Pickup artists (PUAs, in parlance) were first launched into mass social consciousness by Rolling Stone reporter Neil Strauss’s 2005 book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. They reached the less literary-minded in the form of a 2007 VH1 reality series, “The Pickup Artist,” which enrolled eight male schlubs in a school of seduction taught by the “world’s greatest pickup artist,” and a star player in Strauss’s book, Erick von Markovik, better known by his nom de guerre, “Mystery.” The show ended after two seasons, but like other cultural artifacts whose symbolic properties seem to outweigh their actual content or shelf lives—Sex and the City, Studio 54, Cosmo under Helen Gurley Brown—the type is still being bandied about by cultural commentators eager to appear au courant about that evasive and tantalizing epitome of cool: youth sex culture.
The point of the “Game”—as promulgated by Mystery and his army of PUA bloggers—is simple: to bed as many nubile women as possible. Its most vocal practitioners include the bloggers “Roissy” (a.k.a. James Wiedmann) and “Roosh Vörek” (a.k.a. Daryush Valizadeh)—chroniclers of conquest, proprietors of “the neg” (a seduction technique that involves criticizing a girl you meet at a bar in order to pique her interest, knock her off her pedestal, or make her feel more vulnerable in order to up her likelihood to sleep with you), and armchair evolutionary psychologists, pontificating about “alpha male” dominance over “betas.” While there are some among them who claim the whole object of the Game is to teach men confidence so they can attract women to date or possibly marry, it’s hard to believe professional PUAs have much respect for dating, marriage, or women in general (sample Roissy maxim: “Half the battle of game is stripping a woman of her inborn self-entitlement complex”).
Given all this, one would think that socially conservative writers—particularly socially conservative women writers, those types who frequent the pages of City Journal and the hallways of the Independent Women’s Forum—would cast aspersion on this life philosophy. But traditionalists have largely lent the PUAs a sympathetic ear.
Take Manhattan Institute fellow Kay Hymowitz, writing in City Journal in 2008:
[T]he SYM (single young male) is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.
It’s not that all of this isn’t a sign of impending social collapse, mind you (another tacit PUA approver, Charlotte Allen sees in Wiedmann’s blog, “a sense of impending social meltdown as the family crumbles and beta men are increasingly denied access to women”). It’s just that, well, can you blame them? Who would marry a modern woman? If today’s bright young lasses are giving it away like insert-your-favorite-metaphor here, aren’t trickery, caddishness, and moral disdain the proper response from young men? You reap what you sow, why buy the cow, etc. Besides, we can all agree it’s the fault of the feminists, and you know what they say about the enemy of your enemy.
Hymowitz goes on to lament the “post-feminist” era in which “the dating and mating scene is in chaos” due to the absence of accepted social scripts for young men and women to follow. Some women want men to ask them out on dates, others want to do the asking; some women want a man to pick up the check, others don’t. Some women are looking for a hook-up, while others are looking for “a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome or a temporary place to live.” It’s almost as if any particular man interested in any particular woman would have to actually talk to her to figure out which she had in mind! Quelle horreur, of course; viva la Menaissance:
By far the most important philosopher of the Menaissance is Charles Darwin. The theory that human sexual preferences evolved from the time that hominids successfully reproduced in the primeval African grasslands can explain the mystery of women’s preference for macho—or alpha—males. At the same time, evolutionary theory gives the former wuss permission to pursue massive amounts of sex with an endless assortment of women. Finally, the emphasis that Darwinism places on natural selection encourages him to adapt to the brutal current sexual ecosystem.
Or, as Philip Weiss most reductively puts it in this New York Magazine article: “Men’s genes program them to seek many mates and try to monopolize the reproductive lives of those mates.”
What does this have to do with our PUA, you’re wondering? Everything. Sexual Darwinism and converting “beta” into “alpha males” are the rallying cry and raison’d’être of the so-called “Seduction Community.” Here’s PUAlingo.com on one alpha male technique:
Peacocking is a technique developed to get attention in busy, distraction filled environments such as night clubs. By wearing something showy like a cowboy hat or a glowing necklace, a PUA is able to differentiate himself from his competition in the club. This is a term derived from the biological behavior or peacocks and from Darwinism.
Or as Allen, in her Weekly Standard piece, writes: “Welcome to the New Paleolithic, where tens of thousands of years of human mating practices have swirled into oblivion … and Cro-Magnons once again drag women by the hair into their caves—and the women love every minute of it.”
To say that we’ve reverted, however, wouldn’t quite be a correct interpretation of the “science” behind Sexual Darwinism and the Game. The qualities that make PUAs so successful (and their women targets so willing) are not a reversion, proponents say, but an adaptation, a part of the evolutionary process.
At the core of all this alpha- and beta-speak is, supposedly, biology. The alpha is a biological term for the highest-ranking member of a community of social animals. Alpha animals are the first to eat and mate, and in some species the only ones allowed to mate. Beta or omega members who break these rules are killed or ousted.
But the ideas of “alpha” and “beta” have no real impact on human behavior post-Pleistocene. Women tend to still like attractive, intelligent, and wealthy men, but they’ll hardly starve to death or be eaten by megafauna if they choose mates possessed of other qualities, like respect for women. The survival pressure that animates the lives of orangutans, for better or worse, doesn’t determine ours. Despite drawing from the respected well of evolutionary jargon, the terms are the equivalent of Malcolm Gladwell’s “thin-slicing” or “social connectors” —descriptors steeped in scientific research but lacking any agreed-upon meaning.
Are they an apt analogy for the young single dating scene? Perhaps. But among Game enthusiasts (and the writers reporting thereupon), one finds these terms imbued with an authority suggesting concrete scientific principle. The trouble seems to begin when talk (by conservative writers and PUAs alike) about alphas, betas, and primates shifts from convenient dating analogy to prescriptive behavior.
The PUA’s trump card, to which they return to justify every assertion, is the supposed iron law of evolutionary psychology. Our behavior is driven by our genes, they explain, and our genes have programmed us for propagation at any cost. Only the deluded Pollyannas (or the axe-grinding feminists) refuse to accept this. As the song lyrics go, “You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals/So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” The only sane response to this is a big So What? Wiedmann may desire be nothing more than a mammal, but the rest of us might prefer guides to human action more appropriate than the Discovery Channel. This becomes blindingly obvious when the laws of evo-psych are applied to other realms of human misbehavior, say aggravated robbery or pedophilia—both practiced, without compunction, by members of the animal kingdom and our distant forbears during the Pleistocene.
The inability of social conservatives to grasp this is regrettable. In their eagerness to bolster their worldview with the hard findings of science, they have jettisoned the very moral basis of that worldview in favor of deterministic “just-so” stories about cavemen. Hence, you get such silliness from Allen as this:
[E]volutionary psychology offers a persuasive explanation for many things that we are supposed to pretend are culturally conditioned: that the natures of men and women are fundamentally different and that, pace Naomi Wolf and the cougar-empowerment movement, women don’t get sexier as they get older, at least not on the eyes of the man sitting on the next barstool. Youth and beauty are markers of fertility. [...] Evolutionary psychology also provides support for a truth universally denied: Women crave dominant men. And it seems that where men are forbidden to dominate in a socially beneficial way—as husbands and fathers, for example—women will seek out assertive, self-confident men whose displays of power aren’t so socially beneficial.
And so it goes: traditional familial and economic arrangements are best because of our biological predisposition to them; women are better grocery shoppers because they used to be gatherers, etc. Only something as ideologically malleable as evolutionary psychology could move conservatives from lamenting “Girls Gone Wild” culture to empathizing with Tucker Max.
But PUAs and traditionalists share a common enemy, and a common justification. With kismet like this, who needs a common goal?
For Game bloggers and entrepreneurs, being analyzed and written about in serious magazines lends them a welcome legitimacy, though one at which they’ll publicly scoff (only a beta male would care about the approval of a bunch of old ladies). Here’s Wiedmann’s response to Allen’s piece:
I was asked via email by Allen to do an interview, but I had decided against it. I figure whatever I have to say about blood, sugar, sex, magik I’ll say here. Although Allen’s article turned out to be reasonable (the exception to the rule when dealing with journalists covering the topic of sex relations), most reporters will twist an interviewee’s quotes out of context according to their ideological whim or emotional vendetta. Whatever ethical strictures used to govern journalism have long since faded away in a miasma of rank partisanship and propagandistic hackery.
For a real treat, scroll down a bit into the comments and see Allen’s response, where she tries to curry favor with the Roissysphere by speaking the kids’ language, admitting her nonexistent “value on the sexual marketplace” as a woman of advanced age, and mocking her inability to do basic math. (In return, Wiedmann’s commenters scorn her for being “ugly as hell” and an “old hag.”)
For socially conservative writers, PUAs provide a way to vindicate their otherwise past-oriented views about marriage, sex, and cultural decline by squeezing them (never quite comfortably) into the framework of the cutting-edge. It’s relevance by any means necessary. And so Game devotees are transformed from an assortment of bitter and manipulative losers, deviants, and wimps into the logical response to a “feminized” culture. They are a tribute to our biological imperatives, which will surface irrepressibly from under the tight lid of political correctness and feminism. They are what the sexual revolution has produced, and their attitudes and antics will become “the new normal” if we don’t just, you know, declining marriage rates birth control no fault divorce single mothers ready abortion sex ed.
In the end, it all seems to turn (for both PUAs and certain social cons) on a paranoid conviction that, because of some heretofore unseen combination of cultural and biological circumstances, a large subset of marriageable men will be “denied access” to the wives owed them; women will either choose to go the child-rearing route alone, climb from hypergamous match to hypergamous match, or be part of an alpha males’ harem of offspring-producing females; and nuclear family life as we know it will cease to exist (this last one might not be much of a concern to the PUAs). Hymowitz has written one book already on the “marriage crisis” in America, and is working on another about the “singles crisis.” Allen cites approvingly from Occidental Quarterly contributor F. Roger Devlin, who she says “uses theories of evolutionary psychology to argue that the sexual revolution was essentially aimed at restoring primate-style hypergamy to human females and freeing women to try to capture the attention of and mate with the alpha males of their choosing instead of remaining chaste until their early marriage to a decent and hard-working beta.”
But it’s a fear that has little basis in reality. It has come to be the requisite point in every article of this nature to point out that the educated classes these days get married at roughly 1950s rates, get divorced less than their uneducated counterparts, and raise better-adjusted and more intelligent children. Hymowitz herself notes that, “The old-fashioned married-couple-with-children model is doing quite well among college-educated women. It is primarily among lower-income women with only a high school education that it is in poor health.” But most Americans will eventually marry, and the total number of married couples is higher than ever.
Commenting on the Postmodern Conservative blog, Samuel Goldman writes:
Women are attracted to the men they’re attracted to, and not attracted to those they aren’t… So what’s left in the end is the old argument that people don’t get married the way they used to. Which is true, and serious, and has almost nothing to do with Tucker Max.
I think that about sums it up.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kaavya Ramesh
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Hadley Heath