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Self-Esteem, Anti-Competition and Victimhood Society Created Elliot Rodger

Much has already been written about Elliot Rodger and his horrific acts of murder in Isla Vista, California last month. And some may wonder why an economic policy writer would take up such a subject. But one must remember that economics is a study of human behavior, generally about financial decisions but also the underlying reasons behind those decisions.

Many have speculated that Rodger was simply a troubled kid, suffered from depression and/or was just pure evil. I personally do not share that view. I believe that there was a reason why Rodger became the person who he was because he did not understand simple lessons that all people used to learn about life, usually while still in their youth.

Basically, I do not believe that Rodger knew how to deal with losing and that could be a result of our society today, which has largely eliminated the concept of competition and has, therefore, also eliminated a fundamental understanding of winning and losing. Rodger seemed to suffer from a victimhood attitude which has also become very prevalent in today’s society. And he also seemed to be devoid of assuming any personal responsibility for the quality of his life. All of this is very clear just from watching Rodger’s final recording, which he entitled his ‘Day of Retribution’ video.

In watching Rodger’s video I kept experiencing an uncomfortable feeling because much of what he said I could easily have said about my own life. His main complaint is that women do not like him in favor of other men. He states this multiple times in the video. Here is a sampling of those statements:

“Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men but never to me.”

“You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m a perfect guy. Yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, a supreme gentleman.”

“All those girls that I have desired so much, they would have all rejected me and looked down upon me, an inferior man, if I ever made a sexual advance towards them while they throw themselves at these obnoxious bruts.”

“You forced me to suffer all my life and now I will make you all suffer…I’ll give you exactly what you deserve. All of you, all you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me, who treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men. And to all of you men, for living a better life than me, all of you sexually-active men, I hate you! I hate all of you now! I can’t wait to give you exactly what you deserve – utter annihilation.”

Now I do not consider myself to be a ‘perfect guy,’ ‘supreme gentleman’ or, as Rodger also says in the video, “the truly superior one, the true alpha male,” but I have often wondered why so many women generally tend to be drawn to men that I have often referred to as ‘NewAnderthals.’ To me, these are the type of modern men who seem to think only of sexual conquests above all else. Not all of us are like that, although those of us who are not NewAnderthals seem to be a dying breed in our increasingly sex-obsessed culture. But completely unlike Rodger, I never once had the attitude that women who rejected me or the men they favored over me had to be ‘punished’ for it, that it was an ‘injustice,’ and certainly not that it was a ‘crime.’

So I pondered what made Rodger take on such extreme views as opposed to someone like me, who had lived through very similar life experiences as him (except that I did not have a new BMW at the age of 22). The answer is quite simple really – we grew up in different eras.

Just some background on my life might be insightful here. I am 46 years old, a child of the 80s for the most part and that is a big key to understanding the difference between Rodger and me. I grew up relatively poor in a small rural town in southern Indiana. I have never been married and have never really had a significant relationship in my life. I’ve dated scores of women, mostly unsuccessfully. In fact, many of my friends have suggested that I should have written a book about all of my dating stories as some of them are pretty humorous, but some of them were also very painful. I lost my virginity at the age of 20, which while that is obviously better than Rodger did it was well after all of my close friends had lost theirs.

Like Rodger, sometimes I felt that my life was hopeless and there were moments when I had my own suicidal thoughts. But I never acted on those thoughts and in general I live a happy life today. So how did the eras in which we grew up make such a difference?

As noted above, I was a child of the 80s. And what was the culture of our society in the 80s? Ronald Reagan was our nation’s president and if nothing else his presidency was predicated on three key concepts – competition, optimism and personal responsibility. These are three traits which Rodger clearly was lacking. He does not seem to understand why he fails compared to others, he sees no hope that his life will ever change for the better and he blames others for the quality of his own life. Again, this is very clear in the video when he makes the following statements:

“All those popular kids who lived such lives of hedonistic pleasure while I’ve had to rot in loneliness for all these years. They’ve all looked down upon me every time I’ve tried to go out and join them. They all treated me like a mouse. Well now I will be a god compared to you. You’ll all be animals. You are animals and I’ll slaughter you like animals. And I’ll be a god, exacting my retribution on all those who deserve it. And you deserve it just for the crime of living a better life than me. All you popular kids, you never accepted me and you’ll all pay for it.”

“You forced me to suffer all my life and now I will make you all suffer…I’ll give you exactly what you deserve. All of you, all you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me, who treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men. And to all of you men, for living a better life than me, all of you sexually-active men, I hate you! I hate all of you now! I can’t wait to give you exactly what you deserve – utter annihilation.”

In Rodger’s mind, his unhappiness was not his fault but rather it was due to the actions of others – women who rejected him, men who were living better lives than him and popular kids who were living hedonistic lives of pleasure. He believed that he was just a victim and that others have committed ‘injustices’ and even ‘crimes’ against him. And he believed that it was not ‘fair’ that others were living better lives than him. Do any of these themes ring a bell in today’s society in which there is constant political and media blather about ‘income inequality,’ the need for ‘reparations’ and ‘fairness?’

In the 80s those themes were not prevalent. The culture then was of asking people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and to look within themselves to improve their lives rather than looking to others and/or to the government. But in Rodger’s short life and especially in his teen and young adult life, there has been a constant drumbeat of telling people that if their lives are bad then it must be someone else’s fault. Phrases like ‘the people vs. the powerful,’ ‘two Americas,’ ‘haves vs. have-nots,’ ‘99%’ and others have dominated the political and societal landscape over the past decade or more.

The result of that kind of attitude has been to create high levels of animosity between people belonging to different groups. The current White House occupant once went so far as to infamously implore Latinos to “punish our enemies” prior to the 2010 midterm elections. Compare that to Reagan’s ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ attitude. The attitude today is that for one person or group to win then another must lose. In the 80s we knew that we could all win and advance together rather than just at the expense of one another.

That brings us back to another key difference in our society of the 80s versus today – in the 80s we also knew how to lose. And that is because in the 80s we actually did lose – and I personally lost a lot in that era. Back then not every kid made the team, not every participant won a trophy, not every kid got promoted to the next grade and sometimes kids actually failed and were told so. When I first started college in 1985, after each major exam the score of every student was often posted so we could all see our own scores and where we ranked in terms of our peers. But today losing and failure is not an option, literally. Kids can no longer be called losers or failures because that may cause a bruising of their self-esteem.

But as noted above, I lost many times. I got rejected many times. And I failed many times. I still remember the first time I ever asked a girl out – it was to my eighth grade dance. She turned me down and chose instead to go by herself to the dance. It was crushing at the time but I got over it. I got rejected numerous other times in high school and college – in the years which Rodger described as “the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure.” Well I did not experience much sex or fun or pleasure in high school or college. Despite that, I did not turn out like Rodger and that is because I had learned already how to deal with loss, rejection and failure in my own life.

While participating in various sports, I played on many teams that did not win the championship and did not get a trophy. In fact, I played on only one team which did win a trophy which was in my final year of Little League at the age of 12. When I was in high school I got cut from the golf team in my junior year after being on the team as a sophomore. One of the players who was selected over me was a female, the first female ever to play on my high school’s golf team. I was upset and a little embarrassed, but I did not want to ‘annihilate’ her like Rodger wanted to do to the women in his life. Instead I realized that I had a couple of bad rounds of golf during the try-outs and in my senior year I made the team again.

And that was the other big lesson that I learned in the 80s that does not seem to exist today and certainly not for Rodger – that there is always a chance that life will get better. Even at those times that I was feeling my worst, that I was borderline suicidal, that I felt like life was over for me, there was always one small thought in the back of my head that kept me going. It was the thought that for each day I was still breathing then there was still a chance that my life could get better. That was the spirit of optimism that I grew up with in the 80s.

Today’s societal attitude is one more of shared sacrifice, everyone having some skin in the game and everyone paying their fair share. I never believed that it was not fair that I did not make the golf team, did not win a trophy or did not get the girl. Instead it just made me work harder – to accept that idea of personal responsibility for my own life. I worked harder and did what I could do to improve myself. And even with all that I have still not gotten the girl, but I am still optimistic that someday I will.

Rodger grew up in an era in which the concept of personal responsibility is totally foreign if not completely forbidden by our governmental and other formal institutions. Clearly he felt that he was not too blame for his own life so he would not have even thought of seeking ways to improve himself. In fact, his self-esteem was obviously very high given how he described himself in his video as being perfect, supreme and superior. He thought he was a perfect male, probably because that is what he had been told all his life.

And that likely explains how and why Rodger ultimately became a murderer. Because he associated his loneliness and unhappiness with external forces then his solution was simply to eliminate those external forces. In his mind, he was not the problem but rather the rest of humanity was. This is clear when he says, “Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species. If I had it in my power, I would stop at nothing to reduce every single one of you to mountains of skulls and rivers of blood, and rightfully so. You deserve to be annihilated and I will give that to you. You never showed me any mercy so I will show you none.”

So Rodger was just doing what today’s society had taught him – to punish his enemies, to blame others for his failings and to seek reparations from those who had a better life than him. In some sad way, Rodger was correct in that humanity is the problem, but humanity itself is not really the issue. Rather the real problem is the set of values that have been placed on humanity whether by new societal norms, political correctness or even codified via legislation.

Unlike others in today’s media and other circles, I am not suggesting that Rodger was a victim of today’s society. He may have been a product of the current society but he was certainly no victim. No, Rodger was simply a mass murderer who was solely responsible for the crimes he committed. In fact, it was only with his last shot that Rodger finally accepted responsibility for himself and determined his own fate in life. Unfortunately he failed to do the same for the first 22 years of his life.

So what is needed to prevent more people like Rodger from being produced is a restoration of simple values. Of course, whenever people like me suggest restoring past values there is always someone in the media and/or in the political world who proclaims a straw-man argument that we are trying to turn back the clock to the days of slavery, oppression of women, keeping homosexuals in the closet, etc. But that all I am suggesting is that we need to restore the values of just 30 years ago when we still believed in competition, self-responsibility and an optimistic spirit. We need not go back to the days when there was a dawn of a new nation but just back to the days when it was morning in America again.

To paraphrase the current White House occupant's comments about Trayvon Martin, I can easily say that Elliot Rodger could have been me 25 years ago. Thankfully the society I grew up in kept that from happening and today I am happy, healthy and still breathing because of it. And with each new morning in America I am optimistic that a great day lies ahead of me.

Rob Binsrick

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