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November 18, 2014 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Escape from Jonestown: Julia Scheeres describes the lives of people in the last days of the infamous compound.
They’d only told him the day before that he was leaving for South America. His head was still spinning with the quickness of it all. He was glad to get away from the never-ending church meetings and rules. But mostly he was excited about seeing his father. Jim Bogue left for Guyana two years earlier, and although he’d called home using the mission’s ham radio, the conversations were rushed and marred by static. His father sounded proud of all the pioneers had accomplished at the mission post, and Tommy was eager to see it for himself.
At Port Kaituma, Pastor Jim Jones finally emerged from the wheelhouse, wearing the dark-lensed, gold-framed sunglasses that rarely left his face. He welcomed them to the village—which seemed to consist of little more than stalls selling produce and used clothing—as if he owned it. Tommy listened attentively to Pastor Jones, who was only there for a short visit. Guyana was a fresh start for him and he wanted to make his father proud.

An interview with Scheeres about her book on Jonestown, A Thousand Lives.
posted by frimble (50 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
It never occurred to me how awful the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" is, and how casually it is used in conversation. How detached it is from its origin. Time to stop saying it.
posted by jbickers at 8:22 AM on November 18, 2014 [16 favorites]


I've felt the same since reading a too-detailed account of Jonestown a few years ago (probably found here). Now the allusion is just too chilling.
posted by Songdog at 8:37 AM on November 18, 2014


I lived a few miles away for a while in the 90's and visited the site for the day with a local friend. I don't believe in ghosts but bloody hell it was creepy.
posted by dowcrag at 8:38 AM on November 18, 2014


What a horrifying story. I am still amazed at how much control Jones had over his followers. There is indeed evil in the world.
posted by blurker at 8:40 AM on November 18, 2014


That unfortunate phrase has worked its way into the cultural lexicon, but few young people know of its Jonestown origins or how offensive it is to Jones’ victims.

PBS's 2008 documentary "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" is well-worth watching for anyone who wants to learn more.

Few folks know that Jim Jones was a civil rights leader in Indianapolis—integrating lunch counters and churches—and that the majority of his victims were African Americans who heeded his message of social equality. How terribly they were betrayed for believing in this dream.

I used to live a block from the grave of Jones' wife (and Jonestown victim) Marceline Baldwin Jones in Richmond, IN. Even as a D.C. native, that part of Indiana felt mired in racism to me, and it was the first place I ever came across Klan / American Front literature (occasionally stuffed into the mailboxes of student houses at the Quaker college I was attending). Jones' fearless integrationism and adoption of non-white children there in the early 1960s must have been very inspiring to anyone sick of the status quo.

The documentary does a good job of showing how fervent belief in the Peoples Temple's inclusive, multiracial vision of society caused a lot of people to ignore or rationalize Jones' increasingly predatory and messianic behavior, and the PT's transformation into a death cult.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:44 AM on November 18, 2014 [13 favorites]


I was very young when Jonestown went down, just 8 years old. I remember hearing about it on the news, and I remember being terrified of Kool-aid for a while. At 8, you're not really rational about such things.

It wasn't until much, much later, in my Comparative Religion class in Germany, that I learned in-depth about Jonestown during our unit on cults. Hearing "drink the Kool-aid" has creeped me out ever since.
posted by MissySedai at 8:46 AM on November 18, 2014


Good god. I had never seen that picture before.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:49 AM on November 18, 2014


It never occurred to me how awful the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" is, and how casually it is used in conversation. How detached it is from its origin. Time to stop saying it.

The phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" didn't originate as a reference to Jonestown. It's derived from "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test", a long essay by Tom Wolfe about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. They had a big jar of kool-aid laced with LSD that everyone on the mythic bus would drink from. So if you said someone had "drank the kool-aid", that meant they were groovy, on acid, not a cop. A lot of people have since thought is was a Jonestown reference, though, so if you use the phrase, confusion may result.

Jones' fearless integrationism and adoption of non-white children there in the early 1960s must have been very inspiring to anyone sick of the status quo. The documentary does a good job of showing how fervent belief in the Peoples Temple's inclusive, multiracial vision of society caused a lot of people to ignore or rationalize Jones' increasingly predatory and messianic behavior, and the PT's transformation into a death cult.

The documentary is really excellent, though I wished it was twice as long; I would have loved more information about how the People's Temple was integrated into San Francisco politics of the time. And yeah, the grim end of the temple is a good reminder to beware demands for unquestioning obedience to any ideology, however good the cause might seem.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:00 AM on November 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


I remember very clearly, as a kid in the second grade, seeing magazine and newspaper covers with photos of all those people laying face down in almost neat rows. I asked my mom in the supermarket once, "What are these people doing?". She hesitated a moment and then said, "They're just sleeping." Something about her shaken state told me this was not true, and something a lot worse had actually happened. I don't know what upset me more: the terrible possibilities my mind brought up, or the realization that my own parents could lie to me (though I realized later this was to spare me). I dreamed about these bodies for a long time after.

. x 1,000
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:00 AM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I attended the Florida Film Festival earlier this year, and one of the tickets I purchased in advance was for a midnight screening of Ti West's The Sacrament, which is basically a thinly veiled recreation of Jonestown as a found footage horror film. In the end, I didn't go see it. I've read so much about Jonestown over the years that I honestly didn't think I could take ninety straight minutes of dramatization.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 9:01 AM on November 18, 2014


Thom Bogue's review of Scheeres's book at Amazon:

As a young survivor of this tragedy (17 years of age at the time), I found Julia Sheere's ability to summarize and tell the events to be quite compelling. I myself who was there, learned a great deal more of the inside workings and manipulations which occurred.
I am finally satisfied some body such as Julia took hold of the history of events and told them in such a manner to express we went to Jones Town - Because we had dreams of a better life! Not to die for some satanical, egomaniac!
Thank you Julia!

posted by rory at 9:02 AM on November 18, 2014 [6 favorites]




I was also struck by this:

He whipped the crowd into a frenzy. “Goddamn white fascist bigots!” a woman shrieks. “You’re evil!”

It reminded me of this well-known essay about the women's movement of the 70s eating its own. There really seems to have been something endemic to the leftism of the 70s which led to a particular kind of abusive conformity and revolutionary self-destruction. (the right, of course, had different problems)
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:09 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here's the article which was 404'ing. It talks specifically about that direct reference between the notion of Kool-Aid and "Jonestown economics".
posted by Carillon at 9:14 AM on November 18, 2014


I would have loved more information about how the People's Temple was integrated into San Francisco politics of the time.

David Talbot's book Season of the Witch devotes a chapter to this (excerpt).
posted by ryanshepard at 9:21 AM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


The central argument of A Thousand Lives is that Jim Jones murdered his congregants—it was mass murder, not mass suicide. He fantasized about killing them for years before they moved to Guyana and lured them there by making them believe they could return to California whenever they wanted. Once he had them sequestered in the middle of the South American jungle, he refused to let anyone go. “If you want to go home, you can swim,” he told disgruntled residents. “We won’t pay your fucking way home.”

I definitely want to read this book.
posted by blucevalo at 9:25 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" didn't originate as a reference to Jonestown. It's derived from "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test"

I don't think that's right. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a pre-78 example of someone using "drinking the Kool-Aid" to mean the kind of mindless group-adhesion it came to mean after Jonestown. I don't think Wolfe's book led to any particular associations with Kool-Aid in the public consciousness in the way that Jonestown did.
posted by yoink at 9:41 AM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


> The phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" didn't originate as a reference to Jonestown. It's derived from "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test", a long essay by Tom Wolfe about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.

I appreciate your attempt to defuse the issue, but I'm afraid yoink is right: the earliest cite in the (updated) OED entry is from 1978, in the (rare since then) sense 'commit suicide': Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Sentinel 1 Dec. "You know, basketball is such a part of me... And when it all stops, when it's all over? That's when you drink the Kool Aid." The first cite in the usual sense ("To demonstrate unquestioning obedience or loyalty") is from 1981: A. Ginsberg in Gettysburg (Pa.) Times 20 Feb. "We are all being put in the place of the citizens of Jonestown, being told by our leaders to drink the Kool Aid of nuclear power." That said, this is wild overreaction:

> It never occurred to me how awful the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" is, and how casually it is used in conversation. How detached it is from its origin. Time to stop saying it.

It's like discovering a bloody battle was fought on some piece of ground and recoiling in horror: "I'll never walk there again!" Understandable, but it makes no sense, since if you go far enough back virtually every patch of land on earth is saturated in blood. Similarly, if you start avoiding every word or phrase that's been associated with Bad Things, you're not going to have many left. If you want to stop saying it yourself, that's your privilege, but don't tell other people how to talk. It's a useful phrase that everyone understands and nobody is bothered by unless they've just read an article on Jonestown.
posted by languagehat at 10:24 AM on November 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


From the article:

As Jones talks, trying to soothe the congregation, kids scream. High-pitched, terrified screams. “Don’t tell them they’re dying!” Jones tells parents. He reassures them that it’s only “a little rest, a little rest.” Poisoned parents, weeping, carry their poisoned daughters and sons into the dark field next to the pavilion, cradling them as best they can as they begin to writhe and froth at the mouth. They watch their kids die, then begin to convulse themselves.

This might be the most horrifying paragraph I've ever read. I almost want to believe in God again so I can imagine Jones in a hell consisting of endless scenarios analogous to the experience of killing your children and watching them die in agony.
posted by bibliowench at 10:37 AM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


iirc, Kesey and his followers used "on the bus" or "off the bus" to denote adequate or inadequate conformity to their group norms.
posted by thelonius at 10:41 AM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's a useful phrase that everyone understands and nobody is bothered by unless they've just read an article on Jonestown.

Yes. I think one can even go a little further than that, though, and say that the connection to Jonestown is actually part of the usefulness of the phrase. That is the psychology of in-group/out-group behavior that the phrase points to is usefully tied in to the lessons of Jonestown. Because what is horrifying about Jonestown is not that Jones was some extraordinary genius of psychological manipulation or that his followers were particularly damaged individuals peculiarly prey to his tricks. What is horrifying is how a lot of fundamentally decent people could be led relatively easily (that is, without A Clockwork Orange-style intensive, individually-tailored psychological reprogramming) to this drastic step. I think part of the moral revulsion to the casual way we use "drank the Kool-Aid" has to do with the sense of a yawning gulf between the ordinary life situations to which we apply the turn and the extraordinary evil of Jonestown, but I would argue that it is precisely because those things are so structurally similar that it's actually morally useful to have the phrase contain this potent reminder of the potential for disaster in succumbing to this kind of groupthink.
posted by yoink at 10:45 AM on November 18, 2014 [15 favorites]


The degree to which it was a mass suicide vs mass murder I don't think is as clear as all that. I wonder at the coercive power of the community and the fact that there were armed guards who I believe were encouraging people towards the poisoned drink as well. Given the tape where people aren't exactly happy, is this more a murder/suicide? I dunno, but there may be something there.
posted by Carillon at 11:09 AM on November 18, 2014


Sir Lionel Luckhoo: I should have been dead on the 18th of November.
posted by malocchio at 11:12 AM on November 18, 2014


Yeah, I'm not trying to police the phrase, I just can't help thinking of the horror of those children and their parents when I encounter it.
posted by Songdog at 11:26 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


(And I should really just bow out here.)
posted by Songdog at 11:28 AM on November 18, 2014


I mentioned Guyana in class as an example of a non-Spanish speaking Latin American country and offhandedly mentioned Jim Jones (as in, you may not have heard of Guyana but I bet you've heard of Jim Jones). One student responded, "The rapper?"

My TA and I couldn't believe it. Something so horrifying just vanishing from the public consciousness like that.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:29 AM on November 18, 2014


"drink the Kool-Aid"

I believe this may have been in use before in relation to the Pranksters Acid Tests be-ins where the LSD was delivered in Kool-Aid (as in "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test").
posted by doctor_negative at 11:32 AM on November 18, 2014


> It never occurred to me how awful the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" is, and how casually it is used in conversation. How detached it is from its origin. Time to stop saying it.

It's like discovering a bloody battle was fought on some piece of ground and recoiling in horror: "I'll never walk there again!" Understandable, but it makes no sense, since if you go far enough back virtually every patch of land on earth is saturated in blood. Similarly, if you start avoiding every word or phrase that's been associated with Bad Things, you're not going to have many left. If you want to stop saying it yourself, that's your privilege, but don't tell other people how to talk. It's a useful phrase that everyone understands and nobody is bothered by unless they've just read an article on Jonestown.


When I wrote "time to stop saying it," what I meant was that it's time for me to stop saying it. Did not mean to tell other people how to talk, but I can see how you could read it that way. Apologies.

I still think I disagree with your larger premise, because yeah, there's bad stuff that happened everywhere at some point, but on a gut level, some things are so awful that they are off-limits, at least to me. For instance, I don't think you'd ever, at any point, want to use Holocaust imagery because it represents "a useful phrase that everybody understands."
posted by jbickers at 12:04 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


For instance, I don't think you'd ever, at any point, want to use Holocaust imagery because it represents "a useful phrase that everybody understands."

On the contrary, the phrase "like a concentration camp prisoner" is used all the time to describe models, sufferers of eating disorders, cancer patients....precisely because what it evokes is a widely-recognized image and all of the connotations inherent in that image.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:07 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


(not suggesting that this is a good thing, naturally)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2014


doctor_negative is off the bus
posted by thelonius at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


The phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" didn't originate as a reference to Jonestown. It's derived from "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test", a long essay by Tom Wolfe about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. They had a big jar of kool-aid laced with LSD that everyone on the mythic bus would drink from. So if you said someone had "drank the kool-aid", that meant they were groovy, on acid, not a cop.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a bit longer than essay. It's a full-length book, and I didn't remember "drink the Kool-Aid" being used in the book that way, either of the two times I read it. After doing a search of a PDF copy of the book that I found online, I could only find the text string "drink the Kool-Aid" once, and it was not in the context of the phrase "I begged him not to drink the Kool-Aid," not as a synonym for being groovy. Unless you can find a documented instance of "drink the Kool-Aid" in its modern sense sometime between 1964 (when Kesey's bus rides started) and 1977 (the year before Jonestown happened), I'm still sticking with the Jonestown explanation.
posted by jonp72 at 12:15 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


My TA and I couldn't believe it. Something so horrifying just vanishing from the public consciousness like that.

I'm afraid that describes most of human history. It's all the atrocities that never make it to the public consciousness that worry me.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:27 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Death to all cults, including the respectable ones...
posted by saulgoodman at 12:42 PM on November 18, 2014


It's lovely that people here want to find a benign origin for the phrase, but it's pretty well documented in its origins and usage. Simply because there was an earlier cultural usage of Kool-Aid does not mean that they are actually connected. The impulse to connect these disparate things is a common justification for a folk etymology.

(Incidentally, it's almost completely forgotten that they didn't use the Kool-Aid brand drink mix but -- in some accounts at least -- a cheaper brand known as Flavor-Aid. It may also be noted that in the PBS documentary at least one participant who survived by avoiding the drink also called it Kool-Aid. It's in Pt. 8 on YT, though I don't recommend watching that part by itself.)
posted by dhartung at 12:52 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Good god. I had never seen that picture before.

I was just ten (my birthday was the same week) when Jonestown happened, and living in the Bay Area the local news was naturally heavily focused on this story. I remember film footage of rows and rows of fallen over people, many with their arms around their friends or family, shown on the news several nights in a row. One night the reporting was followed by a long, long list of every name of those that died. I think for a lot of people watching it really was the coda of any sort of optimism about the state of humanity and social progress.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:59 PM on November 18, 2014


famed activist Harvey Milk's entanglement with The Peoples' Temple and Jones is under scrutiny by historians.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:30 PM on November 18, 2014


Jonestown holds a certain fixation for me, if only because of the absolute tragedy of it all, and the hopes and dreams of the New Left being hopelessly, irrevocably shattered. All the above links put a spotlight on information I previously didn't have, which chilled and terrified me anew, and put no doubt in my mind that close to a thousand people were needlessly murdered in the Guyanese jungle that day in 1978.
--------
Back in 2007, I spent a good deal of time on the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple website, and came across this piece written by a relative of one of the victims.

I felt the need to contact her (she leaves her email address in the article), and wrote this:
My name is Max, and I just read your article on the Alternative Considerations Of Jonestown site. Being only 22 myself, the only knowledge and experience I have of these events come from the media and people like yourself. I knew about Jonestown briefly, mostly from when I was 13 and the events of Heaven's Gate brought the topic into the public sphere once again. Last May I saw the documentary "Jonestown: The Life And Death Of The People's Temple" at the Tribeca Film Festival, and upon coming home the film sat in my mind. I read up on the events, listened to the infamous tape, and reflected on this.

Words cannot begin to express the magnitude of sadness, tragedy, and pain these events cultivate, and for someone in your situation, an unintelligible and impossible nightmare. For all the promise and all the hope those thousand souls had (including your aunt), this is what makes the events of November 18, 1978 all the more devastating. Listening to the tape, and looking at the pictures (especially the pictures of the members full of life and vibrancy), has uniquely touched and broke my heart. I have cried for you, your aunt, and everybody associated with this tragedy.

And even now, what has happened has transfixed me. As an artist, and most importantly a human being, my responses to something of this magnitude are profound. When tragedy befalls us, I think it is a reflex to ask Why?, and How Could This Have Happened?, and even What Could I Have/Should Have Done?. It is these questions that haunt us, and it is these questions that run through my head. I'm not sure I am doing your aunt justice with these words, and my thoughts sounded much better in my head. I apologize.

Your article touched me deeply, and I began to cry, thinking of the circumstances surrounding the death of my aunt as a teenager. She suffered from a deep depression, and took it upon herself to take her life. I was terribly close to her, and loved her immensely. It is her who I credit with my initial interest (which is now a lifelong pursuit) in the artistic experience. Initially, my parents did not tell me she committed suicide, but since I found out, I keep asking myself those questions. Anger, sadness, emptiness, heartbreak, I'm sure both of us have felt these emotions in relation to our aunts passing. I guess, at least from what I have been thinking about and learning in my still young life, is that I cannot let something like this take control of me, yet I cannot let the memory of my aunt die out, and I must remember the wonderful times, the good times we shared.

I think we as humans are at our best when we undergo and celebrate a shared experience. That our commonalities far outweigh our differences, our strife. I may have not known your aunt, but I think she was looking for that, and that I am looking for that. My life was and is better for having my aunt be in it, and I'm sure you share this sentiment. This is beginning to ramble, but I would like to say this, your story has moved me, has penetrated me. I grieve for your aunt, I grieve for my aunt, I grieve for the others who died in Jonestown, I break when pain and tragedy befall us as people. The benefit of these experiences is that we learn from them, that we remember them, that we use these lessons to better our own lives.

I felt connected to you while reading your story, with tears and a warm feeling in my heart. My heart goes out to you and your family.


She then replied:
Max,

Your words are incredibly beautiful and kind, they are still settling in and I am so emotional right now, which makes it difficult to write legibly.

The articles written (about my aunt) came directly from my heart. I am filled with pride in knowing that her story, life and love of me has touched you. Our aunts continue to live in our memories. You reaching out to me was a complete surprise, once my thoughts are in place I will write back.

Thank you so very much!

--------
I plan on getting Scheeres ' book. I took a moment of silence today to honor the victims.
posted by theartandsound at 1:37 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Etymology is kind of a side issue, but it's at least more fun to think about than the awfulness of Jonestown. According to Google NGrams, the phrase gains currency from 1973 on, peaks in 1978, then after Jonestown happens, slowly drops away until 1985, after which is surges again (probably with the connotation of Jonestown). Don't know what any of that says about the phrase.

For anyone who wants to be absolutely horrified, industrial provocateurs of Thee Temple Of Psychic Youth issued the recording of the final sermon at Jonestown as Thee Last Supper, and it is, of course, on YouTube.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:54 PM on November 18, 2014


My family went to New York City for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade that year. Every time we left the hotel room the newspaper headlines had a higher body count.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:53 PM on November 18, 2014


I'm really curious about why the phrase is already bubbling up on Ngrams in 1973/4 when the Jonestown events weren't until 78. It must be errors in publishing dates of books or something. Searching Google Books directly gives me only two results for "drink the Kool-aid" between 1973 and 1977 and they are non-metaphorical. Kool-aid (according to Wikipedia) has been around since the 1950s so I don't understand why the non-metaphorical use of the phrase would be more common in the 1970s than previously.
posted by lollusc at 5:08 PM on November 18, 2014


Well to answer my own question, one of the survivors feels very strongly that it isn't suicide but murder by Jim Jones. That PBS documentary is fucking harrowing.
posted by Carillon at 5:11 PM on November 18, 2014


> I'm really curious about why the phrase is already bubbling up on Ngrams in 1973/4 when the Jonestown events weren't until 78. It must be errors in publishing dates of books or something.

Yup. Google Books metadata are notoriously lousy.
posted by languagehat at 11:56 AM on November 19, 2014


I remember when this tragedy happened; if memory serves me correctly, since Congressman Ryan was assassinated at the airport, it was word of his death that came first, followed by the unfolding horror of the massacre. "Unfolding horror" also pretty well describes the experience of reading the article, though it was excellent.
posted by Gelatin at 1:08 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes. I think one can even go a little further than that, though, and say that the connection to Jonestown is actually part of the usefulness of the phrase. That is the psychology of in-group/out-group behavior that the phrase points to is usefully tied in to the lessons of Jonestown. Because what is horrifying about Jonestown is not that Jones was some extraordinary genius of psychological manipulation or that his followers were particularly damaged individuals peculiarly prey to his tricks. What is horrifying is how a lot of fundamentally decent people could be led relatively easily (that is, without A Clockwork Orange-style intensive, individually-tailored psychological reprogramming) to this drastic step.

But that doesn't jibe at all with how the "drinking of the Kool-Aid" actually happened, both in the words of the survivors and in the reams of documentation the FBI collected:
Jonestown residents didn’t willingly drink poison—they were forced to do so. Jones gave them a choice: drink cyanide or be shot to death by armed guards. Living was not an alternative. Many decided to drink the “potion,” as Jones called it, with their families. Those who refused to comply were forcibly injected with it. A 12-year-old girl named Julie Ann Runnels kept spitting the poison out, so two of Jones’ lieutenants forced her to swallow by it by pulling her hair and clamping their hands over her nose and mouth. She did not “Drink the Kool-Aid.” She was murdered—as were all the 303 children who died that night. We need to stop disrespecting Jones’ victims with this odious and wildly inaccurate phrase.
I mean, there are plenty of phrases we could use to describe the kind of Stockholm Syndrome groupthink that happens in isolated, abused cultish groups. But the actually drinking of the Kool-Aid at Jonestown wasn't that. At all.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:32 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


> But that doesn't jibe at all with how the "drinking of the Kool-Aid" actually happened

So what? Etymology is not destiny. You might as well join the small but determined cohort trying to convince everyone to stop saying "beg the question" when you mean "raise the question," that's not what it means!! They've been complaining about that for, what, a century or two, and had no effect whatsoever. I guarantee you you're not going to get people to stop saying "drink the Kool-Aid," so I would respectfully suggest that you just accept the phrase as a fait accompli and worry instead about people getting into such horrible situations in the first place. Don't use a phrase as a surrogate for human evil.
posted by languagehat at 3:22 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


So what?

So the idea that "drink the Kool Aid" is a great phrase to use to illustrate willfully blind group think because willfully drinking poison is what happened at Jonestown is incorrect. That was the assertion I'm disagreeing with. I'm not trying to police anyone's usage of anything.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:24 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ah, gotcha -- sorry for misunderstanding your point! (Obviously, etymology and meaning are subjects I have a hair trigger about...)
posted by languagehat at 8:39 AM on November 20, 2014


But that doesn't jibe at all with how the "drinking of the Kool-Aid" actually happened

Well, it does, in fact. That there were a few people who had to be coerced does not significantly alter the fact that the majority were willing to follow Jones's lead. I can see why relatives of the Jonestown dead prefer to emphasize the aspect of coercion. No one wants to think of their loved ones willingly participating in the killing of their children and willingly "drinking the Kool-Aid"--but very large numbers of them did both things.
posted by yoink at 11:37 AM on November 20, 2014


Further to my comment above: listen to the final Jonestown tape recording (or, if that's too painful, read the transcript). There is one woman who tries to suggest that suicide isn't a good idea. She is relentlessly criticized by the crowd and ultimately drops her objections. The crowd applauds and cheers Jones whenever he says that suicide is the only option left to them. And then when the killing starts, there's a stream of people spontaneously standing up to praise and thank Jones for leading them and bringing them to this point.

You can certainly argue that moral culpability ultimately rests with Jones, but there's no doubt, either, that at the end those people were willingly and cooperatively "drinking the Kool-Aid."
posted by yoink at 12:48 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


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