Why Pick Up Artists Make Me Incoherently Enraged
I’m going to start this off with a mild disclaimer. I’m a social engineer. A people hacker. Social engineering is as simple as catching patterns, comprehending them and then learning the trigger points to change those patterns socially, allowing an adjustment of another’s behavior. I use it to protect myself and others and I use it to deal with situations where I’m forced into a power dynamic that is unequal. I also use it to read people, to get an idea of what’s up so that I know if I’m safe or if I’m in a bad situation. I avoid it in power dynamics where I have the upper hand and in equal dynamics (although I still read for safety). I didn’t always use it only for those purposes in the past, I used it then for personal laughs as a troll. Social engineering works through the concept of observed and conserved patterns of behavior for a given culture (and some seem to ignore culture) and through observing individual social patterns of behavior for an individual (which vary widely but can still be exploited just as easily if you’re saavy enough). The conserved patterns are conserved in everyone who is neurotypical or close enough to neurotypical that they are still socially similar to the culture they’re in. Literally. Cis man, cis woman, trans man, trans woman, nonbinary, genderqueer, etc etc. Provided you aren’t intensely non neurotypical or from a radically different culture, you will have exploitable conserved patterns that can really be applied all over based on what you learn from watching average folk (among individual patterns that take some time of reading to comprehend). And even these folk have conserved patterns, you just need to learn them first (as they tend to differ a bit from the average patterning of your culture and neural group). Conserved patterns are not the majority of patterns, so generally, reading is a more important skill than pushing.
So why, pray tell, do pickup artists (PUA, of the Nick Savoy, Tucker Max, etc sourcings) piss me right the fuck off when I myself am a social engineer who is still fairly active? Two reasons.
2: Ethics (which, unsurprisingly, arises from theory)
Let’s tackle theory first.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of something called evolutionary psychology, no? It’s a mixed bag, evo psych is. Parts of it deal mostly with how the psychology of humans evolves in a society that evolves technologically. Perfectly valid, afterall, sociological and psychological changes brought on by behaviors that are more or less successful is something that occurs and is fairly well backed (a sort of sociopsychological evolution, not a genetic and biological one, structured through loss of influence that can be used to teach behaviors, instead of inability to breed one’s genes). The problem arises in the sections of evo psych that attempt to imply (using absolutely horrid studies, with tiny sample sizes, huge control sample issues, massive confounding variables and a lot of “correlation equals causation haha!” stupidity in them) that straight cis women and straight cis men (queer and trans folk are usually ignored in this stuff, SURPRISE!) have psychological differences based on biology in mating habits, attraction (not sexual orientation, but what preferences for sexual behavior they have), interaction, psychological patterns, approaches to human interaction and trigger points for certain emotional response.
This is, of course, a load of fetid bullshit.
You see, the interaction, attraction, mating habits, patterns and trigger points that are not heavily conserved in all people of a given set of neuronal functionality or culture (not gender) are not conserved at all (and note carefully that the number of these conserved patterns? Not high). In fact they vary from person to person. These apparent neurological differences vary more between individuals then they do between cis men and cis women. Despite the fact that this doesn’t take into account trans folk, the fact that we’re not exactly common means we can’t really account for widespread individual variation, even if a good number of blendy or cissexual/pre-transition trans folk were scattered among the cis people looked over (none of this is to say that absolutely nothing is inherent in the brain genderwise, for instance, gender identity is fairly immutable and doesn’t appear to change over culture, although its expression certainly changes). In fact, more and more evidence is mounting that many of the social interaction differences between heterosexual cis women and heterosexual cis men is purely sociological, as more and more variation shows itself in a society loosening up on gender (no small thanks to us trans folk, especially our nonbinary and genderqueer siblings, who have done some good work to pick apart the rigidity of gender boxes for our and their survival).
So what does this have to do with PUA? PUA’s base theories and reasons for why their systems work is sexist evo psych. The theories they follow are the wrong, poorly backed, sexist, cissexist, heteronormative, erasing, pseudoscientific bullshit that is used all over the place to justify all kinds of oppressive asinine bullshit. Well that’s no good. You see, PUAs aren’t proper social engineers. They’re the dnd hedge witches to our wizards/sorcerers. They found a few tricks of social engineering that work, think they comprehend why and use them stupidly based on that shit poor comprehension. Whereas social engineers understand what they’re using and where these patterns come from. People hackers recognize that patterns are often individual, that conserved patterns are often cultural or based on neurotypicality and the type of nonneurotypicality. Someone with ADD is going to have a different set of conserved social patterns from someone with schizotypal disorder and they’ll both have a different set than people with neither. Someone from the US will have different cultural patterns than someone from China. Social engineers recognize that 90% of S.E. is reading a person, comprehending their patterns, which vary a lot. PUAs (largely) think that “all” women think the same based on biology because of some shitty studies that say poorly backed claims about cis het women (erasure, it is grand).
Golly, now you know why I’m annoyed, being that I hate pseudoscience and stupid bullshit. But why am I incoherently enraged? That’s usually more of a response to people doing fucked up shit to each other, not to people just being wrong and stupid. Being a social engineer, you’d think I wouldn’t have a problem with PUAs engaging in it how they do on that sort of level, just a mild annoyance at the stupid.
Well, that’s where we get to Ethics.
You see, the “great” part about theories that are built on erasure, -isms, oppressive bullshit is that they often cause erasure, -isms and oppressive bullshit. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle. Things that are built off of -ism by their very nature have to act in justification of -ism. This justification is often entirely subtle, much like the usage of slurs and oppressive language. But just like the usage of slurs and oppressive language, how we speak, what theories we use to describe the world, they influence our thought patterns. The mind learns through absorption and repetition. Constant exposure to oppressive tropes will train you to accept them, even implement them, and it doesn’t matter if they’re just in using a slur like “shemale” or a problem usage like “lame” or “gay” being used for “bad” or “pathetic” or a theory built on concepts that downgrade, erase and/or oppress certain groups. Those tropes will still affect you and how you operate. So using the bad parts of evo psych isn’t just pseudoscientific garbage peddling, it’s pseudoscientific garbage peddling that encourages unethical and oppressive practices both subconsciously and consciously. Yes, a mouth full.
Generally when you talk to PUAs, even the ones who claim to be the “good” PUAs you notice the same patterns of viewpoint (all of which completely ignore nonbinaries in every way possible):
1: “Women’s” (erasing queer women, trans women, women from other cultures and any woman who doesn’t fit this trope) attractions are based on Items A through F, where items A through F are elements of dominance and control in society. This is justified through the “this is just science and I’m being honest” trope. This can be used on trans women (in a more limited fashion than on cis women generally because most straight cis men with these kind of views regard us as sexuality traps or men faking being women) especially in certain contexts (like in chaser culture) where this sort of treatment is in fact accentuated for trans women in comparison to cis women.
2: “Men’s” (erasing queer men, trans men, men from other cultures and any man who doesn’t fit this trope) attractions are based on Items U through Z, where items U through Z are elements of the sexualized image of women (cis or trans) and the social commodity of our bodies. This is justified through the “this is just science and I’m being honest” trope. This can be applied (in a more limited fashion because a lot of straight cis men of these types will still regard trans guys as just masculine girls) to trans guys. And if the social acceptance for trans men is there, it is just as easy for a trans guy to get caught into this shit as a cis guy, provided they all have the right outlook or desperation for a lay.
3: Active manipulation of emotions through social engineering is a-okay to get sex (as opposed to having sex with someone who yanno, likes you that way) with absolutely no concerns regarding the ethics of manipulation for sex and can be analogized to passive methods of boosting attractiveness, like say, appearance, self confidence. This is justified through the previous faulty analogy. (This applies across the board with no limits)
4: The cognitive dissonance maelstrom of “women are a game that we can play to get what we want” justified by the claim “We don’t see women as just objects to fuck!” (this is applied across the board with no limits, in fact, trans women often face it far more heavily from chaser PUA’s than cis women do)
There’s a few more actually but I can quite honestly make my base argument right here with just those four. If you’d like to watch a “nice guy” PUA attempting to defend himself (and simply digging an even bigger hole through exhibiting those patterns and more), go to this locked thread on the xkcd forums. As always, external links, especially to forums, may contain problematic language or even possibly triggering concepts. There’s no way for me to catch everything there, so read with discretion. The thread is locked, mostly because the moderators got tired of Jon’s derailing and mansplaining (and good god can PUA guys derail and mansplain) but it does offer a pretty good show of how even the “nice ones” are still subject to these problems.
So Ethics. Key to social engineering is that it is a tool. It is not evil or good in and of itself. Merely a tool, a practice, a comprehension method and a skill. The thing about tools is that they have no ethics themselves. Their usage being bad or good depends entirely on the ethics and behavior of the tool user. A tool user may have great ethics but still use the tool in horrible ways (in such cases, you know how much intent matters to whether they misused the tool). And that’s the crux of it. Your use and implementation of social engineering is what is bad or good. Not social engineering itself, how it is used. PUA is an implementation of social engineering that is built on sexism, cissexism, binarism and heterocentrism (arising mostly from the pseudoscience it draws its theory from). So already, it’s fucked out of the gate for ethics. But it gets worse.
You see, social engineering is a very dangerous tool. It’s like having a gun or drugs, that you can use pretty freely on others. We live in a society where, ethically, it simply isn’t acceptable for people to not have full autonomy over their own bodies, what happens to them and their lives. This of course isn’t really honored much, but we do live in an oppressive hegemonic system of layered and parallel dominance structures built to deny power and resources to some while elevating others and to play off all of these groups against each other through oppression on different axes. Another mouthful. But yes, ethically, any system that denies bodily domain and lifestyle autonomy (for any reasons other than to prevent one from denying another those rights, and then only in ways that are specifically required to prevent such denial) to anyone is a bad system. And any tool used to deny people their autonomy, even subtly, is being used unethically. Enter unethical S.E.
There’s a reason I listed off the purposes I put social engineering towards above. Those are ethical usages of a very dangerous tool. When you use S.E. you are manipulating someone’s autonomy, denying it in more extreme usages. Using it to protect your own autonomy (especially if you lack the physical strength just to gut punch someone who fucks with you) is fine. Using the passive skills to gauge situations is fine. Using it to manipulate and hurt people for shits and giggles (one of the many varieties of trolling)? Not fine. And using it to manipulate people into giving you access to bodily domain when they would not have done so in the first place? Not fucking fine. It’s like the drugs and the gun. If you hop someone up on alcohol or some kind of powerful drug, for the express purpose of fucking them, when they wouldn’t have done so normally, you’re crossing some fucked up lines and doing so often crosses the rape line specifically (two or more people getting trashed to grease the gears for themselves to have sex is fine, because all folks involved are wanting the same thing, it’s just really fucking risky, since it’s tougher to know when one or more needs to stop when you’re trashed. Different post for a different time). Holding a gun to someone’s head to get them to have sex with you is pretty obvious fucking rape, the most extreme example of coercion and manipulation. So where does unethical S.E. when it comes to sex stand? I wouldn’t go so far as to call it rape (not unless you engage in a fairly extreme S.E. manipulation, like say manipulate someone into thinking they have no choice at all). It certainly isn’t ethical and it certainly undermines bodily domain. None of this is to say that you can’t use S.E. passive skills to gauge if someone wants you and whether you’re wasting your time, or to boost your own social viability. And no doubt, passive skills still leave the choice entirely in the hands of the person you want, allowing bodily domain to remain fully intact.
But PUA isn’t passive. And it’s built on theories that oppress a lot of people and filter into the behaviors of PUAs. This is a bad combo. This is why PUA makes me incoherently enraged. Because it isn’t just pseudoscience. It isn’t just garbage that makes this arrogant snobby social engineer go pffft. It’s unethical and dangerous garbage, that teaches men (trans and cis, yes I know trans guy PUAs) that women (trans or cis, worse if for us if you’re dealing with chaser PUAs) are toys to fuck with, in order to get laid.
That’s a goddamn problem.
Oh and did I mention that all of the passive S.E. skills, self confidence boosters, anxiety reducers, grooming tips and other non invasive skills that PUAs claim is the concentration of their… “art” can all be learned without the sexist bullshit of evo psych and the dehumanizing, objectifying bullshit of The Game? Yeah. No fucking excuse, PUAs.
Filed under: rant | 44 Comments
Tags: binarism, cissexism, erasure, ethics fail, kyriarchy, pseudoscience, sexism, social engineering
Retired But Not GoneAn archive of a trans woman's explorations of her gender, disabilities, sexuality and the social forces that harm her.
Some of the posts on this blog may express internalized transmisogyny and ableism.
Some of the posts on this blog may discuss or describe traumatic events including rape and abuse, harassment and oppressive violence. Trigger warnings may apply.
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