“Don’t Drink The Kool Aid”

Another cliché that irritates the heck out of me is “don’t drink the Kool Aid.”  The first time I heard it I was impressed by this clever adaptation of the Jonestown tragedy to symbolize the uncritical consumption of ideas, but I’ve heard it used so often now that it’s lost all meaning. 

No, that’s not quite true.  It does have a meaning.  “Kool Aid” is now an all-purpose stand in for any idea you don’t respect and with which you disagree.  If you want to call someone a moron but want to use a classy metaphor to do so, this one is your go-to. 

Have reservations about your colleagues’ political/religious/social/whatever beliefs?  You don’t need to bother hashing it out in a long series of mature discussions where you explore the origins and basis of dissenting opinions, just tell them that you’re not a vapid zombie and you “don’t drink the Kool Aid.”  Didn’t get behind the Cardinals this season?  It’s not just a matter of personal choice, it’s because you, unlike anybody else with differing tastes, are too smart and strong to drink the Kool Aid.  Refuse to butter your toast on a certain side?  You know the drill, you dangerous rebel, you. 

In today’s cultural climate, this strategy assures you of instantly establishing your independent thinker credentials. 

This gripe is closely related to another snide trump card that gets under my skin.  If someone disagrees with you, not only are they drinking Kool Aid, they’re flat out “brainwashed.”

If someone’s raising their children with a worldview that you don’t personally endorse, those poor kids are getting “indoctrinated.”  The next time I get accused of this, I think I’ll agree.  Yes, absolutely, I’ll say.  I am teaching my children doctrine

This is just a loaded argument to imply that differing ideas are bad: I’m indoctrinating my children, but you’re just teaching yours.  I’ve been brainwashed into my beliefs, but you chose yours as a result of your intellectual autonomy. 

All perspectives that we pass along to our children amount to what could be called indoctrination.  It’s our right as parents to do so: it’s called raising them.  If you’re teaching your children philosophies that oppose mine, you’re not avoiding indoctrination, you’re just indoctrinating them with different ideas.  If you think you’re not indoctrinating them with anything, you’re naive.  The lack of directly communicated values is itself a powerful lesson. 

These idioms that we prize so highly are just childish ad hominem attacks that cut off productive discourse, and they betray a stunning paucity of depth to the thinking of those who employ them.  Ironically, those who tend to lob accusations of brainwashing and Kool Aid drinking as if they’re Molotov cocktails designed to blow an adversary’s system of beliefs to smithereens are only showing that they themselves hold to ideas which, if they cannot be more reasonably articulated, are likely the result of the uncritical consumption of ideas.

One comment on ““Don’t Drink The Kool Aid”

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