Friday, August 9, 2013

The voice of men, the voices of despair

I spent the sunny afternoon at a public pool near my home.  Not surprisingly, given that it was an exceptionally warm day in Seattle, the pool was filled with families.  The density of splashing, shrieking youngsters frustrated my effort to swim laps, but I enjoyed observing the kids nevertheless.  Although I don't have a family and children myself, I sometimes find a kind of vicarious pleasure in watching other families enjoying themselves together.  I was especially moved by several affectionate, attentive fathers interacting with their little ones.  It gives me a kind of hope.  After all, one does not need to be a biological parent in order to feel invested in the youngest generation.

When I got home, I thought about the men of the manosphere, who are so angry and hateful towards women.  Although I frequent manboobz, the site which delights in mocking misogyny, I sometimes feel at odds with the prevailing tone of dominant commenters.  The more I follow the manosphere (Voice for Men, Heartiste, Roosh), the more compassion I feel for the young misogynists.  It's easy to ridicule them, because most of what they say is ridiculous.  It's easy to be outraged by them, because most of what they say is outrageous.  It's easy to be frightened by them, because they are simmering with anger.  And then it's comforting to reassure myself that their ideas are, well, after all, pretty silly.  They pretend they are a movement, but they spend so much of their energy squabbling with one another that it's evident that they couldn't organize themselves out of a paper bag. 

But more and more, what I hear behind their hateful words, their virulent disdain for all women (and most other men), is despair.  Roosh and his ilk (Matt Forney, Paul Elam, "Roissy," et al.) are men who have pretty much given up on the one thing -- other than engaging work -- which makes life meaningful: intimate, committed relationships with others.

A couple of weeks ago, Roosh was positively distraught when Mark Minter abandoned the manosphere ship to marry a gal he'd met online.  His sense of betrayal was palpable.  Even his followers were a bit baffled that he took it so much to heart.

But someone like Roosh has nothing else except his convictions, as delusional and self-destructive as they are.  He has no relationships beyond his tenuous online connection with the men and boys who echo his nihilistic philosophy.  He is so out of sync with the cultural tide that he must seek refuge in ancient texts, to constantly imagine that the way it was is the way it should be now.  

Today he posted, in his typically self-aggrandizing and melodramatic fashion, that "every man dies by his own ideas."  He views himself as a martyr to his own ideals.  But relentless, inchoate rage is not a "cause."  It is a symptom of a personality disorder. 

I reflect on the mothers and fathers I watched frolicking in the pool today.  Whether they are "happy" in their marriages I have no idea.  I have never been convinced that "happiness" should be a person's primary aim.  I'm not sure even what "happiness" means.  I can say that they all looked thoroughly engaged with one another.  I thought, "This is Real Life."  And by merely observing from the sidelines, I felt myself part of it:  the Family of Man.  And I pity the men of the manosphere, who have learned to hate what they have come to believe they cannot have: intimate connection, a sense of purpose, community membership, an investment in the world around them.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Is Roosh Even Human?

In a recent forum, Roosh and his minions were amused by a well-publicized news story about two women who drove into a lake and drowned.  What they found particularly hilarious was that one of the women, in a panic, attempted to dial "911" on her cell phone.  Because women are so stupid.  And because women deserve to die, anyway.

Back when I was living in Louisiana, I was in the throes of my "bridge phobia."  Driving on bridges and overpasses triggered severe panic attacks.  (I still get a little anxious about bridges, but I managed to "desensitize" myself once I moved back to Seattle -- otherwise, I wouldn't be able to drive anywhere!)

I've had nightmares of being trapped in a car underwater ever since the Chappaquiddick scandal, when Mary Jo Kopechne was abandoned to such a fate by a drunken and cowardly Edward Kennedy.  And who can forget the death of Jessica Savitch, whose date drove into a canal in New Hope?  Mired in mud upside down, the doors of their car could not be opened.

Every time I had to drive across a lake or bayou in Louisiana, I unrolled the driver's side window and mentally rehearsed swimming out.  I tightened my muscles in anticipation, and visualized bursting to the surface.  The problem was that the windows of my Toyota were pretty small, and I wasn't convinced I could squeeze through.  So there I would be on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway -- which is 24 miles long, mind you -- gripping the steering wheel, sweating profusely despite the wind rushing through the speeding vehicle, and roundly cursing myself the whole way for being such a lard ass.

I still occasionally read of people, often late at night, driving off embankments or bridges and drowning in their cars.  And I still think it's prudent to unroll the window when crossing bodies of water.

The story was tragic, but the real horror here is the psychology of people who find such stories risible, or evidence of the inherent inferiority of the victims. 

When we hear about terrible accidents, we naturally try to learn how to avoid them (or how to survive them if they befall us despite our best efforts).  We struggle to find meaning and purpose in what is otherwise random horror.  We may look for ways to "blame the victim" in order to deny the possibility that such a fate could ever visit us.  We grieve for the families and friends, imagining or remembering the sudden loss of our own loved ones.  But regardless, on some level, we can't escape being reminded of the fragility of our own existences.  Such stories are occasions for somber reflection.

But a person like Roosh is not one of "us," is he?  He is a human who is devoid of humanity.

It's not exactly accurate to say that people like Roosh lack empathy.  In fact, he has enough empathy to actually take pleasure in the suffering of others (specifically women, the targets of his inchoate, inexplicable, relentless rage).

His isolation from the cloak of humanity is his tragedy. And although I have just finished reading The Wisdom of Psychopaths, in which author Kevin Dutton argues that psychopathic elements contribute to the survival of cultures, I cannot imagine what purpose the existence of someone like Roosh serves in this world.  

Perhaps one must simply accept that there is no purpose.  Perhaps the best we can do is to try to identify the potential dangers of dark mountain roads or dark charismatic personalities, at the same time resigning ourselves to the fact that these are simply parts of the mystery of life.