Sunday, May 18, 2008

Adultescence and my Continuing Obsession With the FLDS

They've become so common that new terms for them have been coined in many languages throughout the "civilized" world: Meet the Twixters, Kippers, Nesthockers, Mammones, and Freeters...or, in other words, "kid-ults," what social scientists have identified as a new and modern stage of life development: extended adolescence. These 18 to 29-year-olds put off adulthood by living in their parents' homes, moving from job to job and enjoying their discretionary income with new cars, computers, game devices, clothes, movies, and eating out. The phenomenon has become so widespread that it is beginning to be addressed by some of the religious denominations, including our own. (See this, by Dallin Oaks.)

We may shake our heads at the most egregious examples of these freeloaders, but little do we realize how much this system of thought has shaped our modern culture. A little over 100 years ago, my mother's great-aunt was living on a farm near Canton, Ohio. A widower with many children who was a friend of the family proposed marriage to this girl who was still a teenager herself. She and her family embraced the opportunity for her to marry this much older man and take over the womanly responsibilities of the family. Today I look at this situation with shock. I have 5 daughters in the age range of 17 to 23. I want them to have the opportunities of travel, missions, educations, jobs, living alone; all before they settle down and have a family. But why do I see this paradigm as preferable to early marriage and responsibility?

My oldest daughter attended two years of college, had a succession of well-paying jobs, went on a trip to Europe, owned a brand-new black Toyota Spyder, briefly lived in a posh apartment complex, served a mission, and is now back at the University, all the while drawing liberally from the parental coffers. One could see this as a horrifying example of self-indulgence, or as contributing to the development of a well-rounded personality.

Girls the same age in the FLDS tradition learn domestic and teaching skills, marry young, have children early, share a husband, live in an insular society, practice submission and cooperative living. One could see this as a horrifying example of subjugation and male domination, or as contributing positively to the strengthening of community and a religious tradition.

As I read Americans' reactions to the continuing story of the Texas polygamists, I see an overwhelming consensus that this group is "abusing" their young teenaged daughters by "indoctrinating" them that marriage at a young age is acceptable. I don't see anyone arguing that theirs is a viable alternative option, even those who feel their civil rights have been violated. But what makes us so sure that our modern perspective is more morally acceptable? Human culture and society has functioned for ages without our arbitrary assignation of an acceptable age of marriage.

This isn't an easy issue. What made the age of 14 acceptable in Texas for marriage with parental consent before the arrival of the FLDS? What makes the age of 16 acceptable now? Why is a particular group who allegedly violated this law being singled out, while other groups are not? Are some girls more mature and better able to make an informed choice at this age than others? Should the law reflect this? What effects have our modern tendency to postpone marriage had on society and the family?

I believe I will retain my personal opinion that girls and women should be free to continue their development well past their adolescence and to choose for themselves when they are ready for the added responsibilities of marriage and family. (Thank you very much!) What's more, I'll teach this to my children. And my students. I guess I'll take the chance that in a few years I might be matriarch over a household of adultescents. However, I just don't agree with our compulsion to enforce our philosophy on such an issue upon others. Especially when their community has proven itself quite stable without our interference.


John (with an h) said...

BiV, you're implying that your fables of self-indulgence and subjugation are the only choices available. There's lots of middle ground there.

And I take issue with the idea that the community is stable when that depends on having so many of it's young men leave.

Bored in Vernal said...

John, I'm saying that it might be OK to be on either end of the spectrum.

Also, I have discovered a lot of information about the "Lost Boys" contradicting what we are hearing in the media. It appears that several years ago there was a group of boys who voluntarily left the community after exhibiting many rebellious behaviors such as drug abuse, etc. An ex-member paid them to testify in court, saying that they were abandoned, and I believe they won quite a settlement. I question their motives, and I question whether there are any boys that have not voluntarily left because they do not wish to live by the moral standards of the community. There may be two sides of this story, too.

I continue to be appalled at the biased treatment this group is receiving in the press and in the courts.

John (with an h) said...

I've heard the exact thing you've written. Young boys "voluntarily" leave the community after exhibiting "rebellious behavior."

I'm wondering how you imagine this community works. They have polygamy. Young men coming of age are competing with older men for the young women coming of age.

Do you imagine that there are bunches of young, single men who are in the community who never get married? Or that for some reason, many more women live to marriage age than men?

They're reported to believe that optimally a good husband has three wives. If only one man in ten actually has more than one wife, that's at leas one in ten men that can't be married, right? Each woman who is married to a man who is already married means there's a man who won't get married in the community, right?

How does the math of plural marriage work out in your mind?

Is it really OK for girls to be married off at 14? Were any of your daughters or their friends or any of the girls you deal with ready to enter into a sexual relationship when they were 14?

Bored in Vernal said...

John, I'm getting frustrated with you. Did you read my post???? I don't believe a 14 year old is ready for a sexual relationship, but apparently some of the FLDS do (however limited the practice may or may not be). How do you or I know our beliefs are correct on this?????? Why did God or nature or whatever you believe in make a 14-year-old (or younger) capable of having a child????? Who are we that our beliefs take precedence over God/nature?????? Perhaps you can tell me just why our beliefs on this issue are superior to theirs. Perhaps you can tell me why this justifies wresting hundreds of children from their mothers and their homes. Oh, and btw, the "girls I deal with" are Saudi Arabian girls from the upper-class sector, many of whom are married at extremely young ages and/or living in polygamous homes.

Re the "Lost Boys," an analysis of the numbers over at FAIR shows that currently in the United States 44% of males aged 20-45 are unmarried and less invested in and productive to society than their married counterparts. In contrast, 19th century Mormons and today's fundamentalist polygamists operate at close to 100% efficiency for marrying all of their single members. There are other issues that should be explored concerning polygamous societies and the young single men. Perhaps I will blog about this at a later time.

An FLDS member I am in contact with tells me that any young men who desire to remain in the community and marry are given wives. If you look at the YFZ Bishop's List, the young men at the ranch are all married to women close to their age. And since there is no courtship, but marriages are assigned, there would not be any "competition."

John (with an h) said...

BiV, you're making me puzzled. On one hand, you're saying you don't think that it's OK. Then you ask who we think we are to oppose God when he made girls able to get pregnant at that age. And you ask if maybe we're mistaken in telling FLDS members that they're wrong in allowing it.

I'm reading that as you being pulled in at least two directions. You sound torn, as if thinking "It's not OK for my kids, but it might be for theirs." Forgive me if I'm reading too much into that.

You mentioned teaching young girls who are in plural marriages, but never explicitly say that you think it is or isn't OK. That causes me more confusion.

That 44% of men unmarried in the general population (20-45) might be correct (no citation over at FAIR). But in the general population, no one is saying marriage is the key to salvation or exaltation.

You need to re-read the FAIR article. They propose that arraigned marriage can approach 100% efficiency for marrying off -women-, leaving several unmarried men (they propose the same number that would have been unmarried in any case).

So how can 100% of the women be married, some in plural marriages, and still have all men who want to remain do so and get married?

Bored in Vernal said...

John, I don't feel torn on this issue. I believe a certain way, and I recognize the right of others to believe another. I don't think we can put a moral value on the intrinsic "rightness" of either view. If we couldn't accept the rights of others to hold different religious beliefs, we wouldn't have the marvelous pluralism that is America.

Can you explain to me why you think this group should be legally compelled to conform to your moral standard?

RWW said...

That's the real question. But I'd also like someone to explain what's inherently wrong with a 14-year-old getting married.

John (with an h) said...

BiV: I'm all for people believing whatever they want. It's when they *act* in a way that breaks our laws, especially laws who's purpose is protecting powerless people from powerful people, that I have a problem.

I don't think the group should be compelled to conform to my moral standard. I think they should be compelled to conform to society's *legal* standard.

And you're not facing the question of where the extra boys go at all. Why is that? I know for a fact that you're a person who's willing to think things through and figure out whether something makes sense. What is it about this situation that's making you take longer?

RWW: What's inherently wrong about allowing 14 year olds getting married? In general, they're not in a position to be self-sufficient, empowered, or making long-term plans. Or legally adults.

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever met two 14 year olds who you felt were in a position to marry each other and live self-sufficiently as a family unit?

Bored in Vernal said...

John, I am not sufficiently acquainted with the FLDS to give a definitive answer, but my informed opinion is that were there enough younger men who were willing to live the group's religious standards, there would be less plural marriage to older men.

I'd like to remind you that the state of Texas has yet to show that any laws have been broken. No one has been charged with the commission of a crime or even a misdemeanor.

As to your last question, you are setting up a straw man. Such an alleged 14-year-old girl would be married to an older man who could provide financial security and sister wife/wives who would give emotional support.