Transcript prepared by Fielding M. McGehee III. If you use this material, please credit The Jonestown Institute. Thank you.
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Mike Prokes: Testing–
Prokes: Don, you’ve just returned from, I guess, three days in Jonestown, and I’m just curious as to what your impressions are, of course, maybe what the most outstanding feature of Jonestown is to you and uh, how you might want to describe that to our listeners.
Don Freed: It’s difficult to describe Jonestown from an overall point of view, because it is so phenomenal, literally, and because our disciplines of description in sociology and psychology and anthropology uh, are all vocabularies for describing uh, either inferior– what are considered inferior historical cultures, such as pre-literate groups, or uh, large national cultures uh, which have a different ideology, such as a communist China. Uh, but these disciplines and their vocabularies were never designed to describe very radical human (unintelligible word) community innovation of a size that is really ideal, uh, uh, a so-called– what you might call a controls of a thousand to twelve hundred people, much smaller than a nation but much larger than a transient neighborhood population. Uh, here the people are uh, space-bound, you might say, they’re all together in a wilderness, and so you have a pristine conditions for measuring and judging and looking, but the only problem is that the interaction of the people and the small institutions of– of– of Jonestown, and the motivation of the people and the personal stories of the population are such that, taken together, they are so superior, the result is so unexpected– I use the word “superior,” the result is so unexpected and so radical, I uh, uh, uh as to leave the viewer, the social scientist at a disadvantage. He’s used to imposing a vocabulary, after all, on other cultures from a superior point of view, whether that’s admitted or not. Here, it’s as if you were going to another planet, and (clears throat) and, uh, being introduced as a scientist and being asked to describe a culture in– which in human terms and in terms of ingenuity and resourcefulness and creativity, is so superior to the scientist’s own culture, uh, uh, that it becomes an act of uh– of vanity to attempt to use traditional concepts to encompass this kind of– of experiment. So, uh, the honest thing to do, I– I think, is to say, that we’re reminded here, as we are by other events, some of them terrible, such as elements of the Holocaust and so forth, that we have misunderstood human nature and we have not begun to redefine it sufficiently so as to really understand this, but it– it creates a sense of awe, and you can only go– feel your way along, go blindly and silence some of the rhetoric that you use to explain away uh, these events, uh, to try to see the relationship between the phenomenal material power that an act of– a group act of will has created, uh, just the work, the intensive work. The relationship between that and a population, many of whom, it’s my opinion, were not only considered non-entities – that– that is obvious, and I’ve read some of the oral histories – uh, but I question whether a large number of them would not be, not only perhaps ill physically or in institutions such as uh, state prison, I– I know there’re lot of young people who in America are in a groove heading towards a state prison who here are making a large contribution – but in my opinion, actually dead, uh, that– that there would be a large number of these people actually dead, and I wouldn’t question if some by suicide. And so, when you– we’re used to explaining growth and ci– the civilizing process as a matter of progress of slow adaptations that lead to other adaptations, but more and more in the twentieth century, it appears that when change comes, it comes like lightning. Although there may be a long period of preparation, or there may be a readiness, but then that’s all– that’s just words that ma– because you can’t see that. But whether it be the Holocaust or whether it be the Chinese revolution or whether it be Jonestown– but Jonestown is on a measurable scale. It is like lightning. It is– There’s a core of will uh– of love, of will, of uh (pause, sighs) of a life force there which comes out of uh, a– a community, a large– m– many members of which uh, are starting from scratch in terms of their own image and identity, as far as the outside world goes, so that there’s a kind of a uh– a– a– a– a birth uh, process there, uh, a– you know, you have to reach for biblical phrases like a new heaven, a new earth to uh, to suggest it, and uh– so at this point, just having been there four days, I’m very much using borrowed phrases and–
Prokes: Rather elegant borrowed phrases, right?
Freed: Yeah, but they’re not authentic. Uh– (tape edit) –the social scientist of the world will be beating a path to Jonestown within the next decade, if enough monographs get out.
Prokes: Don, tell me, what’s your favorite part of Jonestown? Thank you for that beautiful description, that eloquent description, but what is your favorite part of Jonestown, the community that you enjoyed while you were there?
Freed: Oh, I think the open forum, I mean uh, because, you know, you couldn’t– you– you– you couldn’t see the who– everything being built, you just see the– the mute testimony to that much work, and it’s uh, awesome, but the open forum is at a human– is at a level that you can see just that evening with people singing and putting on some very good street theater, I must say, and the guerilla theater, as it’s called, and uh– and some uh, wildly energetic singing, and some very, very humorous, I thought, too. And– and all– all in all, uh (pause) tremendous uh, feeling and joy.
Prokes: Yeah. That’s true. That’s true (unintelligible word). Did you get to spend some time at the– at the nursery? I know you–
Freed: I did. I did. Uh– The most stunning– I’m aware of that age very much now, of three to five and uh– oh but all the teachers, the– the– the– the ratio of te– students to teachers, uh, (laughs) it’s uh– you cannot find that anywhere and uh, the environment, the– I talked to the teachers, too, and uh– It’s as if these teachers at Jonestown and almost everyone, as you talk to people uh, find out what their task is, and you talk to them, and they seem to brpeople who have been extremely sensitized by the life experiences and who (pause) managed, and probably by treading water wi– hanging on to the Peoples Temple at some point in their career, managed to not only remain intact and to reorganize their– their energies uh, and– and their original talents, but then to come out of it much stronger. Uh, that’s the a– amazing thing of–of uh, the– the strength coming through the weakness or the strength coming through the vulnerability, a kind of supple uh, adaptive strength which is– uh, which we’re not used to measuring. We’re used to measuring hardhats pounding things and skyscrapers going up and so forth. This is something different and it is a uh, a– uh, it’s as unexpected as uh, putting a throttle uh, backward when the airplane breaks the sound barrier. I mean, it’s the reverse of wh– of what you’d been taught, so I ma– make– make that little detour to– because I talked to the teachers and (clears throat) they’re pretty frank about where their philosophy comes from, their educational philosophy, and it’s not uh, uh, an unheard of philosophy, I was familiar with it, but– but what you don’t see is the kind of uh, commitment and the kind of context for it that I saw in the nursery there, and indeed, in the hospital and in the kitchen and everywhere one might go.
Prokes: Everyone might go. We’ll have to– Listen, we’ll have to excuse the uh, barking in the background, we’re (clears throat) at– at home, and Don is just finishing its– his meal, and he’s going to be leaving shortly, we’re of course sad to say. Uh, just one more question, Don, and then it’ll be all. If there was a– a lesson– if you want to call it a lesson that might be learned from the Jonestown– just from what has happening in Jonestown, uh, for people that are not living there in the community, what– how would you describe it, if there is– is such a lesson or something that might be learned from Jonestown.
Freed: Well, it certainly, I think, powerfully reinforces the growing (pause) awareness that broke over uh, uh, all thoughtful people with the Holocaust and then later at Hiroshima, that uh, we have misunderstood everything, and uh, we have to start over at ground level, and we are flying blind, and we have to throw away these old compasses which uh, have led to sort of super-industrial power, but human disaster, the twentieth century, and survival is going to somehow depend on that kind of radical gamble of which Jonestown is the unparalleled example, and uh, it– it– it’s an existential town, and to study it requires some courage too, I would think. You just have to shut up inside and stand open and uh, let that stimuli and that information pour in, uh, and organize it later.
Prokes: Hmm. Kind of– There’s a lot. Well, thank you very much, thank you very much, Don, it’s been a– a pleasure. It has been a great pleasure to have you here with us this week.
End of tape.
Tape originally posted May 2013