We need to shut up about Elliot (2014)

Rodger victim flowers
This is who we should be talking about.

Some people might have expected me to weigh in on the debate about Elliot Rodger’s killing spree in Santa Barbara, California, on May 23. After all, this is one subject I might seem vaguely qualified to talk about.

I too was serially rejected as a teenager, and was terrified that I would never lose my virginity, to the point where I tried to kill myself three times (although in my case, the desperation stemmed more from the fear that I would never experience love than the fear that I would never get my end away). I too have spent a lot of time reading about and engaging with the Men’s Rights Movement – albeit as an observer rather than a member. Until about a month ago I was following and followed by PUAHate, one of the forums Rodger visited, on Twitter. And since starting the blog, I’ve had quite a few messages from young men with similar experiences: 21-year-old virgins asking for advice, sexually frustrated young men wanting to know if it was all right to pay for sex.

But I’m not going to talk about Elliot Rodger. And nor should anyone else. Not yet.

I’m not going to start pointing fingers when there are still six families grieving. I’m not going to call for stricter gun control laws (although I do like living in a country where those laws are already strict). I’m not going to call for reforms to the United States’ mental healthcare system. I’m not going to propose the banning of all violent films or computer games. I’m not going to pin the blame on society’s culture of misogyny. (I’m no advocate of woman-hating. But if institutionalised misogyny was really the sole cause of this incident, why weren’t there more mass shootings like this when society was even more misogynistic than it is today?) I’m not going to try to hang it all on Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow, however tempting that might be. And I’m certainly not going to write a horribly misguided “open letter to Elliot Rodger” practically empathising with the guy for being a virgin at 22.

I might just as well demand the sterilisation of all Hollywood executives – that would certainly have prevented this tragedy – or the banning of all BMWs.

You get the impression that some of these people had template articles pushing their own agenda ready to go, and as soon as news of the attack broke, they simply filled in all the blanks with the name “Elliot Rodger” and fired them off.

There’s a simple reason why I’m not doing any of these things; why I’m not hitching this gruesome wagon to my own political train. Because we know practically nothing.

The vast majority of the information we currently have about Elliot Rodger comes from Elliot Rodger himself: his videos and his 141-page “manifesto”. This is a man who couldn’t be trusted to observe the most fundamental tenet of human society: don’t kill people. How the hell can we trust him to tell the truth? Judging by the videos, it seems quite likely that Rodger was a psychopath (although again, we mustn’t presume), and one of the defining characteristics of psychopaths is their tendency to manipulate and deceive.

For starters, I see no compelling reason why we should accept Elliot Rodger’s word that we was a virgin. Sure, he might not have had sex with the women he wanted to have sex with; but does anyone really believe that a 22-year-old man, with his own BMW, his own gun, a high sex drive and a colossal sense of entitlement, had never paid for sex at least once?

Even if the likes of Rodger, and Anders Breivik, and Seung-Hui Cho, are saying what they believe to be the truth, why should we accept their version? How can you trust someone who is out of his mind to know his own mind?

After events such as these, newspaper editors, legislators and the public clamour for facts, opinions, and action. But the responses should come in that order. Opinions and legislation should never be formulated without facts. Hysterical knee-jerk responses turn the debate into a series of petty rows and risk sidelining the critical issues. Look at what happened with MMR: when Andrew Wakefield published his 1998 paper suggesting a link between the vaccine and autism, newspapers disseminated it uncritically and people stopped vaccinating their children in droves. Wakefield’s methodology and results have since been systematically discredited time and time again, but no matter how often or how comprehensively the link is disproven, many people still doggedly refuse to vaccinate their children. As a result, the United States is on the cusp of its worst measles outbreak in 20 years.

And if I was to ask you what the motives of the Columbine killers were, how would you reply? Probably something about video games, or bullying, or the “Trenchcoat Mafia”, because those were the memes circulating in the immediate aftermath of the massacre. The truth, in the end, was rather different.

Any or all of the issues raised by the commentators above may have been a factor in this tragedy. It might be something else entirely. We don’t know. We may never know.

But until all the evidence is in, and all expert testimonies have been heard, I’m going to resist the urge to speculate, and to campaign for changes to laws that may have had nothing to do with the deaths.

I’m going to show some fucking respect, and I’m going to show some fucking patience.


4 thoughts on “We need to shut up about Elliot (2014)”

  1. Wow, you completely missed the point of my open letter to Elliot.

    I was by no means empathising with the guy for being a virgin at 22. I was telling him and every other 22 year old virgin that things get better. I was hardly suggesting that he had right to go on a killing spree just because he was still a virgin at 22.

    But you knew that. I’m still trying to work out your agenda…

    1. Empathising is just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s not the same as excusing, or justifying, or approval. Even so, I thought that angle (and, indeed, all angles) was the wrong one to take so soon after the event.

      I don’t like agendas. I almost certainly have some, but I try to suppress them at every turn, because they’re a barrier to free discourse and understanding.

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