossible for femcels to exist to support the claim that even the ugliest women still have men chase after them (and so, by calling themselves “femcels” these women are stealing an identity that they don’t deserve…).
  5. Presentation of the horrific, unspeakable, “black-pilled” truth—the Terror. This is the real truth, the truth that evades being articulated in polite language. It is both heavenly and hellish. This is a terrible truth that you know, but you perhaps didn’t even know that you knew—what Rumsfeld would call an “unknown known.”
welcometoreality
“Welcome to Reality.”

Is this supposed to turn us off from sex? To dissuade us from trying? To show us our hopelessness and inadequacy and turn us into ascetics so we live alone in the desert like the early church fathers? Or is the feeling that one gets from this scrolling-feed kaleidoscope of psychotic, deranged, and fragmented texts (looking beyond the usual political disagreement with the sexism and all), not a kind of strange arousal? In a sense, I get the impression that I almost wish the world was like this—oozing with desire out of every disgusting pore, needlessly and effortlessly cruel, the feeling Bataille must’ve gotten when he thought about his ex-wife fucking Lacan, just dangerously and preposterously horny. Who are these mythical people who are actually having this heavenly sex, this sex in which the participants are in total agreement with the fantasy of the other, and nothing is kept secret, in which all pleasure is brought to the conscious light of day and retains its naughty allure? I would like to meet them. This fantasy world is a space that, like the Scene of Elliot Rodger’s Santa Barbara, is completely saturated in erotic energy, even if that erotic energy is always accompanied by the terrible, traumatic, humiliating realization, the sadistic morality that comes after the feast, that The Thing is entirely inaccessible. Though the images themselves are not (usually) pornographic—and often the incels/manosphere discourse tends to be explicitly anti-porn—the texts sure are, at least in the way that romance novels targeted at old ladies are. When the “arousing” aspect of this experience is considered, the formation of a community/subculture that has its own rules, language, and hierarchy seems like a logical consequence of this collective-desiring-creature and less like a weird, freak aberration that somehow exists in the “post-patriarchal” society we like to think we live in. And so we can maybe come closer to making sense of why these people keep coming back, coming back to The Scene of The Thing, posting, posting and reading these infuriating reminders of their own impotence, grasping on to their own psychic condition, grasping as if it were the last thing in this “twisted” world they had to call their own.

How can multiculturalism contradict working-class solidarity?

This is part 1 in what will be a series of blog posts.

In response to my last blog post, I was asked a good question: “what exactly is multiculturalism and what is its contradictory relationship with international solidarity?”

Multiculturalism is something that can have many different definitions, so I’ll try to stick by the understanding that has to do with the context of “why Zizek was right” and antagonisms with international working-class solidarity.

To start, in the most general, theoretical sense, there is no antagonism between multiculturalism and international solidarity. In short: immigrants can and should be considered part of the broader workers’ struggle. This is not, in principle, something that needs to be fundamentally revised. In a globalized world, we need to think about these issues in a “global” sense. So I think I made a mistake when I said:

“There is, however, still an unavoidable antagonism between a left-theoretical commitment to multiculturalism and a left-theoretical commitment to working class solidarity under global neoliberalism: the left needs to come to terms with the practical-left commitment to a working class displaced and alienated by widespread de-industrialization.”

The issue shouldn’t be framed as an antagonism between the theoretical commitment to multiculturalism and a theoretical commitment to working class solidarity, but between a theoretical commitment (multiculturalism) and practical commitment (working class solidarity). I think I was incorrect to imply that the issue necessarily occurs at the theoretical level.

So what is the practical contradictory relationship between multiculturalism and working class solidarity?

To get an idea of what is at stake in this, consider the line that the Clinton campaign used against Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Party primaries—that Bernie Sanders is a “single-issue candidate” for running on a platform of economic justice, opposition to Wall Street, and so on. Part of what was implied in this is that Sanders’ program is “just for white people,” that the struggles of women, minorities, and others are not fundamentally tied to a critique of capitalism—and that, if anything, the capitalists, the well-educated and well-mannered elites, are precisely those who are on the side of the marginalized, as opposed to the racist, provincial, backwards white working class.

Of course, the Clinton campaign alone does not demonstrate that there is a theoretical contradiction between multiculturalism and working class solidarity at all. In fact, from this, we can affirm the theoretical compatibility of those things. The opposition between “intersectionality” and “socialism” that the Clinton campaign set up is best countered by demonstrating that there is no opposition—that many of the most structurally oppressive issues that marginalized people face are fundamentally economic, and that it is the “Woke Capital” ideology that is more concerned with empty gestures and tokenism. But does this calculating Clintonite sleight of hand reveal something deeper?

This brings us to where the practical contradictory relationship between “multiculturalism” and working class solidarity occurs. The Clinton campaign’s “Woke-Capital” ideological opposition of multiculturalism with working class solidarity is nonsense on the theoretical socialist terrain—but it mirrors the concrete functioning of global capital, and poses and urgent practical obstacle for organizing in developed countries. I will summarize crudely. Capital expands outwards to avoid the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The rate of profit is sustained by creating global value chains of production, extracting resources and labor from the global periphery—“developing countries”. As this expansion toward the periphery occurs, the industrial base in the economic core is no longer needed, because the cost of labor is higher and the potential returns are lower. These former industrial regions in the global economic core themselves begin to resemble the “underdeveloped” periphery, facing widespread unemployment, poor social services, and other issues (the “Rust Belt,” the Ruhrgebiet, and so on). By contrast, the new cores of the developing countries, benefiting most from the windfall profits of global value chains, begin to look much more like the core—embodying the logic and the appearance of “cities of the future” than the core itself (Shanghai, Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg…). The consequence of this is that there is a form of “multiculturalism” that is taken up and assimilated into the logic of global capital. This logic does validate the rainbow-colored masses of “the developing world,” but it only understands their value through the exploitation of their labor (“Immigrants: they get the job done!”). But what this logic has no use for is the post-industrial “leftovers,” who are themselves backwards and forgotten, as if excluded from the progression of history (“Why do people support a racist like Trump? Don’t they know it’s [the current year]?”).

The Left’s confusion over the apparent impasse between multiculturalism and the interests of the “leftover” working class has done little to stop right-populists and fascists across the developed world from achieving previously-unimaginable electoral success. The now-popular identification of developed-world post-industrial working class interests with the Right is inexcusable for leftists. Accepting the left’s position on the conservative side of a radically-flipped political spectrum of late capitalism is the fast track to obsolescence.

How can we get around this impasse? To start, the Left’s theoretical understanding must take into account the nuanced, shifting, and increasingly-muddied distinctions between global economic cores and peripheries. It must to take into account the leftover working classes in the “peripheries of the cores” that have been left behind by history.

But this is only a tiny part of the beginning of the solution. We must go much deeper to truly work through the problem of contemporary racism posed by the issues facing multicultural western societies. For this, we should turn to psychoanalysis, and in particular, the concept of jouissance. Zizek is correct to identify this as the kernel of the problem in his fascinating 2015 feud with Sam Kriss:

“Which is the factor that renders different cultures (or, rather, ways of life in the rich texture of their daily practices) incompatible? What is the obstacle that prevents their fusion or, at least, their harmoniously indifferent co-existence? The psychoanalytic answer is: jouissance. It is not only that different modes of jouissance are incongruous with each other without a common measure; the Other’s jouissance is insupportable for us because (and insofar as) we cannot find a proper way to relate to our own jouissance.”

I intend to go into more detail on the meaning and significance of jouissance as an obstacle to solidarity across cultures (and discuss how the Zizek-Kriss debate is the microcosm of the Left’s theoretical difficulty grasping this issue) in another blog post.

Zizek was right in 2016

Now that awful Democratic Party stooges like Neera Tanden show up in my twitter timeline again, it’s a sign that its truly the start of the 2020 presidential election season. There’s no better time than the present to talk about general left political strategy. One thing I’ve been thinking of a lot lately is Zizek’s position in the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2016 presidential election—I wrote about this already and, like Zizek himself, have no issue with completely plagiarizing what I’ve written before (at least for exposition):

…Leftists recoil at his name. Academics think he’s made himself into a factory of lazy, watered-down philosophy for bite-sized consumption. Activists think he’s betrayed the left on political correctness and made overtures to fascism. Though still well-known enough to pen frequent op-eds, he no longer commands the influence on the left he once did. His appearances in The Guardian and In These Times seem to have stopped since last year, and now Zizek contributes more regularly to RT. He has, reluctantly, found a new audience — one that shares his taste for shocking provocation and esoteric philosophical arguments against the scolding mantras of political correctness. Zizek has become a neoreactionary philosopher.

Ironically, many worldwide political developments since the Occupy movement have actually vindicated Zizek. Europe’s refugee crisis laid bare the raw tensions between the liberal ideas of open borders, anti-xenophobia, and tolerance on one hand and the Western European assumption of a secular social-democratic welfare state on the other. Zizek caused a stir by arguing that the dream of many refugees — of being permitted free access to a utopian life anywhere they choose — was unrealistic, and that it could be the task of national militaries to organize a humane solution for the refugee issue in general.  With the heretical opposition to unconditional openness, and his tendency to test the limits of political correctness, Zizek’s heterodox takes on Freudo-Marxism ceased to impress many on the left.

After the shock victory of the Brexit referendum, the crisis in neoliberalism and its implications for nationalism and identity politics became impossible to ignore. As the 2016 U.S. presidential election neared, Zizek made a much-publicized “anti-endorsement” of Trump on Russia Today, claiming that Clinton would be a worse president whose victory would perpetuate a wretched status quo and the paralysis of the left. Following his understanding of dialectical materialism, a Trump administration, though horrible, would amount to a negation of the hegemonic liberal ideology and present an opportunity for radical change — a line of thinking that brings him closer to the reactionary accelerationists drawn to the creative potential of crisis and danger than to the relative conservatism of a Clinton supporter like Noam Chomsky. With Trump’s subsequent electoral upset and the apparent collapse of center-left parties across the western world, it seemed that Zizek could stake a claim to picking up the pieces…

I don’t necessarily stand by the rest of the article (especially not the connection to accelerationism), and the contention that he’s neoreactionary is obviously polemical and attention-grabbing—but it said what was on people’s minds, at least from reading headlines. The “Reactionary Zizek” was, indeed, a meme. And at the time, I was more interested in talking about the meme, without actually working through the full meaning of his position.

One thing that’s missed is the idea that Zizek’s points, in the end, were correct, from the Left perspective. This is to say, the essential points are valuable—necessary!—even if the old man presented them clumsily at times. This is not to say that every policy prescription of his is correct, but rather that the issues he identified as issues need to be worked through. And whether the polite, proper leftists like it or not for their THEORETICAL politics, there is no way around dealing with them for a PRACTICAL politics.

Zizek always was speaking to the Left. The Left was able to tolerate his objections to their general consensus positions, particularly regarding nationalism and political correctness, by considering him a sort of jester. He was a quirky celebrity with a funny accent and lots of things to say about classic movies. But once these objections to left-liberal consensus positions came to pass and were affirmed in a way that they could no longer ignore whatsoever (by nationwide popular democratic votes for candidates and positions that absolutely rejected this, across the western world), Zizek had to be jettisoned—CANCELLED. There is, of course, a certain Hegelian significance to this cancellation. Is Zizek himself not the “vanishing mediator” here in the conflict between the theoretical abstraction of the neoliberal late capitalist world order and its empirical negation in the political upheaval that has thrown everything into question? If anything, shouldn’t this cancellation be nothing other than a sign of the TRUTH of the position?

So what are the essential points Zizek was right about? I suggest a few:

  1. The need for a Left Populism. A populism necessarily sets some kind of positioning of “US” versus “THEM”, but a Left Populism, instead of identifying the “Them” as the immigrants/foreigners/minorities/Muslims, should identify the “Them” as the capitalist class. In other words, this is a populism that, rather than just attacking symptoms of social problems (i.e. the Latin American immigrants that come and steal American jobs) attacks the underlying causes of those problems (the way that the capitalist class has set up a system that necessitates these global flows of capital). The centrist, liberal position holds (against the populists), that there is no need to declare a fundamental antagonism against the capitalist class, that they are in fact the allies against the intolerant bumpkin Trump voters, and they adjust their messaging accordingly. Unlike a “Trump,” the centrist holds, we must “all come together.” This position holds that there is no fundamental class tension in society—in fact, the tension comes from some kind of alien outside, such as Russian intervention. This position is conservative, uncompelling, uninspiring, and obviously false.
  2. Antagonisms in the issue of borders and migration. There exists an antagonism between the free flows of labor/capital and the coherence of national borders and the well-being of the working classes of the nation. The scale of the issues makes it very difficult for individual people to adequately conceptualize one way or another, especially in a country with a spatial orientation inherited from a settler-frontier ideological disposition like the United States (in other words, the country is so big that such flows of labor and capital are so difficult to conceptualize—and people believe whichever simplifications they want to believe). There is, however, still an unavoidable antagonism between a left-theoretical commitment to multiculturalism and a left-theoretical commitment to working class solidarity under global neoliberalism: the left needs to come to terms with the practical-left commitment to a working class displaced and alienated by widespread de-industrialization. The Western Left needs the Western working class to take political power. It cannot afford to write off their concerns as “Eurocentric” even as it maintains a firm theoretical and practical opposition to racism.
  3. Political correctness, particularly in sexual politics and multiculturalism, is a fundamental site of tension. This is a huge issue because PC-culture operates at the level of the ENJOYMENT of the individual. The consequence of PC-culture is that the enjoyment of the signs that people relate to just in using language becomes regulated by political imperatives that, while often (but not always) well-intentioned, take the form of petty, cruel, vengeful moral injunctions. For example, in sexual politics, this takes the form of a paradoxical injunction to ENJOY the free wonderful sex that all us liberated, liberal, cosmopolitan westerners are supposed to enjoy, coupled with a darker injunction to ENJOY that manifests itself in the paranoia about sex relating to offense, consent, trauma, call-out culture and so on. Of course, this is not limited to sexual politics by any means, and also includes a regulation of the enjoyment of nationalism/multiculturalism: “Enjoy your nation as yourself!”
  4. Fascism will fill the conceptual void left by neoliberal late capitalism. Inasmuch as the Left is unable to come to terms with these antagonisms, the conceptual void left over will be filled by fascism, which will attempt to fill it in a perverted, inadequate, unscientific (in the broadest conception of science) way. Fascism does not solve the underlying issues and is, rather, the fullest extent of the symptom—it does not try to work through these contradictions, but rather react against them as a consequence of their repression.

Are these issues not the defining issues of our time? Shouldn’t this be the takeaway of the Left from 2016?

There are no easy answers to these issues. But we must work through them in a way that many leftists refuse to admit. And it certainly does not require a complete capitulation to the racism, misogyny, homophobia (and so on) of the fascists and their sympathizers on the right. And in doing this we must stay faithful to a revolutionary communist orientation, rather than complacency with a now-conservative, neoliberal status quo.