The Rivers and the Valleys

I’ve been having a hard time with this one. It’s been going around in my mind since finishing Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, an amazing read I pushed through in a week, a book my first wife had once read and had only positive things to say about. And because I’m an odd ball the entire book, in a round about sort of way, came down to mountains and rivers to me. Earth. Terrain. Weather. Google maps scanning millions of years of earthen history.

As I may have stated before, I tend to think in pictures. If I can visualize something, I’ll never forget it. If I can’t visualize something, like certain types of advanced mathematics, it’ll be nearly impossible for me to even get through the class with a much strived for B. And, as with most autistics, I have one thing I’ve been insanely focused on since I was born, something that no matter what else I’m doing comes back into the picture, and addiction, and for an autistic it’s admittedly a weird one: my need to understand how people (animals too, for that matter) work. So for me reading Helter Skelter wasn’t about learning about a famous murder, murder trail, trail lawyer, or any of the other typical things that come with people reading true crime books, but an intense desire to understand the inner workings of the human psyche. I thought the book would be somewhat enlightening on that note, but it blew me away because Bugliosi put so much detail into the story one couldn’t but erroneously leave the book finished without feeling as if they’d been on the jury themselves, so many decades ago.

Most austics have trouble understanding the habits and behaviors of neurotypicals, but I’ve never really had that problem. That’s not to say I don’t have huge, arguably, autistically based blind spots, but I’m not going to talk about those today. Me? I spent over a decade studying Hitler and read so many accounts of him, many, many of them being first hand accounts, watched so many of his speeches, and so on, that I was able to get into his head—and not in that superficial way most people have when looking at an historical feature, but in the way where you, for just a moment, know what it feels like to be in that persons skin. And something you may not like about it—and the reason most people aren’t able to engage in what I guess you’d call “extreme” empathy—when you do that with someone, no matter how vile or “evil” they might be, you’re able to see the world through their eyes, and through their eyes their vileness or “evilness” makes complete fucking sense. There’s a danger to this of course, but fortunately I don’t get stuck in other people’s thoughts. I’m allergic. In, out, thank you m’am.

As part of this lifelong fascination I’ve always been visualizing new ways of understanding the psyche. I’ve even tried to invent a language to accurately mimic and predict human behavior (and if anything people are extremely predictable, myself included). While reading this book, and considering the minds of Manson and his minions, I started to visualize mountains and rivers, as if seen from Google maps. Now, I’m going to say I’m going to bungle up this description as I’ve been trying to translate it into words for days now, but I’ll give it a shot.

Imagine the brain is like the planet earth. It’s made out of rock which, over the course of centuries and eons, cracks and moves and has white heads that explode from time to time reshaping what was initially a bland planet without much character. Our DNA, of which we all share 99.99999% (or something like that) are the different types of rocks and stone we’re built out of which, over time, from experience and environment, gets worn away by winds and rain. Rivers cut into mountains creating creeks, streams, and rivers, and those, in a way, are like aspects of our personalities that start to follow a path after one season after another passes. If one can plot those paths (one can) you can see that someone is likely to be socially conservative on some issues, fiscally liberal on others, and really into any vehicle with a soft top. Some areas of our minds are easily molded by the wind and the rain, being made of softer rock, and others aren’t because they’re still hard lava (I feel terrible trying to make that metaphor, and almost feel embarrassed given my wife knows everything about rocks—though I’m trying to learn about geology myself now). When I consider many of the not-so-functional autistics I’ve seen it’s as if the rivers going through their minds aren’t able to change course due to the hard strata they’re trying to move through, while someone who’s prone to suggestion has neural networks more akin to sand stone.

The Family (aka the Manson Family) didn’t seem to have minds much different than anyone else. They met him at a time where they’d denounced society and needed a leader, a father, or a savior. He not only supplied that, but he knew where to look to find those areas of their psyche’s that were softest, where he could rain down a torrent of water and build the streams and rivers that suited his needs, fed his ego, filled his holes. Sadly, Manson himself seemed to have a mind so traumatized it could go from one extreme to another in a heartbeat. Google maps, Bugliosi might have said, wouldn’t have been able to keep up and direct you to the right place because the landscape was always changing.

There are other, many other, things I gained from this book, but I will say it was a fascinating read. And a warning (as he was all to clear in his summary). Our brains are amazing machines, malleable, dynamic, but also limited, and easily programmed by our experiences and those around us. It’s of penultimate importance that we, as a species, begin to learn how our minds work. Ultimately that’s the entire point of this web site, my blogging. I want a better world. A world without warm, starvation, and homelessness. We quite literally have every tool at our disposal to do that today, but far too many of us are comfortable with the geography that’s shaped the rivers and valley’s of our thought. Every now and then it’s important to get out of that rut. To understand how the rain and the wind shape us. And then begin to shape ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our political and social views, our vote, and attitude towards people we think we understand, and those we don’t. Only then do we begin the journey towards an enlightened race where war and poverty and the possibility of self annihilation are replaced with realistic hope, achievable goals, and meaning for everyone.

Until next time,


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