For much of the general public, the news that has emerged from the devastating incident in Plymouth over the weekend, it is the first time that the word “incel” has passed on their lips. For others, it can be heard on the fringes of Internet discourse, from niche captions to anonymous 4chan boards. I have to admit that at first I underestimated the tangible danger this ideology can cause when revealed to the real world by extremists. The recent event in Plymouth shows just how wrong I was and how bad the misogynistic ideology of incelism should not be underestimated.
If you’re still unaware of what the weird and downright sinister ideology of incelism is, let me fill you in. An incel is defined as a member of an online community of young men who consider themselves incapable of sexually attracting women, usually associated with hostile views towards sexually active women and men. Violent misogyny and the belief that women should be held accountable for âdeprivingâ men of sex and relationships, to which they have âa human right,â is the foundation upon which the online subculture rests. These dangerous views, even confined behind the scenes of marginal Internet discourse, are disturbing. Incelism in the United States has links with the alt-right movement, and is considered by some to be a far-right ideology. What is more frightening, however, is that such opinions surface in the real world; harming the lives of innocent people, especially women, at an increasingly alarming rate. “Ideology-related violence has killed up to 50 people in the United States and Canada and sparked debate among counterterrorism experts and the police,” reports The Guardian.
Although sources have confirmed that Jake Davison, who shot and killed five people and injured two others before shooting and committing suicide on August 12, 2021, did not “clarifyhimself as a spark, in a YouTube video he posted before the attack, which has since been withdrawn, he explained how âpeople like me got only themselvesâ. Likewise, it was reported that Davison was a subscriber to the YouTube channel. TV which calls itself the place of “black pill content and lookism”, gathering 17,000 subscribers. The term “lookism,” which is commonly used in incel speech, can be described as prejudice or discrimination because of a person’s appearance.
And it is this feeling of anger mixed with despair that perpetuates a nihilistic worldview, an ideology that can sometimes lead to aggression, violence and sadly the death of women. There have been several incel-related attacks around the world over the past seven years. In 2018, a man in Canada drives a van along the sidewalk, killing 10 citizens. While in custody, he told officers it was retaliation for the appalling fact that he was “unable to get laid.” Yes, not all incels are violent and in many ways some may argue that they have a right to be able to discuss their views within the parameters of the law. However, even if this toxic internet culture does not trigger such violence, it is easy to see how the opinions it perpetuates could justify violent actions.
Despite the clear interest in Incel ideology and recent acts of violence by Davison, police in Devon and Cornwall said hours after the murders were not being treated as a terrorist incident. It sparked all the fury online, with many saying it shouldn’t be. Writer and feminist activist Laura Bates questioned the decision, declaring that “this is terrorism”. She went on to say, âIf the information on the shooter is correct, we are talking about an individual radicalized online in an extremist belief system who then acted on those beliefs to massacre people. It is terrorism. It is extremism. It is radicalization.
âThe men who repeatedly commit massacres in the name of this ideology are hardly ever described by the media or the police or perceived by the judiciary as terrorists. Up to we see it as extremism and radicalization, we will not be able to commit the resources we need to deal with it, âBates concluded.
And I don’t disagree with her, it’s a tragic incident that is the result of extremism – a mentally ill individual radicalized by an online ideology. But labeling it as such can also lead to its own problems and can be more problematic than beneficial. The problem does not lie in the labeling of radicalized individuals but in the quantity of Resources needed to tackle the problem (or more importantly, the lack of resources allocated to influence radicalization at this stage and why current models don’t work). But we’ll get to that later … To make my point better, let’s dive into the psychology of why these individuals radicalize in the first place.
Perceived vulnerability leads to extremism
SiÃ¢n Brooke, social scientist in computer science at London School of Economics (LSE) pointed out that the basis of incelism is ironically contradictory: âTheir movement is supposed to be about masculinity, but it is so obsessed with femininity that it is only there to exist in oppositionâ. And that’s where the problem lies, the âmovement is a victim of masculinity, but not in the way they think it is. They think that because they are not the “alphas” they are the victims, but it is this feeling of being the victim, the feeling of being less because you are not the typical idea of masculinity, which is the problem. “
Brooke explained how extremism is built on the idea of ââvulnerability – the feeling that individuals prone to radicalization are persecuted by the dominant group, something that is apparent in “both religious and misogynistic extremism.” Many of these internet cultures, especially incelism, like to see themselves as having knowledge outside the dominant lexicon, outside the common framework of the world. The persecution of the state justifies this feeling.
She went on to explain how, because extremism is also linked to the antithesis of widening political participation, as a result of feminism, “state intervention then also serves politically” and can be seen as a way to restrict civil liberties, the right to protest and the right to have a problem with it. Brooke warned that this in turn may further radicalize people, cementing their views. âIf the state monitors young white males on the Internet for their extremism,â for example labeling them terrorists, âthat fuels the idea that their extremism is justified then.
It is also important to keep in mind that the term âterroristâ carries incredible emotional weight, and therefore, while you may define a terrorist action, defining a person’s entire identity as a terrorist is also problematic. . Brooke pointed out how similar incidents of religious extremism have shown that the label of “terrorist” gives an individual a level of power. “By qualifying an incel as terrorist, you place yourself in the same category of violence as the armed militias,” she added.
Why we need to treat incelism as a public health problem
It’s important not to get emotionally lost in the labels. Instead, we need to see these people as individuals: not just a binary categorization. So, without labeling these groups as terrorists, how do you properly tackle such a crucial problem? We should in no way downplay the seriousness of the problem with incelism – instead, we should consider how to prevent misogynistic extremism from the ground up.
Brooke and other social scientists advocate that instead of having a model of securitization that feeds the vulnerability felt by incels, we should treat incelism as a public health problem requiring a public health approach. A large body of research on extremism poses a model at three levels: primary, secondary and tertiary approaches. The most compelling argument for the implementation of this model, given these different levels of approaches, is that religious extremism has shown us that excessive police surveillance of communities is not useful and, as mentioned above, can actually radicalize people further.
A larger example of this type of model in action in the UK would be the Prevention strategyâAn educational model which mainly contributes to combating stereotypes by promoting diversity and the visibility of women in the public sphere. This, supposedly, although Brooke has admitted that it is somewhat flawed, prevents misogynistic actions from developing.
The secondary stage takes place more on a daily basis: challenging misogynistic and sexist behaviors in everyday places, such as schools, workspaces and public spaces, so that the behavior is actively and subtly socially stigmatized before it is socially stigmatized. ‘it does not spread. Only then should tertiary measures be taken to prevent more extreme cases of incelism, such as crackdowns on the security of online forums. We urgently need to change the narrative that this is an individual problem, as it only serves to validate the vulnerability of incels – it is a societal problem and it should be treated as such. , collectively and with sensitivity.
It is a complex web to unravel. Above all, my thoughts are with the victims, mostly women, who have been subjected to the extreme negativity brought about by this rising misogynist ideology. While Bates and I may disagree on using the word terrorism to qualify such a downright disgusting ideology, I wholeheartedly recommend that you read his insightful book on Daily sexism. However, until we change our public discourse on the matter and recognize that extremist incelism is in fact a public health problem, ideology will continue to destroy the lives of innocent people for years to come.