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May 23, 2008

Reflecting on the raid

eldorado_hi The Third Court of Appeals' decision yesterday ruling that the State of Texas had illegally seized over 450 children from their homes at a polygamist West Texas ranch threw a large monkey wrench into the largest custody case in (at least) recent American history (the court's decision is here). However, the decision is almost certainly the correct one. As Scott Henson has diligently reported over the past two months, the state's case for taking such pervasive action was shaky, at best, and has clearly deprived many parents and children of their due process rights.

The appellate court concluded the state had offered no evidence that all of the children were in danger other than an investigator's vague opinion that the church's "belief system" encouraged teenage pregnancies. State investigators have identified 20 females at the ranch who had become pregnant before age 18, but most of them are now adults. "Even if one views the FLDS belief system as creating a danger of sexual abuse, there is no evidence that this danger is 'immediate' or 'urgent' .  .  . with respect to every child in the community, " the court observed.

As Henson has noted, Texas authorities' handling of the case has been dubious from the get-go. The state raided the compound last month after a sobbing woman called a family-violence hotline and identified herself as a 16-year-old girl who had been forced into marriage at the compound. Authorities never found the girl and now believe the call may have been a hoax. Then, at a mass custody hearing in mid-April that can only be described as a gross miscarriage of justice, one of the state's chief witnesses testified that he did not really know whether the young girls and boys removed from the ranch truly had been in danger. Given that context, the appellate court's decision is not surprising.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is difficult not to feel a profound sense of sadness over the many women and children who are subjected to a stifling existence at the Eldorado compound by a relatively small number of sexual tyrants who hold sway over them. Anthropologist Lionel Tiger addressed the genesis of the cruelty recently in this Wall $treet Journal op-ed:

The fact is that, despite all the blather about faith and freedom of religion, the men operating the various compounds in question are behaving in virtually the same manner as countless dominant males in countless primate troops observed over the years.

The essence of the case is that the men who control the politics of the group (as well as the hapless women and children who live there) have used junk theology about heaven, hell, paradise and salvation to maintain their unquestioned access to all females of reproductive age (or younger).

That's the reproductive fantasy of any adult male primate.

In this blow to simple decency, the Texas polygamists are not pathfinders. Multiple wives are of course permitted in the Islamic religion, and co-wives are a feature of dozens of human groups in which powerful men control sufficient resources to be able to support more than one woman.

This is usually because the societies in which they live are sharply unequal. Sex and offspring flow to those with resources.

One of the triumphs of Western arrangements is the institution of monogamy, which has in principle made it possible for each male and female to enjoy a plausible shot at the reproductive outcome which all the apparatus of nature demands. Even Karl Marx did not fully appreciate the immense radicalism of this form of equity.

The Texans' faith-flaunting is morally disgraceful and crudely cynical. It also raises bewildering questions about human gullibility on one hand and the efficacy of the Big Lie on the other.

Can anyone really believe that the notorious communal bed to which senior men command 16-year-old girls is part of some holy temple apparatus? Apparently some people do, and the few escapees from the fetid zoo have testified to the power the ridiculous theory wields.

The victims are not only young women but young men too. They are reproductively and productively disenfranchised, and are in effect forced to leave the communities to become hopeless, ill-schooled misfits in the towns of normal life. No dignified lives as celibate monks with colorful costumes for them.

Again, the issue is cross-cultural. Osama bin Laden has at least five wives, which means that four young men of his tribe have no date on Saturday night and forever. They may become willing jihadists, or desperate suicides eager to soothe their god by killing infidels and Americans.

Elsewhere, preference for sons has meant a sharp shortage of women in China. It is known that raiding parties from there cross into bordering countries with more regular sex ratios to steal women.

The deranged cults have been operating in plain sight for years in Texan communities whose police forces have been earnestly writing parking tickets while ignoring what is obvious major criminality. Some 400 young children have been drastically separated from their mothers – who among other derogations of civil life are allegedly part of longstanding welfare fraud engineered by their sexual tyrants.

And now what? It will be intensely depressing but probably useful to acknowledge this is at bottom a natural matter, a product of our inner behavioral nature. Understanding the shadowy sources of this nightmare may help our community cope with its victims.

John Calvin would say that the Eldorado compound is a reflection of the depravity of man. A nation of laws that protect the individual from the overwhelming power of the state may prove inadequate to deter the men who perpetrate such cruelty. But a special place in hell awaits them.

Posted by Tom at May 23, 2008 12:01 AM |

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