On the Sodini Diaries, and the Anxiety of the Employed by Gonzalo Lira Reading commentary in the aftermath of the LA Fitness shootings of this past August 4, where office worker George Sodini (48) shot three women to death and injured a dozen more before killing himself, most of the editorials, blogs, comments and whatnots have focussed on either burnishing their characterization of Sodini as a “psychotic deranged killer who hated women”, or else focussing on the derivative of whether or not blogs and other online commentary ought to be “monitored for hate speech”, seeing as Sodini wrote a 4,600 word blog entry over approximately nine months, detailing his frustrations and problems, and more or less advertising that he planned to kill someone soon, though without ever going into specific details. After reading the Sodini diaries, as a novelist, my own interest in the Sodini case is manifold. But I would like to focus here on a specific issue of the case: His employment. From the April 24, 2009 entry of the Sodini diaries (quoted verbatim): Early last month, we had our second general layoff. I survived. First one was in November. When I began 10 years ago, that used to be a nice place to work. I understand the need to reduce staff when times sour, but this is out of proportion to the economic problems at this time. The economy is shrinking by about 4-5%. They decided not to pay Christmas bonus - for staff that amounts to about 8% of yearly pay. Well, OK. Plus no yearly "merit" raise, another 3.5%. That totals to about 11% cut. Plus two layoffs of 5% staff in each case. Do the math. I know this firm is using this downturn as an excuse to take advanage of a bad situation and kill jobs UNNECESSARILY. The second layoff people who actually did work were let go. We all need to pick up the slack so the company can cut beyond what is necesary. Wasn't going to mention it, because of all this shit, it is K&L Gates, the large law firm headquartered here in Pittsburgh. Just call it K&L Gates Corporation. Most people there are OK and I would never have a shoot 'em up there. They paid me for 10 years, so far! I predict I won't survive the next layoff. That is when there is no point to continue. RIght now, life is bearable and I can get by indefinitely. Something bad must happen. The paycheck is all I have left. The future holds nothing for me. Twenty five years of nothing fun. I never even spent one weekend with a girl in my life, even at my own place. Also unlikely to find another similar job. I guess then is when I take care of things. I don't have kids, close friends or anything. Just me here. If you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. [End quoted material] To his surprise, Sodini later not only survived the cutbacks, but in fact got a raise. To top it off, he wound up with a new boss whom he liked much more.
The point, however, of his entry, seems clear: The company he worked for was using the downturn as an excuse to severely—and rather traumatically—cut back on staff, ”improving efficiencies” which in a practical sense meant forcing more workers to do more work for the same (or less) money, everyone living under the threat of layoffs, everyone believing—as Sodini makes clear—that they are “unlikely to find another similar job”. I’m not going to argue whether or not this K&L Gates firm was financially justified in its cutbacks; for all I know, they were, though I suspect Sodini was on the mark that the cuts were unnecessary. Regardless, my point is that this Millenial Depression that we are starting will have a tremendous psychological toll on office workers across the country. Sodini’s diary makes it clear. As I mentioned, unlike so many middle-aged office workers, Sodini not only still had his job, he had also gotten a raise, and a boss he liked better. On top of that, in his diaries, he made it a point to mention that he had about $250,000 after all debts were paid off. Nowhere does he mention that money was a concern, so I have no reason to doubt this mention/boast. So all in all, before he went on his murderous shooting at the LA Fitness center, George Sodini was in pretty good financial shape. But his psychological state? Forget it. Leaving aside his issues with women (whom he did not in the least hate—quite the opposite, as his diary entries make clear—his relationship to women was far more nuanced and complex and frustrating than the simplistic love/hate dichotomy the mainstream media is portraying: Shocker, that the MSM oversimplifies and distorts), nobody working at an office in the current financial environment can be unaware of or much less inured to the tremendous anxiety that is pervasive. Sodini nailed it, in his diaries: “I won’t survive the next layoff. . . . unlikely to find another similar job. . . The future holds nothing for me.” That is pretty much what half the working population of the United States is probably thinking right now. The mainstream media is diligently trying to portray Sodini as a racist, misogynist nut-case—if only that were the case, then Sodini could be dismissed as just another crazed white-trash creep who loved guns and one day went nuts. It makes the Sodini killings, in a sense, palatable: If he was nuts, then no-one’s to blame, our society is fine, everything’s hunky dory, move along now, there’s nothing to see—oh! Wait! We should start monitoring blog sites to make sure no one says any crazy hate speech, like Sodini did. But other than that, we’re fine. We’re good. Move along now. That’s what the mainstream media would like everyone to do: Ignore Sodini, and what he represents.
However, if instead of dismissing Sodini as an exception, and instead view him as a type we know well—which is what he was, a middle-aged office worker with nothing but a paycheck and an empty house to look forward to—then his case and its tragic outcome open up far more disturbing vistas on the current scene of American life. Sodini was a typical office worker in today’s economy, and a successful one at that. Yet even with this “success”, the “satisfaction” he was getting in his job and in terms of money, he still went crazy. Killing crazy. What I’m about to say brings me no joy or satisfaction, and I fervently hope I am completely wrong, but I expect a lot more shootings like the Sodini killings to happen over the next couple of years. Sodini had other, rather tragic circumstances that drove him to murder, but one cannot deny that his anxiety over his continued employment was a big part of what drove him to shoot innocent people. I am certainly not excusing him—not in any way, far from it. But it behooves us to read the Sodini diaries and get a clear sense of the man, so that we might begin to understand the country we have created.