A Clockwork Killer

Two interesting theories about Elliot Rodger's heinous last act are making the rounds on the starboard side of the Blogophere this week. First up, at Reason, Brendan O'Neill asks, "Could Therapy Culture Help Explain Elliot Rodger's Rampage?"

Watch Rodger's video. The most alarming thing is how cool and well-spoken he is. This is a man used to talking about himself, following years of practice in therapy sessions. Clearly having decided to have a love affair with himself, Rodger terrifyingly declares: "I am the closest thing there is to a living god… Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent, divine!"

This isn't a religious thing. There's no evidence that Rodger thought he was a messiah, as other nutjobs have. Rather, it's a therapeutic thing. Therapy culture has created a new army of little gods made fearsomely angry by any perceived insult against their self-esteem. It has generated groups of people who, like something out of the Old Testament, think nothing of squishing things that offend them or hurt their sense of self-worth. It has made a whole new anti-social generation whose desire to protect themselves from emotional harm overrides the older human instinct to engage with other people and be tolerant of their differences. When Rodger says "I am a living god," he is speaking, not from any kind of wacky religious script, but from the mainstream bible of therapy. The cult of therapy convinces individuals they are gods and that their self-esteem is a gospel that must not be blasphemed against. As the New York Times columnist David Brooks once said of a therapeutic self-help guide to life, death, and life after death, "In this heaven, God and his glory are not the center of attention. It's all about you." The self has elbowed aside God; the self is God, as Rodger seems to have realised.

"Perhaps we should see Rodger as a kind of therapeutic terrorist, using murder to gain recognition; his rampage can be seen as a very violent therapy session, a real primal scream in defense of his sacred self-esteem," O'Neill writes.