Friday, May 02, 2008

A Possibly Relevant Stoy

Many years ago, sitting in an airport waiting for a flight from Bombay to Sydney, I got into a conversation with a woman waiting for the same flight. We ended up sitting next to each other and spent a good deal of time during the flight talking. It was one of the more interesting conversations I have ever had.

She was from a traditional south Indian family, flying out to Sydney to join her husband, a physician. Her marriage had been arranged for her by her parents, although she had been permitted to meet her prospective husband in advance and pretty clearly could have vetoed their choice. She was as intrigued by the odd marital institutions of my society as I was by those of hers.

Most of us tend to assume that our society's institutions are in most ways right and that other places, especially ones with arrangements more like those of our past, are simply backward societies whose inhabitants haven't quite caught up, aren't bright enough to see the obvious superiority of our way of doing things. But the woman I was talking with was obviously intelligent and well educated, a real person not a stick figure in a book or my imagination. It rapidly became clear that I did not have any conclusive arguments to show that pairing up people via romantic love worked better than doing it by arranged marriages. As it happened, she was happily married while my marriage had recently broken up, so the evidence from our very small sample of the alternative approaches favored hers.

I ended the conversation a good deal less certain that I was right and she was wrong.

I mention the story now because it is relevant to my attitude to the FLDS case. I do not want to live in a society where everyone ends up in arranged marriages, polygamous or otherwise. But I do want to live in a society where subgroups with with a wide range of different ideas about how to arrange their lives are free to implement them—where, for instance, the Oneida community, which I discussed in an earlier post, is possible.

Obviously there are some limits to that—I am not proposing that Kali worshippers be free to go about assassinating people. If it is true, as alleged (with, I think, no evidence), that FLDS brides are literally forced to have sex, that is a crime that ought to be prevented. But a lot of the hostility to the sect, and a lot of the willingness to believe negative claims presented with no evidence by sources that there is little reason to rely on, seems to be based on the fact that their pattern of life and marriage is strikingly different from the norm; people too quickly jump from "different" to "evil" or "crazy." Thus, in the comment thread to an earlier post, we had someone confidently asserting the existence of a sixteen year old girl with four children--on the sole evidence, so far as I could find out, of a statement in an affidavit based on the testimony of an unnamed informant.

Before closing, there are a few scraps of evidence worth mentioning. One is the marriage on the basis of which the head of the sect was convicted of being an accessory to rape. The prosecutors were surely looking for the best possible case—and the older the husband and younger the wife, the better their case would be. Yet the marriage they came up with was between a fourteen year old bride--legal to marry in a fair number of states--and a husband who was not fifty but nineteen. That suggests to me that either marriages of young girls to old husbands are considerably rarer than critics of the sect claim or that wives sufficiently unhappy with their marriage to be willing to cooperate with such a prosecution are very rare, so rare that the prosecutors had to take what they could get.

Another piece of evidence is the striking absence, so far in this case, of defectors from the sect. The children are isolated from their parents under the control of the authorities. The mothers, if they are unhappy with how the sect treated them, may reasonably believe that by testifying against the sect and so pleasing their children's captors they might prove that they are qualified as parents and so get their children back. None of them seem to have done so.

Over the longer term, while there have clearly been defectors from the sect, some very critical of it, my impression is that there haven't been all that many—clearly not enough to threaten the sect's survival. That suggests to me that their social system, however odd, does not produce a lot of people who hate it. That is not a high standard, but it is some basis to conclude that an alternative social system should be allowed to exist.

11 Comments:

At 10:30 PM, May 02, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. I'm deeply disturbed by the closed-mindedness toward this sect. At the very least our society should follow our own rules--the Constitution--and not rush to destroy this sect because of hearsay or emotions. We have enough problems of our own as it is. We should let them be so long as there's no evidence of physical danger.

 
At 4:04 AM, May 03, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

As it happened, she was happily married while my marriage had recently broken up, so the evidence from our very small sample of the alternative approaches favored hers.

As it happens, I am a happy citizen of a real society while your notions have never been put into practice, so the evidence from our very small sample of the alternative approaches favors mine.

Yet another example of your abuse of statistical notions in argument, David.

Your argument is easily refuted with a simple principle: the plural of anecdote is not data -- it is propaganda. I recommend that you and your claque read the Denialism and Science-Based Medicine blogs a bit more often to understand your own faulty thinking.

 
At 4:36 AM, May 03, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

<< their social system, however odd, does not produce a lot of people who hate it >>

The U.S. government produces a lot of people who hate it. Too bad elections don't deal with more fundamental issues. They could include ...

Question #1: Which would you prefer?

(1) Leaving the U.S. as is.
(2) Breaking up the U.S. into two pieces, which could have free and socialistic governments, respectively.
(3) Breaking up the U.S. into several regional pieces.
(4) Breaking up the U.S. into fifty states.
(5) Another plan for breaking up the U.S.
Note: Your federal income tax liability would be eliminated under plans (2), (3), (4), and (5).

It would be interesting to see what people chose. Without this data, we don't know how popular the U.S. is, although we know that a lot of people hate us, and we may well hate our own system.

When you start talking about breaking up the U.S. government, the FBI gets on your tail, further complicating an unbiased analysis of this issue.

 
At 5:11 AM, May 03, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given the rumors about reassigned wives and children, I am surprised that these apostate men and women have not resorted to family law courts to gain custody and visitation.

Defectors need not be dependent on the magnamity of the sect itself for rights to their children when law enforcement would be very happy to assist them.

 
At 5:46 AM, May 03, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such zealotry again, mike. Perhaps its just me, but what i read looked like a lighthearted attempt at conveying the authors surprise, not an attempt at serious statistics.

More on topic: i wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of the article. Then again, hardy a surprise, given im part of the claque, no? Maybe its just me again, but i feel a sting of jealousy here. But dont feel down, not all of us can be well read authors/bloggers.

Anyway..

Ive always since a young age been very skeptical of my own ability to select a partner that will last me into phases of my life that i have only second hand accounts of.

While i dont envy people who dont get a say in their choice of partner, i wish there wasnt such a taboo on parents concerning themselves with their childrens relationships.

A positive review by a family member whos opinion i respect would be a piece of information that i would happily take into account. I bet secondhand knowledge of her parents is more predictive of her future self than firsthand information about, for instance, her taste in music.

 
At 10:00 AM, May 03, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

Excellent post. What I find disturbing is that Americans have become more bigoted and intolerant over the last 50 years as they've increasingly accepted greater and greater government intrusion into their lives to the point where groups like the Pennsylvania Dutch now need special exemptions to live a lifestyle that didn't require a special "permit" for hundreds of years.

Sad to say, but this was a freer country under King George.

-Mercy

 
At 6:25 PM, May 03, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

Mr Huben,

It is customary to actually address the points raised by the author, why don't you try it sometime.

You have yet to even attempt to put forward a reason as to why the number of underage pregnant women and mothers in that sect would not follow a random distribution such that the number of pregnancies at a given time divided by number of pregnant+mothers of a given age bracket would not be reasonably constant.

I am sure that all appreciate that you disapprove of a libertarian society, however for all concerned it would be nice if you bothered to put this disapproval to use in making rational arguments against it, rather than irrational attacks.

 
At 11:01 AM, May 04, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

montestruc said...
It is customary to actually address the points raised by the author, why don't you try it sometime.

I have addressed David's strategy of argument. That's legitimate.

You have yet to even attempt to put forward a reason as to why the number of underage pregnant women and mothers in that sect would not follow a random distribution such that the number of pregnancies at a given time divided by number of pregnant+mothers of a given age bracket would not be reasonably constant.

As any baby boomer should be able to tell you, even large human populations don't meet your expectation of constant birthrates.

Nor are you addressing my actual points: don't you follow your own custom?

And if you had the slightest mental capacity, you'd have noticed that I provided at least four possible reasons that explain the statistics in this thread.

I am sure that all appreciate that you disapprove of a libertarian society, however for all concerned it would be nice if you bothered to put this disapproval to use in making rational arguments against it, rather than irrational attacks.

I'll start taking your advice when it appears that you have at least two neurons to rub together. Your arguments are incredibly poor. Poor David probably winces every time he sees you post. You're a classic example of psychological projection: accusing your opponents of your own faults.

 
At 10:23 PM, May 04, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

Huben,

I do not count 4 reason cited.

The "reasons" cited are pretty absurd each of which would reduce the total production of children, which according to the CPS is absurdly high. At least 31 kids born to a population of 53 women over a 4 year period at the start of said four year period the oldest of said women had just turned 14 and the youngest had just turned 10.

Then you claim that the incarceration of Jeffs is going to reduce the marriage rate, and cite no evidence of that at all, then you claim that the marriage rate going down in going reduce birth rate, which if true I could buy.

However, FYI I have some LDS relatives who worked very hard at converting me, so I have a good handle on the theology, and the FLDS is different mainly in not having abandoned polygamy, not in theology.

All men raised in this religion, who are of age (by their rules, not yours) are priests and can perform weddings. So your argument is a non-starter.

The bottom line is 31 of those 54 females between the ages of "14 and 17" according to Texas CPS were mothers, we have no real idea how many are actually in that age group, or how many of the 54 were in fact married by FLDS rules or how many of those who were married, or were sexually active. We know they had between them 31 kids at least, and we cannot be 100% sure that one or two of them had not had a kid out of wedlock, stuff like that happens even in conservative religions.

The bottom line is we need to have a clear idea as to how many were having regular sex to nail this down, but I will tell you this, even if all 54 were married and having regular sex, and they between them had only 31 kids, that is a hell of a lot for only ~2 years average time in that age bracket (young teen females are less fertile, not more), and having only 2 pregnant at that time is absurd.

The much more plausible scenario is that CPS is lying about the ages of a lot of young women between the ages of say 18 and perhaps as high as 25 and them selecting only mothers who look young. Also we have the effect of young mothers telling CPS that they were under age so that they could stay with their kids as CPS had told them that they would keep underage mothers with their kids.

If you look at it that way, we might have 10 mothers or pregnant females between 14 and 17 and 21 young looking mothers who lied to CPS to stay with their kids.

The reasons you give for the numbers not adding up are bogus, or would work the other way around.

 
At 11:04 AM, May 05, 2008, Blogger Elizabeth said...

I'm curious - have you run into any information on the Lost Boys of Colorado City? Slate has a pretty cursory piece, with links, here:
http://www.slate.com/id/2189181/

There appear to be few voluntary defectors, but the group has kicked out between 400 and 1400 young men in the last ten years. Doesn't that seem like sort of a large problem? Some groups feel that the FLDS have a suspiciously high child mortality rate - the Child Protection Project has requested that the FBI open an investigation. If their numbers and facts are correct, they are a strong indication of physical danger to children in the group's custody, especially to boys (the letter is here: http://childpro.org/2005/fbi_letter.html).

I don't see anything wrong with arranged marriages, particularly not on the current urban Southeast Asian model, where consenting adults inform their families that they want to get married, the families search for potential spouses, and the involved parties meet and decide whether they want to marry each other. I don't think this model meaningfully resembles the marriages practiced by the FLDS community.

 
At 12:23 PM, May 05, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Elizabeth asks about the Lost Boys. I've seen allegations but have not seen what the actual evidence is.

 

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