Monday, November 17, 2014

Men Among the Ruins: The Death of Normativity, Otaku, and Male Power Groups - Introduction & Part One

[Let's set a new land speed record for shark-jumping.]


In this series, I will compare Japanese otaku with another subculture that at first glance may seem worlds apart: Western Men’s Rights Activists (MRA). I will also discuss two related male power groups, generic “nice guys” and Pick-Up Artists (PUA), due to the fact that all three groups seem to stem from the same stream of male dissatisfaction with modern life.[1]

Note that all of these groups are highly decentralized and have no formal requirements for claiming their respective titles other than self-identification. As such, I will treat them less as formal groups and more as trends.

There are two motivations for this project. First is my ongoing efforts to expand on the critical apparatus of Hiroki Azuma into non-Japanese contexts. Second, there has been a recent rash of debate on misogyny in Western geek culture (particularly the video game industry).

While I will focus more on MRAs in general than geek culture in particular, given that the video game controversy is being portrayed as a clash between pro-feminist “Social Justice Warriors” and pro-masculine “Men’s Rights Activists,” the applicability should be clear.

While my main goal is to get to the normative root of the issue, I think that there is no better demonstration of this issue than the ongoing “Gamergate” controversy. While Western geek culture is generally seen as transgressive and anti-establishment, Gamergate has revealed a strong undercurrent of rightism. This has provide a prime example of the fact that “anti-establishment” and “leftist” are by no means synonyms. 

My goal is not to demonize the right or Western geek culture as regressive or discriminatory. It is to build a critical apparatus for understanding where this trend is coming from without succumbing to the Middle Ground fallacy (i.e., everyone is equally wrong). The goal is to understand, not to excuse or accuse.

There are two points of similarity and one point of divergence with otaku that I would like to explore: Non-Traditional Marginalization, Discredited Normativity, and Divergent Responses to Alienation.

Non-Traditional Marginalization

So, I did my graduate thesis on otaku studies. This should tell you two things: I clearly had nothing better to do with my time and money, and I'm used to critically interpreting social groups that have been non-traditionally marginalized.

What do I mean by non-traditional marginalization? Otaku do not represent an oppressed social class on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexuality, or even financial status. Otaku are one of the few social subcategories with relative financial stability in post-bubble Japan.
Despite the stereotype of the hikikomori shut away from society in their parent’s house, Japanese otaku earn more on average than their non-otaku peers and are no more likely to be “parasite singles” than their peers. While anything approaching a true demographic study of “otaku-ness” would be difficult, our average out-of-the-closet otaku would be a male, politically conservative, heterosexual, relatively financially stable member of the predominant racial group of Japanese society.

If we are to speak about discrimination against otaku, we are not talking about social class but social status; a group discriminated against because of their chosen consumption patterns, not because of an oppressive social structure.

MRAs and Japanese otaku share the distinction of being a non-traditionally marginalized group whose members become marginalized by voluntary association. While it would take the stretchiest of stretches to claim that Western heterosexual males represent a discriminated-against group (though this is in fact the claim MRAs make), identifying oneself as an MRA carries a level of stigma which lies somewhere in the neighborhood of declaring oneself a hipster, otaku, or Nazi.

While we may safely dismiss many of the claims made by MRAs, there is still a legitimate point of interest in the existence of MRAs. To describe oneself as an MRA drives a wedge between oneself and society. Why would a person chose to do this?
Just as otaku are often assumed to be psycho-sexual deviants or Peter Pans who refuse to graduate into legitimate adulthood, there is a tendency to assume that MRAs are MRAs simply and only because they are spoiled, entitled misogynists jealous of the attention paid to minority issues. After all, being a western male CIS gender heterosexual is about as far from being an oppressed group that you can get without also being a multi-billionaire (and we might as well throw in being a white Protestant aristocrat – so basically, the King of Sweden).

Of all of the labels that get thrown at MRAs and related male power groups, I think the term that most legitimately applies is “entitled.” Whether we look at the rantings of MRAs, self-proclaimed “nice guys,” or PUA guides, a base-line theme emerges: I am entitled to something I am not getting.
This is most easily seen in your garden variety “nice guy rant.” “My behavior (niceness) entitles me to an expected reward (romantic fulfillment), but society (/women/liberals/the gynocratic conspiracy) has failed to fulfill its end of the bargain. The problem is not on my end (I am nice); therefore, the problem must lie somewhere else.” MRAs and PUAs come in to explain the failure of the social contract. In the case of MRAs, the problem lies with feminists, political correctness in general, or simply with those deceitful Delilahs, women.

PUAs have a (surprisingly) more nuanced approach: for PUAs, the problem does in fact lie in the “nice guy’s” understanding of the social contract. In PUA ideology, nice guys (or AFCs, “Average Frustrated Chumps”) are living in a fantasy world. Women do not “owe” sex or romance to nice guys, but rather to those who have manipulative social skills – those who give women what they “really” want. Until nice guys discard their obsolete social contract and change into PUAs, they will remain unworthy of the attention of women.

Now, I hope no one will to take the above to mean that I support PUA ideology. What I want to point out is that they are simply replacing one social contract with another, one way to “deserve” sex with another. Sex is still seen as the inevitable output of the proper inputs, of the proper application of a skill set, instead of a mutual activity in which women are equal participants.

MRAs represent the opposite end of the spectrum. Simply put, the motivating fear is not that women have become equals (or, God forbid, were equals the entire time), but rather that women have become dominant. MRAs position men on the passive side of relationships, as objects and not as agents. Men are outputs, not inputs, who are pinned and struggling under the power of women.

Despite the threats of murder and rape breathed by the more extreme MRAs, the ultimate goal of your average frustrated MRA is not the domination of women, but to avoid becoming women themselves – objects, outputs, means instead of ends. This is why MRAs can un-ironically claim they are fighting for equal rights. In their minds, this is exactly what they are fighting for.

This then is the situation as I understand it:

Perceived Social Contract
Perceived Problem
“Nice Guy”
Nice men receive romance
Women do not uphold the social contract
Cunning men receive sex
AFCs do not understand the social contract
Women control men
The social contract is unfair to men

This is why I have emphasized the concept of “entitlement.” In all three cases, there is an assumption that a normative social structure dictates interactions between men and women. In two cases (Nice Guys and MRAs), women are perceived as the source of the problem, breaching normativity/the social contract or enforcing an unfair social contract. In one case (PUAs), the majority of men (AFCs) have failed to uphold their end of the social contract and have only themselves to blame. But in all cases, men are in some way entitled to women.

Naturally, when speaking about phenomena as diverse and decentralized as male power groups, we will have to deal in generalizations. Your mileage with this rubric may vary when dealing with the writings or the mindset of a particular individual, but I feel comfortable enough with it as an overall snapshot to push forward to the next point: where did the “nice guy” social contract come from, and why is it such a powerful motivator of male behavior in contemporary society?
[For the record, I consider myself slightly to the right of Hitler. That socialist ninny.]

[1]I will be using the terms “pre-modern,” “modern,” and “post-modern” in line with their original Hegelian sense of “pre-enlightenment non-alienation,” “post-enlightenment alienation,” and “post-enlightenment non-alienation.”  These definitions differ from the common historiographical and social science definitions, which style our contemporary world as “post-modern." Not that there's anything wrong with that usage of the terms, they just have different definitions in Hegel.


  1. "After all, being a western male CIS gender heterosexual is about as far from being an oppressed group."
    So the men who were drafted at Ukraine to fight were privileged somehow?
    Are the Greeks males privileged considering that with the current economic climate they are probably bound to be jobless/poor/living with their parent not by choice?
    Was this guy privileged(
    What about European immigrants from one country in another? Were the polish that moved to the UK privileged? Were the Albanians that moved to Greece during the 90s privileged?
    This is my main issue with the current left trends. They focus on identity politics instead of looking at where the core really is : class and wealth. And of course the whole "all europe/america is white therefore the same" thing.
    I will assume by western you mean American. And even then this whole thing falls apart just by looking at your number of homeless men as well as their suicide rates and their current numbers in colleges.

    1. We could play the individual example game all day. Doesn't change the fact that we're talking about oppressed groups, not oppressed individuals. One western white male cis gender heterosexual who cannot get a job is not evidence that WWMCGHs have it harder than everyone else.

      Poor blacks have to put up with shit poor whites don't. That's why race matters. Poor whites have to put up with shit middle-class blacks don't. That's why class matters.

      The next game is the statistics game. Zooming out to the global level, the WWMCGHs are still doing the best. I'm not saying that means we need to disenfranchise them to even things out. I'm saying that they are statistically, and only statistically, better off.

      In Animal Farm, everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others. The real world is unfair to everyone, but it's more unfair to some than others.

    2. "Poor blacks have to put up with shit poor whites don't. That's why race matters."

      I will have to ask the citation on this one(any source for that matter)(statistics would be interesting). Or at least something more tangible than America's race issue(because i am honestly out of touch with it.)

      Also i think that at least over there(there being America) you have made "white" too broad of a term. In contrast with Europe, where being "white" as you call it, comes with degrees(in this case countries). I will stick with the immigration example of Albanians moving to Greece in the 90s. I was a kid back then but i still remember it vividly. They were pretty much white and cis i guess. Still that didn't matter. They were treated like shit. Could barely find a job or had to work in below minimum wage jobs. They were cheap working hands. Even now, that they have kids there still the whole Citizenship Issue about their kids who were born and grew up here. In this way this is a race matters case, but it was a case of European Race (in this case Albanian). And while in America all white people may look the same, this isn't so the case in Europe. Prejudice towards Polish immigrants come to mind. And that's my main beef really. I think "white" is just too broad at best and alienating at worst.

    3. Sorry. I've been debating a lot of Americans on race this week, and that crept into my reply.

      Yes, the White/Black thing pretty much only makes sense in America. From what you're describing, I guess in Europe it's more natives vs. any outsiders? How would native African immigrants to Greece have been treated vs, native Albanians? I'm assuming that no particular
      African nation would have been treated better than any other.

      "White" can sometimes work in an American context. Pretty much not, anywhere else. I've criticized people for this before, and I apologize for lapsing into it before.

    4. The closest thing we have to what you would term people of color besides actual Africans(now, which nation i don't know) is probably people from Syria that came with the current wave as well as people of Pakistani decent. So i will try to focus on that.

      Most of the time, most of the populace doesn't care. It's in a live and let live state most of the time. Like you won't hear about mistreatment as usual as you would in America.Though, and that's my personal opinion i trust liberal news as much as i trust conservative news. Which is not much. I usually try to double cross sources.

      There have been some shady actions of underground far right groups with (rumored)partial support of the police. I learned a lot about this mostly by associating with various people of the local Antifa movement here when i was about 20 years old. At some point i almost joined up. There's also the fact that most immigrants at this point live illegally here. And there's a really big scandal about a factory that was pretty much as close to a sweatshop as you can get. Many immigrants just can't be integrated in the local society. It's a combination of the local society not having the infrastructure to do it as well as well as the whole outsider vs insider mentality. Compared to America, most European nations have a strong national identity. As well as a big history of tradition and what not. So there is a more distinct line is drawn between insider and outsider. You can give them citizenship and what not but most people aren't convinced about the outsider's status. Doesn't matter if they are Albanian*, African and what not. So they will either have to take jobs with awful working conditions and low pay, open up their own shop(many Pakistani and Chinese do just that), be street sellers(In the case of blacks here and some Pakistanis) or resort to crime. Or if they are women resort to prostitution. I won't deny any of those facts. And i won't justify them. They are despicable.

      However, right now, Greece is at the point of poverty. And things are getting wild. As with the rest of Europe. In other countries you may hear about immigrant crimes once in a while. With Greece, due do the small country size, any major new about crimes(whether the criminal is immigrant or not) will just be out and stick out. Recently, there have been some crime waves and 2 particular cases one which was the rape of a 15 year old and the other the murder of a family man which involved immigrants and fueled the flames. Then there the issue that while both Greece and the immigrants wants the allowing of immigrants to go to other countries, Europe won't allow it. Europe sending us money to build centers for them while people are starving is making things worse. We don't have the UK problem of Sharia controlled areas but signs of vibrancy are beginning to show. And at this point even countries like the beacon of progressiveness which is Sweden are starting to feel the result of the current immigration policies. At this point Europe is facing a turning point. Many people have been asking for changes to immigration policies. The replies of the progressives among Europe were to keep calling them racists and fascists and what not and dismissing them at every possible turn. The problem with that approach is that if you keep calling every single person that isn't agreeing with you a fascist/sexist/racist/whatever when the true monsters appear offering the crowds something different, the crowds won't care. After a point, accusations lose their power if they are overused. And never before, with the exception of pre WW2, has Europe been so prone to give rise to nationalism. Golden Dawn is coming here. And at this point i am afraid that the left won't be able to stop it. Time will tell. Worst comes to worse, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.


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    6. PS1. Apology accepted. In response, please forgive me if i go overboard with the length of my responses and if i kind of sometimes jump to another topic. My thought patterns can be sometimes chaotic.

      PS2.I am the kind of person that loves arguing for the sake of it(not in the trolling sense). I guess that also explains why my company involves a tame atheist nationalist(not the far-right kind), a communist, a bank accountant and a traditional theist from a village.

      PS3. Interestingly enough there has been some affirmative action for some minorities even when i was a kind. Not at the level of American of course.Though, it has sparked debate on whether it is discrimination against the locals.

      *Albanians at this point have kind of integrated. The only big issue remaining for them is the citizenship of their now adult children.


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