The phrase “Drinking their own Kool Aid” appears to have originated from the Christianist tragedy in Guyana, where members of James Warren Jones’ “Peoples’ Church” cult committed mass suicide, drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid™. More than 900 died.1 Today, the connotative meaning, at least in North America, means a person or group holding an unquestioned belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination. It can also refer to knowingly going along with a doomed or dangerous idea because of peer pressure.
Which, of course, is exactly what the Republican majority coalitions in both houses of the Alaska Legislature are doing.
The evidence for disastrous economic consequences from heavy cuts to the state’s operating budget is overwhelming. We have the lessons of history, the 1985-1987 recession in Alaska. We have independent studies by distinguished economists. We already have a recession, in part from budget cuts made last year. We have the markdown on Alaska’s credit rating which has the additional effect of making any recovery that much more difficult. Those are all facts, and facts are hard to ignore.
But the groupthink among the majority coalition in Juneau is doing it. “Groupthink”?
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.
In Juneau there seem to be two components to the majority coalitions’ irrational conduct. First, they cling to the claim that the voters want more severe budget cuts before those voters would agree to paying taxes or cutting into their PFDs. Second, they regard Governor Walker as a traitor, and unthinkingly reject out of hand any proposal he makes. Neither reason passes the Red Face Test. Neither reason justifies running the Alaska economy onto the rocks.
The claim as to what the voters want isn’t supported by public opinion surveys. Independent NGOs like the Rasmuson Group have shown for months that the public supports tax increases. The idea that the voters want severe budget cuts exists only in the small circle of voters with access to the members of majority coalition. More importantly, the members of the majority coalition have access to better economics data than their constituents. They should understand the consequences of their choices. But, you see, they are Republicans, and Republicans cannot accept tax increases, even when they are necessary. It’s anathema. Which means it is more about getting re-elected than looking after the best interests of Alaskans.
The idea that imposing taxes should be rejected because it is that traitor Governor Walker’s idea is even more ludicrous. But groupthink requires you to reject any ideas that aren’t your own. And you have to punish a traitor, even you injure yourself and those for whom you are responsible. Right? Right?
Drinking your own Kool Aid™ carries its own punishment. As a recession settles in on Alaskans, quite possibly more severe than the one in the 1980s, there will be political consequences for the crowd of groupthinkers in Juneau. But Alaska’s economy will be collateral damage to the political folly of the majority coalition. A lot of human suffering will result. Jobs lost, houses lost to foreclosure, businesses shuttered. It didn’t have to happen.
- It’s extraordinary to WC that something as dire and and as recent as November 1978 has already passed from the national consciousness. Rep. Leo Ryan, murdered at the Jonestown airstrip, remains the only U.S. congressman to die while discharging his duties of office. ↩