Elliot Rodger is only the latest mass murderer whose creepy videos and massive manifesto will be pored over for clues to his state of mind. Rodger is in good company with killers like Osama bin Laden, Anders Behring Breivik and Christopher Dorner who exploited their murderous celebrity by running their mouths and fingers while unloading their deep thoughts on everything.
Osama bin Laden suggested everyone read Jimmy Carter's Palestine as well as Walt and Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby. Christopher Dorner regretted missing out on the next season of The Walking Dead. Breivik discussed his favorite video games and Elliot Rodger had to tell us every movie he watched.
Mass murderers act like aspiring celebrities because that's what they are. They want to be famous. They are compulsive narcissists who need everyone to pay attention to them.
Analyzing their manifestos for motive is a waste of time. Rodger, like Dorner, Breivik and Bin Laden, was obsessed with power fantasies. They all killed people to gain power over them and over the larger audience beyond their victims. They wanted to make the rest of the world see them the way they saw themselves. Their videos and manifestos were a pose like everything else about them.
A hundred years ago we would have called them evil. Today we pore over their writings trying to understand what made them snap. And when we do that, we make the mistake of assuming that their complaints made them kill, instead of being the excuse that allowed them to kill.
A million young men go around complaining about being alone. They don't go on a killing spree. A million workers hate their job and their coworkers. They don't kill them. Millions of ordinary people resent their spouses, their parents, their bosses, their neighbors and their garbage men.
They don’t kill them.
The significant thing about Elliot Rodger or Christopher Dorner is that they began killing. It's the only thing about them worth paying attention to, not their whiny manifestos.
The manifestos tell a story that has been playing out inside the heads of the killers, but killers are unreliable narrators. Their stories exist dreamlike inside their own heads and they reshape and change the stories all the time. The story is an egotistical narrative that the killers need to be true so that they can be free to kill.
Elliot Rodger needed to feel rejected by women so that he could justify his killing spree. Dorner needed to alienate everyone around him. Breivik needed to believe that he was leading an international movement. Osama bin Laden needed to draw the United States into a conflict.
Their manifestos encourage us to see things backward. They play out the familiar story of the man who was pushed too far. But these aren't men who were pushed too far. They were men who pushed themselves until they were exactly where they wanted to be.
Once they carry out their acts of violence, the linkage between act and manifesto breaks down.
Rodger killed four men and two women. Dorner murdered the daughter and fiancé of his LAPD representative and Breivik shot up a camp. Osama bin Laden ranted about Israel, among his dozens of other motives, but did little to go after it in any concerted way.
Manifestos don't tell us what a murderer will do. They don't even tell us why he's doing it. All they tell us is what he wants his potential sympathizers to believe about his motives.
The modern mindset assumes that dismissing a man as evil is uninformative. But understanding that a killer is evil tells us far more about him than we can learn by studying his manifestos.
What is evil? Evil seeks power over others. It sees the rest of world as evil and wants to dominate or destroy it.
Evil has a great deal of self-esteem and no empathy. It turns its own power fantasies into a narcissistic ideology and if it can't pass along that ideology to someone else, it kills. That's why this type of killer usually has a history of negative social media involvement in which he tries to live out his fantasies.
Osama bin Laden or Mohammed, his prophet, became successful narcissistic killers with armies of followers murdering in their name. Rodger, Breivik and Dorner were unsuccessful and had to act on their own, but they all shared common ambitions that transcended race and nationality.
The Caliphate, the ultimate goal of Islam, is also the embodiment of the power fantasy. Breivik dreamed of founding a kingdom. Rodger wanted to rule the planet as a fascist dictator and round up women into concentration camps. That is something that Mohammed actually did as nearly enough as he could at the time. One reason why Islamic terrorism is so widespread is because Islam’s Jihad is unique in providing a socially acceptable outlet for its Rodgers and Breiviks.
Evil wants absolute power over others. If it can't rule, it will destroy. If it can't control everyone, then it will enforce absolute control over a few victims by taking their lives.
The narcissistic mass murderer is striving to eliminate everyone who is not made in his image. He is a frustrated little godling who wants to be worshiped. He rejects the presence of the rest of the human race because they are different than him. His preferred forms of worship are conformity and death.
Evil is not limited to the occasional spree killer. In the last century Hitler and Stalin oversaw cults of personality built on this same model under which millions died. Stalin's Communism and Hitler's National Socialism were messy and contradictory ideologies. They ultimately existed so that one man could exercise his power fantasies and destroy as much of the world as he could.
And here in our own country, there is an ideology that is obsessed with controlling and shaping all of human behavior. We call that ideology by many names such as liberalism or progressivism, but it's more accurately a diseased narcissism whose followers strive to stamp out anyone who doesn't think like them and to control the lives of everyone else.
Every society is caught in a struggle between freedom and power. Our society is no different. The Elliot Rodgers we fight on a national and international scale are equally demented, but far more dangerous. Not all of them attack us with knives and guns. Some launch their assaults with rules and regulations.
It's only the failed narcissistic killer who goes on a suicide spree. The successful ones go on to become dictators. That is why it's important to see past the manifesto to the real motive.
The stories that killers tell are like the fire engine sirens in a dream that ends when the alarm clock rings. They tell us how they explain what they want to do anyway. They are the reflections of an evil mind.
Evil in all its forms wants absolute power over people. The ultimate form of absolute power over another human being is murder. It is the acts that killers commit that tell us what they truly are.
If freedom is to defeat power, we have to judge evil not by its deceptive motives and manifestos, but by its ugly and bloody consequences. We have to ignore its pretense of idealism and its sense of victimhood and look at the bodies left in its wake.
Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can take a life.