This Wild, Wild Country

Extremism has been on my mind recently as I watched the Netflix documentary Wild, Wild Country and played the expansive first-person shooter game, Far Cry 5. Well, these two things and the fact that I live in an era in which opinion is frequently substituted for truth and thoughtful discourse is replaced by people simultaneously screaming in one-another’s faces and refusing to listen to the words coming out of the opposing mouths. That, or horrific acts of murder and terrorism. 

The plot of Far Cry 5 unfolds in a small county in Montana that’s been invaded by a religious cult that has heavily armed itself and is suspected of a litany of crimes including kidnappings and murders. You are a rookie sheriff’s deputy whose attempt to arrest the cult’s leader goes terribly awry - leading you into becoming an instrument of revenge, who more-or-less, single-handedly destroys the cult with AK-47s, sub-machineguns and explosions. As with the previous Far Cry instalments, it doesn’t take long to realize that the moral ground you are operating upon becomes shakier and shakier with every extra-judicial killing you commit (which is a lot, parents!). Soon, to me, it was clear that I was only about 51% the “good guy” in the ordeal, tops. 

Wild, Wild Country is a true and fascinating documentary about the followers of an Indian spiritual guru - one with a penchant for both free love and owning Rolls-Royces. The group takes over a small Oregon town in the Eighties (some of you may have heard of this decade; it was when people had phones attached to their walls and people had grown blasé about the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, so they decided to do a lot of cocaine and make music with keyboards). Not to spoil the suspense for you, but it turns out that when a bunch of neo-hippies wearing all red clothing, who seem to be blissfully unaware that they are participating in a pseudo-fascist pyramid scheme, attempt to build their free-loving communist utopia surrounded by rugged, small town rancher-types, shit goes south quickly. The AK-47s and sub-machineguns show up towards the end of episode two, I believe, and the poisoning attacks on area salad bars a few episodes later. 

It is easy to initially pick a side when watching the series. The internal conflict I experienced arose from that choice changing several times, often in the same episode. One faction is not totally the protagonist and the other is not totally the antagonist. The commune members/cultists, for the most part, are attempting to form a society free of the pitfalls of greed, hatred, oppression, inequity and judgement; but per the usual, a small group within royally screws it up for everyone. The locals want to preserve the quiet and serene way of life they have become accustomed to, and several of them have obvious prejudices towards the general “foreignness” of the outsiders. The government’s representatives are as “square” and obtuse as you would expect. Everyone speaks the same language and believes the area is a beautiful paradise, but little common ground can be found with which to share it. In the end, everyone involved is in some way a member of their own cult. 

At its finale, I just shook my head having to see yet another example of wagon-circling, close-mindedness and xenophobia opposed far-too-quickly via radicalization, menace and violence. And this batshit insane melodrama that played out in front of the eyes of millions of Americans on the nightly news shows (there’s a lot of young Tom Brokaw footage) is largely just a footnote in our history, and something I would not remember at all were it not for me delving deep into my Netflix que. 

So here are some ideas that I’ve been mulling over recently when pondering the lessons that can be learned to avoid becoming a real or de-facto cultist, something I believe to be pretty damn important currently:

I don’t want to ever be so married to an opinion or idea that I cannot stand the thought of being proven wrong. I will seek out fact over opinion and beware of people presenting their opinions as facts. I will be tolerant of those who challenge my beliefs. I will listen to what you have to say and defend your right to say it, even if I think you are an asshole. I want to be more than 51% good. In no single person, or personality will I ever dedicate the entirety of my faith.

Beware the self-professed prophet. Beware those hellbent on vengeance. Beware violence. Be radically un-radicalized. And treat others the way you would like to be treated*.

*I think that last part is written down somewhere, possibly in every single “holy” text ever written.

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