Now that the smoke has cleared from yet another horrific shooting in the United States, we stand, united in our grief and nausea, peering at the twisted wreckage while trying desperately to make the shapes fit into whatever political ideology we feel most comfortable with.
The usual suspects have been led past for viewing by the great and the good of the media. World of Warcraft. Guns. Misogyny. Asperger’s. Even the notion of gay couples being able to marry has trudged by in leg irons, charged with being the single motivating factor behind 22-year-old Elliot Rodger’s decision to murder six of his peers, then shoot himself to death.
In a world as complex as this, you see, a world as beautiful and bewildering and harrowing as this, every single tiny thing is someone or something’s fault and if we can just find and kill the offender, everything will be fine.
Of course, that offender has to fit the previously identified and approved profile. Spree killings make us uncomfortable, but nowhere near as much as having our perceptions and moral codes challenged and the fact that in this case the perpetrator left a 141-page-manuscript describing his life experience in detail and mapping his descent to the place where he believed a ‘Day of Retribution’ was his only option, is irrelevant to most. What can he possibly know about why he did what he did? He was insane! In fact, what are you even doing suggesting we read that crap? You sympathise with this guy? You f**king freak, you should be in jail. Etc.
For the record, I don’t ‘sympathise’ with someone who chose murder as a solution. I don’t want anyone else to die because of someone else’s problems and I’m interested in working to understand what drives them to it. While all of the possible motivating factors listed above played a part, focussing on them hasn’t really provided any helpful solutions to date.
Still, it’s a view. And your outlook very much depends on whether you as a human being want to stop this kind of thing happening sufficiently to be prepared to look at your own behaviour and check whether you’re part of the problem or the solution.
If you’re fortunate enough never to have experienced bullying, verbal abuse, self-doubt, anxiety, humiliation or fear, congratulations. You’re a rhinoceros and you can read. You could make a shed load of cash with that.
For the rest of you, think back to those moments for a second and remember the hot agony. The sensation as your entire being drained into your shoes and the knowledge that at the time, if a cyanide pill had been rattling around in your pocket, you’d have reached for it and popped in your mouth without hesitation. Maybe you were lucky – it might have just happened occasionally and you had the emotional strength and support to shrug it off and move on. Perhaps it taught you that not all people are nice and made you more cautious about who you shared your feelings with. Maybe you were less lucky and you never really got over it, but were able to lock it up in a box and secretly carry it with you without anyone noticing, even today.
If you’re reading this now, one thing is certain. You didn’t deal with it by shooting and stabbing people who, in your head, represented those you issued those perceived slights.
In all likelihood, those experiences were just episodes in your life. But Elliot Rodger’s manuscript describes a perfect storm of emotional trauma. He had trouble making friends. He alienated the few he did make by acting in a confusing and aggressive manner and frequently embarrassing them in public places with his unpredictable behaviour. He had a sense of entitlement a mile wide and he reiterates several times how all of his problems would be instantly solved if he was rich. He was so single-minded in this assertion that he tells us, without a trace of self-awareness, that he demanded on more than one occasion that his mother should marry a wealthy suitor to help him out. She refused and he resented her for it.
For the sake of moving forward in this debate vs. wheel spinning around the same old tired arguments, let’s explore the notion further. What were these problems? What troubles could an intelligent, pleasant looking youth on the cusp of adulthood in a first-world country with comparatively wealthy parents have possibly accrued in twenty-two years that might drive him to feel that bloody retribution was necessary?
The same ones that cause all of us pain, really. Being relentlessly trained from birth to believed that beauty and wealth equal a happy life. That being accepted by the cool kids is the only reason to go to an educational establishment and being crap at sport, or ‘ugly’, or awkward or uncertain, are flaws that should be relentlessly tormented until they go away and stop tainting the rest. Like a pack harry the weak until they separate or leave behind the useless runt. Like animals do.
That’s where the solution lies. Not in music, or computer games or gay marriage, for that matter. We like to believe we’re civilised. We enjoy the benefits of living within a civilised society – running water, as much food as we can eat, warmth, socialisation, medicine, everything that features in Maslow’s Pyramid really, but when it comes down to it, we’re a little more sketchy on the responsibilities. What happened to using the advantageous position we are in to ensure the weakest in our flock can enjoy life with us? If someone isn’t physically attractive to us, do we necessarily have to ensure they know how much they repulse us? Are we really that insecure?
Apparently, yes. In one way or another, we’re all insecure, and sadly many of us feel so vulnerable in our lives that we use other people’s perceived weaknesses against them so, for a while at least, we feel good about ourselves.
It’s ironic, then, that towards the end of Eliott Rodger’s manuscript, he repeatedly offers the world ‘a chance’ to redeem itself. Of course, the preferred ‘chance’ would arrive in the form of a beautiful blonde girlfriend, but that doesn’t exactly make him unusual. A great many twenty-two year old guys would say that because that’s what being brought up in a toxically patriarchal society does. But beneath the layers of delusion and spite lies the suggestion that if someone, anyone, took a moment out of their day to smile or say hi, to ask if they could eat lunch with him or simply pushed through the awkwardness to find out who Eliott Rodger really was, things may have been different.
Of course, I could be wrong. I read a manuscript, I didn’t know the guy. He could have been an evil maniac, intent on mass destruction as the media would have it – his manuscript a work of fiction designed to trap people like me into thinking about him. Perhaps people did make an effort but he rejected them in favour of honing his misanthropy and plotting his retribution.
What I know from personal experience that people with Asperger’s Syndrome can appear almost wilfully anti-social and confusing, which is unfortunate given that underneath I have found them to be among the kindest, most trustworthy and loving people I’ve ever met. I know that I’ve often felt inferior, embarrassed, left out, clumsy and stupid. When I was a kid I believed for a time that anything less than physical perfection was a failure and put the cool kids on a pedestal, trying my hardest to emulate them.
Happily, I learned in good time that the cool kids were often bloody idiots and physical perfection is a myth perpetuated by advertisers. I learned that the converse is frequently true. The interesting people in life are the ones who’ve been busy doing stuff while the cool kids are comparing trinkets.
Eliott Rodger didn’t learn that. His manuscript frequently articulates that his anger with the world stems from the fact that he genuinely believed those around him seemed to know exactly what to do and he didn’t. It was unfair. I’ve heard this from an Asperger person before and you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to dissuade them of the notion, and further, that a significant proportion of us haven’t got an effing clue what to do either, we just blunder through whatever it is and hope for the best.
Imagine if he had. Would it have changed anything? Would seven people who are not alive today as a result of Rodger’s spree still be going about their business, blissfully unaware of the horror lying in some far off parallel universe? It’s not a question we can answer, now or ever, but we can try to make it better in our own little worlds. Maybe next time someone tries to make conversation with you at work or the pub or whatever and they seem weird and a bit awkward, assuming you’re not vulnerable, give them a second. If they want to talk about something incredibly boring, humour them. Since when are you so bloody interesting?
For all you know, it took everything they had to make that opening remark that you thought was really dumb and their entire life is one hot burning moment of shame after another.
You might actually make a difference to someone’s life. How often can you say that, really?