On May 23, 2014, in Isla Vista, California, Elliot Rodger, an angry, psychotic young man, decided to get revenge on innocents, due, in part, to a violently influential culture that had him believe women were sexual objects. The men who were able to bed women he’d desired were just as guilty of his own psychological torment, according to his manifesto entitled “My Twisted World.” As a result, Rodger went on a killing rampage. He stabbed his male roommates, shot several women at a popular sorority house, and shot passersby on the street. Eventually, his path of chaos ended once he took his own life in his car. If he’d been rational, even able to experience empathy, if he’d been able to intellectually filter the pervasive message that violence is, indeed, the answer, this massacre never would have occurred. As the great Issac Asminov once stated, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent,” which, to me, essentially means violence seems to be a last resort for those, like Rodger, who simply cannot internalize, intellectualize, and rationalize actions followed by inevitably tragic outcomes. In other words, they cease to be emotional thinkers; they cease to be wholly humanistic.
Again, Elliot Rodger is a product of a culture that is saturated in machismo-acceptance. Violence is primal, as are men, so pop-biology has us believe. A man who isn’t violent isn’t desirable by our cultural norms. My ex-husband was a milder form of everything our culture dictates that males represent. He was also “incompetent,” unable to rationalize his own actions. His apologies after a random act of violence – such as a sudden kick to my side, a sharp knuckle to my hand, a backhand across my face – were not out of remorse or regret. They were out of masculine “duty” and expectation. He resorted to such violent acts when he simply couldn’t be “competent.”
My father is another man prone to bouts of violence. I never initially considered him “incompetent” at all. He’s scholarly, beautifully spoken, cultured, refined. However, his past, an upbringing that involved severe child abuse, has kept him from emotionally rationalizing his own violent actions. The psychology insists that the abused can easily develop into abusers themselves. I only wish my father had been “competent” enough to seek therapy. Alas, a culture that embraces the notion that emotions other than anger are for “wusses” prevents him from doing so.
When my mother died, my sisters and I caught a flash of softness in my father. I am angry that it took my mother’s illness, followed by her subsequent departing, for my father’s humanity to emerge, his compassion and kindness, his empathy and vulnerability. It wasn’t his doing, I realize. Our cultural gender expectations, as horrid as they are, are to blame. Only a year later, his old patterns emerged. He’d gotten another Labrador, which we’d thought would’ve tempered him even further. The poor thing – so loving and eager to please – bears the brunt of my father’s newfound bursts of inexplicable rage. They’re not as often as they once were. No matter. It’s still too often, and my sister who lives near him seems primed to take the dog away from him at some point.
As Asminov sagely noted, those who are unable to actually conceptualize their own actions enact violence. If our culture continues to embrace antiquated concepts of gender norms – such as violence being expected from males – we will never prove ourselves worthy of the term “civilized,” let alone “competent.”