The reaction to Elliot Rodger's murderous rampage on May 23 has been loud and vocal. The issue has rightfully opened up discussions of misogyny, gun laws, mental health, men's support groups, PUAs, violence against women, the entitled and vain culture of Hollywood, and "affluenza," to name just the most prominent. So many excellent pieces have made their way onto the Web that there is not much that has not been covered, and covered well. And yet there is still so much we do not know, and will probably never know.
Thus it is no surprise that people are hungrily scanning through the "manifesto" Rodger left behind, "My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger."
So many of my Facebook friends have cut and pasted huge swatches of it onto their pages, as have the news media, that one does not need to read all 140 pages to get a very good sense of Rodger's mind -- his autobiography is detailed, perceptive, well-written. And that is the problem I have with people fixating on it.
Like a rehearsal of "Rashomon," everyone can see what they wish in it. Every message one wants to find can be extracted. He was a victim of his age, his culture, his parents' divorce, his lack of friends, his egotism, his narcissism, his sexism, his delusions of grandeur, his victimization, the sheer puzzlement that is registered on each page, asking "why." My concern is that as I read people reading Elliot Rodger, I sense a slow transformation in mood. He is not regarded with repulsion anymore so much as with pity. People are starting to admire his intelligence, his writing skills, his deep glances into his soul. As if he were not so unknowable after all. (Of course this holds mostly true for readers of his gender, class, etc.) Or, if he remains in their minds a monster, they neatly close the case on the event.
Let me make it clear right now: Elliot Rodger does deserve our compassion, and so does his family and all the victims of his violence and their families as well. But for us to learn anything from this tragedy we have to wrench ourselves away from his manifesto -- it's not about him anymore. Leave him to his fate in eternity, and wish solace on everyone.
It would be too easy to reduce this event to the vagaries of fate and birth and circumstance -- to linger on one of two extreme points of view. Either: It was just a very sick individual, a sociopath, driven by a perfect psychotic storm. Or: It's the system, it's misogyny, sexism, etc., and nothing can be done about it.
But it can be, and to my mind is, about both. And only half of the last option is true -- there is something to be done about not letting this kind of violence continue.
We need to finally have sane gun laws. There is absolutely no reason for people to have easy access to weapons of this nature. They are meant solely to kill people efficiently and quickly -- no ordinary person should have that power. And no number of snipers placed in schools could respond effectively to a mass attack (without causing more harm than good, most likely) -- what an absurd scaling-up of the problem. We can look deeply into violence against women, from both its most explicit and obvious forms to the micro-aggressions that the hashtag #YesAllWomen so numerously displays (and that hashtag should be required reading for everyone -- everyone), and actually toughen laws to protect women and girls. As it stands, women and girls are effectively deprived of their civil rights -- they cannot move, speak, associate completely freely without the threat of harm. Parents and guardians and educators should make this issue a constant and standard part of raising boys and girls both. It is all too easy to internalize misogyny and sexism, to accept their assumptions as norms, and to see ourselves as deviant if we differ. But we must.
It's too late for Elliot Rodger, but it's hopefully not too late for us. But it will take much, much more than wishful thinking, or vague intentions. It will take the political and moral will to do so. And reading 140 pages of Elliot Rodger's twisted world view will not help us if we do not act.
Follow David Palumbo-Liu on Twitter: www.twitter.com/palumboliu