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September 1, 1996 -- Vol.1, no.2

See also:
Editor's note: explanation of technical terms by Alan Jacobs

Masters and Slaves: The Tragedy of Jonestown
by Fanita English, M.S.W.

This paper is about the characteristics of Masters and Slaves and the similarities in the personalities of people like Hitler and Jim Jones, the leader of Jonestown, in Guyana, where he ordered several hundred of his followers to commit suicide. They, like the millions of Germans who gave up their lives for their Fuhrer, obeyed. Why?

Rousseau said that everybody emerges out of early childhood either with a "slave" mentality or with that of a "tyrant." These terms can well be applied to the extremes of two defensive existential positions, for at about age three the child decides either that he must submit, be a "slave" or that he'll have to keep trying to find ways to control others at all costs, to become a "tyrant." Whichever position he settles on henceforth determines his character and his future attitude in relation to power issues, particularly at times of physical, or social stress. Of course most of us do also develop the more stable position: I'm O.K., You're O.K.

As a less dramatic designation, the slave position can be called Type I- unsure, and the tyrant position, Type II- oversure. Type I are those people who seek strokes from an I'm Not OK, You're OK (-,+) position. They tend to transact with others from either a compliant or rebellious Child ego state, sometimes "helpless," sometimes "bratty." They seek strokes from people who impress them as having powerful Parent ego states, hoping that it is such people who can offer them a key to the riddle of existence. In everyday life they appear as "victims" or "rebels".

Conversely, Type II persons operate from the I'm OK, You're Not OK (+,-) defensive existential position, having resolved that no one can offer them any hope. Their only chance for survival in an uncertain world is to stamp it with their personal view of reality, to convince or force others to participate in their image of the world. So they operate as "oversure" acting "helpful" or "bossy." They seek out partners or followers who will transact with them from a compliant Child ego state, will acknowledge them as Powerful Parents, and will thereby offer them validation for their grandiose illusion of being "sure." They relate as "rescuers" but become "persecutors" when they don't obtain gratitude or compliance. Finally, they may end as victims.

Both types have a way of finding each other, and up to a point this may be fine, because they can then indulge in complementary stroking to their heart's content, but if they are endowed with heavy rackets, calamity may follow.

This is where the issue of rackets comes in. A few light rackets cause no harm, but heavy, persistent rackets mean that the person is not truly capable of dealing with his underlying emotions and lacks a solid sense of self. Therefore he is likely to be excessively needy and overly concerned about validating and reinforcing his defensive existential position. For it is by means of our defensive existential position that we ward off the despair that pushes to manifest itself as hopelessness in Type I persons, and murderous rage in Type II persons. By definition, persons with heavy or 3rd degree rackets, (that is: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that lead to the destruction or confinement of body tissue) cannot stand awareness because they do not distinguish between feeling and the likelihood of behaving in unacceptable ways. It follows that, as a defense, they seek and receive strokes for unreal substitute feelings. As a result, they are never really gratified within themselves.

Both the giving and receiving of strokes are artificially induced and received--like eating devitaminized food. This only exacerbates the hunger all the more, like drug addiction which falsely seems to energize while inducing starvation. So the seeds for mutually killing each other off are there from the beginning even while mutual stroking is taking place and temporarily appeases both parties.

Although there is probably a fairly even distribution of both character types in the general population, when it comes to heavy racketeers there appear to be more slave types than tyrants. It looks as though there is a higher number of extreme Type I persons who continue to operate, even as grown-ups, with the belief, however illusory, that there is a way for them to bask in a paradise run by a Father or Mother figure. They seek to abdicate from the responsibility of sorting the welter of mutually contradictory attitudes and feelings in themselves and others. In most instances such yearnings remain manageable as fantasies or acceptable behavior. Usually they get played out in minor ways with more forceful partners. But there remain the unappeased yearnings to "escape from freedom" as described by Fromm in his book by this name. When such persons are offered the opportunity to be led into a haven of relief from anxiety this looks like an offer they can't refuse. At last: no more conflict or concern about one's inability to make difficult decisions.

Here's a Powerful new Parent who can tell them exactly what's right and good and how they can belong. He seems to offer love and understanding for their craving. To merge with, to become one with him, as humble members of whatever community he sets up, seems like a happiness worth sacrificing for. "Here come all my money, my relationship with former friends and family, my autonomy for you, Great Leader who can give me ultimate answers, who can make me feel good merely by believing in you, and therefore in the validity of what I'm doing." It is this longing to escape from autonomous functioning that led so many people to embrace Nazism as the golden hope that would "free" them from disillusion. People are vulnerable to the "enchantment" of promises from persons such as Hitler or Jones. In childhood these people feel forsaken or overpowered in attempts to experience themselves as freestanding creatures and therefore substitute illusions and fantasies for disappointment.

Before Fromm, Dostoyevsky used the "Grand Inquisitor" (Type II) to critically describe the "Slave" (Type I):

"So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship . . . Man is tormented by no greater desire than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which he is born. . Man prefers peace and even death to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil."

Dostoyevsky also described how such people get themselves bound into a system, pointing out that:

"these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but also to find something that all would believe in and worship; what is essential is that all may be together in it. This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they've slain each other."

In effect both Fromm and Dostoyevsky describe the need in "slave" type persons for mutual racketeering with a great parent that dominates a community of adapted children seeking the same dogma and the same system of beliefs. Within this setting the slaves develop pseudo-intimacy by means of Child ego state transactions with each other. It is pseudo-intimacy because it's maintained by their continued racketeering transactions with the Parent ego state of the powerful leader.

Time magazine (December 11, 1978) printed some excerpts from "Letters to Dad" written to Jones by different followers. They illustrate self abasement and dependency, increasing his dominance:

"I use to spend money in buying unnecessary things for my grandchildren such as clothes. Now I want to please you and one way I know is to please the family".
"I don't respect Dad the way I should. When I am in a follower role and not in a supervisory role, I feel threatened that people are against me which isn't true and comes back to my elitism".
"Dad - All I can say is that I am two people right now: one of them is a very humble and innocent person and the other is a cruel and insensitive person that goes around with bad thoughts on his mind."
"Another fault is that I miss soda, candy, pie, etc. which I shouldn't miss at all. The way I can prevent this is to work extra hard. "
"Father is wonderful, clean, straightforward and supernatural."
"I know I still follow you because you have the gift to protect me. I like to look strong but I know I am weak." (Following which, the person accepted his order and drank poison.)

Still, one interesting aspect of such a system is that many individuals actually are more organized and functional than before entering it. This is because allegiance to the leader and the group offers a measure of security and freedom; freeing them from dealing with contradictory or unpleasant emotions. Their Adult appears free, that is, free from ulterior influence. But actually it is so only at the service of their Child or a remembered previous Parent.

Their Adult is programmed by their leader's definition of reality and reinforced by the community. Being free from the anxiety of living freely and taking care of oneself and others, they think more clearly. Actually it is within a rigidly controlled framework, so their clear thinking is only on narrow issues. Such persons can often think more logically than average citizens as long as it is within a concrete context, and so long as their basic premises remain unchallenged. To this end they reinforce each other in a mutual belief system, thus reinforcing allegiance to the leader.

Thus bureaucracy within Fascism and Nazism functioned better than under the previous government. Trains ran on time, shipments to concentration camps were handled with discretion and efficiency. Similarly, building and agriculture were carried on effectively in Jonestown. Jones' young lieutenants were able to master intricate financial transactions and made public statements which seemed clear and honest. From superficial observation outsiders can believe that members of such a community are doing better than they did before when they may have felt confused or unhappy and demonstrated more overtly their "unsure" character. So investigators from the American State Department and the Embassy who went to Guyana believed the people at Jonestown were doing fine. They had become zombies,well functioning ones, but zombies nevertheless. They operated with, as Dostoyevsky said, "a stable conception of the object of life" without having to question it. Even a hard-nosed lawyer like Charles E. Garry got fooled by the appearance of happiness in a certain proportion of members. After a ten-day stay at Jonestown, he described it as "Paradise on Earth".

The sad thing is that once such a system is established, it feeds on itself and diminishes even the physical ability of oppressed members to move out and evaluate themselves or their community from the outside. Boundaries become more and more rigidly set and impermeable. Outside influence or intervention is feared even by those who suffer under the system, because it is the system that defines their reality and chaos looks like the only alternative.

Within this tight-knit system a "pecking order" with sergeants and lieutenants develops. They become a layer between the "Big Parent" and the the "Slaves". In this layer are a few unskilled Type II (Master) types who joined for opportunistic reasons. But, for the most part, this layer contains intelligent or crafty Type I (Slave) individuals who continue to be dependent on the Leader. Rather than becoming rebellious when they are disappointed with him, their angry Child acts out the anger on lesser Slaves by becoming bossy. They have internalized a part of the Master's controlling Child or Parent, usually the cruel persecutory aspect, even before it becomes evident to outsiders. These lieutenants become secondary Masters, pseudo-Parents, with the drive and permission to lash out at those beneath, using the justification of obeying orders. They contribute to maintaining the community's rigid boundary; eventually the whole community receives permission to enact whatever destructive patterns have existed in the Leader.For a long while these patterns are hidden even from him, covered as they are with his altruistic and helpful rackets. Jones was probably suicidal from way back, but his rackets prevented him from knowing it most of the time.

Which brings us to a description of Jones himself, as a tyrant or Master type. He cannot simply be dismissed as evil, paranoid, or cynical from the beginning. We need to account for his rise to power. It's in seeking to grasp the motivations of persons like Jones that the theory of the substitution factor of rackets become so important. At early stages of his career Jones probably saw himself as idealistic, loving, and devoted to the welfare of humanity. The trap is that this view of himself was probably based on a "love" or "benevolence" racket. It covered awareness of his inordinate craving to be loved more than the average, perhaps more than anyone. In type II (Master) individuals such a craving turns into lust for power. ("I'll make you love me, if it's the last thing I do"). Beneath, sit suicidal impulses and/or murderous rage for not having been loved as he wanted, perhaps even prior to age three.

One should remember that for a while, Jones' rackets led him to make valuable social contributions. He fought racism, even to the point of adopting seven different children of different races, he supported some of his followers and various liberal causes, he served effectively for the San Francisco Housing Authority. But as a result of his love and benevolence racket, he found himself pushed to dish out, and to dish out concern and love to others while becoming increasingly hungrier and frustrated from not getting what he truly needed. Whatever he received got deflected to his power hungry Parent rather than to his starving Child.

Initially he may have experienced excitement, energy and creativity, but as time went on the abject, needy, rackety strokes from his followers failed to gratify his basic yearnings. It is no surprise that he was desperate about holding on to Tim Stoen, the 6-year old adopted child, when the latter was being claimed by his own parents. Tim may have been the source of the few genuine loving strokes Jones received. To reassure himself that he was not dying of depletion, and to boost his "sure" attitude, Jones increasingly was forced to depend on mass rallies, alcohol and pep pills. His emotional starvation created inaccurate assumptions about being beset with a variety of physical illnesses. This is a typical syndrome in tyrant types when their sense of "sureness" begins to falter. Trying to enforce more control over his followers, he moved from Benevolent Rescuer (his racket) to Persecutor. While still maintaining a "sure"racket of what was "for the good"of his followers, he had eruptions of murderous rage, Increasingly he experienced himself as the Victim, even before the self-created calamity closed in on him.

After increasing success in building up followers and admiration, persons like Jones set themselves toward destruction within the net of mutually shared magical beliefs in their community. They start out believing, as do their followers, that they can omnipotently solve the world's problems, if only people will do "it" their way. This was also Hitler's stated belief. And this may also be the tragedy of Dederich at "Synanon", the one time effective treatment of heroin addiction, turned turned authoritarian community. When the magical process fails to succeed totally , frustration and anger in both leader and followers develop. Initially, these get denied by both, lest their airtight system explode the shared illusion of leader's omnipotence, and follower's new-found effectiveness. Positive mutual stroking transforms itself into negative stroking, particularly by the leaders on the followers who get blamed for everything that goes wrong. They in turn accept the blame rather than confront their leader. Where followers challenge or try to defect, the group literally or figuratively exterminates them. They continue to try to remain tightly knit in spite of the internal combustion that can cause implosion, or from explosian due to external intervention. So a given individual can get himself entrapped into a dangerously violent system through having a confused or frightened Child and even when his Adult is operational, he may be so enmeshed, it is too late to cry "uncle". Then, his best apparent Adult option may be to "go along" and save his life - or his relative sanity. These appear to be improved as long as he stays in the system and does not "waste" energy fighting.

Typically, individuals like Jones have a talent for distorting and converting ideas like freedom, responsibility, self-respect, caring, and love.These ideas get co-opted into representing rackets rather than into representing profound meanings. In hearing such leaders, it is sometimes difficult to identify exactly how their lofty justifications don't ring true. Surrender and trust, beautiful in a loving relationship, become capitulation of a free child to the grandiosity racket of a misguided parent. This sad phenomenon can be witnessed in certain couples' relationships, families, religious or psychological movements and, more tragically, in communities such as Synanon and Jonestown.

Commenting on Synanon, Max Lerner identified the seed of tragedy as lying in the "surrender of individual choice both to the leader's decision and to the group's pressures". If an individual allows himself to be stripped naked within such a setting, then he inevitably becomes dependent on the leader and the group for psychological support. Concluding, Lerner states: "We have still to resolve the mixture of authority and self help that is best for therapy and religion. But until we do, the Buddha's remark on his death bed may be worth recalling: Work out your own salvation with diligence".

In hearing of the deaths in Guyana, Rabbi Maurice Davis, who had sold Jones an synagogue within which was housed the first People's Temple in Indianapolis, said: "I keep thinking what happens when the power of love is twisted into the love of power".


Dostoyevsky, F. The grand inquisitor. The Brothers Karamazov, Book V, Chapter 5, New York: Signet Classics, published by the New American Library, Inc., 1957.

English, F. The substitution factor: Rackets and real feelings. Transactional Analysis Journal, 1971, 1(4), Part I.

English, F. The substitution factor: Rackets and real feelings. Transactional Analysis Journal, 1972, 1(1), Part II.

English, F. I'm OK - You're OK for real. Voices, 1976, 12(7).

English, F. I'm OK - You're OK - Adult. Transactional Analysis Journal, 1975, 5(4).

English, F. Rackets and racketeering as the root of games. In Roger N. Blakeney (Ed.),Current Issues in Transactional Analysis, New York: Bruner Mazel, 1977.

English, F. Episcript and the hot potato game. Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 1969, 8(32).

English, F. What makes a good therapist. Transactional Analysis Journal, 1977, 7(2).

Fromm, E. Escape from Freedom. New York: Holt, Reinehart and Winston, 1976.

Kilduff, M., & Javers, R. The suicide cult. New York: Bantam Books, 1978.

Krause, C.A., & Washington Post Staff. Guyana massacre. New York: Berkeley Publishing Co. 1978.

Lerner M. Dominance: Bonds of an `encounter group'. Newspaper column syndicated, Dec. 1978.

Copyright © 1996, Fanita English

See also:
Editor's note: explanation of technical terms by Alan Jacobs