On The Policy Think Site –


A Reflection by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

[The former Public Defender for Alameda County, CA]


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In the USA, we woke up one morning and learned –

“ISLA VISTA, Calif. — A college student who posted videos that documented his rage against women for rejecting him killed six people and wounded 13 others during a spasm of terror on Friday night, the police said. He stabbed three men to death in his apartment and shot the others as he methodically opened fire on bystanders on the crowded streets of this small town.

“The gunman, identified by the police as Elliot O. Rodger, 22, was found dead with a bullet wound to his head after his black BMW crashed into a parked car following two shootouts with sheriff’s deputies near the University of California, Santa Barbara.”

New York Times. 5-24-14

As the Santa Barbara, CA rampage was reported in the UK

“The aunt of Elliot Rodger has spoken of the family’s devastation following his killing spree in Isla Vista, California, on Friday.

“Rodger’s father, an assistant director on The Hunger Games, is said to be “absolutely broken” after his son carried out the massacre near UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), which left six dead and many more injured.

“The sister of Peter Rodger told Sky News the family was “in total shock” – and she condemned US gun laws.”

“Rodger, who had Asperger syndrome … accused several people of assaulting him – but investigators conceded he was actually the aggressor and suspended the case.”

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BUT WHAT HAVE WE REALLY LEARNED?  CANDLES WILL BE LIT, THE GRIEVING and anger will gradually give way to numbness – after all, the killer is dead – and people will try to forget.  No one can claim that the killer was poor or deprived of resources.  Yes, he had access to firearms.  Yes, some of the people around him might have been a little more wary, a bit more diligent.  But, at present there is no robust system that is designed to focus surveillance resources and intelligent attention on youngish men (and yes, almost all of these killings are by males) who display anger, choose to live alone and brood revenge fantasies.

Assume that the report that young Elliot Roger did have some form of Asperger’s syndrome, a mild impairment that resembles autism, proves true.  What of it? Almost no Asperger’s diagnosed men ever, ever go on shooting rampages. Nor do socially maladroit males who can’t attract beautiful young women.  

I predict that an all too familiar personality profile will emerge in this case: An entitled kid, denied what he thinks is his birthright (apparently the BMW wasn’t a sufficient chick magnet), a boy-man capable of repeated obnoxious behavior that results in rejection, who resents it because he is so “special.”

No number of purely clinical insights can supply the missing element. There was an evident character defect operating here, a moral deficiency. It is an all too common syndrome: A boy-man is raised in a hedonistic, shallow culture, suffused with a therapeutic ethos, camouflaged as a moral system. Therefore he lacks the necessary defenses to the malevolent elements in this damaged culture.

Such personalities have compromised moral immune systems. They are susceptible to the lures of evil (this not a medical, but a moral category).  Foremost among these malign influences are the power lures that are particularly attractive to entitled males who are denied glory and satisfaction.  The ensuing suicide is a tell, because a grand self-immolation is the last refuge of malignant narcissism – the warped personality for whom the happiness or success of others is an affront, leading to a dangerous emotional logic: Leveling down those unfairly successful ones builds up the narcissist’s ego fantasy.  When faced with the ultimate futility of that strategy, only one grand gesture remains.  Recall Hitler’s Führerbunker suicide.

The Mr. Roger’s massacre highlights that we have a boy-man formation problem to work on. There is a reason that the prisons are disproportionately populated with male as opposed to female violent offenders. 

Young men-in-formation need mentors and role models, among them manly religious figures of great integrity, and coaches who are steeped in ethics, model integrity in their lives, and teach virtues.  Sadly, this is not a large group; and not all young boys have access to such leaders.  We need  inspired, charismatic moral leaders, men and women, especially those with a solid religious foundation. But for them, the postmodern culture is a hostile work environment.

We are living in a damaged culture. As functioning adults with no criminal history, many of us are immune to this culture’s most corrosive elements.  We are the inoculated ones because we have acquired moral character. Everything you read about this case going forward will consist of heartfelt but ineffectual gestures and palliative measures – yes, some proposed measures are appropriate and will have some good effects at the margins.

But in this culture, Mr. Roger’s massacre is just one of many, many to come. Deep-tissue cultural repair is needed and – because I am an essential optimist – it will eventually take place. Why?  Because it must.

Heavy lifting will be needed. What follows is an excerpt from the draft of a non-fiction work in progress, working tile, “The Wise Child”.

Moral character is inspired, not installed like a computer program. Character is nurtured by trial, not played like a video game. And character is sustained by faith.  Yes, faith. All friendships and marriages are acts of faith.  Every trust relationship is founded in faith. No institution owns the patent on faith.  It is open source software issued along with the gift of the human capacity for moral intelligence.

It occurred to me that we could be the last link in that great intergenerational transmission belt; that we might really be the last, best vital connection to the moral law. Our task may be easier for us than for some others who are less sure of their moral ground.  Children can sense an adult’s moral ambivalence like a dog can smell fear. We are in a war for the survival of civilization and we’ve all been enlisted, willing or not, ready or not.  Our only weapons are our beliefs, our integrity, the quality of our lives, and the quality of the relationships of the people we deal with.  But that is enough. With the children at our side, we will prevail.


As published on the POLICY THINK SITE and linked blogs.

Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Links, attributed pull-quotes, and forwards are welcome and encouraged. For everything else, you are invited to contact the author by email < >.

The author’s latest novel, a modern thriller in the tradition of Orwell, called Gabriel’s Stand is now available through several popular vendors in traditional print and as an e-book. For more information and purchase links, navigate to this link:

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