This post is one of what may be several about Elliot Rodger and his crimes.
I read Rodger’s manifesto, My Twisted World, this past weekend, and have been thinking about it since. I’ve also dipped a reluctant toe into the cesspool of PUA, Anti-PUA, Incel, and related dark corners of the internet. At this point all I really have are questions, so I’ll start with this one: What does it mean to claim that Rodger was mentally ill? More precisely, in what way(s) was Rodger suffering from mental illness?
I would suggest, very tentatively, that to categorize Rodger as “psychotic,” or “delusional,” or “grandiose,” or “autistic,” even if these diagnoses turn out to be accurate, (he may well have been some or all of these things; I’m not a mental health expert, and even if I were I wouldn’t be attempting a diagnosis on the basis of nothing more than what is no doubt an incomplete and in some ways misleading and self-serving document) risks, perhaps, obscuring the cultural and political significance of Rodger’s crimes by placing them within an explicitly therapeutic frame.
The thoughts that follow aren’t intended as an argument for some particular position, but rather as starting points for further conversation.
(1) Whether or not Rodger was crazy, he is, in his manifesto, remarkably lucid. He is obviously intelligent, and is even a fairly good writer — or would be, if the flow of his prose wasn’t constantly being derailed by his obsessions, which make reading the whole document an exhausting experience. He even has something resembling a coherent ideology: one which as an empirical matter appears to be flat-out bonkers (I am not using DSM terms here), but which he has worked out and brooded upon endlessly, in excruciating detail.
(2) To read My Twisted World is to read an explicitly political document, and indeed an apologia for an explicit act of political terrorism, in the narrowest and most precise sense of that much-abused term.
(3) Again, I have no competence to judge the extent to which, or in what ways, Rodger was mentally ill, but as a member of the human race I do feel qualified, subject to important caveats, to comment on the moral character of the author of these atrocious acts. My Twisted World may or may not be a glimpse into various manifestations of madness; but it is certainly a window into evil.
By the end of his life, Rodger had given himself over completely to what had become a bottomless well of resentment, entitlement, self-pity, and unbounded egoism. Not once in the text’s more than 100,000 words does he manifest the slightest concern for any other person on the face of the earth. He is, in this document, a man who lives for nothing but to luxuriate in his endless grievances against the world and everyone in it. Indeed it’s almost impossible to believe that he could, by the end, have given them up, even if a blonde (a word that appears 62 times in the text) Victoria’s Secret model had walked up to him as he sat in front of a Santa Barbara pizza stand and spontaneously offered to carry him off to a world of “heavenly” (a word he uses 11 times) pleasures.
By the time he wrote My Twisted World, Rodger had fallen deeply in love with his hatred (a word he repeats 52 times) — of women first and most of all — and indeed he lived for nothing else but to indulge that romance. That may be a form of madness, but it is, to the extent that he was still capable of choosing to be something or someone else, the purest form of evil.