A Guy’s View: Jim Jones sweet juice or Kool-Aid

“To this day, when we reference any blind-faith drinking of “the Kool-Aid,” we’re talking Jonestown – even though, in some ultimate irony, the fallen faithful didn’t ingest poisoned Kool-Aid. But the barely flavoured cyanide was more than enough. Jonestown is one man’s monument to charismatic madness, a road to hell unpaved with any but the vaguest of intentions, a sheep-to-slaughter moment that defies final analysis.” Extract from USA Today article.

For the young among us, it may be necessary to say a little about Jim Jones to provide context to this offering. Minds were shifted back to him as a result of an analogy drawn by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur between the juice which Jones fed to his followers and the economic proposals of the Barbados Labour Party.

Jim Jones was an American preacher who was so effective at persuading his people to follow him, that he turned his church community into a cult. He called his church the People’s Temple and promised his followers a utopia.

If there is to be a utopic existence on earth before the true Israel is restored to Jerusalem, it could only be in the Caribbean or some Caribbean-like location. So, in 1974, Jim Jones bought land in Guyana and led his group into the jungle there. On November 18, 1978, he led more than 900 people to their deaths in what was a mass suicide. He encouraged them to drink juice laced with cyanide. From then till now, when someone says “don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” they are alluding to this event.

Cyanide is a known killer. It is not the kind of drink one would normally consume. Looking back at the tapes of that event, it was clear that the majority of the people who died voluntarily drank the deadly substance, if one remains of sound mind and can still be said to be acting voluntarily once under the influence of bad religion or deceptive politicians.

Jones intended to wipe out the entire community, men, women and children, so he sweetened the drink. And they consumed it. The point that was being made by Arthur was that what the Leader of the Opposition said sounded sweet, but, given the state of the Barbados economy, it would certainly kill us all.

Before examining why Mr. Arthur posited that view, it is worth noting that not all of the people who died in Jonestown, the Jim Jones community, died of cyanide poisoning. Some did not want to die and were shot, including a group of American investigators and journalists who had gone there to find out what was going on. The relevance of this is that even those of us who are not ready to lay down our lives for Mia Mottley and will refuse to drink the Kool-Aid, may still die if the majority take the plunge. As one woman in the Jonestown community said, while encouraging the others to drink, “If you want all of us to die today, we will do it for you.” She said we, but she spoke for herself.

Former Prime Minister Arthur is known for his colourful language. He reportedly said that Mottley’s proposals taste good, but will kill you. He knows how to use words to create effect. In this case, one should examine his statement in order to see whether he was overstating his concern, or was on solid ground.

In what must have been a moment of euphoria, Mia Mottley allegedly said that she and her team, if they were to win the Government, will

• increase non-contributory old age pensions from $75.50 to $225.00 every fortnight;

• get rid of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL);
buy 40 new buses;

• fix the sewage problem on the south coast;

• liquidate the foreign debt of $120,000,000.00;

• buy new garbage trucks;

• increase the salaries of public workers; and

• University of the West Indies students have been promised a return to completely free education.

And most of these are apparently to be completed within 60 days. Wow!

According to the report, Arthur was of the view that these proposals bear no relationship to reality. If Ms. Mottley is contemplating these give-aways, she must know that the island’s financial situation is very good and she will inherit a fat treasury. All indications are that this is not the case.

Specifically concerning the proposed increase in pensions, Mr. Arthur reportedly used one word to describe it: madness! According to him, “What is being proposed would do irreparable damage to the well-being of the country as a whole and, especially so, bear adversely on those who would soon come to the pension age, and leave a massive burden for the young workers of Barbados.”

Interestingly, the proposed hike in pensions, the elimination of the foreign debt and the expenditure on buses and garbage trucks, increased public workers’ salaries and free university education will all take place against a background of the elimination of one of Government’s main sources of income, the National Social Responsibility Levy. Clearly, there is so much excess money in the treasury that Ms. Mottley and the BLP can drastically reduce revenue while at the same time increasing expenditure by a massive amount.

This does not square with the Central Bank’s report, the information coming from Government, the arguments of the Opposition itself, prior to now, or common sense. If all of the above is true, somebody was drinking some strange juice and is attempting to feed it to the rest of us.

There is a lot of room for discussion on our economic path. Some things have worked well and others not so well and these provide fodder for meaningful discussion. Solutions Barbados is offering a completely different path – is it better? A preferred strategy is not what is being canvassed here. Politics at its best pits competing ideas against each other and at the end every side is richer. What is important here is the need for sane, honest debate on the issues confronting Barbados. Flying impossible dreams is unhelpful and will only result in nightmares for the impossibly stupid who would believe them.

Truth be told, the BLP has its core of supporters who will stand with them no matter what. They are not expected to apply common sense to any argument and would willingly drink the Kool-Aid or sweet juice. They do not have to be convinced of anything. It is of interest, therefore, to try to understand why that party would spout such undiluted garbage to its choir. That level of discourse could not have another intended audience, for thinking persons are not so mentally challenged to even give those proposals a second thought. So why resort to these strange proposals? Desperation can be a demeaning thing.

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