Elliot Rodger: A Spree Killer and a Gentleman

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There is a long-standing cultural identification of women with nature: at once pure, nurturing, the giver of life; but also irrational, dangerous, beyond masculine reason or understanding, this bounteous thing that may snatch its bounty away in a second, for no good reason at all. And so patriarchy has typically responded by trying to control women, much as it would the sea, or a field. Rain dances and forced marriages gradually give way to pick-up artistry and genetic engineering, but the logic and motivation is much the same. These are these things you do, so that this thing which you need but which is importantly beyond you in some way, will bestow its favour upon you, and you can thrive. As any critical theorist knows, this is the wrong orientation towards nature (read Dialectic of Enlightenment). And it’s also the wrong orientation towards women, although not for the same reasons. It’s actually because women are human beings, and as such exist in our sense-community as fellow members participating in it; not in the way, say, an enchanted tree does.

This is a point that gets missed even right down to people who think they have good intentions towards women, paradigmatically the ‘nice guy’, a dude who thinks he ought to be rewarded for his ‘respectful’, stand-offish behaviour towards girls he likes by having them spontaneously recognise how great he is and throw themselves at him. Here, the ‘nice’ behaviour functions as just another rain-dance type attempt at control. And when it doesn’t work, the nice guy usually turns out to be not so nice at all…

In his videos, and in his 141-page memoir/manifesto ‘My Twisted World’, that he released prior to going on a killing spree over the course of which he killed six people, Elliot Rodger frequently refers to himself as “the ultimate gentleman.” Almost every other man he meets turns out to be a horrible, violent, obnoxious, unsensitive jock, but he is the nicest, most respectful man on earth. He’s good-looking, he says, he’s well-dressed. And he’s so gentlemanly! Why wouldn’t anyone want this? And yet, Rodger has never even so much as kissed a girl. He is 22 years old, and a kissless virgin. Even his three years in college have failed to rectify this state of affairs. And so, he says, it has come to this. He’s going to have to get his revenge. The Day of Retribution is at hand.

In ‘My Twisted World’, Rodger describes his entire life in detail, up to the point where he sets on May 24th 2014 as the date for his massacre. World of Warcraft expansion packs, new George RR Martin books getting released, the names of his classmates when he was six years old, all of this is related in great detail. At no point in the document, however, does Rodger ever make a sexual advance towards a girl. There are never even any professions of love. The closest Rodger gets is giving the proper name of a single girl who was mean to him and who he (oh reader, the irony!) had a bit of a crush on. Other than that, all the women he describes are people he saw fleetingly, in classes or at a store, usually tall blonde girls who then turned out to have some jock boyfriend. He resolves a few times to try to find himself a girlfriend, but his strategy is always just walking around his neighbourhood for hours hoping one of them will talk to him.

Because they never do, Rodger assumes that all women “despise” him. He takes the fact that no one ever flings herself at him to imply a cruel rejection. Whenever he sees young men talking to young women, he gets incredibly angry, frequently leaving classes and then dropping them as a result. He loses his relationship with his oldest friend because he gets pissed off after seeing a couple kissing in a restaurant and has to leave, then can’t understand why his friend (also a virgin) isn’t angry too. At more than one point, he sees young couples together, or women he is attracted to who he then sees being joined by their boyfriend, and throws his drink over them. His comments at points imply that he thinks of these actions as expressions of a sort of political radicalism.

Rodger is haunted by a sense of injustice as regards women: he thinks that he deserves a girlfriend, and the fact that no girl emerges to offer herself to him, implies a deeply-ingrained wrongness in the fabric of the universe. This sense of injustice often leads to racist rants, as he sees black men, and ‘full Asians’ (he himself is mixed-race White-Asian) get girls, whereas he, who is descended on his father’s side from ‘British aristocracy’, and is therefore inherently more deserving, cannot. The injustice, for Rodger, is of course entirely women’s fault. He thinks their preference for men who aren’t him shows that they are deeply depraved creatures. They therefore must be eliminated. With this, all sexuality would be eliminated (so goes Rodger’s logic; he seems either unable, or unwilling, to contemplate homosexuality), and the childhood innocence which he goes to great lengths to establish he enjoyed, would be restored. In one particularly chilling passage towards the end of ‘My Twisted World’, Rodger fantasises about a world where he is a dictator, or perhaps a god, and can send all the women to concentration camps, where they will be starved to death. “If I can’t have you, nobody will,” he imagines himself thinking, as he watches this take place. A few women are kept, secretly, to harvest their eggs for artificial breeding. Of course, Rodger doesn’t contemplate the possibility of, once he is God, using his power to somehow make women sleep with him. He would only be satisfied, I think, with their full affective compliance in doing so, to love and adore him spontaneously and without either any coercion, or indeed any particular effort on his part: to entirely ‘love him for him’, where ‘him’, is just some blank, empty pure soul.

In a sense, what Rodger really wants, is for the universe to bestow some sort of grace upon him, to shower him with the favour which he thinks he deserves, simply for being the sort of special snowflake that he knows in his heart he truly is. Alongside his obsession with getting a girlfriend, Rodger becomes fixated on the idea of winning the lottery. In part this is because he assumes he will only be able to get a girlfriend if he is a multi-millionaire (an early plan to write a fantasy epic and get it made into a film is abandoned as Rodger concludes it will not lead to riches fast enough). So Rodger spends a large portion of his $5000 savings on lottery tickets, periodicially, whenever the state jackpot, or the jackpot in the Powerball lottery in Arizona, is high enough. Meanwhile he uses The Secret in an attempt to make the universe proclaim him the winner. Of course, he always fails to do so. It is actually his failure to win the lottery, more than anything else, that pushes Rodger over the edge, and causes him to action his plan for the Day of Retribution.

At one point, Rodger asks himself the question: why is my plan to win the lottery, and not (for instance) found a tech company, in order to make millions of dollars? The answer is simple: his chances of winning the lottery are, he figures, the same as his becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg. Therefore he is better off trying to win the lottery, as it is less effort. Rodger’s relationship to the world is entirely instrumental. But he is also detached from any real sense of cause-and-effect. He thinks that if he just wants something enough, that’s reason enough for the universe to bestow it on him, and if it doesn’t, that’s an injustice. For all the problems with instrumental rationality, at least people have achieved a lot acting in line with it. From the plow to the combine harvester to the slingshot to the atom bomb, The Wurzels to Dr Strangelove, in trying to feed themselves and get laid, humanity has produced some pretty wonderful things. But Rodger refuses to enter the dialectic of enlightenment at even the most basic level: he is totally unwilling to adapt himself to get what he wants out of the Nature that is (supposedly) totally beyond him. Instead, his increasingly futile attempts to have the universe honour him for him cause Rodger to be totally consumed by angry, and then he goes on a killing spree and kills six people and ends up dead himself.

Of course, if Rodger had been willing to establish the ‘right’ sort of instrumentalised relationship between himself and the world, he would just have ended up like almost every other man under the sun. He still wouldn’t have been treating women like human beings, and the formal possibility of someone ending up like Rodger would of course remain. Rodger is ‘all men’ in the sense that he is a particularly pathological manifestation of the standard patriarchal attitude towards women (one which of course probably inheres on some level, even in the persons of left-wing cultural critics…). So it wouldn’t hurt to underline an important lesson here: a woman is not a sort of magical tree.

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