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“A Dehumanizing Stew Of Self-Pity”: Concerning PUAs And Their Twisted Legacy

Was alleged Isla Vista mass murderer Elliot Rodger “driven” to commit his monstrous crimes by the narcissistic and misogynist ideology of sexual grievance he so obviously embraced? I don’t know. But it’s probably a good thing that this tragedy has cast a light on the subculture from which Rodger emerged, largely unknown outside its own ranks and that of the (mostly) feminists who have tried to draw attention to it. At the American Prospect over the weekend, Amanda Marcotte offered the best brief recap of the world of PUAs, or Nerds Gone Very Bad, as revealed in videos Rodger posted on YouTube (warning: some relatively mild sexual terms ahead):

This video and others that Rodger put on his YouTube channel were full of language that was immediately recognizable to many: He was speaking the lingo of the “pick-up artist” (PUA) community that feminists have been raising alarms about for many years now, arguing that it’s a breeding ground for misogynist resentment and may even be encouraging violence against women.

“Alpha,” PUA lingo for a dominant male, was in the video threatening the mass murder. Rodger identified as an “incel,” which means “involuntarily celibate,” a term that was developed on web-based bulletin boards devoted to PUA enthusiasts that weren’t finding much luck getting laid. His theories about what “women” are thinking and why they are denying him the sex he felt entitled to came straight out of the theories of mating and dating that underlie the entire concept of PUA. He followed many PUAs on YouTube and was a frequent poster at forums that purported to analyze PUA theory.

Pick-up artistry is a huge, if generally ignored industry, with self-appointed PUAs selling an endless stream of videos, books, and seminars purporting to teach “the game,” which is invariably packaged as a surefire way for men who learn it to get laid. PUAs like to portray themselves to outsiders as doing nothing more than trying to provide dating advice to men, in an environment where most dating advice is aimed at women. But there’s one major difference. Dating advice of the sort you find in Cosmo magazine and other women’s media usually starts from the premise that the advice-seeker has flaws that need to be fixed in order to make her more attractive. But pick-up artistry argues that men who can’t get laid are fine the way they are, and it’s women—the entire lot of them—who are broken. And that by accepting that women are the ones to blame here, the student of PUA can finally start getting the sex he feels entitled to.

Most PUA philosophy is based in a half-baked pseudo-scientific theory of the genders derived from evolutionary psychology. The argument is that women are programmed to overlook “nice guys”, sometimes called “betas,” who are gentlemanly and kind and and instead are drawn to cocky assholes who mistreat them, usually nicknamed “alphas,” Often, women are accused of “friend zoning” the betas, exploiting them for companionship and gifts while getting sexual satisfaction from the alphas. (It’s taken as a given that “alphas” are bad men who can’t treat a woman right and “betas” are nice, though the seething misogyny of many self-identified betas gives lie to that notion.)

There’s no scientific evidence to support this theory, but since it allows adherents to believe themselves to be unimpeachable victims and to blame women for their loneliness, it remains wildly popular, so much so that men seeking non-misogynist dating advice cannot find it in a sea of PUA literature.

If there’s anything more alarming than the PUA “community,” it’s the anti-PUA “community” of men who’ve tried some of the “tricks” for manipulating women into sex and have failed, making them even more confirmed in their hatred and fear of women and even more convinced denying women sexual self-determination is the key to their own happiness. That’s the milieu in which Elliot Rodger spent much of his time, and it’s hardly surprising his 141-page “manifesto” reflects it in every particular. Here’s the beating heart of his complaint:

Women are incapable of having morals or thinking rationally. They are completely controlled by their depraved emotions and vile sexual impulses. Because of this, the men who do get to experience the pleasures of sex and the privilege of breeding are the men who women are sexually attracted to… the stupid, degenerate, obnoxious men. I have observed this all my life. The most beautiful of women choose to mate with the most brutal of men, instead of magnificent gentlemen like myself.

This pathetic stew of self-pity, cultural backlash, half-baked evolutionary biology, and fantasy-projection is typical of the PUAs in a way that, say, the utterances of the Unabomber were never typical of even the most radical of environmentalists:

This sort of rhetoric is fairly common on some of the more embittered PUA forums, and the “men’s rights” forums that have quite a bit of overlap with them. (Jaclyn Friedman wrote about the “men’s rights” (MRA) movement for the Prospect, which you can read here.) The argument that it’s not women who are oppressed, but men who are kept down by women’s “unfair” systems of distributing sexual favors (for PUAs and MRAs, sex is a commodity, not really an activity) is the central organizing principle of both pick-up artistry and “men’s rights” organizing, so much so that the main text of “men’s rights”—Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power—features a woman’s naked butt on the cover, to drive home how men are supposedly helpless pawns of women’s game of sexual distribution.

Without–again–saying these twisted beliefs “caused” Rodger’s alleged acts, it’s troubling enough to know that there are a significant number of men in our society who harbor these toxic and dehumanizing attitudes towards over half the human population. It’s also illuminating in the sense of reminding us that the emancipation of women–far from complete as it is–has represented the demolition of a patriarchal system of enormous psychological as well as economic, political and religious power, which will not give up without a bloody fight.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 27, 2014

May 28, 2014 Posted by | Violence Against Women, War On Women | , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Did The Framers Really Mean?”: It Wasn’t To Trump The Public Good

Three days after the publication of Michael Waldman’s new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a killing spree, stabbing three people and then shooting another eight, killing four of them, including himself. This was only the latest mass shooting in recent memory, going back to Columbine.

In his rigorous, scholarly, but accessible book, Waldman notes such horrific events but doesn’t dwell on them. He is after something else. He wants to understand how it came to be that the Second Amendment, long assumed to mean one thing, has come to mean something else entirely. To put it another way: Why are we, as a society, willing to put up with mass shootings as the price we must pay for the right to carry a gun?

The Second Amendment begins, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” and that’s where Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, begins, too. He has gone back into the framers’ original arguments and made two essential discoveries, one surprising and the other not surprising at all.

The surprising discovery is that of all the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, the Second was probably the least debated. What we know is that the founders were deeply opposed to a standing army, which they viewed as the first step toward tyranny. Instead, their assumption was that the male citizenry would all belong to local militias. As Waldman writes, “They were not allowed to have a musket; they were required to. More than a right, being armed was a duty.”

Thus the unsurprising discovery: Virtually every reference to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” — the second part of the Second Amendment — was in reference to military defense. Waldman notes the House debate over the Second Amendment in the summer of 1789: “Twelve congressmen joined the debate. None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia.”

In time, of course, the militia idea died out, replaced by a professionalized armed service. Most gun regulation took place at the state and city level. The judiciary mostly stayed out of the way. In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld the nation’s first national gun law, the National Firearms Act, which put onerous limits on sawed-off shotguns and machine guns — precisely because the guns had no “reasonable relation” to “a well-regulated militia.”

But then, in 1977, there was a coup at the National Rifle Association, which was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists. Over the course of the next 30 years, they set out to do nothing less than change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that it’s final phrase — “shall not be infringed” — referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense.

Waldman is scornful of much of this effort. Time and again, he finds the proponents of this new view taking the founders’ words completely out of context, sometimes laughably so. They embrace Thomas Jefferson because he once wrote to George Washington, “One loves to possess arms.” In fact, says Waldman, Jefferson was referring to some old letter he needed “so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state.”

Still, as Waldman notes, the effort was wildly successful. In 1972, the Republican platform favored gun control. By 1980, the Republican platform opposed gun registration. That year, the N.R.A. gave its first-ever presidential endorsement to Ronald Reagan.

The critical modern event, however, was the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which tossed aside two centuries of settled law, and ruled that a gun-control law in Washington, D.C., was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, who fancies himself the leading “originalist” on the court — meaning he believes, as Waldman puts it, “that the only legitimate way to interpret the Constitution is to ask what the framers and their generation intended in 1789.”

Waldman is persuasive that a truly originalist decision would have tied the right to keep and bear arms to a well-regulated militia. But the right to own guns had by then become conservative dogma, and it was inevitable that the five conservative members of the Supreme Court would vote that way.

“When the militias evaporated,” concludes Waldman, “so did the original meaning of the Second Amendment.” But, he adds, “What we did not have was a regime of judicially enforced individual rights, able to trump the public good.”

Sadly, that is what we have now, as we saw over the weekend. Elliot Rodger’s individual right to bear arms trumped the public good. Eight people were shot as a result.

 

By: Joe Nocera, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 26, 2014

May 27, 2014 Posted by | Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association, Second Amendment | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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