It’s been awhile and I’m still disgusted at much of the public’s responses to the murders committed by Elliot Rodger. None of it is surprising if you have lived a few decades or are familiar with social issues but nevertheless it’s not enjoyable witnessing. Thank goodness so many women, and others, have risen to the occasion to insist this is not madness but the ultimate expression of male entitlement, a world view driven by patriarchy.
Any definition of patriarchy shows its near universal adaptation in the world after the development of agrarianism, animal herding, and city-state development. The structure to have power over women is the root meaning of patriarchy. Whether it’s benevolent or not is irrelevant as it’s never really benevolent. The concentration of resources requiring more time with the need to raise children for many years before they become functioning adults often creates a disparity of power against women. The loss of leisure time when egalitarian forager societies had to create infrastructures made male labor more valuable. Especially in the light of resource pressure where fighting in groups was valuable to maintain at first sustenance, then status, and finally honor where no resource issues need be present. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Everyone bears the responsibility of patriarchy but women get the worst of it by definition. Sympathetic men may indeed become misandrysts or even misanthropes by sheer empathy towards those abused. Misogynists can hate men as well for their implicit advantages in power for control over women. Too long have men coming home from war or hunting been rewarded by more food and wives. Especially as resources dwindled during extreme climatic events–what used to take 2-4 hours a day became all-day work.
The dehumanizing aspects of patriarchy has led some to call modernism madness. If you consider a society a social cell or organ then the fact that it attacks itself is irrational, madness, even if it is a calculated and sought for ideology. The only personal way out of this particular madness is through pure leisure, lack of any responsibility, something you find at both ends of the economic spectrum. You’re either so poor and disenfranchised that you don’t give a shit or you have so much money and power that you don’t give a shit. Either way, this out is still within society and exacerbates the problem.
Another way is to develop alternative societies. A difficult choice in technologically advanced areas or subsets of society where there is desire for mobility between them, such as the Amish with their 8th grade education. When homesteaders went West or North they still carried with them their patriarchy. The difficulty was also geographic. Hostile environments with low sustenance resources mean a contrary style can exist best in coastal areas of temperate climates where life resource is available on a near daily basis. For a description of this see Euell Gibbon’s “A Beachcomber’s Handbook” as well as Jared Diamond.
This doesn’t mean it is impossible to fight or change patriarchy but it will cost energy. Social justice, restorative justice, economic equality, and greater positive empathy go a long away to dismantling the dehumanizing aspects of patriarchy. The great challenge will be how to maintain capitalism as it is inherently biased towards competition, power, resource caching, and honor status. But it is only right to try and in the long run may allow us to endure longer before extinction. More importantly it will make life better for many more along the way, which is at least my goal and should be yours. This means dismantling patriarchy.
The next thing that feeds the absurd opposing reaction to Rodger’s misogyny fueling his actions more than madness involves responsibility for one’s personal text or narrative. An excellent practice when you feel groundless or have identity issues is to write down your personal narrative. It is a text of your world view. Often it does start as a memoir as did Rodger’s. Listing the events that made you what you are reveals the roots of your individual inculcation. I say inculcation because as Joyce Carol Oates points out we aren’t born misogynists any more than we are born christian. I could also call it acculturation.
This personal text displays your core values, the things you respect, the things you wish to be, and how you see the world affecting them. Some make 5, 10, 20 year, and lifetime plans to meet their stated objectives, goals and processes. Certainly with optimism bias, ego inflation, and confirmation bias this text isn’t wholly realistic but it does well serve to indicate how mad or calculated one’s actions are even when operating under an umbrella of generalized social madness.
Sorry to get all philosophical here but it’s important to understand that murder isn’t unnatural. It is often ideologically driven. Over and over again we see lucid people killing, harming, and slighting many for very rational but unnecessary reasons. If your ideology involves conquest of others it is not surprising when it become physical. It can even be called good faith to the ideology.
In criminal justice personal responsibility involves premeditation. An insanity plea means not knowing right from wrong. Sociopaths are an easy example as they have no empathy towards others whatsoever. But this loss of empathy has a long and finely divided scale. In a crime it doesn’t have to be very long: A couple fights, one of them runs to the car to get a gun, and shoots the other. This action and clarity of vision shows it was premeditated and thought out. The insanity plea is not an easy option. Punitive justice societies depend on free will and personal responsibility to a high degree. In this sense Rodger was clearly sane and rational and personally responsible.
As people understand that circumstances help support actions then the derivation of one’s personal text from a social text as a construction means we can point to causes beyond an individual’s choice. A patriarchal manifesto in a matriarchal society would not be possible except as an extreme outlier world view created as a possibility or supposition rather than taken from experience.
In this sense Rodger was also sane. He envisioned a world more like Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” on steroids, proving that fact is even stranger, stronger, than fiction. It was no fantasy. It is possible for us to see how such a world could be his logical extension of what exists now.
Yet, my personal text is so far away from Rodger’s that I only experience disgust and revulsion when reading near any part of it. In this sense it would be easy for me to say he’s a crazy bastard and has been most of his life. Yet, in respect to “Changing Lenses” by Howard Zehr I also get that I was not raised like him in any way that I can see so how could I possibly relate or do his kind of rationalization of the pros and cons of his value system? His actions were horribly wrong and I long ago lost any empathy towards his issues.
It is incorrect to say that he was just a time bomb waiting to go off; if he hadn’t done this action now he would have done a similar one later. Many kinds of interventions could have occurred that would have prevented his final action. From small to large effects our life trajectory is not fatalistic, even when planned. It is indeed our relations and small interactions with others that can make a huge difference. I have heard from others years later that a remark I thought was either random or of low import had a large effect. These pivot points where we make gigantic decisions are often a final catalyst and exaggerated. A slight or praise can be held for years and can define a large section of text.
The importance of the continued discussion of these horrors, aside from the unfairness to women who were dissed for speaking up, is the need to continually remind ourselves that what we don’t experience is hard to describe or value as lessons. Empathy towards women’s discussion allows many, including women, to understand what needs to be changed.
It would be a shame if every generation had to experience injustice in order to believe in restoration and maintenance of justice. At some point our social text has to be edited such that it serves as a positive guide for the future so personal narratives cannot winnow negative aspects so freely.
Even if you made it this far in this post I apologize for its overly intellectual style. The many posts and comments I have read are so egregiously vituperative that the only way I could maintain some semblance of compassion was to avoid it entirely. Otherwise I would be too tempted to say those bastards that hate women should rot in hell now and a just god would ensure it immediately. Indeed, one can see why theodicy, the issue of evil in so-called benevolent religions, creates a desire for justice in the next world because there sure as hell isn’t any here.
That’s our job. To change the world for the better. It seems hard but I suggest you write or consider your own personal text and see if it echoes the better or worse angels of society, and if necessary edit the hell out of it.
Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com