• ‘Drinking the Kool-Aid’ is followership at its worst
‘Drinking the Kool-Aid’, I’ve always found this American expression curious. It means accepting an idea, or changing a preference, due to peer pressure, persuasion or popularity.
In recent years, and especially when used in conversation, the expression has evolved to mean to completely buy into an idea, system or cause, often a bad one, so much so that you’re blindly dedicated, obedient or loyal to that idea, system or cause. In a nutshell, ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ is followership at its worst.
But perhaps I should have started this article with, what is Kool-Aid?
Kool-Aid is a powder that is added to water or another liquid to make a fruit-flavoured soft drink. Basically, it’s a brand of flavoured drink mix, powdered, and it’s made by the American company Kraft Foods.
My guess is the next obvious question is what does a drink mix have to do with a blind following and acceptance? The answer to that, unfortunately, comes from a tragedy, as our phrase originates from a horrifying event.
In Jonestown, Guyana, November 1978, Jim Jones, leader of the cult movement the People’s Temple, ordered his followers to commit mass suicide by having them ingest a grape-flavoured drink mix that was laced with cyanide. Some 900 of Jim Jones’ followers died after drinking the mix, and the incident has come to be known as the ‘Jonestown Massacre’.
At the time, the media reported that Jones used Kool-Aid as the vehicle for the mass poisoning, and since then, ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ has been used to refer to unquestioning devotion and extreme dedication to a cause, such that one is willing to die for it.
A point of fact regarding the drink mix: it is not known with certainty whether it was Kool-Aid or Flavor Aid (a competing brand of drink mix) that Jones concocted the poison with. Sources, however, surmise it was Flavor Aid, not Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid, though, got the bum rap and the expression stuck.
Now that we’re up to speed on Kool-Aid drinking, what it means, its origins and possibly the misrepresentation of the facts regarding the brand of drink mix used in the Jonestown Massacre, let’s look at examples of Kenyans who’ve drank the Kool-Aid, metaphorically speaking, of course.
Tangatanga versus Kieweleke. Why does anyone pay attention to these two groups? Does anything any of them say help the country? Help you?
No is the answer to both, and yet the other day, rowdy Nyeri youth disrupted the launch of a water project by CS Mwangi Kiunjuri, with fist fights reportedly breaking out.
Reason, the CS is perceived to be a Tangatanga supporter. These youth had obviously drunk the Kool-Aid, for apparently the importance of Tangatanga and Kieweleke surpassed their need for clean, piped water.
Two more examples of Kool-Aid drinking. People who sincerely believe that the devolving of politics and bureaucrats was the best decision we ever made — Kool-Aid drank. And anyone who believes a watchman with a gun can in any way hinder a terrorist with a plan is, yes, you guessed it, drinking the Kool-Aid. I foresee a gun control problem if this watchman-with-gun proposal goes through.
My message to Kenyans this weekend: don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Instead, whenever possible, which is to say every time, apply common sense.