Daryl Ilbury

Posts Tagged ‘critical thinking’

Sometimes it’s easier to drink the Kool Aid

In Eish!, Free-thinking, Politics on June 1, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Jonestown17I’ll never forget the images of the bloated corpses rotting in the tropical sun. I was 16 years old when it happened; and that’s possibly why, nearly 37 years later, my wife often catches me shaking my head and sighing, seemingly for no reason.

In the oppressive days of apartheid when South Africa was excommunicated from the rest of the world, Scope magazine was a refreshing distraction. It was best known for the scantily clad women that adorned its cover – and many of the pages inside – always with stars stuck over their nipples (the Calvinistic government of the time though the sight of nipples would invoke all manner of ills, natural disasters not impossibly among them). But there was another reason Scope was so popular: it featured cutting-edge photo-journalism from around the world.

On this occasion the main feature story was the Jonestown Massacre. It was so shocking that it had kicked the pretty young lady off the front cover. The story inside was unbelievable: Over 900 devoted followers of a charismatic preacher called Jim Jones had unquestioningly followed his instruction to commit mass suicide. The images showed their corpses littered around a compound cut out of the jungle in Guyana, South America. What upset me most were the images of entire families lying face down, their arms around each other or lying protectively over babies.

But it wasn’t a clear cut case of suicide. The children and the dogs were force-fed grape-flavoured juice laced with cyanide. They had been killed. The parents and adults then followed, drinking the concoction before lying down to die. The Revered Jim Jones skipped the drink, choosing instead to blow his brains out. The drink was called Flavor Aid, but was often misreported as Kool Aid – the trademark name of a similar drink sold in the U.S. In a rather macabre salute to the massacre, the term ‘drinking the Kool Aid’ has emerged – mainly in the U.S. – as a figure of speech for anyone steadfastly holding on to a doomed belief without critically examining it.

I like to use the term not only because I remember the massacre, but because as a journalist I have been encouraged to examine everything with a critical eye, to be cynical in the absence of firm, corroborative evidence. This is liberating because I don’t get sucked into stupidity; I am not influenced by any of the myriad diverse religions that somehow each claim sole legitimacy and demand unquestioning submission. But it’s also tiring, because every day in the news I am bombarded by the actions of people who are more than willing to do unquestionable things in the name of religion – in the Middle East, in the Ukraine, in the U.S. or anywhere else where religion warps their world view.

So that’s why I continually shake my head and sigh. Perhaps it would be easier to just drink the Kool Aid.

20:20 vision…and it’s not good

In Eish!, Politics, Scoundrels on April 27, 2014 at 4:43 am
ANC moving forward

ANC election poster promises signposting actual delivery

On the much-lauded 20th anniversary of the first truly democratic elections in South Africa, there’s a lot of retrospective navel-gazing in the media mixed with modern promises and political fighting-talk ahead of the next elections on 7th May. For me this is all captured in the image on the left.

Some context: I took the picture during my daily walk to work along one of the major streets in the centre of Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital. It’s a snapshot of conditions of a portion of the city that’s a stone’s throw from the city hall – an ANC stronghold – and a couple of minutes drive away from the seat of national Government – The Union Buildings – also full to the rafters with senior ANC decision-makers.

At first glance you notice the rubbish strewn on the pavement. But look closer at the poster half way up the pole (you may need to double click on the image). It’s an ANC election poster showing President Jacob Zuma with the words underneath ‘Together we move South Africa forward’. The juxtaposition between promise and delivery is jarring.

What you can’t see is the litany of broken paving, missing manhole covers and indefinitely suspended road works that are repeated throughout this part of the capital, and through which the municipal, provincial and national ANC decision-makers travel regularly.

This is not an isolated case. The ANC’s election claim it has a ‘good story to tell’ of governance over the last 20 years has been found by respected fact-checking journalism organisation Africa Check to be almost entirely false. The media are also full of stories of corruption, mismanagement and abandonment of responsibility. Another, more worrying, snapshot of this is in the deterioration of the once highly-respected Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

What makes all this so truly unbelievable is that it most probably won’t make a shred of difference to the people of Pretoria who are expected to return the ANC to govern the city, the province of Gauteng and the nation as a whole come 7th May.

So why is this? In brief: the typical South African doesn’t have sufficient maturity of understanding of their entire role and responsibility in the democratic process. They don’t understand that it is they who ultimately hold the Government to account, and that this responsibility requires rigorous implementation at election time.

This is very much a reflection of the lack of critical thinking by South Africans – a result of a decades of state control during apartheid; embedded traditional cultures that demand unquestioning reverence towards leaders; and a pervasive identification with religions that provide promises of delivery – without accountability – by mythical beings.

Personally, I believe that if the people of Pretoria walk past this kind of scene every day and still vote the ANC to power on 7th May, they deserve to get screwed. Again.