I have an amateurish interest in masculinity studies. Part of me wishes to believe that online discourse is siloed away on the Internet, with little effect on the real world. Sadly, the loneliness epidemic in young men across the world has unleashed a new discourse that is completely foreign to past generations. This is the world of the black pilled incel. While a black piller could technically be in gainful employment or living independently, they are united in their inability to connect, in real life, to a romantic partner (usually a woman). This leads to much online rage and vitriol that is not possible to ignore or dismiss.
In my last entry, we set the scene for the difficulty that “black pillers” find themselves in. The inability to integrate the self with one’s (sometimes severe) shortcomings like anxiety, shyness, or physical unattractiveness compounds their failures and lack of confidence, in turn increasing their errors and misjudgments. By their early 20s a typical black piller exhibits signs of long-term emotional distress and maladaptive habits such as addiction to pornography or lashing out on the Internet and social media against those that they feel have “left them behind.”
The rot starts when, early in life, traditionally sanctioned “markers” of masculinity (which our patriarchal society demands that it constantly be proved) go unmet, such as losing one’s virginity, being good at sports, or being popular. More significantly, as adulthood approaches, they are unable reconcile these “failures” to their identity and their selves are unable to attain wholeness. Without wholeness and integrating one’s shadow and pain, anyone is bound to feel themselves deprived in comparison to others.
Feeling “left behind” is an important trait of the black piller’s mind: it is through comparing one’s life to that of their peers at high school or elsewhere in the world (and this is compounded by social media) that they start to feel an irrational but perhaps understandable rage at those that have attained what they cannot: people that have more money, more work experience, or more experience with women. . . even people with more positive mindsets and self-confidence. Hence the incoherent misanthropy toward everyone. Interestingly, black pillers (at least on the Internet) seem more fixated on their high school experiences than other men, brooding on grievances and injustices dating back years or even decades.
In proposing potential solutions, black pillers need to engage in good faith (the echo chamber of perpetually online misanthropy and discouragement does not help). Presuming that the majority of incels have taken the black pill because they feel like it is all they have, they could feasibly wean themselves off it if they realized that it is a mental construct like any ideology rather than some grand truth of reality. It has far less power than one accords it, and can be abandoned.
Regardless of how they justify their hatred, sometimes wrapping their toxicity in protests of traditionalism or outrage at society’s unfair standards (and to be clear, they are unfair), the open secret is that black pilled incels would love nothing more to be the people they despise. This betrays the strongest, white-hot hatred that they have for themselves, which prevents black pillers from daring to imagine a better future.
The black pilled incel’s key weakness is self-loathing. They have no idea how to integrate their shadow side with their better nature, and to achieve wholeness. They are alienated from themselves and therefore alienated from the world. This leads to their hatred at the world for not conforming, or at least not being considerate, to their circumstances. They can’t reconcile their dark side, preferring the easy route of just embracing it without qualification.
An unexpected answer to the black pill philosophy, which really is just glorified self-loathing, comes in the form of a famous figure in science fiction: the Star Wars character Anakin Skywalker. I always found it curious that black pilled incels are apparently knowledgeable consumers of pop culture, from movies to novels to anime, yet overlook the core lessons found in such media. A former Jedi, Anakin famously fell to the Dark Side to become the villain Darth Vader. His fall from the Light in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) marks the nadir of his self-loathing for many years as Darth Vader. However, in Return of the Jedi (1983), he was redeemed after saving his son, Luke, and defeating his former master, Darth Sidious.
How would Anakin end up in the Light despite having done so much wrong and harm? Because he did not simply recognize his great failures; he was spurred on to overcome them through a decisive act. This is relevant for black pillers that go through much less. Acknowledging shortcomings is not enough: only through trying to overcome them does one sufficiently challenge oneself and avoid moral failure.
Having reconciled with his past failures, the deceased Anakin has appeared in media that is set after Return of the Jedi, at one with the Force and effectively enlightened in the Star Wars sense. In episode 5 of this year’s Star Wars show Ahsoka on Disney+, the titular protagonist is at death’s edge but mysteriously reunites with the Force Ghost of her deceased mentor, who was none other than Anakin. A Force Ghost is a postmortem manifestation only selfless Jedi are capable of becoming. In an ethereal realm called the World between Worlds, Anakin completes Ahsoka’s training by forcing her to confront the repressed trauma and fears of her childhood past.
In the final “experience” or vision, he tries to encourage her by stating that she is part of a legacy, the repository of all his knowledge and experience, just he was one for his master’s. She resists by saying that her legacy is one of destruction and death. Sensing what she is implying, since she was his student before he turned to the Dark Side, Anakin tries to encourage her: “You’re more than that. Because I’m more than that.”
When Ahsoka resists this, Anakin asks: “Is that what this is about?”, referring to his Darth Vader persona and her fear of it. “If I am everything that you are…” hints Ahsoka, which betrays how close she feels to him while also fearing him and herself, Anakin declares that she has learned nothing, and that they are going to go “back to the beginning.” He then draws upon his integrated shadow of Darth Vader, and forces Ahsoka to duel him as a way to not only overcome her fear of Darth Vader (and therefore the shadow side that she has inherited from Anakin), but also compel her to “live” by besting him rather than “die.” It is no surprise that after this encounter, she emerges a transformed person, much like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, Ahsoka the White.
The black pilled incel, for all his failures to meet the traditional markers of masculinity, is more than his failures – even if those mistakes and missteps pile up again and again. This is not necessarily a Herculean task requiring the entire rewiring of the brain (although crippling mental illnesses like chronic depression will demand therapy and treatment). The problem is that the black piller lacks the resources, and sometimes the imagination, to be more than their failures. Perhaps they are constantly reminded of their shortcomings, or they find themselves in an environment that makes it hard for them to reconcile their failures due to maladaptive habits. For example, an incel’s chronic online presence might be due to a sense of isolation amidst an unhappy family, which further restricts his potential to meet real people and friends.
There are no easy answers. But Ahsoka and Anakin stumbled on a universal truth: to be at peace with yourself, make peace with yourself. The past somehow has to be reconciled with the present, so that there can be “imagined possibilities” of a happy future. This means not being angry with oneself, or denying one’s difficulties and heartbreak, or else one falls into the trap that Darth Vader found himself in. True peace lies in letting go of pain and integrating its lessons into oneself, while cherishing one’s self in a compassionate and non-attached way. Only then does one forgive oneself and drop the black pill of maladaptive habits. Is that can be done, perhaps Anakin should have the last word, and it is one that lonely incels often do not hear enough of: “There’s hope for you yet.”
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