It is probably more true than not that the rants of a deranged shooter are not worth reading. Whenever you read someone’s words, you give his thoughts, however briefly, access to your head, and the thoughts of the suspect in the Isla Vista, Calif., shooting spree that left seven dead are a bleak and horrifying place.
These are clearly the ramblings of someone who was not mentally whole. But they bear enough resemblance to things that people considered sane actually think that they seemed to be worth some brief consideration.
The suspect, Elliot Rodger, called the manifesto “My Twisted World.” It’s a twisted world, all right, perhaps most jarring when it offers a sick mirror of a world we recognize.
The manifesto, in its 141 pages of vitriol, hinges on a familiar refrain.
I would be a perfect gentleman, the refrain goes, if only you would let me. Why do you always make me have to yell at you? Why do you force me to treat you like this?
There is something strangely seductive about this worldview.
The suspect had this idea that somewhere inside him was “a magnificent gentleman, worthy of having a beautiful girlfriend.” “The ideal, magnificent gentleman.” “A superior gentleman.” “A beautiful, magnificent gentleman.”
Also, “Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such.”
He kept wondering why girls did not give him the chance to show them what a Magnificent Gentleman he was. Didn’t he deserve it? He was a good guy. (“All women must be quarantined like the plague they are, so that they can be used in a manner that actually benefits a civilized society.”)
He was obsessed with women and with money, and he sought them in much the same way. He bought lottery ticket after lottery ticket. One of his ways of trying to meet girls was to take long walks around his neighborhood waiting for a beautiful blonde girl to meet him and befriend him. This isn’t a strategy — it’s a fantasy. Get a job and work to earn money? Try being nice to people? No. It was the jackpot or nothing.
“I am the true victim in all of this,” he concluded. “I am the good guy.”
And he’s not alone.
You can find this lament all over the Internet. “It’s not me, it’s you.” “This stupid pickup technique is a ripoff! It doesn’t make women want me at all!” “Why do they always go for jerks and losers and avoid the Nice Guys like me?” “Where’s my prize?”
Most people walk around with the sneaking suspicion that they are magnificent. Maybe not yet. But given the chance, they could be the world’s greatest lovers, the karaoke singers who bring the house down, the authors of bestsellers, the stars of TV shows, the all-singing, all-dancing centers of the universe. They could be heroes and gentlemen, if only somebody offered them the opportunity.
This idea that if ever there were a Real Occasion you would notice it and rise to it can get you through day after day of disappointment. “Today, to all appearances, I sat on a couch and ate a tub of contaminated hummus while watching YouTube videos of the endings of video games I have not played,” you tell yourself. “But what I was really doing was gathering my forces and marshaling my inner resources for the Marvelous Day when someone calls upon me to be great.” This is a comforting thing to think. While you are waiting around for your Grand Moment, you don’t have to do anything particularly great or even basically good. You can honk at old ladies to cross the street faster and leave snide comments on the blogs of strangers and be rude to waiters — but one of these days, someone (probably portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in the movie version) will come up to you and say, “Hey, Dave, do you want to be a Hero?” and you will say “Yes” and all that other stuff will not matter.
Everyone does this, to some degree, but Gentlemen most of all. While waiting for their moment, they look on, baffled, murmuring “m’lady.” Women persist in going for losers and jerks and never allowing these lurking gentlemen to show what they’re really made of. Instead, they are forced to lurk outside bars and parties and wonder why women are not approaching them to offer them their favors.
But, of course, this is not how it works.
The reason you are not a Hero and Magnificent Gentleman is not because you have not been given the opportunity. You have to do the right thing on your own, when it is not clearly labeled as such. Red pill? Blue pill? Those are just the Reddit forums currently embroiled in this discussion. Nobody actually ever gives you the opportunity.
It’s not the magical, shining you inside you that counts. It’s what you actually do. The person who did this won’t be judged by what he thought of himself but by the horrible act he committed.
“My Twisted World” is the work of an unwell mind. But there’s a familiar reflection in that twisted mirror. The ideas about keeping women “in secret labs” to breed? No. But the idea that a beautiful girlfriend is a sort of trophy you deserve, not a person you have to approach on her own terms? The idea that the reason you are cruel instead of magnificent, a killer instead of a gentleman, is because people are not letting you be kind to them? The idea that this must be their fault, because you’re the Good Guy?
I wish this were the only context when we heard that. Don’t believe it.