Thousands of people last week gathered at the University of California-Santa Barbara to mourn the victims of another mass-murderer. The 22-year-old student on May 23 killed six people and injured 13 more, before turning his gun on himself.
With every murderous rampage comes a search for meaning. The perpetrator, a “kissless virgin,” said in a YouTube video posted before the spree: “I do not know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it.”
In the immediate aftermath of the killings, commenters blamed the killer’s crimes on everything from misogynistic “pickup artist philosophy” and “therapy culture” to easy access to guns and no-fault divorce. Even “nerd culture” has come under scrutiny.
Is American culture responsible for mass murder? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the Red-Blue America columnists, wade into the issue.
Hey guys: It’s time we stopped being jerks.
Elliot Rodger was not a typical man — few of us go on shooting sprees — except that he was: Desperate for sex, frustrated by its absence, convinced he was owed it, and seemingly unconcerned about the actual person who might furnish it.
The result: All too often we treat women like objects for our lust, instead of the complete, whole, human beings they are. We use sex to diminish them in endeavors that have nothing whatsoever to do with sex. We help make one-half of humanity quite rationally fearful of the other half.
We can do better.
Having said that, the problem with America is that we’ve got any number of pathologies running wild out there — it’s a big country — but when those pathologies seek to express themselves in the most horrifying way possible, it is almost always with the use of guns.
Not having enough sex? Go on a shooting spree.
Unpopular at school? Go on a shooting spree.
Need some attention? Go on a shooting spree.
We could keep going, but you understand the point: Columbine is not Newtown is not Aurora is not Jonesboro is not Virginia Tech is not Elliott Rodger’s failures with women. Except for one thing: There are a lot of innocent people dead in those towns, the victims of bad men with guns.
We’re told the best thing to stop bad men with guns is good guys with guns, yet (with the exception of police) those good guys never materialize when we need them. Possibly that’s because they’re all down at the Chipotle, showing off their weapons to their best buds. Whatever.
Men need to try to act better. But we’d be less terrified of whatever culture was supposedly doing to us this week if we didn’t have the tools to turn those impulses into pure death. Elliot Rodger was a narcissistic, evil man whose sex desires got in the way of his humanity and who all too easily had access to the precise tools to make his ugly revenge fantasies a reality.
Evil is evil. Evil with a gun is effective at spreading evil. There’s no pretending otherwise.
When will we finally learn the folly of ascribing simple political or public policy explanations to evil acts? We can no more resolve the problem of evil in a single newspaper column or act of Congress than the League of Nations could successfully outlaw war with a piece of paper in 1928.
The Isla Vista killer — may his name and memory be erased — had been in therapy more or less nonstop since he was 8 years old. Surely the nonjudgmental therapeutic environment fostered poisonous habits of mind? The killer’s parents divorced when he was 7. Perhaps, then, he is just another castoff of a callous, no-fault divorce culture?
Something is certainly rotten. After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, Joel Mathis and I departed from our usual format and wrote a column calling for more taxpayer funding of mental health services and perhaps new laws easing the commitment of dangerous people to mental institutions. Would that have helped here?
Seems unlikely. The killer’s parents reportedly knew he was trouble. The murderer’s mother was so alarmed by his YouTube videos that she called a mental health hotline. Santa Barbara police visited his apartment last month, but for whatever reason concluded he was not an imminent threat to himself or anyone else.
Something is rotten online. The killer resented that he was a virgin. He immersed himself in Internet “pickup philosophy” forums. He wrote misogynist rants. But he didn’t merely hate women. His 141-page manifesto is a sad, sickening testament to his misanthropy. Perhaps we should pass a new law against hate.
Something is rotten in the media. Every time one of these crimes occurs, the press rushes to publicize the killer’s name, his face, his rants. This animal’s manifesto is everywhere, exactly as he hoped. Enough of this! We don’t need new laws; we need to shift the culture. Stop publicizing the names of spree killers. Don’t show their faces. Don’t repost their Facebook accounts and their insane screeds.
The rot runs deep. We shouldn’t glorify it more than we have to.
Reach Ben Boychuk at email@example.com, Joel Mathis at firstname.lastname@example.org.