Netflix has recently released a new documentary series called, “Wild Wild Country.” It’s six episodes long, each episode running around an hour each, and it dives into the Rajneesh movement that reached global headlines in the 1980s. Called a cult by some and a movement by others, the Rajneesh followed under the teachings of an Indian guru called by several names over the years: Rajneesh, Osho or Bhagwan, to name a few; other people called him the “sex guru.” Originating from India, the Rajneesh movement came into fierce conflict with locals when it picked up and moved to a ranch near a small town in Oregon, in an attempt to build their own sort of utopia out in the Oregonian wild, known as Rajneeshpuram.
The documentary has a number of interviewees that really take the story to another level. They talk to the upper echelons of every side of the conflict — the top-tier Rajneeshi personnel discuss their conflicts with the outside world, not to mention disclosing outright criminal behavior. They speak to high level FBI officials and leadership throughout the small town of Antelope that fought the Rajneeshi people in years of legal battles. They talk to key lawyers and politicians personally involved at the time.
The fact that they are able to glean the perspectives (in what seems like an unbiased way) of all angles makes so thoroughly is really what makes sets the series apart. It dives into the tribal mentality we are all so prone to, and viewers begin to see just how easy it would be for the average person — not some dupe or ignorant — to fall into the tribalism and even cult-like behavior. Even the smartest, most intelligent and experienced people are susceptible to this kind of assimilation. “Wild Wild Country” shows people far more intelligent than I making very compelling arguments, emotional assertions and even quotes the American constitution, all in favor of Rajneeshpuram and everything it stood for.
We see this in our own society today, on a smaller scale, all the time. The internet has made it possible for people of like minds to band together online, creating echo chambers for themselves and making outward “arguments” that are only there to be heard and retweeted by people who are already in their circle. These groups usually come together because they share ethical and moral foundation, but without outside stimuli, they often grow into larger cesspools where, what may have started with ideas like peace and love, have evolved.
They evolve from peace, to infrastructure to keep that peace alive. In an effort to keep that infrastructure built, they have to defend against outside entities that threaten them in some way. In order to mount an effective defense, they go on the offensive. Before they know it, the “peace and love” aspect is all but lost, and all that remains is violence and despair. This is the product of echo chambers who choose to rally against the world instead of working with it.
We all yearn for that sense of belonging, and when we finally align ourselves to a group and to become a part of something greater than ourselves. Sometimes, just to feel those things, people will put everything else to the wayside — ethical treatment of others included. “Wild Wild Country” shows just another example of that (albeit quite a dramatic one), and how sometimes that can turn into something that ends in heartbreak and tragedy.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.