The murder show: Mass killings are a form of theater

Elliot Rodger’s family was in relatively difficult financial circumstances, though relatively must be emphasized. His father was the assistant director of The Hunger Games, and the young man was apparently proud of his BMW coupe, but his family’s financial position was modest by Hollywood standards. Through his family, Rodger enjoyed some enviable social connections, but could not achieve the connection he desired, a romantic one. His was an individualism suffered as a burden. In another century, his life might have been given some structure by the church or by his extended family, or simply by the fundamental struggle to feed and shelter himself, which was the organizing principle of the great majority of human lives for millennia. Modernity sets us free, but it does not offer any answer to the question, “Free to do what?”…

If anything, we should expect such episodes to become more common and more lethal in the future as increasing liberty and prosperity offer ever-greater opportunities for individual happiness and thus ever-greater opportunities for disappointment, and as technology offers the individual more effective tools both for creation and destruction. Some people will use 3-D printing and associated technologies to make customized artificial joints, and some will, inevitably, use it to create weapons of mass destruction. In our particular context, it is worth appreciating that there has never been anything like the United States. We are the third most populous country in the world, behind only China and India, and there is no wealthy and free society on anything like the American scale anywhere else in the world. It is easy to get lost in its breathtaking complexity, perhaps especially so for the relatively well-off, whose appetites are heightened by proximity to lives full of prosperity and purpose. Our variety is infinite, and its products will not always be beautiful or good.