Primary Source: http://www.scribd.com/doc/225960813/Elliot-Rodger-Santa-Barbara-mass-shooting-suspect-My-Twisted-World-manifesto
When human-caused tragic events occur, we always ask ourselves the question of ‘why?’ Did God will this to happen? Did the television cause it? Did video games cause it?
For some reason, we always try to externalize this blame. The idea that human beings can commit acts of monstrous evil is innately distressing to us (because “if they can do this, then doesn’t that mean I could conceivably do so as well?”), and as such we seem to consistently find “causes” for these individuals’ actions. Abusive childhood. Systemic misogyny. Religious indoctrination. Internalized racism. Satan. The entertainment industry. Take your pick.
Individuals are clearly influenced by the world around them, yet at the same time this world around them is composed of other individuals and the cultural artifacts produced by them. We have free will, yet this does not imply our cultural context has no effect or influence or meaning. That said, the human being is not merely a stimulus-response meat-machine; our behaviors may not have “causes” in the strict sense of the term, but they do have reasons.
The same applies to horrible actions. Human vice and human virtue are not just arbitrary choices nor are they conditioned reflexes nor are they epiphenomena of great social forces – they are actions undertaken for reasons.
The hideous crimes of Elliot Rodger were inexcuseable acts, but they were undertaken because of reasons. This does not make them rational or right or acceptable (they absolutely are none of these things), but it does make them somewhat comprehensible. “Why do some people do evil things?” is one of the oldest questions known to humanity, and one of the most fascinating to investigate.
Of course, we need to look at this in context; GendErratic is an egalitarian gender issues blog affiliated with the Men’s Human Rights Movement. Some news outlets have attempted to blame the MHRM (which they cannot seem to consistently identify, since they package-deal the MHRM with the Seduction/Pickup Artist/Red-Pill communities) for Rodger’s crimes, and as such most reactions by the MHRM will be confined to swift condemnation and distancing. This makes absolute sense, because Rodger was not a member of the MHRM (he was not even a member of the Seduction/Pickup Artist community, although it is arguably true that his beliefs about the nature of female sexual desire count as “Red Pill”) and his actions were fundamentally inexcuseable.
But as I said before, merely because an action is inexcuseable does not imply that it is incomprehensible. And when the actor leaves behind a written rationale for the action performed, then that manifesto makes a reasonable starting point.
I will again reiterate that none of this justifies Elliot Rodger’s actions, which were despicably evil and utterly irredeemable. Elliot Rodger was a Spree Killer and clearly an extraordinarily contemptible individual. But this doesn’t imply that reading his own words is a worthless exercise.
In the following, I will at times use “victim-sounding” terminology to discuss aspects of Rodger’s condition, however. This is not to be construed as implying that Rodger was the victim of his crimes; he was the perpetrator.
Queen Bees And Wannabes, Genderswapped
Rosalind Weisman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes sparked a huge conversation about the bullying that takes place between girls; in contrast to “sugar, spice and everything nice” girls are indeed ruthlessly competitive backstabbers who will sabotage the competition at any opportunity. In this, Weisman performed a service by knocking girls off their pedestal and showing mainstream culture that women are just as prone to bullying each other as men are.
Of course, there is rarely any serious attempt to address bullying in schools amongst men. “Boys will be boys” they say, and leave it at that. Indeed, Weisman’s book about male bullying is both hilariously simplistic (seriously, she blames Batman for male gender norms and the resultant social politics) and essentially has vanished from the radar, whereas Queen Bees sparked the movie Mean Girls.
High School social politics, for both sexes, is (in our society) an hierarchical affair where superiors bully and belittle inferiors, and everyone desperately tries to become as popular and “cool” as possible. The losers, the outcasts, the rejects, well they are the ultimate victims of the system.
The loser, the outcast, the reject, they can develop in one of three ways:
1) They remain within the hierarchy, desperately struggling to one day fit in, hoping they will some day be accepted; they cannot conceive of a life outside of the hierarchy.
2) They shallowly ‘rebel’ against the hierarchy by creating their own hierarchy which, conveniently, happens to define “cool” as “like themselves” rather than via the mainstream definition.
3) They reject the hierarchy as a load of bullshit and live their lives by their own wills and refuse to let the judgment of others control them.
Both men and women are subject to this hierarchy, however the difference is that for men, gender-compliance is much more strongly linked to one’s position in the heirarchy than it is for women; one is not necessarily socially considered “less feminine” for being a mousy arty chick with few friends instead of a blond bimbo cheerleader, but one is socially considered “less masculine” for being a nerd rather than a jock. The ultimate reason for this, as I explained in Summa Genderratica, is that our society tends to see femininity as biologically innate (as an Aristotelian Essence), but masculinity as performed through actions and thus as a Platonic Form.
Elliot Rodger was an example of the first kind of development taken to murderous extremes (although perhaps with elements of the second kind). He was the exact opposite of what Paul Elam would describe as a “Zeta Male” (a man who rejects the male dominance hierarchy and all other substitutes). He was not under any circumstances acting in accordance with MHRM theory or practice but rather was the snivelling, servile result of desperately trying to fit in and failing miserably, being too intellectually weak to live by his own rules. Even after the pack abused him he kept crawling back, desperate to belong, and was rejected yet again, and the cycle kept repeating in some bizarre case of pseudo-Stockholm Syndrome.
Finally, he cracked.
The Central Narrative
After reading Rodger’s entire manifesto, I can outline what I believe to be the primary patterns within his thoughts and values (as relayed in the text) which are critical to understanding his actions. Fundamentally speaking the greatest theme in Rodger’s life is a failure to achieve “real manhood” (in the eyes of others) and thus worthiness, which he ultimately believed to be confirmed/bestowed by the sexual attention of women. This is complicated by the fact that he accepted the social norms of aristocratic British culture and treated them as the “correct” determinants of social status, worthiness and “what women should want,” thus feeling cheated when it turned out that (at least in the United States) women preferred men of more rowdy, jockish inclinations rather than refined gentlemen.
Let’s call these dual, interrelated complexes Social Emasculation Anxiety and the Lord Chatterley Dilemma.
The “official” narrative (i.e. the one spun by the mainstream media) will be that Elliot Rodger was merely the latest in a long line of Privileged Angry White Men acting out of a fear of losing their privilege, and that he is emblematic of deep cultural problems with mainstream America. In fact, Elliot Rodger was half-European, half-Asian and raised in an environment which was mostly based on the norms of British (from his family) and American (from his peer group) societies. The strong presence of aristocratic British (and perhaps, to a small degree, Chinese) norms in his upbringing and his manifesto mean that any attempts to pour cultural shame on “America” for Elliot Rodger’s actions are frankly stupid. To claim Rodger’s actions were primarily about misogyny is also flawed (he was misogynist, true, but he was also contemptuous of the vast majority of the human race and particularly of “more alpha” men and his value system placed women’s love and respect at the very apex of worth). It is my hope that this piece will provide a compelling counter-narrative against the propagandist bilge that many will try to twist this tragedy into.
COMPLEX 1: SOCIAL EMASCULATION ANXIETY
1a) A Second-Hand Spirit
“He was great; great as the number of people who told him so. He was right; right as the number of people who believed him. He looked at the faces, at the eyes; he saw himself born in them, he saw himself being granted the gift of life.”
The Fountainhead, p196
Regardless of what one thinks about The Fountainhead or its author (note: any comments which go on about the book or its author will be removed for being off-topic), the book details the concept of the “Second Hander” – an individual who’s entire personal senses of meaning, purpose and worth are dependent upon other people. To the Second Hander, a life without the validation and/or acknowledgement of other people is an unspeakable horror, and (as the saying goes) the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. The Second Hander’s entire sense of self-worth is critically dependent on others in some fashion; everything ultimately revolves around what other people think of them.
For all of Elliot Rodger’s existence, he was consistently a Second Hander; he fundamentally lived for the esteem and acknowledgement of others. After all, “people having a high opinion of me is what I’ve always wanted in life,” he says on p116. The final sentence of his work reads “finally, at long last, I can show the world my true worth” (p137).
In the very first paragraph he states that “all I ever wanted was to fit in” (Rodger (2014) p1). Later in his manifesto this is reiterated in how he wanted “to show the whole WORLD, that I had worth” (p108). “I’ve been trying to join and be accepted among the beautiful, popular people all my life,” he laments again on p112; This theme is omnipresent throughout his writing.
By the end of the fourth grade, he realized precisely what demographic he wished to fit into; quite unsurprisingly, that demographic was the “cool kids.”
“As my fourth grade year approached its end, my little nine-year-old self had another revelation about how the world works. I realized that there were hierarchies, that some people were better than others…. At school, there were always the “cool kids” who seemed to be more admirable than everyone else. The way they looked, dressed and acted made them… cooler… They were cool, they were popular…” (p17).
He needed that popularity – that social status. “I envied the cool kids, and I wanted to be one of them” he reiterates (p17). However, at the end of his fourth year of schooling he realized that he wasn’t likely to attain it.
“When I became aware of this common social structure at my school, I also started to examine myself and compare myself to these “cool kids.” I realized, with some horror, that I wasn’t “cool” at all. I had a dorky hairstyle, I wore plain and uncool clothing, and I was shy and unpopular” (p17).
His first step in making himself more popular was to bleach his hair blond, which ended up (accidentally) making people consider him cool for a few days.
“I got a hint of the attention and admiration I so craved” (p18).
Pokemon was a childhood hobby of his (see the next section), but he quit Pokemon eventually, because it was considered excessively “geeky” and status-conscious Rogers didn’t want to deal with that stigma (p18). He changed over to skateboarding, because he “started to notice that all of the cool kids were interested in skateboarding. I had never even ridden on a skateboard before, but if I wanted to be cool, I had to become a skateboarder” (p18).
After Fourth grade ended, Elliot “took a vow to mold myself into the coolest kid I could possibly be by the time Fifth grade began. I anticipated the approval the other cool kids would have of me once I reveal (sic) myself as being similar to them, and I looked forward to it.” (p18).
He dressed himself in skateboarding clothes (p19), and whilst fifth grade didn’t give him the amount of social status he wanted he had more than he did in the fourth grade, which helped him and as such he kept hanging out with the cool kids (p20). When the cool kids exhibited an interest in hacky sacking, he immediately pursued it (p22).
During a school camp, he managed to be transferred into a camping group which was composed of cool skateboarder kids. ‘I felt a sense of pride to be part of his group,” he says (p25).
His relationship with the “cool kids” always followed this pattern of needy validation and craving for acceptance, and he saw their approval as meaning the world to him.
“They were ‘cool’ skateboarders, and that made it even more intimidating. Of course, I wanted to be friends with them and join in their fun, but I was too scared that they would think I’m weird” (p23).
“Once again, I used skateboarding as a way to increase my standing, telling the skateboarder kids that I knew how to skateboard and that I could do some tricks. This got them to treat me more cordially. I even talked to Robert Morgan a few times, who I hated and yet subconsciously revered for being so popular. Whenever a so-called popular kid would say a word to me or give me a high five, I felt immense satisfaction” (p28).
His disappointment at how his attendance of the Star Wars Episode 3 premiere didn’t enhance his social status (due to its “nerdiness”) is shown on p42: “I was left frustrated and disappointed by their reaction.”
Second Handing isn’t merely about positive acclaim, but any form of attention at all (“infamy is better than total obscurity” (p42)); Rodger confesses to deliberately acting “weird and annoying to people just to gain attention” (p40).
He often tried to impress people he envied; when on a camping trip with Leo Bubenheim (see below), “I tried to act tough in front of them by slashing my knife at any plant that got in our way.” (p51)
Rodger cared a lot about how wealth showed off social status, conspicuous consumption is a classic trait of Second Handers. On p29 and p30 Rodger describes his frustration over his mother moving to a low-class neighbourhood and how a bully’s discovery of this caused him monumental humilation. He mentions more reputation-based angst over his mother’s move to an apartment (which he perceived as inherently low-class) on p40 (embarassment so intense that it damaged his social life). This repeats itself again on p52 (dealing with his mother’s move to Canoga Park, a lower-class area.)
Even when Rodger was trying to protect himself from bullies (see below), his ultimate concern still lay with how he was perceived. Describing an incident where he was attacked by Halloween hooligans and fought back with his knife, he wrote “They must have seen me as a weakling who they could bully for their amusement. I didn’t want the world to view me as weak” (p63). Note the concern with how “the world” viewed him rather than simply being capable of self-defense.
As I have stated before, for men the social hierarchy and the gender hierarchy are strongly linked; after all, the “alpha male” is the leader, the manliest male, the strongest etc. Rodger had realized this feature of male gender norms. “I always had the subconscious preconception that the coolest kids were mean and aggressive by nature…” (p23). And the nature of how this influenced sexual attractiveness in later life is dwelt upon by Rodger; “the boys who girls find attractive will live pleasure-filled lives while they dominate the boys who girls deem unworthy.”
But, as Rodger lamented on p74, “The world views me as a weakling. Perhaps I needed to prove the world wrong.”
As we shall see next, he had significant difficulty in doing this.
1b) Failure To Achieve “Real Manhood” By Mainstream Standards
Even physically, the deck was stacked against Rodger; he was not a tall man, and traditional gender norms (particularly those of Chinese culture, which may have partially informed his upbringing) greatly value tallness in males. His ethnic heritage contributed both biologically as well as culturally – Asian men are on average less tall than Caucasian men. Even in his early ages he was conscious about his lack of height relative to his peers;
“I was very small and short statured for my age… I saw other boys my age admitted onto the ride, but I was denied because I was too short!” (p6).
When he was nine years old, he began to realize just how much height would matter in terms of social status.
“As Fourth Grade started, it fully dawned on me that I was the shortest kid in my class – even the girls were taller than me. In the past, I rarely gave a thought to it, but at this stage I became extremely annoyed at how everyone was taller than me, and how the tallest boys were automatically respected more. It instilled the first feelings of inferiority in me…” (p15).
“I desperately wanted to get taller, and I read that playing basketball increases height. This sparked my brief interest in basketball… I would spend hours playing basketball at father’s basketball court, shooting hoop after hoop long into the evening, and I also remember lying on the ground in the basketball court trying to stretch my body…” (p15 – 16).
Even in middle school, “most of the girls were taller than me” (p28). When starting high school (p45), he “was intimidated by all the huge high school boys.”
A quick glance at his photos reveals that Rodger, whilst clearly not ugly, had a very youthful and in some respects androgynous face – plump and pouty lips as well as a somewhat narrow and delicate jawline. He had a boyish appearance… an appearance which in his manifesto he described as “beautiful” rather than handsome (p90 and p121, and on p99 he describes looking in the mirror and saying to himself “I am the image of beauty”). Again, this physique of his reflects his half-Asian heritage, whilst his body was judged on purely Caucasian standards of masculine development.
This physical deficiency of his continued to his activities; Rodger openly concedes his lack of physical strength and sporting prowess, only further emasculating him socially. During his early childhood in Britain, he failed to show proficiency in soccer (“football” in British English). “I never understood the game and I could never keep up with the other boys in the field..” (p2).
During his brief period of interest in basketball, this deficiency reasserted itself. “When I played basketball at school, some boys would join me, and when they did I saw that they were much better at the sport than me. I envied their ability to throw the ball at double the distance than I could. This made me realize that along with being short, I was physically weak compared to other boys my age. Even boys younger than me were stronger. This vexed me to no end” (p16).
Skateboarding, an interest he held for a few years, eventually proved fruitless for him. “When I saw there were boys a lot younger than me who could do more tricks, I realized that I sucked. I was never good at sports or any physical activity…” (p26).
He reiterates this again on p44; “I was always short and physically weak… that’s how it’s been all my life.” When he discovered that a step-cousin (?) of his had become “taller and stronger than me, despite being two years younger” he was clearly displeased.
It is no surprise that Rodger’s primary envy was towards well-built, blond, athletic “surfer boys” and “jocks” – Leo Bubenheim (p50) was one of the first; “He was tall, good looking, blonde-haired, and a skateboarder; the type of person I’ve always envied and wanted to be.” He mentions another “obnoxious jock with a buzz-cut” (p69) at Moorpark College, and yet another (p100) “tall, muscular surfer-jock with a buzz cut” at UCSB. When describing actor Alexander Ludwig he says “I hated everything about him; his golden blonde hair; his tall, muscular frame; his cocky, masculine face” (p103).
As Rodger simply couldn’t compete with others on the sporting field, he sought solace in other competitive activities – ones in which his physique was irrelevant, and thus ones he perceived as fair. As a child he extensively played Pokemon (first mentioned on p12) and described the competition as masculinizing, meritocratic and ultimately friendly (arguably this is because competitive Pokemon games favored his skill set and thus he wasn’t a loser).
“Life was fair and life was satisfying. As kids, proving our self-worth and gaining validation amongst our peers was achieved in a fair manner, by how good we were at the games we played, or how big or collection of Pokemon cards were (sic). No one had unfair advantages. This was perfect, and this is how life should be.” (p13).
Rodger reiterates this point on p25; “as children we all play together as equals in a fair environment.”
Video games, particularly World of Warcraft, became a substitute for this later in life and he openly admitted they were an escape from the powerlessness of his normal existence. As he says on p40, in WoW he had “a place where I felt comfortable and secure” and on p43 says that he found reaching the character level cap to be “a huge and important accomplishment.”
In essence, Rodger pursued a substitute hierarchy so he could enjoy the sensation of overcoming others and thus be considered a high-ranking male (this has interesting implications for the “male power fantasy” argument about video games – people tend to fantasize not about what they have but rather what they lack). Indeed, as WoW became more mainstream in appeal, Rodger lost his safe space from the hierarchical pressures of high school life. To quote Rodger: “but that was only a small part of the reason why I quit. The main reason was the disturbing new player base… I noticed more and more “normal” people who had active and pleasureable social lives were starting to play the game… WoW no longer became a sanctuary where I could hide from the evils of the world, because the evils of the world had now followed me there” (p74).
He needed to fit in, to be ‘cool,’ to be a ‘real man’ and to be acknowledged for this, but he never could. “The world still viewed me as a weak and undesirable loser” he lamented on p64. As he suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome (or, for those who contest the legitimacy of Asperger’s as a “disease,” clearly had a temperment which was oriented towards processing abstract, explicit information rather than the subtle, sensory and tacit information which pervades much social interaction and is rarely explained to people in a systematic fashion), this would’ve always been a challenge for him.
As a consequence of his failure to be accepted amongst his peers as a “real man,” Elliot Rodger endured significant bullying in high school, each incident grinding his face in his lack of social acceptance and unworthiness by popular standards. One of the first incidents detailed in depth is when he was bullied by Monette Moio, whom “was the first girl I ever had a crush on… To be teased and ridiculed by the girl I had a crush on wounded me deeply.” (p42). But it was on the first week of high school that he had his “first experience of true bullying… Some horrible Twelfth Graders saw me as a target because I looked like a ten year old and I was physically weak. They threw food at me during lunchtime and after school. It enraged me, but I was too scared to do anthing about it. What kind of horrible, depraved people would poke fun at a boy younger than them who has just entered high school?“
He refers to more bullying incidents on p46, where “they teased me because I was scared of girls, calling me names like ‘faggot.’ People also liked to steal my belongings and run away in an attempt to chase after them. And I did chase after them in a furious rage, but I was so little and weak that they thought it was comical…. It got to a point where I had to wait in a quiet corner for the hallways to clear before I could walk to class. I also took long routes around the school to avoid bullies.”
This bullying extended even into his college years, when his housemates Ryan and Angel (p90) mocked him for being a virgin.
An interesting and critical incident occurred when Elliot was 15 years old (p48), when he first moved into Tenth Grade at Taft High School. “Some random boys pushed me against the lockers as they walked past me in the hall. One boy who was tall and had blonde (sic) hair called me a ‘loser,’ right in front of his girlfriends. Yes, he had girls with him. Pretty girls. And they didn’t seem to mind the fact that he was such an evil bastard. In fact, I bet they liked him for it. This is how girls are, and I was starting to realize it. This is what truly opened my eyes to how brutal the world is. The meanest and most 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. It is sick, twisted, and wrong in every way. I hated the girls even more than the bullies because of this.”
Elliot had always connected status and worthiness (as a man) with success with women. This first was seen in his youth, when he was first introduced to his soon-to-be stepmother:
“Because of my father’s acquisition of a new girlfriend, my little mind got the impression that my father was a man that women found attractive… I subconsciously held him in higher regard because of this. It is very interesting how this phenomenon works… that males who can easily find female mates garner more respect from their fellow men, even children.” (p11).
As puberty and middle school began to be part of Elliot’s life, the link between social status and sexual success with women began to become more apparent. “I noticed that there were two groups of cool, popular kids. There were the skateboarder kids… and then there were the boys who were popular with girls..” (p28).
Soon this expanded into what was really the very basis of his understanding of social status. It seems that Elliot wanted success with girls in order to prove himself to guys (“I wanted to prove to them all that girls liked me, to see the look on their faces when they see a girl by my side” (p91), see also “no one respects a man who is unable to get a woman” (p110). yet more evidence of his Second Hander mentality as discussed above), and invested in girls the ultimate power to bestoy the status of “real manhood” (“I needed a girl’s love. I needed to feel worthy as a male” (p94). He again refers to seeing a girl’s attraction to him as proof of worthiness on p102). Elliot saw women as incredibly powerful in this respect; during a summer camp during early middle school…
“An incident happened that would scar me for life. The first time that I was treated badly by a girl occurred at this camp… I accidentally bumped into a pretty girl the same age as me, and she got very angry. She cursed at me and pushed me, embarrassing me in front of my friend. I didn’t know who this girl was.. But she was very pretty, and she was taller than me… Cruel treatment from women is ten times worse than from men. It made me feel like an insignificant, unworthy little mouse. I felt so small and vulnerable… I thought that it was because she viewed me as a loser” (p32).
The significance of a woman’s affections (both sexual and romantic) to Elliot cannot be underestimated. “The power that beautiful women have is unbelievable” he says on p76. On p110 to p111, Rodger states that “a man having a beautiful girl by his side shows the world that he is worth something, because obviously that beautiful girl sees some sort of worth within him. If a man is all alone, people get the impression that girls are repulsed by him, and therefore he is a worthless loser.” He describes as “so offensive it will haunt me forever” being told that “no girl in this whole world will ever want to fuck you” (p67) (interestingly, there’s an emphasis on him being desired by the woman. Not merely getting access to sex but on her wanting him. This seems to complicate the argument that Elliot felt a sense of “entitlement to female bodies” due to being male). On p97, Rodger goes so far as to say that he eventually thought that “the world was full of wonders to explore, but if I had to do it alone while other men were able to do it with their girlfriends, then what was the point?”
Clearly, Elliot Rodger was the absolute opposite of a Man Going His Own Way – he was (to use crude-terms) a pussy-beggar who’s entire sense of worthiness as a man was invested in receiving the sexual and romantic affections of women. He openly confesses to hours of hysterically crying over lacking romantic success or witnessing other people experiencing it (p47, also p59 and other moments). He described having to watch couples kiss as “the worst torture ever” (p57) and dropped college classes over seeing couples in the classroom (p70).
To summarize the first narrative of Elliot Rodger’s life, Rodger was very much a “non-Alpha” male physically and tempermentally, which resulted in consistently being socially emasculated and bullied. As he was incapable of contemplating a source of self-worth that wasn’t ultimately dependent on the approval, affection and attention of others, he was doomed to a monumental case of self-loathing.
However, this does not fully explain why Rodger acted how he did and it does not fully explain why he came to the views he accepted; Rodger, after all, believed himself to be the “true Alpha Male” who was denied the female affection and attention he believed he deserved. Whilst he was pushed to the bottom of the macho dominance heirarchy, he did not accept his socially-ordained place (as he says on p99, “I was incapable of being an outgoing, boisterous jock, and I didn’t want to be one”). Why?
COMPLEX 2: THE LORD CHATTERLEY DILEMMA
2a) The “Lord” Component
Whenever a mass shooting occurs in the United States, the British press has a predictable reaction; to blame American culture and its fixation on ‘guns and cowboys’ and feast upon disdain for their ex-colony, perhaps as a way of soothing their resentment about losing their former imperial glory.
The Daily Mail does precisely this, trotting out Dr Adam Lankford to argue that Elliot was mimicking the film “American Psycho” and the comments section is full of the usual “blame the Second Ammendment” types (see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2638427/He-disturbed-boy-British-grandmother-Santa-Barbara-mass-killer-boy-grew-Hollywood-royalty-posted-chilling-blogs-vowing-revenge-against-women-rejected-him.html).
This time the shooting hits much closer to home; Elliot Rodger had a British father, was born in Britain and spent his early childhood there. He even called England “my home country” (p96). Obviously the British press want to emphasize Elliot’s American-ness, because of course No True Briton would commit mass murder!
But you cannot understand Elliot Rodgers without looking at his British ancestry and upbringing. Throughout his manifesto, he demonstrates attitudes which are absolutely and incontestibly derived not from American popular culture, but rather from the cultural norms of the British aristocracy (and, arguably to some extent, the Chinese culture of his mother, but to a much smaller degree, particularly because his mother moved to England at a young age and thus probably ended up adopting more English than Chinese norms).
An interesting feature of gender norms in the non-Britain Anglosphere is that they are in many ways reflective of class divides; the feminine norms are often aristocratic (ornamental dress, concern with aesthetics, “Lady” norms etc) whilst the masculine norms tend to be working-class (functional dress, cultural unrefinement etc). My fellow blogger Ginkgo has elaborated on this theme before. Another way in which the gender norms’ class associations can be demonstrated is to look at what the stereotypical “what I want to be when I grow up” answers are; women dream about becoming princesses, whilst men overwhelmingly choose blue collar and/or ‘hero’ jobs.
Elliot Rodger identified with a prince, specifically Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender. “He was a banished prince who was trying to regain his rightful place in the world. I always related to him” (p46). This identification with aristocracy is unsurprising; on the first page Elliot names his father and describes his family heritage.
“Peter is of British descent, hailing from the prestigious Rodger family; a family that was once part of the wealthy upper classes before they lost all of their fortune during the Great Depression” (p1).
He also makes clear his mother’s connections in the film industry, including dating George Lucas for a time.
When he was an infant, the family moved to a large house with its own name (and thus, perhaps, some historical value) surrounded “with vast grass fields” (p2). Clearly there was some prestige in such a place. He was even enrolled in an upscale all-boys private school for preschool. This is obviously a background in which the norms of the British upper classes were in effect.
We can see more evidence for this in Rodger’s relatively eloquent and sophisticated vocabulary. He often uses terms which are more commonly used by upper-class British people (including “fabulous” which, due to its gay connotations, is rarely used by American male heterosexuals). The occasional errors of spelling and punctuation in the text don’t overshadow the fact that Rodger’s vocabulary choices clearly bear the imprint of upper-class English culture.
This is mostly obviously seen in the disdainful epithets he deploys against people he loathes. We hear phrases like “obnoxious brute,” “degenerate,” “depraved,” “obnoxious punk,” “wretched thugs” and so on. On p91 he describes two of his college roommates as “barbaric.” The significance of these terms as epithets is quite telling of the traits which Rodger respected and those he disdained.
Another attitude he seems to have inherited from his aristocratic-style upbringing is a concern with “breeding” and lineage, often indicated through racism towards persons of African and Hispanic ancestry.
“How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves” (p83).
“I regarded it as a great insult to my dignity. How could an inferior Mexican guy be able to date a white blond, while I was still suffering as a lonely virgin?” (p87).
“To my dismay they were of Hispanic race” (p89).
Whilst Rodger clearly held racist sentiments, however, classist ones are far more prominent. When meeting his Hispanic roommates Ryan and Angel, he noted that “they also seemed like rowdy, low class types” (p89) and described them as “low-class scum” on p90. Indeed, the insults that Rodger tended to use against other people all seem reflective of British-style class norms, with himself as the civilized aristocrat looking down on the barbaric masses.
He repeatedly describes pressurring his mother into marrying a rich man (p90/91, p97, p102, p120), claiming that he deserved to marry into a high-status, wealthy family.
“I tried to pretend as if I was part of a wealthy family. I should be. That was the life I was meant to live. I WOULD BE! If only my damnable mother had married into wealth instead of being selfish” (p102).
His sense of class status was strongly exhibited again on p102, when he was walking down the red carpet to the premiere of The Hunger Games; when a security guard “had the audacity to question ‘who the hell are these people?’” Rodger contemplated answering the question with “we are people who are more important than you.” Note how he took it as audacious for the question to be even asked.
More instances of outright snobbery can be seen when Rodger was trying to get a job. “I am an intellectual who is destined for greatness. I would never perform a low-class service job,” he states on p67. One of his jobs, however, caused him “horror and humiliation” due to being a “menial custodial job, and I had to clean offices and even the bathrooms” (p70). Indeed, this humiliation was so great that eventually Rodger “concluded that going to college and enduring the sight of couples walking around was better than having to resort to working a low-class job” (p71). Given how much anxiety Rodger documents feeling when witnessing happy couples, this is an extremely strong indication of how deeply conscious he was of class.
It is no surprise that such a class-preoccupied person would be such a prevalent conspicuous consumer, as discussed previously, however from page 94 onwards, Rodger begins to list specific designer brands in a manner slightly reminiscent of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. He also makes sure to point out how he was a BMW owner (see p128). Clearly, Rodger was not understanding matters when he stated on p113 that “I have always had a penchant for luxury, opulence and prestige” (at least to me, ‘penchant’ is another aristocratic-British-sounding term); a statement he made in the context of gorging himself of champagne and smoked salmon in the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class airport lounge.
Especially on the level of character traits, we can see the aristocratic pattern emerge not merely in what he disdained but also what he admired. Rodger’s idea of what proper masculinity and politeness should be were even more strongly reflective of the norms of the British upper class. This is already implied, simply through a basic logical reversal, from the traits Rodger hated; Ryan and Angel were “rowdy” and “barbaric” – implying a preference for quiet sophistication. On p121 he describes a house party as “crude,” again displaying a preference for refinement. We also see his praising, or at least being more tolerating of, people who seemed to embody his own norms (for instance, Max Bonon, mentioned on p55, had Rodger’s begrudging respect). He had a long friendship with Addison, who is described as being suave and gentlemanly on p61. There is also the example of Stan from the Netherlands (p93), with whom Rodger had lots of intellectual and high-culture discussions.
When describing an attempt to make himself more attractive to women, he wrote that “I tried to adopt a sophisticated and suave persona, and made my accent sound more eloquent… It was the only persona that truly fit me. I was incapable of being an outgoing, boisterous jock, and I didn’t want to be one. I was disgusted by such people, and I was disgusted at how girls were attracted to such filth” (p98-99). This preference for aristocratic/cultured mannerisms was even reflected in an amusing superficial aspect; later in the essay, on p126, when describing his recovery from a broken foot and how he had to use a cane, he confessed that he didn’t mind using a cane because “it had a peculiar elegance about it.”
Who does Rodger credit with instilling such high-class, polite, sophisticated norms into him? His British father, who raised him “to be a polite, kind gentleman” (p28). Obviously, the stampede to blame “American culture” for Rodger’s shooting is difficult to support with the evidence in the text; Rodger cannot be understood without reference to the social norms of upper-class Britain and these norms are reflected time and time again in his writing.
2b) Lady Chatterley, Stella Kowalski and Hypergamy
D. H. Lawrence’s once-scandalous Lady Chatterley’s Lover tells a story which transgressed British sensibilities in a way which is rather fitting to this case. In the book, Lady Chatterley is living in a passionless marriage with her paraplegic aristocrat husband, and is driven by sexual frustration into the arms of the working-class groundskeeper, with whom she proceeds to have a torrid affair in which romance, respect and tenderness all flourish alongside burning-hot sex.
A similar phenomenon can be observed in the famous Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire, where Stella du Bois (born to a wealthy land-owning Southern family) decided to marry Stanley Kowalski – a rugged working-class war veteran – partly because she found his muscularity and rough, raw machoness a massive sexual turn-on. Kowalski is proud of how Stella chose him over a privileged life.
These may both be works of fiction, but art can certainly tell the truth about human sexuality (or at least our understanding of it or beliefs about it at the time). In the case of both of the above works, sexual attraction trumps the class system and higher-class women mate with lower-class men.
Those who are interested in the concept of feminine hypergamy (women choosing to “mate upwards” and thus favor men with higher levels of education, wealth, and physical traits like height) may take note of these stories. Surely, from the perspective of “mating upwards by social status,” Stella and Lady Chatterley both seem to defy the pattern! They decided upon men who were less alpha, in terms of wealth and political influence and social esteem.
But from a purely physical and evolutionary perspective, which choice was truly hypergamous?
As I explained in Summa Genderratica, humans both biologically and socially evolved in environments where we lived at or near subsistence levels, with very little in the way of rudimentary tools; the primary method by which people acquired resources was hard physical labor. The strongest men were thus the men with the highest social status and greatest access to economic resources (either through producing themselves or using the threat of violence to force others to do so). This changed as civilization began to take root, but biologically speaking the vast majority of our evolutionary development took place in a world where Might Meant Right and Might Meant Wealth. In such a world, the choice made by Stella du Bois and Lady Chatterley was indeed the correct choice from an hypergamic perspective – Stanley Kowalski would clearly have been far more likely to survive out in the wild than Lord Chatterley and Kowalski’s genetic material would contain more survival-promoting (for that environment) traits, plus Kowalski would be more competent at defending his offspring and hunting down buffalo for them to eat.
It isn’t particularly surprising that women in general find the physical markers of evolutionarily fit traits sexually attractive – this is true amongst men in general as well. However, there is clearly a conflict (not necessarily an absolute opposition, more of a gulf which can be wide or narrow, although I would argue the longer-term trend is widening) between what pure throbbing biological urges would describe as the “correct” choice and the kind of man who would be the most rational choice on an economic-and-social-status level.
In this story, Elliot Rodger played the part of Lord Chatterley, and watching women flock to jocks was (to him) like being forced to watch the groundskeeper get all the action.
This shocked and horrified Rodger, who’s father taught him to be a gentleman.
“They were obnoxious jerks, and yet somehow it was these boys who all of the girls flocked to. This showed me that the world was a brutal place, and human beings were nothing more than savage animals. Everything my father taught me was proven wrong. He raised me to be a polite, kind gentleman. In a decent world, that would be ideal. But the polite, kind gentleman doesn’t win in the real world. The girls don’t flock to the gentlemen. They flock to the alpha male” (p28, Emphasis Added).
But Rodger had internalized these values of the British aristocracy (which, according to the above quote, he got from his father) – to him, women wanted to be treated like proper ladies by a man of refinement, sophistication, wealth and taste! “They should be going for intelligent gentlemen such as myself” (p84). His experiences as an involuntarily celibate man consistently disproved his assumptions (which where taught to him by his upbringing), and as such he was left pondering the question of the “nice guy” – “Why Don’t Girls Find Me Attractive?”
2c) The Conflict And The Answer
To use Pickup Artist terminology (as reluctant as I am to do so), Rodger was taught that an “alpha male” consists of traits A, B, and C. These traits, however reflective they were of wealth and social status and social class, were not in accordance with the traits which evolutionary biology influences (in general/on average) most women to fetishize, which are traits X, Y and Z.
There was a conflict between what he was taught to believe an “alpha male” was and what an actual “alpha male” (i.e. man that women are sexually attracted to on a purely primal-hunger level) is.
But Rodger would not accept that he was not, in fact, the alpha male. He could not – this would involve questioning the British aristocratic norms he had internalized when young, which he simply did not or could not do. This set of norms had to be right, meaning he was indeed (in his own mind) like Prince Zuko: rightfully a man of worth and greatness, yet had it unjustly stolen from him. Even worse, it was stolen from him by his lower-class inferiors! This was an unforgiveable insult to his natural dignity as an aristocrat! It had to be avenged! (feudalist honor mentality in full force).
He accepted that evolutionary biology contradicted his norms, but he decided to reject nature and enforce his norms (a rather Paglia-esque solution, in the sense that it represents shaking one’s fist at nature). Biology was the problem to be overcame, and it was the biological sexual attractions of females who, as the “main instigators of sex” (p136), were to blame.
“All of the hot, beautiful girls walked around with obnoxious, tough jock-type men… Women are sexually attracted to the wrong type of man. This is a major flaw in the very foundation of humanity” (p84).
“Why do they have a perverted sexual attraction for the most brutish of men instead of gentlemen of intelligence?
“I concluded that women are flawed. There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking…. They are like animals, completely controlled by their primal, depraved emotions and impulses. That is why they are attracted to barbaric, wild, beast-like men” (p117).
The second critical complex in Elliot Rodger’s life was the acceptance of a set of norms where he saw himself as British-style nobility, as a prince, as a man of refinement and wealth and sophistication, as the precise kind of man whom a “true lady” would love. He cultivated this image, believing that women should rationally be attracted to him. Reality showed him that sexual attraction, even the kind women have, is focused on physical appearance and fetishizes traits he did not have even though he had a nice car, designer clothes, a relatively opulent lifestyle and access to prestige events. This was an insult against his regal dignity, and it could not be tolerated. It made him see women’s sexual desires as foul mistakes of nature to be overcome and controlled.
“Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with. That choice should be made for them by civilized men of intelligence. If women had the freedom to choose which men to mate with, like they do today, they would breed with stupid, degenerate men, which would only produce stupid, degenerate offspring” (p117). Again, an aristocratic-British concern with “correct breeding” rears its head.
3. THE RESOLUTION
The overall result of these two complexes was Rodger’s infamous proclaimation of himself as the “True Alpha Male” – he saw the aristocratic mentality he internalized as unquestionably true and that he belonged at the top of the male dominance hierarchy (or perhaps in the top category of men alongside all those who were “like him”), that he deserved love and admiration and sex from women (to him, the ultimate symbol of alpha-hood). Yet that position was stolen from him by a brutish, boorish, low-class culture where biological urges drove women into the arms of worthless men and the alpha male was the inverse of himself. This was, to him, the final and ultimate insult which sat at the centerpiece of a life composed of enduring having his masculinity and worthiness denigrated by others who “should” have accepted him.
Rodger, as an archetypal Second Hander, had no way to live outside of the hierarchy, and the only position he would accept was at the top; he would either rule or destroy himself in the process.
Rodger, at the end of his manifesto, discusses his ideal world (p136), in which he unsurprisingly enshrines a military dictator “such as myself” as the supreme leader in charge of an omnipotent State.
Interestingly, his ideal world is one in which there are no women except for a few kept alive secretly for reproduction (via artificial insemination). According to Rodger, without women to compete for and without women’s unfairly biased biological drives, the world would be fair and sexless. Brutishness would be bred out of the species and a world of sophisticated, aristocratic, cultured intellectuals would thrive and take humanity to new heights. This ideal world, in many ways, seems to be a reversion back to the idyllic (and sexless!) childhood Rodger describes himself as having, where people competed via activities in which he was himself competitive like Pokemon and video gaming. It would be a world where no one would even know about women and as a consequence (according to Rodger) there would be no sexual desire at all (he seems to be taking a hardline social constructivist view here, and ignoring the existence of non-heterosexual desires).
It would be just like when he was young. Fair play. No dominance hierarchy based on sexual prowess. No sex. No brutishness. Sophisticated, eloquent gentlemen will be the valued norm. It would be a return to that perfect British childhood of his.
CONCLUSION: Yet Again, Why?
Coming up with foolproof explanations for the “cause” of certain behaviors is a controversial practice, yet reading the manifesto of Elliot Rodger helps us look for possible reasons.
Asperger’s Syndrome was undeniably a complicating factor in this case, and I’m sure Freudians would make a field day out of Rodger describing how resentful he was towards his controlling, domineering (and arguably abusive) stepmother, how he doesn’t respect his father for standing up to his stepmother, and how his birth mother was generally quite willing to give Rodger what he wanted.
Myth-makers for every cause are of course attempting to capitalize on this tragedy; Jessica Valenti blamed misogyny, Anne Theriault of the Huffington Post blamed the MHRM, the British press blamed American culture and the glamour of Hollywood and gun rights, a ‘reality television psychologist’ appeared on Fox News to blame repressed homosexuality, Brendan O’Neill of Spiked blamed narcissism caused by “therapy culture,” someone will probably blame World of Warcraft or Halo or Grand Theft Auto, ad nauseum. I think that before one decides to play the Blame Game, one should at least read the killer’s statement of intent and beliefs.
After doing precisely this, I have concluded that (assuming the manifesto is honest) Rodger was a man ultimately in agreement with a specific vision about what “real manhood” was (as part of a complex of attitudes derived from aristocratic norms), but subjected to social environments with very different beliefs. This clash made him feel degraded, humiliated and dishonored. This reached its zenith when the biologically-influenced desires of women seemed to condemn his norms in favor of norms he considered lowly and crude and improper. He could not accept this, nor could he transcend the issue through rejecting the “real manhood” meme complex – he would either reclaim his perceived-as-rightful status or he would die (and kill) trying.
Some in the gendersphere speak of this incident as the product of a “male entitlement complex” in American culture. As the above shows, I believe that Rodger’s entitlement complex stemmed not from his beliefs about gender relations but rather from attitudes derived from the British class system (his gender beliefs seem to be a consequence rather than cause of this).
The above is a mere theory, based on taking the literature at face value. I am not a trained psychologist, and as we all know this incident will be used by everyone to fuel their own agendas. All I can do is offer this piece up for discussion and hope that, somehow, all future attempts to answer the omnipresent “why?” will be made in good faith.