In the days following the tragic shooting at Isla Vista, the public has exploded over finger-pointing theories and accusations. It’s the NRA. It’s misogyny. It’s mental illness. Once again we see another tragedy hijacked and imposed upon by different worldviews. But the fundamental problem lies in something much deeper-seated and less exciting than gun control and women-haters.
What about the society that could produce a character such as Elliot Rodger? Where is the attention paid to that question? A reading of his memoirs—My Twisted World—can give us an insight into this man’s experience with our world and, more importantly, how he came to see mankind.
Sprinkled throughout the 147 pages of his memoirs is obsession with “being cool,” starting at 7 years old. Elliot saw that there was a socially acceptable norm, and that he was not a part of it. His isolation thus began early on. He encountered a standard that was measured entirely by sexual accomplishments. He writes that at 11, he was faced with two groups: those who were liked by the girls, and those who were not. This would be the introduction he had to what he saw as cruelty in society: The measure of your worth is determined by the interest in you shown by girls. In his case, he wasn’t so lucky. He writes about the 6th grade:
The first time that I was treated badly by a girl occurred at camp. I was innocently playing with the friends I made, and they were tickling me, something people always did because I was very ticklish. I accidently bumped into a pretty girl the same age as me, and she got very angry. She cursed at me and pushed me.
Elliot describes this as one of the most traumatic experiences in his life. At this time, pornography was the first introduction he had to sex. This would also be the only perception of it that he ever formed, like many young men today. Sex is the goal of existence, and there is something wrong if you cannot share in its riches. As a 22-year-old virgin, Elliot was maddeningly convinced of this.
If we combine his isolation, disproportionate view of sex, and what can be described as nothing less than cruelty toward him from his peers, we have what was most of Elliot’s life. He speaks of himself as being naturally shy and quiet, and consequently he was easily overlooked. He implies that he was quirky, which made him an easy target for others. He recounts carloads of teenagers making fun of him as he was walking down the road. Worse, he grew to accept this mocking and even welcomed it because it was the only time people seemed to pay attention to him. In his eyes, anything was better than isolation. As he got older, he would go on walks and sit in Barnes and Noble for hours, hoping someone, anyone, would reach out to him.
But no one ever did.
Fast forward to last Saturday, and you have a man who is full of bitterness and hatred towards the world, especially women, because in his eyes they hated him first. He is a product of our society. If we think he is the only one who has heard this message from us, we are wrong. This man treasured the moments when people were nice to him. He treasured time with his family. He could acknowledge the good times he had. He appreciated friendships. He was human, after all, mental illness or not. He was seeking human companionship, as we all do, and he had been lied to enough by society to believe that this is only truly accomplished through sexual relationships.
We live in a culture in which women are objectified and perceived solely through the lens of sexual function. Further, we see the human person not as a whole but rather, we define him by his sexuality alone. If we have brought women to this level already, it doesn’t seem a far cry to begin to see them hatefully if they do not fulfill their function. I am annoyed with my car and my phone if they don’t do exactly what I want. Why not women, too?
Elliot didn’t hate women for the sake of hating women. His hatred was the conclusion of years of experiencing loneliness from society. Years of being told that sexual experiences are the epitome of existence. When you believe that, of course you’re going to hate those who keep it from you. This is not misogyny. This is total misinformation, learned by living and breathing our culture.
Despite this awful shooting bringing to light that our society’s view of women is flawed, it also stems from something much deeper than what many are calling misogyny, just as Elliot Rodger’s problem was much deeper-seated than being a 22-year-old virgin. The world we live in focuses entirely on a view of life that is faulty and unsatisfactory. Growing up with the idea that the fruition of our existence is sexual experiences is a lie. Is this really what we want to do to our children? Is this how we want them formed?
We are multi-faceted human beings who were made to experience much more of life than sex. There are friendships and relationships with family, there are sunsets and mountains to climb, there are books to write and those in need to help. There is a God who is the only true satisfaction and who is the companionship we all deeply long for, just as Elliot did.
Elliot is a classic example of what we can create. Will all men with his background become vicious killers? No. Is he without culpability? No. But neither guns, nor misogyny, nor mental illness are the only reasons 7 people died last week. We need to focus on the cause of the problem, not its fruits, if we want to begin to prevent it from happening again. In Thoreau’s words: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”