Santa Barbara: reading too much into murderers’ manifestos
The bodies in Santa Barbara were barely cold before feminist clicktivists were exploiting this horrendous mass murder to boost their campaign against sexist trolling and online misogyny. The revelation that the shooter, Elliot Rodger, was a visitor to those saddo-packed ‘men’s rights’ websites, and had produced a badly written 140-page screed about how much he hated women for showing no interest in him, was all that the victim-feminist lobby needed: within minutes it was saying that Rodger’s outpourings and actions confirm that we need to ‘stamp out misogyny’. He is no ‘mere glitch in the system’, they claimed, but rather the ‘product’ of a society that apparently hates women.
Let’s leave aside the fact that this kind of argument is indistinguishable from the blue-rinse, conservative insistence that violent movies make men into maniacs or that saucy novels churn out real-world rapists. Truly are radical feminists the heirs to the backward Mary Whitehouse view of human beings as the amoeba-like products of their cultural surrounds, in this case of sexist websites – a view which not only treats us all as easily brainwashed by movies and literature but, even worse, lessens actual killers’ and rapists’ responsibility for their actions by depicting them as simply the warped end products of big, bad culture. More pointedly, the reading of profound social meaning into losers’ and loners’ manifestos gives way too much credence to these individuals, overlooking the fact that more often than not they are simply grasping for a serious-sounding reason for their already existing desire to commit a crime and cause hurt.
Twitter is responding to Rodger’s shooting spree with the pro-woman hashtag #YesAllWomen, as if Rodger’s shooting was an attack on womankind itself rather than the action of one clearly disturbed individual. This response overlooks the general misanthropy of Rodger’s manifesto, which was more anti-human than anti-woman. ‘Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species’, said Rodger, echoing mainstream eco-miserabilism more than isolated men’s rights nonsense. Maybe we should fret over green websites that depict humanity as destructive rather than men’s rights websites that express fear and loathing of women? To the extent that there is anti-woman sentiment on the web today, it speaks to a broader alienated, anti-human sentiment, a view of all people as problematic, polluting, poisonous.
There is always a danger in reading too much into murderers’ narcissistic manifestos. It is striking that there was no rush to condemn all environmentalists when, in 2007, the green-leaning 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen shot and killed seven of his fellow classmates and a teacher at his school in Finland. In his murder manifesto, Auvinen said things like: ‘That there are billions of people over 60kg on this planet is recklessness’ and ‘The most central and irrational faith among people is the faith in technology and economical growth’. Should we therefore ‘Stamp Out Environmentalism’? Cho Seung-hui, the man who killed 32 students at Virginia Tech in 2007, produced a manifesto that was packed with anti-capitalist nonsense. He described McDonald’s adverts as ‘child abuse’ and railed against young people’s desire for ‘Mercedes… gold necklaces… vodka and cognac’. Does this mean we should panic about the impact of shallow anti-capitalism, which is the key ideology of our age, and its capacity to produce murderers? Just about any murderer who spouts gibberish about why he did what he did can be held up as evidence of the wickedness of some ideology or other, but that is a cheap and low tactic, exploiting shock and horror at a foul crime to try to achieve censorious political ends. The online feminists currently doing that in relation to Rodger should have a serious word with themselves.
‘Humanity is overrated’, said Auvinen in Finland, borrowing a line from the super-trendy TV show, House. Rodger echoes him, describing humanity as a ‘depraved species’. You don’t have to venture into the underbelly of the internet to find such anti-human views. They are widespread in society – in environmentalism, in the anti-growth outlook and, in fact, in feminism, too, which has developed a tendency to depict people as threatening, dangerous, easily warped by culture. One could argue that today’s anti-human mass shootings spring from a very mainstream misanthropy. But that, too, would be too reductive, and potentially exploitative. Better to let people grieve for the victims of mass killings and get on with engaging in a grown-up political debate about why the misanthropes are wrong and humanity is not a disease on the planet. Start with spiked’s slogan: ‘Humanity is underrated.’
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.