Much ink has already been spilled over Elliot Rodger, the killer who wrote a manifesto about hating women and then proceeded to act it out by murdering seven people. Of course he’s already been labelled a madman, and much has been made over his psychiatric history. Thankfully, there has also been an overwhelming response from those who actually read his writing and watched his Youtube videos pointing out that the real culprit here appears to be misogyny.
I’m sure we’ll hear more breakdowns of Rodger’s ideology and his diagnosis, debate over how we can fix the situation, much hand wringing over gun control and mental health, and general consternation about HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN IN PERFECT AMERICA? But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what elements of Rodger’s identity are relevant to the discussions of the shooting.
At this point it seems like we can safely assume that Rodger had some kind of mental health problem. Whether it was an actual diagnosed mental illness, Asperger’s, or just a really bad rough patch during which he was seeing a therapist and being prescribed medication, his mental health was not stellar. I don’t want to debate what was going on in his head because we can’t diagnose him, we don’t have the facts, and, most importantly, IT DOESN’T MATTER.
Even if Rodger was autistic, even if he was dealing with some sort of mental illness, even if he was in the midst of a breakdown, none of these things are why he went on a shooting rampage. They may be facts about him, but I’m sure there are other, irrelevant facts in his life. He may have had a dog. He came from a two parent home. He lived in California. Maybe he went to college. Sure, all of these things together made up the person that he was, but it’s ridiculous to point towards them as the most relevant aspects of his identity, and most people understand this. No one is looking at the situation and saying “Two parent families are the reason we have mass shootings!” Like these other things, Rodger’s mental illness or lack thereof is not relevant.
Do you know how we know what the most important and relevant aspects of his identity were when it comes to this shooting? Because he told us. He told us over and over in many ways and in no uncertain terms. He told us that he wanted to kill women because they rejected his advances. He pointed through his internet history to the places he learned that he was entitled to the affections of (white) women. He wrote an entire manifesto outlining the ways in which he felt that he, as a (white) man deserved sex and love and affection simply by dint of existing. He frequented sites that promoted violence against women as a way to gain sex. He explicitly said in a video that the reason he wanted to kill people was because he wanted revenge for the rejections he had faced.
These were not things that his mental illness (if he had one) told him. Even if he has Asperger’s, there is nothing about that diagnosis that turns someone into an entitled, spoiled asshole. That comes from being a white man. Even if he had depression, or was in the process of having a mental breakdown, neither of those things is particularly linked with violence. That comes from being a white man. What is linked with violence, and particularly violence against women, is imbibing the ideas that Rodger has repeatedly espoused. What is linked with these horribly maladaptive beliefs of entitlement is being a white man, particularly a well to do white man.
It’s easy to look around the internet and see the preponderance of violent threats and violent actions made by people who run in the same circles as Rodger. What isn’t easy to find is a preponderance of evidence that mental illness is linked to being more violent. In fact we see the opposite: people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence. There is no evidence that mental illness caused this tragedy and a superabundance of evidence that systematic misogyny did.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t give a fuck whether or not Rodger had a diagnosis or what his diagnosis was. It makes about as much difference as whether or not he picked his nose as a child. We know what caused this shooting and it sure as shit wasn’t Asperger’s. It was misogyny and an active community that fed Rodger the lies that he was entitled to the bodies of women. It was the racism that is dripping from many of his posts. It was the heartfelt conviction that permeates all of American society that the most important thing in the world is the delicate feelings of the white man.