In the aftermath of every tragedy, the tendency is to launch the discussion into a wider sphere, a more abstract, theoretical sphere. Then, there are people who want to rein in this tendency, to bring the focus back to the solitary act, divorced from its context, to have a more comfortable conversation that implicates only one individual, not any sector of society, a conversation that focuses only on the madness we all recognize as such, rather than the poison that floats unseen beneath the surface of our daily assumptions.
I can see this point: it can read as disrespectful to the victims to generalize about the reasons for their very concrete and specific deaths. There was only one reason those six people died that day: Elliot Rodger.
Still, to say that, if not misogyny, a killer would have just picked some other ideology to base his homicidal urges around is just as useless as to say that if he didn’t have access to guns, he would have just used some other weapon. Even if this is true (and for the record, I’m not at all convinced it is), that doesn’t mean that we can’t take a lesson from the tools he did find to hand.
True, we might always have killers. We might never be able to successfully identify them beforehand — for every Elliot Rodger, how many angry, depressed, eccentric, or even downright horrifying people are out there not doing anything other than making people uneasy? Obviously the implications of policing for potential future criminal behavior make us all uncomfortable.
We might never fully understand the type of (I don’t even know what noun to use here? Illness? Pathology? Evil?) that drives people like Rodger to do what they do, but we can use them as barometers for the health of our society. What communities do these people fit into? What systems of thought do their sentiments find a home in? Where are the pockets in our society that are so skewed toward hate that the musings of a person as sick as Rodger all but blended in? Which previously tolerated aspects of our culture did he throw into a stark light?
For many successful revolutions, there is an (often only tangentially related) act of terror that serves as the final straw. Spectacularly evil deeds can be the catalyst for positive social change if we allow them to be.