Seduction as an Ascetic Discipline


Austin Bramwell

I am a freelance opinion-monger living in New York City.

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30 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Some points from a decided outsider.

    In the gay community, there is no need whatsoever for pickup artistry. Who in the world is artistic when they order pizza? For us, it’s just the same, except sometimes you order pizza totally by accident.

    Pickup artistry strikes me as being somewhere between compensation for lack of actual sex, at least among many of its devotees — and fetishism, with a strong tendency toward the latter.

    Think about it: the narrative scripts, the codes, the repetition — all of which is boring as hell to an outsider. You’re dealing with sexual fetishists here, I’d say, not with a particularly new sexual culture.

    Perhaps a fine distinction, I’m not sure. I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts on it.Report

    • Avatar Austin Bramwell says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, Yes, seduction is clearly only useful for the heterosexual male. Gay men generally don’t have any particular resistance to sex that needs to be overcome.
      Not sure I follow I understand how PUA is fetishistic. The purpose of seduction is to gratify ordinary sexual desire. How is that fetishistic? Also, I wouldn’t describe it as a “sexual culture.” I’d say it’s just a hobby, like fly fishing. Like any hobbyists, PUAs enjoy getting together and comparing notes.
      On the other hand, seduction is by definition, as you say, “compensation for lack of actual sex.” The very purpose of it is to relieve a lack of access to sex.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Austin Bramwell,

        I’m thinking of the stuff Megan posted earlier, in which she compared PUAs to teenage girls, here. What the long blockquote said to me wasn’t teenage girl, particularly, but fetishist.Report

      • Avatar JosephFM says:

        @Austin Bramwell,

        Call me blinkered and perverse, but no, I don’t think women gravitate to high status males. I haven’t actually known women to have much resistance to sex, either. But I suppose I say this as someone whose sexual experience is probably more like Jason’s – that is, sex (with both men and women) was pretty easily and readily available, despite my lacking any status whatsoever. This was mostly because I didn’t think like I was entitled to it.

        What they object to is being treated like conquests, regardless of the supposed class of the man who sees them this way. That Roissy thinks women need to see themselves as, in his words, “Princess(es) On A Cloud Carried Aloft By Admiring Suitors” or else fall into panic, fearing abandonment, shows only that he doesn’t actually understand people at all.
        The far-from-universal fixation with royalty is, I think, about consumer lust for luxury goods, indoctrinated in girls from a very very early ago, not about men at all really.

        Of course, I am entirely agreed with his strawman that most obsessive striving for any goal, if the real purpose is to attract a mate, is indeed pathetic, but not nearly as much so as his complete inability to see that anything besides sex could be motivator in human endeavor. Putting aside the fact that yes, there are men who are manifestly uninterested in sex, even if all obsessive behaviors in the pursuit of a mate were equal, most of us have better things to do.Report

    • Avatar Simon K says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, Some gay men seem to pursue straight men in a vaguely similar way. That’s obviously a fetish thing.

      I’m not sure the PUAs are so much sexual fetishists as obessive collectors. Anecdotally at least they don’t care so much about the actual sex as adding more “conquests” even if they only ever collect their phone numbers.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Simon K,

        I’m mostly imagining the fetish angle coming in where people read about the conquests of PUAs, instead of getting out and having sex themselves. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, type on the Internet with one hand.Report

        • Avatar Austin Bramwell says:

          @Jason Kuznicki, Now that’s a little silly. Is it a “fetish” to read avidly about, say, professional football even though you may never have played football in your life? You can enjoy reading about / following something even if you don’t do it yourself. Perhaps you are just using “fetish” as a synonym for “something one takes an interest in.” As in “I have a table tennis fetish, a morning newspaper fetish, and a stamp-collecting fetish.” It seems that all the word “fetish” adds is a note of contempt for another’s interests/hobbies.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            @Austin Bramwell, if one’s hobby involves actively using another person as a means to an end rather than an end in itself, the hobby begs to be put into a different category than those other things you mentioned.Report

            • Avatar Austin Bramwell says:

              @Jaybird, I definitely agree it’s not very noble. As I argued in my post, I think it’s good for a man to have a single-minded obsession with a certain goal — however, I’d much rather my son become obsessed with, say, chess, than the art of seduction.
              That seducing a woman is ignoble, however, is different from saying (as McCardle does) that PUAs are losers, or saying (as Jason I think does) that they have some pyschological defect or “fetish.”Report

            • @Jaybird,

              That may be, but using “fetish” to denote the bad obsessions problematically strengthens stigma against harmless sexual minorities that use the term to describe themselves but exhibit the bad behavior in no greater proportion than the rest of society.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I’ve talked to a handful of chicks and found out that a lot of them are, like, totally human beings with internal lives and shit.

    It blew my mind, yo.Report

  3. Assuming sexual success to be the only ultimate goal of every activity is a pretty impoverished view of the human condition.Report

    • Avatar Austin Bramwell says:

      @James Vonder Haar, Yeah — but what if Dawkins is right? The genes-eye view of humanity can be both impoverished and true at the same time.
      Personally, I like the genes-eye view, since it is the most compelling explanation of the “many roots of our suffering.” It is therepeutic to understand why happiness is so elusive.Report

      • @Austin Bramwell,

        Dawkins is right, and he’s a paradigm for integrating gene-eye science with humanistic living. Unlike most of the popularizers of his discipline, he’s got a good enough grasp of philosophy to know where it’s tempting to overreach a scientific finding, and avoids such errors. One of the most striking features of The Selfish Gene is Dawkins’ staunch refusal to impart ontology to our genetic striving. Numerous times he points out that speaking of genes as “seeking” to propagate themselves is a convenient anthropomorphism, not solid science (and also makes sure that he can translate his theories back into more philosophically sound language). Genetics may have formed us, but it does not rule us. Its explanations can tell us how something came into being, but it can never tell us its value. The reason for altruism existing may be, if the kin selection theory is correct, that we tended to live near our kin, so our genes stood to benefit from helping those people out, but that makes altruism no less noble. I suspect Dawkins would agree with me that the gene-centric lens makes for great science and poor philosophy.Report

        • Avatar Austin Bramwell says:

          @James Vonder Haar, Ok, then, that we are driven by genes seeking to replicate is a correct factual claim about the human condition. I certainly agree, though, that it is wrong to infer that the purpose of one’s life should therefore be gene propagation (or to have the sexual conquests that ordinarily would lead to gene propagation).Report

        • Avatar Mopey Duns says:

          @James Vonder Haar, You lost me at the part where you said Dawkins has a good grasp of philosophy.Report

          • @Mopey Duns,

            If you’ve been reading most of his anti-religious antics of late, I’m not surprised that’s your view of him. I went into The Selfish Gene expecting a polemic illustrating the worst excesses of Darwinian thinking, such as we see above, and wound up with thoughtful evolutionary biology. Don’t let his current myopia prevent you from giving the book a try- or blind you to the contributions he had to make in his field.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus says:

    I guess it’s possible that seduction techniques are compensation for looks. I have a friend who looks like a male model and I don’t know that he has any grace whatsoever and is actually pretty weird. When he goes to bars, he is accustomed to deciding which woman there he will sleep with and then leaving with her. To be honest, I don’t really know any men with “game”. For me, I always did alright with women because I’m generally interested in them and people like it when you ask them questions; also because the majority of males strike out with women all the time, so it was never particularly painful for me to get turned down. I do seem to be a lot better at flirting now, probably because there are no stakes at all now.Report

  5. Avatar Andrea says:

    I’ve met Neil Strauss (Style) and a few of his male groupies – I work for his UK publisher. I don’t think the problem _is_ the game, as it were. The problem is that many of the blokes follow it slavishly and are completely fake. Once they’ve developed their own, genuine self-confidence and conversational patter, they won’t need the game any more as they’ll be Naturals.Report

    • Avatar Austin Bramwell says:

      @Andrea, Of course, there’s no inconsistency between the teachings of “game” and the observation that game is second-nature to the best seducers. After all, as I pointed out in my post, one the objects of game is to practice its techniques continually until you’ve successfully reshaped your character so it all comes naturally — so natural that you can perhaps add surprising twists so you don’t even appear like a slavish devotee of the art. As with any hobby, the best always have their own unique style.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I have a handful of friends who are still not yet married (and, as far as I can tell, heterosexual).

    This is the piece of advice that makes the most sense to me:

    You get to pick one trait. If you’re lucky, you get to pick two. But that’s it. You get to pick one trait of the person you’ll be dating.

    If you want a chick who is a rock climber, hang out at the rock wall.
    If you want a chick who exercises on the treadmill, hang out at the Y or 24 Fitness.
    If you want a chick who loves Jesus, hang out at New Life Church in one of their 14 groups for “singles”.
    And, of course, if you just want to base it on what she looks like, just keep your eyes open.

    My issue, when it comes to compatibility, is that, as superficial as “we both like jigsaw puzzles” is, it is actually common ground that will allow two folks to maybe explore a relationship (and, maybe, the type of personality that likes hobby X also has traits that makes them compatible with others who share the interest).

    When it comes to guys going to clubs and hitting on hot chicks?

    All they’re doing is judging on what the chick looks like.

    I suppose the fact that they’re not doing this in service to something like “an eventual relationship” but “finding a ‘tang dispenser” may mitigate this somewhat…


    • Avatar Cascadian says:

      @Jaybird, Hows a bout the flip side of this? What are the girls doing in the club? Why are they falling for the charade? I suppose there’s some perverse justice at the bottom of it all. People get the government they deserve. Perhaps this is true of mates or hook ups as well.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        @Cascadian, I suppose that that is a good point as well. If they are deliberately choosing to put themselves in the role of ‘tang dispenser, they ought not be surprised that they find themselves chased by folks looking to have some ‘tang dispensed.

        Perhaps they do, in fact, deserve each other.

        Seems to be a recipe for unhappiness for frickin’ everybody involved, however.Report

  7. I thought the essay that inspired McArdle’s post was interesting:

    “The great mistake of the pickup artists, of Don Juans, of seducers in general, is to think that the lover is a failed version of themselves. The lover, they say, tries to “get the girl,” but just doesn’t know how–and if he learned their techniques he would. The trouble is that there is no agreement on just what this “getting” is. And, in fact, if the lover were to adopt the techniques of the pickup artists, his “getting” would become impossible. For a woman’s sexual surrender does not count as “getting” for the lover. Nor, for that matter, does her love, if the lover does not love her also. The lover’s “getting” requires his own experience: his own adventure, his road through the mountains and forests. And the reward in the valley is not sexual satisfaction; it is a proof of love.”

    “The experiment, then, ends in a disquieting paradox: Julien can only have the woman he loves if he does not, for all intents and purposes, love the woman he loves. He has tried to become simultaneously lover and pickup artist, but his failure makes him, when all is said and done, only a pickup artist. He “gets” the girl in the one way–but not the other.”Report