Everyone loves a good read about the history of sex robots, right?
“Sex robots,” therefore, have always been about more than sex. They’ve been a cultural repository for wider uncertainties in times of social change: a literalization of the fear that all human beings are fundamentally replaceable. They represent everything we most fear about what Walter Benjamin, writing about that era in Parisian history, called the “commodity-soul.”
The point that Tara Isabella Burton makes about commodification and the fear of being “fundamentally replaceable” is one I want to extend to non-sexual human interactions: the dudes who are (sometimes violently) raging about their lack of sex are not just getting any, they’re not getting anything. They aren’t getting the love, friendship, affection, and discipline that come from normal human relationships. Instead, they’re getting egged on into anger and misogyny by their peers.
We’re paying attention to incels because two of them have gone on murder sprees, but a lot of people are suffering from loneliness and it’s killing them, too.
I have a book review of Jamil Jivani’s Why Young Men? coming in the new edition of Comment magazine exploring the phenomenon of young men who are socially isolated (usually because of race, class, or both) and lured towards violent ideologies because of the potential for meaning and belonging that these ideologies provide. Subscribe now to get your copy, because the whole issue is about social isolation and how we can deal with it.
I also commend to you this episode of the With Friends Like These podcast with Ana Marie Cox and Ross Douthat where they discuss the original Douthat column about sex robots and furor it provoked.