The Murky Ethics of Pick-Up Artists

The Murky Ethics of Pick-Up Artists


Pickup-artists-headerIIIn 2005, a journalist called Neil Strauss released a book called The Game, chronicling his adventures with a bunch of men who called themselves pick-up artists – these guys were masters of seduction, and they were willing to let any man who could pay for a seminar in on their secrets. The book was a best-seller, but even if you missed the release of what is arguably the first pick-up artist manual, by now you’re likely familiar with the idea of the pick-up artist considering recent events, but just in case you missed it; in November videos surfaced of US ‘pick-up artist’ Julien Blanc advocating such techniques as putting his hands around the throats of women he had just met, shoving women’s heads into his crotch and using tricks to convince them to sleep with him despite their reluctance.

In Australia, hotels refused to book his seminars and his Visa was eventually cancelled, and numerous other countries followed suit, classing him as someone who propagated hate speech and refusing him entry into their countries. Although pick-up artists have hardly ever been much admired – you can read scathing commentary of The Game here and here – this backlash proved that their activities were no longer thought of as benign men with silly names and silly hats like Mystery. But what if you’re one of the guys who paid good money to go and see one of his seminars? What if your copy of The Game is well thumbed? What if you know what negging is, and what if you converse in the militaristic jargon common in the seduction community? Or what if, although you’ve never attended a seminar about it, you have often been unlucky in love and you understand wanting to pick up some tricks to help you get some attention? We follow these questions and break down why these ‘techniques’ are not worth paying good money to learn.

Are Pick-Up Artists Really That Bad?

Some people felt that the action against Blanc in Australia had gone too far – writer Milo Yiannopoulos argued that denying him a visa was equal to suggesting that men couldn’t watch a ‘clown’ advocating bad behaviour without mirroring it. Others celebrated the decision, notably Australian Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, who said “if you think manipulating women is clever, you’re wrong. And if you think shoving a woman’s face into your crotch is power, you are wrong. Not only are you demeaning women, you’re demeaning yourselves.” This was stated to a room full of police commissioners and advocates against family violence from New Zealand and Australia, and reflects the hardline that many men in high positions have begun to take against the techniques these self-professed pick-up artists promote. But are these guys really that bad?

In a word? Yes. But let’s tease that out a little more. When you’re trying to find someone new, things are tough. When you’ve been going out to bars and clubs for weeks, and then the weeks turn into months and you still don’t seem to be meeting people who are interested in you, it’s easy to think this is happening because you don’t “get it”. As if this is a game, and everyone else knows the rules and you just haven’t been taught to play. And you think… maybe if I just knew those rules. That feeling is making these ‘pick-up artists’ a lot of money from vulnerable men. And this is the thing – it is just not true. Let me explain why.

 But… Doesn’t it Work?

The techniques used by pick-up artists are reportedly born from evolutionary psychology, and because they are based on studies of human behaviour, anyone following the rules that pick-up artists promote might garner some success. However, this fails to take into account one thing, and that is that humans are incredibly varied. Academic Amanda Denes says “much evolutionary work fails to recognise personhood as an interactive, relational status and instead focuses solely on bodies in attempting to understand human behaviour.” So, evolutionary psychology has limits when it comes to individual behaviour. There’s no way to predict what any one woman is going to do or say. Having a fixed set of behaviours that is supposed to apply to everyone you want to date will just not work, and this is why…

Women are from Earth, Men are from Earth

There is a fundamental truth that pick-up artists ignore when they sell their wares to vulnerable men, and that is that we’re all humans, first and foremost. There are myriad quirks and beliefs and thoughts that make us individuals, but we are all, on a basic level, human, and we are therefore alike. Pick-up artists work upon an incredibly narrow and limiting idea of womanhood and female sexuality. What they’re really promoting is that a man should act out a character and approach a woman who is herself a character, a hollow stereotype with easily manipulated wills and desires. This denies women their personhood and ultimately it sets men up for disappointment. As Lindy West argues, “You cannot “get” a girlfriend, because a girlfriend is not an iPad or a burrito or gonorrhea. Women are people. You aren’t entitled to “have” people, just because you think it will cure your unhappiness.”

Weird Nobodies Together

The point is, women and men should not be set up as opposing forces. Successful romantic interaction cannot be a game of chess where everyone is trying to outsmart an opponent by being two steps ahead. If someone is shy with the opposite sex, they should remember that there are plenty of people of the opposite sex that feel similarly, because we’re all human and feel similar emotions. The way to meaningful interaction is by being honest and being yourself, and finding someone who wants the same things and thinks that you’re great. Maybe you’re awkward, maybe you have really dorky taste in music, maybe you have odd habits – but you’re better off leading with those qualities than pretending to be a cocky caricature of a human being, or you might never find someone who says “you like eating cream cheese and marmalade sandwiches? Me too!”

There’s a poem by Emily Dickinson that goes ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you – Nobody – too? / Then there’s a pair of us!’ Pick-up artists function upon you not trusting that you will ever find your fellow nobody just by being yourself. But believing that won’t help you find what you want in your love life – playing games might get you a number, but it’s not going to get you happiness. There are no tricks. There is not really a game, love and falling in it is really just about relaxing and getting to know another person. This is not an easy answer, this is not a quick fix, but it’s certainly a cheaper solution.