What was wrong with Elliot Rodger? (Short answer: a lot)
Guest post by Emily O’Malley
I read Elliot Rodger‘s whole 140-page manifesto, and have not been able to stop thinking about it all week. From the day it happened, I’ve heard a medley of theories about his pathology. People have blamed mental illness, guns, violent video guns, MRAs, feminists, atheism, racism, and his therapists. Some have taken a leaf out of his own book and faulted women for not dating him. Others have said that no one is responsible but Elliot himself. A guest on Fox News even speculated that he must have been secretly gay and angry with women for taking away the men he desired. After watching his videos and reading his autobiographical screed, I point the (middle) finger at narcissism and misogyny–both his own, and that of the society which fostered it.
Elliot Rodgers was an egomaniacal, emotionally infantile, status-obsessed, classist, racist, sexist, spoiled pig. He demanded that everything be handed to him on a blood diamond-encrusted platter, and for the most part, he got it. His parents bought him everything he could possibly want, along with countless other things he was too ungrateful to appreciate. We’re talking about a guy who went on international vacations nearly every year and always flew first class. He had VIP passes for movie premieres and attended a private Katy Perry concert. He wore Armani and Gucci, ate at five-star restaurants whenever he pleased, and drove a BMW. His dad was friends with Steven Spielberg. Even so, he didn’t believe he was wealthy. He kept pressuring his mom to find a rich husband so he could “be part of a high-class family” in order to feel superior to others. His mom didn’t wish to remarry, but Elliot told her she should sacrifice her own happiness for his sake, because he believed that being rich was the only way he could lose his virginity. He wanted women gifted to him along with all the other status symbols, but found that to be far more of a challenge.
Elliot constantly spoke of being rejected by women, but it was entirely in his own head. From the sound of his manifesto, he never even asked women out. He didn’t approach them. He didn’t flirt. He went out by himself in public and expected women to flock over to him, and felt jilted when they didn’t. How many women are going to approach a man who’s immersed in a book at Barnes & Noble or waiting in front of Domino’s? How many women are going to try to pick up a man they see jogging around in a park? Based on those descriptions, he must have looked busy. He never tried to initiate conversation. There were some encounters in which a woman smiled at him, but he didn’t follow it up by saying hello. He decided she must not be interested because she didn’t fall into his lap right then and there.
The manifesto contained numerous laments about not having friends, but Elliot was the one who drove them away. Whenever he made friends, he became maddeningly jealous of them for attracting women or being charismatic. He snubbed the friendship of anyone he saw as nerdy or unattractive, but felt deeply threatened by attractive and outgoing friends. His jealousy immediately turned to hate. When any of his friends dated or hooked up with women, he assumed they were doing it to spite him. He truly believed that everything they did was directed at him. This wasn’t just his belief about friends; he also applied it to strangers. Elliot thought that every couple out in public was displaying their affection just to make him feel inferior.
Elliot was also racist. He was half-Asian but passed as white, and heaped a generous helping of racial slurs onto black people, Hispanics, and Asians. He seemed to idolize blonde white women as an Aryan ideal, and I doubt it was a coincidence that the majority of his victims were Asian men. He was trying to kill off that part of himself.
His hatred of women burns through the pages, searing anyone who scrolls through. He wanted to own and enslave them. He wanted to establish himself as a godlike dictator, lock women up in concentration camps, and starve them all to death. I’ve heard people ask why no woman ever gave him a chance. After pointing out the fact that he never actually approached any of them, I respond by asking, “Would you?” He was handsome and rich and had myriad Hollywood connections, but clearly that’s not enough to attract someone if you radiate predatory zeal. Clearly you can still scare people, even if you’re good looking and intelligent. Creepiness is a distinct trait that attractive people are not immune from exuding. I strongly suspect that he would have been violent and predatory even if he did have a girlfriend. It was his nature. If somebody can’t handle being denied what they want, they can’t handle it any better from a significant other. With his impossible demands and inability to be satisfied, I also doubt that one girlfriend would have been enough for him. Even if he had managed to win over a woman he viewed as a flawless trophy, he’d be enraged about not being able to date every woman who appealed to him, and he would still feel as if the world were cheating him out of his rightful rewards. The people who blame women for “not giving him a chance” would also blame a woman if she did date him and was murdered. They’d say, “She had to be crazy to say yes!” Either way, Elliot would be absolved of responsibility.
Elliot’s affinity for Men’s Rights Activist websites has caused many to wonder if they fueled his fury toward women. I’d say that was more of a symptom than a cause. He already felt alienated from women and blamed them for his misery, so he sought out an online community with others who shared his grievances. Very few of his partners in commiseration would actually commit murder, but the support he received for his massacre is chilling. Not all MRAs condone Elliot’s actions, of course, but a great deal of them are choosing to derail the topic (or possibly rationalize it) by immediately reverting to, “Well, women kill men, too!” or “There are women who commit domestic violence.” Yes, there are women who domestically abuse men and women who kill male partners. No one is denying those facts or using this tragedy to excuse female-on-male violence. However, we are currently talking about a man who committed a mass shooting based almost entirely on his acrimony towards women, and many MRAs seem unwilling to discuss this without seeking out a way to blame the female gender.
A large portion of Elliot’s alienation from women, and social struggles in general, seemed related to his Asperger’s Syndrome. That being said, Asperger’s alone doesn’t account for his actions. Plenty of people with Asperger’s are able to date and have active social lives. It may take more effort for them than it does for others, but it can be achieved. Elliot’s astounding level of narcissism kept him from finding love and keeping friends. He wanted the world to drop down and worship him, and refused to take responsibility for any of his flaws. That’s not attributed to Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s not psychosis, either. One striking aspect of Elliot’s manifesto was its lucidity. His ideas were outrageously inaccurate, but coherent and consistent. He couldn’t relate to others’ joy or connection, so he resolved to destroy it.
I’d diagnose that as bare evil.