Once again, I’m not sure I can do this very well. In a way this is a review of the Netflix Longmire series, but it is more about the thought it has provoked, i.e. my reaction to it. Of specific interest to me are the answers to these questions in my personal life. 1) What is truth? 2) What is good and what is evil?
There are people and places in the Longmire story that are symbolic of the forces of good and evil. The protagonist, Walt Longmire, is not only one of the symbols of good, but is also in a constant struggle with the question, “what is truth.” His best friend, Henry Standing Bear is the classical helper for the main character, Walt Longmire, and Walt’s daughter, Cady Longmire, is also a supporting character and possibly a snapshot of the younger, good-hearted, idealistic Walt Longmire. Deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti played the role of the protector of Sherriff Walt Longmore and harbored an unconfessed love for the Sherriff.
The city of Durant, Wyoming represents the normal day-to-day American middle class citizen, while the “Rez” represents the vulnerable poor.
On the other side was the chief of evil, Malachi Strand, and the morally compromised Jacob Night Horse.
Malachi Strand was the epitome of evil. He was shrewd. He was cruel and merciless. He was so skilled at weaving a web of deceit, entrapping his prey, using his prey until it was of no use to him, then disposing of it ruthlessly.
Jacob Night Horse built a casino using the money of a wealthy man, Barlow Connally, who represents the power of money to corrupt people in power. But, when Barlow Connally is killed (suicide by cop), Jacob turns to more corrupting force for financing his casino, the Irish Mafia, which in turn threatens to take over Jacob’s entire operation and flood the “rez” with drugs and more poverty. While Jacob surely did dance with the devil, it was never his intent to do more harm to his Native community. But that is the nature of evil, to attract and corrupt little by little, and finally totally destroy or control its prey.
There is another character that shows only three times in the series, Mary Jo Murphy, a hermit naturalist that just wants to stay away from the path of corruption, and do what she can to save nature from that corruption, as well. I think most people may not recognize her role, but because of my interests in goodness, pureness of heart, and spiritual influence, I immediately saw an important role. When Henry Standing Bear was literally staked to the desert floor and left to die by Malachi Strand, Mary Jo showed up to introduce the topic. While she did kill the men who stood guard over Henry, she did nothing to help Henry directly, but she told him that if his heart was good and pure, the spirits would help him get free and he would live. She left a few fetishes to guard him from further harm. Of course, Walt Longmire eventually found Henry and snatched him from Death’s grip.
There was another off and on character, Dr. Donna Sue Monaghan, a therapist that challenged Walt Longmire to look at things from a different perspective. She told him that we don’t know truth because everything is clouded by our own biases and interpretations. Walt immediately protested, “There is truth.” Sometimes, it’s not so easy to see, but we must keep on trying, we must continue to search for it and find it.
So, the Longmire series had many stories and themes going on, but those of great interest to me were the ones that dealt with the nature of good, the nature of evil, and truth. I’ll start with truth, because without truth, it is going to be hard to define good and evil.
The studies of human psychology reveal that, for the most part, we have already formed our notions of truth before those truths are challenged. In Walt Longmire’s case, he judged people by his “gut feeling.” He often determined their guilt or innocence prior to knowing the facts and by his own admission, he gathered those facts that were consistent with his intuition, and rejected those that contradicted those intuitive notions. It turns out that this is common human behavior. Psychological research shows that we do somehow miss facts that do not conform to our preconceived notions. So, in his quest for truth, Longmire often ignored truth. At one point in the story, he begins to doubt himself, and begins to let the “truth” of others into his process only to his own peril. He ultimately falls back on intuition and lets that be his guide.
Once upon a time, I found truth in education and religion. Religion and education were my guides, the rudders that gave me direction. But, I was not consistent, and I found it extremely hard to understand why. At some point my education began to undermine my religion. It became a struggle to find truth, since the “truth” I once knew had been invalidated. The Wiccans have a rule, “Do no harm.” The Christians have the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus the Christ says the most important law is to love God above all else, and to love one another. The Talmudic scholar, Hillel said the primal law was “Do not do to others that which you would not like done to you.” All other law, he said, was “commentary.” The Dalai Lama says, “Be kind.”
Well, there we have it. The bottom line law for our behavior is, “be kind.” Everything else flows from that one “law.” Love and kindness are truth. If you are not loving and kind, then there is something in you that is not truth. You are not operating from a posture of truth if your behavior is not kind.
So that brings us to evil. Now, it is easy to understand. If you do harm to others, you are not operating in truth, and you are guided by the deception and corruption of evil.
Oh, if only it were that easy, no?
That brings me to the Yin and the Yang, the two great components of the universe, the negative and the positive, the passive and the active; this according to the Taoist view of the universe. I often have heard also, “the Evil, and the Good.” I reject that label. One of the points of departure I have had with religions is that everything is given the quality of good or evil, when in fact, nothing is inherently good or inherently evil. All inanimate objects are inherently morally neutral. However, all things can be used to harm or help others, but that is the choice of those that use the objects, not the choice of the object.
So, the use of an object comes down to the intent of the one that uses it. So, when someone beats another with a baseball bat, it is not the baseball bat that is evil. But, the person using the baseball bat is in violation of the directive to be kind. The intent of the actor is obviously to do harm. But, wait! Maybe not! What if the “victim” was initially the aggressor and the one with the baseball bat is merely defending him or herself. Here we go again! It isn’t so simple anymore, is it? And again, our perception of who is “right” and who is “wrong” perhaps hinders our judgment and our ability to know truth, doesn’t it? Because…our perception of reality has been proven to be inaccurate time and time again.
In fact, this whole business of judgment and justice is just plain tricky. And like Walt Longmire, we have to fall back on intuition. Then we have to ask, “what is justice?” The Longmire series asks the same question. It seems that law is made to favor one class of citizen over another and in the end, justice is not served; that is to say, that the harm done to another is not reconciled. So, there is the character of Hector on the “rez.” When the judicial system cannot resolve an injustice, the tribal people turn to Hector and pay him to mete out justice by doing violence to the accused offender. But somehow, the role of Hector is blurred and imperfect as well, because…truth is so hard to know at times.
As Walt Longmire said, we have to seek out truth. We must, or justice cannot be served. If justice is based on truth, then justice is also kindness.
But, when truth is known, it behooves us to use it to do good. A person robs another. That person is operating from the basis of some untruth, a lie. So, part of justice not only gives satisfaction to a victim, but must also bring truth to the offender. And the offender now understanding truth, knows what drove him to wrong another. And maybe, from there comes rehabilitation. Sadly, our prisons are just one more indication that our judicial system does not operate on the basis of truth.
So truth and kindness are tightly interwoven. We must seek truth, and we must be kind. They work together. And when we have to resort to intuition for our truth, how do we know it is right? We must know ourselves intimately. Meditation is the tool for knowing oneself…and many, many other things that are not readily accessible to us. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own actions; ultimately we make the choice to do good or to do harm. Ultimately, each person is responsible for learning truth, and using truth to do good.