Rod McLaughlin

Analyzing a massacre (07 jun 14)

The USA produces a diverse range of massacres. Some of them are more comprehensible than others. The murder of four men and two women plus the gunman himself in Santa Barbara on May 23rd is easier to understand than most.

British left-wing blogger Richard Seymour entered the fray with Taking Elliot Rodger Seriously.

Seymour writes "The sickening logic of Rodger’s misogyny, the way it draws on ubiquitous cultural tropes, has been outstandingly assayed by Laurie Penny. But invoking mental illness has allowed some commentators to deny the centrality of misogyny to Rodger's actions."

In other words, defending a different position from Richard Seymour has allowed some commentators to disagree with Richard Seymour's position.

Penny also complains that not everyone agrees with her: "For some time now, misogynist extremism has been excused, as all acts of terrorism committed by white men are excused, as an aberration, as the work of random loons, not real men at all. Why are we denying the existence of a pattern?" – New Statesman, Let's Call the Isla Vista Killings What They Were: Misogynist Extremism.

She thinks that terrorism committed by white men is excused as mental illness, whereas other forms of terrorism are seen as produced by a political ideology. She offers no evidence for this hypothesis. She doesn't survey media reports on white terrorism in America from the Oklahoma bombing of 1995 to the attack on the Holocaust museum in DC in 2009. Such a survey – easily done – would demolish her claim.

Seymour continues: "The killer left a detailed life story, and many video diaries, and his obsessions with gender, class and race, his framework of privilege and entitlement, structure the entirety of his account.  The hatred and resentment toward women in particular, and the masculinist fantasies of retribution and cleansing..."

“Obsessions with gender, class and race”. Pot calls kettle black.

"And there is no obvious reason why a mental illness should express itself in such a toxic fusion of gendered, classed and raced resentment and rage, leading to the premeditated “slaughter“ of seven people (including himself), like “animals“."

That's true. "Mental illness" is just as impotent as "misogyny" to explain Rodger's rage.

"Because Rodger is not so unusual among twenty-something males. You've met men like him. His issues, his insecurities, the huge burden of resentment and shame, the ideology of violent women-hatred that he gives realisation to, are all too widespread."  

Again, Seymour is right, but not in the way he thinks. Rodger's remarkably lucid "manifesto" (PDF) does express things which are not unusual among twenty-something males.

Let's hear what Elliot Rodger has to say:

"The feelings of jealousy I felt at nine-years-old were frustrating, but they were nothing compared to how I would feel once I hit puberty and have to watch girls choosing other boys over me" wrote Rodger.

Seymour responds:

"This classed, gendered sense of his proper place in the world is, in fact, nothing more than an expression of privilege. He has been socialised to understand that his masculinity and his social class entitle him to everything, that no one should have more than he does." 

How Rodger felt after puberty has nothing to do with "socialization". Children socialize themselves - see e.g. Judith Rich Harris's paper for the American Psychological Association in 1995.

It's dangerous to believe boys can be "socialized" out of "privilege". Norwegian mass murderer Anders Brevik was schooled by feminists. Solutions to violence have to be based on evidence, not on the politically-correct leftism which has undermined scholarship in the social sciences throughout the Western world.

If you believe "masculinist fantasies" are caused by "ideology" and "privilege" you are on a wild goose chase. The most economical analysis of Rodger's writing is that it is a product of biology and evolution. He was surrounded by beautiful women. He wasn't getting any. And successful men, who were. He hadn't figured out how to get on and off with girls. I understand this failure. It took me a lifetime to overcome my liberal upbringing, and see that the great barrier in understanding between men and women is directly caused by the difference in the genetic interests of males and females in large mammal species, the simple mathematical fact that females can only have few children, and males, if they're lucky, many. Young men are competitive and prone to violence because it has been in their genetic interests to be like that for most of our existence as a species. It's not surprising that Laurie Penny and most other women are baffled – men should try to help them understand, not reinforce their illusions.

People in Santa Barbara trying to make sense of this horrific intrusion into their idyllic coastal community need look no further than the University, which is the world's leading center of evolutionary psychology – a small island of scientific research into human behavior in the extensive swamp of post-modern academia. Equipped with this framework, it's easy to understand Elliot Rodger. This understanding is essential if we want to be able to predict and prevent similar future outbursts of male violence. It's genes, not tropes.


Portland London