It seems like it occurs every year, and always spurred by another preventable tragedy: the emotional debate about gun control, and why so many shootings are happening in our homeland. Sometimes I find myself at a complete loss to understand why this cycle continues… because, as a guy on the autism spectrum, understanding social motivations isn’t always my forte.
I recently asked Patty why she thinks we have so many mass shootings, always followed by such sound and fury that ends up signifying nothing, and she had an answer that opened my mind as to its clarity and degree of thought (which Patty will expound upon in her own opinion piece that follows this one). For my own answer, I will simply attempt to ruminate on America’s unique fixation on violence, not as a weapon of war or survival, but, rather, as an unvarnished statement.
I think most of these macabre statements aren’t intended to be countered with rebuttals written in further bloodshed (even though they are often inevitable), but a subject like this certainly begs the question: What could these people possibly be trying to say!? For all of my life, I’ve been trained to intellectually analyze as much real-world communication as I can (admittedly for my own benefit), just as I have spent countless hours ruminating on the plots of movies, TV and books. Mass shootings are permanently located in that vast void between real-life and surrealistic storytelling…it is small wonder that such a thing is always so hard to process.
A partial answer to this conundrum could lie in the concerns that our most troubled youth may never be fully honest with their loved ones about. For most of us millennials, one of the foremost things we all wish we could hold one person accountable for (but will never be able to) is how big of a gulf exists between the entitlements we were promised as we grew up, and the things we actually received later in life. Most people would associate the concept of power with either the earning of said power, or being born with it; I believe that a whole new generation is coming to believe that power should be handed to each and every of us, by one submissive power-provider at a time.
Perhaps the most primitively-invaluable and wired-in-nature thing some men want handed to them can be traced back to a brief story I still remember from my middle school days. If my memory is to be trusted, I was coasting through that time of my life with occasional flurries of social activity…which were periodically interrupted by the sensory and emotional overload of monthly fire alarms, gym class, withdrawals from my constant computer use, and the travails of puberty. On one unremarkable morning, I was getting ready for the day, and I came downstairs so Patty could drive me to school; I was wearing a black sweatshirt and dark-green sweatpants at the time. As I guess most sensical women would do (but most men probably wouldn’t care much about), my mom instantly urged me to change my clothes into something less “geeky”. I asked her rather indignantly why it mattered so much to her, and what the point was of me changing my clothes. She took a vulnerable pause, and her voice trembled and trailed off when she said, “You just never know when you’re going to meet that special girl…”
And now, some twenty-odd years later, that one mythic “special girl” (as somewhat-vaguely defined back then) still has yet to walk into my life, despite my not wearing those “geeky green pants” ever again after that day. If it sounds like there’s some anger in that statement or story, I certainly don’t intend for there to be. While I do sometimes grapple with the needling frustrations and bleakness of dating (as I imagine we all do), I am often able to ignore them when I think about the large quantity of special women I’ve typed with and talked with in my life. It very, very rarely has eclipsed verbal/written back-and-forth, that is true…but this component is the heart, soul, and lifeblood of all enduring relationships that enrich and complete us. Even handicapped people without the ability to see, hear, speak, and/or type are capable of finding love, and many of them have done so…which is the very kind of thought that drives a certain portion of millennial/Gen-X America absolutely insane. This is an Americana demographic called “the incels” (i.e. “involuntary celibates”).
The unofficial creator and figurehead of the “incel movement” is a young man named Elliot Rodger…who once killed six people and injured fourteen others in the UCSB area of Isla Vista, California in 2014, before turning the gun on himself. What truly set him apart from other mass murderers in the minds of many was the elaborate video manifesto (along with an extensive body of writing) he left behind before the killings, with deeply-disturbing lucidity of every inch of his angst and his actions-to-be. His unquestionable primary reason for doing what he did was to deliver retribution against women in general for their rejection of him, and against specific men he knew who seemed successful with women through his eyes. Speaking as a filmmaker, what most grabbed my attention about the video manifesto was how he filmed it in his car right at “magic hour” (i.e. the “golden hour” before the sun sets), which, compounded by the fact that his father is a film/commercial director, made sense as to his desire for maximum visual appeal for the baring of his deeply-disturbed soul. I’m always struck by how high the modern standards are for aesthetic sheen and palpable emotion in written, visual, or sonic outreach…and I find it quite surreal to think that this also applies to mass murderers now.
I do unfortunately believe that any of us are theoretically capable of murder if we fall into precisely-wrong circumstances, with precisely-wrong people, at the precisely-wrong time. I do not condone murder or physical harm of any kind, of course, but I’m never stunned to the point of speechlessness if someone I know finds himself entangled in such a nightmare. In fact, one of my forever-lasting memories in high school was when I became a highly-unconventional “prank victim” (at the machination of one of my best friends at the time), when this friend successfully convinced me over AOL Instant Messenger that he had killed someone in a drunken bar brawl the previous night, and needed advice as to what to do next. I believed it hook, line and sinker, and did my best to offer him deeply-serious and sensitive counsel as to how I would turn myself in and beg for the Lord’s forgiveness…considering he came from a devout Catholic family.
Shortly after this exchange, I found out he was just “messing with me”, when I saw him laughing with a cluster of other high-school kids about it in the lobby; he did look slightly-apologetic as he admitted it. After an hour of being privately-angry, humiliated, and sad about what I’d allowed myself to believe, I decided to just “roll with it”, and I posted the full transcript of the prank on my AIM profile for all my classmates to see (because I knew my friend was a highly-public type of prankster on numerous occasions). Even though none of my peers actually said this to me in the midst of their laughter, I could tell a lot of them were surprised as to the depth of such a seemingly-evil confession I’d allowed myself to instantly, unquestionably believe, and by the depth of caring my words had while being pranked. I could see where they were coming from, of course…but I was inversely surprised at the implication that, if anyone they knew ever privately confessed an awful thing they once did, they would just respond with something like “Hahaha, good joke, man.”
Perhaps one could make an argument that I was a bit “ahead of the sociological curve” in this instance…because I’m aware as to how horribly-different of a world high school is now, compared to how it was when I was there. Facebook and YouTube were in their earliest infancy back when I graduated high school in 2005, and now these two services (combined with many, many other forms of social media) rule every inch of young kids’ lives both inside and outside of the schoolyard, which has given rise to whole new types of cyber-bullying as a result. I think it’s no coincidence that now, as far as I know, almost every American school district has regular “active shooter drills”. Back when I was in school, all I ever had were fire drills, and I could barely even handle THOSE for autism-related sensory reasons.
You can easily imagine how utterly-powerless this kind of constant, hovering fear made me feel…especially when special-ed aides had to bring me out of the school in advance of every fire drill, which I admittedly did need for a while. It was this kind of thing which led the special-ed department to think I was more enfeebled than I actually was back then…which is why I was dismissed from school 2-3 hours earlier than everyone else for a solid year (without anybody consulting with me first), and, on the very rare occasions I had to give a speech to a crowd of fellow students, I had “moral support guides” assigned to be onstage with me (which I never asked for, and did not actually need). These experiences of mine made me wonder as to just how many ways Elliot Rodger had to endure this kind of well-intentioned indignity. Perhaps it was a motivation for THIS particular excerpt from his manifesto: "After I picked up [a] handgun, I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. I was now armed. Who's the alpha male now, bitches? I thought to myself, regarding all of the girls who've looked down on me in the past."
I take comfort in knowing I do NOT want power for the sake of power, and I was never raised to want that, or brainwashed into needing to want that. This is not to suggest that Elliot Rodger’s central issue is the way he was raised; I have read many things that suggest that Elliot Rodger was raised by very fine parents, doing their best with a deeply-troubled child who was in therapy at the age of eight, and flirted with many would-be diagnoses until a doctor unofficially labeled him as PDD (a form of autism) when he was 17. He refused all medications he was ever prescribed for most of his life, and he rejected all other therapies suggested to him after his PDD diagnosis. He was bullied here and there throughout middle school, and then bullied every day with full force in high school.
As it turned out, the only place he could truly find refuge was in the “World of Warcraft”, an immensely-popular video game amongst American men. This is not to suggest that “World of Warcraft” caused or prompted Elliot Rodger to act on his darkest desires, but it is things like this that make me feel justified in my distaste for video games in general. In this sense, I think the sudden rise of socially-lawless cyber-landscapes for American youth has brought about a rise of individual power dynamics amongst young men and women, in the vain hopes of finally distilling their intense social and emotional inadequacies. Available weaponry, unspeakable vulnerability, and the casual onset of a relentlessly-bullying culture have all unfortunately set a stage that cannot easily be unset.
To best prevent bullying in a way that actually educates bullies (rather than just marginalizing them or retailiating against them), I think all Americans should make a vow to allow and encourage the deepest and most honest of communication as the ultimate method of problem-solving and conflict prevention. We must ALL take on the duty of identifying people at their boiling points (or soon about to be), with their self-esteem crumbling like sand…and then attempt to provide them with the communicative outlet they may have never have had for their entire lives. At the very minimum, we have to treat mental and emotional vulnerability with compassion wherever we find it. These are all ways I think we can work together toward peace…which I’m well aware, in such an immensely complex world, is far easier said than done.