The Imaginary Incel

One of the more negative terms that has become increasingly common in many of the conversations I read and participate in is the term incel, which is a portmanteau for the longer expression involuntary celibate, and tends to make fun of those people (especially men) who are unable to find partners and find themselves to be apparently so sexually dissatisfied that they live in hatred and despair of others.  Now, what I am about to say is something that may shock many people who use this term casually as an insult either to specific people or to a class of people whom they view as unworthy of any dignity or respect, and that is that the incel is by and large an imaginary and fictive identity and is worse than useless in our discourse as a way of discussing people.

How is this the case?  How can so many people use a term that is so nearly devoid of actual meaning?  Well, dear reader, it is time to discuss the meaning of involuntary.  Again, incel means involuntary celibate, and insults people based on their lack of attractiveness to others.  From the start, this is a bad place to go for meaning, ascribing someone’s worth to what other people think of them rather than to any merits or lack thereof that these people may have on their own terms.  And such expressions are commonly used when talking about supposed alt-right people, as a way of making ourselves feel better than they are.  It is an expression of hauteur and of contempt and as such it tends to put is in a wrong frame of mind on looking down on others and not realizing that this sort of underestimation of others may have very serious consequences.  For the record, I have only known one person in my entire life so far who was an incel, and he was a Jordanian man I have blogged about sometimes [1] who commented in deep frustration one time that even prostitutes refused to have sex with him, which is admittedly a deep blow to one’s manliness.

To be sure, I know a great many people, male and female, who would at least theoretically want to be in a loving relationship with someone.  I know of a great many who find it deeply lonely to be without a husband or a wife or a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and who would very much want not to be celibate.  But with that sole exception that I commented, the single people I know are single because they have some sort of standards.  They might not happen to be attracted to people who are attracted to them.  The people they are attracted to might not be attracted to them.  They may have little longing for relationships or may figure that a relationship would disturb aspects of their life that they greatly appreciate at present.  As a result, such people are not involuntarily celibate, but are voluntarily celibate.  They may not relish being single and they may have very deep emotional and/or sexual longings for others but simply want to do things the right way or want the right kind of person or the right kind of relationship.  And it is those standards, and the fact that they live by them that makes them voluntarily celibate and thus agents in their own lives rather than involuntary celibates who are simply unwanted and unloved and perhaps even unlovable in the eyes of others.

And while it may not seem like a big difference, that difference can mean everything.  After all, if one is alone because of choices that one has made, then circumstances can change for one reason or another.  Perhaps circumstances would change with more information if we find out that we are indeed interested in someone who is interested in us.  We may find ourselves striving to live in such a fashion that we may be attractive to others, or may strive to know the extent to which others are attracted to us.  We may come to feel that our standards are unreasonable and change them or may find ourselves attracted to people we may not think that we would want.  Any number of things could happen.  The point is, we have agency and are not so hopeless as others may think.  The involuntary celibate has no such agency.  He (or she, although it is usually a he) is a victim of the unreasonable and unkind whims of others and his worth as a human being is limited to the attractiveness he has in the eyes of others as a potential partner.

But even this is not so.  Even someone who is theoretically unloved and unwanted by others is very likely a voluntary celibate rather than being an incel, even without adopting language like self-partnered to soften the blow of singlehood.  After all, if someone remains celibate and, say, refuses to take advantage of others to gratify his (or her) own sexual longings, such a person is also a voluntary celibate because one could theoretically coerce and induce other people into fulfilling those sexual frustrations.  Such an action would be morally reprehensible and a deep evil, but it is certainly an evil that human beings fall into.  So long as someone respects the ability of others to consent enough not to take advantage of them or force them against their will, such a person is also a voluntary celibate, because they have chosen to be a decent human being rather than to gratify their own urges and longings and desires at the expense of someone else.  Such respect, especially in the face of the contempt that single people often face in the contemporary world, is evidence of greater humanity and worth in such singles than people who would stoop to call others incels without appreciation of the worth of restraint and the value of having noble and proper standards of behavior.  Who is contemptible now?

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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