Dr Tim Squirrell is a writer, broadcaster and researcher. He focusses on internet culture and extremism, specialising in the far right and misogynist extremists.

A definitive guide to Incels part four: why can't everyone be blackpilled?

A definitive guide to Incels part four: why can't everyone be blackpilled?

Previous instalments of my series on incels can be found here:




A definitive guide to Incels Part Three: the history of Incel

Note: in this piece I’m going to be using a lot of the incel vernacular under the assumption that the reader understands at least the basic gist of its meaning. If you find yourself confused, it might be a good idea to quickly browse through my glossary of incel terms, which you can find here.

This piece contains some mention of child abuse and sexual assault.

A common refrain in incel communities is that the blackpill is objectively the correct way of viewing the world. That is, women are attracted to men primarily on the basis of their appearance, and specifically on the basis of facial features, racial appearance, and bone structure. Community members repeatedly post peer-reviewed journal articles (and media stories) which supposedly support this view. They express frustration that other people (especially normies) cannot - or will not - see the evidence that supports their worldview for what it really is. By way of explanation, they say that normies have been corrupted and blinded by feminism and SJW logic. From there, they express the hope that if they find or produce genuine, incontrovertible evidence, that anyone who saw it would be unable to deny it and would subsequently be blackpilled. In this piece I want to leverage some important concepts from the philosophy of science to show why feminists and incels alike feel frustrated with the arguments that they have on the internet. First I’m going to talk about paradigms, here describing particular worldviews. After that, I’m going to go on to explore the idea of falsification and why our hopes of defeating our opponents in argument are dashed by a concept called underdetermination. Finally, I want to confront evolutionary psychology, which is a cornerstone of the incel (and MRA) worldview, and demonstrate the deficiencies in the explanations it produces.

Talking across purposes: why incels and feminists will never agree

In order to understand how incels think about science, evidence, and beliefs, we need to invoke a few concepts from the philosophy of science. The first of these is the idea of the paradigm shift. Popularised by Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the concept of a paradigm might best be understood here as a guiding worldview. It’s a mode of thinking, of seeing the world, of interpreting evidence. 

A classic example comes from the debate over heliocentrism (whether the Sun orbits the Earth, or the Earth orbits the Sun) which followed the publication of Copernicus’ De revolutionises erbium coelestium, and famously involved a confrontation between Galileo and the Catholic Church. If you were a geocentrist, you would think that the Sun orbits the Earth. The geocentric theory of astronomy says that the Earth is at the centre of the universe, and everything else orbits around it. On the other hand, a heliocentrist would say that the Earth is not the centre of the universe, and in fact orbits the Sun. If you were to sit them both down on a hill at dawn, and ask them to describe what they saw, they would interpret the exact same phenomena - a big ball moving through the sky - completely differently. The geocentrist would say that the Sun was rising through the sky, whereas the heliocentrist would say that the Earth was spinning in such a way that it appeared that the Sun was rising, but in fact it was the Earth that was moving.

Paradigms can help us to understand a lot of the conflicts between incels and feminists, or incels and normies. Paradigms give you a whole worldview, and they form the intuitions we have about the world and the way in which we interpret evidence. A lot of the time, to a socially progressive person it can feel as though incels get so close to a structural critique of patriarchy, white supremacy, or colonialism, but then veer wildly off in the wrong direction and blame women for their problems. Likewise, incels get incredibly frustrated that feminists can, for example, acknowledge that there are structural inequities in the way that short/brown/“ugly” men are treated, but then attribute all of those problems to patriarchy, rather than to human nature.

Let’s take a sample of what incels.me call “quality blackballs”. There’s one in which a guy photoshops himself to appear as various different ethnicities, and then sees how he does on Tinder. He finds that just having a Muslim name reduces his matches dramatically. The responses in the thread say that it’s all about how you look - that being white is advantageous, because women are attracted to men who are powerful, and white men are powerful. Comparatively, a feminist interpretation would say that having a Muslim name disadvantages you because Islamophobia has been inculcated into our societies since at least 2001, and that the role played by skin tone is accounted for by white supremacist narratives which we’ve been fed since birth. 

No amount of evidence could dissuade either side here. The same evidence will always be interpreted differently by audiences depending on their pre-existing view of the world.

The atomic blackpill: why no evidence will ever be enough

Let’s say, for sake of argument, that one side of the debate managed to find evidence that they thought incontrovertible. They thought for certain that if they could just get the normies and the feminists to see it, they wouldn’t be able to deny it. And if they did deny it - well, they must just be crazy, and impervious to reason. 

Incels think they have this irrefutable evidence, and they call it the atomic blackpill. It looks like this:

the atomic blackpill

The picture shows a tinder bio for “Ray, 23”. His image is a male model. His profile says that he’s an “aspiring model”, but also that he’s been “convicted three times for rape of a child”, and he’s “on tinder cause maybe if I fuck some of your sluts I’ll stop wanting to be with kids”, and “I hope you can therefore forgive me for my past crimes”. The rest of the picture appears to show eleven tinder conversations with women, all of whom are sexually forward. The original post on incels.net has more details, including gifs of the author swiping through his tinder profile to show that the images weren’t photoshopped.

The atomic blackpill, for a lot of incels, is irrefutable proof that women are fundamentally vain and respond almost exclusively to how a man looks when evaluating sexual attractiveness. Anyone who refuses to believe this is delusional.

It seems unlikely, though, that the thousands of people who have since seen the atomic blackpill and not themselves been blackpilled are all delusional. Instead, they posit different explanations. They say that it’s likely that the author got most of the matches before changing his bio to make him appear to be a child molester. They say that very few people on tinder read people’s bios. In addition, they say that even if it’s real, it’s unsurprising that he was able to find some matches, given that we don’t know how long he spent swiping, and men in prison for horrendous crimes still receive sexual attention from women. The explanation they give for this simply appeals to something other than the evolutionary psychology of women.

This conflict exemplifies the concept of underdetermination of theory by evidence. Simply put, even if you don’t believe in the paradigm-based analysis I gave above and instead subscribe to a falsificationist approach to scientific enquiry, you should still believe that it’s possible for people to have completely conflicting views of the world without one side necessarily being delusional. Underdetermination describes the phenomenon whereby there can never be enough evidence to dictate which theory of the world we ought to subscribe to. Even if you were to find a piece of evidence that seemed to falsify a particular theory, you could always come up with an explanation as to why that wasn’t the case. There’s always something you can tweak about your theory, or some other premise or explanation you can come up with, which allows you to maintain your existing beliefs. For further reading on this, you might want to read Pierre Duhem or WVO Quine - or even better, Donald Gillies’ The Duhem Thesis and the Quine Thesis

Underdetermination can do some more work here. In a lot of internet arguments, you’ll see a person on one side demanding sources to back up the other side’s point. If they fail to produce those sources, they say they’re arguing from anecdote or feelings, rather than fact. But if they do produce the sources, then they’re dismissed as not necessarily demonstrating the rightness of one party’s argument, because they have some methodological flaw, or they’re just one example, or they only show that something is right in one specific instance. Underdetermination demonstrates the futility of trying to win someone round when their explanation of the world is just completely different to your own.

The dangers of intuitive explanations: debunking evolutionary psychology and the is/ought fallacy

In one of the examples above, the geocentrist and the heliocentrist saw the same thing but interpreted it differently. Explained in the way I did, it might seem that the geocentric view may seem to make the most intuitive sense: there’s a big flaming ball appearing to rise through the sky, so why wouldn’t it be the case that it actually was rising? The implication is that explanations of phenomena that make sense aren’t necessarily correct. This is one of the fundamental issues that a lot of thinkers have with evolutionary psychology, which is the cornerstone of the incel worldview. Evo psych, as it’s known, posits explanations of human behaviour in the light of the idea of evolution by natural selection. It does so in a way that often makes intuitive sense. For example, they say that men have a tendency to be jealous of female sexual activity with other men, because they want to know that they’re the only possible father of a woman’s child, or else they may end up raising another man’s child rather than their own, meaning they haven’t actually passed on their genes at all. The problem with explanations like these is they function as just-so stories: they’re too neat. They say “men are this way and women are that way, and this explains and justifies why our society is (or should be) a certain way”.

So the evo psych view creates explanations which tend to justify existing social structures by reference to some underlying, fundamental human nature. That’s an issue in itself, because “human nature” is a contestable (and contested) concept which is usually used as a discursive battering ram for the purposes of whatever argument a person is trying to win. But more insidiously, people who believe in evo psych use it to make prescriptions about how people should behave, or how society should be constructed. For example, Jordan Peterson says (in response to the idea that hierarchies are socially constructed) that lobsters have naturally occurring hierarchies, and therefore that hierarchies are natural. Let’s leave aside the idea that we ought to construct our societies based on a random creature picked out of an encyclopaedia, which can be reduced to the absurd simply by pointing out that female praying mantises bite off the head of their mate after sex, and so we shouldn’t contest the idea that women ought to kill men whom they sleep with. Instead, recognise the move that’s being made here. Peterson says “lobsters have hierarchies, and so hierarchies are natural, not socially constructed”. The implication, though, isn’t just that hierarchies are natural, but that they are therefore good. That’s a classic example of the is/ought fallacy, where someone argues that because something is a particular way, it ought to be that way. One just does not follow from the other.

From there we can fairly effectively refute a lot of evo psych argumentation. Evo psych enthusiasts (such as incels) say a lot of different things. Men naturally want to spread their seed, whereas women naturally want to attract the best quality mate, so we should allow for male infidelity whilst condemning female infidelity. Women are naturally attracted to men with high cheek bones, a positive canthal tilt, and an angular jaw, so there’s nothing that can be done to change that. The list goes on. Some of the underlying premises may be true, though a lot of them probably aren’t, and we could never really know whether they are or not because we could never access good enough evidence. But it doesn’t matter whether those premises are true, because we shouldn’t seek to build our societies based on what is natural. Instead, we should seek to figure out what is good, and then build societies that optimise for that good. That’s obviously really difficult, but it’s better to pursue an impossible ideal than to proclaim you’ve figured everything out on the basis of faulty reasoning.

Conclusions: asking the right questions about incels and feminism

With respect to paradigms and conflicting views of the world, we shouldn’t be surprised that normies and incels have fundamentally irreconcilable views that prevent them from even speaking the same language when it comes to interpreting evidence. After all, the term “blackpill” itself comes from “redpill”, which describes a complete shift in one’s way of viewing the world. MRAs, incels, conspiracy theorists, even feminists, build their arguments based on a particular worldview. The question for each of them shouldn’t be “why don’t they see this evidence the way that I see it?”, and the answer needn’t be “they are completely impervious to reason”. Instead, the question needs to be “how do I allow someone to see the world as I see it?”. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. Understanding how these gestalt switches happen is difficult, and I’m uncertain as to how to shift a person’s paradigm from one worldview to another. What I do know is that no amount of back-and-forth point-scoring with evidence, or mockery, or ridicule, is going to do it.

When it comes to evolutionary psychology, there’s a lot more to be said than I have space or time for here. Evo psych tends to be a way of pursuing politics by other means: it’s used as a post hoc explanation of why the world is as it is, attempting to naturalise existing social structures and therefore justify them. Much as the discredited science of phrenology took as its starting point the inferiority of black people and then used its findings to explain and confirm that inferiority, evolutionary psychology allows people to give the veneer of “scientific evidence” to their existing prejudices and worldviews.

It might seem like an odd question, to ask why feminists and incels don’t see eye-to-eye. I don’t think it’s a fruitless question. In trying to understand the means by which we’re kept apart, we create space for questions about how, exactly, we can show people why their view of the world might need revision.

This is the fourth part of a series of posts on the incel community. As they say on YouTube, don't forget to subscribe to receive new updates as they come out.

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New article at The Independent: Nathan Larson, the self-described incel paedophile, is running for Congress. This is how he groomed vulnerable young men