I’ve spent the last week watching Wild Wild Country, the Netflix documentary about Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. I got there via a fairly odd route, hearing this song from one of my favourite artists Sufjan Stevens. A little digging into the lyrics reveals line such as:
I’m on a path of love, I’m on a parrot
Possess me with prayer on the bluff
I’m on a task for God
Entheogen, you lift me within Upanishad
Pretty par for the course when you consider Sufjan’s back catalogue, but intriguing enough that I felt I should dig a little deeper. Googling Rajneesh brought me to Wikipedia and then on to Wild Wild Country, although I’m still not entirely sure what the connection is and why Sufjan is borrowing imagery from a 1980s Indian guru to spur his 2020 pop music. Anything can be a jumping off point for creativity I guess.
The documentary is a truly odd dive into the Bhagwan’s life. Truly odd. The more you think about it, the odder it gets. Dive in yourself if you wish, but basically this guru moves his cult of followers from India to a ranch in Oregon, attempts to take over the local government by bussing in 7000 homeless people from across the country, and when that fails his followers ‘supposedly’ blend up a bunch of beavers and put them into the water supply in an attempt to poison the town.
I find myself wondering at the mental processes of his followers during this time. At what stage in this whole process do you go from ‘oh this is a great enlightening experience’ to ‘hang on a sec, some of the things we’re doing/saying/believing are a little absurd’?. I guess by virtue of the fact that every human group since the birth of civilisation has had their own personal brand of ‘cult’ with its own specific ‘oddities’ (see Mayan ritual sacrifice, or the Salem Witch Trials, or the Jim Jones cult, or even elements of Trump’s America I suppose), this is less a problem with specific people or people groups but more a wider ranging psychological trait of humanity itself.
Watching the documentary you get a strong view of the people ‘in the know’ (Bhagwan’s personal secretary, lawyers, inner circle) who are milking the situation for personal gain versus everyone else, where everyone else is enamoured with the Bhagwan’s personality and his teachings and the general movement. By virtue of espousing ‘belonging to the movement’, the inner circle control the people who are not close enough to touch the throne, keeping them in the dark with little tendrils of light to keep them engaged
I see echoes of this in the Facebook conspiracies that float through my feed. 5G and Bill Gates and global microchipping efforts, pushed by the people who already happily give up their digital rights by belonging to Facebook, by spending their days carrying an all-tracking, all-powerful data mining machine in their jeans pocket.
I’ve spent a lot of time questioning their thought processes. What got them to this point? What was the particular step that pushed them from a vague ‘the government is doing evil things’ (which I’m sure we’ve all entertained at some point) to ‘the entire system is run by a group of lizard people from the Alpha Draconis star system’?
At first read you scoff. How can anyone truly believe this? But the cult of belonging is a powerful thing, and we all succumb in some regard, whether its ignoring the actions of a friend because they’re part of a particular friendship group that normalises that behaviour or indeed espousing the fears of ‘covidism’ out of some sense of belonging to a group of people ‘in the know’. It’s easy to believe in yourself as part of the underdog minority, the group of ‘others’ that fight for their beliefs when the whole world is stacked against you, hence both the beauty and the danger in belonging.
I continue to spend my free time creating isolation videos. This week’s version has spurred some interesting Facebook conversations with people who don’t realise that I’ve edited the video and I don’t actually have three identical brothers. To quote one comment: “if you all look the same, why are you wearing the same shirts?” uh… not sure how to respond to that one!
This particular video features a New Orleans style percussion breakdown and a coffee percolator that disappears into the void at about 2:01.