Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thinking through the Eldorado situation.

Can you have free will without freedom?

For the most part I would say that is impossible to totally destroy freedom. So the question is basically moot. But there are cases where such utter lack of freedom is possible.

By freedom I mean the word in the broadest sense of the term. I don’t just mean the absence of coercion. I mean the ability to think rationally, to know options and then to make choices.

What brings this up is the raid on the polygamist Mormon sect in Texas. The incident came about because a 16-year-old girl allegedly called the state welfare agency and told them she was forced to have sex with older men in the cult. This was followed by the raid.

Of course if a girl, or a boy for that matter, is forced to have sex with anyone then a crime is committed and something ought to be done. But some people are arguing that the cult members are consenting individuals and, baring force, should be left alone.

I normally would accept that most adolescents are mature enough to consent to sex -- which is not the same thing as saying they ought to consent. But are these teens even remotely normal?

From what I know of this sect I would have to say that these kids are not normal. Or more precisely I would have to argue they are not in anything close to normal circumstances. And there are cases where circumstances can destroy the ability to choose.

Most of these kids have no knowledge of the outside world. They were born into the cult and raised in the hothouse environment of the church. This means they had no contact with the world outside. They know nothing about the choices they actually do have. They don’t see television. they don’t listen to radio. They are schooled by the sect. All their friends are in the sect. All their family, at least those they are allowed to have contact with, are active in the sect.

In addition, their obedience is guaranteed by tying it into their fear of God and the afterlife. They are told that if they don’t obey the church leaders they can lose their own soul.

These kids live totally isolated from the world. They live in a knowledge vacuum. And they have been indoctrinated into believing that they will suffer eternal damnation if they don’t obey the church. The major tactic of every cult, to train people into total obedience, is to isolate them from the wider world. Authoritarian political structures and authoritarian religions act in similar ways and isolating their "members" for the rest of the world is critical to that.

Of course you get similar rubbish from Christian fundamentalist sects as well. But the difference is that no other Christian sect, that I know of, has been able to totally isolate their young from the world and from knowledge of the world.

Even those sects which put their children in fundamentalist schools fail to accomplish the total isolation that the fundamentalist Mormon sects achieve. Other fundamentalists may restrict the child's access to movies or even restrict television watching --or ban it. But they live in the wider community. Their children know how other people actually do live. They know that there are other ways to live. And they know that people who leave the church live normal, useful, productive, happy lives.

Such kids may buy into the teachings of their own church but they have knowledge of other options. But the fundamentalist Mormons live in such isolated conditions that all such knowledge if obliterated. These Mormon sects have left the world entirely. They don’t live around other people. They live in completely isolated communities. And since the kids in these communities have lived in this total isolation since birth they literally have no knowledge of other options.

Now add to this the pervasive and destructive influence of their theology. They believe that they are the only true church in the world. They believe that their “souls” are at risk outside that church. If they rebel against the church they risk losing everything they know and have.

In these communities the homes are owned by the cult. Question the cult and you lose your home.

You may think that the normal requirements of earning a living would end this isolation. But not so. Very few adults from the cult work outside the community. Income for the community is heavily reliant upon various entitlement programs. The multiple wives are breeding machines--the breeding is what keeps the sect alive--and the law sees them as “unmarried mothers” eligible for welfare due to their “unfortunate” circumstances.

In addition, the cult literally controls the polygamous cities. The federal and state governments have all sorts of programs to fund cities in need. And these cities are “needy” by most standards. A huge percentage of the community subsists on welfare. They are officially unemployed. There is rampantly high “illegitimacy” rates. The poverty levels are very high. And all this means that state and federal governments shower them with money. They get money for their roads, money for their schools, money for their police, money for everything. They literally have millions handed to them every month. To a large extent, the ability of these cults to survive is because they are creatures of the welfare state.

Much of this mess is directly attributable to the screwed up welfare system which funds these communities and the sects that establish them. Government funding programs are begging for abuse and the fundamentalist Mormons know precisely how to use the system for their own benefit.

This fact makes it hard for me to pity them as victims of an overzealous state. They rely on that overzealous state to subsidize their existence.

I have a difficult time seeing the teens raised in this community as having the ability to make choices. They lack any context for such decisions. This is not the case for most young people. But it is true in these isolated sects. If that is the case, and if these young people have been mentally incapacitated by their conditioning by the sect, then some action against the cult may be justified. But for myself, I’d cut off the funding first. But that is too libertarian for politicians.

The politicians will remain happy to shower these sects with the income necessary for survival. Remove the funding and the sect will be forced into interaction with the wider community. Paradoxically the one main justification for state intervention is the lack of free will caused by their isolation from reality. Yet the state funds that isolation and makes it possible.

If you look at how Muslims in Europe are breeding fundamentalist terrorists you find the same thing happening. These groups are insulated from the wider culture around them, and thus isolated from it. They rely on the welfare state for their existence. And that allows them to alienate themselves from the culture in which they live. That makes them more resentful of the culture and they find it easier to hate that culture. The end result is they are easier targets for recruiters for terrorism. When fundamentalists of any sect are able to isolate themselves from the world around them they become lethal. You will find that in most cases they are unable to do that without the state making it possible.

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