The tragedy that occurred in late autumn back in 1978 is considered the most massive suicide of the 20th century. On November 18, 909 people died in the small settlement of Johnstown, located in Guyana. Johnstown was a camp settlement where followers of Peoples Temple’s religious movement emigrated. The purpose of this paper is to observe groupthink and deviance displayed in the movie “Jonestown. The life and death of Peoples Temple.”
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Peoples Temple in Johnstown is considered an American sect of the 70s of the 20th century professing a kind of mystical communism. Group thinking became the basis of an ideal society without private ownership when exploiting land in the jungle of Guyana, where all members of the commune segregated from the USA. Leaving for Guyana, the leader of the People’s Temple, Jones called on everyone who did not like imperialism to leave the United States, collectively redeem the land and create communities of complete equality.
When asked about the ideal society, Jones referred to the ideas of Erich Fromm and the Leninist book “State and Revolution.” Group thinking rejected the existence of material wealth since the money within the commune was abolished entirely. According to Peoples Temple, group interaction is possible as long as all members of the community are personally acquainted with each other.
Deviations presented in the film first appeared with the leader of Peoples Temple in childhood. It is possible to note that Jones’s father was an alcoholic, and his mother worked to support the family (McKeown, 2018). It was in childhood that Jones committed the killing of an animal and carried out its burial. Attitudes that initially do not have sufficient factual basis may subsequently affect the formation of beliefs that will ultimately fill the voids of deviant mentality.
The abnormal behavior of the organization members was determined mainly by ideas, which were strongly influenced by Jones. The previous uncertainty of Johnstown inhabitants, as a principle of social proof and imitation, engendered anomalous thinking and united them according to the law of collectivism. It is thanks to overcoming doubts that people look back at the behavior of others, begin to be guided by it in their life situations.
Reduced sexuality is presented against the background of extremely low tolerance to frustration, inability to control reactions, a tendency to self-harm and aggression. The indecent sexual behavior of the Peoples Temple leader gave rise to many rumors of harassment to commune members. It is believed that Jones organized a commune to solve the problem of racial inequality. Since the councils of existing religious organizations did not support his idea, Jones decides to create his church. It was assumed that racial people would have equal rights, where they would not be divided according to racial or other characteristics.
The members of the Peoples Temple religious organization found two impressive material shreds of evidence and each of which directed them only along one previously chosen path – to their death. The first source of material evidence was those members of the group who immediately, without hesitation for a minute, drank poison. In every social group where a severe leader is present, there will always be a handful of addicted people who are fanatical and ignited by the great idea.
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It is not effortless to say with certainty whether they were specially prepared in advance for what would be necessary to do when the time came. Jonestown citizens turned out to be the most suggestible by nature and, as a result, quickly succumbed to Jones’ authority. Whatever it was, the psychological effect of the actions committed by these individuals was undoubtedly influential.
McKeown, W. (2018). Jonestown: the life and death of People’s Temple [Video file]. Web.