Monday, December 15, 2008

people's temple agricultural project

this was the name above the road leading to Jim Jones' commune in Guyana in the 1970s. last night i watched an NBC documentary about the commune's horrific end: about ordinary people struggling to make themselves submit to a mad order. most haunting, i think, was audio recording of a woman challenging Jones' directive. "but i think we all have our individual destinies," she asserted. quickly a man challenges her, saying that there is no individual life, that they all lived up to that point due to the grace of Jim Jones. minutes later they were lining up to drink poison. even the woman who recognized what was happening in those last minutes lined up. was it the armed men outside the pavilion that dissuaded her? or was it a moral despair, to see not one other person standing beside her, that made her give up?

the name on the sign is an amazing amalgamation of marxist (people's), temple (religious) and bureaucratic/scientific (agricultural project). Jones' claim at the end that "this is a revolutionary act" also shows how in the 70s religion itself was overlapping with Marxist politics. but this is not so surprising: both revolution and religion, or some religion, seek an overturning of the social order.

but how, how could such a thing occur?

the sardonic, "don't drink the kool aid" has been the massacre's legacy to American english. this phrase depicts a knowing, jaded, experienced speaker and a naive listener, and shows well the cynicism that has permeated american life since the 1970s. even the superheroes in movies are fallen, dark men; the typical hero (james bond) is not considered realistic unless he or she is "dark" and "edgy."

what about the reality of hope, desire, aspiration? the "realism" of pop culture is a degraded, defeatist version, i am afraid, reflecting not the wisdom of deep experience but the last few decades of american politics.

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