Episode 1Deadly Devotion & Strategic SciComm
00:00 / 13:18

Details and Transcript

References

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Transcript

To my beautiful family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the first official episode of the Metaphorigins Podcast.

 

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Okay. So, the idea for this episode came from attending one of those Tedx events here in my hometown of Ottawa. If you haven’t heard of Ted Talks, please turn this podcast off, search it on the interwebs when you’re not driving or doing anything dangerous, and introduce yourself to the finest communicators of modern day, speaking about the most pressing issues of our time.

 

I watched a particularly interesting presentation by Amira Elghawaby, whose last name I do no justice. She’s a human rights advocate and journalist sharing her experience of growing up in Ottawa before and after 9/11. It’s a great listen and I would recommend watching it on Youtube (link will be in the description). Anyway, near the beginning of her talk, she said the following line that I spent a lot of time thinking about:

 

“… and that was the moment. The moment I -drank the kool-aid-. You know, that distinctly Canadian flavour called… multiculturalism.” And then an audience member woo-hoos! and someone too close to the audio recorder starts chuckling.

 

She also says the following line near the end of her talk:

 

“… put another way: it’s time to fill up on that multicultural kool-aid like never before.”

 

So me searching Wikipedia at the event: Drinking the Kool-Aid is a common expression used to refer to a person who believes in a possibly doomed or dangerous idea because of perceived potential high rewards.

 

I thought, hmmmmm, so she was saying that Canada has a superfluous rendition of multiculturalism, which falls apart by observing the racism that occurs in communities across the country, particularly to muslims, or those perceived as muslim, after 9/11. Amira had this notion that Canada was multicultural and racially accepting based on her mentors during her early life, but that slowly changed as she experienced many moments of racism.

 

I tweeted the following message after the event:

 

“How do we find passion in #SolvingforX?” [By the way, that was the theme of the event, Solve for X, X being any problem we as humans face] “From social media pitfalls, to empowering youth, to fighting climate change in your communities, to going for the spectacular and literal infinity, it’s clear we must change our attitudes. Or in other words, drink the Kool-Aid. #TedxOttawa”

 

That last part was referencing Amira’s talk. But then I thought, wait a second, why would Amira want to “fill up on multicultural kool-aid”, the facade which gave her a false idea of Canada being completely racially accepting? And why am I thinking about this so much?

 

What is the origin of the expression “Drinking the Kool-Aid”?

 

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Most of this information was obtained from interviews done by USA Today and ABC news with authors that wrote about the cult, and some being actual survivors of the massacre. All links to authored books, videos of interviews, and news articles will be mentioned in the description.

 

So let’s begin in 1955, a charismatic preacher founded a new American religious movement called the People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ. This preacher was James Warren Jones, or more commonly referred to as Jim Jones. 

 

Throughout his early life, Jones never seemed to fit into social circles. He joined a Pentecostal church solely because its members were the most looked down upon Christian religion in the state of Indiana, were he was raised. He also would be interested in Communism, of which him and his family would be scrutinized over during the time of McCarthy politics. He obsessed over inclusion, fairness, and power.

 

After founding his church, people from many backgrounds flocked to him due to his outspoken, mesmerizing language. He was a fighter for the people of all races and sexes. His congregation grew and was, at that time, surprisingly diverse. As the popularity of his church expanded, so did his finances, creating a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts, a senior centre for the elderly, homeless shelter and soup kitchen, daycare and schools, and even ran a medical clinic. This only grew his popularity and worship.

 

He was derided for the diversity of his congregation. Members were caucasion, African-American, Asian-American, you name it. At this time, racial acceptance was no where near where it is today, and racially-driven civil rights movements were only starting to appear. In 1965, he moved to California and further expanded his base.

 

Jones practiced the theatrics of “faith-healing”, a common art observed in many religious cults, in which followers witnessed him heal the ailments of sick and disabled people. However, a majority of these healings were planted followers that actually had no ailments at all.

 

Jones’ persona began to change dramatically. He became obsessed with power and control. He would have members sign blank papers to which he could put any text over the signature and effectively blackmail them at any time, such as if they spoke against him or wanted to leave the church. He also began speaking publicly about his sexual affairs, having sex with men, women, old and young followers of his congregation.

 

It was not until 1977 that Jones decided to move and create a commune in the jungles of Guyana in South America. His followers came in waves, with his core followers coming first and establishing the foundation which later became known as Jonestown. To entice other members to travel, propaganda videos were made of joyous celebrations by Jonestown residents and the showcasing of tremendous food production. These were lies of course, manipulating the perception of those still hesitant to travel outside the United States.

 

News West Magazine was the first media outlet to publish a critical story of what was happening in Jonestown based on information from defectors of the People’s Temple, who still had contact with Jonestown residents. Food shortages, sexual abuse, drugs, these were all rampant at the commune.

 

In November of 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan and NBC news team were sent to the commune to investigate allegations that people were being held against their will. After being given a tour of the town, the group quickly left after being attacked by members of Jonestown. They were escorted by armed guards who were part of Jones’ “Red Brigade”. Before boarding the plane, the armed guards opened fire, killing the Congressman, NBC Correspondent Dan Harris, NBC cameraman Bob Brown and two others.

 

This instigated what is now known as the Jonestown Massacre. Shortly after the shooting, approximately 900 people, 300 of which were children, consumed cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid (not Kool-Aid) as a final devotion act to Jones and the People’s Temple. Anyone who rejected the mass suicide or fled the commune were either forcibly injected or shot and killed. Jones was later found dead by suicide.

 

And that’s where the phrase, “Drinking the Kool-Aid” originates from, which is actually factually incorrect, and why it has such a negative connotation attached to it.

 

So to bring it full circle, did Amira use the phrase correctly in her talk about multiculturalism? I mean, the congregation was very multicultural, so in that sense there seems to be an unintentional connection. But did it have to be used in a cheeky, amusing sort of way? To be honest, probably not. Does it detract from her story? I don’t think so, and I still think you should listen to her experience.

 

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I think I’ll end each podcast with a brief note about something scientific. I will for sure have whole episodes dedicated to specific topics of science and science communication. But for today, I would like to speak about this recent news article in Slate titled: “Scientists, Stop Thinking Explaining Science Will Fix Things”. The link will be in the description.

 

It obviously drew my attention as a scientist but also initially made me feel negative about the opinion of this article. Perhaps that’s just the fact that I dislike being told what to do, especially by the title of an article in which I have no idea the contents of nor who wrote it.

 

The article is written by Tim Requarth, a Professor teaching Science and Writing at NYU. So alright, sir, you have your credentials…

 

But in summation, Dr. Requarth speaks about the struggle scientists have with communicating about science and defending it from misinformation. Most scientists believe that it’s a “gap of information” that controls public opinion, and that by closing this gap, people will accept scientific consensus. However, this is not the case. As he points out, scientific understanding does not change public opinion. People who understand science still believe that climate change is not a large issue in modern day.

 

That’s where the science behind science communication comes in. In fact, that’s where the facts on general communication come in. Most people need to be emotionally driven. Most people need to trust the person spewing out summaries of complicated research explaining why climate change is bad. Most people need you to tell them how climate change negatively impacts them now and will be even worse in the future.

 

Basically, in a calm and simple way, if you were given a view of someone’s weekly schedule, where does climate change affect them? Their family? Their business?

 

And that’s freaking complicated! Even more so than understanding that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are growing which trap UV light and warm the earth, sea levels due to arctic ice melting are rising which affect all those living around coasts, and weather or environmental phenomena, the likes of which we have never truly experienced, are occurring more and more frequently. Wild fires, droughts, floods, hurricanes… all of which do and will affect everyone. The list goes on.

 

Science communication should appeal to someone’s interests, current interests, not yours, not even the interests of Planet Earth. As selfish as that is, it is just strategic. Most people have thousands of problems they encounter everyday, many of which drastically impact them right now, and do not have the time to wrap their head around problems they could face due to 10, 20, or 30 years of worsening climate. And it’s that strategic language that many regulators and lobbyists use everyday to affect legislation and change public opinion.

 

Just think about it.

 

Anyway, it’s a great article and I think you should read it.

 

Thanks for listening to this episode of… Metaphorigins. Remember to subscribe for more episodes and to follow the podcast on Instagram to be entered into the draw for that beautiful custom made mug. Until next time, stay skeptical but curious.

 

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