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Discussion of Whether Charles Manson Was a Psychopath

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Charles Manson was the leader of the Manson Family, a cult that caused terror in the late 60s. Charged with killing seven people, Manson and members of his “family” were sentenced to life in prison with the option of parole. These killings had a confound affect upon the legal system across the United States of America from the fear that Manson would be free again. Many would say that Charles Manson is a psychopath because he caused the death of that many people, but murder is not an indicator of psychopathy. To decide if Manson was a psychopath there must be a deep dive into his life and who he was.

Kathleen Maddox gave birth at 16 years old to Charles Milles Maddox on November 12, 1943 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was an alcoholic prostitute and did care for Charles Manson. His father was not around during his life, so Manson had no biological parents in his life. Instead he lived part of his early childhood with his aunt and uncle, where they took him to church every Sunday and provided for him whatever he needed. This was not enough for Manson, and after an attempt to burn down his school at age nine from the prompting of an uncle he was sent to a reform school. Manson ran away from this school to be with his mother. He turned to petty crime after being rejected in his attempts to live with his mother. His early childhood was spent in and out of reform schools, and juvenile detention centers (Sawyer 2013). The crimes only increased as he got older. His world view was shaped by prison. Manson even tried to stay in prison at one point, saying he did not want to let out with the crazy people on the outside.

The way that Charles Manson grew his “family” was using a keen ability to read people and using that to manipulate them into doing what he wanted. Picking young girls who did not have a strong connection with their fathers and had a strong craving for male affection was something that Manson excelled at. He was able to easily manipulate girls using sex and kind words by preying on their need for security and love (Geis 1971). To gain men into the cult he also used sex by offering up the prettiest girls by pimping them out. He was quite successful in growing his cult into large numbers using sex.

The level of control Manson had over his cult was cultivated by many different forms of manipulation. He would use sex, kindness, and drugs to take away their sense of self until all that was left was whatever Manson told them. He would recreate Jesus’ crucifixion while they were high on LSD and tell them that he would die for them while asking if they would die for him. The heavy use of hallucinogenic drugs while isolating them allowed Manson to steal their individualism from them and create followers with no identity outside of them. One of the ex-family members, Dianne lake, was a 14-year-old girl (Janos 2018). Her parents had abandoned her for their own counterculture, and this is how she ended up finding Manson and becoming one of his lovers and followers. Lake is a very good example of how Manson would take in young girls who craved love and security and turn them into what he wanted with sex and drugs.

With this control, the twisted mind of Charles Manson had a terrifying power that he was prepared to yield on those he thought he wronged him. Manson had gained a love for music while in prison and wanted to be a rock n roll star, and when this did not happen, he became bitter and angry towards the industry. The murders that took place at his hand were meant to put him in a place of power in the industry. He took the song “Helter Skelter” from The Beatles and told his followers that it contained subliminal messages for violence. At his trial, he even used the song as a reason for the murders and tried to rid blame by saying the kids were only listening to the song which is one of many instances of him not taking any responsibility for his actions.

Looking at Charles Manson’s life there are many signs that he was a psychopath. When I applied the PCL-R to him he scored 32/40 which is a sufficient score to be considered a psychopath (Hare 2016). The PCL-R is a checklist created by Robert Hare to diagnose psychopaths. This has been a very important tool in deciding what makes a psychopath and looking at the traits it really helps make sense of some of the crimes that are committed. Someone who does not feel guilt or remorse and takes no responsibility for their actions, such as Charles Manson, are capable of horrific things.

The first factor of the PCL-R involves interpersonal and affective traits. Interpersonal traits include glibness/superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, and being conning/manipulative. Manson had a lot of superficial charm, scoring him a two in this category. The way that people seemed to be drawn to him was part of this charm that he projected. He had a very high sense of self-worth, scoring a two, shown by his belief that he was a key player in the role of the world. It could also be said that portraying himself as Jesus was also a sign of his own grandiose sense of self-worth (Sawyer 2013). He was highly manipulative of his followers, scoring a two, but he was not as much of pathological liar, scoring only a one in this. He used lies to manipulate people but did not appear to lie just to lie.

In the affective traits there is a lack of remorse/guilt, shallow affect, callous/lack of empathy, and failure to accept responsibility. Manson scored a two in three out of the four traits, with only callous affect being a zero. He exhibits emotions in his interviews such as excitement and even anger (Snyder 2011). His interviews made his lack of empathy and lack of remorse/guilt very clear in the way that he talks about what happened. Not claiming responsibility for actions is something he has done since he was a small child. There was an incident at school where girls beat up a boy Manson did not like, and when they got in trouble they said it was because Manson told them too, but when questioned about this Manson said that he had no control over what they did and it was not his fault. As an adult, he blamed the murders that he commanded his followers do on music by The Beatles.

Lifestyle and antisocial are the categories for factor two of the PCL-R (Hare 2016). Lifestyle is the need for stimulation, parasitic lifestyle, no realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, and irresponsibility. Manson scored a zero for need for stimulation because his actions or crimes did not seem driven by boredom, they were always backed by some type of other need. He did lead a parasitic lifestyle, scoring a two, as he survived by stealing throughout his entire life. Realistic long-term goals scored a one because he had plans, but he did not seem to always care where it ended up. Impulsivity was scored a one as Manson did appear to be easily bothered but he did not always act on this. Manson did score a two in irresponsibility because he did not care about consequences.

The antisocial categories are poor behavioral control, early behavioral problems, juvenile delinquency, revoke conditional release, and criminal versatility. Manson had poor behavioral control scoring a two as shown by his lack of ability to control his desires such as sleeping with underage girls. He also cut off a man’s ear for not listening to him which contributes to the high score in lacking behavioral control (Snyder 2011). Early behavior problems and juvenile delinquency were both scored two with both being connected to the fact that Manson was practically raised in the prison system. As an adult, Manson told his parole officer that he would break parole if it was going to be arduous, scoring a two in revoking criminal release. He also committed an array of crimes, ranging from petty theft to armed robbery and eventually murder scoring him a two in criminal versatility.

There are a final two items in the PCL-R that do not fit into either factor but do count towards the score (Hare 2016). Promiscuous sexual behavior and many short-term marital relationships are considered in the other category. Manson used sex as a manipulation tool and scored a 2 in this item. He scored a one in short-term marital relationships because he was only married twice which is not considered many. With these last two items, Manson scores a 32. Any score above 30 is considered a psychopath, and so from this Charles Manson is a psychopath.

While writing this, I realized that I was unable to distance my own emotional distaste for Charles Manson and I do know that this affected the way that I scored him. Having two marriages is not many, so maybe I should have scored it a zero but after reading about his relationship with women he had control over I do not feel like I can change it (Atchison 2011). I personally believe he would have been married more than just twice if he could have been married to multiple woman at once but that is not legal in the US. Without actually being able to meet Manson, it is hard to really judge some of the traits listed such as superficial charm. I know that he was charming due to what so many have said, but what I am able to see is not charming. Knowing what he did clouds my mind and does not allow me to see him as anything but a cruel, evil man. I really do think that he is a psychopath, and even if there is some error in my application of the PCL-R it is not large enough to change the results. Psychopaths can have a immense affect over society, and Charles Manson was an unfortunate example of just how much damage one person can conflict. 

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