A Possibly Relevant Stoy
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.