The rage of men who feel powerless has always been a part of the pathology of mass murderers. But there’s something particularly nasty about the open hatred of women in last night’s shootings in Isla Vista, California.
One of my best friends in lived briefly in Isla Vista, so I came to see him there in the late 90s. I remember it as a kind of laid-back, middle-class student town. An extended campus. Very like student neighbourhoods I knew in Europe. To imagine this level of carnage in such a familiar little place is strange. I called my friend this morning. He told me this is the third mass murder in the area within a ten minute walk in a little over ten years. A postal worker shot six of her co-workers dead just up the street in 2006 and a mentally ill person drove a car into a crowd of students in 2001.
This is not normal. Mass murder is not something you should have to live with and deal with. It’s an insanely rare event, a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Not something that happens on the block every few years.
So, the first thing we should notice is that this is not an individual thing. This shooting is an indication of a systemic problem: a culture of violence, and a malaise of readily available guns. Neither fully acknowledged or dealt with by the society around the killer. The seven dead people are dead in part because their government failed to do its job, failed to stand up for them and protect them.
So there is definitely something specifically American about this particular mass murder. And that problem, that bleeding wound in the American body politic, needs to be dressed and healed by American politics doing its job.
But there is also a more general evil here.
The killer was a agent of an ideologized hatred of women. In the same that racists hate black people and Muslims, this man hated women. And while some of his pathology may have been mental illness, this is the time to take that ideology out and examine it.
We need to start thinking of the ideological hatred of women as a thing similar to racism: a general underlying hatred (misogyny, hatred of women) which becomes politicised, ideologised, radicalised. In chat rooms and blogs and social media echo chambers this way of thinking becomes codified and organised. Arguments are developed. Support structures erected. This kind of ideologised hatred finds room to grow and develop.
We have seen the kinds of states racism builds. It builds states like the Third Reich, pogrom Russia or the US South of slavery and Jim Crow. We have also seen the kinds of states that hatred of women builds.
This is as good a time as any to get at the root of this evil. We need to call out and end the hatred of women and the violence against women perpetrated by men.