The Terrifying Familiarity of Elliot Rodger

It isn’t the conclusion of Elliot Rodger’s video that terrifies me – not the ‘day of retribution’ content, the killing intentions, the insistence that it could all have been averted if one of the ‘pretty girls’ had slept with him. It isn’t the discussion of Alpha Maledom or punishing women or revenge against humanity.

No, it’s the least extreme musings at the start. They’re chilling. Why? Well, because I’ve thought those. Not in Rodger’s exact words, and not in context, but essentially the same. In long periods of singledom, I’ve been lonely and had ‘unfulfilled desires’. Especially when I was younger I’ve felt bitter that guys I had little respect for seemed better with women, I’ve been envious of relationships. I’ve thought that a global karmic fairness probably ought to give me a break.

The reason this is terrifying is seeing how easily those basic ‘foundational thoughts’ can lead to Rodger’s fundamentalist objectification, his twisted worldview, and ultimately his tragic violence. Countless internet users have affirmed his opinions – there was a Facebook page celebrating him as an “American hero who made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle against feminazi ideology”. His YouTube channel had thousands of hits and up-votes.

I’m human and I’m occasionally lonely and/or horny.

“I’ve wanted a girlfriend, I’ve wanted sex, I’ve wanted love, affection, adoration,” Rodger told his last video.
Well, asides adoration, who hasn’t?
This is why the slightly-less-objectionable elements of Rodger’s video are the most frightening – that they’re far from unique. I know I’ve had conversations with people saying the same thing, people of different genders and preferences. Such conversations were not wholly alien to Rodger’s emotions, his reasoning cannot be written off as vague ‘mental health difficulties’* – whereas Alex Gabriel makes a convincing argument that the totality of his manifesto is equivalent to jihadism for organised misogyny.

I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘perfect guy’ or ‘supreme gentlemen’, but I’ve definitely been arrogant enough to think I’m better than a lot of guys in environment X or Y. As a teen, I largely bought into the nerd/entitlement myth described brilliantly in Arthur Chu. The idea that if you keep your head down, are broadly polite and hardworking – if you aren’t one of Rodger’s ‘obnoxious guys’ – then eventually a ‘princess’ will be rewarded to you. The same message runs through pop music and coming-of-age films like a parable.

Chu concludes that nerds need to understand “other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned—they can be given freely, by choice, or not.” I hope most teens understand that on a personal level, but I guess from Chu’s article’s popularity that many feel or once felt that they’d earned love from the world in general. And some of them will feel resentment, and some of them will act on it.

That action might not be violent or illegal (but that’s certainly a massive problem) – it might be something like practising the PUA (‘Pick Up Artist’/seduction) community’s preaching. I was certainly fascinated with PUA’s claims and lessons once, although was too squeamish/doubtful to put them into effect. While Laurie Penny (who wrote an excellent deconstruction of the Isla Vista tragedy and wider misogyny) and Amanda Hess note the dangerous beliefs PUA can encourage, the shallow end essentially resembles self-help for the unconfident, plus flirting-by-numbers. It’s easy to see how people (with the mindset above) get sucked in – and how Rodger’s frustration grew further when these ‘seduction systems’ still didn’t work for him.

I guess this comes back to a theme I’ve banged on about before: that we cannot see events such as massacres, abductions or sexual violence in isolation, as having been committed by monsters, lunatics or singularly evil individuals. Pretty much every guy reading this will have grown up in a culture that’s been deeply patriarchal for millennia, that still has misogyny entrenched in language, law and attitudes. Male entitlement very much exists – any glance at the #YesAllWomen hashtag proves that – and we cannot ignore that Rodger’s actions are on the same continuum as harassment, groping, catcalling and everything in between.

Saying ‘not all men’ to any of the above (not all virgins go on killing sprees, not all geeks use creepy PUA, not all college students date rape) completely misses this point: that our culture tolerates and in many respects encourages the sick chain that led to Isla Vista.

Roundup of feminist articles on the topic.

*Mental health is extremely important, as I’ve stressed before, and deserves much more discussion and state attention. However, it’s terribly unhealthy that various news reports covering the tragedy wrote off Rodger’s actions to psychotic disturbance entirely, ignoring the complex and equally important elements of the gender matrix, racism and US gun control.

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