The Manson Women and Me, by Nikki Meredith

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Upton_O_Goode
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The Manson Women and Me, by Nikki Meredith

Post by Upton_O_Goode » Tue Jul 31, 2018 10:42 am

Meredith was born in 1944, and so was 25 years old at the time of the Manson murders. She has spent decades trying to understand how young people, especially young women from normal homes, could commit such grisly crimes. She tries all the usual explanations---something missing in home life, parents too strict, parents too indulgent, drugs, neurological defects interfering with the mirror neurons responsible for empathy, etc. In the end, it comes down to the same mechanism as in the Holocaust, which she introduces at a few points: Empathy is a powerful force in the human experience. Who has not felt a wonderful sense of solidarity in a gathering where a whole roomful or stadiumful of people are singing the same inspiring music? I admit to that feeling, and of course, it's responsible for the huge success of unscrupulous hucksters like Joel Osteen and John Hagee. Life would be poorer without it. But, that kind of empathy is confined to "our people," the ones the Russians call свои. Those in the outgroup are not fully embraced by it, and if they are perceived to be a threat, they will be dealt with mercilessly. That accounts for My Lai and Abu Ghraib and Amritsar and Sharpeville and all the horrible genocides of the modern world. It's the mechanism that Nazis and Charles Manson and Jim Jones and David Koresh, and the KKK all exploit: Convince people that they are under threat from "outsiders" and there is no limit to the violence they will commit with no compunction at all. Those mirror neurons get shut down automatically once a person is identified as "other." Susan Atkins said that Sharon Tate begged for her life and the life of her unborn child, but "I had no mercy to give her." Manson had immunized her against empathy by convincing his followers that the whole nation was rotten and a threat to their way of life.

Incidents like that are the reason the Parable of the Good Samaritan is such an inspiring, wonderful piece of scripture.

Along the way, Meredith tells us a lot about her own life, including her early boy friend Craig, a politically ambitious guy who actually struck her on a few occasions. Meredith's maternal grandmother was Jewish, and Meredith and Craig had the kind of relationship Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford had in The Way We Were. She tells us that her relationship with Craig was broken up by the rabid antisemitism of his parents. But I notice a couple of things: Every interaction she describes with those parents was very cordial and kind. The anti-Semitic rants she reports on are apparently known to her only through reports from Craig himself. And it's clear from her descriptions of him that he is a narcissistic, manipulative control-freak. So, I wouldn't be surprised if these rants were entirely invented by him. She herself now realizes how much better off she was without him.

Anyway, it's a very good, interesting read. I read the whole 300 pages in a single day. Lesson to take away from it: It's easy to surmise that both the mirror neurons and the ability to shut them down in relation to outgroup people have great survival value for a particular gene pool. We just need to take the next step and make the whole human race an ingroup. That's the lesson of the Good Samaritan, but right now it's an overwhelming task. Unlike the great MLK, who tried to move us in that direction, I haven't been at the top of that mountain, and I can't even see it from where I am.
“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

― Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850), French economist

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Re: The Manson Women and Me, by Nikki Meredith

Post by landrew » Tue Jul 31, 2018 1:04 pm

It's worth considering; the way people sometimes easily capitulate to doing unthinkable things.
Nazi Germany comes to mind, but there was a famous experiment, where subjects were ordered to apply increasing electric shocks to another person.
https://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html
The job of a skeptic is to investigate the unexplained; not to explain the uninvestigated.

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Re: The Manson Women and Me, by Nikki Meredith

Post by Upton_O_Goode » Tue Jul 31, 2018 9:24 pm

landrew wrote:It's worth considering; the way people sometimes easily capitulate to doing unthinkable things.
Nazi Germany comes to mind, but there was a famous experiment, where subjects were ordered to apply increasing electric shocks to another person.
https://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html
Yeah, the Milgram experiment. Meredith also reports on this and a couple of refinements of it. In one of the refinements, the subject was put right next to the "victim" and had to hear and see the pain close-up. Yet some 30% of the subjects continued to administer the shocks even when they had to physically hold the "victim's" hand on the electrode. She also reports some chimpanzee experiments in which chimpanzees trained to get food by pulling a chain were confronted with a view through a one-way mirror of another chimpanzee that really did get an electric shock every time the subject chimp pulled the chain. Nearly always, the chimpanzees stopped pulling the chain and went hungry, in some cases for days, rather than deliberately inflict this pain.

Meredith points out that attempts to find the root cause in the childhood of the perpetrators are unlikely to succeed. As she says, if you put a microscope on almost any family, you'll find a lot that looks like pathology. I couldn't agree more, both in connection with my birth family and the family I raised. And yet, both of them count as normal family life in the context of 20th-century America. (There was no domestic violence or sexual abuse in either case, I hasten to add. Just a lot of people frequently out of sorts, not being as kind to one another as they might have been.)
“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

― Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850), French economist

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Re: The Manson Women and Me, by Nikki Meredith

Post by landrew » Wed Aug 01, 2018 2:43 pm

The job of a skeptic is to investigate the unexplained; not to explain the uninvestigated.