Sunday, May 25, 2014

How to Talk about Elliot Rodgers and How Not to

I swear, I don't like having to continually talk about this topic because the media is going to be overly saturated with it.  But there are some prevailing narratives coming out of this tragedy that I really don't feel captures the reality.

The first really irritating narrative is about misogyny.  That this incident is indicative of the continuing sexism in our society.  Rodgers was probably a sexist, there's very little doubt in my mind about that.  But, the underlying root of this is the continued reliance on violence.  Violence of one form or another is still looked at as a reliable solution to problems.  You can try to tackle sexism all the live long day but until you confront the reality of violence you'll never get anywhere.

The other troubling narrative is his "entitlement" issue.  Apparently Rodgers never approached any women but still hoped to have sex or have a relationship or whatever.  I don't know what this is supposed to mean for people.  Lots of men do not approach women and yet still yearn for romance in their life.  Why?  Because we often assume (based on our perceptions of unspoken communication) that women aren't interested.  Why am I going to approach a woman and ask her on a date if I know for a fact she's going to say no?  Now, I will concede the fact that I don't know for a fact that this what went through Rodgers' mind as he went through life.  I don't think any of us will ever know.  I'm just pointing out the fact that you can't point to one aspect of his life and make wide sweeping conclusions.

People want to point at online rants and say things like online forums and Reddit communities foment violent tendencies among people.  Maybe, but I'm not convinced.  There's a difference between being angry and annoyed and being violent.  Everyone who has ever struggled to get a date has wondered why they're sitting at home every night and other people are enjoying spending time with their significant others.  It doesn't mean that they're going to turn violent.

It's always the case in the wake of something like this to want to psychoanalyze the perpetrator.  Find out why he did what he did.  And usually what happens is people point to superficial things that justify their previously held beliefs.  So society's underlying misogyny causes this to happen, or America's gun laws, or women who date jerks, or whatever hobby horse or pet cause you have can be trotted out to explain what happened.  Sort of like a shaman claiming his rain dance ended the drought.  Yeah, okay.

What I want to know is where his family and friends (if he had any) were during all of this.  Why did no one try to talk to him when he started down this dark path?  Everybody points to the fact that they called the cops after seeing his Youtube videos.  That's pretty late in the game, where were they for years?  I'm not trying to blame them I'm just wondering how this was allowed to go unchecked for so long.  He's not 40 some odd years old like Sodini, this was a college student we're talking about.

There are clearly things that should be talked about and things that should be paid attention to.  But there are also clearly things that are germane to the topic and distract from the real issues.

Stick to the fact that he was a scumbag in more ways than one.  Stick to the fact that he posted racist stuff online.  Stick to the truly nasty things he said.  But don't dwell on things that prove nothing. Stop assuming that because he was involuntarily celibate he was automatically on this path (or vice versa).  And stop assuming that something could have been done to prevent it.  Maybe something could have, but don't take that as a given.  There's always a chance someone could flip out.  Sometimes you can stop it, sometimes you can't.  It's important that we have a discussion about this, but only in a way that is useful.

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