@pzmyers @JaclynGlenn @RichardDawkins #notallmen who hate women need to be ‘insane’ to spree-kill

In the aftermath of the recent Santa Barbara spree-killing, the latest public mass-murder in the only country in the developed world that seems to suffer them almost annually but which is loathe to do anything about it, much has been made of the mental state of killer Elliot Rodger. Specifically, in response to his at-length, self-expressed misogyny and loathing for women he thought he was entitled to favours from, many have been falling over themselves to say, well, actually, he was mentally ill, so his misogyny wasn’t his inspiration to murder seven people. The gist of this commentary is that because Rodger was (apparently) mentally ill, what he himself said was his murderous motivation – put simply, his contempt for the kind of women he desperately desired but could not “have” – is secondary to him being a raving nutter. Others are saying that his murder-spree couldn’t have been inspired by his hatred of those women whose affections he could not attract because he also killed some men (never mind that misogynists do hate other men, routinely describing any man not up to their mammoth-hunting standards as “beta” or deriding any man who appears to lean toward feminism as “manginas” – and never mind that killers often take precautions by eliminating potential witnesses).

I take issue with these keyboard diagnoses of Mental Illness™; I feel they’re unhelpful and they they’re deflections perpetrated by people who, for whatever reason, appear to feel incredibly uncomfortable discussing both misogynist undercurrents in society and certain groups, as well as mainstream, everyday, unapologetic sexism. I will of course grant that mental illness might well have played a part in this atrocity, but as I’ll discuss (modifying some blog comments I’ve made today elsewhere) mental illness is by no means a prerequisite for irrational, vengeful brutality.

All it takes to permit an atrocity is true belief. It can be a new and revolutionary idea or a case of “the older, the better”. The Germans of the early 1930s weren’t clueless, naive pawns of the National Socialists, for instance; anti-Semitism was a centuries-old social reality reinforced by generations of lies and suspicion going back to Luther and beyond (the post-WWI confusion and humiliation was also still an open wound; the anti-Semitism was seized upon by those looking for a scapegoat and eagerly entered into by people at large). The soldiers who then dispossessed, enslaved, gunned down and gassed men women, children and the elderly and those who gave the orders: are we to take it that were they mentally ill – or just patriots convinced that what they were doing was right and necessary, convinced that their time had come, that their nation was entitled to greatness and that a certain rot needed to be purged to accomplish this goal? 

Rodger, while obviously not subject to indoctrination on a national scale, nonetheless hewed toward a toxic ideology that told him he was superior. He was told that he was entitled to sex; when his attentions weren’t returned and when the prescriptions for securing that attention failed, he didn’t abandon them. He didn’t try something different. He maintained his idea of superiority and the idea of the targets of his desire as some underclass to be dominated and possessed and his loathing for those he desired and those that had failed to help him secure them grew. People needed to be punished – those who’d denied him and those who’d “succeeded” where he’d failed. He thought he was right and he acted accordingly.

However, on some level Rodger appeared to know that what he was doing was wrong, hence he’s no longer around to be properly analysed (which, btw, isn’t what I’ve done here; just tried my own summary of his own words). Accordingly I think the question of whether he was mentally ill and what role that illness might have played should remain open. I’m not discounting it but I’m also certainly not giving too much credence to “He was crazier than a shit-house rat and his woman-despising ideology didn’t inform his actions!”

What took Rodger over the edge from ranting online to carrying out his agenda might not be apparent, however Rodger’s criteria for target-selection are crystal clear, stated in black and white in his own words and calmly stated on film. Rodger himself told us why he did this. In the absence of a proper diagnosis, invoking mental illness <i>to the exclusion of Rodger’s own words</i> makes as much sense as blaming this on a brain tumor.

To take it back a step, I think it bears repeating that the people who instigated and who participated in some of the most infamous and brutal crimes in history were not, to our knowledge, mentally ill. Those old atheist-bashing chestnuts, Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot, for example – were they insane? Arguably, perhaps – who actually knows? But what about the large numbers of people who willingly went along with them and carried out their wishes? Can you diagnose millions of people as mentally ill? What about poster-country for Stalinist oppression, North freaking Korea – is that country “insane” in any sense apart from the colloquial?

For that matter, what about those equally brutal and infamous crimes such as the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the witch hunts and everything else we atheists happily point to as evidence that being Christian is not equal to being morally superior, that, throughout the ages, Christian morality has more or less matched the prevailing contemporary morality and not, as some would have us believe, informed it for the better or even revolutionised it? Were the burnings and tortures and massacres all performed and ordered by “the mentally ill” or conceived and executed by true believers who thought they were serving their God? Shall we discuss the dispossession and genocide of the Native Americans, both north and south and the similar criminal treatment of indigenous Australians? The results of literal insanity or simply the results of technologically (though not ethically) advanced imperialists encountering and exterminating “primitives”? How about the centuries of kidnap, torture, enslavement, abuse, lynchings and later denial of basic rights perpetrated against Africans and their descendants?

Back to the Nazis: does the fact that German National Socialism of 1933-1945 was an abject, monstrous and demonstrable failure dissuade anyone from, right now, shaving their heads, having swastikas tattooed on their persons and calling themselves Aryan Brothers? Obviously not – but should these people be considered insane for latching onto an irrational and failed ideology? Maybe not, but how about when these neo-Nazis cross the line from word to action and commit hate crimes? Insane? Or just utterly convinced by something utterly wrong?

Erm…anyone for Rwanda? Ugandan gay-murderers? Kenyan witch-hunters? Genocides in the former Yugoslavia? Saddam’s Ba’ath thugs? Plain old crazy or in thrall to some highly compelling social poison?

Enough history – how about “honour” killers? Mutilators of girls’ genitals? Fundamentalists who kill abortion doctors or bomb clinics? How about the faith-healing or Christian “Scientist” parents that, right now, are denying their children medical treatment for what should be trivial, curable conditions and instead praying while their children die in confused, terrified agony? Mad? Or just so convinced of the truth of their fringe dogma that what would be an obvious course of action to anyone else isn’t even on their radar until it’s usually far too late?

I could go on but I’m hopeful the point is made. Start throwing diagnoses around, as far too many seem far too keen to do right now, and pretty soon you find that the whole goddamn world is bugfuck mental.

I maintain that all it takes to permit – even demand – an atrocity is strongly-held belief. Belief that the target is deserving of their fate via some inherent inferiority or some behaviour deemed unacceptable and unforgiveable, and perhaps also that the perpetrator is performing a service either for themselves or their group at large. Throughout history it is crystal clear that people do not need to be mentally ill in order to demand or perform atrocities – they just need to think that they’re right.

Now, I realise the dynamics of a group – especially a large group such as a nation or empire – are not exactly like those of an individual, but Rodger wasn’t that well-worn trope, the lone angry man whose loathsome ideas come from whole cloth, unbidden and unfed by any external source. Far from it – he was the member of at least one large group of people who, regardless of its source, shared, propagated and defended a toxic and delusional view of women and their purported role in the world and an incandescent, adolescent rage at the perception that said role was not being correctly fulfilled. Many self-proclaimed “alphas” currently cheering Rodger on on social media and the kinds of pick-up artist (pick-up artist hatred) fora he used to frequent share views similar to his. Are they mentally ill? What about those on other male-supremacist sites calling him a “beta” and noting his “gay midface”, distancing themselves from his raging misogyny by invoking madness? Their views can be just as aberrant and poisonous as Rodger’s, even though they mightn’t follow through as Rodger did. But should we start tracing their IPs and just start locking them all the fuck up, just in case? Who knows how close to the line – the one that Rodger crossed – any of these people are?

Mental illness in this case might well have been a factor in Rodger’s decision to kill or the ideas that led to it, but to blame such an illness both without sufficient evidence and to the exclusion of what has been presented by the killer in his own written and recorded words is an act of foolish presumptuousness, even willful ignorance and I’m fairly certain (I’d say 6.9 out of 7) that no hyperactivity on Youtube will convince me otherwise. It appears that for those who would casually blame the three thousand murders of 9-11 on the pervasive and poisonous memetics of Islamic fundamentalism and <i>not mental illness</i>, having this latest spree murder blamed on mental illness and not the pervasive and poisonous memetics of misogyny is very important. For what reason, I’m unsure.

However: even if you grant, beyond all evidence, that mental illness was THE reason Rodger went on a rampage it was pure, raging, unchecked, free-range, internet-fed misogyny that put the women Rodger both despised & desired, and the men he thought undeserving of their attention, in his sights. Were his victims random and had he not left a chilling public trail of escalating hate and loathing behind him, this conversation would be very different – but they weren’t, so we must play the ball as it lies.


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