Blame, root causes, and the Isla Vista Tragedy

It’s hard to ignore the news from Santa Barbara. It’s also hard to emotionally deal with not ignoring the news from Santa Barbara. And while the internet probably does not need more words on the subject, I find writing this to be cathartic and hope that it adds to the conversation.

I’m going to talk about blame, and root causes instead of symptoms. People are looking around for something easy that can be done, and I don’t think they will find it. You might try to blame:

The perpetrator’s mental state / illness

Reading his manifesto and comparing to YouTube comments, it is clear that he is no more than slightly ‘abnormal’ in his thinking, as terrifying as that is. Even if there is something psychologically wrong, I would hope our society is more robust to a slight chemical imbalance – human brains are not perfect, and never will be.

The parents

Yes, he has been raised very poorly, not able to deal with the basics of unfairness in life. I was short and terrible at basketball too, but I was not raised to be entitled, racist, and overly concerned with societal status. I eventually figured out that who I really was was a bigger deal than what others thought of me. However, we are in a rough place as a society if poor parenting is all that separates us from being killed for existing.

Gun availability

Yes, he would have been able to kill fewer people, and should not have been able to buy guns. We already knew there was this problem for decades, however, at the very least since Columbine. This aggravates a symptom, but is not the underlying problem our society is facing.

The ‘Pick Up Artist community’

Let’s face it, these guys are assholes. Trying to use tricks to get laid, premised on a objectified view of women. Yet, why do these groups exist in the first place? I’ll address that later…

Women

If you try to blame women, do everyone a favor and forget how to use the internet. Seriously, it will do both you and the rest of society a favor.

The perpetrator (I’m going to avoid using his name)

He is not a good person, this is true. There are many bad people in the world, however, and I really have to ascribe more blame to external factors. This massacre was not an isolated decision of a psychopath, but instead caused by a large number of compounded factors.

Mainstream Objectifying Porn

Yup, this is a factor, but you can’t just stop at porn, because every superhero movie, Axe body spray commercial, bad sitcom, etc objectifies women.

Violent Video Games

Probably don’t help, as a reinforcer of society’s attitude towards women and how ‘real’ men should act, but similar to porn – which brings me to…

Society’s attitude about how men and women should interact

Ho boy, there’s a lot messed up about this, and plenty out there to reference. See this amazing article for a succinct recap of the last week. This is ultimately one of the real causes of the tragedy, instead of a symptom. The perpetrator’s mental state? A symptom. The ‘PUA community’? A symptom. Gun accessibility? An aggravating factor. Society treating women and their sexuality as objects, devoid of humanity and agency? An actual cause. Again, I feel as though I cannot speak to this as well as others have, and encourage you to seek out these other narratives.

Society’s attitude towards men’s worth

Here is a fundamental cause of the tragedy which I don’t see reflected upon as much, and feel I can contribute to. Try to empathize with our perpetrator (Empathize, not sympathize), as hard as that may be. Imagine a society in which a man’s role is to:

  1. Make as much money as possible
  2. Have sex with as many women as possible
  3. Calculate self-worth from some combination of #1 and #2

(Sound familiar? Welcome to mainstream American society.)
In this society, due to unfortunate upbringing and being a generally shitty person (see: the perpetrator), you are unable to make either #1 or #2 happen. Should you be more of a decent human being? Yes, but you are a shitty person and therefore don’t understand that you’re not a ‘gentleman’. Should you make more money? Well, that’s a terribly shallow response to the problem, but sure enough the perpetrator tried pretty hard to do so, spending thousands on the lottery.

Another alternative that a young man might have is to be seduced by the ‘PUA community’, which is a bunch of guys who share psychological tricks to essentially trick women into having sex with them. You may, as I do, find that ‘community’ disgusting. Yet placing the blame on this group is just as much of a lazy shortcut as blaming porn – the men who comprise these groups are themselves desperately trying to gain a place in society, and are suffering. Again, something to be fought, but not the true cause.

So without money and without sex, you are not a ‘true man’. I don’t think many commentators realize how powerful this message is, especially to young, naive men. Imagine society telling you that, regardless of your other qualities, you have no value. (A similar thing happens with women and attractiveness to men, yet society tells women that the way to deal with this is never violence to others, but instead violence towards themselves and their own bodies. Yes, everything is terrible, for everyone.) This value calculation is why you get the rants about women ‘owing’ men sex – to these men, who have bought the party line, they cannot be a ‘man’ without the sexual approval of a woman. Obviously, someone like the perpetrator would find this unfair and resent women for this gatekeeper role. Of course this is ridiculous if you have a healthy view of masculinity, but unfortunately our society’s version of masculinity is objectively not healthy.

Many men who find themselves in this position drink heavily or go be creepy in some place where they can achieve this role (see: Bangkok, gross). For some reason or another, our perpetrator decides not to self-harm but instead harm others who he thinks have caused him the pain of being valued as ‘not a man’ by society. This is an option ‘available’ to him as society also has glorified violence perpetrated by men in the service of a ‘higher cause’. Watching the video the perpetrator created in his BMW, you can hear him talk about his plans as supporting this ‘higher cause’. He resents that he cannot become a man (in his view of masculinity) without the imprimatur of women, and wishes to impose suffering to compensate for his own suffering. The terrible thing is that our perpetrator will not be the last to come up with this conclusion, and the easier solutions (removing guns, disrupting PUA supporters) do not address the root causes. As a society, we need to have a healthier, more human answer to ‘what is a man?’ and ‘how should men interact with women?’ to avoid the next Isla Vista.

How do we do this? Here are some ways to start:

  1. If you have children, send the right messages about how men and women interact*
  2. Do not buy products which profit from the objectification of women
  3. Call out men who objectify women, we’re in the ****ing 21st century already
  4. De-emphasize the need for men to make money to be ‘successful’

Side Conjecture:

I’d like to make one last point on #4. Even in the most progressive circles, there is still an assumption that men must make money, or at least be capable of making lots of money, to be worthwhile. So while the man who chooses to quit his high-paying job to raise his kid while his wife works is idealized, a woman who marries a man who could not make as much or more than she does is stigmatized. The reverse, a man marrying a woman without much income potential, is much more accepted, even in progressive circles. This double standard, combined with the perfect storm of the Great Recession and the overall trend of more parity in wages, has led to a great deal of suffering and (I would suggest) potentially is part of why the ‘PUA community’ has grown so quickly in the past decade. So should we go back to a Mad-Men-era time when men made the money and women stayed home? Absolutely not! Instead, let’s resolve the double standard by relaxing the need for men to make lots of money to be ‘successful’. It’ll be healthier for everyone.

Finally

Lastly, I’m in no way absolving the perpetrator for a heinous crime. However, the readers of this blog are not able to go back in time and change his mind, and without an understanding of why the perpetrator felt the way that he did, there is no way of preventing another one.

Let’s let the victims not die in vain, and try to prevent the next Isla Vista. It’s a better use of your time than arguing with internet trolls, that’s for sure.

TL;DR: The actual root causes of this tragedy are society’s messages towards how men and women should interact, and society’s messages about what is required to be a ‘real man’. The other causes are a symptom of these two factors. The good news: we can start addressing this today.

* yes, this is highly gendered and problematic in its own right. Baby steps, everyone, baby steps…

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