No one will miss Charlie Manson. Yet we keep searching for his heir.
The embodiment of America’s 20th century embrace of amorality, and fascination with the dread unknown, died overnight at age 83, in Corcoran State prison, the only place he could ever really call home.
As his body rots on his route to hell, it’s worth remembering what he accomplished – which was to order the deaths of nine people, poison the minds of his flock of followers, and somehow trick an entire subculture of the the American population – and even today, their heirs – into believing that he possessed the secret to an enlightened path to a higher form of life.
That, of course, was a lie, as was most of his too-long life.
Manson beguiled with fake mysticism, some off-key music and the promise of enlightenment – because he somehow intuited that that is what we were looking for and feared we could not find on our own.
The key to Manson’s success as a cult leader (that term sounds so trite now in this new century of ISIS-inspired evil) was his ability to get others to obey him.
He got three dim-witted, lost-to-the-world girls to go out on consecutive nights and kill innocent victims in what Manson hoped would look like the kick-off of a race war. In so doing, he was following the playbook of one of his mentors – Adolf Hitler – who also knew how to play on the dread of “others” who don’t look like we do.
Manson, not the first but the most famous charlatan spiritual guru we’ve seen, knew how to play on our secret fears of inability and inadequacy. Have doubts about yourself? I’ll give you the answers. But first I must inseminate you with my wisdom. Then I need your unquestioning adherence to all I say, and order you to do.
This jailbird son of a prostitute who never knew his father, nonetheless learned how to get what he wanted. He beguiled with fake mysticism, some off-key music and the promise of enlightenment – because he somehow intuited that that is what we were looking for and feared we could not find on our own.
Manson actually inspired and drew a blueprint for new generations of would-be shamans, swamis and gurus, who inherited his far-off stare, his mysterious mannerisms, and his bow-before-me-and-learn way of presenting himself to the world.
And we, poor fools now as in 1969, nearly 50 years after he dispatched his deadly and devoted posse to paint his insane vision of fatal paradise, still fall for the promise of enlightenment in return for slavish devotion.
The answer to Manson’s appeal is to return to the known, perhaps less alluring but proven tenets of goodness, faith in God, and hard work. Those were all missing in Manson’s DNA. But not in ours.
Chuck. You. Go. To. Hell.