Forty Years After Jonestown, Americans Are Still Searching For Gurus To Follow

by Brett Harper

More than four decades after it entered the lexicon, the word “drinking the Kool-Aid” has slowly grown to be detached from its referent: the Jonestown Massacre of November 18, 1978. On that day, greater than 900 contributors of a California social motion known as Peoples Temple died in a mass homicide-suicide on the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Jonestown, Guyana. The suicides passed off shortly after armed contributors of the Temple ambushed a celebration of defectors as they tried to board two airplanes in close by Port Kaituma at the side of Congressman Leo Ryan, who had long gone to Jonestown to check up on a number of his parts. The hitmen killed Rep. Ryan — up to now the simplest congressman assassinated within the line of obligation — as well as one of the defectors and three members of the clicking. Altogether, the Jonestown Massacre changed into the most massive loss of American civilian life on an unmarried day until the terrorist attacks of 9-11, 2001.

Many of those who took their lives in a purported act of “revolutionary suicide” — a phrase that Temple founder Jim Jones had misappropriated from Black Panther Huey Newton — did so by knowingly ingesting Flavor-Aid laced with tranquilizers and cyanide. They believed their “last stand” changed into an assertion posterity would keep in mind: the Temple’s final role was that it turned into higher to die together, as socialists united to the motive of equality and freedom, than be compelled to return to the racist, sexist, and classist society they’d left at the back of within the United States. Although the said motives for the dramatic mass suicide are not frequently remembered, the method of self-annihilation sincerely is: because 1978, the idiom “consuming the Kool-Aid” has been used to denote conduct that reveals blind and unquestioning obedience to an individual or enterprise.

 

Although the Jonestown murder-suicides befell in a small Socialist u, S. A. On another continent, the inescapable and indelible imagery of the tragedy — wherein Americans noticed hundreds of bloated our bodies were strewn around the Jonestown pavilion — introduced a quit to what was a notably tolerant attitude closer to idiosyncratic spiritual moves within the United States for the duration of the Nineteen Seventies. The Jonestown tragedy reinvigorated an otherwise flagging trend regarded these days because of the anti-cult motion (ACM). This “motion” had its roots in the traditionalist reaction to countercultural interest inside the Nineteen Sixties, and is a part of an extended cycle of cult/anti-cult pastime in the American way of life, inclusive of the seventeenth-century witchcraft panic, the nineteenth-century anti-Masonic motion, and the anti-cult movement of the 1940s.

Although the “revolutionary” suicide of Peoples Temple become a uniquely ugly and terrifying occasion, the decision to die at Jonestown became steady with components of Temple political ideology and what might be called its theology. Peoples Temple emerged from the long and non-stop way of life of messianic communalism inside the United States. Across extra than 200 years of American history, schismatic Christian sects emerged in competition to what they regarded as the apostasy of American Protestant churches that increasingly more acted as handmaidens to a capitalist order primarily based on exploitation.

As an act of purification, these corporations regularly expressed their separation from the corrupting decadence of capitalist society by way of withdrawing from the formal economy altogether, or insofar as that changed into feasible. They strove as a substitute for communal self-sufficiency. Many of these companies described their communal societies as a return to the communism practiced by the primary companies of Christians noted within the Acts of the Apostles, who renounced non-public possessions and practiced the community of products. The most a hit and enduring Christian communalist sects had been led via people who claimed messianic stature and a God-given challenge. Messianic sects like the Shakers, the Universal Friends, the Brotherhood of the New Life, the Koreshan Unity, and the Peace Mission were a consistent feature of the modern Left of spiritual lifestyle in America. Peoples Temple becomes a right away descendant of this lineage, and Jim Jones carefully normal himself after the black messiah knew as Father Divine.

Nevertheless, the media and the tremendous majority of the American public became no longer to religious students for clarification and understanding of Peoples Temple, but self-selling psychologists and different “professionals” affiliated with the anti-cult motion. They did so because ACM activists cast themselves as so many Cassandras who have been sounding the alarm for the entire decade that Peoples Temple accumulated most people of its fans.

Thus — and alternatively satirically — the simply American reaction to the Jonestown tragedy changed into characterized by a strong entrepreneurial cutting-edge: A cottage enterprise of experts, starting from educational psychologists to rebranded bounty hunters calling themselves “deprogrammers,” emerged to steer Americans out of the clutches of putatively demented cult leaders. Professional deprogrammers, the term used for people who claimed to specialize in undoing the results of brainwashing, went on Donahue and testified earlier than congressional committees approximately the persevering with risks of cults hidden inside the midst of Reagan’s America. The cult menace remained a national obsession till it was in the end eclipsed by the emergence of world jihadism early within the twenty-first century. As a result, any group engaged in that very American hobby of critique, separation, purification, and regeneration have become a concern to social sanction and government scrutiny.

The anti-cult obsession had lethal consequences for the Branch Davidians; a messianic society led using Vernon Howell, a prophet who had taken the call, David Koresh. Responding to allegations that the Davidians possessed illegal firearms and engaged in aberrant sexual practices, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms sent more than seventy armed agents and Blackhawk helicopters with a warrant to look the Davidians’ complicated of buildings at Mount Carmel out of doors Waco, Texas, in February 1993. Following a violent disagreement and the following fifty-one-day siege of the belongings using the FBI, Attorney General Janet Reno concluded the standoff using authorizing the bureau’s plan to attack the cornered Davidians. The assaults ended up killing four dealers, and at the least seventy-4 of the Davidians, maximum of whom died in a fire that razed the constructing where they were beneath siege. Ironically, the use of pressure was publicly justified through consistent appeals to the horror of Jonestown, which stoked fears that the Davidians might devote mass suicide in preference to give up. There became no proof that the Davidians ever meant to accomplish that—but in any case, they were murdered earlier than all and sundry ought to recognize for sure. Their classification as contributors of a “cult” made the killings proper if now not inevitable, in the eyes of many Americans.

Evading the “cult” label is vital for any minority religion that hopes to keep away from a violent and tragic quit. In the 21st century, a brand new messianic faith has to this point controlled it. Concentrated in Silicon Valley, today’s amalgamation of old American messianic tropes has amassed under a techno-futurist, New Age banner emblazoned with the word “Singularity.” Although the Singularity refers to an occasion, particularly a second of technological rapture, it’s far, like several American messianic religions, greater of a mindset than a coherent belief gadget. Adherents to the motion are growing in range, and their plans for redesigning existence as we are aware of it have ended up an increasing number of grandiose. Fortunately for those devotees, the Singularity movement has in large part evaded perception as a cult-like organization. It has accomplished so with the aid of warding off, for the maximum component, the risks of conflating human salvation with the future of an unmarried individual, and via reconciling American messianic idea with its old adversary: capitalism.

Adherents to the movement are students of the paintings of Ray Kurzweil, a septuagenarian futurist, and entrepreneur. Kurzweil believes that within his lifetime, a historical success known as the Singularity will permit humankind to ascend to the next stage of evolutionary life: its inseparable union with artificial intelligence. In reality, the Singularity will render the difference between human and artificial intelligence mainly beside the point, as they will become more and more imbricated and hard, if not impossible, to distinguish. In Kurzweil’s view, intractable issues like climate alternate, resource shortage, illness, or even death will be removed through the Singularity, now not least as it will unlock humankind from the organic jail of carbon-based total

In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999), Kurzweil claims that humans will “come to be software.” As an outcome, he writes, “there received’t be mortality by way of the cease of the twenty-first century.” Kurzweil loves to describe the advances enabled via the Singularity as a logarithmic upturn at the evolutionary curve. He believes that his work is hastening the evolutionary development of the human species into something which can no longer be referred to as strictly human. Like Thomas Lake Harris and Cyrus Teed, of his forebears in American messianic thought, he sees a new race evolving to supplant the vintage “corruptible,” decadent, miserable humanity. His evolutionary, do-morphic theology isn’t always unlike theirs; neither is plugging into the Singularity all that numerous from the attunement to Abundance extolled with the aid of Father Divine, or the assignment to grow to be as gods on Earth underneath the holy regime of apostolic socialism proclaimed using Rev. Jim Jones. But unlike his predecessors, Kurzweil believes that capitalism isn’t always the engine of damnation, but of salvation.

Enthusiasts of the Singularity accept as true with the unfettered unfastened market, primarily the only in Silicon Valley, will result in the quantum rapture they eagerly watch for. Opponents of the motion decry its uncritical embody of AI as naïve boosterism for corporate prerogatives. I decided to look into matters myself.

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