Daryl Ilbury

Posts Tagged ‘Jonestown’

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.

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