Alpha, Beta, Charlie

S.G. Belknap at The Point:

So how does it work? It begins in a bar. PUAs (pickup artists; this will be the first in a long line of acronyms and other assorted jargon) do often ply their trade during the day, sometimes even on the street—this is called “day game” and has its own nuances—but the classic location for seduction is the trendy club or bar. For the most part the pickup artist “sarges” alone (i.e., operates alone—the term comes from the name of one of the cats of an early pickup artist), but a “wingman” or “wing” can play a role as well (among other things, he makes the pickup artist who is “running the set” look good). After a target is chosen, she must be approached within three seconds—this is the “three-second rule,” one of Mystery’s inventions. The thought behind it is twofold: first, if a man looks for too long at a woman, she might begin to think he is creepy, or, possibly worse, a coward; and second, if a man looks for too long at a woman, he might indeed become a coward, he might lose his nerve. When it is time for an approach, the approach always comes from an angle, from ten o’clock; this is less intimidating, but also conveys sufficient confidence. The pickup artist always smiles.

The first words spoken to the group (and it will usually be a group, because “women of beauty are rarely found alone”) are an opener, which is delivered along with a false time constraint. The time constraint—”my friends are waiting for me so I have to go in a few minutes, but…”—serves to eliminate anxieties that the pickup artist will never leave; anyone who has been approached in a bar, male or female, knows this feeling. The PUA opener—what follows the “but” in the time constraint—is unlike the come-on lines we have always heard: “Come here often?”; “What’s your sign?”; “I must be in heaven, because you are an angel.” The PUA opener seeks instead to start a conversation, nothing more, nothing less. Typically, it asks for an opinion, which both makes the intrusion plausible and, even better, allows women to offer their advice (because who doesn’t love giving advice?). One opener that has been “field-tested,” the “jealous girlfriend” opener, asks the group what a friend (imaginary, of course) should do in the following situation: his new girlfriend has become more and more opposed to his continuing contact with his ex-girlfriend from college. Now, of course it makes sense that the current girlfriend should have pride of place. But the ex-girlfriend is just a friend at this point—and anyhow, they are still such important figures in each other’s lives! Is that really fair?

In the meantime, of course, the pickup artist needs to watch his body language—or train himself into the proper body language beforehand. PUAs are quite fond of watching movies with famously “alpha” protagonists—James Dean, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt—and routinely copy their stances and gestures, practicing in front of a mirror. They seem to know everything that one could possibly desire to know: where to put their hands, where to put their feet, what to do with their weight. They know how to manipulate a woman out of her barstool so they can slide into the seated position (the position of power). They know how to rock backwards slightly when delivering openers—again, so that their interlocutors fear they might leave at any moment.

Soon it is time for a “neg.” Here is the insulting, the teasing—the alienation, as Mystery put it. When the opportunity arises, the pickup artist finally acknowledges his target, whom he has either been ignoring or only addressing as part of her group. But it is hardly an acknowledgment: it is a mild insult, or a backhanded compliment, and always delivered in as casual a way as possible so that the intention to insult can never be detected. At the target’s first attempt to join the conversation: “Whoa, your friend is pushy guys, is she always like that?” Or after she smiles: “Your nose is so cute; I love the way it wrinkles up.” The thought is that depriving a woman of attention and validation will lead her to seek it from you; Strauss puts it best when he says that to neg a woman is to treat her like a bratty little sister.

But the victory of the pickup artist can only be guaranteed by demonstrating value. In the abstract, this involves establishing that the pickup artist is different from other men, intriguing in some way, superior. Most of the time, however, because of the historical accident of the culture’s foremost practitioner having been interested in magic as a child, this is achieved via a number of pseudo-mystical “routines”: ESP, handwriting analysis, various personality tests. (In Mystery’s own case, there are actual magic tricks involved, but he knows better than to introduce them as “magic tricks.”) In one routine, “the cube,” the target is asked to picture a cube in the desert. Then she is asked: How big is it? What is it made of? What color is it? Then she pictures a ladder, a horse, flowers, a storm. Sure enough, the cube represents her ego, the ladder her friends, the horse her lover (or her own sexuality), the flowers children, the storm her problems. Is the ladder leaning on the cube? Her friends depend on her. Is the horse bigger than the cube? She wants her lover to dominate her. And so on. That the details of the routine are purely arbitrary is not lost on the pickup artists—there exist bountiful variations, in which the terms are shifted around according to whim, the flowers representing one thing, the ladder another. The idea is just to get the target talking about herself, and in a style that comes naturally; after all this is “chick crack,” catnip to women, who according to the pickup artists love any and all psychological speculation, particularly when tinged with the supernatural. And the pickup artist displays his value by engaging the opposition precisely in that territory, the realm of fog and intuition; but he doesn’t just engage her in this realm, he dominates it, beating her at her own game. That is value.

The playbook has many, many pages left at this point: the target must be isolated; a connection must be made (something traditionalists try to do first but the pickup artist knows to do later); and comfort must be built to allow for an eventual transition to the “sex location.” (And on all of these subjects, and indeed on those above as well, there are thousands and thousands of posts on various internet forums.) But there is one more wanton and controversial play in the book that deserves mention: the neutralization of LMR—last-minute resistance. When the time comes, returning to the pickup artist’s house should be easy, since the target is familiar with the place from dropping by earlier in the night (the pickup artist needed to stop off quickly for something he forgot). Once she is in the front door, he accomplishes her transfer from living room to bedroom through an excuse like “I want to show you a video—but the television is in my room.” At this point in the seduction both parties know what is going on, but excuses do need to be made. In the bedroom (where there are no chairs), the pickup artist sits on the bed with the target, but nowhere near her (how confusing). When the time comes for physical escalation, he makes sure to always take two steps forward and one back. But at some point he could hit a wall—this is LMR. A woman, the pickup artists tell us, desires sex just as much as a man does; but because sex represents more of an investment for her, and because she has been culturally “programmed” to avoid the label “slut,” she will resist right up until the end. At the first sign of obstruction of this kind, the pickup artist can “blast” it with a “freeze-out.” The pants go on, the light goes on, the candles go out. The pickup artist is sorry, but when a woman tells him to stop, it kills the mood for him; he knows very well that no means no. Teased by something just out of her reach, the girl will eventually relent. If necessary, the pickup artist will again let his words take care of political correctness while his body takes care of what it wants: he will agree with her—”I know, this is so wrong, we shouldn’t be doing this”—all the while removing her clothes and encouraging her body along the path of its desire. In this as in all things the pickup artists are closers; they close the deal. They number-close, they k-close, they f-close. Number closing is getting a number from a girl; k-closing is short for kiss-closing; and f-closing, officially, is short for full-closing. But the “f” stands for that other word as well.

Megan McArdle:

I find it hilarious that the pick-up artists think of themselves as especially manly.  When I read this piece, what they sound like to me is girls–specifically, girls in the 14-17 age group.


Spending all of your time thinking about how to attract the opposite sex?  Check.  Practicing poses in the mirror to figure out which ones are most attractive?  Check. Talking about it endlessly with your friends who only seem to care about the same, one, thing?  Check. Increasingly elaborate strategems for getting attention?  check.  Eventual evolution of said strategems into rituals as mechanical as playing the opening levels of an old-style video game?  Check.  If I close my eyes, I can still smell the bubble-gum scented lip gloss . . .

Do they send out for pizza while they talk, or would that just make Erik cry because he looks so fat in his new jeans?

More McArdle:

Incidentally, I’m being accused in the comments of engaging in some sort of conspiracy to keep the Beta Man down.  More on primate theory later, but for now let me point out that as a married woman in her thirties, I have very little possible interest in the behavior of the PUAs; I’m not their target, and they’re sure not mine.  To a person with a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail, and to a person with a sociobiology theory, everything starts to look like some primeval competition for resources on the veldt.  This tendency should be strenuously resisted; not everything fits into a neat primate model, whether your Preferred Primates are bonobos or silverback gorillas.

My off the cuff observation was a genuine one; this whole thing sounds like what girls used to do.  And in fact, at some level the PUAs have to know that it’s not really particularly manly.  Why do I think this?  Because if your girlfriend (however temporary) caught you mimicking Tom Cruise in front of the mirror, or spending your spare time trolling message boards for magic tricks to impress women with . . . well, would she be more enamored, or would she slither out of bed in disgust and start looking for her clothes?

I am not against people attempting to upgrade their social skills, nor am I horrified at the thought that “beta” males will somehow sneak into the gene pool; after all, I live in the city often called “Hollywood for Nerds”.  But the combination of artificiality, superficiality, and manipulation in the PUA manifestos makes it really hard not to snicker.

Andrew Klavan at Ricochet:

Megan links to this piece, but if you want to read some great stuff on the subject, try my City Journal colleague Kay S. Hymowitz especially here. Kay is a wonderful writer and her stuff is great but, when I finally met her at a CJ party, I did feel obligated to introduce one cavil: she refers to these pick-up shnooks as alpha-males. There’s nothing alpha about them. John Glenn is an alpha male. Spartacus is an alpha male. Even Tony Soprano is an alpha male, until the feds catch up with him. Alpha males are leaders of men, which requires that they have control over their sex lives not the other way around. I mean, good heavens, have these pick-up boys never heard this sage advice?

Roissy In DC:

Yet another churlish, resentful SWPL broad is on the warpath against game, armed with the same primitive stone tools all the other anti-game broads wield.

Reading the half-baked hate, I can’t help but get the impression of a very nervous woman. A woman apprehensive that men are gaining power in the sexual market and perhaps appalled that she is not any longer the primary target of that invigorated male sexual power. I can imagine her speaking truth to her indignation by assuming the role of the wise SWPL lady to a generation of younger women, admonishing them to never settle and scolding men to grow up.

But, you know, the times they change. The cock has no interest in your feeble hate. It doesn’t believe in synthesis, or syllogism, or in any absolute. What does it believe in? Pussy. And whatever it takes to get it. It’s self-evident.

The hater, McArdle, read an article by S.G. Belknap in The Point Magazine about pickup artists and seduction technology. McArdle sneers that men who learn game to attract women are “girly”.

I find it hilarious that the pick-up artists think of themselves as especially manly.  When I read this piece, what they sound like to me is girls–specifically, girls in the 14-17 age group.

The “learning seduction is girly” sneer is one of the most tedious repressed neoVictorian sniffs at game. It’s almost as if McArdle reads the comments here and sent a private shout out (and a pizza) to a bunch of my haters (hi, spoogen!) to agree on what they thought would be the most cutting sort of jab with which to poke the PUAs.


Game, by stripping the seduction process into a flowchart for ease of learning and applying in the field, offends women’s sense of mystery and prerogative to act on intuition. Things better left shrouded in the unknown is the working preference of most women, not because they are more romantic than men (just the opposite is true), but because women are constitutionally wired to abhor the thought that men can exert calculated influence on women’s sexual desires and choices. Women want total and untrammeled choice in the dating market, and they want to prohibit men from enjoying the same extraordinary power. Game brings balance to the force, and that is highly threatening to women, particularly aging women for whom options are rapidly running out. (Reminder: Maxim #98: Marriage is no escape from the sexual market and the possibility that you may be outbid by a competitor with higher value.)

Ultimately, women hate the thought of game, (not game itself; that they love), because they want their alpha male – beta male distinctions predigested and unsullied by interference from proactive men intent on bringing chaos to the male hierarchy. This is why women love royalty and kings and princes so much; in that world, the alphas are identified and known. There is little churn. The women have only to concern themselves with competing with other women for the cocka of the top dog. But in a world of game, where the status of men is in a constant state of flux, ever-shifting and spoiling the tidiness of the women’s preferred caste systemed zero sum sexual market, there are additional stresses and concerns. Now the women have to figure out who among the millions of men trundling through their gleaming anonymous urban jungles tingling ginas left and right are the alpha males of their dreams and expectations. By muddying the waters, game makes this filtering process more difficult for women. More exhilarating, too.

Austin Bramwell at The League:

For the record, I have no idea whether women prefer rigid hierarchies.  Still the theory makes sense.  Only the most blinkered or perverse observers would deny that women generally gravitate to high-status males.  Even feminists like Naomi Wolf, Martha Nussbaum and Samantha Power have married up.  (This is ironic because feminism can never achieve its goals until women are willing to marry down.  After all, the low-earning, low-status partner will have a strong tendency to let the other climb the greasy pole while she finds better things to do with her life.) A caste system does clarify who the high-status mates are, and therefore makes it easier for women to make the “correct” sexual choices.  Women resent an sexual marketplace where they can easily be duped into mating with a low-status male. Roissy’s observation that women swoon for royalty neatly illustrates the hypothesis.  As I said, I’m not sure if it’s correct, but I do think it’s plausible and quite trenchant.

But then Roissy commits a fallacy.  He dubs the “Fallacy of Misdirected Hate” the proposition that “A guy who spends his life obsessing over how to get women is a loser.” Roissy gives the following reductiones ad absurdum:

A guy who spends his life obsessing over climbing the corporate ladder to get more attention from women is a loser.
A guy who spends his life obsessing over mastering guitar and playing in a rock band to get more attention from women is a loser.
A guy who spends his life obsessing over pursuing financial rewards and acquiring resources to get more attention from women is a loser.
A guy who….. ah, you get the point.

In other words, obsessing over seduction techniques is an intellectual or career obsession like any other.  From a genetic perspective, according to Roissy, the reason that men devote decades of effort to the pursuit of a single goal is that becoming the best at something will ultimately improve their mating prospects. (Of course, men are usually unconscious of the ultimate genetic reasons for their obsessions.)  A obsession with seduction techniques just so happens to produce improved mating prospects directly as well as indirectly.  It is no less a waste of time than any other pursuit.

The fallacy here is this: Let us grant that the men are genetically programmed to focus single-mindedly on a single goal.  That does not mean that all single-minded goals are equal.  On the contrary, an obsession with, say, string theory, is superior to an obsession with, say, bull-riding, which in turn is superior to a truly destructive obsession such as with, say, winning political elections. I suppose that learning seduction techniques is not the most harmful thing one could do with one’s time.  But it is clearly not the most worthy obsession imaginable.

Nor does a study of seduction lead to more satisfaction of one’s desires.  Like any other ascetic discipline, seduction requires you to master your emotions and fundamentally reshape your character.  The “natural” tendency of men is to be utterly awed and stupefied by female beauty, and to grovel and plead in order to have access to it.  There is surely no more chivalrous a creature than the 13 year old boy! How disappointing it is for him to learn that his love and respect for beautiful women is precisely what makes him contemptible in their eyes, while the callousness of the 18-year-old Big Man on Campus is precisely what makes them admire him.  The seduction community tells men to overcome their chivalrous tendencies and instead to treat women like clockwork oranges.  To be sure, seducers revel in their orgiastic conquests. But the last they thing they should ever do is lose control; the seducer must continually squelch any desire to truly love and admire a woman. The life of the seducer is rather like that of the married man: in both cases, you have to learn to control and sublimate your instincts.

EARLIER: All You Do Is Neg, Neg, Neg


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