Elliot Rodger, a young man with some horrible ideas and serious mental problems, killed at least six people in Santa Barbara. He left pages of digital photos and hours of video detailing his pain and his envy. In the voice of an entitled boy not given what he wants, he talks about being alone while others are together. He became a misogynist through his own twisted self-reflection. Now his efforts to reach out to seemingly like-minded groups on the Internet make him look like a monster created by the Internet himself.
This is wrong.
A decade ago a crime scene was a photo and a report. Now it is a sea of interconnected tracings, the murderer bobbing loosely in social media and the forums. We can watch him make his way through these straits, we can watch the madness growing, and we can watch his terrible end, all through murk of media. We are quick to judge and we are quick to look at his wake and say, definitively, that he was this or he was that. He was frustrated. The frustration grew. He went to a place he thought would help. It didn’t.
There are two ways to see this young man. On one hand he absorbed the self-serving tactics of the Pick Up Artist crowd and the narcissism of the body builders and they made him what he was. On the other hand, he was sick and his efforts to find himself led him down terrible paths. But we can’t expect the Internet to help a man like Elliot Rodger. He wanted human contact and he got no solace there. He wanted advice and the Internet did what it does best: it reflected his own sickness back at him. Forum posters can catch a whiff of madness and react with sarcasm but who there can help? Hashtags don’t prevent murders. Therapists and gun locks do.
We are not qualified to look at this man’s life and judge him. He did a horrible thing. He was terribly sick. He had access to all the tools necessary for this to go either way: he had a gun to kill and he had expensive therapists to help him. He took the way of the gun.
We envy the perfect lives we see through the terrible lens of the web and we wish we were different. We envy every day and we covet. And we covet with our hearts. Most of us learn to temper this greed with love. He coveted until the end. That’s not the Internet’s fault, but we are all to blame for letting this man and others go as far as they did.