Sunday, October 4, 2009


Our political discourse is currently quite lively with protest and counter protest, with people speaking truth to power and many people shouting a lot. I see this as generally a good thing. People should feel passionately about their government and they should be motivated to speak out against what they fell is wrong. During my days, I speak with many people and more than ever I am talking about politics with people whom you would think were non-political. With many of the changes in our society, everyone is able to voice their opinions to larger audiences than ever before. The down-side of this is that there are some opinions that make it to the light of day that are reprehensible. Some people believe things that are so vile that they can damage our democracy. People who hold such views are rightly called “cranks”. Sometimes these people are harmless and dismissed. Sometimes they force us to take notice of them and we are imperiled if we do not.

Who is and who is not a crank is a matter of which will be argued over. We may agree that people wearing hats made of or lined with tinfoil are cranks but what about all the other Americans that believe in extraterrestrials, UFOs, and crop circles? We can remember that the Heaven's Gate UFO cult took what many had thought a harmless eccentricity to such an extreme that they committed mass suicide, and left 40 people dead. That Americans have followed their crank beliefs to suicide is not unprecedented. Our slang has the term “kool-aid drinker” for those so committed to a political cause or candidate that they senselessly ignore facts in conflict with their political viewpoint. This is derived from the Jonestown Massacre of November 1978, were more than 900 people died. Most of the dead where those that drank poisoned fruit drink and gave it to their children. The survivors claimed that many were so brain washed that they believe that the cult leader Jim Jones could resurrect the faithful.

Jim Jones and his cult refocus us on the issue of politics and cranks. Jim Jones was a Socialist/Marxist and saw himself as a hero of that cause. He believed that the way to achieve social change through Marxism in the United States was to mobilize people through religion. With that end in mind Jones made in roads with the San Francisco media and the Democrat political machine, even meeting with Vice President Walter Mondale and First Lady Rosalynn Carter hoping to influence national policy and gain respectability for his cult. As he became a more national figure his personal failing came more to light and he choose to escape to Jonestown to hide from the scrutiny of unsympathetic reporters. What precipitated this atrocity was the arrival investigation by Congressman Leo Ryan (D Cal) into conditions in the secluded Guyanese camp. Ryan was ambushed and murdered along with others of his party while attempting to leave Jonestown with some of the disaffected cult members. I remember the news account of this event vividly. From this event there is a picture of a pavilion with an empty chair where Jones sat, above the chair is a sign with the quote “THOSE WHO DO NOT REMEMBER THE PAST ARE CONDEMED TO REPEAT IT.” around the chair are the bodies of the dead with the harsh glare of the sun beating down on them.

Jonestown is a cautionary tale for all those that would follow a leader or a movement, giving up their own free will to serve a cause they see as bigger than themselves. While Jim Jones was a leftist there are equally horrific examples from right wing extremist cranks. Many people have passionately believed in causes that have waxed and waned in politics since the start of our nation. Some have fought for social justice and have even made the world a better place because of it. At the same time cranks have used these movements to kill and destroy. Around the world there are cemeteries filled with the martyrs and victims of these political movements. I choose to stand for the individual, for freedom and independence. It is through the creation of a better self that we are able to create a better Nation. If we hold ourselves as individuals to the highest standard that we can hope to persuade and change things for the better. We can see with absolute clarity what blind obedience has brought into this world. It is in the glare of sunlight for all to see. I want to make sure we all can remember it so that we don’t repeat it.

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