Mass Killings Have Become Rorschach Tests
The California shooting is a peculiar one for the white-privilege crowd to have latched onto.

A memorial for the victims of the shootings in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Spencer Weiner/Getty Images)



One has to play similar games in order to harmonize the killer’s astonishing, deep-seated hatred of females with the fact that four out of the six people he killed were male. There is no question that the shooter had constructed a poisonous ideology in which women were the sworn enemy. His targets, in his own ugly words, were “all you girls who rejected me and looked down on me, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men,” and so intolerably angry was he at women in general that he expressed a wish to put them into camps, to watch them “starve to death,” and to force a few carefully selected survivors to breed with him and others of his choosing. This having been done, he suggested, “sexuality would not exist,” “humanity will be pure and civilized,” and “men will grow up healthily, without having to worry about such a barbaric act.” He was, let’s say, not a fan of the fairer sex.


Nevertheless, as disturbing as this is, we have a good word for attitudes and behavior such as this. That word is “crazy.” The essential trouble with the panoply of indignant hashtags and self-righteous op-eds that have appeared in the aftermath of the outrage is that they have tended to establish a false dichotomy: Either one believes that this incident is directly reflective of a given problem or one is denying that that given problem exists at all. This is silly and manipulative. To suggest that the cartoon misogyny of an extremely disturbed young man is not usefully related to women’s rights in general is not to suggest that women face no problems in America at all — any more than to suggest that dismissing as schizophrenia the “microwave machine” surveillance-paranoia of the sick man who shot up the Navy Yard implies that Americans have nothing to fear from wiretaps or the relentless pace of the Internet. It is just to say that the shooter’s ostensible motive is of limited utility going forward , and that if it wasn’t this, it would almost certainly have been something else.

Without ever quite making anything that could be reasonably described as a case, the Guardian’s Jessica Valenti argued yesterday for the collectivization of the killer’s guilt, maintaining that to describe the perpetrators of these crimes as crazy “not only stigmatizes the mentally ill — who are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it — but glosses over the role that misogyny and gun culture play (and just how foreseeable violence like this is) in a sexist society.” This is a rather impressive stretch. Insofar as the disturbed will draw from and respond to the culture in which they live, the contents of murderers’ manifestos are relevant and interesting. If we were to see a network of would-be killers develop, each member claiming to be acting in the same way for the reason, they would become especially so. But, really, that’s about the extent of their relevance.

Rare is the case in which one can directly blame the acts of madmen on the particular cultural influences that they have appropriated. Words do not pull triggers; people do. As the Southern Poverty Law Center was not to blame for the shooting at the Family Research Council and Sarah Palin was not to blame for the attack on Gabby Giffords, no recriminations are due for “Judd Apatow comedies,” “pathological white masculinity,” or “liberal Hollywood.” Unless we wipe out civil society, there will always be influences, urges, and upsets. John Lennon’s killer was obsessed with J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and to such an extent that he pretended to be its protagonist and, once he had committed his grisly execution, he stood and read the book until the police arrived. Charles Manson was so captivated by the music of The Beatles that he believed their lyrics contained messages for him, and took to writing out phrases in his victims’ blood. This latest shooter was a fan of Cenk Uygur, a onetime MSNBC host and leading progressive on YouTube. What does this all mean? Nothing much at all, I’m afraid.

All told, the killer hated everybody. He hated himself. He hated women. He hated other men because women liked them. He hated white people because he was only half-white, and he hated minorities because he wasn’t as non-white as they were. He craved sex, but was also disgusted by it. He hated his classmates, but also his whole town, which he had originally planned to wipe out in toto on Halloween. Four of the victims were men, two were women; three were ethnic Chinese, three were white. This was a crime whose execution was as complicated — and, possibly, as meaningless — as its conception. When terror strikes, the first word to our lips is “why?” We sully the search for genuine answers when, just hours into our inquiry, we are seen already to have woven the questions into our Weltanschauung.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.