ALL ABOARD! The Elliot Rodger Ethics Train Wreck Is Leaving Rationality Station!


Wait…I think I’ve seen this wreck before!

Richard Hernandez’s enraged rant at the National Rifle Association for getting three people stabbed to death by Elliot Rodger signaled that this mass killing would  be exploited to the max by a succession of unscrupulous and/or irrational activists, social critics, and pundits, and, as my son used to say before he stopped respecting the French, “Voilà!

The burgeoning ethics train wreck looks like it might be even more infuriating than most, though nothing, ever, will be able to top the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Express for pure, widespread, unethical lunacy. Early indications are that the usual suspects will try to wring lessons from the crazed acts of a very unusual, spectacularly deranged, unsympathetic creep as if the fair and obvious answer isn’t there for all to see who are objective and smart enough to perceive it: this one mad act proves nothing. Not about the U.S., men, not about whites, not about guns, not about law, not about Hollywood. Nothing.

It’s a big country, and there’s lots of time before climate change destroys us all or something else does first. The attack of Elliot Roger is the opposite of signature significance, an utterly meaningless convergence of factors with fewer lessons to teach than other odd but deadly events, like the Great Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919, or the St. Pierre Snake Invasion of 1905. He means nothing, and should be shunted aside to obscurity as quietly and quickly as possible, so his undeserved notoriety doesn’t set off differently motivated but similarly unhinged sociopaths who are teetering on the brink. Unfortunately, that would require journalists, politicians and single-issue fanatics to be fair, logical and responsible.

Some have met the challenge, even some I would never expect. For example, when Sen. Richard Blumenthal appeared on CNN to exploit the Santa Barbara tragedy for gun-control legislation,  Carol Costello, the flagrantly left-biased morning anchor whom I have never written or thought a complimentary thing about before, had the integrity to confront him with the facts that 1) Rodger used a knife to kill half his victims, 2) purchased his gun legally while meeting all requirements and  3) did so in California, which has among the toughest gun laws in the nation, thus suggesting that none of the measures Blumenthal and others were using this incident to promote would have stopped Rodgers in any way. “California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, ” Costello said. “The shooter in this case abided by a background check and waiting periods. He had never been charged with a crime or voluntarily committed. How would any gun control law prevent this particular shooter from buying a gun?”

BLUMENTHAL:  “Wait! I think I hear my mother calling me!”  No, what he really said to change the subject was…“There is no single solution. There’s no panacea to the problem of gun violence, and not every death – even every mass shooting – can be prevented. But health professionals going with those police who spoke to Mr. Rodger, after he was reported as being suicidal, might have helped them to detect and even to treat the very severe mental illness that made him so dangerous to himself and others.”

Here, of course, if Costello were a responsible journalist and not the Democratic Party hack that she is, she would have replied, “No wait a minute, Senator: you just argued that the Santa Barbara killing shows that we need to revisit gun control, and now you’ve shifted to mental health policy. So you admit that none of the measures you’re complaining that the Senate hasn’t passed would have impeded Rodgers in any way, and that Richard Hernandez’s rant is completely misdirected, correct?”

But that would be expecting too much. For Costello, this was a career ethics high-point.

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday got the train really rolling out of the station with an already infamous essay blaming Rodger’s rampage on…Josh Rogen and Judd Apatow??

“How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like “Neighbors” and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of “sex and fun and pleasure”? [1] How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, “It’s not fair”?  [2] Movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it.” [3]


1. None who are sane, Ann.

2. None who are sane, Ann

3. No, they really don’t. Unless we’re nuts. Like Rodger.

As a film critic, Hornaday feels that to make her field seem important (it isn’t) she needs to use it to graft the dubious influence of films onto a bloody, high profile tragedy based on nothing but moldy theories that we have been hearing forever. I remember listening to a psychiatrist in the Fifties argue that the Superman TV show was sinister because it reinforced childhood fantasies about flying, as my father laughed out loud. Some really dumb kid, you see, had grabbed a red blanket and jumped out his bedroom window to his death. Sad, but stupid. Drawing a universal lesson from the incident was absurd and irresponsible, but it got the quack’s name in the paper. Since nobody reads papers now and that’s where she is usually ignored, Hornaday got her name in the blogs and on cable TV.

Blaming Hollywood fantasies for the irrational fury of a spoiled, sick Hollywood kid is intellectually lazy and logically indefensible, but it figures: this is the current “blame anyone but the individual responsible” mantra that drives so much of our current policy discourse. Then Hornaday played the “War on Women” card:

“Part of what makes cinema so potent is the way even its most outlandish characters and narratives burrow into and fuse with our own stories and identities. When the dominant medium of our age — both as art form and industrial practice — is in the hands of one gender, what may start out as harmless escapist fantasies can, through repetition and amplification, become distortions and dangerous lies.”

Uh, Ann? Fantasies are distortions, and they aren’t lies unless someone seriously intends to deceive anyone with them. But I get your point: remember all the homely women who went on murderous rampages because “The Ugly Duckling” lied to them about growing up to be the most beautiful females on the pond, er, in their schools? No, neither do I. Stories about the underdog, little guy, nerd, poor boy, homely kid winning the karate tournament, making the big play, beating the bully, becoming President, or marrying the beauty queen convey hope and inspiration, and if some sick bastard misunderstands what almost everyone gets, that is not the fault of the fantasy-makers and story-tellers. It is absolutely not the fault of the gender mix in Hollywood, which will let trained lizards write and direct  films as long as they make money. What are you asking for, creative affirmative action? How is that going to happen?

No, what Hornaday is injecting into the tragedy is another dose of anti-male bigotry, of exactly the variety that would have progressive lynch mobs forming for Rush Limbaugh if he made a similar slur against women. Bringing this theme to its ugly apotheosis was Laurie Essig, Ph.D., professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College, and as vile a bigot as you could find running through the pages of  the “Django Unchained” screenplay. The only difference is that Essig’s hate is focused on white males, and that kind of bigotry gets you published in Psychology Today, and maybe a hosting gig on MSNBC.

What do we call it when a politician or a pundit takes a horrible case of a single black man who commits a brutal crime and argues that it typifies black culture? Racist, bigot, hate-monger…fool perhaps. Yet here is Dr. Essig, brimming over with anti-male, anti-white bias, claiming that Rodger is the predictable result of white patriarchy and a rape-culture. “It is not an accident that the overwhelming majority of mass shootings are committed by men, but not just men, white men,” she writes. Later, she slips in the fact that Rodger wasn’t really white, but was also Asian. Never mind, she says…he was raised white.

Thus, presumably a black man who commits a mass murder also counts as a white killer, since if he wasn’t raised white, he’d be as gentle as a lamb. In fact, Essig is just engaging in lazy stereotyping here. It takes some statistical manipulation and a lot of confirmation bias to make that argument stick, which is why she uses a non-white killer ( like“Beltway snipers” John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who are black, and  Seung-Hui Cho, the Korean immigrant who killed 32 classmates and professors at Virginia Tech) to launch her attack on white culture. Is Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood killer, white? If you are trying to prove white culture is the scourge of humanity, he is.

Essig’s essay is the purest form of anti-male bigotry, and she stretches reason and fairness to the breaking point to somehow, some way, link the insane violent acts of one maniac with all men who haven’t embraced her definition—whatever it is, and frankly, I could not care less—of “feminism.” Her version, if I may speculate from what she writes, is the gender equivalent of “white supremacy.” Just accept that women are superior and men are brutes, and all will be well:

“Mainstream masculinity is often embedded in such a deep and abiding hatred for women, a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, and a seriously sick way of keeping women scared and in their place through violence and violent rhetoric that to name Rodger “mentally ill” is to create a smokescreen through which it’s difficult to see that there is something seriously sick in our culture.”

Oh…what? Well, yes, Professor, you sexist bigot, if you pronounce a crazy, frustrated, sex-addled loon as typical of American culture, then naturally, American culture seems seriously sick. But, you see, Rodger was crazy, and was not typical,  as anyone who reads his manifesto can see who is not a male-hating pedant who is willing to abuse her credentials by using an aberrational whack- job to indict all American males. Using Elliot Rodger to make any conclusions about anyone and anything other than Elliot Rodger is the mark of bad reasoning, irresponsible scholarship, and an agenda, and using him to attack whites and males is bigotry in the guise of analysis. The sickness in American culture, if there is one, might well be related to the fact that essays like this are taken seriously.

I’m sure Laurie Essig won’t be the most despicable passenger on this ethics train wreck, as revolting as she is. After all, it’s just pulling out of the station.


Sources: Washington Post 1, 2; Psychology Today


14 thoughts on “ALL ABOARD! The Elliot Rodger Ethics Train Wreck Is Leaving Rationality Station!

  1. Thank you, Sir. This is the best written piece I’ve read about this horrible event. I live in Santa Barbara and used to live in Isla Vista. I’m also a graduate of UCSB. It’s been very difficult to hear/see/read the misuse the murders by an insane person on top of the emotional impact already created by the event itself. Thank you again this is outstanding as Ethics Alarms , in my opinion, always is.

  2. Jack,
    As you know I mentioned this essay in a prior post so thanks for developing it in more detail.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on the comments made by attorney Gloria Allred in which she made the claim on national TV that male chauvinism is a clinical psychological malady that requires treatment. I did some research and the DSM V does not list male chauvinism as a clinical pathology. Has she violated some cannon of professional ethics to willfully make a false statement for the purpose of advancing an idea that is designed to elevate her standing among like minded persons (bigots)? If not, it should be a violation.

    How is such a statement any different than when someone says that blacks are bred to be great athletes or that women are emotionally unstable because of hormonal issues? We know what happened to the sportscaster that uttered the first and I bet she would be the first to reject the later as misogynistic.

    • I’d say the statement is utter nonsense and hypocritical as well ( Gloria is a prominent female chauvinist), but not a professional ethics breach….and I am rather know for having less tolerance for deceptive statement by lawyers than most legal ethicists. To be a breach, the statement would have to be shown to be 1) not just a mistake, and if she could always say, “I misspoke.” 2) reasonably related to the practice of law,. As a pseudo pundit and celebrity, she may not have acting as a lawyer when she made the statement, and most of all, an opinion. lawyer have a right to foolish opinions. No lawyer could be professionally sanctioned for racist statements either, unless it could be shown that they interfered with her ability to serve her clients’ needs.

      I forgot that you were the first one to flag that article. Thanks.

      • Thanks Jack.
        My concern is that when we celebrate these so called “experts” and they weigh in on issues the comments they make are not always vetted and taken as true statements. This problem is compounded when such statements are repeated as fact over and over by lazy journalists which then serves as the basis for validating the original false statement.

  3. Yech. It’s disturbing how seriously that entry in Psychology Today is being taken by its supporters. I should have known better than to read the comments, but wow. I want to believe some of the folks in agreement with Laurie Essig are actually trolling, but there’s so much agreement with even those extreme posts that there’s surely no point trying to figure out who’s for real and who’s not.

  4. I’m impressed. I don’t know how you made it through that article by Dr. Essig. My first instinct by the end of the first paragraph was not to bother, as it was obvious bigotry. I only finished skimming it because you linked. I suppose if I’d seen more than one link I might have finished reading it, but even my progressive facebook friends haven’t bothered with it.

  5. Jack I don’t always agree with you, but sometimes you have made me rethink my positions on things. While I agree with the basic premise of this post, I think you are ignoring some important factors. Yes, this had nothing to do with gun laws, and bringing that up is foolish and manipulative of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (and others to come, surely). Elliot Rodger wasn’t white, so him being white surely has nothing to do with it. Frat boy comedies, and the gender roles in Hollywood are not a contributing factor. Blaming all men for the actions of one man IS wrong (and obviously ridiculous), but misogyny (which is what Essig describes, albeit very hyperbolically- and somewhat incorrectly, as it is a system, or a pattern, not something that can be applied to men as individuals or even men in general) is a real thing.

    Maybe it’s not relevant to this spree killing, which are usually totally anomalous things? Maybe, but maybe the fact that his manifesto was pretty explicitly anti-woman has something to do with misogyny. It contained the phrase ” The first strike against women will be to quarantine all of them in concentration camps. At these camps, the vast majority of the female population will be deliberately starved to death. That would be an efficient and fitting way to kill them all off. I would take great pleasure and satisfaction in condemning every single woman on earth to starve to death.” (on page 136)

    He was also a member of PUAhate, which is an online community for people who hate Pick Up Artistry (aka: the “game” which is essentially tactics for manipulating drunk women into bed) not because it’s kind of creepy and gross, but because it doesn’t work for them. On there and his final YouTube video, he talks about his plan to kill all the slutty blondes for his final act of retribution, which he then tried to do but the sororities security was too tight.

    NOT ALL MEN do this, clearly, not all men think this way, in fact probably most men do not, but this type of thinking is part of a pattern called misogyny, and it does actually exist. Actions like his killing spree do no take place in a vacuum, and to ignore this aspect is somewhat disingenuous. Of course it is an anomaly, but it is part of a larger pattern I think in this case, and there are more contributing factors than most killing sprees.

    But he’s crazy, you said about 8 times, which is the real reason this happened, and that things like this ever do. But mental illness is not the same thing as rabies. “Crazy” is not really an excuse to go on a killing spree, and it is NOT a catch-all for criminal behaviour. That doesn’t even make sense! You rightly said one of the problems in our society is the “blame anyone but the individual responsible” but I interpret your continuous use of “crazy” “loon” etc to be blaming his mental illness for this tragedy. I may be reading that wrong, and if so I apologize, but I think that just labeling someone as “crazy” makes it pretty easy to ignore his explicit motivations that he published in at least 3 different ways. There are a lot of mentally ill people in the world, and probably an overwhelming majority of them are not poised on the brink of a killing rampage. There are countless “sane” individuals who have committed heinous, vicious crimes. In fact, the murderer was in therapy and his mental illness was being treated, so while it very, very likely that his mental issues, whatever they were, were a contributing factor, it seems narrow-minded to dismiss this tragedy as the completely meaningless actions of a “crazy loon”.

    PS: sorry to be so long winded

    • 1. Not long winded. I am estopped from calling anyone else long-winded.

      2. The point of repeating crazy is that it is absurd to use a crazy act by a crazy person to connect the act to non-crazy people.

      3. The point that misogyny exits is hardly news—I’ve written about it often. But misogyny is still socially unacceptable, the culture does NOT endorse rape, and most sexist pigs don’t kill people.

      4. The question isn’t whether there are legitimate issues of gun control mental illness, and misogyny; its that this case is a dishonest forum for any of them to be raised.

      5. Here’s what I would call a thoughtful article on the topic.

      • That is a great article, thank you for the link.
        I’d like to point out that he agrees with me on this point: most of these guys aren’t crazy- they’re smart and their mental state isn’t, as Mark Manson stated, “the point”. That’s why I commented on the number of times you called him crazy- because that’s not the issue at hand, and to write it off is sort of a red herring. His article way better expresses exactly the way that I feel about it, actually.
        And as a side note, the reason why I brought up his misogyny is because although the culture does NOT endorse it, or rape, the specific SUBculture that he apparently belonged to does. But point taken that it is also not “the point”.

  6. I was hoping you’d address this article; thanks for making my day. I was surprised I didn’t see you DESTROY her disciples in the article’s comments section, but then I figured you probably recognize an exercise in futility when you saw one.

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