Thoughts on Charles Manson

Quentin Tarantino has a new movie out, which has the Tate-LaBianca killings in its backdrop, and I both do and don’t want to see it. I want to see it because I’m a fan of Tarantino’s work and have been since I first saw Pulp Fiction as a college freshman. Then as now, no one makes movies like he does. For all the talk of how he is a style thief and wallows in campy excess, he is one of the few directors today who can genuinely surprise me. When I watch something he’s made, I never know what’s coming next. He’s a rare filmmaker whose work is both a household name – who mainstream audience will pay theater-ticket prices to see on his name recognition alone – and a reliable critical success. I don’t like everything he’s done: Death Proof was a bridge too far, and Django Unchained left me cold. But in today’s world where everything is an existing IP, or a remake, or a reboot, or a comic book movie, his work is a reminder that cinema is supposed to be art, and art for grown-ups. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is almost too appropriate a title in that framework.

That doesn’t mean you have to like his movies, and it especially means you don’t have to like him. But he’s a damn rare thing these days, and I predict we’re going to miss him when he’s gone, and talk about him in the tones that people speak of Hitchcock and Kubrick.

I don’t want to see it because, and there’s no two ways about this, enough with Charles Manson. I’ve written before about how uncomfortable I am with the pop-culture awareness of famous killers. Manson wasn’t exactly a serial killer, but in many ways he was something worse. Jack the Ripper didn’t harm anyone but the prostitutes he sliced up, but cultists like Manson drag otherwise good people into savagery, too. As with Jim Jones, or Adolf Hitler, or Lenin, Stalin, Castro and the rest of the Reds, spiritual degradation is their work, as much as anything else.

So below, I post an essay I wrote about Manson for my defunct medium.com account, at the time of his death. I stand by it.

Charles Manson Was No One

And he does not deserve our attention

“First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the pig Tate’s stomach! Wild!”

-Bernadine Dohrn

Homo homini lupus est. (Man is wolf to man)

-Roman proverb

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Humans are apex predators. We are in fact the apex predator of apex predators. We hunt and kill apex predators. We kill lions. We kill sharks. We kill cobras. Not because we need to — at least, not all the time. Because we like to. There are humans who hunt for no other reason than hunting is in our DNA. It’s what makes us what we are.

And often, we hunt each other. Because being apex predators, we are threatened by the other apex predators, i.e., one another. So we kill each other for resources. We kill each other for mating prospects. We kill each other out of fear that the other will kill us first.

And sometimes, we kill just because.

Charles Manson is finally dead. Every few years, he would come up for parole, and every few years, he would be denied parole. It was a bureaucratic absurdity. He’d been condemned to die in prison long ago. He lived in prison. He was prison.

At the time he started his cult, Manson had spent most of his life in some correctional facility or other. He had never had a steady job. He had never completed a degree or diploma. He had never owned anything of value, and aside from getting a few women pregnant, had never contributed anything of value. He was, in short, a failure in every way that a man can fail. His existence was a hole where a human life should have been.

What does a human do when he’s consistently unable to function in human society? Very often, he reverts to default, to atavistic survivalism. He becomes a predator.

The insanity of the Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969, the horror-movie flavor of them, the sheer lack of a discernible purpose for them, have led people over the years to attribute to the mastermind of them some manner of demonic, dark-guru status. No less than four separate television interviews have tried to pry into the Mind of Manson, only to discover a howling void of nonsensical utterances.

look at yourself. You‘ve got to wear that, whether you like it or not. You‘ve got to do things. You‘ve got to get up and go through all kinds of changes; whether you want to or not doesn‘t matter. Your whole life is put in your paycheck. You couldn‘t pay me all the money in the world to do something I don‘t want to do.

If I‘m shoveling the barn, and you want me to go (INAUDIBLE) I say, no, no, no. I‘m doing something right here. I‘m helping this blind man. I feel better in doing what I want to do.

I did not break the law. Jesus Christ told you that 2,000 years ago. You don‘t understand me! That‘s your trouble, not my fault because you don‘t understand me. I don‘t understand you either, but I don‘t spend my whole life trying to put the blame over on you because my cigarette didn‘t light or because something didn‘t work right. What do you want to call me a murderer for? I‘ve never killed anyone. I don‘t need to kill anyone. I think it. I have it here.

I don‘t need to live in this physical realm. I walk around in the physical realm, and I put on the faces, and I talk, and I play (INAUDIBLE) it‘s just a big act, man. In the spiritual world is where I live. I exist in places you‘ve never even dreamed of. You talk about, you know, just the little physical realm you live in, guilty, and is he in sin? How‘s your courts guilty? How many people do you think you‘ve hung on the ventilators in the nut wards and forced medication on them?

You see what I‘m saying? You don‘t have any idea what the hell is going on.

-Charles Manson, MSNBC interview, September 2007

It is the human habit to seek patterns, to find cause and effect, to believe that if something exists, something is behind it. We want to listen to this man who speaks in prophetic cadences and hear what he has to say. If we pour over this quote, and analyze it, and search for meaning and truth, we will find none. And we cannot accept this, so we attribute to him some word that will cover it. Like “insane”. Like “evil”. But these are words indicating the lack of a something: the lack of reason, the lack of goodness. They do not attest to anything being there.

People have spoken of Manson’s odd charisma. And let us stipulate that he had it. But where did it come from? What does “charisma” mean other than people are fascinated by a person? And is it not plain that what fascinates us is nothing but what expresses something we have deep within?

The reason that the girls like me was — hey, now, hey, now, I‘m all around you, around you, hey, now, up on your heart I can sing through you. And I play, and I sing. And they‘d say, “Hey, man, you‘ve got — you‘ve got soul in that music.” And I said, “Yes, I play a little bit, you know? I like music.” “Man, you‘re really somebody.” I said, “Oh, I am? I just got out of jail. I don‘t know what somebody is.”

They like my music. They say, “Man, we want to get you over.” I said, “Get me over for what?” They said, “We take you down here to Beverly Hills, and we want to get you in because you‘re a star.”

-Charles Manson, MSNBC Interview, September 2007

Sometimes, we are attracted by what repulses us. In the extreme of horror is a fascination. In the brutal cruelty of the Third Reich, Germany created a monument to wickedness that our popular culture will not stop examining in books and film. The glamour of the Nazis and their evil were bound up in the same thing. By their refusal to abide by human obligations, they became something we feared, something we expended great effort to destroy, and something that haunts us still, 70 years later.

That’s why Bernadine Dohrn of the Weather Underground expressed such admiration in the killing of “those pigs”. Bernadine didn’t know those people, she was incapable of making any judgement upon them. They were “pigs” not because of some defect in their character but because that is how Bernadine chose to see them, as degraded beasts. This speaks to her moral degradation and nothing else. She was not seeing Sharon Tate. She was only seeing her own hatred of the society she grew up in. Any manner of hatred would have been acceptable to her. Manson had nothing to do with it. He had nothing to do with anything. That was his problem.

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Look at the eyes of Charles Manson on this album cover and tell me that the same howling void is not staring back at you. His eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming, as the poet put it. He looks like he’s not seeing you, or anything at all.

“…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.”

-Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho

And at times that emptiness fascinates the Bernadine Dohrns and the associated hipsters who delight in the inversion of human relations so that they can celebrate themselves for celebrating the inversion. The call to cast aside obligation, and wallow in Id-sense, to spit upon one’s hands and hoist the black flag, calls out to many of us from time to time. But the one who does it is not a hero, nor is he a mystic. He is only hostis humani generis, the enemy of all mankind.

Bran Stark is Hosed – A Reasonable Prediction From the End of Game of Thrones

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The Kingdoms of Bran the Broken is neither a Kingdom nor is it Bran’s. Discuss.

This analysis, from A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, argues that the introduction of Elective Monarchy to Westeros, and especially the election of Bran Stark as its first elected king, is doomed to failure. The reasons are as follows:

  1. With the exception of the Iron Islands, which are at best inconsistent with the practice, nowhere in Westeros has ever practiced elective monarchy. Indeed, every one of the Six Kingdoms has a tradition of primogeniture (the eldest son of the king is the next king, girls only succeed in Dorne), with families that have held power for 300 years at the shortest, and some of them go back to pre-history. These constituent kingdoms will all have more power than Bran, and will have every incentive to keep the central monarchy weakened.
  2. In pulling out of the Seven Kingdoms, Sansa Stark left her brother with no power base to fall back on. Had Gendry Baratheon been elected king, he would have one of the Seven Kingdoms, the Stormlands, in his pocket, providing him with an army he could call upon at will. Had Tyrion been elected, he would have the Westerlands, Edmure Tully, the Riverlands, Robert Arryn, the Vale, etc. But now that the North has backed out, Bran has nothing but the lands around Kings Landing – the Crown Lands – which aren’t much.
  3. Bran is unable to fulfill several of the expectations of being a king in Westeros. He cannot be a fighter; he has shown no interest in leading armies, and has been a character people find more off-putting than admirable.

The article includes a discussion of how the Holy Roman Empire and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, two historical elective monarchies, worked (and didn’t work). Read the Whole Thing.

The Story is That We’re Ignoring the Story

Martin Luther King, Jr.

There’s a throwaway line in Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X, wherein two FBI agents who’ve been wiretapping the titular character, and are listening to him have a heartfelt conversation on the phone with his wife. One of the agents says to the other “compared to King, this guy’s a monk.”

That movie came out in 1992. Which means that, in 1992, the awareness that Martin Luther King was not a saint behind closed doors was already sufficiently out of the bag that it could be referenced in a major Hollywood film – for which the lead was nominated for an Oscar – and it would be assumed that the viewing audience would get it.

But that was 1992. In 2019, we pretend this information does not exist, and we attack the messenger naive enough to bring it to our attention.

Now, what is alleged in the article in the Spectator goes beyond mere extramarital shenanigans to include orgies and in one instance, cheering on a forcible rape. It’s lurid and sickening.

And before I go any further, let us stipulate that the article might not be true. Since the tapes themselves won’t be released until 2027, we won’t know until then whether the notes used to source the article are reflective of reality. Given that the FBI did not cover itself in glory in its treatment of King, there may indeed have been some goosing-up of the material in the notes to keep J. Edgar Hoover happy.

But then again, it might be true. The question is, what do we do about it?

We could, acknowledge the fact that those held up as heroes by the world often have feet of clay. We could allow ourselves the awareness that those of great courage are not without their flaws.

Or we could denounce this information as lies and attack the motives of those who speak it. Standard DARVO (Deny, Accuse, Reverse Victim and Offender) procedure. Which would be fine if it came from those with a vested interest in maintaining the cultus of MLK pure and unblemished – progressive policy institutes and black civil rights groups and the like.

But when its the media? That is most instructive. Witness this circle-the-wagons moment by a black feminist professor of history in the New York Times:

The #MeToo movement is the culmination of decades of agitation around the pervasive problems of sexual assault and harassment. Rich and famous sexual predators have been brought down by the courageous stories of women who are finally being believed. In this climate, Mr. Garrow seems to want his own “Me first” spotlight by getting out in front of an unsubstantiated story, but the problem is this: He presumptuously tells his version of stories of women who never themselves acknowledged being victims or survivors. We cannot put the F.B.I.’s words in their mouths and call it justice.

If in 2027 when the full F.B.I. tapes are released there is credible and corroborated evidence that a sexual assault occurred and Dr. King was somehow involved, we will have to confront that relevant and reprehensible information head-on. But we are not there.

Meanwhile, to accept highly suspicious evidence as fact and to dress it up with a litany of salacious anecdotes is to complete the job J. Edgar Hoover failed to do two generations ago, when he dedicated himself to denigrating Dr. King’s life and work. Mr. Garrow’s piece also names numerous black women, most of them dead, who were allegedly Dr. King’s willing romantic partners, delving into their private lives without their consent or any compelling reason. This is as reckless and unethical as the actions of newspaper tabloids that circulate titillating gossip to sell papers.

Everyone got that? If, when the tapes come out, this turns out to be true, then it will be true. But in the meantime, the author is a fame-hunting bastard and this is all salacious gossip.

I feel like an idiot for even asking, but where was all this devotion to truth and evidence, this distinction between non-pretatory and predatory sex, when Brett Kavanaugh was being accused? Oh, that’s right, it didn’t exist, because Brett Kavanaugh is the wrong sort of person. Martin Luther King is a Martyr for the Cause, and therefore entitled to a full and exacting defense.

The Rules are not the Rules when you’re the wrong sort. Everyone who’s the wrong sort needs to absorb this.

No, Islamic Spain was Not Tolerant

So sayeth this review of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. (h/t Vox Populi)

And yes, the reviewer is an Orthodox priest, if you want to ready your ad hominems, and he is positively scathing regarding the myth, even working in a Gone With the Wind reference.

As Fernandez-Morera’s book points out, the picture of a tolerant Islam can only be drawn by selecting among the facts and zeroing in on a few of the upper classes, while conveniently ignoring the mass of people and suppressing certain other facts—even facts about those upper classes.

Now, the fact that medieval Muslims forcibly oppressed Christians in their lands does not and should not surprise. Religions, if they’re worth anything, are totalizing, thus religious tolerance always has the tendency to border on being a contradiction in terms. So the status of Christian dhimmis in Muslim Spain as fifth-class subjects should not really be a revelation.

But it is, and this indicaes a broader problem, of a spiritual cancer at the heart of the West. There are those among us who are prepared to believe, and repeat, anything, if it makes our own culture look bad. The same people who tut derisively about the Crusades train themselves not to notice the wars of conquest by which Arab Muslims destroyed Christian Visigothic Spain in the eighth century. Their stunted ideology requires them to deplore the first thing and attack anyone who mentions the second thing as a racist (because, you know, Islam is a race. Oh, we know that it isn’t, but you’re too dumb to make that distinction). Attacking your own culture makes you virtuous, you see.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair climbed on the bandwagon, saying in 2007, “The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones”.

Given that the early Middle Ages were the time when Muslims attacked other lands specifically in the name of their religion, this statement beggars belief. I’d be hard pressed to think that Tony Blair even really thought this was true. It’s just the sort of thing we’re expected to say, a reading from the Catechism of the Blessed Dictatorship of Post-Cultural Relativism.

Myths of the Great Library

In History, the details are always hard to catch, yet always worth knowing. This long post at History for Atheists, worth absorbing in full, makes a number of discordant points about the Myth that the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed by a Christian mob in 390 AD, thus setting science and technology back a thousand years. I will state them below in brief, and you may read the post in full.

  1. The Great Library of Alexandria was not the only Great Library of the Ancient World. It did not “contain all the wisdom of the ancient world”.
  2. The Great Library of Alexandria was a research institution, a Mouseion, devoted to the Nine Muses, which is to say, they were a product of Pagan religious inspiration, the worship of the gods.
  3. Consequently, most of the scholarship done at the Mouseion was focused on textual criticism and poetry, and not very much on what we moderns would call science.
  4. The Ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t really do science as we understand it today. Which is to say, their natural philosophy was largely inductive, not empirical, and they did not apply this philosophy to improving the technology of their culture.
  5. The Mouseion had almost certainly ceased to exist by 390 AD. A series of sackings of the city by Romans, beginning with Julius Caesar, greatly diminished the value of the place.
  6. What was destroyed in 390 AD was a daughter library, the Serapaeum. As with the Mouseion, the Serapaeum was first and foremost a pagan temple, devoted to the worship of the hybrid Greek-Egyptian God Serapis. It’s destruction in 390 was the result of a long series of hostilites between the pagan and Christian populations of the city. Which is to say, it was the result of a war between rival religious traditions, and not a war between religion and science. And according to primary sources, there may not even have been a library in the Serapaeum at the time.

Again, Read the Whole Thing (Hat Tip: Vox Populi)

Rethinking President Grant

I don’t link much to National Review anymore, but the resurrection of the popular image of Ulysses S. Grant has been a cause of mine since I wrote a bad term paper about it in college.

A pertinent fact: Grant was one of the more popular presidents of his era, winning two lopsided elections and very nearly getting the nomination for a third term in 1880.

When you combine the popular vote with Professor Michael McDonald’s historical approximations of the turnout rate of eligible voters, Grant in 1868 won 42.6 percent of all eligible voters, the highest proportion in U.S. history; his 1872 reelection ranked sixth

Check the whole article out.

This Crash Course is the Last Christmas of Alexander the Great YouTube Videos…

… it’s not actually about Alexander the Great, but some nonsense tertially related to Alexander the Great.

Normally I like Crash Course, because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and usually provides some kind of interesting take on historical events. But this one is trying so hard to be Woke that it ends up saying absolutely nothing at all about its ostensible subject, and the things it does say are, well, wrong.

  1. The only reason Alexander didn’t build institutions is because he died before he could build them. At the time of his death he was back in Babylon and preparing himself to build the Hellenistic Empire that would have fit the Hellenistic Culture that arose in his wake. His death without an adult male heir is also the reason that Empire collapsed, despite the efforts of at least some of the Diodachoi to hold it together. For further reading, check out Ghost On the Throne
  2. Alexander wasn’t a very destructive conqueror. Most of the deaths of his wars were military ones, i.e., his soldiers and the ones he was fighting. He wasn’t a sacker of cities, and indeed was careful to respect the lives and property of the people he subjugated. He was so as a matter of policy, pertaining to point 1: He wanted the Greek and the Persian, the Greek and the Egyptian, the Greek and the Syrian, etc., to come together in a single realm. He acted accordingly.
  3. Alexander pursued Darius because Darius was the crowned King of Persia, and Alexander’s reign would never be secure until he was dead. And after Darius died, Bessus claimed the throne. Comparing this to Ahab’s monomaniacal obsession is deeply silly. Do you not understand how monarchies work?
  4. Other conquerors didn’t just decide to emulate Alexander randomly. Why, for example, did Julius make Alexander his hero, and not, say Hannibal? Or Scipio Africanus? Or Phyrrus of Epirus? They were all great generals, too. Why  Alexander particularly?

    The answer lies in what Alexander was fighting for. His aura was never merely about war and conquest, but war and conquest in the name of a unified world. War to end wars, if you will. That appealed to Caesar, and Napoleon, and others, precisely because it was what they wanted to accomplish, too. Both Caesar and Napoleon grew up in times of political disorder and wanted to bequeath an ordered world to posterity. So did Alexander. Their admiration is neither accident nor dumb-jock hero-worship, as your endless references to dimwit reality stars seems to imply.

  5. And as regards that, we get it, you’re Too Smart for The Jersey Shore. But you’re not smart enough to ignore it, so it infects this video about a legendary historical figure for some reason, and in an ironic twist, to your beginning moaning, ensures that people will know about Jersey Shore as long as this video exists on YouTube. Nice job.

A final point, germain to my title: If you want to teach us about Alexander the Great, teach us about Alexander the Great. If you want to teach us about people who haven’t been talked about nearly as much as Alexander, but who deserve to be, then teach us about that. But don’t talk about one in a video about the other, because you end up teaching about neither.

And yes, I know that blogging about a video published in 2012 might as well be commenting about 50’s Fashion Tips, but there’s plenty of internet people doing exactly that, so welcome to the Post-Modern Age. Everything is Too Old to talk about, and nothing is.