Manhattan Project #44 Light at the end of the tunnel?

(wherein newsman Jed Berman dries his tears and his pot-smoking friend Doris sends him in a new direction to explain why human beings are so terribly violent)

“Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound like the stuff you’ve said before. I mean, that night at the jail you even suggested that my mom was partly responsible for the horror of the atom bomb because she chose to be part of the Manhattan Project. What are you talking about?”

He didn’t answer right away, but he held up that forefinger as though he was about to make another important point.

“Well, Jed, since you’ve never been in there, you wouldn’t know how much time you have to keep yourself occupied while your sentence runs down. It’s lots of time, my friend. And I used a lot of it to read. They had some good mags and a bunch of books in the jail library. You saw them when you came to see me.”

“I spent so much time there I started to feel like that old guy in The Shawshenk Redemption, the one who runs the prison library. And, as I already told you, I got along very well with the jail guards, so well that if I came up with a book or magazine I wanted to read that wasn’t in the jail library but was in the Bangor city library or even over at UMaine, they’d get it for me. Pretty cool, huh?”

I smiled and nodded.
“Yeh, pretty cool. And, knowing you, I’m not surprised. So what did you read?”

“Oh, lots of stuff, including stuff that might shed some light on those questions you’ve been asking for so long.”

“And?”

“Well, I gotta’ take off here pretty soon. Need to meet one of the guards to deliver his weekly dose of medicine.” He snickered softly. “But I have time to leave you with some advice on where to start looking, when you’re ready to continue your quest—which I still think is a truly fine one, not at all compromised by what happened over there.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“Remember back when you sat down here and said the answer to all of this stuff was two words—iron stirrup? And you were all excited about tracing all the violence and killing to the inventions that made it easier to do?”

“Sure, I remember. I also remember that you pretty much demolished that theory.”

“Yeh, I guess I did. But only because I didn’t think that was really the answer.”

“I know. So where is this going now?”

He had kept that forefinger in the air all this time. Now he wagged it again for emphasis.

“Jed, I have two words for you. I came across them in all of that reading I did. And when you dig into them, I think it might change everything for you. Those two words are—mirror neurons.”

He put his hand down and pulled out another hand-rolled smoke and lit it. I sat there waiting for the rest of it. Finally, he went on.

“That’s all I have to say, right now. Mirror neurons. Mirror neurons. Check it out, dude. And I gotta’ go. Take care, Jed.”
He stood up and started walking away, in his deliberate stride.
“Hey, Doris, can I give you a lift someplace?”

He didn’t turn around, but waved his hand in the air.

“No thanks, Jed. I’ll get there right on time if I walk.”

So what would you do with that? I sat there for a little while, not thinking about much of anything. Then I tried to take stock of myself. I wished I hadn’t broken down talking to Doris, but the truth was it actually made me feel a little better; some of the cloud lifted. It helped a bit to know that a deep thinker like Doris didn’t consider me a two-faced jerk for what happened in Afghanistan.

Right after that thought, Doris’ comment about not holding the killers throughout history totally responsible drifted in. I wondered how he could say something like that. I know he’d often seemed to take the nature side in the nature versus nurture argument over how we got to be so violent. But I tended to think he was just playing devil’s advocate, pushing me to really dig into it and think it through.

Did he really believe the genes we’re born with could lead us down the road to aggression? That just didn’t seem like Doris. But what he’d said sure sounded like that’s what he thought. Not exactly, but certainly in that direction. And then he’d thrown in the mystery term: mirror neurons. What the hell could that be about?

Sometimes the guy really irritated me with his mystical attitude and unexpected comments. I really did wonder if he’d indulged in a little too much ganja sitting on that bench outside the smoke shop. But I knew he was an intelligent guy—a thoughtful guy—and because I believed both of those things were true, I couldn’t just reject his advice. I still didn’t feel like getting back into the whole hassle, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to do a little digging and see if there was anything to it.

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