Elliot Rodger’s murderous Santa Barbara rampage is, without question, tragic. It is also terrifying, disturbing, confounding, and abhorrent. However, as deeply upsetting as the stabbings and shootings are, and as many issues as they raise, there’s one thing that the massacre is not: a teachable moment.
In the wake of such disasters, it is all too easy to give into the urge to diagnose — and, presumably, treat — the social illnesses that gave rise to yet another killing spree by a disaffected and unhinged young man. However, while Friday’s heinous acts have raised myriad issues, from misogyny, to mental illness, to gun control, to bullying, to social alienation, to autism, to racism, to attitudes toward virginity, to the scourge that is the men’s rights “movement,” this disaster cannot solve a single one of them.
No close reading of Rodger’s 140-page manifesto or YouTube videos will reveal how to spot future mass murderers, let alone how to intervene. A rebuttal of his disturbing comments on men’s rights forums will do little to nothing to sway the horribly misguided and hateful individuals who frequent those outlets. Wall-to-wall news coverage detailing how Rodger acquired his guns and ammunition won’t lead to changes in how people purchase firearms in California, and establishing a timeline of Rodger’s mental health care and interventions will not benefit people seeking treatment now or in the future.
Which is not to say that we do not, as a society, need to address each and every one of those issues. We absolutely need to investigate the pervasive roles of misogyny and racism in our everyday lives, and to revamp the way we do and don’t care for individuals with autism and specific mental illnesses. Those complex conversations are essential to change. However, tying such important matters to a single tragedy — or, ultimately, revisiting them again and again in the emotional aftermath of tragedy upon tragedy — does them nothing but a disservice.
Perhaps we could put the Monday morning quarterbacking and hashtag activism aside, even if for a few days, and unite in our heartfelt sadness and bewilderment. We should, first and foremost, be mourning the loss of Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang, Katherine Cooper, Veronika Weiss, and Christopher Martinez, and caring for the individuals who survived the attacks, rather than dispatching a swarm of news crews to the scene of the crime and participating in heated arguments in online echo chambers.
If, after funerals are held, and as life in Isla Vista returns to some semblance of normal, you wish to dedicate yourself to finding sociological explanations for mass murders in America, more power to you. If Rodger’s crimes have inspired you to volunteer time to anti-bullying efforts in your own community, or to stand up to the misogynists you encounter in everyday life, or to petition your lawmakers about gun control, or to return to school to study forensic psychology, that’s a fine thing.
However, in the short term, we may need to step back and acknowledge the senseless nature of the deaths in Santa Barbara, rather than squabbling over the issues they’ve raised, or attempting to suss meaning or motivation out of one disturbed young man’s deeds. After all, Rodger deserves neither fame nor infamy, and should not, in death, be given sway over either our emotions or national discourse.