“To give a man 5 sous because he is poor and has no bread is perfect, but to give him a blowjob because he has no girlfriend is too much of a good thing: you don’t have to do that.”
― Michel Houellebecq
In the light of the awful act of terrorism by self-proclaimed ‘incel’ (involuntary celibate) Alek Minassian last week, a heated discussion has begun on what, if anything, can be done to stop such sexually marginalized young men from turning to violence in future. An extremely controversial suggestion, put forward by an idiosyncratic economist blogger, that society should regard ‘sex redistribution’ as important an aim as economic redistribution in treating inequality, has been taken up by New York Times opinion piece writer Ross Douthat. In an article entitled ‘The Redistribution of Sex‘, Douthat argues that financial incentives, sex robots, and virtual reality porn, might one day be seen as a means of enabling everybody to have a contented sex life, from young autistic males, to the overweight or disabled.
By this I mean that as offensive or utopian the redistribution of sex might sound, the idea is entirely responsive to the logic of late-modern sexual life, and its pursuit would be entirely characteristic of a recurring pattern in liberal societies.
First, because like other forms of neoliberal deregulation the sexual revolution created new winners and losers, new hierarchies to replace the old ones, privileging the beautiful and rich and socially adept in new ways and relegating others to new forms of loneliness and frustration.
Second, because in this new landscape, and amid other economic and technological transformations, the sexes seem to be struggling generally to relate to one another, with social and political chasms opening between them and not only marriage and family but also sexual activity itself in recent decline.
Douthard goes on to predict how he sees future society adapting to solve the problem of the rise of the incels.
But I expect the logic of commerce and technology will be consciously harnessed, as already in pornography, to address the unhappiness of incels, be they angry and dangerous or simply depressed and despairing. The left’s increasing zeal to transform prostitution into legalized and regulated “sex work” will have this end implicitly in mind, the libertarian (and general male) fascination with virtual-reality porn and sex robots will increase as those technologies improve — and at a certain point, without anyone formally debating the idea of a right to sex, right-thinking people will simply come to agree that some such right exists, and that it makes sense to look to some combination of changed laws, new technologies and evolved mores to fulfill it.
The idea that modern post-Christian society, and the resulting ‘free market’ of sex and dating, has created extreme winners and losers, and that this situation logically should be treated in a similar manner as to the wealth inequalities produced by the economic free market, is a prevelent theme in the novels of controversial French novelist Michael Houellebecq. Another relevant quote from his very first novel – ‘Whatever‘, published in 1994.
“It’s a fact…that in societies like ours sex truly represents a second system of differentiation, completely independent of money; and as a system of differentiation it functions just as mercilessly. The effects of these two systems are, furthermore, strictly equivalent. Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization . Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never. Some make love with dozens of women; others with none. It’s what’s known as ‘the law of the market’…Economic liberalism is an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society. Sexual liberalism is likewise an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society.”
― Michel Houellebecq, Whatever