Lay Down And Rot: Incels and Lost Futures

By Henry Price and Emily Pratten

The “slow cancellation of the future” describes a collapse of the collective imagination to envision any alternative to the further spread of capitalist logic, across every aspect of human life. Mark Fisher called this the installation of a “capitalist realism” or “‘business ontology’ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business” (Capitalist Realism 17). Fisher identifies this phenomenon as occurring slowly throughout the neoliberal era, but accelerating from the early years of the millennium onwards.

In this essay, we examine an alternative contemporary narrative of foreclosed futures that is shared by members of the Incel (involuntary celibate) community. Incel is one node in the Manosphere, a loosely affiliated online network of groups who share concerns about men and masculinity. Deeply fatalistic, Incel consists of a community of largely young men who share a belief that all but the most attractive men have no chance of future happiness or romantic love, due to the skewing of “dating markets” in favour of women (Price 247).

With reference to two texts well-known within the Incel community, we argue that the shared perception of a future lost and stolen is a more significant and consistent pillar of the Incel worldview than is entitlement to sex, or indeed sexlessness itself. In this sense, we want to move the focus from Incel as involuntary celibacy, to Incel as ideology, and address it as a specific, if contradictory, response to a variety of changes which have occurred in the neoliberal era.

Incel and the Black Pill

The Black Pill refers to a set of beliefs held by Incels to explain how and why modern society has relegated all but the most attractive men to an effective underclass: unlovable and valueless. According to the adherents of these beliefs, women have been elevated, via a variety of state-financed capital transfers, legally enforced privileges and a cultural fixation on female ‘empowerment’ and sexual autonomy, to the position of elites. This doctrine leads Incels to self-position themselves as the ultimate detritus: not just losers of a sexual competition, but unable to compete in the first place. These assertions about the world “have mutated and transformed into a badgering insistence on the existence of an objective truth that they feel is being censored or going entirely undiscussed” (Pratten n.pag.).

In sharp contrast to other Manosphere groups, the Incel worldview rejects the notion that an attitude of ‘self-improvement’—an attitude fully aligned with Fisher’s understanding of neoliberalism and capitalist realism (2009, 2011, 2014)—can have any substantial effect on the lives of unattractive men. Instead, Incels claim that they are doomed to “Lay Down And Rot” (LDAR). In Incel forums, posters regularly describe the destructive emotional and physical effects that this has had.

The prominence of antifeminist conspiracy, suicidal ideation and violent sexual fantasy which characterise such forums has led many writers to conclude that Incel is “incredibly unhinged and separate from reality” (Wendling, qtd in Williams n.pag.). Another, less common but increasingly noticeable approach is to frame Incel discourse as an ugly and uninhibited—but ultimately understandable and sympathetic—cry for help from young men who have been demonised as privileged and dangerous (Bloodworth n.pag.). In both cases, albeit in different ways, analysis focuses on sexlessness, either as a barometer of increasing numbers of Incels in which involuntary celibacy is a prerequisite, or as evidence of Incel perversion and/or aberrance.

We believe that a more productive way to understand Incel is to focus on its construction of a worldview, and a key part of this is the narration of a lost—and crucially stolen—future. Adherence to the Black Pill is often more important for being accepted within Incel spaces than is involuntary celibacy, and this is demonstrated in how such spaces are administered. For example, explicitly forbids women from registering as users, while sexually active men are permitted to register and post, so long as they respect the views portrayed on the forum (SergeantIncel Similarly, posts which question the intractability of Inceldom are highly contentious. While there are exceptions, encouraging techniques of self-improvement (e.g. going to the gym) in Incel spaces often results in fierce backlash.

Capitalist realism, neoliberalism & gender

While terms such as ‘capitalist realism’ and ‘neoliberalism’ are rarely if ever used in Incel spaces, in many ways Incel discourse and identity encapsulates and reflects a painful if unwitting embrace of the ‘fact’ of capital, as it pertains to [hetero]sexual identity (Gilmore n.pag.). Indeed, the truth of the Black Pill and its narrative of a foreclosed future is ‘proven’ in Incel spaces via the epistemic authority of ‘market outcomes’ and quantitative evaluation (e.g. the rising number of involuntarily celibate men) along with anecdotal experiences of women ignoring or acting cruelly towards ‘non-elite’ men.

We follow Fisher and others (e.g. Dardot and Laval 150) in defining neoliberalism as an economic programme which installs a specific rationality in its subjects. The subject produced under neoliberalism is different to the rational economic man of homo oeconomus, who maximises their capacity. Instead, the subject becomes entrepreneurial and inhabits the market spirit of competition and enterprise: seeking opportunities, experimenting with one’s own capacity and constantly adapting to market demands (111). Neoliberalism is understood here as an overarching strategy of governance, in which cultural and institutional emphasis on agency and “freedom through the exercise of choice” proliferate, and which “regards unfettered free will to be an ideal state for systems of all sizes, from nations to individuals” (Bay-Cheng 280). In this context, as on Incel forums, “market outcomes” of these choices are the only way of measuring value. 

The ubiquity of pro-feminist messaging across popular culture is referred to in Incel spaces as an indicator of ideological power, and the supposedly degenerate effect that this has had on the behaviour of women. While this is a highly reductive interpretation, neoliberal governance has certainly engaged in complex ways with gender power relations. The language and iconography of feminism has long been a feature of neoliberal society (Fraser 281-282), and the 2010s were a significant decade both for a highly visible feminism, and what has been termed an antifeminist backlash (Jane 562). Pro-feminist messaging has been critiqued by feminist writers highlighting the ambiguous effects of feminist “entanglement” with neoliberal priorities of capital accumulation and individualism (Budgeon 36).

Therefore a neoliberalism produces a contradictory situation in which a highly visible, neoliberal, or post- feminism is critiqued as individualistic by both feminist theorists and ardent antifeminists. It is the agents associated with this feminism, however, rather than the drivers of neoliberal policymaking, that are cast as enemies of the Incel community, which considers itself simultaneously an example of the damage produced by feminist power, and a brave stand against it.

The ‘lost future’ is a neoliberal vision

Much of Incel discourse consists of everyday individual experiences being re-interpreted through a worldview that positions all women as elite actors in contemporary society. The two texts we analyse here, transcripts of the viral videos “31 Year Old Forever Alone Virgin: How It happens” by Youtuber Just James (2018), and Eggman’s “Take the Black Pill” (2015), frequently regurgitate this misogynistic logic. However, we have selected these texts because they are well-known in Incel spaces and provide an overview of different ways in which individuals relate to the Black Pill, as well as substantiating the central argument of this essay that it is a narrative of ‘lost futures’ that unifies these individuals, rather than perversion or an entitlement to sex.

Bay-Cheng writes that “neoliberalism purports to celebrate and protect agency, but it also operates as a hegemonic imperative such that not exerting free will – no matter the reason – invalidates one’s status as a fully-fledged human”. Incels consider themselves incapable of “exerting free will” because of their ‘low value status’, which following a tautological reasoning further evidences their failure to be “fully-fledged human[s]” in a neoliberal environment (280). This is observable in both selected texts. 

In the video “Take the Black Pill”, Eggman describes a “fucking la-la land” (0:17), a phrase which is repeated in his opening remarks and is typical of the tone of pessimistic realism employed throughout. He believes that for most men the idea that “everything’s gonna be okay” (0:23) is a “little fantasy world” (0:21) and asserts that men have been “raised to believe something that isn’t true” (04:16). This “something” is presented as the process where you “be a nice stand-up guy, get a nice job, find that nice girl, get your nice white picket fence and your dog and your kids”, concluding that “that’s not gonna be going on anymore, okay?” (04:41) These words are confrontational and full of resentment, because he does not, as a non-elite male, have the freedom to pursue a mythological cultural narrative involving a “white picket fence.” 

Just James diverges by appearing less confrontational and explicitly opposed to violence. He mentions sex only once, to say that “the lustful side of it, the physical side of it doesn’t really matter to me, I just want to find someone who’s on my wavelength, that understands, that cares, and I can care for them and they can care for me, it’s like, that’s all that matters in life really” (22:38). The act of sex itself is substantially less important than its symbolic meaning: recognition as a valuable member of modern [neoliberal] society. James frequently uses modal verbs such as “could” and “should,” speculating on a range of possibilities which would open to him if only he was able to attract women. Despite this, James acknowledges his capacity for retributive “rage,” (0:49) and remains extremely pessimistic: “Will I ever find someone that I’m compatible with? Probably not. Is it too late for me? Probably” (02:05).

For both men, their fate is sealed not simply because they feel rejected by women, but because of the inability to engage in the process of building value and self-worth that being sexually active provides within this vision for the future. They are not able to accumulate social capital, and as such the freedom to use said capital in the construction of a fulfilling future is lost. For the neoliberal subject, an inability to exert free will denotes not a partial but the most profound failure.

The future has ‘rotted’ away and its absence is permanent

In place of future horizons and possibilities of the sort encouraged by neoliberal discourses, the Black Pill refers to regression and stagnation as the only available future for most men. This is reminiscent of Fisher’s claims of “the slow cancellation of the future”. Descriptions of the processes through which Incel has emerged, as well as the effects that this has on the competitive losers, are saturated with linguistic patterns that orientate around ideas of decay, rotting, inevitability, and collapse. The prominent Incel term “lay down and rot” (LDAR) uses “rot” as the operative verb, indicating that this rotting is the only possible outcome when one is faced with the reality of Inceldom. Throughout his video, Just James uses visceral language about bodily functions, anatomy, and death. There is a preoccupation with death and ways of dying, with “rising” (21:24) towards a happy future and with going “deeper” into a “pit” or “hole” (10:53). He says, “I was buried under shit, I couldn’t flower into a well-adjusted human being,” (12:10) a juxtaposition set up between “buried” and “flowering.” Movement towards the future, a vision of choice and freedom exercised through engagement with women, is a “flowering” he is prevented from engaging in. As such, he will never arrive there, and so will be “buried,” and rot. This language carries with it a burden, it is vocabulary laden with defeat, lack of hope, and the idea of an end, or death. This inevitable loss of life directly mirrors the stasis of life as an Incel. 

In “Take the Black Pill” the decay is additionally occurring at a societal level: “we’re trying to keep up this façade, you know, as society is crumbling around us, as civilisation is collapsing” (07:39). For Eggman, everything is falling apart and wasting away. He says “you’re trying to catch-up and you’re trying to be something, but you’ve already lost, you’ve already failed” (08:39). This indicates that the crumbling and collapsing is predetermined, and there is little that can be done. He says again “you’ve failed,” and that “it’s over” and “it all comes down to genetics” (08:50). An idea of a predetermined future is prominent in the way in which the Incel worldview engages with genetics, referring to a ‘genetic lottery’ which determines your future successes in the sexual marketplace. As such, the success of your life and your future is already decided at birth based on whether you are a “genetically superior” (13:10) or an “inferior” (14:59) male. He writes “you’re probably just totally fucked for life and you’re probably, you’re probably fucked from the day you were born” (10:32). In these texts the future is not only decaying, crumbling, and being “stolen,” it also simultaneously never existed in the first place.

The men in these texts speak in absolutes; there is a perceived lack of possibilities, lack of ability for change, and the assumption that there is no future because of what exists in the present. The points of divergence appear in their responses to these absolutes, whether that is to “distract yourself with copes” (18:20) and hope for a social “remould[ing]” in which people are alerted to the suffering of men, (Eggman 17:46) or “keep trying… [even though] it’s probably too late” (Just James 02:03). 

Women are blamed for this withering

Finally, the two texts unite around the assertion that it is women who are to be blamed for this withering and decay, and women’s sexual behaviour that is the cause of civilisational collapse. This is not a concept unique to Incel worldview, as “young women’s sexuality has often been treated in popular U.S. discourse as a bellwether of cultural decay and dysfunction” (Bay-Cheng 279). Antifeminist ideas, however, have become more pervasive in the digital age, and internet communication technologies provide the anonymity and scope for extremist misogynistic discourse to thrive (Sobieraj 1700). Proponents of antifeminism, including the Incel community, wholly “reject the idea that men are responsible for perpetuating gender inequality and instead argue that feminism has systematically reduced men’s social, political, and economic opportunities, which has resulted in the oppression of men” (Dignam and Rohlinger 592).

This “oppression of men” is keenly felt and theorised in the texts, which speak of women as cruel, unforgiving beings with too much agency and power. Just James says “the way women are, with feminism…they’re cold and callous and calculated” (22:46), evoking the ideal neoliberal entrepreneurial subject. He says that men like him are “lowest on the care order” (02:19) and mourns an imagined past where “at least we had family unity, which was more established, and people actually stuck together” (24:10). 

In “Take the Black Pill,” Eggman also indulges in a longing for a time when women more formally occupied social roles orientated towards supporting men. He says “back in the day, you know the Christian morality and the marriage from a young age…it was kinda like a block, that building block to the real…but that’s not happening anymore” (12:08). Women are to blame for the loss of this “building block” because they “would just rather fuck guys forever and not get married” (12:15). Women’s choices are directly linked to the loss of a future, and as a result most men are “probably never gonna be in a happy relationship” (11:10). He uses vivid and dehumanising language to discuss women who settle down and get married only to cheat on their husbands, saying that once married they will “be spending every single day of their lives…thinking back to when they got gangbanged by the football team in the locker room” (05:38) and as such they “get fat” to “get revenge on this loser I had to marry” because “he doesn’t deserve [a sexy wife], he’s genetically inferior scum, he’s trash” (07:05). He says “it’s not a good future. Who knows if there is a future, probably not, probably we’re going through basically the collapse of civilisation right now” (12:39), and that “it’s all to do with looks…genetic superiority is what women want…they have the option nowadays” (17:28). It is this “option” that is causing the “collapse”, and “you can’t do anything unless you just like completely remould society” (17:46).


In this essay we have argued that the Incel worldview can be productively understood by examining its construction of a “no future” narrative, and that its supposed foreclosure is central to the Incel worldview (Black Pill). We have demonstrated, via analysis of two key texts, as well as observations developed following a period of immersion in Incel spaces, that common conceptions about Incel are limited by a focus on sexlessness as a defining feature of the community and its worldview. While Incel exists as a particular, masculinist response to its neoliberal environment, and many parallels can be drawn between Incel and previous antifeminist currents, we believe that a more sophisticated understanding of this phenomenon can be produced by focusing on the narrative of a stolen future.


Henry Price and Emily Pratten, “Lay Down And Rot: Incels and Lost Futures,” Alluvium, Vol. 9, No. 3 (2021): n. pag. Web 4 June 2021. DOI:

About the Authors

Henry Price is a Research Fellow currently based in the Birmingham Business School (BBS) at the University of Birmingham. His PhD thesis was an examination on contemporary forms of antifeminism, using Incel as a case study to argue that, as feminist projects have become ‘entangled’ with their neoliberal environments, so too have antifeminist backlashes. He continues to be interested by and to write about the forging of sexual and political identities.

Emily Pratten is a PhD student at the Centre for Digital Cultures at the University of Birmingham. Her doctoral work utilises feminist and critical theories to explore the ways in which misogyny manifests in online spaces and across digital cultures, and interrogates the social and economic conditions that, along with the communicative powers of the internet, have allowed gendered prejudices to transgress physical boundaries and further spread across contemporary Western culture. Her thesis interrogates male-dominated, antifeminist ideologies and argues that ‘extreme’ ideas about gender that exist in these spaces are very often reinforced and validated by traditional and commonly accepted cultural narratives about women.

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Feature Image: “The Damned Utd” by Benjamin Horn

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