Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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

Part One

Dead Knights, Dull Armor – Discredited Normativity and Male Rage

This is the second reason I brought up otaku at the start of this article: thanks to the works of Hiroki Azuma, most research on otaku in Japan has focused on a very Hegelian (via Kojeve) theory of the death of normativity in Japanese society.

In a nutshell: the evolution of the otaku subculture neatly demonstrates a parallel development in post-war Japanese society as a whole, namely, the move from pre-modern normativity to modern industrial rationalist normativity to postmodern ‘database’ animalist non-normativity. While I have my gripes with Azuma (not the least of which is his portrayal of modernity as normative), I cannot help but draw parallels between the death of social normativity in post-modern Japan and the broken social contract which motivates MRAs.
I won’t spend too much time explaining database animalism in this section. The critical point for the moment is isolating the reason why the rhetoric of entitlement resonates so powerfully with male-power groups. It is not enough to simply say that they are wrong, not when the message travels from host to host so easily. And in a sense, they are right. The social contract has been violated, it has been rewritten – not by devious women, but by the conditions of modern society. Much like the study of cults and racist organizations, the point of interest is not the ideology in itself, but rather how it can motivate rational beings.

Hegel’s Three Stages of History

I just did a summary on Hegel’s three stages of history in this post, and he hasn’t written anything new on the subject since then. Let’s move on.

The White Knights: “Nice Guys” vs. Hegel

I would place the “nice guys” into the transitional period between the pre-modern and modern periods because of the sense of betrayal they feel at not being rewarded for following what they see as the social contract. Indeed, on the internet, individuals of this type are often referred to as “white knights,” acting out a misplaced sense of chivalry on forums and in online games. While these individuals may not belong to the late pre-modern/early modern period in other facets of their life and worldview, in the area of sexual politics, they are either relics of an earlier age or intentionally affecting as such.
The White Knight in his natural environment
Certainly, the internet posts and forum rants of this type express a longing for gentler times, unaware (through genuine ignorance or intentional ignorance) of how rose-tinted their glasses are. The image of the white knight swooping in to the rescue is appropriate, for “nice guys” seem to model their relationships less on reality than on fairy tales. They exhibit a version what Azuma refers to as “fictional realism,” applying the normativities of fiction (white knights and princesses, gentlemen and ladies) to reality. They are not interested in returning to the realities of pre-feminist gender relations, but to an idealized fictional version which rewards moral virtue with romantic satisfaction.
When this fails to materialize, “nice guys” feel betrayed. They have done everything right, and yet other men (who are less virtuous) are rewarded with the princess. They are gallant knights, and yet women choose the cur. There is no reward to virtue, no “fairy-tale ending,” no proper output to the proper input. Hence the common lament that “women love jerks.”

“Style,” one of the most popular PUA gurus, comments on this very same phenomena. He tells a story about a friend who courted a woman for years, while attempting to live up to the ideal of the gentleman. He bought her flowers, asked her father for permission to marry her, took her to the best restaurants, refused to have sex before marriage, etc. – only to walk in on her in bed with a “jerk.”

This story may very well be apocryphal, but it gets the point across. The social contract which “nice guys” are operating under simply does not exist. Or rather, if it does exist, it exists only on the side of the “nice guys” who profess it, not those whom they expect to receive a reward from.

As silly as this may seem, consider it from the nice guys' position. They see this gallant normativity as a form of self-sacrificial love, as a willingness to expose themselves to the ridicule of a crass and unromantic world for the sake of another person. There is a truly pre-modern element to this, an understanding that they are operating according to a higher truth than that of our crass modern world.

After all, this is how the movie plays out, is it not? Particularly the part about clinging to belief in “true love” in a world that have given up on it. The hero is called out of the emotionally dead modern world to a higher mission, overcoming obstacles and facing opposition. He is rejected, mocked, and taken advantage of, but in the end love overcomes all opposition. The crass, the craven and lowly “jerks” are given their just desserts and the hero is paired with the perfect other.

This Monomyth-esque blueprint is fine for story-telling, but when we make it a blueprint for our lives, disaster follows. Women are not the prize at the end of a story, but active moral agents. For all of the nobility and self-sacrifice of heroes in stories, when we try to force someone else (female or male) into becoming our prize, we are not the hero but rather the evil sorcerer trying to trap the princess in our tower. Self-sacrifice does not count as noble if it is sacrifice for ourselves.

But take a moment to shed a tear for the noble “nice guy,” who strives so hard to give women what he thinks they want – no matter how little they want it.

I lead with the “nice guy” because MRAs and PUAs pick up from where the “nice guy” drops off. Both PUAs and MRAs recruit aggressively from the pool of disaffected self-proclaimed “nice guys.” This is how most of them started out; trying to scrape together meaning for their lives once the dream collapsed. Once the Monomyth fails, alternate normativities arise to take its place.
Social Animals: PUAs vs. Hegel

Moving on to PUAs, I would position them firmly within Hegel’s modern period, somewhere between the “moral valet” and Azuma’s “alienated normativity.” Much like the moral valet, they have seen the inherent silliness of the “nice guy” normative system and reject it. And just like that cynic, they paradoxically find moral superiority in rejecting a morality based on nothing more than human prejudice. It is the last moral stand of those without morals, a refusal to accept a system of morality that has no true basis.

However, PUAs are not pure moral valets, for they do operate according to a normative understanding of the world. Their ideology is not built around mere nihilism, but rather on a system of techniques for bringing order to that most “other” of the others: women. They construct elaborate timelines from initial meeting to sex, with detailed phases, shifts, checks, balances, and so on which purport to offer a fail-proof method not just for seduction, but for controlling female mind. This, more than sex, is the draw of PUA systems. Any person with a will and a weapon can physically force another person into sex. The desired goal is not forced sex, but to control a woman’s perceptions.

For example, one common PUA technique is “value-building.” Value-building consists of presenting oneself as an object worthy of a woman’s attention without overt bragging. It consists of little things – intentionally ignoring a conversation partner, “reluctantly” telling interesting life stories, and a thousand other little methods of establishing social dominance. They key is not forcing a woman into sex, but manipulating the social atmosphere so that you appear as a person worth knowing. By explaining tricks and tips of this nature, PUA guides claim to unravel the mysteries of the female mind.

Style’s mentor “Mystery” begins The Mystery Method with a rather telling introduction which situates his perspective on “The Game.” In his mind, PUAs are nothing less than the next step of evolution. Whereas the Darwinian goal of sex is to produce offspring, the advent of contraception and sexual liberation has changed the nature of success. PUAs are clever social animals, intent not on reproduction but satisfaction, running circles around the clumsy dinosaurs that still operate under the obsolete model of marriage and childbirth.
This model may be pure drivel, but Mystery sets it at the beginning of what is perhaps the most influential PUA guide ever written in order to provide context. While neophyte PUAs make be initially attracted to the idea of limitless sex, they are hooked by the idea of unraveling the mysteries of the Other, and then indoctrinated into a new normative system which provides meaning to life.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the PUA movement’s main driving force is not sexual conquest, but rather a total life system for bringing order and meaning to the lives of disaffected men. It is a structure which provides meaning, order, and even a sense of enlightenment; a sense that one has surpassed their previous, limited self. As Style later said, “The point was women; the result was men.”

As I said, it is best to position PUA ideology as a product of the modern period. It is not seen as part of an eternal order of the heavens (as in Antigone), but as one of many normative systems which atomized individuals can freely choose between. PUAs may consider their system the best and most true, but it is not an eternal, unchangeable dogma. Mystery presents it as a part of evolutionary theory, a step in a system of change. It is, however, difficult to say whether this new normativity is genuinely held by its practitioners (and is thus a hybrid modern-pre-modern ‘transitional’ normativity) or is held in a detached, ironic fashion (and is thus an ‘alienated’ normativity). I suppose it all comes down to the individual practitioner. All that can be said for sure is that it is not a truly sittlichkeit normativity.
Social Justice Warriors: MRAs vs. Hegel

It is no coincidence that the MRA movement has also arisen in the modern world. A pre-modern individual would not be able to conceive of rebelling against the existing order, but a modern individual can attack it as unfair human innovation which can (and should) be changed. While there have been what we might term “proto-MRAs” in the past, fighting against first-and-second-wave feminism, they largely took the role of protectors of what they considered to be the natural order. It was natural for the man to be the head of the household, it was natural for the man to work and the woman to raise the children. These were not seen as the most convenient order, but as the only possible moral order.
Conversely, MRAs do not generally position themselves as upholders of a lost moral order, but as subversives, as rebels fighting against a woman-made social order which is unfair to men. In an attempt to sound reasonable and impartial, many will even admit that the previous patriarchal society was unfair to women (although the more vitriolic consider women to be worth less than animals). The rhetoric is not that we must restore the natural order, but that we must restore the rights of men to a changing, mutable order.

Many MRAs do not consider themselves to be enemies of women, just enemies of those evil, scheming women who wish to dictate the behavior of men. The tired term “Femi-Nazis” is tossed around and the lunatic fringe of feminism is claimed to be normative. Gynocratic conspiracies are seen lurking behind the most mundane issues. Around dyed hair, beware indeed.
Oh, I get it!

I mentioned racist groups earlier, and MRAs resemble nothing so much as white-pride activists (as distinct from white-power activists). White-pride activists do not (publicly) claim that the white race is superior or that whites are destined to dominate and control all other races. They claim they only want the same dignity that other races are afforded; after all, if we can talk about “Black pride” or “Asian pride,” why not “White pride?”

MRAs and white-pride activists both see themselves as correctives against civil rights movements gone too far. In their minds, the civil rights push for equality has reversed itself, and a once-dominant group has become persecuted on the basis of their gender or skin color. By recognizing (begrudgingly, but still) the legitimacy of previous civil-rights movements, they seek to establish the legitimacy of their own complaints. More importantly, by not positioning themselves as “haters” and mimicking the language of egalitarianism, they feel justified in attacking their perceived enemies. After all, they don’t hate women, just those women. They don’t hate minorities, just those minorities.

In a bizarre twist on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, these groups claim to judge their enemies, not on the color of their skin or gender, but on the content of their character. Of course, the “content of their character” is here defined as “whether or not they agree with our ideology.” By claiming they are fighting for equality, they are able to position anyone who opposes them as enemies of equality. Simply denying the validity of the group’s more bizarre claims or even defending a target of their abuse is seen as ample proof that an individual is the enemy of true egalitarianism.

Turning back to MRAs exclusively, it is not unusual to see MRAs lambasting their opponents for not upholding the values of feminism. For example, they may engage in “slut shaming,” claiming that a woman has slept their way to the top, and thus provides a poor example for other women. Alternately, they may attack anyone seeking increased representation for women in media where they are traditionally underrepresented (or represented as giggling nymphs). By treating calls for equal representation as calls for extraordinary representation, they position themselves as resisting “inequality.” This of course echoes white-pride resistance to affirmative action policies or teaching non-European-male history in classrooms as “unequal” representation.

For MRAs, the “real” issue is not whether or not women are underrepresented in, say, video games. Even if they are underrepresented, any corrective action or public statement in support of better representation is seen as a demand for extraordinary representation. In their minds, “Women should be better represented in video games” and “Your main character must be a independent womyn or we will use our female sorcery to cut off your dick while you sleep” are equivalent statements.

MRAs are without a doubt cynical, in that they view normativity as a battleground which is up for grabs. However, it is difficult to portray them as fully alienated, in that they still operate according to an overarching normativity and still display moral outrage. This outrage, this bubbling anger over the disparity between the real world and ideal world positions MRAs at the middle of the modern era, not at its end.

Next Time: History’s Unmarked Grave – Divergent Responses to the End of Normativity


  1. I'm thinking that your comparison of the "dyed hair..." and "around blacks..." is somewhat weak. Dying ones hair in bright colors not found in nature is generally a choice, while ones skin color isn't generally a choice. Also, the actions one is being warned about aren't really comparable either (attention whoring vs. assault).

    It does remind me of a housemate who noted in the mid-90s that it was very convenient that Nature had provided warning colouration in the form of "Daddy's Little Princess" t-shirts or the male equivalent "1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila, floor".

    1. You can see that the "Dyed Hair" image is an obvious homage to the older "Around Blacks" cartoon, right?

      Beyond the visual, the common attitude of unwarranted paranoia is what links the images. People with dyed hair aren't out to get you and the majority of crime is intra-racial (if not intra-familial).

    2. They are clearly parallel, but things can be parallel without having any direct historical connection, and no such connection was provided. The comparision can be made but, as I said before, it's weak. The essay would be better without it and something that actually resembled an actual "gynocratic conspiracy" accusation put in it's place. Possibly something to do with the accusation that campus rape hearing procedures aren't fair.

    3. 1). I don't have a sworn affidavit from the creator of the image stating that he/she was inspired by the "Around Blacks" cartoon. None is needed if you are familiar with Chan culture.

      If you can't see the memetic inspiration in the "Dyed Hair" variant, I really don't know what to say.

      2). GamerGate is the essence of a "gynocratic conspiracy" accusation. If we want to get super-technical, it's a "women and effeminate men" conspiracy but that's a distinction without a difference.

      3). This series focuses on GamerGate, so campus rape hearing procedures are irrelevant.

      I get the feeling that there is something more fundamental bothering you than the pedigree of the "Dyed Hair" image, though I suppose it's possible you just never spent much time on the 'Chans.