Monday, May 12, 2008

Ron Paul, Rev. Jim Jones, Kool-Aid, And The Cult Of Personality

We humans have a built-in predisposition to be foolishly enamored by others...
by Scott from Oregon
Monday, May 12, 2008
A few years ago, I did a job in Redwood Valley, a sleepy little community outside of Ukiah, California, where smallish, rural housing and oak strewn hills and finger-valleys made for some quiet and peaceful living. To and from the lumberyard I would drive, passing a diminutive church with an austere cross right off the side of a no-longer-arterial two-lane highway. At every passing, I would wonder just how was it that people got so wrapped up in the proclamations and promises of just another man? From Jesus to Jim Jones to all of the others our world seems peopled with, I simply could not assemble the desire inside myself to give myself over to another's charisma, no matter how eloquent and persuasive their orations were.

They're just words, folks. Words shaped into forms that make up ideas. Words only, and yet, those words and the magnetic quality of the person speaking them, have led people down some odd and perilous paths. Jim Jones evolved into mass Kool-Aid suicide. The words of Jesus have led to Ted Haggart-type mega-churches where charlatans like Falwell, Robertson, Baker et al... have all benefited immensely from the seemingly innate desire we humans have for personality worship. Great promises of a future salvation are spoken with great force and conviction, and the money and support just roll right in.

What is it, then, that creates this need for fawning adoration? (I suppose I'd have to have the fawning gene to know what that kind of fawning felt like.)

I just find it odd.

According to Wikipedia, Jim Jones was once a darling of west coast politicians. In the spiritually discombobulating late sixties and seventies, Jim Jones was the apparent equivalent for west coast liberal politicians as Billy Graham was for Washington. To read some of the adulating quotes from west coast notables of the era, is to cringe at the gullability and hoodwink-ability of not only your average Joe, but people in power. Jim Jones had a following because he spoke well, with conviction, making promises that were simply not his to make, and humans, inexplicably, collected around him and let worship overshadow their own good senses.

I mention all of this because I see the same phenomenon going on in this season's election race. Who can deny that Barack Obama is a persuasive and magnetic guy? Who can deny that the Clinton name and legacy is driving the sign waving and "We love you Hillary!" shouting at her rallies? Who can deny that even Ron Paul, the reluctant candidate with the "it's the message" message, is not buoyed by those afflicted with the same cult of personality disorder that sustains the others? What is it about people that makes us all go so bonkers over the words and convictions of another?

It scares me.

It scares me because history is crammed full of instances where the adulation of another leads to mass death and destruction.

Jim Jones was the first lemming over the cliff followed by nine hundred others. Hirohito was held to be a diety, and this led Japanese society down a megamaniacal and brutal misadventure. Hitler and Stalin were two men who spoke well and created their own cults to do their evil biddings. Then there was Mao, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge...

You get the picture.

Common to all is the certainty with which those who are cult members make their declarations. Jesus IS the son of god. Barack Obama WILL change America and make it better. Ron Paul WILL make a great president. Ted Haggart IS a righteous and pious man...

It's enough to make me want to drink that Kool-Aid.



Shrinky said...

Pass the Cool-Aid.

Jeannie said...

People everywhere WANT to be sold. No offense (love that start to any sentence - you just know something nasty is about to be unloaded) but I find that Americans really know how to put out and soak up the hype. Of course, the tendency is there in much of society but the USA has made it a lifestyle. A person with the gift of gab is almost guaranteed to live the American dream in whichever forum they choose. Actors, athletes, businessmen, preachers and politicians reach incredible celebrity status. As can anyone rich if they photograph well. It's all just one big huge popularity contest and everyone wants to pin their future to the brightest or hyped to be brightest star in the firmament. It's all about being seen with or to support the "right" person. Americans do it better than anyone else.

Cheesy said...

We as humans have always been distracted by new and shiney things~~~

blogless troll said...

Heard Bob Barr give an interview on the radio last week. He's a career politician too, so maybe he's just as full of it as the rest, but even if that's the case I prefer his full of it over the others'.