Until The Name of the Father Do Us Part:
A Lacano-Althusserian Analysis of the Jonesism of Peoples Temple

by Marcus Briheim

Introduction to the investigation

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.
Acts 4:32

Official and other stories are producing this Story

On November 18, 1978, late in the afternoon, there was a shooting of a United States congressman named Leo Ryan. The congressman and four others – three from a small entourage of media representatives, and one defector from a subversive community known as Peoples Temple – were assassinated on a tiny airstrip far out in the Guyana jungle in South America. This became the final, triggering event which in conjunction with the institutionalised fear of imperialist retaliation, brutally forced 913 other members of Peoples Temple to commit – in their words –revolutionary mass suicide, by collectively ingesting cyanide-laced fruit drink. The people of the Temple, more than 300 of whom were children, were part of an apostolic socialist agricultural project called Jonestown.[1]

It is often said – it has been said in some fashion by almost everyone who has seriously written about Jonestown – that stories of this magnitude end up involving more questions than answers. After a few years of research, I personally do indeed seem further away from a complete understanding than when I first started looking through the immense FBI archive consisting of some 50,000 documents and 750 tapes, titled the RYMUR vault, that is the Leo Ryan Murder/Jonestown Investigation.

I right now feel like David Duchovny’s X-file character, agent Fox Mulder, spending his time down in the vaults of that part of the bureau which is reserved for the more unusual cases. It is no exaggeration to claim that I’ve had countless nightmares and a few night-terrors since I first started listening to the recordings during this analysis.

Yet perhaps the most unusual aspect regarding this particular case is not that there is anything necessarily extraterrestrial or supernatural about it. Rather the uncanny – or more specifically, Das Unheimliche which Sigmund Freud spoke of – comes from the very act of intentionally well-preserved material that the community itself left behind.[2] It is almost as if collectively, the group behind the material were recording a message for a gaze that did not belong to its members or perhaps even its own contemporary time.

The written accounts and audiotapes, diaries, letters, political polemics, philosophical speculations and religious hopes all passed down by very regular human beings, with very humble ambitions, will at times strike the researcher as more unnatural and alien than the well-known Ridley Scott film of the same name which was released a year after the massacre.

Many of the investigations that have surfaced during the years claim that there is something off-putting, not only once upon a time in Jonestown, but also the way in which new generations many years later are being told simple folkloric stories about a “brainwashed cult.” The ideological media apparatus seems determined to provide only the perverse gory details, that – just like pornography – will sell well, even though all emotional investment is clearly censured.

As a student of psychoanalysis, I theoretically dislike the word “brainwashed.”[3] It provides a very limited, primitive understanding of the psyche, as it does harm to the very art that is the critique of ideology. With the risk of sounding patronising myself, “brainwashed” as a pejorative is not much more than an aggressive projection, which washes away a preconscious recognition within the subject’s relation to the accused other. This splittingsupposes an ideal ego through negation, more than it provides any useful analysis of the other. In simple terms, the word is useless if one really wants to know what went down in Peoples Temple.

Nonetheless, it is today easier to see why the general masses would have reason to believe anything about the news-friendly story of Jonestown in 1978. “Brainwashing” was a hot topic in those days, as stories about the MK-Ultra project were starting to surface following publication of the President’s Commission on CIA Activities within the United States in 1975.

At the dawn of a new hegemonic war-on-crime era, television lucratively retold the masses about the event, an event which – as a supposedly revealing signifier – did to the 70s counterculture what Charles Manson had done to the 60s. They are obviously events easily exploited for their grotesque facade. Tastier scandals such as Jones’ drug use, and what many traditionally felt to be his is sacrilegious preaching and sexual promiscuity, all easily feed into a widespread ideology which, through the narrow trappings of everyday psychologization, vulgar rationality or religious sensationalism, wants to distance its subjects from the disturbing political, theological and ethical messages implied by the radical activities of the community.

It is no understatement that Jim Jones has been one of those archetypal figures of monstrosity also in Europe. I was introduced to the story for the first time when I saw a documentary in a religious studies class during the Bush era.In my second year of gymnasium – which is the Scandinavian equivalent of high school – I was told simply about a “cult” and a “psychopath.”

The educational state apparatus has apparently come to the same conclusions as the media. But if we look further back than this official post-festum executive summary, we will find that the prolonged metamorphosis of Jones and Peoples Temple had been a commodity of the tabloids for quite some time. Beyond being a controversial figure back in San Francisco during the 60s, Jones drew some attention from the press as early as the 50s during the Indiana period of the Temple’s history.

Jones seems to have been always already departing from the USA and its way of life, whilst at the same time striking one as absurdly American. Even though the community officially claimed that they themselves had no problem with the American people, some of the addressed felt a line of demarcation had been made when the community left for Guyana at the end of the 70s. Perhaps the Peoples Temple model was not the American answer to the commune, the kibbutz or any of the egalitarian social formations that the Cold War Left was looking for after Stalin’s betrayal. That being said, there were still many – some of whom must be said to have had a substantial influence on whatever the American Dream is supposed to be – who still thought it could be the answer, all the way up until that Saturday evening, more than four decades ago.

Introduction to the method of the Four Discourses

To begin this short second introduction to a series of theoretically very demanding concepts, let me start off by saying that the truth about the massacre, and indeed most of 20th-century history, has to be situated within the splace and offsite that make out the larger picture of the United States’ unimaginably horrific war against communism,[4] a war which the initiated researcher knows was not only fought abroad against Second World workers-states and Third World peasants, but also on native soil against its own citizens.

So far no structural, Lacano-Althusserian, psychoanalysis has been made of the material found on the tape recordings, an analysis which I hope critically could suscitate the experience within a context liberated from all the shortcomings which I already listed in the introduction. This would thus be the purpose of this investigation.

Let’s start our inquiry with some questions put forward in the jargon of the above-mentioned theorists who did some of their finest work analysing the contemporary world while Jones was busy getting his people away from it.

What crucial quilting points can be found in the written and spoken material which give ground to the community’s unique language and history?

What are the symbolic deadlocks inherent to the communicating fabric that we could call Jonesism?

The laboratory method to answer these questions – which will be explained below – seeks to go further than what could be assumed to be a vulgar psychoanalysis of a Leader and his “ominous” upbringing,[5] a historicallyrelativizing approach which incidentally Jim Jones himself is the first adherent of.[6]

It also seeks to overcome the general tendency of demonising stigmatisation of religious sects and instead focuses on the inherently “secular” contradictions of the community’s emancipatory struggle, contradictions which can be found in postmodern society as a whole.

The study will also not give account to the chronological history of ideological development per se – for example in terms of “The history of ideas of Peoples Temple” – since that kind of work has already been done by other writers like Peter Åkerbäck at Stockholm University.[7]

For better or worse, we will take a more clinical approach. This research thus demands a great deal of the reader, since psychoanalysis and Marxism indeed have a concept apparatus of their own. As I have already stressed, within such a field of theoretical coordinates, it is not enough to claim that Jones was a pathological leader and that the members were brainwashed believers. A thorough investigation has to acknowledge an elementary notion of that infamous, latent, yet destructive psychopathology hidden in all individuals, members, leaders and spectating others, i.e., Der Todestrieb, the Death drive.[8]

The method – which is sometimes also called the symptomatic reading, since we are strictly speaking not in a clinic – is to break down the mechanisms of interpellation qua the Ideological state apparatus.[9] Special focus will be targeted at the family state apparatus which, according to Louis Althusser, is the most detrimental/influential social formation of bourgeoisie society. This focus holds especially importance considering Peoples Temple’s explicit terminology, fitting for an extended alternative model of the family.

The material retrieved from the archive will more specifically be dissected according to the Theory of the Four Discourses laid out by Jacques Lacan in Seminar 17 titled “The Other side of psychoanalysis” which he held from 1969 to 1970.[10]

Master Discourse

We begin with the Master/Slave dialectic proposed by Hegel in the Phenomenology of Spirit in 1807. The Master Discourse builds on the basic question asked by the Master(S1) as an agent inquiring into the Other of Knowledge (S2) on behalf of the bared Subject($): ’What is in me more than myself?.’ That’s why we have the Subject in the position of truth but the Master Signifier in the position of activity, i.e., the Agent. It is the Subject’s truth which is being expressed by the Master, e.g., the subject’s innermost fear or highest hope.

The master then asks or confronts the Other, a position which is here occupied by knowledge. The problem however is that this is characterised by an impossibility. We could imagine the question “What happens when I die?” It’s not only that the teaching or the knowledge of the Other is incapable of fully answering such a question, there is a lack inherent to the symbolic order itself, language as such, cannot fully articulate the thing that bothers you, that death might not mean the same to you, the master or the teaching. And it is through this process of having the Master ask the Other on behalf of one’s self as a subject that this thing is produced, that is the small object (a).

This contingent ‘something’ signifies the lack or the surplus of knowledge regarding our ontology as subjects or masters. The self can sometimes also be the Master-Signifier as “the I ” or the individual or one’s name; it doesn’t necessarily have to be another person, and one can assume this mandate on one’s own. However this in no way guarantees that one is more subversive, because the small object a is still produced as a consequence of an impossibility. This object then ‘appears’ to the subject, and we make a full circle according to schematics above.

We can see how the whole schematics is running in the opposite direction of what we might liberally assume. According to our common (consumerist) sense, it is we ourselves who pursue an object because of our desire. Here instead, an object as the cause of desire falls upon us, because a master has made an impossible inquiry, on our behalf, into the knowledge.[11]

University Discourse

We might suddenly ask ourselves regarding the previous discourse: how is it then that a master came to be the Master? Obviously it’s not sufficient that a king just says that “I’m the King.” Such a king would be no more a king than a beggar who claims to be a king.

As Lacan put it with regard to the famous story about “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” ”the emperor is naked only beneath his clothes,” our question is, who clothed the emperor?

The answer is the University Discourse, a clockwise turn from the previous discourse. Here we have once again knowledge, but no longer as the Other. Instead, it is in the active position of the agent. It would appear that “neutral” knowledge itself confronts an inquiry into the object a, which was earlier paramount to the subject’s fantasy.

This time however the impossibility is moved down to the lower functions. That is because it’s the teaching itself which actively engages the small object a. There is still an impossibility since this object merely signifies a lack or a surplus. However that previous impossibility can be a constituent of knowledge, it can as such take it into account, so to speak. The master can’t reach the object, but theoretically, it is not impossible for it to be declared an impossibility.

In Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, we could imagine the point being posed as, “The master must know his limits.” Practically though, it is experienced as an Impotence for the subject that is produced. Knowledge thus identifies an impossibility, a lack which appears universal and then produces subjects out of this impossibility.

When one too has found this something to be a problem, then one is made into a subject of that particular theory of active expression. For example, two Augustinian Calvinists can see eye-to-eye because they are both castrated by original sin.

The impotence regarding the small object a is then addressed to the Master-signifier – which is in the position of truth – to receive the Subject. Much like in confessions in the Catholic church – but as we all know, in such a situation, as in the schematics above Ω– there is a mandate, a priest, S1, in-between the subject and knowledge S2.

And this is why the university discourse or the reproduction of Knowledge, does not produce new knowledge, it only produces subjects and puts the master in the position of truth, since the active enunciation was done on his behalf in the first place, hidden by the “pure” Agency of Knowledge. Thus we like to say things like “it’s only logical” or “I don’t need to state the obvious,” “It speaks for itself” and so on.

In other words, we are following a chronological development of dealing with our impotence after we have been confronted with the impossible object a from the previous Master Discourse. It sounds like “Truth speaks,” but it is practical social reality, really “I truth which speaks.”

Following this logic, we will give examples of how, and what kind of, and in what way knowledge itself, so to speak, took for granted, an objective cause of the community and its ontology, which is the same as understanding how the group self-created a myth about Jim Jones, a common history, a set frame of reference, which – like “the writing on the wall” – sustained his mandate as a Healer, Religious Pastor, Political Leader, Father and so on. Perhaps we might even be able to locate a time when this university discourse or the “myth of Jim Jones” started to reproduce subjects independent of the initial masters, including Jones himself, that would be the birth of Jonesism proper.

Hysteric Discourse

We have now arrived at the Hysteric Discourse, the first discourse to indicate symptoms embodying and revealing resistance to the prevailing Master Discourse.

What makes the hysteric progressive, unlike the previous discourses, is that the subject is in the active position, talking from this place of enunciation on behalf of the truth regarding the impossibilities mentioned earlier.Impossibilities which are the lacks and surpluses signified by the small object a.

We can see in the next step how Lacan grants the hysteric a quality which is not usually associated with hysterics, it reaches the master. Impossibility is once again on the lower level of impotence where newly Produced Knowledge is trying to reach the object, not in the engagement with the master.

Let’s suppose a black female worker ($), who for the first time confronts the white ruling patriarchal authority of capitalism (S1), demanding her rights by wildcat striking. What follows is retaliation from the repressive state apparatus, and police racism (a) is revealed for what it is, new knowledge is produced (S2).

This was made clear during the Black Lives Matter protests, when white people, contrary to their own experience, also joined in solidarity due to the new knowledge produced by the hysterics.[12]

So the problem for the hysteric is that such a one tells a truth, but it is in the guise of – or it is assumed to be – a lie. Thus the newly-produced knowledge tries to reach the object of desire through impotence, and object (a) comes to signify either an exaggeration for the non-hysterics or an insufficient way of not being able to describe the horror experienced by the hysteric.

The ambivalence regarding the surplus or the lack, might be covered up by a collective ritual, which serves to obfuscate an analysis and the inevitable polarisation of some things as being truly a lie or a lie about the truth.

What we might be tempted to do, if we were to consider Peoples Temple a mere fanatical cult, is to only focus on the dissidence within the group. But if we were to do so, we would be missing out on something crucial: Mainly that  Peoples Temple was not primarily – or if it was, then at least not only – a religious group. It was also a political organisation advocating a type of American-styled communism in the midst of the aforementioned war on communism. Among its member were veterans in the struggle against the ruthless harassment, prosecution and assassination directed at socialists and people fighting for equal rights in America.

One should therefore initially try to position the typical People Temple member as a hysteric subject in contradiction with the master that is American capital, not necessarily in contradiction with Jim Jones.

To elaborate the already-introduced concepts of Alan Badiou, we should try to investigate a hysteric discourse within the offsite to the splace. Once this offsite has fought and conquered its relative autonomy, it becomes a new splace, and there will undoubtedly, as in any group, be new offsites to it. That is to say, we are assuming that the hysteric discourse is what created the various layers within Peoples Temple.

Every time there was a hysteric break, there is also a return, some left, some stayed the same and some had to reconstruct the symbolic order within the community, necessarily creating another dimension to the reproductive, circular motion around the object cause of desire (a) created by the master in the first zero level discourse. To give a general example, this is how abusive relationships are prolonged and the violence is gradually increased, also known as “gaslighting.”

There are hysteric breaks as a reaction to an unethical gesture within the inconsistency of the university discourse. Let’s say the impotent – usually male – subject cannot “mansplain” a particular repetition, e.g., the question “why do you love me?” If the desired object cannot fit into the coordinates of his cognitive mapping, he retorts to violence.

The violence is met with a hysteric reaction, which should lay bare the impossibility of the relationship, but it might be that the violence itself is perversely incorporated into the sexual economy by the master discourse and then reproduced within the university discourse – i.e., it is normalized – until it once again reaches a higher hysteric dimension of reaction which might bring things to an end, or in a vicious circle, normalising them even further, creating layer upon layer of norms and manners that are accustomed to higher levels of violence, both psychological and physical.

These splits are often exploited and ritualised, and become – to further explain a concept from the list of the investigations question – quilting points that bind the group together. In Totem and Taboo, Freud suggests that this pattern is what gave rise to the first totems in early human mythological development. Phallic symbols were erected in matter to quilt the point of ambivalence regarding the murder of the original Parent.

Freud also suggests that, “No neurotic harbours thoughts of suicide which are not murderous impulses against others redirected upon himself.” This might become useful later to understand the White Nights.

Remember that they – the rituals – remain symbolic as long as Jim’s assassination of “Uncle Sam” remains symbolic. It is his “sons” who take things to the dimension of the Real by murdering Leo Ryan.

We might also be able to make use of the “incest taboo” theory to explain the sexual postion of Jim Jones, once he has become the father of his new family.

Analyst Discourse

Now we have finally arrived at the last introduction, that of the Analyst Discourse. Here we have for the first time this enigmatic object a, in the active position. This small object, which upon closer examination falls apart, leaving nothing behind except the notion of having signified a void.

And still it is this insisting little pebble of das ding an sich which ruins the smooth operation of the machinery. What the schematics are trying to say is that the Analyst sits in this position like the enigma itself, quietly analysing the subject. It doesn’t really have to ask anything, since in a way it is speaking, by not speaking, on behalf of knowledge,which is here in the position of Truth, commonly phrased as “you already know very well what you have done!” It is not wrong to assume that this Knowledge can sometimes be the new knowledge of the hysteric which no longer appears as a lie.

So we have counterintuitive problems here if we are to do as we suggested before, which is to look at Peoples Temple members in their contradicting relationship to the outside world, because then these people are not only not “brainwashed cult followers,” they are analysts of everyday Americans. But the problem for the members of Peoples Temple is that they could not fully reach the Other subjects, those interpellated subjects who were living out their nine-to-five lives in blissful ignorance of the horrors and atrocities that were going on in Vietnam or in ghettos all across the United States.

Thus some element of what Freud called the fundamental fantasy could no longer be bought and consumed. There were no “happy-meals with coke” in Jonestown.

So the product is instead a new Master-Signifier, a new meaning-producing point of reference for the members, in the content and form of Jim Jones, who is engaged with knowledge, now in the position of truth.

Some did, as we know, also analyse Jones, whom they no longer felt they could reach as a subject and discovered a different truth which caused them to leave, perhaps to become masters of their own life, or return to the one they had before.

It is nevertheless time for us to begin our analysis.

From Jim to Dad

The zero level master Discourse

To whomever finds this note Collect all the tapes, all the writing, all the history. The story of this movement, this action, must be examined over and over. It must be understood in all of its incredible dimensions. Words fail. We have pledged our lives to this great cause. We are proud to have something to die for. We do not fear death. We hope that the world will someday realize the ideals of brotherhood, justice and equality that Jim Jones has lived and died for. We have all chosen to die for this cause. We know there is no way that we can avoid misinterpretation. But Jim Jones and this movement were born too soon. The world was not ready to let us live…..If nobody understands, it matters not – I am ready to die now. Darkness settles over Jonestown on its last day on Earth.
Richard Tropp’s Last Letter

There is no “Sky-god”!

Considering what we have just outlined in our simplification of the four discourses – and further recall the initial inquiry of the investigation which was to locate symbolic deadlocks inherent to the communicating fabric of Jonesism – is it not interesting to note that this exact contradiction, the inconsistency of language, is emphasised twice in this excerpt from Richard Tropp’s last letter?

Words fail,” he concludes before suggesting death as the only alternative to this problem. “We know there is no way that we can avoid misinterpretation,” he continues before suggesting that birth came too soon. How was this ideological matrix constructed, what happened to his dreams?

There is an interesting recorded sermon from 1973 at the San Francisco Church, about five years before the mass migration to Jonestown. Much of the Sermon involves common topics in Jones’ preaching, such as the inherent sexism, racism and injustice found in the Bible. There is however a particular act which stands out and which other members have noted in their accounts as an epistemological break, or quilting point, that furthered their initiation.

It’s the throwing of the Holy Bible on the ground.

Before we analyse the event according to the Schematics of the Master Discourse, let’s read a short summary of the transcript.

I’m the only one that can help you. I’m the only one that can keep you playing your horn, or keep you walking straight. I’m the only one that can save you when you’re in trouble. I’m the only one that can get you out of trouble. No one’s that rich has ever gone to a gas chamber. Why is it that a black and brown and the hippie and the poor are the ones that get arrested, and the ones that die without hospital care are the poor, the ones that live in the rat traps. No, I’m real. If you want to call me God, then I’m God. But I’m Jim Jones. When I looked inside of me, when I found the power of socialism in me, and quit praying. I haven’t prayed a prayer since I was five. (Pause) I got some of you folks shook up. (Pause) I see what you’re waiting for. Is he gone drop dead?

Jones is here at the end referring to himself regarding the consequences of what he is about to do. He then goes on to do it, which is to throw a Bible across the room onto the floor. According to those present, the whole room wentsilent when the book left his hand, so that the sound of it falling on the ground was overwhelming.

The first thing to note here of course is that Reverend Jim (S1), a white male, is speaking on behalf of the general experience of women and black people ($), confronting the Bible as a source of knowledge (S2) regarding their suffering (a). The Master Signifier is speaking from the active position on behalf of the subject questioning the big Other, but as we see in the schematics, this process of inquiring into the Other of knowledge is defined by an impossibility. It will thus become apparent that there are some things which the Other cannot answer, and this apparent lack/surplus produces the object petit a.

This is made theatrically clear by Jones throwing the Bible on the ground to everyone’s shocked amazement. All of a sudden the Bible does not signify God as the Big Other, but merely a small object on the ground, from sublime surplus to the excrement of lack in a matter of seconds. The small object is now just a book that says a lot of nonsense about the subject of women and blacks.

But we would be wrong to say that it, the book, is now something unimportant. The Bible – ambivalent as it is, even in its formal religious institutional position – has now socially been relocated to a different dimension, used as a prop in the Peoples Temple theatre of the absurd.[13] It is now libidinally charged with lack – ultimately God’s lack – it has become the signifier of a divine impotence. God did not strike Jones dead, so it/he/she cannot know what death is, and by the work of a miracle, Pastor Jim becomes Dad the Father supposed to Know. That is, he knows that the big Other does not know.

Even in his own way, Jones explains how the master discourse works: No, I’m real. If you want to call me God, then I’m God. But I’m Jim Jones. Which is it? We might ask naively. Well it’s both, in the same way that a möbius strip is ‘both sides.’

Let’s go through this thoroughly. For Lacan there are two ‘Reals’ there is the Real-Necessary and Real-Impossible. The Real-Impossible which doesn’t cease not to be written is always already the surface of existence of the subject. We as human beings are caught in a position of not being able to finally determine who or what we are.

Surrounding this red möbius strip – The Real-Impossible to illustrate the concept geometrically – is the yellow edge of the Real-Necessary which doesn’t cease to be written. Through the Wiederholungszwang, compulsive repetition, of the Real-Necessary the subject makes out the interior of its unwritten identity: I am, not that, I am, not this, I am, not who, they, she, he, or you claim that I am and so on.

Jim says thus, in so many words, ‘I am the real’ absolutely spot on and absolutely not the case. How? Well, if you call the Real, God, then it is God; if you don’t, it is not called God. The signifier or the axis around which the Real turns can be imagined as anything or any symbol. So the impossible is something imagined. We could also call it the ‘imaginary real’ since it can’t be written and avoids symbolisation.

The necessary then is the ‘symbolic real’ which is constantly rewritten and makes use of symbols in such a way that it undermines one’s imagination. Granted there should be a real Real which isn’t of the symbolic order or the imaginary register. Talking about trauma, we often say things like “I can’t even describe or put into words what happened to me,” “It’s unfathomable” or “I can’t even begin to imagine what you must have been going through.”

Empathic communication can take a sinister turn though if someone were to exploit this apophatic dimension of experience.

This is precisely where the mirror stage is useful. It brings to light the nature of this aggressive relation and what it signifies. If the aggressive relation enters into this formation called the ego, it’s because it is constitutive of it, because the ego is already by itself an other, and because it sets itself up in a duality internal to the subject. The ego is this master the subject finds in an other, whose function of mastery he establishes in his own heart. In every relationship with the other, even an erotic one, there is some echo of this relation of exclusion, it´s either him or me, because, on the imaginary plane, the human subject is so constituted that the other is always on the point of re-adopting the place of mastery in relation to him, because there is an ego in him that is always in part foreign to him, a master implanted in him over and above his set of tendencies, conduct, instincts, and drives.
Jacques Lacan, Séminaire III, Les psychoses

Apropos transference

If the Ego is already an alien master to the subject as Lacan suggested above, then it is not difficult to understand why it is liberating to replace this unethical agency with that of the family group and establish this ‘function of mastery within one’s heart.’ One could claim that it is often more comforting to get a slap or a good (sexual) push in the right direction than to dwell alone in the hell of the ego’s shame and guilt.

My point is here that there is a difference between fearing yourself, Jones the person or the followers of Jonesism, i.e., the member group of Peoples Temple. To understand how Jones exploited this structural tetralemma of the ego, it is useful to read some of the transcripts from the struggle sessions in Jonestown.[14] In Peoples Temple, these sessions grew out of traditional sermons, the collective ritual where the group in communion establishes the sublimity of the big Other and its (non)existence. Struggle sessions, on the other hand, established Jonesism as the big Other, which would then undergo a gradual metamorphosis to become the gaze in front of which one cantransfer one’s need to be forgiven.

So what is this mystical ‘transfer mechanism’? Lacan defined his whole project as a failure to undermine transference.[15] He saw early on that there was something very strange going on in transference. The ‘strangeness’ appears when in a clinical setting an analysand – someone undergoing analysis – was given the appearance of confessing her symptom to a subject supposed to know. Someone taken to understand the nature of their suffering. Lacan wanted to avoid all essentialist identification with an omnipotent role. This is why he was famous as the analyst who always broke off the analysis right before the pathetic eureka-i-finally-got-it-moment. Once he opened up his room to a patient, said Bonjour!, and asked for five hundred francs, he then proceeded to close the door in front of the analysand. Jim Jones on the other hand made a name for himself by never closing his door to anyone.

This essentialist identification is not unique to Peoples Temple. Even though it renders an analytical attitude impossible, we all know that when faced with a daunting accumulation of overdetermined contradictions, situations when an effect has more than the necessary causes needed to produce itself, and we ourselves lack an answer, thenit can often be socially necessary to allow for an installation of the subject supposed to know, even if we do it in a half-mocking fashion through a so-called fetishistic disavowal.[16]

“Die Partei hat immer recht” (“The Party is always right”) was the party song of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, SED, the ruling party of East Germany. If read with blind naivety, then indeed this is the crude conclusion that many common people construe to be totalitarian.

But what if one’s totality is so overdetermined and full of contradictions, that such a crude conclusion is the only thing that keeps you from going insane or frankly being destroyed? I think we are all guilty of some crude conclusions that keep our boat floating. How many times, for example, has one not heard a relatively-rational friend proclaim “science will find a way” or “technology will take care of it” when confronted with the multifaceted issues of global warming?

Having admitted that, we should proceed to understand just how overwhelming the number of causes were for Jones to claim that, I’m the only one that can help you…. I’m the only one that can get you out of trouble. As can be seen in the Temple’s house newspaper, The Peoples Forum, Peoples Temple was attacked in many ways, all of which provided evidence that the American repressive state apparatus was indeed out to get them.

In hindsight, with the official records, proving the activities of CIA’s Operation CHAOS and the FBI’s COINTELPRO, and if indeed experience had already proven it, in the case of a subject who is leftist, black, worker, woman or all the preceding, transference of such an experience would already be at work to solidify and remind Jim of what role they expected him to play for them. He didn’t need to tell them ghost stories. They had already given to the devil what belonged to the devil, long before they met their final pastor.

We live in a society in which slavery isn’t recognized. It’s nevertheless clear to any sociologist or philosopher that it has in no way been abolished. This has even become the object of some fairly well-known claims. It’s also clear that while bondage hasn’t been abolished, one might say it has been generalized. The relationship of those known as the exploiters, in relation to the economy as a whole, is no less a relationship of bondage than that of the average man. Thus the master-slave duality is generalized within each participant in our society.
Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire livre III – Les psychoses

Nom du père

Lacan saw that there are more operational conditions for transference than just during the limited interaction of an analyst and the analysand. He developed the concept of nom du père – that is Name of the Father – in his Psychosis Seminar to indicate primary ideological constellations between the subject and its master. Of course there is something peculiar about Jim Jones always being addressed as Dad or Father in the latter years of the Temple. In transcript Q734, a senior member is even being forced to undergo self-criticism in a struggle session for not addressing him as Dad or Father.

It is quite clear that once the ‘Sky-god’ is out of the question, and if we instead raise the cognitive functions of the subject supposed to know to its sublime place, then his presence will echo, being there as a name of the father, influencing the intrinsic theory that one knows in one’s heart. Whenever listeners are confronted with the nothingness of an impossibility that makes their eyes twinkle, Jones would be there to save them.

The thing is that Lacan clearly points out that this is under ordinary circumstances an impossibility. We cannot replace a person’s master-signifier with another master-signifier, just like that. Then he nonetheless adds in this third seminar – once again on psychosis – ‘we have some ways of getting around this though,’ suggestion of a praxis.

Now that indeed sounds somewhat ill-willed or uncanny. To investigate this further, we can take a look at the word hegemony, made famous by Gramci in his writings about Caesarism.

Hegemony comes from the Greek word hēgéomai, “to lead” and, in post-homeric texts, “to regard something as.” We can see how at first the word speaks of the one who makes the Story through experience, like Moses who led his people out of Egypt and promised them a home. Once such a one has settled down, having become a myth, the word instead speaks of how this story is told, what it is regarded as saying. Thus from hēgéomai we also get the word exēgéomai, to tell at length and “exegesis,” which is the word we use today to speak of the interpretation of the Bible. The Hegemon could thus be both the Signifier and the interpreter of said Signifier. Once again Jones didn’t have to do much – though he did speak at length on the Jonestown broadcast system, every day – that his followers already knew in their heart that in the beginning was the word that their Father had given them.

 This is the genealogy of signifiers insofar as it’s essential if a human being is to find his bearings in them. They aren’t just signposts, or external, stereotyped moulds, layered over forms of behaviour, nor are they just patterns. It makes possible for him free circulation in a world that henceforth has order in it. Modern man is perhaps less well off. It’s through these myths that the primitive finds his bearings in the order of meaningfulnesses. He possesses keys for all sorts of extraordinary situations. Should he be in breach of everything, signifiers still support him, which for example will tell him exactly the form of punishment entailed by the outburst that produced the disturbances. The rule imposes its fundamental rhythm upon him. As for us, we’re reduced to very fearfully remaining conformists, we are afraid that we’ll go a little bit mad as soon as we don’t say exactly the same thing as everybody else. This is the situation of modern man. 
Jacques Lacan, Séminaire livre III, Les psychoses

Psychoanalytical explanation of the Healing

Strictly speaking, convictions are carried out in front of a specific gaze, in the eyes of which one feels ashamed of having done something wrong or less ideal. This could be a subjective constellation in the form of an ego ideal which is partly of one’s own construction but whose standard we never reach. Now we all know the psychosomatic effects of shame: one gets hot and red, the heart starts beating and so on. Thus the position of the ego ideal is the sovereign who rules over this ontological state of exception, the symptom, i.e., tachycardia, being read as shame.

In relation to this, I once heard of a case involving a shaman among the aboriginals of some Pacific island who could simply point a bone at an aspirant and cause him to die. One cannot help but to think of Hegel’s old motto that “the spirit is a bone.” As mind turning as this motto might be, this hardly helps understanding what is taking place here.

A primary contradiction is that the shaman’s mandate occupies the position of the gaze, the idealego, as opposed to one’s own imaginary image. Instead of depending on an imaginary relationship, this idealego is symbolic; it has a legitimated constituted space within language. Thus the shaman can in anthropological terms accumulate “mana” within the social formation that shares the same symbolic order. If he is the personified reference point in everyday conversations of, let’s say, death as an agent – if, for example, his very name within this community is Death – then consequently his mandate becomes so libidinally invested with this enigma of certainty.

Over generations of epigenetic trauma-inheritance, so invested indeed that if he were to signal the end of a subject’s life by pointing at him with a bone, this is taken as such an indisputable self-evidence by the others that the psychosomatic reaction is not merely cheek-blushing-high blood pressure, but actual cardiac arrest due to epileptic shock in the heart region.

It is not our interest here to go in further to the biological mechanisms that makes this possible. Our interest is that of language. As Lacan put it, ‘Reality has the structure of a fiction.’[17] Keeping this in mind, we thus see how Jones successfully made use of this same potent nocebo and turned it into an equally potent placebo when healing people. The gaze of one’s own ideal and the associated shame, or one’s own super-ego structure of guilt, is temporarily replaced during a sermon, the event, by the charismatic authority of Jones as the symbolic idealego.

In practice, this would render the subject’s previous psycho-economical debt to one’s own self image obsolete and with that, the subject’s repressed symptoms, which can range anywhere from migraines to a mental conviction ofbeing a lame good-for-nothing outcast. Simply put, you no longer need to feel bad about yourself because Jones/The Father sees another you.

Of course there are limits to what can be cured in this way, since there are irreversible strictly physiological afflictions. But the point is that the associated pain within the capacity of perceiving these afflictions as sins belongs to the faculty of the psyche. Of course it must be assumed that those closest to Jones choose victims carefully. Still, one should not underestimate the crowds’ disillusioned willingness to make-believe during the event – that is, the sermon – about Jones’ instrumental task of liberalizing them from their “own” more compulsory habit of actually believing in their “deserved” pain. He wanted them to stop believing in their sickness, he wanted them to stop unconsciously praying to that which made them ashamed, etc.

There are doctors who claim today that even cancer is a symptom of early trauma. The etiological reason for this is that the majority of the big cancers today are hormone-based, like testicular cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, etc. The hormones which are generally involved in cancerous growth in the body are stress hormones like cortisone. So practically speaking, if there was a person who had the symbolic mandate within a social formation to nurture a statute of limitations with regards to once supposed social obligation to feel stressed, then such a biological hormone activating constellation would be nullified. A healed subject would come to appreciate the nullification of their previous duty to the big Other – the earlier gaze in front of which they unconsciously forced themselves to feel stressed, and so on – as some kind of rebirth, since we are talking about lifelong organic, nervous habits that utterly define our life appreciation. We are talking here about a material rebirth, if indeed earlier stages of cancers can be halted and reversed by cutting its life-support of said hormones. This explains why healing was highly compatible with Jones’ apostolic socialism, and why he kept emphasizing its power until the end.

The reproduction of faith

University Discourse

Death! It belongs to the realm of faith. You’re right to believe that you will die. It sustains you. If you didn’t believe it, could you bear the life you have? If we couldn’t totally rely on the certainty that it will end, how could you bear all this?
Jacques Lacan, Conférence de Louvain, 1972

As it was in the beginning, so shall it be reinterpreted in the end!

We have so far looked at direct relations between Jim Jones as a master and others as his followers. To understand how a group learns to have faith in itself, we should take a look at what is called the place of enunciation and try to explain that what we referred to earlier as mana. This collective unconscious libidinal investment, which takes place simply when things are being talked about, only appears to be a metaphysical substance flowing through the veins of the social body.

I might say something about these events, the sermons, to another person, something along the lines of Jim Jones is a healer!? This casual remark is then picked up by the next person, who transfers it further until it makes, by word of mouth, a complete ring. A notion is spread, leaving a nuanced fibre of knowledge throughout the contours of this group of followers and its interior.

But once this casual remark again reaches back to me in the form of a statement, rather than a question inquiring about its origin, I might or might not realize that its form has changed its content. The place of enunciation is no longer the same. That is the place from which it was first spoken about, and the initial innocent tension of my voice, scepticism or awe and so on, is no longer the same. It has shifted from me to the big Other, and just as with the “magic” of a “Chinese whisper,” my words have undergone a symbolic metamorphosis. Thus what I was saying, what was being understood and what finally became said, does not seem to logically correlate.

Lacan said that the formula for communication is not 1+1=2, but rather 1+1=2+a, object petit a, that small contingent extra which ends up ruining everything, as it is the object of desire, that little surplus which one read in to, what one wished it was that one’s lover had said, and which one now to hear symptomatically.

The historical economist Karl Marx pointed towards something similar in his critique of the bourgeoisie’s fascination of supply and demand. He said that this repeated “Law” merely indicates the above and below of a commodity’s inherent value. Supply and demand regulate nothing but the temporary fluctuations of market prices. They will explain to you why the market price of a commodity rises above or sinks below its value, but they can never account for the value itself. We now have a focus on perceived change for itself rather than the thing in itself.

What non-classical economists cannot fully understand is that the actual value of, say, tulips is determined by a series of productive material instances called labour. On a macro level, they have come to vulgarise instead what Adam Smith claimed was an invisible hand which moved within and among economies, changing the value of things. They have elevated this perceived change for itself into an agent of intelligent motives.

Moving back to Christian theology from a socioeconomic phenomenon in Dutch history, the name for the invisible hand is the Holy Ghost, ‘[t]he metaphysical substance flowing through the veins of the social body’ which we mentioned earlier, before indicating that this too was the outcome of a series of material instances of social enunciation.

In atheist Christian terms, we are dealing with the vanishing remainder of the community, once Jesus had first renounced the Father through his ‘Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani’ and then renounced himself by dying on the cross, ‘It is finished.’ Yet through his disciples he keeps on teaching, or perhaps more importantly, his Holy Ghost keeps on teaching about the value of his death, through them.

This does not take place without its problems, as we know historically from the examples of the tulips which, unlike Jesus, don’t have any value once they are dead, except of course if you are caught up in the merry-go-round of supply and demand. Maybe that is why Ulrike Meinhof said that ‘Suicide is the last act of rebellion.’

What I’m trying to say here is that the place of enunciation can gather strength from being unknown. Many people assume that for things to become mythological, they have to be separated by long spans of time, as if an idea needs to suffer the material wear of eternal wind on ancient marble. If that is not even the case for the rational bourgeoise and a commodity like the tulip which might finish blooming within the week, then it should not surprise anyone what a few dedicated people can be willing to work for to make some “magic” happen.

Within ’the cloud of unknowing,‘ any group is quickly charged with a mystical resonance. The timelessness of its origin can split itself to occupy not only the beginning but also ‘the perspective of the last judgement,’ that is its end. Once again proving two Althusserian points about ideology, it is unconscious and it does not have a history of its own.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is theopium of the people.
Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1843

Drives and Desire, Faith and Belief

The peculiar character of Capitalism as a machine of drives is that it does not see crises as an obstacle, even though its agents of desire might be devastated over a failed tulip crop. Only through crisis can it revolutionise itself and centralise its monopoly of power and knowledge, when those less in crisis assume the “economic burden” of those in more crises by buying their assets “in a good deal.”

The drive of the machine gains its satisfaction through vampirically feeding off of the dissatisfaction of the desire associated with its agent. As the Lacanian Suzanne Barnard puts it:

[W]hile desire is born of and sustained by a constitutive lack, drive emerges in relation to a constitutive surplus. This surplus is what Lacan calls the subject’s “anatomical complement,” an excessive, “unreal” remainder that produces an ever-present jouissance.[18]

To clarify what I’m getting at here is that drives have something to do with faith which is here associated with an ‘anatomical complement,’ that is the collective social body as an apparatus producing pleasure in pain (jouissance), while we could say that make believe has something to do with desire born out of a lack, rather than surplus.

For the experienced members of Peoples Temple, this meant in practice a higher status quo that is a more potent place of enunciation. Once new members would join, they could be told what to do, simply because they did not yet have enough faith in Peoples Temple. They had not yet been introduced to the circular movement of words changing in meaning, and thus the material force of the Holy Ghost, i.e., social body/family-state-apparatus. They had not seen it for themselves, as it were.

We have thus an unequal distribution of this crucial surplus which generates faith. It was available only to those with experience or a “capital of mana,” while the others had to make do with the petty pocket change of make-believe.

Regarding the big Other’s direct injunction for its subjects to enjoy/believe, Peter Sloterdijk writes the following on the relationship between faith and language:

What is usually termed “faith” is another word for a pre-linguistically established trust in language. This grows exclusively in the hothouse of successful communions; whoever lives in it constantly witnesses the advantage of speaking and of listening to the spoken. Perhaps language only managed to become such a species-wide anthropogonic factor because it articulates the siren force that ties us to life? What would be a more powerful advertisement for human life than passing on the advantage of being able to speak to the speechless who are on the way to language? Where the speakers do not succeed in convincing the not-yet-speakers, the abandoned subject develops leanings to go on a primal strike against the disappointing outside and its deaf, tiresome and superfluous signs; the ungreeted, unseduced and unenlivened are – rightly, one is inclined to say – agnostic towards language and cynical about the idea of communion. They do not move in the house of being in the first place. For them, language remains the epitome of counterfeit money; communication is nothing but the forgers’ attempt to bring their own duds into circulation along with all the others.[19]

Once again it should be clear then – as the schematics at the beginning pointed out – that the university discourse does not produce new knowledge/beliefs through its use of language, let’s say, how more people can cure more people – more faces on the coins in current circulation – it reproduces the position of the master as the curer, it creates more coins of the same kind with the Caesar’s face on it, brings in more people to use them, it allows the newcomers to find out for themselves that they are not counterfeit, but legal tender, to be used in the accumulation of their own riches once they have faith in the system. Jones did not become a healer because he cured many people, he cured many people because he was a healer. That is to say from the get-go, his face was minted on the means of exchange.

The other side of Hysteria

Hysteric Discourse

If one wishes to form a true estimate of the full grandeur of religion, one must keep in mind what it undertakes to do for men. It gives them information about the source and origin of the universe, it assures them of protection and final happiness amid the changing vicissitudes of life, and it guides their thoughts and motions by means of precepts which are backed by the whole force of its authority.
Sigmund Freud, A Philosophy of Life, Lecture 35, 1932

The defectors

Contemplating what was said in the last section, we might come to the correct conclusion that Caesar himself might not be the “wealthiest” person in the empire just because his face is on the accumulated coins in question.

There is an interesting statement by the Eight /revolutionaries – as they referred to themselves – from the earlier years before the move to Jonestown, interesting not only because it’s the first substantial defection that delivered a political message to Jones, but also because it gives insight to those second-in-command who might have exploited Jones’ exploitation of the general members.

Before we explain ourselves further, let us say that our departure has nothing to do with you. To us, you are the finest socialist and leader this earth has ever seen. We plan to contact you and, if you see fit, work with you, not staff. We have nothing to say to or with staff.

Then they continue to attack the double standards within the higher ranks of the collective.

Proceeding, a revolutionary as you and staff would say, does not engage in sex. Anyone with any awareness concerning socialism would give up sex. The reasons for giving up sex are agreeable with us. However, who takes the privileged liberty to abuse such a decision? STAFF. Carolyn Layton, Sandy Inghram, Karen Layton, Grace Stoen, Janet Phillips etc. have to be fucked in order to be loyal. Jack Beam Sr., Tim Stoen, [name withheld by request], Mike Prokes etc., have to be fucked in the butt for the same reason. Who has to do it to them but Jim Jones. The thought of demanding your sensitivity and dedication in such a manner is grossly sick. There are other staff that’s taken advantage likewise. However, the above is sufficient.

There is probably nothing more contradicting than the sexual relationship. Lacan went so far as to say that the sexual relationship doesn’t exist. If any social category can be used to explain the concepts of impotence and impossibility in the introduction of the schematics, then it is sex.

It is also no coincidence that when explaining hysteria in the schematics, we resorted to examples of domestic violence. The eight apostates clearly opted for the hysterical answer to the impossibility of sex and refused to participate in what they deemed ‘grossly sick.’

I have no interest in moralising or even hinting at moralising about what they are calling out in the letter. The pornographic details about a “deviation” from some general/national normative structure’s attempt to regulate sex is of little analytical interest here. What is of analytical value and what is truly perverse is the proof of existence of a secondary (sexual) economic apparatus.

Prohibition in America brought with it an international black market. Though many probably had good intentions when asking for the abolition of alcohol as an ideal – just like Jones tried to set an example by adopting children as an alternative to sexual reproduction – the consequences of judicially structuring desires before the subjects were ready, effectively forced crime to organise.

What the defecting group identified was in a way an unconscious sexual tension partially resolved by elevating the father to the role of the Urvater. The Urvater which Freud speculates upon in Totem and Tabu is the idea of a primordial father who has sexual access to all members of its tribe. Having sex with the Urvater would appear as the most expensive thing that could be achieved with the currency of faith, to some member of Peoples Temple. In a way it gains its value through its prohibition, i.e., the tabu.

 

What the analyst sets up as an analytic experience can be simply put – it is the hystericisation of discourse. In other words, it is the structural introduction, under artificial conditions, of the discourse of the Hysteric, the one indicated here by a capital H. I tried to highlight it last year by saying that this discourse existed, and that it would exist in any case whether psychoanalysis was there or not.
Jacques Lacan, The other side of Psycho Analysis

Father, I find it hard to conform to your eschatology.

Now we could imagine that in the absence of a world revolution (in which a socialist commune could live out its true purpose) or if mistakes were made in food planning (which brought the community’s future in to question), Jones and the highest members around him would be forced to institute a different life-cycle for Peoples Temple. Such inevitable, recurring symbolic castration of Jonesism – which in practice could simply be Jones failing as the Urvater, to be as divine, even in bed, as the members remembered him – brought forward signs of their faith’s impotence.

This means in turn that new taboos had to be instituted to tame the recurrence of the symbolic castration. This also meant as things progressed into fidelity to uphold the totem beyond life and death, that the family had to be resurrected through the theatrical enactment of the White Nights, where all tensions – political, sexual, economical – are relieved, a ritual through which the vanishing remainders of the father are once again brought to life or at least remembered and venerated.

In Lacanese, they were aiming at the successful traversing of the traumatic capitalist fantasy. This usually takes place through a process which Freud simply called Durcharbeiten, ‘working through.’ Durcharbeiten is thus a term used in psychoanalysis for the integration of an interpretation. It refers to a situation or a phase in a therapeutic process in which the interpretation of the psychoanalyst encounters resistance. In this case, the patient has to integrate the interpretation. In the process of working through, the subject – the patient – learns to accept certain repressed elements of the unconscious and to free himself from repetition compulsion. As Freud put it regarding the Rat Man:

It is never the aim of discussions like these to create convictions. They are only intended to bring the repressed complexes into consciousness…and to facilitate the emergence of fresh material from the unconscious. A sense of conviction is only attained after the patient has himself worked over the reclaimed material.

White Nights was thus an intersubjective, obligatory working through of what it means to live a life where the United States is an imperial enemy.

One thing that certainly could have affected this process of working through and traversing the capitalist fantasy was the use of hypnotic or sedative drugs like Thorazine or Phenobarbital. They were certainly at times given to Jones by the inner circle as an attempt to artificially recreate his divine aura. Some could have been used to drug people who could not handle the emotional consequences of the White Nights.

No matter their psychotropic intensity, I do not think they played a substantial role in the final chapter. What brought the, probably in many ways useful, symbolic ritual known as the White Nights to a dimension of the Real, and in effect brought the Temple to ruin, was something entirely different.

Don’t be afraid to die … if these people land out here, they’ll torture some of our children here. They’ll torture our people, they’ll torture our seniors. We cannot have this.
Jim Jones, Tape Q042, November 18, 1978

The final White Night in Jonestown.

At the beginning of the year 1978, after the United Nations charged Chile with violations against human rights, an allegedly rigged national consultation found that more than 80% of Chilean voters were in favour of the CIA-backed Pinochet’s policies, policies which destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals through execution, torture, forced exile, or having their immediate relatives put under detention. It was not a good year to be a Marxist in South America.

Later that year Ted Bundy went on a rampage at the Chi Omega fraternity in Florida. The Hillside Strangler killed his tenth victim in Los Angeles. The Unabomber made his first attack at a university in Illinois. The serial killer known as the Son of Sam was sentenced to 365 years in prison. It was not a great year to move to America.

And when congressman Leo Ryan gets shot and killed on a small airfield strip in Port Kaituma after having visited Jonestown, Guyana, Jim Jones should not necessarily be considered a delusional psychopath for assuming that the only possible retaliation for such an assault is an American armed invasion. There were once again plenty of reasons for their fear.

We made some things clear regarding the hysteric predicament of understating or overstating the true nature of the small object a, throughout this analysis. Thus I find many of the estimations of Jones lying to his followers, somewhat misinformed. It is for example often pointed out that his recurring comparison between Fascist Germany and postmodern America is based on a fictional narrative called the the “King Alfred Plan” which is supposed to be a CIA-led scheme supporting an international effort to eliminate people of African descent.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves why John A. Williams wrote this book? Why did he use a lie to tell the truth? Was it perhaps because the concentration zones of the poor in America, which hold populations far outnumbering the Warsaw ghetto, are already normalized? Was it because drug-related deaths are in the same order of numbers as those of death by Zyklon B, drugs which the different abbreviation-apparatuses of the American state overtly and covertly use to fund the police and prisons necessary for the higher, purely corporatist levels of Caesarism? How does one accurately tell a story about the structural violence of racism in the United states?

Once again it is beyond this paper’s scope to analyse dictatorship in democracy. What we have tried to analyse is what might happen to those who know themselves to have seen it.

It is also a different story altogether to map out why a small armed group from a community of such people decided to take militant action in their own hands and ambush an airplane. They must have known very well that this would bring their relationship with their enemy to an actual state of war. As a result, Peoples Temple would most likely have been labeled a terrorist organisation.

Thus it seems quite evident that this action was the final trigger that sent a substantial part of the leadership and the community as a whole into a psychotic break.

And just like thousands of civilian Japanese – who jumped in to the ocean around Saipan and Okinawa – like the Sicarii Jews in Masada, or the black slaves of Guadeloupe and uncountable others before and after them in the history of facing the threat of imperialist extermination, the people of Jonestown choose or were forced into mass suicide.

I don’t feel ready to claim that the threat of military retaliation was real, or unreal. Some people experienced it as real, which meant that something really happened. I hope I have proven that my intention was never to attack or defend the Jonestown project. I hope that through an attempt at such a non-judgemental analysis, I have asked more new questions than I have provided answers.

In a way, we must begin where we started, with Richard Tropp’s Last Letter. No one can comprehend nor formulate the real answer, because we lack the language to do so.

Notes

[1] See James L. Kelley, Jim Jones and Romantic Socialism, for a short introduction to the history of ideas regarding Apostolic, Utopian, Romantic Socialism, etc.

[2] Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (1919). The Freudian Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan wrote that the uncanny places us ‘in the field where we do not know how to distinguish bad and good, pleasure from displeasure.’

[3] Rebecca Moore, The Brainwashing Myth.

[4] Alan Badiou, Theory of the Subject (Bloomsbury 2013 Translation by Bruno Bosteels). In this seminal work on ideology and subjectivity – concepts which in my opinion are crucial for any understanding of not only collective suicide but the very notion of dying for a “higher cause” – Badiou creates two concepts, the offsite and the splace. The latter is, a neologism of space and place, roughly the dominant structure conceived in spatial terms, and the former that which does not fit into the splace but is nevertheless part of it: it is, as it were, off its site. What is crucial in this conception, however, is that a splace is always the result of a dialectical change. In other words, in order for there to be structure, there first has to be change. This is, in a way, an inversion of Althusser’s structuralist Marxism, which gave primacy to structure over change.

[5] To relieve ourselves of that particular Freudian burden of childhood stories, compelling as they might be, we will instead try to explain Althusser’s dictum “ideology doesn’t have a history.”

[6] James L. Kelley, “You Don’t Know How Hard It Is To Be God”: Rev. Jim Jones’ Blueprint for Nurture Failure.

[7] The Peoples Temple’s Ideology in a Comparative Perspective.

[8] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920)

[9] Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1970).

[10] Slavoj Žižek, Markets without Substance (2003). There are many interpretations of The Four Discourses floating around on the internet and the following Graphics Schemas are made by myself in Photoshop and based on a seminar by Slavoj Žižek at the European Graduate School in 2003.

[11] There is also something ‘not so straight forward’ going on here, since the bottom arrow is curved and that’s why the lower part of the schematics is also the formula for Fantasy that is $< >a. The crystallising ‘diamond’ ‘<>’ is written above in the curved arrow. We will explain in more detail with examples from our source texts what characterises this fantasy, and in what way drive is different from desire depending on the small object a as a surplus or a lack. We will also pose some interesting questions with regard to what was just described. What questions did Pastor Jim ask on behalf of his members, what objects became the cause of their desire, what names of the Father did Jim assume to represent the mandate of the Master-Signifier and so on.

[12] We could also bring to mind the activities of other radical groups like The Baader-Meinhof Group, that is the Rote Armee Fraktion, or the RAF, whose activity peaked at the time of the Jonestown event.The RAF openly stated that: you (the West German public) are fools, we are going to demonstrate to you that we did not fully win over the Nazis in 1945, but that these forces are still hidden in the apparatus of liberal democracy. In doing so – even though it was assumed by most that they were telling a lie – they still proved to some analysts that Fascists and their Law still had a powerful position in the public and private sectors of the BRD. One of the most infamous laws was Paragraph 175, a penal code against homosexual activity which was broadened by the NSDAP and still used in the BDR long after it had been abolished in the DDR. Some of the worst stories include incidents where homosexuals who were freed from a Konzentrationslager were simply moved to other prisons awaiting trial, which could be other old concentration camps.

[13] The theatre of the absurd focuses largely on ideas of existentialism and expresses what happens when human existence lacks meaning or purpose and communication breaks down. The structure of the plays is typically a round shape, with the finishing point the same as the starting point. Logical construction and argument give way to irrational and illogical speech and to the ultimate conclusion—silence. The Hutchinson Encyclopedia, Millennium Edition, Helicon 1999.

[14] Struggle sessions are an old set of Maoist rituals where the Subject is encouraged to critique herself and her shortcomings so that she can grow in her praxis.

[15] Samo Tomsic, The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan (2015).

[16] Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (2018), 72.

[17] Adrian Johnston, Lightening Ontology: Slavoj Zizek and the Unbearable Lightness of Being Free (1996).

[18] Suzanne Barnard, Reading Seminar XX Encore (2002), 173.

[19] Peter Sloterdijk, Bubbles: Spheres Volume 1: Microspherology (2011).

(This article is adapted from its original at https://www.academia.edu/36756016/Until_the_Name_of_the_Father_Do_Us_Part. It was written as a paper for the History of Ideas program at Södertörn University in Stockholm, Sweden. Marcus Briheim can be reached at marcus.briheim@gmail.com.)

Originally posted on September 16th, 2021.

Last modified on October 11th, 2021.
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