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Socialism and loneliness - 5/6/18
The left has spent much of the past week pushing back against Ross Douthat's recent suggestion that socialism demands a "redistribution of sex"; as it turns out, socialists generally believe that women and material commodities are two different things. But while this is obviously a correct and necessary response to a pretty ridiculous line of criticism, it also - as Eleanor Robertson notes in the Saturday Paper - comes as unwelcome news for the involuntarily celibate:
Incels are not unaware of this. Many post on leftist forums and imageboards, pleading, demanding to know: “What will happen to incels under socialism? Will the state allocate us girlfriends?” How can we respond to this in a convincing way, without affirming twisted feelings of ownership over women? I don’t know.
I agree with Eleanor that the left needs to avoid pandering to the misogynistic entitlement that pervades incel culture, but this doesn't strike me as that hard a needle to thread. We can recognize that desires for sex and companionship are legitimate without adding that these desires trump the need for consent. And once we make that distinction, I think that socialism still has, for the lonely and the sexually frustrated, a lot to offer.

The Marxist critique of capitalism, after all, is not simply a critique about economic distribution, or even just a critique about inequalities of power - it is also, at its heart, a critique of what capitalism has done to human relationships. Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving, focuses on how this has shaped our ability to love:
Modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature... everybody remains utterly alone, pervaded by the deep sense of insecurity, anxiety, and guilt which always results when human separateness cannot be overcome... [In] love and marriage the main emphasis is on finding refuge from an otherwise unbearable sense of aloneness. In "love" one has found, at last, a haven from aloneness. One forms an alliance of two against the world, and this egoism à deux is mistaken for love and intimacy.
This is just one dysfunction that capitalism has introduced into our relationships, but I think it is the one most responsible for the incel phenomenon. Capitalism has isolated us and atomized our communities, it has (for better and for worse) demolished cultural institutions that once connected us with one another, it has taught us to relate to each other as competitors and commodities, it has subjected our social lives to the ruthless standardization and regimentation of the market and incorporated them into all kinds of unimaginably perverse profit models - it makes us fearful and paranoid and depressed. Should we be surprised, then, when people are unable to form healthy, mature relationships? When they view each other as commodities and entitlements, or when they think of their social lives as an oppressive competitive market?

Socialism has no miracle cure for the involuntarily celibate, nor for the plague of sexist entitlement that overruns incel culture. It seems odd to me, however, to suppose that capitalism does nothing to make these problems worse. Bring down capitalism, and you bring down a totalitarian economic machine that only persists by separating us from each other and pitting us against each other. Set socialism in its place, and you can create a politics that values community, compassion, and respect. I think that would probably be a step in the right direction.