The United States of Jonestown

by Kathryn R. Barbour

September 9, 2013

“Wise Men, as poor Dick says, learn by others Harms, Fools scarcely by their own.”  From Father Abraham, an essay by Richard Saunders, aka Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richards Almanac

We are — increasingly — mirroring Jonestown in so many ways it is spooky. The correspondences now describe a near mirror image, except for a few marked disparities that are polar opposites. These inform rather than diminish the likeness. Both entities act / acted to groom their populations for an inglorious end. Considering them, I fear an impending plunge into the abyss.

In 1978 I was a member of Peoples Temple, living in the San Francisco Temple, a world away from Jonestown. Unlike those in Guyana, I ate well and slept comfortably. I knew I was missing the intensity and excitement of being in The Presence, but it was a relief I welcomed, though I would never have admitted it to anyone. After 1978, I considered myself as guilty as anyone in contributing to what happened, by my loyalty at all costs. The blinders were on. So for 35 years I’ve been determined not to let that happen again. But I’m still searching for the way to do it, that will Do It. All my efforts to date to counter the tailspin of this country appear to have only sped up the decline.

Let me make my case: We, the American people, are lining up and marching towards the figurative vat. Or vats. And if we don’t snap out of it, we may just take the world, as we know it, down with us.

We have come full circle, and the unthinkable is about to happen again. My obsession has been to understand the past so that future disaster may be averted, and in the process, to perceive the present as accurately as possible, trusting only my eyes and ears, and remembering everything. Over these years, by degrees so gradual, most have no idea it has happened, I’ve watched us fall in line with the final footsteps of my former family, those first-ever Kool-Aid drinkers, whose tumultuous passage on November 18, 1978 drew a sharp line of demarcation in our history, changing the game, creating the memory hole, issuing a blank slate to each of us, and commencing the rebirth and rearing of a nation of sheep. (Sheep have to be slaughtered sometime, don’t they?) There would be another line of demarcation in 2001, the launch of the “War on Terror,” and the one imminently approaching, the imperative to intervene in the Syrian civil war.

If I had to say where we are today, it would be that Vladimir Putin is the equivalent of Congressman Leo Ryan — that outsider trying to save US — and let’s hope his frantic efforts for peace are successful, since there is a panic in Washington over how to respond to this unforeseen threat of a peaceful solution. Decision time is upon us. Will we drink the Kool-aid or turn over the vat?

First, the similarities:

    • •       Like Them, we fancy ourselves a world beyond and apart from the rest of humanity.
    • •       Like Them, we live in a closed-circuit universe where an official narrative repeats endlessly and relentlessly;
    • •       Although, like Them, we have critics, even strident ones, most are not aware of it, or if their cries are briefly heard, they are ascribed to base or devious motives, corruption or cowardice;
    • •       Any remaining damage control or mop-up is accomplished by a tightly controlled PR team which makes sure such outbursts never reach the outside (or the inside), insofar as possible;
    • •       Outside the bubble (where we cannot see), we are told the worst danger surrounds, awaits, and intends — nay, approaches! — to harm us;
    • •       Within the bubble, our populations act to enforce the urgency of cohesion by ratting out traitors, intimidating critics, enforcing discipline and informing on each other;
    • •       There is no safe haven from constant observation, interference, designs and demands in service to the interpreter of the One World inside the bubble, and his managers, who make sure it is the only reality, all the while telling us how free we are;
    • •       It engulfs and compels through deft handlers who use flattery, condemnation, ostracism, and intimidation as carrots and sticks and, if these are not sufficient, drugs and deadly weapons, to enforce its dictates;
    • •       All apparent divisions and distinctions are encompassed within the confines of the bubble, or else do not exist; and
    • •       As with Them, resistance to the controlling power is futile. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere else to go. Exile? The very prospect is terrifying, entailing changes we can’t imagine and risks we may well not survive.

So there is no way but forward, one day at a time, one step after the other. As convinced of our individual powerlessness as we are of our strength in numbers, we helplessly defer to those who appear to be so sure they know. And just take the next step. And then the next. One more similarity I must add, since we are about to take the plunge:

    • •       This horrific, disastrous end is so totally unnecessary, it is beyond tragic. It is criminal. What it is not, is accidental.

The differences:

    • •       Unlike the residents of Jonestown, we are well fed, replete with material comforts and except for the stubbornly stoical, either medicated or self-medicated to alleviate our stress or boredom or both, as applicable.
    • •       Our politics are 180º from theirs: selflessness vs. selfishness, revolutionary communism vs. capitalist monocracy.
    • •       They were about a thousand people; we are a nation of 313 million.
    • •       Our leader then was a man who said he was God. Our leader now is fronting, as did at least several presidents before him, for a shadowy overarching something (Corporatocracy; ______[fill in the blank]_____ industrial complex; New World Order) or someone(s) unknown.

I won’t try to chronicle the imperceptible degrees that took the US to where it is today. Indeed, the case I thought I would have to make has been made for me by this fall’s events, and the resemblances of the US to Jonestown will I fear not be farfetched anymore by the time you read these words.

These last 35 years exist in a fog of competing assertions, constant revision and regular upheaval, as whole movements, struggles, wars and victories disappeared down the memory hole so quickly we’re left wondering, did it really happen? Yet society itself seems static, even moribund, in the midst of a blur of technological, social and economic changes.

What has demonstrably, actually happened over this time? Public service, from the office of your U.S. Senator to your water treatment worker, has either become the province of the very rich and easily compromised, or been outsourced, so that anyone with integrity dare not enter the arena. We have watched the rise of the class society and its dual-track delivery of education, medical, and judicial services; we have to remind ourselves it was not always that way. Public airways are ruled by propagandists whose next targets are the few surviving newspapers, making them a “curiosity” only to be seen in high-end hotel lobbies.

As in 1978, I am a part of this society but removed from it. Not by physical distance as then, but philosophically. Like others, I’m immersed in the conditioning, but am mostly immune to its effects from long practice, making its dicta by now transparently obvious. That others may see things as I do must be the case, but until now there have only been hints, glimmers that this is so. No one captures the entirety of the situation, or sees the horror ahead. Nevertheless, I cannot suppress the hope – in fact, it is my only dream – that the reality I perceive will suddenly become clear and obvious to all as it is to me. And as I write, this seems to be happening, against all odds.

In order to avoid the unthinkable, we must 1) comprehend and accurately assess the status quo and 2) realize the power that is innate within us to change direction, in order to 3) avert the unthinkable outcome for which, as long as the spark of consciousness continues to flicker, we will never forgive ourselves.

    1) We are sleepwalking into oblivion, lulled by the measured steps of those around us to think we have no option but to do what we are (or aren’t) doing. Risk-averse in the extreme, we relegate resistance to others and are encouraged in so doing the better to secure our possessions in insecure times.

    2) We do have the power to change the suicidal course of the US. It is the best-kept secret, it is ancient wisdom, and concealing it is the first objective of any propaganda: To make us unaware that there is any another course and/or even if we disagree with the direction, convinced of our powerlessness to change it. This apathy is widespread today, but resistance on many fronts is widespread in spite of every attempt to suppress it and hide the fact it ever happened. Consensus across many sectors already exists. What is needed is the will to galvanize realization, act in coordination, and address the problem.

    3) Once #2 is achieved, corrective action will be obvious. As befits a superpower, we can – and must – demonstrate leadership by abandoning the endless war in pursuit of higher goals, like actually setting an example for other nations in using our portion and no more of the earth’s resources, while living lives richer in everything that matters. Sustainability, not growth, must be the new grail. We could do this by resettling our share of the world’s refugees, studying their lifestyles, and learning from them how to best coexist on the shrinking earth.

The long work of healing the earth and humanity from the ravages of conflict, and restoring trust among its people will resurrect the hope for the future that we had in the last century. It was not the first casualty of the “War on Terror,” but soon enough fell victim, as the imperial juggernaut loosed wars of destabilization to cause pandemonium in the Middle East in order to control it and its resources.

Proceeding apace we shall be at the brink, facing the deadly draught before we know it. Whether we will be the “last, best hope of mankind” — or only the Last — may be what is at stake.

(Kathy Barbour [Tropp] joined Peoples Temple in 1970 with her companion, Richard Tropp, and was living in the San Francisco Temple on November 18, 1978. Her other articles in this edition of the jonestown report are Photo Book of People of Jonestown Nears Completion and Chicago Students Visit Evergreen. Her earlier writings on this site can be found here. She can be reached at barbourkr@gmail.com.)

Last modified on October 20th, 2017.
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