by Mary Harrington
Monday, 23
August 2021
Dark Web
10:56

The liberal safari into inceldom has only just begun

Meme-making anthropologists massively misunderstand online subcultures
by Mary Harrington
Credit: Lily O’Farrell

After the recent mass shooting in Plymouth, there has been much discussion of the ‘incel’ subculture that many now hold responsible for Jake Davison’s murderous actions. Notably, the aftermath saw a flurry of appearances by (typically blonde and middle-class) morally correct female ‘experts’ on TV and radio, to offer insights about the new menace.

One such was cartoonist and creator of Instagrammable wokeness, Lily O’Farrell, with a series of cartoons describing her 18-month ‘deep dive’ into incel forums that landed her an appearance on BBC Woman’s Hour.

Her foray into this potentially hostile unexplored terrain has all the hallmarks of the intrepid explorers of the European colonial era. First they gain the natives’ trust by living alongside them before writing detailed ethnographies for consumption among respectable people back home.

I don’t know if O’Farrell meant to reference this pith-helmeted history of imperialist objectification when she depicted herself in camo trousers and backpack accessorised with binoculars, but it’s a shame she didn’t add puttees and a couple of native bearers as well.

Sarcasm aside, it’s probably inevitable that whichever regime currently dominates will send its favoured missionaries out to fact-find about groups deemed alien or hostile. In turn, they will try to recoup them for the ideological mainstream. Despite its protestations of anti-imperialism, the current regime is in that sense no exception.

O’Farrell’s cartoons list a series of common and fairly mainstream memes on her account. It glosses them with some simple observations about lack of opportunity, companionship or mental health support for young men. She then abruptly handbrake-turns into dismissing all such meme-based subcultures as a noxious outworking of patriarchy and as a terrorist threat.

The solution, we gather, is to treat meme-lords with suspicion, and (empathetically) strangle misogyny at the root. What this means in practice is less clear, though it surely cannot be a redoubling of those lectures about ‘toxic masculinity’ that drive young males to mutinous muttering in online subcultures hostile to women.

We can expect such moral adventuring to grow still more vigorous following the resounding and widely-publicised implosion of ‘nation-building’ efforts in Afghanistan. As has been now exhaustively observed in innumerable op-eds, the effort to instil liberal democratic values in Afghanistan — represented totemically by ‘women’s rights’ — turned out to be a colossal waste of blood and treasure.

But over 20 years of activity, this expensively futile project spawned a vast ecosystem populated by thousands of highly-educated consultants, experts and report-writers. Their remit was, in essence, military-backed liberal evangelism, and their grand project is now in tatters. People don’t give up easily on their dreams, though — especially when they’re used to making a living pursuing them.

So the liberal-evangelical industry formerly focused on Afghanistan is now, abruptly, a well-connected, highly articulate solution in search of a problem. This group is unlikely to remain silent for long.

And with foreign adventures most likely off the menu at least for a little while, the most propitious site for evangelical zeal will be deplorables closer to home. We can expect Lily O’Farrell to be the first of many pith-helmeted explorers, plumbing the bowels of the heterodox internet in search of benighted natives to improve.

Join the discussion


  • Incel culture is worrying and is connected to the ‘trans’ movement in that both hate women and want to obliterate them in different ways but I think linking the Plymouth gunman to the incel philosophy is tenuous. It has been chosen as an explanation because the media and the Left are too heavily invested in the real one to admit to it. This incident, along with many other unreported suicides of uneducated young men who don’t kill anyone else first, was caused by lockdown.
    No pubs, gyms, social activities or sports was survivable for the laptop class, earning money in their own homes, going for walks, reading, listening to music and doing their gardens. For the uneducated young, with no work or money, no intellectual hinterland, no interests and no personal space, it was a living hell. Why he was allowed a gun is obviously another issue but perhaps the police would have had time to investigate him properly if they hadn’t been enforcing stupid Covid rules and harassing people for using the ‘wrong’ (actually entirely correct) pronouns on Twitter.

  • If the bien pensants really want to understand the incel phenomenon a trip into Britain’s colonial past in Muslim SE Asia might help: It looks very much like the Amok concept, where men of low status and even lower self control typically avenge themselves against a society that is not giving them wealth, respect or sex. “A widely accepted explanation links amok with male honour (amok by women and children is virtually unknown).[Running amok would thus be both a way of escaping the world (since perpetrators were normally killed or committed suicide) and re-establishing one’s reputation as a man to be feared and respected”

  • The importance of the Christian practice of monogamy is underappreciated. Where polygamy is legal and economic inequality is high, there will be large numbers of men who are sexually frustrated. Many will prey on women whom they are permitted to rape by a society looking to force women into accepting polygamy. In the video below, it claims that one in eight Bangladeshi men ADMIT to having raped a woman.
    A Crime Unpunished: Bangladeshi Gang Rape – YouTube
    Others in the past would have joined the armed forces where being victorious in battle meant bringing home sex slaves.

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