Although I’m self conscious about adding yet another speculative voice to the discussion of the issues around the tragic UC Santa Barbara killings this week, I feel a need to comment on a few ideas that I think have been missing from the conversation, fully acknowledging that I have not read every single editorial on the topic.
The circumstances around this mass murder struck very close to home for me and many of my friends because we all knew “that guy” in college. There was “that guy” who was my then-girlfriend’s housemate who tried to get her evicted after she turned down his advances, or “that guy” who was confused that bringing his dad’s BMW to school didn’t get him laid, or merely “that guy” who constantly complained about how girls wouldn’t give him the time of day and externalizing it as a problem with “all women” and not a problem with himself.
Thankfully none of “these guys” acted out violently but there’s no doubt that their sublimated rage escaped in other unhealthful ways. It made me wonder what could’ve been if one of them just faced one more trigger or one more perceived humiliation. What can turn the angry entitled guy into a killer? When I confronted my girlfriend’s roommate directly about his actions, was I unknowingly putting my life at risk? When any of my female friends repeatedly turned down their aggressive, stalker-ish suitors, were they sending someone one more step closer to homicide, merely by doing what every person has a right to do? It’s a terrifying thought that grows more terrifying the more I think about it because of its sheer banality. All of “these guys” were smart, oftentimes charming when not obsessed about girls, and yet all had a darkness around them that anyone attuned to such things could perceive.
(There was one guy who did act out violently, though I did not know him. He threw himself off the tallest building on campus during the busiest time of day. Thankfully he caused no physical harm to anyone but himself, but no doubt traumatized dozens if not hundreds of witnesses to his demise.)
Okay, now here’s where I’m going to get speculative but (hopefully) not offensive. The one thing that “these guys” I’m talking about all had were that they were from Los Angeles. Or, at least, the greater Los Angeles area, and they were all relatively affluent. We all have grown up in a hyper-sexualized world, but I think that growing up in the epicenter of the looks + outward demonstrations of prosperity = desirability paradigm can be particularly challenging, especially if you’ve had a childhood that is otherwise free from want.
I say this because I, too, had a childhood relatively free from want as did most of my friends growing up in the Bay Area, but the values were demonstrably different. I was encouraged both by action and example to have deep, abiding friendships. Most of the marriages I saw were between equals, driven by a connection that was emotional, intellectual, and physical. Were they all perfect? Of course not. But real relationships, romantic or otherwise, should be built on all of those things, not just upon the immediate transactional value of what one person can offer another. I know that this is judgmental and entirely observational, but after having spent the time I have in Los Angeles now and seeing the effects it can have on even the fully developed adult brain, the effects it can have on those who’ve grown up knowing nothing else terrify me. This was the value that this murderer put on relationships: I have money, looks and (at least perceived) power, therefore you owe me your sexual attention.
(Hey, money, looks, and power [or even just the first and third] can easily draw the attentions of particular subsets of your desired sex, I can also say that, as a person having middling at best amounts of all three but never having wanted for female attention, being an interesting, interested, engaging, and engaged person who values others and can demonstrate one’s own achievements and the traits which make him unique, work well too.)
The other thing that has troubled me about the coverage of this particular mass murder is the comparison being made to the other tragic killings of the decade. This isn’t Virginia Tech, Colorado, Connecticut, or Arizona. First, it wasn’t a mass shooting using illegally obtained firearms: the murderer stabbed his first three victims and then shot and killed the others with a legal and legally obtained firearm. Secondly, this murderer wasn’t mentally ill in the same way that those other shooters were. He wasn’t schizophrenic or psychotic. He was an angry, depressed, entitled, racist dick.
It offends me that people are talking about this murderer as if he were deeply mentally ill, because it’s grouping all of us who have sought psychiatric treatment for anxiety, depression, addiction, anger, childhood trauma, and a myriad other psychological issues with a fucking angry, depressed, entitled dick who, in a fit of self-destructive rage, decided to end his own life by taking out his three roommates and three other people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I worry that conflating the murderer’s particular psychological issues–which are eminently treatable with talk therapy and, perhaps, medication–from the advanced break-from-reality psychosis of those other killers will discourage similar angry or depressed young people from seeking treatment that will prevent the death of themselves or others. People get angry and kill people out of anger for real or imagined sleights all the time, but it rarely happens at expensive universities in affluent beach suburbs.
(While I am 100% in favor of stronger gun controls and I know that if this murderer hadn’t had a firearm there would be fewer dead college students, I don’t see anything in this particular situation–unlike Colorado, Arizona, Connecticut, or Virginia Tech–where stricter, but still sensible enough for the average gun rights supporting American to get behind, laws could have prevented the firearm-perpetrated aspect of this tragedy.)
Lastly, the one narrative that seems to be coming to light that isn’t getting enough attention is that the perpetrator was bullied. He was bullied extensively and violently and for a very long time and with little intervention. He was an unhealthy kid raised in an unhealthy environment but with just enough ingrained bravado, just enough sense of himself as the “supreme gentleman,” to lash out against the world instead of doing what most depressed, bullied young people do continually, which is quietly take their own lives. Suicide from depression is a societally-induced genocide that is killing too many young people just as their lives should start getting better and, as can be demonstrated from this tragedy, can cause irreparable harm not just to the victim and his or her family, friends, and loved ones, but can also destroy entire communities and ruin the lives of families with no prior knowledge of the suicide victim.
Which all brings me to the idea of alienation and the immense damage it is having on a generation that is not much younger than me. We’re building a world where people have no ownership, they don’t have anything they can call their own and point to with pride and say “I made this” or “I own this.” The best they can point to is their Tumblr curation of other peoples’ images and claim it as their own. We’ve stopped teaching art and music and any academic pursuit that encourages self-expression. Our world is now entirely simulacra–a manufactured reality based not on what physically exists but what is portrayed as existing.
I’m grateful for having been born and grown up in a time when I still made friends with neighbor kids, played pickle in the street, and spent days riding bikes or playing with action figures in the yard. I’m grateful for having experienced puberty in a time when pornography was nearly impossible for an 11 year-old to obtain and, other than the occasional pilfered lingerie ad from the Sunday inserts, sexual identity was still built through that miracle of childhood: imagination. I love that I met my wife IRL, as they say. I love that among my closest friends are many people I’ve known for 15 years or more. I love that my public school taught me how to (barely) carry a tune, play several musical instruments, get a working knowledge of French, learn about the Impressionists, the Existentialists, Jean Baudrillard, and Howard Zinn (all before college), and that seemed just as concerned about helping children become people as it did about making sure our math scores were up to snuff. And I love that my parents forced my brother and me to sit down for a family dinner more often than not growing up, and that the TV was off and we were forced to talk to each other.
Can that even happen again or have we built a world so compartmentalized, anonymized, and dehumanized that relationships are going to hitherto be built on clicks and swipes? That the first reaction we have to a neighbor is contempt and suspicion instead of “hello” and a smile? How do we (re)build community in the busy, affluent, developed world? How can we stop churning out a whole generation of angry, depressed, alienated children who are killing themselves and others at an alarming rate? Is it already too late?