Entitlement, Blame, and Violence
Elliot Rodger felt entitled to sex, entitled to women, entitled to a “Day of Retribution.”
He was a rich kid, a BMW-driver, a self-described “perfect guy.” Women should have wanted him, but they didn’t, and he blamed them for it. Pickup artists were supposed to help him pick up women, but they didn’t, and he blamed them for it. “Alpha males” were not supposed to get women over “nice guys” like him, but they did, and he blamed them for it. He knew that his logic was “twisted,” but he felt that it was everyone else who twisted it, and he blamed the world for it.
Entitlement and blame are a dangerous combination. Dangerous not only for the six people Elliot Rodger killed, but dangerous for everyone.
The dangers to women were well-captured by the “250,000 people in less than 24 hours” who made use of the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. Woman after woman tweeted stories of abuse, of harassment, of fear. The language of the hashtag used to capture these stories is that of a response, of a preemptive strike against anyone who would accuse these women of living in a world that “isn’t as bad as they think.” The “Yes” and “All” combine to form a confirmation and a rebuke, a way of saying “actually, the world is worse than you know, and that you think otherwise is part of the problem.”
In other words, #YesAllWomen was, from its conception, already a response to the response #NotAllMen.
#NotAllMen represents the dangers to themselves men feel when the Elliot Rodger’s of the world move from entitlement, to blame, to violence, and when the women of the world in turn move from abuse, to fear, to speaking out. The language of this hashtag is likewise that of a response, but rather than a preemptive strike this response is defensive. The “Yes” and the “All” are accusative, calling forth the feeling of men that if they do not recuse themselves with #NotAllMen, they risk being seen as passively accepting the blame of #YesAllWomen, the blame they do not feel themselves entitled to receive.
Just as the men of the “bodybuilding and anti-PUA communities” who responded to Elliot Rodger’s online hate by calling him out were trying to elevate themselves above his misogyny while participating on message boards rife with misogyny, so too have the men of #NotAllMen been trying to distance themselves from Rodger’s violence while participating in a violent hashtag.
The violence of the #NotAllMen hashtag is precisely the violence that women are responding to in #YesAllWomen. The men who claim that they are not misogynists and do not deserve to be lumped in with Elliot Rodger, who claim that they have never harassed a woman and thus do not deserve the scorn of “all men are pigs” or #YesAllMen, are nevertheless part of this violence, and the more they claim their innocence the more they become part of this violence. For what these men do not understand is that this violence is not a violence perpretated only by misogynists, only by the men who are pigs, but is a violence perpetrated by all men. Yes, all men.
This violence is not the violence of calling a woman a name, of grabbing a woman on the street, of following a woman in the dark, but rather is the violence that is the sum total of all these violences, the violence known as atmospheric violence.
Because it is a systematic negation of the other person and a furious determination to deny the other person all attributes of humanity, colonialism forces the people it dominates to ask themselves the question constantly: “In reality, who am I?”
The defensive attitudes created by this violent bringing together of the colonized man and the colonial system form themselves into a structure which then reveals the colonized personality. This “sensitivity” is easily understood if we simply study and are alive to the number and depth of the injuries inflicted upon a native during a single day spent amidst the colonial regime. […] It seems to us that in the cases here chosen the events giving rise to the disorder are chiefly the bloodthirsty and pitiless atmosphere, the generalization of inhuman practices, and the firm impression that people have of being caught up in a veritable Apocalypse.
One can well imagine—had Twitter existed during the French occupation of Algeria—there existing competing hashtags of #YesAllAlgerians and #NotAllTheFrench. While the former would have told story after story of degradation, the latter would have told story after story of, if not of treating Algerians equally, then at least of not having treated Algerians in as degrading manner as others. What this hypothetical #NotAllTheFrench would misunderstand, what Fanon was at pains to make clear to precisely such hypothetical French people, was that the Algerians were oppressed not by any particular French colonizer, but by French colonialism as such, by the atmosphere created by French colonialism.
Just as the very presence of a Frenchman in Algeria could be sufficient to degrade an Algerian, the very presence of a man can be sufficient to harass a woman. Because of what the French did to Algeria, any French person was a violent person regardless of anything any particular French person did to any particular Algerian. Because of what men have done to women, any man can be a violent man regardless of anything any particular man does to any particular woman. Hearing a French accent could be enough to make an Algerian’s heart race. Hearing a male voice can be enough to make a woman’s heart race.
Violence and Responsibility
So long as we conceive of responsibility strictly in terms of cause-and-effect, the concept of blaming any one man for what men have done will appear absurd. It is this conception that we find behind #NotAllMen, and it is this conception that we must do away with if we hope to understand the meaning of #YesAllWomen.
In his The Warriors, J. Glenn Gray argues that we misunderstand guilt when we see it in only moral terms, and as thus only as something to avoid. According to Gray, what combatants can discover instead in war is that we are not only guilty for what we have caused, for what we have done or not done, but rather that we are guilty because we are human.
The violence of war can put the consciences of combatants “to sleep” by leading them to become “absorbed” in the “ecstacies” of war, in the wonder, the camaraderie, and the destruction of war. But the violence of war can also “awaken” the conscience of combatants, forcing them to reckon with their personal guilt, their political guilt, and, most vitally, their metaphysical guilt.
Personal guilt represents our mundane, moral sense of guilt, as it is the guilt that I can experience over my personal action or inaction. Yet in facing my personal guilt, I can further come to realize that my guilt does not end there, for I am also guilty for what my comrades have done, for what has been done in my name, for what has been done that I can be identified with because of my social or political (or biological) associations. Upon realizing that renouncing these associations would do nothing to change what my associates have done or will continue to do, I become faced with the final guilt, metaphysical guilt, the guilt that I experience for what all humans have done simply because I too am human.
The reflective man knows in his heart what rarely crosses his lips, that the sins of his fellows are not so remote from him as he would like. If he is a soldier, he, too, has yielded at times to the temptation of power and the license that violence evokes in all of us. However free he may have kept himself from external participation in evil deeds and however foreign cruelty may be to his better nature, he will be aware that there is in nearly all men the capacity for criminal deeds and the obscure yearning for license to act without consequences, hence his recognition of the chains of communal responsibility and his knowledge that atonement in this sphere is largely chimerical. No human power could atone for the injustice, suffering, and degradation of spirit of a single day of warfare. All of us shared the guilt…
Faced with the presumptuousness of the human creature, his closedness and dearth of love, the awakened soldier will be driven to say in his heart: “I, too, belong to this species. I am ashamed not only of my own deeds, not only of my nation’s deeds, but of human deeds as well. I am ashamed to be a man.”
I believe—and tried to prove in my forthcoming book The Philosophy of War and Exile—that, for Gray, the true meaning of responsibility is to recognize that “to be responsible” is “to be able to respond to the call of conscience.” Responsibility is thus first and foremost an ability. It is an ability that we take up when we identify with and feel revulsion for the crimes committed by other members of our species. It is an ability that we deny when we evade our identification with the crimes of our fellow humans and feel nothing but the need to let others know that we are not the ones to blame.
To take up responsibility is consequently to take up our humanity, just as to avoid responsibility is to avoid our humanity. A man cannot simultaneously claim to be responsible to #YesAllWomen while claiming on #NotAllMen to not be responsible for #YesAllWomen.
Misogyny is not the result of any one action by any one man. Misogyny is the atmosphere in which we live, an atmosphere of violence that is ever-pervasive for women as what is “normal,” and that is ever-invisible to men as what is “normal.” It is the normalcy of misogyny that allows the Elliot Rodger’s of the world to feel entitled to sex and to blame women for not living up to his expectations. And it is the normalcy of misogyny that is only worsened when our response to the Elliot Rodger’s of the world is to run to #NotAllMen to make clear how little we are like him, rather than running to #YesAllWomen to realize how much we can, should, and must identify with him. There is some of Elliot Rodger in all men—even if for no other reason than because we are also men—and it is only by recognizing the Elliot Rodger inside of us that we can begin to be responsible to #YesAllWomen.