Tim Reiterman with John Jacobs
The Jonestown tragedy (to take a word that fudges its status as mass suicide or murder) has become one of the very few ineradicable landmarks in America’s historical consciousness, polling only behind Pearl Harbor and the assassination of JFK in cultural awareness. Since those polls were taken we might add 9/11 to the mix, but that’s all. Truly this was a significant event, though its full meaning is still being argued over. Jones himself was a conventional megalomaniac with a spot of charisma who apparently learned how to be a despot by studying the lives of Stalin and Mao. Jonestown was a squalid empire, but he presumably found it better to reign there than to have a seat on a municipal board in San Francisco. We are left with a question: how much can, or should, we blame the victims of Jim Jones? What responsibility does the state, or do any of us individually, have to save people from themselves?