Even If

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.


Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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  1. I don’t think it’s right to say that because mental illnesses isn’t generally and necessarily linked to more violent behavior, we can ignore the mental health of this individual when discussing his actions. Not all mental illnesses are the same, and some mental illnesses are more linked with violent behavior to others. And I don’t think that to say so necessarily takes away from the general discussion of misogyny in our society.

    1. The mental illnesses that we may have some evidence this individual had are not linked to violence, so how are they relevant?

      1. The family lawyer stated that Roger had been diagnosed as a child with “High Functioning Asperger’s”
        In fact Asperger’s is distinct from “High Functioning Autism” (HFA) about which Wikipedia says

        “Several other comorbidities associated with HFA are external. These external symptoms include ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, and criminal behavior. While the association between HFA and criminal behavior is not completely characterized, several studies have shown that the features associated with HFA may increase the possibility of engaging in criminal behavior.[10] While there is still a great deal of research that needs to be done in this area, recent studies on the correlation between HFA and criminal actions suggest that there is a need to understand the attributes of HFA that may lead to violent behavior. There have been several case studies that link the lack of empathy and social naïveté associated with HFA to criminal actions.[11]”

        Against that, Kylee had a link that said no diagnosis had been made, so we are a bit up in the air.overall.

        So while PUA hate philosophy (which has been discussed very well here on the other thread and I agree should be condemned to the dustbin of history) is undoubtedly a big part of the picture, the mental condition of the perp cannot be dismissed. Neither can his hateful racism, which has also been overlooked so far.

        1. Also, before anybody starts, nobody is saying that all – or most or a higher proportion than in the general population – of people with Asperger’s or HFA are predisposed to be violent or criminal. Rather, that an examination of how the condition may have contributed in this case may be beneficial to all in avoiding future tradedy.

          1. I agree that “contribution” is the point. Some research does show violence, as well as numerous other social dysfunctions, are associated with ASD and AD individuals http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1750946711002042. Violence and aggression have been a consistent trait in the ASD and AS clients I’ve worked with (which is admittedly a skewed and select population given violence and risk are how you become one of my clients http://www.jaapl.org/content/40/2/191.full.pdf+html ). I strongly suspect that a sad reality is that the social isolation and inability to form and maintain relationships for many with ASD and AS sets the stage for some of these individuals to be easily influenced by the hate and violence of the angry misogynists http://www.jaapl.org/content/40/2/177.short . And I agree that misogyny and violence toward women is the major part of this story. Rodger’s by all reports had extensive mental health services dating back to when he was eight years old; so you have to wonder about their effectiveness or if he was being treated appropriately by his mental health providers.

            Misogyny and violence toward women is prevalent because it’s supported by our culture and modeled in our families, and those who fight the good fight against it are demonized, threatened, ridiculed and harmed. It’s no surprise to me that a potentially susceptible person would buy into the notion that all of his unmet desires and needs were not his fault and someone else should pay for his pain.

          2. @jacobv : You said very succinctly what I think I’ve bee trying to say. Thank you.

        2. @BlackAmazon pointed out this past weekend that his racism and his misogyny are linked. Here are her tweets:

          “Oh goody we’re doing that thing where we act like MISOGYNY is the REAL problem and homeboys racism isn’t also a huge part of it”

          “Loves I am being so serious the PAY ATTENTION TO RACISM!!! Isn’t about the moral high ground when it comes to violent misogyny”

          “It’s about how violent misogynists first get comfortable demonstrating power and control because it goes unchecked .”

        3. Well, we all know how accurate wikipedia is.
          1) The main difference between HFA and Asperger’s is language development. The distinction is both odd and irrelevant in this case, and regarded by most autists and medicos as arbitrary and useless.
          2) DSM4 states that ASDs and ADHD are mutually exclusive. There are cases of people displaying such high symptoms of both that they get both diagnoses, but usually one diagnosis excludes the other.
          3) HFA and violence is linked, but probably only for crimes of passion. Rodger’s crimes were planned and planned crimes tend to be committed *on* HFAs, rather than *by* them. Since the crime in question is seems to be less likely to be committed by the perp than the general populace, other avenues need to be followed.

      2. I think that it’s wrong to try to play doctor and come up with a very specific diagnosis, not knowing his medical and psychiatric history. But that does NOT mean that we can’t take what is known, along with comments from family members and people that were close to him, and paint the image of a person who was demonstrably unable to function normally in society. It is not my goal to EXCUSE his actions by pointing this out, but to try to understand what drove him deeper and deeper into his own paranoid world, and then what caused it to explode in a fit of violence. I think his misogynistic attitudes and musings were part of a LARGER pattern of dysfunctional thinking, and it’s most definitely worthwhile to point out the way these isolationist communities can have the effect of pushing unstable people over the edge…. but I think it’s likely that his mental instability had very early roots and that misogyny was just one of many very negative ways it came to surface. And my biggest point is that perhaps a more aggressive intervention could have prevented his hatred from exploding in such a way that it did, but, you know……… hindsight, 20/20 and all that.

        1. Nobody is playing doctor or armchair diagnosis because the lawyer reported that had ALREADY been done – if the reports I linked in the other thread are accurate.

  2. Can you post some links to some studies or articles that discuss the evidence about mental health and violence? I am unfamiliar with the literature.

  3. From what we know he was extremely isolated and had between zero and one friend his entire life. He recounted crying at the site of seeing random couples. I’m no mental health expert, but this doesn’t seem particularly normal.

  4. No diagnosis explains away:
    1. Easy access to firearms.
    2. Indoctrination into a lunatic misogynist subculture.

    Guns and hate permeate American culture. Rodgers’ beliefs about sex seem to be well within social norms across the continent. Between his belief-system and (maaaaybe) his mental condition, Rodgers was incapable of forming any social/sexual bond. ‘Entitlement’ doesn’t seem like an adequate label for his rage.

    I’m struck by the similarity between his statements and those of the Virginia Tech killer, Seung-Hui Cho; the rationalized inadequacy focused out into rage seems eerily similar. Of course Cho was not white, ergo not ‘entitled?’

  5. This is the most well-though, centered and sober analysis of the situation that I’ve read so far, in a sea of other very good and reasonable social comments that I’ve been seeing from other intelligent sources.

    Skepchicks are the best.

  6. Prefacing my comment, I just want to say that the obviously misogynistic tendencies that Rodgers displays in his mainfesto are certainly troubling and prompt a serious and important discussion of the role that those feelings, and the underlying socioeconomic forces that reinforce them, played in his actions.

    That being said, I fail to see how you could make the conclusion that violence is a natural trait of “white” men, considering the prevalance of violence, including violence of this particular sort, in communities of other races. It strikes me as disingenuous to primarily attribute the perverted sense of priviledge that this one particular (half) white man displayed to his race.

    I certainly don’t think there is anything inherent to being a white male that breeds priviledge and entitlement. I think rather that white males often occupy positions of great socioeconomic clout in our particular society and those positions, if occupied by people with such a reckless disregard for humanity, breed priviledge and entitlement. But those feelings are not individual to white men, and they don’t come from white maleness. I’ve met black, female university students who have far greater feelings of priviledge and entitlement than the men and women I have met who are working for a substandard wage in the inner cities (white, black, or any other race).

    More importantly, as a long time follower of this blog I’m a little taken aback by how the issue of mental illness, as well as the issue of what particular factors may have brought about this drastic action in this unique individual, is being so haphazardly tossed aside in order to service the narrative that the author wants to put forth about the role of priviledge and misogyny in society, though those are obviously important issues.

  7. Late in the week, I’m barely coherent but something begins to crystallise here. Hope I’m wrong.
    Thinking about the racism angle and Robert’s comment on the Wikipedia page about being descended from royalty.
    Was his mother Straits Chinese? (Perangutan, Baba Nonya)
    Because I have seen a lot of this beautiful culture.
    The story is that the Prince of Malacca married a Chinese princess and all his nobles followed suit. To this day the Baba Nonya culture is one of the best things to see if you visit Malaysia. The beautiful houses, clothing, china ware and the magnificent cooking are part of a stable hybrid culture to this day.
    Perhaps being brought up to believe that he was royalty accounts for part of his arrogant attitude towards other races?
    But what a perversion that would be – I am almost in tears.

    1. He talked more about being a British aristocrat. Made a huge deal out of it, and actually spent some time bashing other Asians. (He certainly got the evil laugh down, looking at his YouTube video.)

      But seriously? My ancestors considered a man’s military record a criterion for marriage. We were literally bred to be more efficient killers, so long as we only killed Pawnee and Crow men, and later white men, and now we can often be seen working to liberate the Middle East’s oil. But you don’t see us going on about it.

      (As an aside, now I really distrust any white dude who claims some fictional Indian princess as his ancestor.)

  8. As a white male with a history of mental illness, I can’t help but be at least a little bit offended by this article. Mostly, it’s the way the author implies that “misogyny” and “white male” are the same thing. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here, and assume that that wasn’t the intent, or even the thinking, but from the repetition of the phrase “white male,” and specifically the assertion that being “an entitled, spoiled asshole … comes from being a white man,” the article certainly leaves one with a certain impression. I would think that the “sites that promoted violence against women as a way to gain sex” were the real culprit, and I would think that of all websites, Skephick would be the last one to place blame for something like this on someone’s race and gender.

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