Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reflections on Jonestown

Neo-Neocon reflects on Jonestown on the 30th anniversary:

The first relevant lesson to be learned is the danger of blindly following a charismatic leader. Jones became more deranged later on, but as his congregation grew in the 60s and 70s, he was a respected member of the San Francisco community, with connections to Democratic politicians (I’m not sure there’s any other kind in San Francisco) and a strong reputation for racial equality.

The second lesson is to beware of the trust that gullible and trusting human beings can place in that charismatic leader. Jones required that people give over their lives and their assets when they became followers—a danger sign. Members had varied reasons for joining, but it can probably be safely said that most of them were exceedingly idealistic. According to the testimony of many of the survivors (a small group, but an articulate one), once they realized the true character of the man in whom they’d placed such hope and faith, it was too late. They were in a prison, subject to various forms of physical and psychological torture in Jones’ attempt to control the inmates. And in the final year before the terrible end, the prison we know as Jonestown was at least as isolated as Alcatraz, because it was located in the heart of the Guyanese jungle.


Blogger BarryD said...

Lesson to teach our children:

Some decisions, rashly made, are not reversible.

3:41 PM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

People follow leaders blindly because some are so desperate to be an accepted member of part of a group, a group who will approve of them and their beliefs, protect them from outsiders and provide them with the promise of food, clothing and shelter. This element of extreme religions has been around since the beginning of time.

Once a leader realizes that their flock will go along with anything he/she can dish out is when trouble starts. The threat of being put out or excommunicated can be very powerful for some people. For the disciples of Jim Jones, clarity came too late, if not at all.

3:42 PM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger BarryD said...

People follow leaders blindly because some are so desperate to be an accepted member of part of a group, a group who will approve of them and their beliefs, protect them from outsiders and provide them with the promise of food, clothing and shelter.

This also seems to be a good way to get elected President (or equivalent in other systems of government).

Given this demonstrated tendency in human who feel threatened, sometimes I think it's just luck that America hasn't had a real Hitler -- though I think we may have come closer than we know. Of course, our system does tend to limit the power of the Executive, so it would take multiple steps to get there, but not an infinite number of steps, to be sure.

3:50 PM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger BarryD said...

a strong reputation for racial equality.

I saw a disturbing and graphic Jonestown documentary on cable the other day. There's film footage of Congressman Ryan and others being shot, and pictures of dead bodies everywhere.

Indeed, Jim Jones didn't discriminate. Many, many African-Americans, including many young children, had an equal place in the field of dead bodies.

File under: be careful what you wish for, and what you're willing to give up in order to believe your wish has been fulfilled.

4:23 PM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger highlander said...

To paraphrase Ayn Rand: There are a very few good people, and there are a very few bad people. The masses will follow one or the other.

What makes the difference is having a good education and having reasonably accurate sources of information.

People who have been taught to think clearly and critically, and who have correct information on which to base decisions, are unlikely to fall prey to the words of charismatic, though deranged, leaders.

Here's a link to a study by Zogby showing how well the mainstream media kept voters informed in the months leading up to the November election (h/t Bookworm Room):


This is truly scary.

Incidentally, if you are ever sued or accused of a criminal act, don't go for a jury trial. It's highly likely that any jury will be substantially populated by duds like these.

7:40 PM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger Daniel Fielding said...

I belong to the Mormon Church,and am kind of an unconventional Mormon. In the sense, that I am not obsessed with following every rule, or thinking that people in the Church heirarchy are infallible. But a lot of my fellow Church-members would willing behave like the people who ended up drinking Kool-Aid in Guyana.

9:07 AM, November 19, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters."

I've always liked that line. Unfortunately, the same song also stated, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows".

When taken out of context, it is amazing what can be done to somebody's song.

10:58 AM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

highlander --

I think a critical thinking ability isn't predicated on a 'good education', whatever that is. I know a butt-load of farmers down here with good thinking abilities and an equal butt-load of university people who think like a ball of cotton.

I think a set of morals actually based on the GR coupled with certitude will go farther. The trick is in the actually.

11:00 AM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger gg said...

We don't really learn from history. Look what blind allegiance to George Bush has gotten us in Iraq. Someday we'll learn.

12:37 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger John said...

Not to push this in an overly spiritual direction, but a good guideline when dealing with a leader who claims to be Christian is to watch how closely his claims, actions, and teachings follow scripture. Deviate from the Bible and it's a sure bet you're being led astray. Unfortunately most self-described Christians don't know enough about scripture for this to be an effective tool. It may be true for Jews also, I don't know.

12:42 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger BarryD said...

We don't really learn from history. Look what blind allegiance to George Bush has gotten us in Iraq. Someday we'll learn.

Not now, though.

It seems that a large portion of the electorate was looking for someone new, to offer blind allegiance to. After Obama has overplayed his hand, as all such "leaders" do, and people turn on him, then what?

1:06 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger vivictius said...

"Look what blind allegiance to George Bush has gotten us in Iraq."


2:23 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

All things considered, I want the Amalgamated Fanatics, Pirates, and Criminals of the World to realize that killing and robbing Americans is not a safe thing to do.

I think George Bush got the message across just peachy fine. I doubt Obama will do as well.

Your mileage may vary.

2:27 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

Darn vivictuis, you stole my post word for word before I even wrote it!



2:33 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger gg said...

What eventually happens in Iraq won't be a victory. The best we can hope for now is an ending without ethnic cleansing. Far from victory, Charlie.

8:55 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

"What eventually happens in Iraq won't be a victory."

Ed, how long have you been able to tell the future?

I guess you knew I would ask that, huh?


11:35 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger Quasimodo said...

Re Iraq

Ed is right. The One can still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

1:02 PM, November 20, 2008  
Blogger Flash Gordon said...

It is emotionally needy people who follow mass movements. They are easy to understand, if harder to tolerate.

It is the ones that never do and never would follow a tyrant like Jim Jones or an empty suit like Barack Obama that are a more interesting study. More difficult also, I think.

They are the ones who reject the easy path and take a more disciplined road. That seems to be against human nature. How can it be explained?

1:27 PM, November 20, 2008  
Blogger gg said...

Hmmmmm....I'll try to be more clear. Obviously there is such an allegiance to Bush that you aren't hearing me. All that Bush Kool-Aid is scrambling too many brains.

If you start a war and completely botch it and then eventually pull your head out and end the war without too much more tragedy that is not a victory. That is an ending.

2:34 PM, November 20, 2008  
Blogger highlander said...

Oligonicella ...

Quite right. "Good education" and common sense are, at best, very loosely coupled. Thanks for the reminder.

I was thinking about the kind of education that leads to clear thinking, but that rarely happens in schools, does it?

2:37 PM, November 20, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...


It's a victory if one says it is a victory. It's all in the mind.

8:05 PM, November 20, 2008  
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