Excerpts from "The American Meaning of Charley Manson", By David R. Williams
Political and social structures exist to back up mental structures, and in return the collective consciousness of the people helps to sustain the institutions of the state... The command to follow ones heart wherever it might go very well might lead off the deep end. Camille Paglia has argued that romanticism almost always leads to decadence. The continuum of empathy and emotion leads to sex...The continuum of sex leads to sadomasochism...The American romantic Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his readers to trust their own intuitions regardless of social conventions or the moral code. “Truth,” he wrote, “is handsomer than the affectation of love.” Love itself must be rejected “when it pules and whines.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson had proclaimed the superiority of individual intuition over the corpse-cold tea of rationality and logic, and he had urged himself and others to be totally self-reliant, to trust the self. What if this spirit you trust is from the Devil, not from God, asked his orthodox aunt, Mary Moody Emerson? “I do not believe it is,” he replied, “but if so I will live then from the devil.” What is in the self is paramount. It and not the combine must be allowed to direct traffic. He proclaimed that reality exists as consciousness and not as matter, and thus truth is to be sought not in science but in the subjective intuition of each mind. Each of us, he said, if we dig down through the layers of culture and belief that has been accumulating over the millennia will find a universal consciousness we all share and from which we all come. Therefore, he called on every free person to “speak your latent conviction and it shall be the universal sense.”
“It’s hard to live with a person who tells the truth all the time. Why? Because lots of the time we don’t want to hear the truth. Manson knows the truth because he knows nothing; he knows the power of an empty head.” But the ultimate irony is that in knowing the power of an empty head and how to use it, Manson also knew the destructive force of a whole civilization of empty heads all playing mindless games. He preached death to liberate his followers from the games of the old culture, games which were leading to wars, famine, oppression, the destruction of the planet. But the death of the old game-playing ego was only a prelude to the rebirth of the new spirit.
“Whoever is going to put order into the world,” Manson tried to explain to Geraldo Rivera, “has to stumble across Hitler.” Order is the answer to disorder. If the planet is to be saved from the rapacious destruction of human civilization, then, according to Manson, someone needs to “put order into the world.” Manson has even set up his own organization, with its own webpage (www.atwa.com) for this purpose. ATWA stands for Air, Trees, Water, Animals. Asked to explain the swastika he has cut into his forehead, Manson said, “How do you have Peace on Earth? How do you communicate to a whole group of people? You stand up and take the worst fear symbol there is and say, there, now I've got your fear. And your fear is your power and your power is your control.
One of Manson’s proudest boasts is that he always spoke what he called the “truth”: “I walk a real road. I am a real person. I’m not a phony. I don’t put on no airs. I say what I think.” What he meant by this is that he does not lie, that he insists on telling it as he believes it. In the parole hearing, he knew what the parole officers wanted to hear. He could have lied; he probably could have even lied successfully. He didn't. Asked what he might do if he was let out, would a hustling con have told the parole board, “I’ll cheat. I’ll steal. I’ll do whatever I have to do to survive, and that’s a reality”? But even in simple questions, when pressed for a yes or a no whether he had a family still waiting for him on the outside, he answered “I can’t explain it to you man. It doesn't have a yes or no.” All he has is what is in his mind. For him to give that up, to lie, would be to surrender the void back to the world, which is what society wants. Instead, he says to the court, “I showed you some strength. I haven’t surrendered to this by copping out to yours or telling tales or playing weak. You've done everything you can to me, and I’m still here.”
“In the pen you learn this, “ Manson told one interviewer, “don’t lie. I stand on my own. Not many people in your world can do that. I didn't realize this at that particular time. I didn't realize how weak and mindless you people really are.” When he got out, Manson simply did not comprehend that people on the outside really believe their own movies. He had no idea that people actually took their own games seriously. This may explain part of why he allowed the game to get out of hand. At a rare moment in his 1986 parole hearing, when asked if he felt any responsibility for the murders, Manson responded, "Sure, I influenced a lot of people unbeknownst to my own understanding of it. I didn't understand the fears of people outside. I didn't understand the insecurities of people outside. I didn't understand people outside. And a lot of things I said and did affected a lot of people in a lot of different directions. It wasn't intentional. It wasn't with malice aforethought." But a few seconds later when asked if he also felt “remorse,” which presumes guilt, Manson sat for a long time in silence before saying, in resignation, “we reach an impasse here, man.”
Rationality, he said, is a false god. It is part of the game playing of the world. The whole rational logical structure of the world is false and the people who play its games without realizing it are fools. So he had little respect for the law, for the courts, for the lawyers, for any representative of the establishment. The inter-connectedness of all things in the realm behind the veil means that everything is dependent upon all, that there is no individual consciousness, hence no individual freedom, and therefore no individual responsibility. To be, as romantics imagine, in the divine consciousness, to participate in the godhead, is to be as Manson said, “inside of you. I’m inside every one of you. It’s beyond good and evil.”
The point is not simply that Manson is speaking metaphorically. He is doing that, but he is also saying that everything is a metaphor, that our very lives, our bodies, our surroundings, are metaphor; that we live in an illusion if we think this material reality is real. Like Emerson and the earlier romantics, he is a philosophical idealist. He believes that what is ultimately real is not matter but consciousness. This whole thing we call reality, or the universe, is an illusion, a dream. What we call God is the dreamer. And our bodies are no more real than are the strange beings that flit through our dreams at night. The whole world is a thought, and each person’s perceptions are but a series of thought within the framework of the larger thought. As Manson once put it, “everyone’s playing a different game with the thought.” All of the many perceptions of this existence are but dreams within a larger dream. This is where Manson is coming from when he says to the court and the straight world, “I don’t live in your dream.” This is why he says “You've got my body in a cell… but I’m walking in forever, man.” He is freer, he claims, to wander among the mountain in his jail cell than if he were struggling to survive in the day-to-day realities of the outside world. From his perspective, to believe that this physical world is the ultimate reality is to be trapped in the illusion; to be aware of the cosmic mind is to be liberated from the illusion.
Manson’s true crime, and the reason he will remain in jail until his death, is that he didn’t just blur, he erased the line between reality and imagination. He crossed over to the other side, completely outside society [...] Individuals have crossed that line before, many times, but what Manson also did, and what he was convicted for, was, like Socrates, corruption of the innocent. He spun the tales that they believed. His imagination created the constructions which they then acted upon. There is no evidence that Manson ever said directly that his followers should actually kill anyone. What he claims, and what seems believable, is that they believed he wanted them to kill and, freed from the usual inhibitions which would keep middle-class American kids from slaughtering strangers, that they acted out his fantasy and did not need his direct command. Manson is no intellectual in the conventional sense. He is at best self-educated but not at all bookish, having spent his entire life, from childhood up, behind bars. He has a sharp mind and has paid attention to the world around him. But he never had much opportunity to compare notes or to talk with others about ideas. He was like someone who learned French entirely out of books but never heard the language spoken.
Once the human mind is finally liberated from the rituals and traditions, the taboos and inhibitions, which have bound the web of human culture together, anything becomes possible. To some this is the meaning of insanity, to believe things outside the circle of what society allows. “Crazy” becomes a label applied to those who don’t agree with the consensus. But the need to break the bonds of the society’s programming requires that occasionally people step outside the bounds of what is allowed and dare the wilderness, at whatever risk. Says Manson, “It’s so abstract that someone has to carry insanity. Someone’s got to be insane. Someone’s got to be the bad guy.”
But Manson’s repeated claim that he “broke no law of man or God” is not entirely without basis either. For in the prison world in which he grew up and lived most of his life, people are responsible for their own deeds - Period! The act of murder is what is punished, not some vague indirect suggestion by a third party. “I take responsibility for my acts,” he insists. “Every man must take responsibility for his acts. We each live within our own circles.” To this day, Manson still does not understand how the law can hold him responsible for murders that other people actually committed. His stubborn refusal to confess his guilt, as misguided as it may be, is at the very least an honest statement of his beliefs and not an artful dodge. He really believed it relevant that, as he shouted at Diane Sawyer,“I wasn't directing traffic, lady.” Indeed, that is the heart of the enigma of Manson. That is why back in 1969 and still today, so many people find something to admire in him. Bugliosi and other spokesmen for society have tried at times to say that Manson is little more than another two-bit thug, a thief, a pimp, a hustler out for himself, a murderous con filled with uncontrollable rage. It is too neat and too well-known a box. There is more going on.
However appalled one might be by the literal reality of Manson, it is almost impossible not to also take him on the level of symbolic consciousness. “They don’t want to ever let me go,” he explains, “because they feel secure as long as they've got me locked up in that cell. They feel like, yeah, they've got THE MAN locked up right there in a box.” Perhaps this is only literal; or perhaps Manson has taken over the role in society that black people used to play, the symbol of the terrors of the subconscious. We need to keep our rational consciousness safe from the chaos on the other side. So we lock up the subconscious under what Freud called the censor. And through the power of symbolic consciousness we imagine that by segregating black people, or locking Charlie Manson in a cell, we have the irrational forces of the subconscious under our rational control. We try to keep the conditioning going. We try to make the combine run more smoothly by adjusting everyone’s programming so everyone will think and behave as they should.
When Manson argued that his consciousness came from a deeper place “beyond good and evil,” he at least conjured up in the minds of more learned people an historic parallel. Nietzsche, who used that phrase in a famous book, was also the product of a romantic movement, the culmination of nineteenth-century German mysticism. His theory of the Superman who existed outside of the merely artificially constructed codes of bourgeois culture inspired the Nazis. Like Nietzsche, Manson saw that the codes of society are artificial, contingent, and unworthy of respect. Like Nietzsche, he believed himself capable of freeing himself from them and living on a higher plane. He saw the void, but rather than surrender to it, he believed he had what it took to fill the emptiness with a new and better structure. “A lot of the kids,” says Manson, “never met anybody who told them the truth. They never had anybody who was truthful to them. You know, they never had anybody that wouldn't lie or snake or play old fake games. So all I did was I was honest with a bunch of kids.” That is a powerful indictment of our society.