Drinking the Kool Aid Flavor Aid

By now many good scholars have successfully argued that the well known cultural phrase ‘drink the Kool Aid’ does not mean what we intend it to mean.

When someone says ‘drink the Kool Aid,’ they mean someone voluntarily agreed to conform to the dangerous wishes and impulses of their sacred leader, putting aside any individual thought or will. They also mean that they drank the Flavor Aid, because they drank poisoned Flavor Aid (not Kool Aid) at Jonestown.

And since the victims of Jonestown who ‘drank the Kool Aid’ were largely held at gunpoint and other coercisions, it is false and even insulting to claim that they voluntarily drank the poison and fed it to their children.

But ‘drink the Kool Aid’ does mean something. It means that with threats of violence to themselves and their family members, a person succumbed to the overwhelming pressure to destroy others and themselves based on the wishes and impulses of their sacred leaders.

painting done on crumbling public facade with gaping hole, the USA flag with Obama's face
artwork by BAMN

So for example, many US citizens ‘drank the Kool Aid’ of the Weapons Of Mass Destruction We Need To Invade Iraq wishes and impulses of their sacred leaders. This was after a successful and massive propaganda campaign to rile public support – which was itself on top of the educational/media/religious/familial indoctrination systems and the cultural conformities these institutions inculcate, to undervalue ‘others’ and maybe even themselves and conform to their leaders based on fear. It was the same propaganda campaign that turned a No War public into a War Please public before the US involvement in WW1 – not to mention figures like Upton Sinclair and W.B.D. Du Bois. There are costs to individuals to resist these propaganda campaigns – the Kool Aid – that might mean social death, and isolation from all those who are drinking the Kool Aid, which is basically everybody you know. Shut up and sing. Not an enormous cost by comparison to what Iraqis suffered at our hands – but a cost that causes suffering, nonetheless.

One of the most current Kool Aid Flavor Aids is blaming Trans people for social injustices against cis-gender women caused by our social power structures dominated by men.

Being in a position to ‘drink the Kool Aid’ – as it applies to Jonestown, say – means that the participants placed themselves in a dangerous position despite warnings until eventually the only choices were to the drink the Kool Aid or be forced to drink the Kool Aid. We don’t blame any victims – we just want to understand, and articulate, for some kind of not-as-horrible future. As it applies to US, and Iraq, people placed themselves between leaders who wanted blood and treasure, and leaders who wanted more blood and more treasure. Like favoring Jimmy Carter’s murder of the East Timorese instead of Reagan’s murder of Nicaraguans.

The event horizon becomes inescapable, but it was not always so. The poisoned chalice can be held to our lips, but there are moments before it reaches our lips, when our lips can be used for speaking, and our eyes for seeing, and our ears for hearing. Whether it’s Kool Aid or Flavor Aid; Weapons of Mass Destruction or Come Over And Help Us.

As always, the purpose is not to seek out judgmentally what everyone else is drinking; but to guard our own glasses from being near the poison spigot. And if we see someone slipping The Kool Aid into someone else’s drink, who but the callously indifferent would not intervene and be their siblings’ keeper?

ps: It is terrible irony that Fred Hampton, who did not figuratively drink the kool-aid, was nonetheless done-in by something someone else added to his drink:

“On the evening of December 3, 1969, shortly before the planned raid, infiltrator O’Neal seems to have slipped Hampton a substantial dose of secobarbital in a glass of kool-aid. The BPP leader was thus comatose in his bed when the fourteen-man police team – armed with a submachinegun and other special hardware – slammed into his home at about 4 a.m. on the morning of December 4th. He was nonetheless shot three times, once more-or-less slightly in the chest, and then twice more in the head at point-blank range. Also killed was Mark Clark, head of the Peoria, Illinois, BPP chapter. … Despite the fact that no Panther had fired a shot (with the possible exception of Clark, who may have squeezed off a single round during his death convulsion) while the police had pumped at least 98 rounds into the apartment, the BPP survivors were all beaten while handcuffed, charged with “aggressive assault” and “attempted murder” of the raiders, and held on $100,000 bond apiece.”
– from The Cointelpro Papers by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall