I have an aversion to bullshit. This is a political blog, and since a lot of politics entails the spewing of half-truths and implausible fantasies to people who might believe the impossible in order to garner votes, sometimes politics is more about calling people on their shit than rational policy. I try not to give into cynicism, but as I’ve grown older my ability to buy into aspects of political and religious idealism which takes the form of fantastical claims about having it all figured out has severely diminished. It’s not I begrudge anyone their beliefs or want to make fun of them. It’s just when I see a self-proclaimed “woke” friend sharing a YouTube video of some white dude in dreads/cornrows talking about how he’s discovered the true nature of the universe, I’m somewhat skeptical.
And whether a conservative Christian sharing the good news, a New Age spiritualist claiming we exist in multiple dimensions as more than matter, or some Trump supporter who has twisted themselves into believing they’re making America great again, there can be a look of bewilderment when someone doesn’t buy in or has questions about things which doesn’t make sense. Those looks can range from astonishment as to how one can’t understand, to a smug sense of believed enlightenment, and a tone of voice which takes on a “you poor, poor lost soul” pity.
To feel lost in life is a horrible feeling. Belief, spirituality, and ideology can offer solace. But the problem with people and their beliefs comes when they can’t conform those beliefs to reality, since the world tends to work better when people can agree two and two equal four and the sky is blue, instead of whatever anyone wants to believe it might be.
Netflix’s latest binge-watching documentary series, Wild Wild Country, produced by Mark and Jay Duplass and directed by Maclain and Chapman Way, tells the tale of how Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (a.k.a. Osho) and his followers built a community on 64,000 acres in the middle of Oregon in the early 1980s. Rajneesh advocated active meditation, open attitudes towards sex and the expression of sex in public (earning him the title of “sex guru”), as well as a bunch of fortune cookie-esque wisdom about the nature of life. However, Rajneesh’s greatest accomplishment seems to have been separating thousands of Baby Boomers from their money in order to buy a fleet of Rolls-Royces, diamond watches, and living the life of Riley mostly in quiet reflection. The group used Oregon law on municipalities to incorporate their own town. A series of conflicts between the Rajneesh movement, nearby residents, the co-founder of Nike, and environmentalists resulted in the group buying up property, taking over a neighboring town, and attempting to control an entire Oregon county. Eventually the situation devolved into immigration fraud, drugging homeless people, and the biggest act of bio-terrorism in American history before it was over.
What I found interesting about the series was not only the delineation of events, but how aspects of it inform current features of American culture. And the result is one where things are not always so clear cut. Sure, a cult of personality existed around the actions of an individual who used his power with supporters and government to exact personal gain. But it was also a situation where mostly older, mostly white, rural residents reacted with bigotry and xenophobia.
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