Friday, December 26, 2008

still morbid...

I haven't posted in ages, and I never posted much at all here, but now that I have a laptop and wireless it's much easier to keep up with my blogs.  and I have certainly kept up with my morbid fascinations, even if I haven't kept up with posting about them.  In fact, being able to surf the internet while watching tv and having a beer from the comfort of my couch has opened up whole new possibilities for new and sometimes fleeting obsessions with depressing stuff.

For example, recently I spent an evening surfing around for info on plane crashes.  I don't even remember how I got started on them.   But I didn't keep track of the sites and stories I came across, so I don't have a very good way to post about it.  So from now on I'm going to use Google Notebook to start socking away links and info from my morbidly inspired internet wanderings so that I can update here.

The one thing that I do have to post about is the recent 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre.  I have been fascinated with that story for many years, even before I realized that I live within walking distance of the former San Francisco location of People's Temple.  It is now a post office, and I walk by it frequently on my way to church.  There was a very good collection of coverage in the online version of SF Chronicle ( recently, and there is an amazing collection of information about People's Temple and Jonestown compiled by Rebecca Moore, a researcher whose 2 sisters and nephew died in the mass suicides/homicides.
Besides the obvious fascination of trying to figure out how something on the scale of the Jonestown massacre could have happened, I think that my own interest in this subject comes from an element of "there but for the grace of god go I."  Many of those who joined People's Temple had a progressive social change orientation, and were looking for a spiritual context in which to work for the practical societal improvements that they believed in so strongly.  I am a very liberal nonprofit professional who is active in social justice activities both through my work and on a volunteer basis, including through the Catholic church.
I don't think that I would have been the type to get as deeply involved in something like People's Temple as the many who ended up in Guyana, but not because I don't relate to their search for meaning.  Mostly because I am 1) almost pathologically resistant to being told what to do, 2) extremely ambivalent about my own ongoing involvement with organized religion, and 3) far too lazy to do manual labor in the jungle.  Or even church admin work late into the night in San Francisco for that matter.  

But on the other hand, who knows?  Perhaps with the right influence of a very manipulative demogogue, peer pressure from people I feel close to, systematic sleep deprivation (ok maybe this sounds trivial compared to other factors but it really wears down people's will and was a major factor in Jones' control over his flock), and the inspiration of an important cause (racial harmony or the eradication of poverty for example), my reservations could have been overcome.  

That's what I think about when I think about People's Temple, and if you are interested in any aspects of what the victims (or perpetrators) were thinking and how they were living up to that terrible day in Jonestown, I highly recommend checking out Rebecca Moore's site Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, particularly the journals of Edith Roller who was one of the fatalities.