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Elliot Rodger's Imagined Rejection

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In the 141-page manifesto/memoir of Elliot Rodger we find a motive so rarely and so clearly laid out, and it must be said, so well-written, that it gives us a unique insight into evil, and not necessarily mental illness. He appears to be a coldly rational murderer, extremely aware of his reason to kill. He explains it in excruciating detail on nearly every page.

These do not seem to be the ravings of a lunatic but of a highly rational, self-aware man who committed an unspeakable act of conscious evil.

He tells us he doesn't want to do it, and is disgusted as he starts to take target practice. "As I fired my first few rounds, I felt so sick to the stomach. I questioned my whole life, and I looked at the gun in front of me and asked myself 'What am I doing here? How could things have led to this?'"

"I couldn't believe my life was actually turning out this way," he writes. "There I was, practicing shooting with real guns because I had a plan to carry out a massacre. Why did things have to be this way, I silently questioned myself as I looked at the handgun I was holding in front of me. I paid my fee and left the range within minutes, feeling as if I was going to be sick."

At another point he tells us: "A shiver ran through me, realizing how twisted my world had become, that I would have to resort to doing something that I would consider unthinkable a few years ago. I didn't want to do it. I wanted to live. Thinking about the Day of Retribution made me feel trapped. I wanted a way out."

What are the roots of this evil? There are some classic problems of a deeply troubled young person here: parents divorced at a young age, moving from one country to another and frequently changing houses, neighborhoods, schools and friends, leading to typical instability. And he was bullied in a typical way at American high schools.

But what makes him capable of this horrendous crime in my view are very sharply conflicting feelings of inferiority and superiority. He tells us repeatedly how unworthy he feels, how physically weak and unattractive he thinks he is to females. However, in this entire memoir he never once tells us of actually approaching a female and being rejected. He is too terrified of them to even do that.

He is bullied by one girl in high school who he secretly admires. But his rejection is almost totally in his own mind. On a holiday in France, where he finds young people more accommodating than bullying, materialistic American youth, he is introduced to several young women, former girlfriends of the French friend he is staying with. But he never mentions that he even tried to befriend these young French women. They don't reject him. He could never even try to get to know them.

"I wished I had the courage to go up to them and ask one on a date, but they would have seen me as a creep," he writes about seeing a group of pretty girls one day. "Girls are so cruel."

He has enough of this imagined rejection and plots his revenge against young people who are enjoying a life he is convinced he is being denied. He says life is unfair and that the world is cruel. True enough. "The most meanest and depraved of men come out on top, and women flock to these men. Their evil acts are rewarded by women; while the good, decent men are laughed at," he writes. But he's talking about himself here. He never talks about real suffering of others in the larger world that sometimes do result from mean and depraved men: poverty, injustice, war, repression, racism, etc. He cannot see beyond his very tiny world.

Not only doesn't he care about anyone else, but he thinks he's superior to others because he had a privileged childhood in England, went to movie premieres, and traveled to several foreign countries as a child. He is spoiled rotten by his parents, perhaps guilty for the effect of their divorce on him (though his mother loved him), and he gets a BMW because he needs an "upper-class car." He can't understand how guys with lesser cars are getting girls. He complains that he doesn't fly first-class with his parents. He is ashamed to tell anyone his mother has moved to a working-class neighborhood. He is openly racist and admits to having "fascist" political views. And he says if he was a dictator he'd put all women in concentration camps. Then, exhibiting behavior we wouldn't typically associate with an insane person, he realistically admits he has no chance of being a dictator.

Despite this feeling of superiority, he can't approach young women, so he blames all of them and the men they are with, and with easy access to guns, acted on his hatred. He wills to destroy his world in which his superiority is not recognized.

Sometimes we think we know what motivates someone like this. This document lays it all out, down to mapping out his diabolical plans, which fortunately didn't go completely as planned, producing fewer deaths than he wanted.

It's ironic that with American cops busting down doors and violently arresting or shooting people in their homes even on suspicion of non-violent crimes, that they did not enter Elliot Rodger's apartment when his mother reported her fears that he would commit a violent act. He was polite and the police left. He explains in the memoir what a close call it was because had they searched his place they would have found his weapons and his plan would have been foiled. Among those plans was to cut off the heads of his roommates and then roll them on the street in front of partying college students as he emerged from his car with guns blazing. "Once they see all of their friend's heads roll onto the street, everyone will fear me as the powerful god I am," he writes.

Rodger did not reject the culture that bullied him. He wanted to succeed in it. Because he couldn't, he wanted to destroy it. He appears to have been clinically rational. And cold-blooded. Had he lived through this he should not have been allowed an insanity defense. His memoir provides insight into evil rather than insanity.

We can restrict access to guns. We can teach high school students to respect their classmates even if they aren't the most popular and to stop bullying them, we can try to encourage parents to love their children more and not just satisfy their material cravings. We can try to change a superficial, me-first, materialistic, status-oriented, put-down culture. All that would help. But I do not know if we can ultimately stop someone like this who in his "twisted world," as the title of his memoir calls it, is determined to act.