As a citizen of the 21st century, which is to say a slave to the Internet, I have now read enough articles about Elliot Rodger to come to the conclusion that no one in the United States understands anything about anything. Every article I have read gets everything wrong.
The facts: on May 23rd, 2014, Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in Santa Barbara, stabbing and shooting six people to death before committing suicide. In the weeks leading up to his rampage, he posted a number of videos on YouTube in which he expresses his rage towards popular kids in general, and popular girls in particular, for rejecting him. He returns again and again to the fact that he is still a virgin, a fact which he blames on the cruelty of the women who have rejected him all his life.
Where to start? The first thing we need to do is dismiss any attempt to understand Rodger’s actions by referring to ideological non-concepts such as virulent misogyny or entitlement or antisocial personality disorder. If we want to have any hope of understanding why Elliot Rodger killed all those people, we need to start by establishing a distinction between structure and discourse. The attempts to understand the Rodger shooting generally fall into one of two categories. Either “mental illness” (structure) or “virulent misogyny” (discourse) is invoked as an “explanation” for his actions. In both cases, “analysis” consists in sticking a label on Rodger and passing this tautology off as an explanation. This is as far as public thought goes in the United States these days. If we want to understand Elliot Rodger, however, we need to analyze the place where structure and discourse (do not) meet.
Anyone who watches the Elliot Rodger videos and believes that he did it for the reasons he states is a dupe. Anyone with an ear for the truth ought to be able to hear that when Elliot Rodger uses words like blond, beautiful, alpha male, happiness, women, etc. he is using them as a series of neologisms. In other words, for Rodger, these words mean something radically different than they do for everyone else.
Rodger is, clearly, obviously, visibly, psychotic. I work in a psychiatric hospital. One of my most important responsibilities as a clinician is recognizing psychosis in its larval form. Of course, Rodger’s psychosis is far from larval in the videos he uploaded to the internet. American psychiatry has become so etiolated thanks to cognitive-behavioral pseudoscience and the enormous piece of propaganda that is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the would-be Bible of mental health disorders assembled and published by the American Psychiatric Association) that no one knows any longer what psychosis even is. By multiplying ad infinitum the various spurious “disorders” of the brain, the DSM destroys any possibility of establishing diagnostic criteria that both cut reality at the joints and respect the singularity of each patient. In the best cases, these false “disorders” are the simple result of bad science, bad ethics, and the ambient bad epistemology that characterize hypermodern America. In the worst cases, they are invented by drug companies and pushed by APA shills to make that money.
What is psychosis? Speaking broadly, it is a disturbance on the level of the symbolic register. The psychotic is cut off from his body and cut off from the rest of humanity because language does not function “properly” for him. Language is not a tool for communication and never has been. When is the last time anyone communicated with anyone else? Language for humans is more like sunlight for plants. Without language, our bodies and minds do not know how to regulate themselves. The parade of variously crippled and ill psychotics I see every day at the clinic testifies to the debilitating consequences of being incompletely inserted into what Lacan calls a discourse, which might be described as the story we tell ourselves about what is real and what is not, what constitutes truth and what does not.
One of the clearest symptoms of psychosis is the use of neologisms – words that mean something mysterious and incommunicable to the psychotic subject. Usually these neologisms look like everyday words, which is why we are lost without some reference to structure. One only needs to hear Elliot Rodger repeat the word blond a few times to realize that this signifier means a lot more to him than it does to your average frustrated virgin. American psychiatry does not have the balls even to try to understand the obvious connection between language troubles and psychosis. As usual, cause and consequence are inverted, and language troubles are dismissed as meaningless “word salad” rather than recognized as the very cause of psychosis.
A number of the various commentators and armchair psychologists who have analyzed the Rodger case have drawn attention to his narcissism. This is as close as anyone has come to recognizing the true nature of Rodger’s psychosis. Psychotic narcissism is of an entirely different nature than non-psychotic narcissism. Elliot Rodger is not a young man with an outsized ego. Elliot Rodger is a formless, shapeless amoeba riven by aggressive and sexual drives who is desperately holding onto a partial mirror image in order to avoid total psychic collapse. What we ordinarily refer to as “narcissism” involves a detour through the gaze of the Other. When Brad Pitt admires himself in the mirror, he is seeing himself through the eyes of the readers of People Magazine. In other words, he has internalized this gaze and identifies himself by it. He is integrated into a collective discourse.
When Elliot Rodger tilts his head at the same weird stereotyped angle again and again to show off what he believes to be his best profile, he is not seeing himself through the lens of the Other’s beauty ideals as a non-psychotic would. He is trying, desperately, to make this Other exist, to insert himself into society as such by disappearing into this one fixed “photograph” of himself. He has confused two registers, the register of symbolic belonging and the register of imaginary belonging. Symbolically, linguistically, he cannot make a “detour through the Other”, one that would format his mind and body and allow him to join the community of alpha males and blonde babes he vituperates against. In the absence of such a symbolic identification, he can only attempt to repair this hole in his psyche by “covering” it with an identification on the level of the imaginary, which is to say the level of the image. The stereotyped, stilted way he speaks, poses, shifts his head, puts on and takes off his sunglasses, etc. shows that Rodger is attempting to imitate an “alpha male” from the outside in rather than from the inside out. The very domain of interiority is unavailable to him. This is the reason why he killed those people, not because he was a virgin. Rodger’s psychosis was in place long before he ever dreamed of holding hands with a beautiful blonde sorority girl.
So, on the level of structure, Rodger is psychotic. This means that the detour through the Other, through the discourse, the ethics, and the epistemology promulgated by official society is foreclosed to him. The ability to make this detour and see oneself from the outside is the line separating neurosis from psychosis. This essentially uncomplicated notion of structure, which is so crucial to the understanding of psychic suffering of both the neurotic and psychotic variety, is nowhere to be found in the thousand-plus pages of the DSM-V, which substitutes an infinite multiplication of spurious disorders for a properly dialectical understanding of subjectivity.
Rodger is a psychotic who latched onto one of the many circulating discourses available on the Internet in an attempt to metabolize the (literally) unspeakable suffering that wracked him on the level of mind and body. This suffering was unspeakable for the simple reason that only the Other is capable of giving us those words with which we can effectuate a synthesis of mind, body and discourse. Here is the true origin of Rodger’s murderous hatred for the alpha males and females he ended up killing. They are the winners who stand in for the official Other as such, that Other to which Rodger has no access. It is worth repeating here: in its last essence, this Other is nothing but language as such, speech as such, intersubjectivity as such (which always passes through language of some sort). Unable to recognize the true, ethereal, symbolic nature of this Other, Rodger could only approach it via the imaginary register, which is to say the register of appearances. Hence the blond hair. This particular trait is shorthand, in the circulating American imaginary of mastery – which is of course a screen for the discourse of capitalism – for winning, for making it, for being an insider. When Rodger first learns, at the age of nine, that he is not cool, he responds by dying his hair blond. Restated in more analytic terms, when faced with the enigma of the Other, with his own inability to assume a place in the Other, Rodger responds by mobilizing the signifier blond, which represents, in the imaginary, the Other’s desire. The rigid, mechanical character of this response to the enigma of the Other’s desire is already a clinical indication that Rodger is operating within a psychotic structure.
What, then, are the origins of Rodger’s psychosis? They are to be found where one might expect them to be found – in his early childhood, in his relationship with his parents, in his earliest dealings with the Other he came to reject and refuse, perhaps for a good reason. It is precisely Rodger’s own refusal and rejection of this Other that he misrecognizes as the blond Other’s refusal and sexual rejection of him. Why sexual? Because it is on the level of sexuality that we experience our deepest sense of identity, of being, of humanity.
I have no idea why Rodger became psychotic, but I do know that it had nothing to do with any of the reasons he cited in his videos, and which he gleaned, like a crow making a nest of clothes hangers, from the despairing, masochistic discourse he found on websites such as PUAHate.com and Wizardchan.org.
This brings me to the second point I would like to discuss, namely the discourse itself. Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree not because of the discourse of “normalfag” or “Chad” hatred he found on the internet; he went on a killing spree precisely because he could not fully enter this discourse. It is the failure of PUAHate and Wizardchan (as well as every other discourse) to furnish Rodger with an identity, with a body, that led him to pass to the act. If Rodger frequented such websites and attempted to ape their discourses, it is because only such melancholy discourses – on the border of neurosis and psychosis – were capable of reflecting back to him some shred of his own inner experience.
When an anonymous user on Wizardchan claims that he hates Chads and normalfags (wizardchan slang for sexually active, socially integrated men) and blames them for his troubles, we should not automatically see a future Elliot Rodger. On the contrary, we should see a troubled person who is using the shared discourse of melancholy as a step on the ladder away from melancholy itself, which is a refusal of discourse in the face of loss. Such discourses play a valuable therapeutic role for the very troubled people that post there. There is no way for such people to approach intersubjectivity without starting from the bottom, which is where these wizards find themselves. Most of them will pull themselves out of the swamp of melancholy suffering/enjoyment sooner or later. It is no one’s business but their own. Some of them will stay there. Some of them will kill themselves, but none will do so because of anything they read there.
Or will they? My recent encounter with Wizardchan was an uncanny experience for me, in the Freudian sense of the term, which is to say simultaneously familiar and alien. It was uncanny for me because I was a wizard before there was a word for it. What does it mean to be a wizard? A wizard is a male virgin who has passed the age at which a normalfag or Chad would have already become sexually active. The term “wizard” comes from a Japanese internet meme stating that a man who remains a virgin until the age of thirty develops magical powers. Most of the “wizards” who post on Wizardchan would therefore describe themselves as apprentice wizards.
As I scrolled through page after page of what we might call the Wizard’s Code, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. Had I written all of this down when I was a twenty-year old “kissless virgin” and “incel” (involuntary celibate)? Had these people eavesdropped on my conversations with my wizard best friend and then transcribed them? For better or for worse, my wizarding days took place in the prehistoric era before the modern internet existed. For all I knew, my best friend and I were the only two wizards on the face of the Earth.
I recognized it all: the hatred of hedonism and hedonists, the nostalgia for childhood, the hard melancholy, the conviction that a “normal person” had experienced more life before the age of twenty than I ever would in a lifetime, the attempts to justify my hatred and feelings of worthlessness by appealing to evolutionary science and eugenics, the belief in my own hidden, unrecognized inner beauty (masked under a gleeful, smirking “objective” appraisal of myself as ugly, pathetic, and deserving only of death), the desire to receive welfare and live in a state of total passivity.
In one thread, an anonymous poster announces to the other wizards that he is going to kill himself using the helium roasting bag technique, but wants advice on how to have a great last day on Earth. He adds that what makes him happiest in life are small things like adding spices to frozen pizza. The responses vary between tepid attempts to talk the original poster out of it and approbation of his choice, which after all is fully rational given the agreed-upon premises, nothing but the QED verifying the watertight inevitability of the Wizard’s Discourse. Chad has everything; I have nothing; I am nothing; life is suffering; death is the only escape. A few days after the original post, another poster confirms that the original poster really did go through with it – they were friends on Facebook. Immediately following this post, another apprentice wizard mocks the original poster (who has just killed himself) for being on Facebook in the first place – a concession to normie ethics deserving only of mockery. Make no mistake: the original poster probably would have posted a similar comment about himself had he not been dead. This is the face of solidarity among wizards. I know, because I could have written any one of the comments during my own hard wizarding days.
My best friend with whom I shared a rudimentary Wizard’s Code was an even harder wizard than I was. In fact, he was as hard of a wizard as it is possible to be. How hard was he? He killed himself at the age of twenty-four by attaching a tube from a tank of helium to a roasting bag that he tied over his head. He was, of course, a virgin. He subscribed, down the line, to every single one of the beliefs constitutive of the Wizard’s Discourse.
My own intimate familiarity with the fruits of this discourse gives me, I believe, a certain authority here. Now, let it be stated that I am no longer an apprentice wizard, and for that reason I expect nothing but contempt from any wizards who might happen upon this text. I do not care here to elaborate on the conditions under which I forcefully, and painfully, extracted myself from the Wizard’s Discourse that I sensed, with more and more urgency as I got older, was suffocating me; suffice it to say that I extracted myself from it, and it was not easy, even if the suicide of my best friend made it easier.
The Wizard’s Code is, like all positive discourses, a form of ideology, which is to say a secular theodicy. It is a discourse of last resort, one that abuts death. It can either be used as a ladder leading up, away from melancholy, or down, to suicide. Like so many fundamentally adolescent discourses, it is a place of passage. My best friend and I met at the crossroads of our own Wizard’s Discourse. I exited through the top, towards life, towards desire; he exited through the bottom.
I discovered, after he died, that he had actively participated in a suicide message board that closely resembled a rudimentary Wizardchan in the last months of his life. Did his encounter with an institutionalized form of the discourse that he and I had played with together push him to kill himself in a paradoxical attempt to rejoin this discourse by fulfilling its symbolic demands? After years of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that if it hadn’t been the Wizard’s Discourse, it would have been some other suicidal or murderous discourse.
The function creates the organ, as the saying goes. The Wizard’s Discourse exists because it has to exist. It has to exist because there is not enough room in Chad’s Discourse for everyone. This is a direct result of consumer capitalism, which hides its ruthlessness and brutality under the pseudo-evolutionary ideology of the free market. Chad’s Discourse is the discourse of capitalistic exploitation and for this reason the wizards are right to refuse it, right to hate it. It is the discourse of domination and slavery. The wizards are also right to refuse the interpretations blasted at them from sites like Jezebel.com, which ran a story mentioning Wizardchan. The hysterical cunts at Jezebel essentially accuse the wizards of being misogynistic and racist; the true message behind these attacks, of course, is you are a bunch of castrated pussies and for this reason we find you despicable. In any case, anyone who takes the Wizard’s Discourse at face value is a fool. Unfortunately, we are a country of fools, one growing increasingly susceptible to ideology in its most positivistic and idiotic form, and the various peddlers of the two most prominent forms of discursive idiocy going (hysteria and capitalistic ideology, which are complicit with each other) can spread their lies virtually unchallenged. In any case their public is not much better than they are.
The wizards are right to repudiate Chad and Chad’s secret ally Jezebel. Yet it is precisely here that we must be most careful. On the level of discourse, everything the wizards claim is true. However, as I have tried to illustrate, there is a fundamental discontinuity between discourse and structure. This is most visible in psychosis, in which an external discourse is desperately invoked in an attempt to suture deep psychic wounds. There were a number of such discourses available to Elliot Rodger. He could have just as easily turned to the Terrorist’s Discourse, the Neo-Nazi’s Discourse, the Hard Yoga Discourse, or any other of the discourses of last resort for those who cannot or will not enter Chad’s Discourse.
The discontinuity of discourse and structure is most visible in psychosis, but is equally present in every structure. In other words,there are no Wizards and there are no Chads. There are only subjects who attempt, in vain, to enter these discourses. But there is no way fully to leave one’s being behind in a discourse. There is always a leftover, always a stain of subjectivity, of existential homelessness, always a remainder of abjection. Elliot Rodger did not want to kill Chads as such. His true goal was the liquidation of discourse as such, the liquidation of the place of the Other.
Where the wizards get everything wrong is in their belief that they have no subjective consistency outside of Chad’s Discourse. In this sense, the Wizard’s Discourse is nothing but the flipside of Chad’s Discourse. It is a confirmation of Chad’s Discourse. The unbearable truth that both Wizards and Chads are fleeing is that discourse as such can never fully name me, can never fully evacuate the suffering inherent to Being. It is precisely this containing function of discourse that was unavailable to Elliot Rodger as a result of his psychotic structure.
What is the solution? The solution lies in the realization that no discourse is absolute. We must learn to love our homelessness, our abjection. Reading Samuel Beckett did more than anything else to pull me out of the sickly embrace of the Wizard’s Discourse. This path is what Lacan refers to as the Analyst’s Discourse. It is the path of knowledge, which is also the path of desire. It is not an easy road and there are no guarantees, but it is better than either the Chad’s or the Wizard’s discourse.
Before finishing this article, let me state it clearly here: between Chad and the Wizard, I choose the Wizard. Chad can produce nothing but domination and exploitation, whereas the Wizard’s Discourse, although morbid and destructive, at least functions as a stepping stone leading away from the enjoyment of suffering and towards something resembling freedom.