Behold the false dichotomy

JT Eberhard sees a mistake and comes to the rescue:

Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. That conversation needs to take place.

Huh. One, how does JT know that? Two, that conversation already is taking place, to put it mildly.

Ok so let’s read beyond the title.

There is a debate going on as to whether or not Elliot Rodger, the man who recently went on a killing spree in California, was mentally ill or if he was sane and driven by sexism.

No. That’s not the debate that’s going on. Hardly anyone is framing it as “either mentally ill or misogynist.” Also, the issue is not “driven by sexism” but “driven by misogyny” – intense, enraged hatred of women. What we see in Elliot Rodger along with far too many other men is beyond mere everyday sexism, which seems almost cozy in comparison, but inflamed rabid loathing of women as women.

When this all went down, it struck me that Elliot Rodger was probably suffering from some form of mental illness.

Whoa, how shrewd and percipient! Except that it struck everyone else in the population too, including people who know better than to take such snap judgments seriously. It’s not really worth mentioning that one’s first thought on hearing the news was “wo that dude was cray.” It’s certainly not worth treating it as a wise insight that should be followed up on.

Then JT tells us of his good fortune in having a friend who has a friend who wrote an article in Time minimizing the role of misogyny. Yes indeed, what a piece of luck. This two-degrees-of-separation friend is one Chris Ferguson – probably no relation to my friend Craig Ferguson, who is my friend because I watch his Late Late Show occasionally. Chris Ferguson hits the right patronizingly dismissive note:

Misogyny, in all forms, remains a significant problem for society. Women still don’t enjoy pay equity with men, and are underrepresented in core positions of power in business and politics. Violence toward women has thankfully dropped over the previous two decades, but remains intolerably high. The last election cycle brought us odd comments about “legitimate rape” and fights over women’s rights to contraception medical coverage. It’s not difficult to understand why women would perceive the deck being culturally stacked against them. That misogyny can, and certain does, spill over into violence in the case of (one hopes) a small percentage of men whose anger toward women is beyond control.

Linking cultural misogyny to a specific mass shooting is more difficult, however.

And so on. Take-away: don’t worry about it, laydeez. JT echoes the take-away.

Like Jaclyn said, this does not mean that sexism is not bad and that it should not be discussed.  Anybody saying that is wrong.  But by treating Rodger as sane so we can attribute the fullness of his rampage to our ideological enemies, we are missing the chance to get at the root cause of the mass murder (according to the psychological experts on mass murder).

Ahh yes, “our ideological enemies”; that’s what this is about. It’s about the same old shit – stop “dividing” the atheist “movement” laydeez, with your complaints about misogyny and harassment. Think of The Cause and shut up about it. We are all in this together and your concerns about misogyny and harassment don’t matter.



  1. Pteryxx says

    …I’ll just leave this here.

    Jezebel: Lessons from a day spent with the UCSB shooter’s awful friends

    Tuesday morning, I logged into a chat room full of refugees of the since shuttered PUAHate forum once frequented by University of California-Santa Barbara shooter Elliott Rodger. And I stayed there, silently watching them, for 8 hours. Here’s what I learned.

    All the warnings, seriously. One Jezebel commenter mentioned not comprehending the need for trigger warnings until reading this.

    1:21 PM

    It’s a strange feeling, being simultaneously afraid and annoyed and enraged. But that’s how I felt for most of yesterday, because of frequent stretches like this:

    [1:21 PM]: how many of you here ever thought about committing mass murder?

    [1:21 PM]: yeah. just dont have access to guns in the uk. even the police just carry batons

    [1:22 PM]: if i tried pulling off a massacre, my kill count would be lower than elliots

  2. says

    I have not read anything close to all of the #YesAllWomen discussion, but I’ve read a ton of it.

    I have not seen a single person say or suggest that Elliott Rodgers was a sane misogynist, and mental illness had nothing to do with his crime.

  3. Jeremy Shaffer says

    What makes that really sad is that, for his faults, JT has been pretty big about addressing the stigmatization of people with mental illnesses, especially within the atheist/ secular groups. Yet, by simply brushing Roger’s actions off as mental illness, he is ultimately contributing to the very thing he wishes to combat.

  4. Sassafras says

    Jeremy Shaffer @ 3 –

    I thought the same, and I don’t get it. I have a mild form of autism, and I had the “pleasure” this past week of an argument with an also-autistic friend claiming that Rogers had autism and that’s why he killed and we should stop talking about feminism in relation to the situation. I just don’t get how people are more willing to accept more stigma onto themselves just to punish feminists.

  5. says

    I’ll grant that it takes someone ‘mentally unstable/insane/off the rocker’ to go gun down people.

    A friend had a good analogy –

    Rodgers was mentally ill in the same way I can’t swim. Yeah, it’s a failing on our parts and we should probably do something about it. But you know, I’m fine too if I stay out of the water. The focus on the ‘mentally ill’ part just ignores the fact that it was the shit-filled tide of misogyny that swept the poor bastard out to sea. People kept encouraging him to go swimming. It’s fun, it’s normal, you’ll like it. He treaded water just long enough to take others with him. People drown all the time. It’s dangerous water. Maybe it’s time we found some calmer, clearer waters to go wading in.

  6. Hj Hornbeck says

    Wow. Someone working against the stigmatization of mental illness just did an armchair diagnosis, and working under the assumption that mental illness makes you more likely to commit violence pronounced it as the major cause.

    Why is this important? Because if we want to fix a problem (in this case, mass murders), it is important that we address the causal factor (the state of mental health in America) instead of hijacking the discussion into something that, while being an undisputed problem in our culture, would not prevent more of these events in the future if solved.

    It’s hijacking to discuss the environment of the perpetrator? No wait, it’s only hijacking if you consider the part of the environment related to hatred against women; if you instead consider the part of the environment related to poor mental health services, that’s keeping on topic.

    That brief boom you heard was my opinion of Eberhart breaking the sound barrier as it plummeted downward…

  7. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    I tried to compose something substantive in response to this but all I’ve got is:

    Fuck off, JT.

  8. thefemalearchetype says

    I feel like JT is ignoring factors like environment and the fact that Rodger actually had access to extensive health services because of his wealth and family structure because it is easier for JT to make this story about him and his struggles if he ignores the other factors. This tragedy only gets to be about JT and JT’s platform when he can reduce it to one single axis. If he has to talk about multiple issues then he can’t focus on what he really like to talk about which is himself.

  9. Matt Penfold says

    So Rodgers was mentally ill, but capable of producing extensive documentation to deceive people into beleiving his motivation was a hatred of women.

    To be able to conceive and execute such a program of deliberate misinformation would suggest someone who knew what they doing, so therefore not insane.

  10. brucegee1962 says

    I posted something like what JT said on PZ’s thread — that we couldn’t simply assume Rodgers WASN’T mentally ill.

    PZ posted something quite thought-provoking in response, that caused me to change my opinion — he asked, are suicide bombers mentally ill? If we can believe that a sane person can be indoctrinated to blow themselves up from religious mental poisoning, then why should it be at all surprising that the same thing could happen from misogynist mental poisoning?

    As I say, this caused my opinion to shift.

  11. PatrickG says

    Linking cultural misogyny global warming to a specific mass shooting weather event is more difficult, however.

    Do these people even realize the level of denialism they’re engaging in? If they saw this from a AGW-denier, they’d be all over it, but they use the exact same logic and think nothing of it.

  12. tonyinbatavia says

    I really appreciate what everyone has said in this thread. JT always tries so hard to come off as ever-so-reasonable that he almost always, but especially when it comes to matters related to social justice, devolves into providing overly-simplistic answers, and always with heaping-helping of condescension. Further, it blows my mind that he could craft over 2500 (of his own) words on this topic without once typing the word “misogyny.” That’s how desperate he is — relating to what thefemalearchetype #11 said — to not acknowledge the influence of another axis.

    And major props to you, brucegee1962 @13. Seriously. I know from personal experience (and from years for years contentious web forums and comments sections) that it is very easy to cling to what one previously thought was a simple, easy, and obvious answer. And because it is easy, simple, and obvious — Occam’s Razor has just one blade, after all — it can be difficult to process when someone presents a complicating explanation. That you were open to not only thinking on PZ’s complication but to also shift your opinion about the matter is a credit to you.

  13. neonsequitur says

    @ #12 & #13:

    Both of these arguments equate insanity with incompetence. If this were the case, no mentally ill person would ever be a threat to anyone, which is quite clearly not the case. Insanity, unfortunately, does not equal incompetence: one can be insane and still capable of heinous acts.

  14. brucegee1962 says

    Actually, I was getting ready to post again on that thread, about the fact that Rodgers almost certainly planned to die in that shooting spree — thus he was suicidal, and most people who are suicidal are at least depressed, which is a form of mental illness.

    Then I stopped and actually thought about what PZ said about suicide bombers. And I realized he had already answered my objection before I made it.

  15. quixote says

    The funny thing about telling people to shut up because we’re all in this together is that there is another alternative. If we’re all in it together, Mr. I’m-No-Misogynist could shut up about his concerns and concentrate on misogyny. Why does that not occur to the shutter-uppers?

  16. Matt Penfold says

    “Both of these arguments equate insanity with incompetence. If this were the case, no mentally ill person would ever be a threat to anyone, which is quite clearly not the case. Insanity, unfortunately, does not equal incompetence: one can be insane and still capable of heinous acts.”

    In some respects insanity is equated with incompetence, since by definition an insane person is not considered competent of knowing that their actions are wrong. If JT and others are correct, and Rodgers set out to deceive about his motivations then that must bring to in question whether he was insane. Basically, if he was insane then he would have no reason to deceive.

  17. jenBPhillips says

    Examples of JT’s mediocre thinking abound, but his preemptive rebuttals list is just silly. For example:

    When people go on mass killing on account of religion you blame the religion. Why not blame the sexism here?
    Sane people are certainly capable of killing, even if that’s not what happened in the Rodger mass murder. Consider for a moment that religious people have an example of not only hate, but explicitly of mass murder in the heroes of their holy books (books to which they devote their lives) as well as their gods. That alone sets them apart from organized sexists. Loathsome though MRAs are, the books they spread around demean women and treat them as liars, sexual conquests, etc. (which is certainly condemnable behavior), but do not advocate for the mass murder of mostly men.

    You mean an example of mass murder like, say, a 140 page manifesto? Or extensive, approving written discussions of the heroic strategies of Marc Lépine? Jesus, dude. so many words, so little understanding.

  18. Hj Hornbeck says

    thefemalearchetype @11:

    I feel like JT is ignoring factors like environment and the fact that Rodger actually had access to extensive health services because of his wealth and family structure because it is easier for JT to make this story about him and his struggles if he ignores the other factors.

    THIS. So much this.

    Rodger was a rich “kid” with a rich father, in a country where the rich literally get the best care in the world. (emphasis mine)

    Rodger had extensive contact with both mental health professionals and law enforcement authorities. Rodger’s parents had long been concerned about his erratic behavior. A lawyer for Rodger’s father said Elliot Rodger had been seeing multiple therapists. Santa Barbara police visited his apartment six months before the shooting but found nothing in his demeanor to be concerned about.

    Eberhardt has no reason to blame mental illness, other than his own personal biases. It’s telling he spends more time rebutting imagined criticisms than actually making his point, he knew his own argument was weak.

  19. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    We have to ask JT and his douchebro denialist pals to answer a simple question: Exactly what evidence would you need to see before you accepted that Rodger’s motivations were primarily misogynistic?

    It says a great deal that this is basically a reframing of the question we ask of science-denying creationists – and we know what their answer is.

  20. says

    You know…I used to read JT when I was new to skepticism and reading blogs in general. I really liked him for a while because he was kind of adorable and liked gaming (which I do as well). As I read more, though, I came to realize he wasn’t a person who’s opinion I could trust. It was one of those unpleasant moments that I have increasingly often when an old friend on Facebook displays disgusting views or a figure I once looked up to like JT, or Dawkins proves to be an asshole. On one hand every further instance of assholery makes me a little sad, but on the other I’m not on their team anymore.

  21. Silentbob says

    (off topic)

    @ 1 Pteryxx

    [1:21 PM]: how many of you here ever thought about committing mass murder?

    [1:21 PM]: yeah. just dont have access to guns in the uk. even the police just carry batons

    Yay for the lack of a “right to bear arms”.

    (/ off topic)

  22. Anne Marie says

    As I said there:
    Recently, a woman in Maryland stabbed her children to death in an exorcism attempt. She had a history of mental illness and was a member of a church where she met another woman involved with the idea of the exorcism. Steve Novella discussed this story at the time on the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe and pointed out that while the woman clearly had a mental illness, if she had been hearing voices telling her that she was being followed by the president or something, people would’ve seen it as obviously untrue and pushed her to get help early on. However, because her delusions were religious in nature, they were encouraged by her social network.

    That was a woman who seems to be/have been actively psychotic. Rodger was likely not and he was being actively encouraged in his misogynistic beliefs by websites full of (presumably mostly) sane men agreeing and telling him he was totally right in viewing women this way. No one said, “Uhhhhh, dude, maybe you should see a doctor?” to him. That’s a gigantic problem in our culture – the same way it’s a problem that a culture tells people that hearing voices is fine as long as it’s god’s voice you’re hearing.

    Also: at one point , he gets angry/indignant that his mental illness is being lumped in with Rodger’s because people with anorexia are never violent and people with ASPD are. I found this pretty amazing given that ASPD was an armchair diagnosis of Rodger AND the perceived insult to him was a direct result of his blaming “mental illness” in general for murder (while claiming it wouldn’t stigmatize anyone).

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