Prologue

Let’s go back to the pre-pandemic times for a while.

It’s a fine August morning, somewhere in a college campus in India. Freshers, who have painstakingly cleared the entrance examinations to secure their admissions, are happily roaming around the campus. With eyes full of excitement and hearts full of hopes, they expect to have a ‘good time’ for the next few years or so. They have heard a lot about the college from various gossips, and have their hopes set high for college life. Amid this complex web of emotions and excitements, they have a lurking hope somewhere in the back of their minds that they’ll succeed in finding a girlfriend for their college life.

As life goes on, however, they gradually come to the bitter realization that a high All India Rank in the entrance exam doesn’t guarantee a girlfriend. Even worse, apparently no achievement whatsoever can guarantee a girlfriend.

This realization hits them hard, as their patriarchal lesson that women are rewards for achievements crumbles away for lack of evidence. With the pain of romantic failures in their hearts, they look around for words of wisdom that can save them from this turmoil.

And where do they find those pieces of much sought after wisdom? Not psychology journals, of course: they are too technical to be understood by an 18-year-old undergrad. The next resort for them, unfortunately, is social media, with all its misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda in place.

Background

In the not-so-shadowy corners of the internet, a hugely popular men-only community grows at an alarming rate – self-proclaimed as the manosphere (although manosphere is a huge heterogenous community with a lot of sub-communities with adversarial viewpoints, I have used it here as an umbrella term). As evident from its name, the community proclaims itself to be the saviour of men – where (self-proclaimed) ‘experienced’ men provide dating advice to desperate teens.

The basic tenets of the manosphere go beyond dating advice; it’s an ideology; a world-view, that takes bits and pieces of evolutionary anthropology and psychology to provide a counter-philosophy to feminism. The basics include strong beliefs in female hypergamy, commodification of sexuality, sexual markets and sexual market values of each individual, and reaffirmation of traditional masculine and feminine roles. As one Redditer from one such manosphere comments, “…a woman is a lock and a man is a key. If a key opens a lot of locks, it is a master key. But if one lock is opened by lots of keys, it is a dodgy lock." (Source)

A number of tenets of manosphere and Red Pill ideology are founded in proven science, actually. Female hypergamy, for example, is considered a cross-cultural phenomenon in evolutionary anthropology studies. Commodification of sexual attractiveness also can be founded upon various versions of the sexual selection theory. This solid scientific foundation helps the manosphere immensely by enticing the bright young minds seeking ‘the’ truth about women and understanding what women want. In their youthful innocence, they fail to notice that the conclusions that Red Pill draws from evolutionary studies are far from scientific. In their youthful malleability, they end up being shaped by a pseudo-scientific world-view that not only distorts their understanding of life and other people, but also makes the world a worse place to live in.

While it’s not the community that’s alarming, certain ideologies they harvest are definitely so. While the theory of female hypergamy being supported by evolutionary studies isn’t problematic, the reasoning that because females tend to be hypergamous they must always be kept low in the social hierarchy is definitely problematic.

This article is an attempt at pointing out where the manosphere went astray and founded itself upon fallacious assumptions, and how it could garner such a large fanbase despite being pseudoscience. Added in the end, of course, are some lessons for the feminists, liberals, and other equality activists.

The fallacies of the manosphere

The basic tenets of the Red Pill ideology are majorly drawn either from social psychology, behavioural biology, or evolutionary anthropology. The latter stereotypical arguments and misogynist conclusions, however, are far from being grounded in science.

I spent the last two months reading up a number of texts (books, articles, blog posts, social media posts, comments etc.) self-proclaiming as originating from the Red Pill ideology, and could find at least two significant fallacies at the very heart of manosphere worldview.

The first fallacy is the assumption that gender is binary: male and female. The whole bulk of Red Pill wisdom shared in the manosphere falls into the standard format of ‘men do this, women do that’. However, as behavioural biologists would agree, gender-specific behaviour can’t so easily be categorized in such a manner.

Categorical thinking (the thinking process where things/concepts are categorized for the sake of convenience or detailed study) may help to build engines and fly helicopters, but isn’t a good fit to study human behaviour. When thinking in terms of broad categories, we tend to easily overestimate the similarities between elements in the same category, as well as the differences between elements in different categories.

The same analogy goes for gender. By thinking in terms of ‘male’ vs ‘female’, we often overestimate the similarities between males, as well as the differences between males and females. Gender, instead of being a binary entity, is indeed a continuum from masculine to feminine (which again is highly culture-specific) which is dependent on testosterone as well as social upbringing.

The second fallacy of the Red Pill philosophy is the assumption that humans are a tournament specie. Consequent to this fallacious assumption, red pill proponents divide the male population into ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ males: with males exhibiting tournament traits being alpha and males exhibiting pairbonding traits being branded as beta males. (Here is a brief description of tournament and pairbonding species.)

The problem with this assumption is that this simply isn’t true. Social biologists have, for decades, been trying to fit humans into either tournament or pairbonding species. But humans simply don’t fit into either. A specie expertising in maintaining double standards, we lie somewhere in between.

What’s the point to take home? In our excitement to find an exhaustive model for human behaviour, it sometimes may be too tempting to give into these fallacies, draw parallels with our own lives, and build worldviews/models/philosophies based on very small sets of observations. However, that’s the farthest we could go from truth. Making statements like ‘women want ___ and men want ___’ based on our handful experiences with the opposite gender is like ‘coming up with a langur model of human behaviour just because langur monkeys do some things similar to humans’.

Lessons for feminists, liberals, and counter-manosphere activists

The world we live in has two distinct kinds of realities. One, the realities that are tangible and universal: the trees, the mountains, the goats and cows, and so on. Another, the realities that are intangible, and specific only to a certain human society/group – the imagined realities – imaginations that became a reality simply because everyone chose to believe in them: God, Satan, democracy, justice, human rights, and so on (For more on these two kinds of realities, refer Sapiens by YN Harari). The fact that the second kind of realities (imagined realities) exist only inside our heads do not make them any less powerful.

In the present context, all the worldviews, philosophies and ideologies (feminism and manosphere alike) are imagined realities. Feminism/gender equality might be a worldview better suited to our civilizational goals than manosphere, but that doesn’t change the fact that both of these exist inside our heads only and nowhere else. The scientific observations, however, like the facts of evolution, biology, and psychology, are the universal and absolute realities – they’ll continue to be true irrespective of whether we believe in them or not.

What poses the greatest threat to an imagined reality? Clash with universal realities. No matter how great our virtues are and how necessary our values are, they are doomed to perish if they do not conform to the universal tangible realities. Such is the crisis that feminism faces today. Feminists and liberals today have become so focused on defending their ideologies and beliefs that they are unwilling to even acknowledge the scientific facts that are contrary to their beliefs. And, that exactly is the crisis that the misogynists have capitalized to popularize the manosphere.

The first lesson for us feminists and liberals is to start acknowledging the evolutionary trade offs and strategies played by each major gender. Evolution has been a dirty game throughout, and there is no need to be apologetic or pretentious about it. If equality is what we are demanding, let that be an unapologetic demand. Equality isn’t a court decree and we don’t need to come with clean hands in order to be able to claim it. Equality is a fundamental human right and a civilizational cornerstone, and debates/facts about evolution are simply irrelevant in a struggle for equality.

The second lesson is to start freeing feminism from the grasps of romanticism and start seeing things as they are. Acknowledging the sexual selection theory will be a good start, but there’s a lot of uncharted land to cover. Nature, as well as evolution, has been ruthless since the very beginning of time, and there is no point wrapping it with romantic adjectives just to make it look better. Romanticism and use of romantic adjectives to further a cause may be helpful to garner support in the short run, but induces vulnerabilities to fallacies in the long run.

Conclusion: To be human is to go beyond evolution

Evolution is a fact, and there is no denying it. However, as Matt Ridley writes in Red Queen, evolution doesn’t lead to Utopia; it simply leads to a land where each man is suited for the worst behavior by others. As a society, letting evolution guide our goalposts is the most inefficient thing we humans could do.

In the struggle between nature and nurture, nature is an undeniable fact. However, it also is malleable, with adequate interventions. Going by nature alone, humans aren’t much different from Chimpanzees or Gorillas. Humans are differentiated from other species by their improvisation upon the evolved traits. To be human is to improvise, and go beyond our evolutionary instincts.