Why is it that cults so regularly seem to collapse into scandals involving sex?
There is always the suspicion of course that it’s because they are invariably run by gruesome and sexless old men. The fanatical devotion they usually demand, combined with the vulnerability of those almost magnetically drawn to charismatic “gurus” who claim to be in sole possession of “the truth”, offers perhaps another explanation.
There are also those cults designed wholly with the pursuit of sex in mind. As I write these words thousands of men are trying desperately to master the art of approaching women by reducing it to a formula which, so its proponents claim, will make it possible to “attract the women you’ve always wanted any place, anytime, and in any situation”. This is otherwise known as the “seduction community”, a subculture of men made famous by Neil Strauss’s 2005 book The Game and VH1’s hit reality show “The Pick-Up Artist”.
For the uninitiated, pick-up artists, as they call themselves, dedicate their lives to bedding beautiful women. They exchange ideas in online forums, arrange meet-ups, visit bars and nightclubs to hone their “skillset”, and post about their exploits online. As with most cults, there are rival ideological approaches and theoretical schools. The best known figureheads in the business – for like most other branches of the self-help industry this is first and foremost about commerce – bring in millions of pounds a year selling books, instructing students, and organising conventions resembling World of Warcraft gatherings on steroids.
I actually took a brief interest in the seduction community during my first year at university. For a young man in his late teenage years and early twenties, much excruciating time is spent trying to figure out how to make oneself attractive to the opposite sex during a period when females seemingly hold all the cards - not to mention have the ability to destroy a young man’s self-esteem with a flick of the hair or a turn of the head. The feminist canon about patriarchy holds true for the most part of course, but rarely acknowledged is the fact that women have a greater degree of sexual choice. At no time is this more apparent than during the pangs of adolescence when one’s thoughts turn incessantly to intimacy.
Like most men my age, I didn’t feel in the slightest bit privileged let alone empowered because of what was hanging between my legs.
There was always a dark side to the community, however, and this was what kept my interest in it brief. I managed to get a girlfriend too – and without any of the various wheezes recommended by the pick-up artists. This proved to me at least that I was perhaps not as repulsive as I had feared. I also noticed among friends who took an interest in “the game” that, as with most cults, once they started to feel good about themselves they rarely stuck around.
Together with the casual misogyny of the seduction community – women are regularly referred to as “targets”, “HBs” (hot babes), and “warpigs” (physically unattractive women) - the most disturbing thing I encountered was the idea that when a woman says no it doesn’t really mean “no” at all, but rather “not yet”. Assuming one has executed a successful “seduction” and persuaded a woman that your lodgings are the best place to carry on getting to know each another, the next step according to “the game” is to outflank a woman’s “anti-slut defence” – a socially conditioned response to the fact that society holds promiscuous women in low esteem – and take her to bed.
The “techniques” deployed to overcome a woman’s disinclination to have sex, arguably in some respects, have elements indistinguishable from date rape. One famous PUA known online as “Roosh V” was even placed on the Quarterly Intelligence Report of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a long-established civil rights organization which monitors and litigates against hate groups in the United States, after promoting in books and articles the notion that what no really means is, well, yes. According to Roosh Vörek (his real name) who says that the SPLA had to “partially retract their list by stating those on it are not members of a “hate group.”, “women need to understand that men aren’t robots who can suddenly stop at the drop of a dime with all that testosterone pumping through their system”.
“Therefore”, he asserts, “it would be prudent for them not to enter situations where the average man can’t stop due to his innate weaknesses as an animal whose entire existence depends on him successfully mating”.
Bastardised evolutionary biology crops up repeatedly in this strange world. Men and woman do not apparently make decisions influenced by their surroundings as well as by their biological drives. No, the way they behave in the sex game is entirely “hard-wired” – a belief which conveniently absolves men of all responsibility when they “can’t stop” due to their “innate weaknesses as an animal”.
And there was I naively thinking self-help was about personal responsibility.
Ok, so there are weirdos out there. Internet weirdos at that, which is probably even less of a revelation. Don’t be fooled by the goofball amateurishness of it all, however. Nor by the nerdy jargon which treats mating as if it were a level in a particularly enthralling computer game, with women as “targets”, friends as “obstacles” and other men as “AFCs (average frustrated chumps)”. Every weekend in London alone, Real Social Dynamics - probably the largest company teaching pick-up in the world, and which holds bootcamps in all major Western cities - will take around half a dozen men out to the capital’s bars and nightclubs (for the eye-watering price of £1,259) and will try to instil in them the core principles of pick-up as they interact with women.
It might not be harmless chivalry that students are imbibing, however.
One delightful thread on the Real Social Dynamics forum from 2011, entitled “Lie your way inside a woman’s vagina”, advises readers that, once they have a woman back at their house, they should not be “afraid to physically force her to do anything or to tell her no or shut up”. The poster goes on to counsel readers to “ignore what she says and physically force her. You must be able to verbally and physically dominate a drunken 18 years old girl”.
Another user chimes in: “yeah, and then when you're done with her, you just like grab all her clothes and then throw ‘em at her, then shout get out you f***ing whore. Women deserve this because ofwhat they've done to us.”
Rather than banning the above posters, or even deleting their posts, which are still there for all to see, Real Social Dynamics dating coach Jeff Allen, aka “jlaix” – a published author who teaches students every week in San Francisco and London - is “Loving the responses”.
Be careful out there, won’t you.