Illustration - Yuri Tchary

                                    illustration: Yuri Tchary

 

J.

 

Just read the 100-something page autobiography Elliot Rodger wrote in the year leading up to his killing spree, and while maybe these sentiments are untimely and offensive, I cannot help but observe that his psychological state seemed to be as much or more a product of peculiar contemporary American culture than his own genetical predisposition, and most likely could have been avoided and indeed reversed in the direction of compassion had the garden of his mindspace developed in another climate, say, in Scandinavia or Western Europe.

 

An intensely sensitive, emotional child, intelligent in many respects, with something of a philosophical and artistic temperament, seemingly naturally rather fixatative and compulsive (tendencies which could have been steered towards self-expansion and philanthropy, rather than introversion and disgust).

 

The collective hyper-focus on individualism, lack of community and social checks and balances, palpable though unspoken obsession with social status, worship of celebrity and physical appearance, unchecked emotional and physical bullying, and collective obsession with mind-addling and attention-depriving media distractions, among other factors, slowly withered, atrophied, and crushed him, rendering him obsessed with disgust and retribution.

 

Of course, nothing is ever an ‘excuse’ for murder, and yet, a person only does what their current level of consciousness allows them to do. If we had been more conscious, we would have done things differently.

 

The idea of ‘free will,’ if such exists, plays a key role here, whatever it is.

 

The relatively recent spate and uptick in “random” and “senseless” mass murders of all kinds really speaks more about the Collective Psychology of the culture (and to some extent all of humanity at the moment) than any young individual exponent. But this is a thought too scary for the vast majority of people to confront, for it puts them in front of a mirror, and so they attribute it to “aberrance” and “insanity” and try to put it out of their minds.

 

In the autobiography, Rodger expresses great enthusiasm, fondness, and tenderness for various family members and friends he had in life (mostly earlier in life). At one point, he claims that when he was a teenager, he saved his baby brother from drowning (a brother whom in the last months of his life he would fantastize about possibly murdering). This all points to the complexity of emotions, human relationships, life, and consciousness, and that the psychological state is hardly fixed, but fluctuating in every moment upon a certain fundament built over time (itself more stable, but also incredibly fleeting within the vastness of time). One must tend constantly to one’s mental garden.

 

If reincarnation exists, maybe he will experience inadvertent retribution from the reincarnated souls of those whom he murdered, but maybe salvation from the reincarnated soul of his brother or some other figure he helped in this life. At least, it is curious to observe the infinitely multifaceted ricochetings and reverberations of what could be called ‘Karma,’ or the ‘Karmic Web.’ 

 

* * *

 

Must amend the last email a little. Had only read the first 2/3 or so of the autobiography when I sent it, and then decided to finish it. The rest of the autobiography sees the writer devolve further, and more uninhibitedly reveal thoughts and impressions. He comes across as somehow stunted in some mental capacities— whether because he is a little ‘autistic,’ whatever this means, or because he was deprived of adequate social contact and conditioning for so long that he remained in a semi-adolescent mindset. By the end, the narrative reads almost like Gogol (Diary of a Madman) or something Dostoevsky or Sartre might concoct.

 

Will add two other elements to the contemporary American ethos that impacted him: Anti-intellectualism and pop culture (what if he had truly been immersed deeply in a breadth of good writings since childhood), and obsession with and inflation of primal and erotic sexuality (Eros).   

 

Another observation: The alarming ease with which this young, awkward, suspicious individual purchased powerful handguns. 

 

Anyone interested to further their understanding of human psychology would do well to read, or at least intelligently skim, this narrative. 

 

 

G.S.

 

I actually skimmed this “manifesto” yesterday as well. My enduring impression is similar to yours. He’s obviously “responsible” for his actions, but I was ultimately left with a feeling of great sadness in that it’s clear that a lot of people failed this person. Certainly, his parents, his friends, society. He never got the help or emotional nourishment he so clearly needed. As I read through it, the odd feeling going through me was that I “got it.” In a weird way, I sympathized. We’ve all felt rejection and alienation. In this sense, his screed was very relatable— in kind, if not in degree, that is. The wrong lesson to draw, I agree, is that he was “crazy.” He simply fell through the cracks of an often harsh modern society, where there is little safety net to prevent one from falling into the despair of loneliness and rejection. 

 

The repeated insistence on his own feelings of worthlessness, or lesser-than. One-down. Not enough. It’s usually one’s family that instills in one a feeling of inherent worthiness, so that’s why I must say that it’s likely his parents failed him (but why, because their parents likely failed THEM). And revenge, violence, as an antidote to it all. His revenge is couched in language of superiority. He talked about proving his “worth,” showing them all what he’s made of. The psychological dynamic here is clear. A classic case of a person with an extreme feeling of worthlessness compensating by grandiose behavior. Puffing oneself up. Many men do this in various other ways, again, to a much lesser degree. 

 

Lastly, it’s led me to think about the nature of revenge. One might think that revenge is evolutionarily a useless behavior, though I just read an article recently arguing that evolutionarily revenge did serve a purpose. One is wounded by another, and one cannot undo the wound. However, if one takes revenge on the initial aggressor, the wounded individual sends a signal to society that there will be consequences for future aggressions. Revenge is meant to signal strength to society. Psychologically, perhaps, to rebuild one’s own sense of strength. This is all not to say, of course, that revenge is a just behavior. I’ve never subscribed to the “argument from nature,” saying that because a behavior has some basis in instinct, we should automatically affirm it. But you do see these primal instincts play out in individuals whose souls have no higher instincts— borne of art, or the intellect, or social capital— to appeal to.

 

It’s all very sad, though. “All the lonely people / Where do they all come from”

  

 

J.

 

I’m cautious in saying that his parents failed him, or at least more than all parents, by virtue of being fallible human beings and also the subjects of misguided childish projections, inevitably fail their children.

 

One must consider: All sociopaths, arguably born sociopathic by nature, have mothers and fathers, sometimes attentive and loving ones. The best parenting cannot prevent nature, or fate, or whatever you’d like to call it, from infrequently producing a child devoid of empathy.

 

What is more likely is that Rodger’s parents, particularly since they emigrated from other countries and cultures, failed to see or understand the peculiar onerous climate, social mores, and media that this keenly sensitive, narrow-thinking child was exposed to at school and in all facets of his personal life, or the extent of his suffering and escalating neurosis and eventually psychosis. Even by Rodger’s own account, slanted of course from his perspective in the last year of his life, throughout his life his parents tried fitfully to help him find a stable social environment, switched him from school to school to facilitate this, and got him various assistance in the form of socialization counselors and therapists. Not having more information, it’s difficult to say what precisely his upbringing was like.

 

 

G.S.

 

Eh… I don’t know. Steering a kid towards therapists, and switching him schools is not really the same thing as real emotional support. Validation, encouragement, time. I get the sense he was really raised by nannies. That can be hugely destructive. I think a lot of high-powered parents think they can outsource the raising of their child when, in fact, without a quota of simple one-on-one time, a child can suffer devastating feelings of rejection or abandonment or inherent worthlessness. And when I say his parents likely “failed” him, I mean this in the most forgiving way. As I say, it’s likely because they didn’t know how to be parents or show real emotional support, likely because of their own upbringings. And, yes, all parents are imperfect, but when you’ve read as I have into the literature [of parenting], and the anecdotes of various examples of parenting, there very much is “better” and “worse” here. Not all parents are equal. In Terrence Real’s book, for instance, you see parents who get drunk every night and pass out, leaving their children to take care of themselves, or physically abusive fathers, or emotionally abusive mothers. My parents were far from perfect, but they weren’t THAT bad. So, there is better and worse here, even if ultimately we can forgive the bad parents their failings.

  

 

J.

 

Hm, I don’t know. Maybe. There is just not enough information on these accounts. One gets the sense that his mother was not particularly wealthy and moved, it seemed every several years, from house to apartment to condo to apartment etc— which must not have been very stabilizing for her children— and did seem to show him some attention and affection. There is less information about the father. 

 

Also found this curious: “My mother and father had been married for a couple of years before my mother became pregnant with me. In fact, her pregnancy was an accident. She had been taking pills to prevent pregnancy, but when she visited my father on one of his film sets, she fell ill and the medication she took for that illness thwarted the effect of the anti-pregnancy pills, and so their— lovemaking during this period resulted in my life.”

 

If this is true, wonder whether these ‘pills to prevent pregnancy’ (birth control pills) could have caused some biological damage in the foetus, accounting for Rodger’s vaguely developmentally stunted quality— which apparently was diagnosed as “High-Functioning Asperger’s”— that one picks up on in the autobiography. 

 

Another compelling quote: “I really liked the character Anakin Skywalker, and I was amazed to see his epic transformation into Darth Vader on the high quality big screen.”

 

 

 

–from May 2014



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