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Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger

“God made men, but Samuel Colt made them equal.”

–Old West saying

Seldom has the motive in a mass killing been more accessible than in Isla Vista this past Friday, but that doesn’t make it any less daunting. As Richard Martinez, father of Christopher Martinez, one of Elliot Rodger’s victims, plaintively asked in a public statement, “When will this insanity stop?”

The answer, I’m afraid, is no time soon. Because, if we are being truly honest, we must sadly admit we have neither the means to do so, nor the will to try.

Unlike the late Adam Lanza, whose motives for decimating an elementary school in Connecticut remain obscured by the fog of his strange behavior and mental illness, the late Elliot Rodger could not have made himself more clear in his 107,000-word screed against the world, emailed to his divorced parents a short time before his knife-, gun- and automobile-abetted spree of violence began. It is all about hate fueled by resentment. He hated the guys who got the girls. He hated the girls they got, especially the beautiful blond ones who wouldn’t give him a second look and kept him virginal. He hated his mother for not marrying rich and giving him the lifestyle of the young, entitled Hollywood jerks he envied. And he hated his father for not being prominent enough in that shallow Hollywood culture to keep him from being marginalized from that lifestyle.

“‘Wealth,” he wrote, “is one of the most important defining factors of self-worth and superiority. I hated and envied all of those kids for being born into wealth, while I had to struggle to find a way to claim wealth for myself. I had to be ruthless, and do whatever it takes to attain such wealth. After all, it was my only hope of ever being worthy of getting a girlfriend and living the life of gratification that I desire.”

His beef, therefore, was against most of the world and he planned his revenge exactingly for close to three years. Originally, his “Day of Retribution” was supposed to take place last Halloween, but he was practical enough to realize that the police would be out in force that night, greatly lessening his chances of “success.”

And this kind of success, he had already concluded, was the only way to give his life ultimate meaning and avenge himself against all of those who had made that life unbearable.

Could he have been stopped? Well, maybe, if he had mouthed off to the police or social workers who came at his parents’ request to evaluate him. Or if anyone who heard him say he was going to kill the guys who roughed him up in a bar for bothering women had reported it. Or if his parents happened to view his You Tube video a couple of hours earlier. As it was, they desperately rushed to Isla Vista when they realized what was about to take place in an effort to stop him.

But none of that happened. And it seldom does. Sociopaths can often be quite charming and convincing. Every crime looks obvious once it’s solved and every mass murder looks preventable in retrospect. But that’s not the real world. Because for every one of these guys who shoots up a school or shopping center or movie theater or city street, there are thousands who manifest the same behavior but don’t follow through.

And then there is the issue of weapons. I suspect the gun rights hard liners will cite the fact that Rodger killed his two roommates and one guest with a knife before shooting anyone as support for their oft-quote bromide, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

But that’s not the point. The point actually is: Objects change people.

My friend Casey Caleba, a well-known theater fight director and scholar of the history of weapons and stage combat, gives a fascinating lecture. It is on how the introduction of swords during the Renaissance to an urban class that had no real experience with them changed the culture and greatly increased the level of social violence. Casey shows how Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, well portrays this phenomenon.

We can’t say that everything would have been fine if Rodger hadn’t had easy legal access to guns. But let’s not kid ourselves. The fact of possessing guns empowered him in the Old West cliche sense. It was about feeling like he amounted to something. It was about feeling like he measured up. And in our society, guns are the easiest way for some people to feel as if they do or, at least, to balance the scales.

He could not correct the great cosmic injustice of other guys getting girls when he did not. But he could equalize it. He was intent on showing that he was “the true alpha male.” If he couldn’t do it with his own penis, he could do it with the barrel of the ultimate phallic symbol.

His original plan was to shoot every woman he found inside the Alpha Phi sorority house at the University of California Santa Barbara, but no one responded to his frantic knocking on the front door. He was, however, able to shoot two women outside the house before getting back in his black BMW to continue his rampage.

Yes, even without his guns, Elliot Rodger still would have had his knives. But make no mistake, without his guns, Elliot Rodger would have been a different person.

We live in a gun culture that is not willing to change no matter how many mass shootings there are, or whom the victims happen to be. I readily acknowledge that it is not the NRA members or their like who are committing the gun crimes. And I’m realistic enough to know that even if we somehow agreed that the Second Amendment was really about maintaining well-regulated militias and therefore decided to ban all firearms purchases tomorrow, there are enough guns floating around now to last through several lifetimes. Then there is the fact that we live in an increasingly desensitized culture that continues to stigmatize mental illness and give it insufficient medical recognition, either in public policy or private health care coverage.

Neither of these cultures is going to change.

Mr. Martinez, you are as right about the craven politicians as you are brave to say so. But the insanity, however you want to define that term, is not going to stop, and we’re all in this together. Any one of us could be you, or your fine son.

5 Responses to The Insanity Will Continue

  1. watson says:

    I have hope….that all things change….with time.
    As has become usual this was a ‘kid’ (22 years old) undisciplined, un parented, spoiled rotten…if modern day US parents would…..
    1.) Either stay married and ‘raise’ the kids they created.
    2.) Or don’t have kids.
    3.) As usual I blame his parents (parent).
    P.S. I have three kids age 19-23 (2 boys 1 girl) they are never going to kill anyone, with guns, knives or anything else. Me and their mother finally got divorced late 2012, but we made sure they were all in University before then. We cooperate on every matter on children and family, still we are a family…..maybe that’s the answer.

  2. Cornerstone says:

    I agree with Mr. Rideout that to some extent we live in a “mind your own business” culture. And no group is more “mind your own business” than the NRA. I believe you’d find a lot of their wives, mothers of their children, aren’t quite as “mind your own business.”

  3. JClark says:

    Starlette, reports say that Elliott Rodger had been seeing a psychiatrist since he was 8 years old. If he could not be “cured” in that amount of time, then what else could be done? Apparently metal illness cannot be cured. We can’t lock them all up because many, many with mental illness do not commit such heinous acts. So if mental illness cannot be cured and we can’t lock them up, then what?

    Rodger may have had some mental illness but I think he was evil who also happened to have a mental illness. As far as I know, there’s no cure for evil–

  4. We live in a “mind your own business” culture. Until someone has done something so heinous that it completely attracts our attention no one is going to interfere with his first amendment to run his mouth.

    In fact we cannot haul people in off the street for saying stupid things. In fact if we banned the manufacture of firearms tomorrow there are so many firearms in circulation right now, and the process of making firearms is SO easy all we would do is create the same kind of firearm culture today as the alcohol culture we created in the 1920s.

    If we’ve learned anything from history it is that banning things makes them sexy and interesting. If instead we required every high school student to qualify with rifles, revolvers and automatic pistols: break them down, clean them, re-assemble them and pass a firing test, I think we would find that the mystique of firearms diminished. Everyone would learn to appreciate their limitations as well as their power. People would have a better understanding of what a shooter is and is not capable of in these kinds of circumstances and more would survive.

    More knowledge rather than less knowledge is the answer to most problems. When you try to curtail knowledge completely, those who ignore your prohibition gain power over you.

  5. I would say the need to address how we handle mental health issues far outweighs the need to take away guns. Like you said, there are enough guns out there that anyone who really wants one will always be able to obtain one. The ROOT of the issue (most of the time) is mental illness that isn’t being addressed properly, either by parents, social workers, therapists, or all of the above. I don’t know the answer to the problem, I just feel that is where it needs to start.

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