Terminating Parental Rights

by Harry on April 29, 2008

The FLDS incident has stirred up plenty of discussion in the blogosphere. Laura got so annoyed in her first thread that she, sensibly, shut it down, and then, equally sensibly, opened up a more general thread about when the government is justified in terminating parental rights. (See also Russell, here and here). I am uneasy about commenting much on the FDLS issue, mainly because I have not been following it as obssessively as I’d have needed to to feel comfortable. But I do have some observations about parental rights. These are partly drawn from my paper with Adam Swift, Parents’ Rights and the Value of the Family (pdf, but free, and no registration required, at least as of now), so in what follows the usual Brighouse/Swift rule for anything I say that draws on our work—whatever you agree with credit him, whatever you disagree with blame me—applies (for the final, published, paper, we get joint credit/blame).

Laura’s question was, simply, “when is the state justified in terminating parental rights over children”? The argument of our paper suggests a two stage algorithm.

Before outlining it, a background comment. All liberal democracies grant parents extensive powers to control their children’s lives. But it may seem odd to call these rights. The standard case of rights-attributions involve rights to control one’s own life, and the standard justifications appeal to the interest of the right-holder (Raz calls rights grounded in the interests of the right-holder “fundamental” rights). But children have interests that are independent of those of their parents. Some accounts of parental rights justify them entirely in the interests of the child, so that they are not fundamental, in Raz’s sense. But our account insists that parents’ rights are justified, in part, by appeal to interests of parents. This is why the algorithm has two stages—because we have to give due weight to the interests of both parents and children.

The first part of the algorithm asks whether the parents have met the preconditions for having fundamental parental rights. We think that parents’ right are indeed, fundamental in this sense—that part of what justifies them is that people have an interest in being able to have a certain kind of relationship with their children, one in which they get a great deal of latitude to act as fiduciaries for their children’s interests. We think, in other words, that the interest in being able to have a relationship with someone in which one gets to face and grapple with the challenges of rearing an independent person whom one loves and oversee their physical, cognitive, moral, and emotional development is soemthing that makes a contribution to one’s floruishing that, for many if not most adults nothing else can substitute for adequately. However, like most rights, these rights are conditional: undermine one’s children’s interests sufficiently and you have failed to meet the relevant conditions. Most accounts of parents rights that regard them as fundamental make those rights conditional on not neglecting or abusing one’s children. We, in fact, believe that more stringent conditions (which are explained in the paper) are justified. As long as those conditions are met, the state cannot be justified in terminating parental rights. (I would include a footnote at this point if I could figure out how to do so, saying that the preceding sentence is a little too strong, but only for philosophical, not for any practical, purposes).

Now suppose that the parent, or parents, have failed to meet the relevant conditions. Then their parental rights are forfeit. So we move on to the second stage. The state is not yet justified in terminating parental rights (in the legal, non-fundamental, sense). The state has, now, to focus exclusively on the interests of the child, and ask whether terminating parental rights will, given the real institutional alternatives, be better for the kids than not doing so.

This bar, frankly, is usually pretty high, because it takes pretty serious abuse and neglect to make a child worse off than they would be in the foster care system. The real alternative in the case of the FDLS children
is the State of Texas’s foster care system. It is an empirical question whether the children would be better off in that system than with their exitisting mothers. But there are three reasons that the bar is high. 1) It is very disruptive to the development of children above the age of 1-2 to put them into foster care against the wishes of their parents. So even if the kid would have done brilliantly with the foster parent if they’d adopted him when very young she may do very badly because of that disruption, even though the foster parents are great. 2) Original parents have all sorts of protections that makes it difficult for authorities just to sever ties between them and the child. So children commonly spend a long time going back and forth between foster and original parents before being adopted by foster parents. Again, said foster parents may be excellent but it might still be the case that the kid would be better off without that back and forth. 3) Some foster parents are pretty bad.

The fact that original parents have so many protections is, of course, something the State, itself, has control over (as, to some extent, is the quality of the foster care system). Maybe the state should reform the law so that children can easily and quickly be fostered-then-adopted, and original parents have little say. But for these particular children (and the courts making the decision) there is no prospect of law being reformed in that way. And there are reasons, given the history of the US into very recent times, for being very uneasy about giving State governments that sort of power given the history of the use of state power against despised groups of parents in the US. Despite my hesitations, I have no real doubt that many of the FLDS parents have failed to meet the conditions on having parental rights, so in one way I am with the commenters on Laura’s threads who are hostile to them; but I am nevertheless very cautious about removing the children from them given the likely alternatives, so in that way I am with the commenters who are shocked by what the State is doing.

A final comment. Laura’s question is a perfectly good one in this context (and not only because it gives me a chance to point readers to Adam’s and my paper). But it is not, from the perspective of child welfare, the question we should usually be asking. Because there are good reasons for being nervous about giving States the power to take children from parents and allow them to be adopted abruptly, even after parents have forfeit their fundamental rights, we should usually be asking the less punitive question of what kinds of public policy will make it more likely that more parents will meet the (in my view quite stringent) conditions on retaining a fundamental right to raise their child. How, in other words, can we arrange policies so that events like this one with the FLDS don’t arise in the first place?

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terminating parental rights
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1

john b 04.29.08 at 1:39 pm

Your condition 2.1 (i.e. “foster outcomes are v. poor above age 1-2) is directly relevant to recent events in the UK, where very young children who are considered to be at a particularly high risk of abuse from their parent [but who haven’t actually been abused by that parent yet] are placed for adoption.

This seems sensible to me (and to meet your conditions) but has caused enormous amounts of tabloid outrage here…

2

Patrick 04.29.08 at 1:45 pm

As far as I can tell from a few coworkers who are incredibly hostile to the state of Texas’ efforts to remove these children from their parents, some people see this particular case as not being about individual parents, but rather being about a sort of group, cultural right. They’re not philosophers, but if they were, I think they’d phrase it as some sort of additional right, separate from that of individual parents and children, held collectively by the group, in their own cultural integrity or existence. Which is, of course, threatened by this action.

I don’t agree with group rights almost on principle, but its an added wrinkle.

3

laura 04.29.08 at 1:51 pm

What kinds of policies could be put in place to avoid these situations in the future? Well, I’ve been a supporter of homeschooling in the past. But this case surely shows the downsides of homeschooling. Kids are not only completely isolated from other world views and religions. It also makes it more difficult for the state to monitor for the more extreme forms of abuse that you mention in your post. I don’t know. Maybe homeschooling should to be regulated with periodic inspections by school officials and social workers.

4

Witt 04.29.08 at 1:56 pm

Is Texas attempting to terminate parental rights, or just suspend them while the DNA tests are sorted out and the children are interviewed/evaluated? Both are problematic in their own ways, but it’s important not to confuse one with the other.

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CK Dexter 04.29.08 at 2:06 pm

“I don’t agree with group rights almost on principle, but its an added wrinkle.”

I’m a bit skeptical of any substantive concept of “right,” but I imagine that if you do agree with the notion of individual rights, it could be argued that group rights can be deduced from individual rights (in a way, to be sure, that wouldn’t override them). I take it, for example, that one way to manifest personal freedom is through voluntary collective action or participation in a group identity and way of life–as in the case of religions and political parties.

6

Picador 04.29.08 at 2:13 pm

I’ve had a very difficult time making this argument (about leaving kids in the custody of bad parents being preferable to throwing them into the institutional machinery) with “Think of the Children!” types. There seems to be an odd disconnect between the sentimentality these people display toward children and family, on the one hand, and the blind faith in the ability of the state to produce better outcomes than delinquent parents on the other.

Actually, perhaps it’s not so odd if one considers that the same disconnect seems to be on display in the attitudes held by the forced pregnancy lobby toward motherhood and children: that children are sacrosanct right up until the moment of birth, at which point they are irrelevant, and that women are the beautiful, sacred vessels of the miracle of childbirth, unless they are contemplating abortion, at which point they need to be forcibly restrained by the state and preferably executed after the baby has been delivered.

In this sense, these sentimentalists fully inhabit the role of the false mother in the Solomonic parable of splitting the baby: they are more interested in seeing strict justice served by having the “bad” parent (who allowed abuse, or who contemplated abortion) punished than they are in seeing the interests of the child protected.

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chris y 04.29.08 at 2:13 pm

some people see this particular case as not being about individual parents, but rather being about a sort of group, cultural right.

And if they’re aware of the experience of forced emigration of British children in orphanages either side of WWII, or of the experience of the native Australians, for which the government has, at long last, apologised, you can see why. On the other hand, the instinct to remove vulnerable people from this environment is very understandable. If they enjoy a group right, do they forfeit it by group criminality?

8

matt 04.29.08 at 2:16 pm

_We think, in other words, that the interest in being able to have a relationship with someone in which one gets to face and grapple with the challenges of rearing an independent person whom one loves and oversee their physical, cognitive, moral, and emotional development is something that makes a contribution to one’s flourishing that, for many if not most adults nothing else can substitute for adequately._

I expect that if most people were able to articulate what they think is good about being a parent they might say something like this. (Most people can’t, of course, articulate this and I strongly suspect it would be post-hoc justification for most people since most people just _become_ parents without thinking about it at all.) But, I must say that I find something about it deeply creepy. At least when left at this level it seems a very instrumental use of a child- “I will find having this relationship very good for me so I will bring it about” isn’t a bad thing, but in the case of kids there’s no choice but to be in the relationship, so it’s different from thinking the same sort of thing about, say, a spouse. I’m tempted to say that if one has this feeling one should get a pet or become a teacher. I can’t claim to have a worked out view here but as it is this approach seems problematic to me, and not the sort of thing that could ground rights, especially when the other half of the relationship is one that’s not entered in to (and cannot be entered in to) voluntarily. (I guess this leads me to think that parents have less right to raise their kids in particular ways than we might think otherwise. That seems right to me.)

9

Rich B. 04.29.08 at 2:52 pm

My concern is more of the immediate threat versus future threat variety.

Assuming that a parent states, “When my child turns 13, I will definitely marry her off to a 50 year old man who already has 10 wives.” (I assume no one has explicitly said this.)

And assuming that this act clearly meets the definition of abuse that warrants complete termination of parental rights. (I assume many will debate this.)

But even assuming that, does this give the state the right to remove a six year old daughter from her parents? Because they have done nothing abusive yet, but will in seven years?

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daddysteve 04.29.08 at 3:06 pm

Troll comment deleted

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Matt McIrvin 04.29.08 at 3:34 pm

There’s also the question of whether raising a child actually does make such a contribution to the flourishing of a parent. As a parent I tend to personally believe that in some sense it does, but I also recognize that there are lots of disturbing studies indicating that having children doesn’t actually increase one’s happiness or psychological well-being, and it’s possible that my belief is actually false.

12

praisegod barebones 04.29.08 at 4:04 pm

Matt

If there’s something creepy about this, its presumably something creepy about deciding to have a child because doing so will satisfy the interest; not something problematic about the idea that we have this kind of interest.

You might think that the fact that there would be something creepy about acting on the desire shows that we can’t have such an interest. I don’t think that’s right. In fact I think there are quite a lot of interests like this.

Relationships with partners seem like a good case: deciding to marry someone might satisfy your interest in having a fulfilling long-term relationship; but hopefully – at least from your spouse’s point of view – you don’t marry them from a desire to satisfy this interest, but because of how you feel about your spouse.

Slightly different response: you could read Harry as saying that people have an interest in having children, because of the sort of relationship they have with them. (I think you have to read him this way for your objection to get a grip.)

But you don’t have to read him as saying this in the post. He could just mean that people who actually do have children have an interest in being able to have this kind of relationship with their children. I think that would be enough to ground the right; but it would mean the interest couldn’t ground the creepy desire (because the desire would have to have already been satisfied for the interest to come into existence)

…Scurries off to read the paper, wondering whether the view put forward is compatible with the idea that *children’s* rights are rights of restitution…

13

R 04.29.08 at 4:15 pm

It seems to me that the approach that would go the furthest to solving the various problems — if it were possible to make it happen within the constraints of the “system” — would be to leave the children with their mothers, but ensure that the family living situation is closely monitored, and that the children have social contacts outside the family.

So, in Harry’s two-stage process, the parents have clearly given the state enough reason’s to intervene, put there are probably ways it can intervene to prevent future abuse that are less wrenching than taking young children away from their mothers.

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engels 04.29.08 at 4:22 pm

We think, in other words, that the interest in being able to have a relationship with someone in which one gets to face and grapple with the challenges of rearing an independent person whom one loves and oversee their physical, cognitive, moral, and emotional development is something that makes a contribution to one’s flourishing that, for many if not most adults nothing else can substitute for adequately.

Is this perhaps the same interest that the 50-year-old man, mentioned above, has in marrying a 13-year-old girl?

I find that when most people articulate what motivates them in being a parent they say something like “you realise that you care more about your child’s happiness than anything else in the world”. In other words: a displaced and intensified form of egoism.

15

Chuchundra 04.29.08 at 5:37 pm

But even assuming that, does this give the state the right to remove a six year old daughter from her parents? Because they have done nothing abusive yet, but will in seven years?

Well, what if my intention was, instead of marrying off my daughter to some creepy, 50 year-old, FLDS patriarch at 13, sacrificing here to the volcano god? What if I planned to raise her so that she knew that here higher purpose in life was to die at age 13 so we would have a good harvest that year. Would you wait until she was 12 and half before CPS could take her away from me.

16

Jaybird 04.29.08 at 6:25 pm

There’s also the whole issue of “if people like us have children responsibly, we will be overrun by the people who have them irresponsibly.”

They made a movie about this, actually.

17

novakant 04.29.08 at 6:27 pm

Is this perhaps the same interest that the 50-year-old man, mentioned above, has in marrying a 13-year-old girl?

No – that preposterous.

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engels 04.29.08 at 6:35 pm

Ok, it was pretty preposterous. But I still have a niggling feeling that anyone who has the deep desire to ‘oversee [the] physical, cognitive, moral, and emotional development’ of another person should probably be kept away from children.

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noen 04.29.08 at 7:03 pm

These people set up a crematorium to deal with dissenters.

The children needed to be taken by the state just to determine who their biological parents even are. They lived in a communal environment where the children didn’t know who their mothers were. Fathers who didn’t comply with the leaders had their wives taken away from them. Women who disobeyed had their children given away to more obedient members.

And what happened to the boys? Did they go into the crematorium or where they simply turned out on the streets and a life of prostitution?

This is a cult that engaged in a conspiracy to commit child rape and everyone was involved. Doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, everyone. There is a level of evil here that is almost unimaginable had we not seen this before.

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magistra 04.29.08 at 7:27 pm

What I find really worrying in Harry’s paper is that ‘redistribution of children’ is talked about as an academic principle, without any mention of the real horrors that decisions on that cause. Tell me, can any parent read the statement that ‘We have an argument against the forcible redistribution of children from adequately good parents to others (or to state institutions) that might do better by them’, without starting to worry about who might be deciding whether or not you are an inadequate parent, on what basis and whether it’s then OK to take your children away?

The paper gives some examples given of what rights parents might have in such a system: but who decides whether a parent is taking a child to church (OK) or indoctrinating them (not OK)? And consider a general statement such as ‘The parent’s fiduciary obligations are to guarantee the child’s immediate well-being and to oversee and ensure her cognitive, emotional, physical, and moral development.’ Just how many chances does this give to states or their proxies potentially to misuse power: if they believe that a child’s well-being isn’t well-served by being raised by a single parent or a poor parent or a gay parent or a parent who isn’t ‘properly’ integrated in mainstream society or one with post natal depression or with the ‘wrong’ political views?

This isn’t a hypothetical problem: this has happened time and time again. The Lost Generation in Australia, the single mothers forced into giving their babies up for adoption and many other cases. This is why there is so much pressure now to keep families together, and why neglect and cruelty (or very substantial risk of them, as in the FLDS case) are the only reasonable standards to use when deciding on such matters. I’m not a philosopher, so I can’t formulate a watertight argument as to why a loving parent has a fundamental right not to have their life wrecked in this way. But discussing such cases purely in the abstract, ignoring this kind of awful treatment, isn’t my idea of what ethics should be about.

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Kai Jones 04.29.08 at 7:29 pm

I think a good tool to compare the possible decisions here would be a sense of how easy it is for a child to recover from the various failure modes. Is it easier to recover from an abusive parent or from multiple foster homes?

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harry b 04.29.08 at 8:25 pm

magistra:

I disagree (obviously). The question we are addressing is why parents have fundamental rights over their children. If there is a reason it is just not going to be the kind of reason that adults generally have rights over or with respect to themselves. The stalking horse of the child’s best interests (which, if you really took it to be the only value, supports redistribution of the kind we consider) is a nice one: the question is precisely why someone who is not the best parent to the child should, nevertheless, have the right to be the child’s parent and consequently rights over him. Armed with the answer to that question we can actually explain why the single mothers were wronged when their children were taken away from them, whereas someone who has a pet (to which he is equally attached, lets say) is not wronged when it is taken away from him (on the grounds that he will not look after it as well as a zoo).

I agree that the government should not be determining who is merely taking their kid to church to share their religious way of life, and who is doing it to indoctrinate. But as a parent I have a duty to recognize the difference, and any parent who fails to make that distinction and who simply indoctrinates is doing a wrong. If ethics refrains from making any comment on those kinds of question it is failing to deliver vital resources to people who want to engage in moral deliberation.

The questions “who decides?” and “how many chances?” are fair ones, that we don’t address here. Your worries about that are legitimate (and the second half of my post indicates why I share those worries, even in this FLDS case). But the history you invoke is one in which deep wrongs have been done. Those wrongs are not merely wrongs to children, but also to their parents, and our account shows with more precision than other accounts just why they are wrong.

matt — we are not suggesting this as a motivation for having children (my guess is that it is a rare, and odd, motivation), but as a reason for allowing people to have and raise children, and have considerable powers over them that it would not be justifiable to allow them to have over other people. I like praisegod’s (#12) para 3 and will use that analogy, which seems right.

23

Steve Kyle 04.29.08 at 8:27 pm

Your statement about how high the bar is to remove parental rights has a big problem. Many of us divorced people have severely curtailed or even no parental rights, often simply because we were not lucky enough to be chosen as the custodial parent. Depending where you live there is no need for you to be a bad parent in any sense at all to lose those rights.

So the state is quite accustomed to taking away parental rights and the bar for doing so isnt high at all.

What should worry you more is the people who wield this power in the Dept. of Child Protective Services. These low paid bureaucrats are quite often not people whose judgment should be trusted on this or any other matter. In a perfect theoretical world truth and justice can reign but in the real world, even if the theoretical issues are clear cut the rules are often implemented by unqualified people. And foster care? While there are certainly good ones out there, I sure wouldnt want my kids to have to live in such a place.

24

CK Dexter 04.29.08 at 8:42 pm

(18)
“But I still have a niggling feeling that anyone who has the deep desire to ‘oversee [the] physical, cognitive, moral, and emotional development’ of another person should probably be kept away from children.”

This is understandable. Not entirely unlike the sense that anyone who has a deep desire to “oversee the physical, cognitive, moral, and emotional development” of a nation should be kept away from politics.

I wonder if Plato’s good ruler rule works for parenting? That anyone who really, really deeply wants to be a parent isn’t going to be an ideal one? Not saying, just wondering…

25

djw 04.29.08 at 8:49 pm

And what happened to the boys?

LINK

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Jaybird 04.29.08 at 8:53 pm

We need something like the TSA, only in charge of Parenting.

What could possibly go wrong?

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matt 04.29.08 at 9:10 pm

The thing though, Harry, is that the analogy from #12 paragraph 3 above can’t work right for having kids, since you don’t know the kids before you have them so you can’t decide to have them for some reason about them- if you decide at all it’s got to be some other reason- it can’t be on an analogy of why you get married or have a relationship. My point was just that to the extent that people have kids because they think it’s good for them (the parent) to do so, that has to be a pretty week reason to give parents rights over the kids if the kid’s welfare is in danger. We’d need some other reason, such as that the alternatives are likely to be worse. That will often be so, but I just don’t think this particular reason can be a very strong one for giving parents the right to control the lives of their children.

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lemuel pitkin 04.29.08 at 9:11 pm

As a couple other people have noted, you just can’t make sense of this stuff in a framework where only individuals have rights.

The policies of the US (and, I guess, Australian) government to deliberately remove children from their parents and place them in English-speaking families or boarding schools, in order to eliminate the indigenous culture, is *much worse* than removing a similar number of children from a random selection of families “for their own good” would be, even if the outcomes for individual children were similar.

Or imagine — not completely implausibly — that a government came to power in the US that was convinced that black culture was a major cause of crime, social unrest, etc., and set out a program of incentives for white families to adopt black children, black individuals to be voluntarily sterilized, and to reward interracial marriage. Such a program could be carried out wihtout violating any individual’s rights, and yet it would still be morally loathesome.

Cultures — and arguably families — have a legitimate interest in their continued existence beyond the interests of their individual members. Even if you don’t accept that principle, but you need to take it into account if you want to understand why people find this sort of thing so frightening.

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magistra 04.29.08 at 9:31 pm

Harry,

Thanks for your response. But I’m not convinced that saying that parenting contributes to the parent’s flourishing does prevent the misuses of power that your low threshhold for intervention introduces. It’s still open to the intervener to say ‘but in this instance the parent is not flourishing, so it’s OK to take the child’. Taking away the children of single mothers in the 1950s and 1960s wasn’t just seen as for the child’s good, after all, it was for the good of the mother as well, who would be unable to cope. And as you point out, you can’t claim that parenting is necessary for the flourishing of all humans. (I think you would have to introduce the distinction between losing something you have and never having something in the first place).

You also say in the paper that you don’t have a good argument for why parents should be allowed to keep their own biological child (rather than being given someone else’s). Even without getting into the evolutionary psychology claims that parents are more conscientious in raising their own children, there is one obvious reason. There are very many characteristics (intellectual, physical, emotional etc) which are partly hereditary. Your biological child is therefore more likely to be like you than a random child (which can be infuriating as well as encouraging). As a result, the biological parent is better aware and informed of the problems and opportunities that child will face, and hopefully better able to help them develop. (This is one of the reasons that transracial adoptions even within a country have proved so problematic). Similarly, my adoptive parents had a deep love for me, but nothing like the mental connection that I found with my biological father when I met him as an adult.

30

Laura 04.29.08 at 9:38 pm

I agree with lemuel pitkin. You can see evidence of a fear of cultural distinctiveness in this discussion in noen’s comment:
“The children needed to be taken by the state just to determine who their biological parents even are. They lived in a communal environment where the children didn’t know who their mothers were.”

There were clearly a great many rights violations going on here – the rape of girls, the abandonment of boys – but the communal families is *not* part of the problem. If the kids didn’t know who their parents were because the parents were all involved in adult, consensual, relatively gender egalitarian polyamorous relationships, there wouldn’t be a problem here. It would be an odd way to grow up, but not a criminal one.

If you want other victims to reach out for help, it’s probably better to leave as many cultural practices in tact as possible while still prosecuting the actual rights violations.

31

harry b 04.29.08 at 9:54 pm

magistra — just on your first para (for time reasons) — one way of thinking about this is to ask what the government should do if it buys into our basci claim that many (though not all) adults have a fundamental interest in having a relationship of this kind. The interest is not just in negotiating the challenge involved in that relationship but doing so in conditions in which one has a reasonably good chance of being successful. Its plausible that lots of people don’t flourish as parents because the social environment presents them with challenges as parents that are insuperable. Changing those environmental factors (I’m not suggesting exactly how) is what the government should do. Swift and I say a little bit about this in this paper here:

http://social-justice.politics.ox.ac.uk/working_papers/materials/SJ004_swift+brighouse_final.pdf\

and more in another, more policy-oriented, paper recently published in Public Policy Research. The general point here is that even if someone isn’t flourishing in the role does not mean that it is unprobematically the right thing to terminate their rights.

I can’t respond to your other para or other comments right now for time reasons, and won’t have time till Thursday, but will do then.

32

lemuel pitkin 04.29.08 at 10:24 pm

If you want other victims to reach out for help, it’s probably better to leave as many cultural practices in tact as possible while still prosecuting the actual rights violations.

A good point.

Real societies include lots of intermediate institutions — families, cultures, nations, religions, neighborhoods, businesses, unions, etc. — that have their own distinct sources of legitimacy. Approaches like Harry’s reduce all these to either voluntary assocaitions of individuals or emanations of state power. But ignoring their independent existence and moral claims is not just bad analysis, it leads to conlcusions that are politically useless, because they ignore the real bases of people’s moral commitments.

33

lemuel pitkin 04.29.08 at 10:30 pm

Is Harry really arguing that there is no right for families to remain together, only for adults who want children to have *some* child? I.e. that if it were practical to do so, there would be no moral objection to the state reallocating children between families?

34

mq 04.29.08 at 10:38 pm

I agree with Lemuel, and would add that the inability or unwillingness to deal with group rights is an absolutely central issue facing moral philosophy.

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mq 04.29.08 at 10:43 pm

Also, I think you have to lay some serious blame with the Mormon church here. If there is a recognized social community that this church culture was formed in, it was Mormonism, correct? Over many years. And the Mormon church did not police its communities to avoid this kind of extreme situation developing. Instead, it just denied the problem and let polygamy grow into this extremist cult. So then you get a situation where checks cannot be introduced in a more moderate manner, by people whose spiritual authority might be voluntarily recognized within the common values of the community. And then you get the extreme intervention of the state.

36

noen 04.29.08 at 10:53 pm

If the kids didn’t know who their parents were because the parents were all involved in adult, consensual, relatively gender egalitarian polyamorous relationships, there wouldn’t be a problem here.

I agree it would not pose a legal problem. But I bet that even in that situation the kids would know who their mothers were. There is a deep biological drive at work here.

And while it think it’s true that we should keep as many cultural practices intact as possible. In this particular case it simply cannot be helped. The cult has been systematically breaking the law for a long time. In order to determine paternity the state has no choice but to separate the children and perform DNA tests. Only after that is done can anything go forward.

Another problem is that the cult’s “cultural practices” included systematic child abuse. Even those children who were not directly sexually exploited were in fact abused because they were in an abusive environment. Permitting your child to be in such an environment is more than enough for you to get your child taken away from you. Rightly so.

37

engels 04.29.08 at 11:15 pm

If the kids didn’t know who their parents were because the parents were all involved in adult, consensual, relatively gender egalitarian polyamorous relationships, there wouldn’t be a problem here. It would be an odd way to grow up, but not a criminal one.

Yes, and perhaps so odd

38

engels 04.29.08 at 11:26 pm

‘not so odd’

39

harry b 04.29.08 at 11:33 pm

lemuel #27: Cultures have interests? No, people have interests. Including an interest in equal treatment that does, in fact, suffice to impugn the laws and practices you imagine. Pretty much no-one thinks there are no group rights, but the group rights are there to protect individuals, and maybe even groups, but not cultures. Not to deny that its very important to understand, and undergird, cultural practices that are important to people, but its the people that matter.

lemuel #32: no, I’m not arguing that there is no right for biological families to stay together. My and Adam’s argument simply doesn’t show that. It shows that there is a right to raise some child. To show that there was a right for biological families to stay together would require some other argument. I haven’t seen a successful instance of such an argument, but I’d like to (that’s sincere!). Not arguing for X is not the same is arguing for not-X.

mq #33: group rights are what everyone in moral philosophy is talking about these days.

40

novakant 04.29.08 at 11:33 pm

I think we’re getting a bit off track here, if we talk about “ideal parents” or “the best possible upbringing” on the one hand, and totalitarian or authoritarian governments abducting children and tearing families apart on the the other.

The problem at hand as it presents itself in democratic, liberal societies is rather simple: children have to be protected from physical and emotional harm and have to be enabled to be independent adults that can function in society. On the first point there should be consensus, and while your mileage may vary slightly on the latter point, I think it is pretty clear what it entails in general.

To ensure both you need an authority outside and above the family structure that is responsible for judging the children’s well-being and development. This authority consists of teachers and social-workers and, in the case abuse or neglect, judges and psychologists. Of course these are fallible, as are parents, but generally I see no evidence that they are hellbent on tearing families apart unless absolutely necessary and neither is the state, what with all the cost and drama involved. If there wasn’t such an outside authority checking on the wellbeing of children, who is supposed to detect and act on negelect or abuse and who are the children suffering from it to turn to?

And as far as the positive development of children is concerned: yes , there are cultural and ideological value judgements involved, but that is part of living in a society. Memorizing Koran or Bible verses eight hours a day might be considered a good education among some groups, but it just isn’t in our sense of the word. It’s brainwashing and children have a right to be protected from that and also a right to be exposed to a vast variety of knowledge, so that they can make their own choices as they go along.

Schools ideally serve as a means to provide that and also as a neutral ground apart from the family or “group” structure, were potential abuse, neglect and indoctrination can be detected.

41

lemuel pitkin 04.29.08 at 11:47 pm

Cultures have interests? No, people have interests.

Well, you may think that. But lots of other people — a large majority, I’d guess — think otherwise.

Again, consider a policy to deliberately bnring about the extinction of a distinct culture that does not harm any particular individual. (There’s no shortage of examples historically, even if the no-harm-to-individuals part was mainly honored in the breach.) Many people, including me, consider such policies reprehensible.

Of course, you can dismiss the view that there is any indepedent interest in the preservation of a family or a culture. But you need to realize that in so doing you’ve lost touch with most people’s moral intuitions — and emotions — about situations like the FCLSD children.

I’m not arguing that there is no right for biological families to stay together. My and Adam’s argument simply doesn’t show that.

Thanks for the clarification.

42

lemuel pitkin 04.29.08 at 11:49 pm

generally I see no evidence that they are hellbent on tearing families apart unless absolutely necessary

I guess you’ve missed the various mentions of Native American boarding schools, the Australian aborigine “lost generation”, etc., then.

43

lemuel pitkin 04.29.08 at 11:54 pm

I’m not arguing that there is no right for biological families to stay together. My and Adam’s argument simply doesn’t show that.

… no, on reflection this really won’t do. It’s a sign the argument has gone seriously off track.

People’s negative response to state interventions like this have nothing — literally nothing — to do with the violation of the right to have *a* child, and everything to do with keeping *their* child. (Where “their child,” however, does not mean biological.)

44

harry b 04.30.08 at 12:07 am

Sorry, I misunderstood your earlier point. Our argument (if successful, of course) does show that there is a right to raise your child (where “your child” means something like “the child with whom you are already in a parent-child relationship). I thought you meant something like “a right to establish a relationship with a child to which you are biologically related”, which is what we don’t show, but your parenthetical comment makes it clear you don’t mean that. (In my defence I am looking after my toddler with 3/4 of my attention, and only have 1/4 of my attention for this).

45

engels 04.30.08 at 12:17 am

We think, in other words, that the interest in being able to have a relationship with someone in which one gets to face and grapple with the challenges of rearing an independent person whom one loves and oversee their physical, cognitive, moral, and emotional development is something that makes a contribution to one’s flourishing that, for many if not most adults nothing else can substitute for adequately.

It shows that there is a right to raise some child

An obvious point which I’m sure you’ve dealt with. but based on the above, it looks to me like your right could only be effectively invoked against the state by parents who are ‘down to their last child’…

46

Martin James 04.30.08 at 12:18 am

This argument has convinced me that we are seriously in need of an alternative social arrangement to “the state”. Whatever social contract (and hopefully its none) I have with the likes of noen and mq, I would like to declare my independence from and go to war.

47

lemuel pitkin 04.30.08 at 12:29 am

43-

Ah, OK. Whatever problems I have with your argument, I certainly agree with you that biological relatedness is irrelevant to the issues here.

48

Laura 04.30.08 at 12:31 am

The Australian indigenous people removed as children are generally known as the stolen generation, not the lost generation, not to be pedantic but the language clearly has a bearing.

comment 12:

Relationships with partners seem like a good case: deciding to marry someone might satisfy your interest in having a fulfilling long-term relationship; but hopefully – at least from your spouse’s point of view – you don’t marry them from a desire to satisfy this interest, but because of how you feel about your spouse

Sure, in one recent Western tradition (companionate marriage) – arranged marriages between consenting adults are preferred and functional in other environments.

49

engels 04.30.08 at 12:34 am

Harry, how does the idea that people have an interest in experiencing a particular kind of relationship (being a parent) justify a right for parents to hold onto each of their children, not just one of them (assuming you think it does?)

50

SG 04.30.08 at 1:01 am

I would like to second Laura’s point that the stolen generation needs to be called “stolen”, not lost. And I don’t think we should be bringing them into this discussion, because they were taken from their parents for reasons of genocide not welfare. No one was thinking of their welfare at any point, and considering them in a debate about child welfare issues means giving subtle credence to the main conservative justification for the policy, a justification which happens to be historically completely wrong.

51

Roy Belmont 04.30.08 at 1:09 am

#39:
Schools ideally serve as a means to provide that and also as a neutral ground apart from the family or “group” structure, where potential abuse, neglect and indoctrination can be detected.
Except abuse, neglect, and indoctrination by the school as agent of the culture that endows and sanctions it.
A serious case could be made for the illegitimacy of an educational system, and the culture that endows and sanctions it, which has enabled the election and continued employment of Geo. Bush & Co.
Contradistinct to the teachers within that system, who are generally the most stalwart defenders of humane attributes, vestigial though they are, in it.
The suffering of the children of Iraq generally, and the death counts of children there specifically, let alone the suffering and death of children worldwide, make it obvious that what’s primarily working in the FLDS hysteria is sexual pathology in the audience for the event, and in the culture that sustains it and provides it with news – it’s clearly not primarily a concern for the wellbeing of the children themselves, except in an infantile puppies-and-kittens form.
#35:
The cult has been systematically breaking the law for a long time.
Breaking the law is how women in the US got the right to vote, as so did blacks. That the laws were then altered doesn’t change the initial, illegal circumstance. Breaking the law is how the US became a sovereign nation. Breaking or observing the law has only a very tangential relationship to moral conduct.
Always the assertion of rights where none were previously granted will be an act against the law.
In the FLDS matter, the carnage at Waco was out of this same playbook. Superficially it seems to be about rescuing children from sexual predation, although what makes sexual predation wrong is that it causes them harm. It’s not the sex, it’s the harm.
Harming children – by jerking them away from their mothers, or, as in the case of Waco, burning them to death – to rescue them from the harm of sexual predation doesn’t scan very well. Though it fits seamlessly into an m.o. that has killed thousands of children in Iraq.

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lemuel pitkin 04.30.08 at 2:00 am

I would like to second Laura’s point that the stolen generation needs to be called “stolen”, not lost.

I’m sorry I wrote lost. My bad.

And I don’t think we should be bringing them into this discussion, because they were taken from their parents for reasons of genocide not welfare.

But with due respect, that’s exactly why they *do* belong in this discussion. Because the fact that genocide can be committed without necessarily killing or even (physically) harming any individual, highlights exactly the key moral dimension of this issue that Harry’s paper ignores.

53

lemuel pitkin 04.30.08 at 2:05 am

(In other words, yes, comparing Australia’s aboriginal cultures to the FLDS could seem extremely insulting. But that’s not why people have mentioned them, rather it’s to show that what outrages people about forced removal of children from their families has little or nothing to do with the issues Harry talks about in his paper.)

54

noen 04.30.08 at 3:32 am

Whatever social contract (and hopefully its none) I have with the likes of noen and mq, I would like to declare my independence from and go to war.

What on earth for? I have been limiting my comments to the cult and why I feel removing the children is justified. I assume then that you feel the children should remain with those men who are abusing them and may not even be their fathers? What possible justification is there for that?

Breaking the law is how women in the US got the right to vote, as so did blacks. That the laws were then altered doesn’t change the initial, illegal circumstance. Breaking the law is how the US became a sovereign nation.

Non sequitur. I was pointing to the fact that the cult has been hiding it’s activities and confusing paternity by shuffling children and parents around, falsifying birth certificates, failing to report abuse etc. Are you suggesting that the struggle for civil rights or the birth of our nation is somehow on par with the systematic rape of children? There are former members who are suing for their parental rights but the situation inside the cult is so confused no one can say who’s children are who’s. What is your solution then, that we draw lots?

That state has a legitimate interest in the welfare of children. This is why we have laws against child abuse. The FLDS cult has fostered an environment where the sexual abuse of children is pervasive and ongoing. In order to ensure the safety of those children the only moral choice is to remove them from immanent harm. Once paternity is established then we can move to the next step and terminate parental rights case by case.

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Roy Belmont 04.30.08 at 5:19 am

#54:
The amount and intensity of the hysteria in your remarks may be coming from something unresolved and personal. It’s difficult, when that’s what drives you, to not become so emotionally involved you’re blind to what’s there.
As far as I can tell there was no “systematic rape of children” at the FLDS compound. Unless statutory rape and actual rape are now equivalent moral wrongs.
For what it’s worth my grandmother was married at 16, to a man she lived with the rest of her life. Her eldest daughter was married at 17 to an itinerant violinist and though that one didn’t last her whole life it was clear when she talked about it she didn’t regrets it.
Many women in those days were married that young or younger. In fact until the middle of the 20th c. teenage marriage was pretty common.
It may be an aspect of contemporary sexual enlightenment that this is no longer allowed, is in fact looked on with horror and outrage, but it would seem also to be a necessary protection for people who are so increasingly infantilized many no longer grow up at all.
That social consensus considers a 16 year old female who’s been menstruating for four or more years so unready for marriage and child-bearing that even consensual sex with her is rape may seem perfectly rational and moral to you and to most of the society you live in, but it’s a very recent viewpoint, and seems to be based on nothing more than early childhood traumatic instruction and punishment, and self-reinforcing communal taboos. It’s also flagrantly misogynist and a massive denial of what it’s actually like to be young.
Where there is a moral wrong it is that unnecessary harm has been caused to one party for the gratification of another. Pretending that this never happens between statute adults is a common but dubious path.
Although Warren Jeffs would appear to a creepy and immoral man, using power and position to gratify himself at the expense and to the harm of others, still that impression’s being intentionally delivered to me by media voices that have lied and falsely insinuated and obfuscated and just generally been so full of shit for so long now that I haven’t got even a minimal faith in their integrity or dedication to the truth.
I do think Jeffs and the elders of the FLDS should be prosecuted, if for nothing else that ghastly architecture they produced, but I have no solution to the problem of what to do with the orphans generated by this intervention, because I have almost no faith in the people and agencies involved.
Why were Waco and Ruby Ridge so important to the Feds? Why is this cult condemned and the Universal Life Church given privilege and sanction?
Did you know the FBI, which broke this case open on what they claim was an anonymous tip, has a demographically abnormal number of mainline Mormons in its ranks? Did you know there’s a great deal of friction between the LDS and FLDS?
The same people who support the intervention as a pure act of rescue, as I mentioned above, are having no problem whatsoever squaring the mass death and destruction visited on the children of Iraq with their wholesome family values.
People that divorced from reality will do, or say, anything, and should be watched carefully.

56

SG 04.30.08 at 5:47 am

lemuel, I think you are arguing about group rights, right? Aboriginal children were certainly taken from their families in order to break what you seem to be claiming is a group right (to cultural existence). But this didn’t and couldn’t happen in this way without harming the individuals, and most people who contributed to the modern understanding of that sad episode present as one of the foremost cruelties of it the simple fact of the children having been separated from their families. So every action in the furtherance of the extinguishment of a group right also extinguished an individual right.

I know nothing about group vs. individual rights (or even the language of “rights” generally – so why am I commenting here? Don’t answer that please). But in this case it seems irrelevant since even if we were to include your group rights into Harry’s balancing act, every individual Aboriginal child and parents’ rights were trampled in pursuit of removing the group right.

Only if the kids were genuinely stolen for welfare reasons – and genocide was a side-effect – would your considerations be relevant. Then we would be balancing the protection of an individual right (to welfare) against a group right (to cultural survival). I certainly think most ordinary people understand that balance and (now, thank god) deplore anyone who would do such a thing blithely; but this is not what happened to the Stolen Generation. If you are presenting the debate in these terms, I think you are still falling for the talking points of the Australian Right. And who wants to do that? They’re a grubby bunch, you know.

57

Michael 04.30.08 at 6:35 am

As an economist and not a philosopher, I will admit that it is possible that I missing something about the argument. With that disclaimer I will give my idea:

I am not sure it would be optimal from a policy perspective to always do what is strictly best for the child. Since parents, presumably, do not want to lose custody of their children, taking them away does provide a deterrent effect. So it seems an optimal policy would have the children in marginal situations removed from their parents. That way in the long run, average treatment of children will improve. In other words, being “punitive” and preventing future occurrences are likely related.

Am I missing anything?

58

magistra 04.30.08 at 7:12 am

That social consensus considers a 16 year old female who’s been menstruating for four or more years so unready for marriage and child-bearing that even consensual sex with her is rape may seem perfectly rational and moral to you and to most of the society you live in, but it’s a very recent viewpoint, and seems to be based on nothing more than early childhood traumatic instruction and punishment, and self-reinforcing communal taboos.

No, it’s based on the fact that the historical cultures in which women are married off early are very bad for women, physically, mentally and emotionally. Tell me one society like that (present or past) where women have flourished more than in the current western pattern? There is an argument for a consent age of the form that I believe they have in Holland, where account is taken of the age of both parties concerned (so legitimating some forms of early teen-early teen sex), but you can’t simply talk about ‘consent’ to sex and ignore the real power imbalances between an adult and a teenager and the abuses that can lead to.

59

Tracy W 04.30.08 at 8:20 am

The policies of the US (and, I guess, Australian) government to deliberately remove children from their parents and place them in English-speaking families or boarding schools, in order to eliminate the indigenous culture, is much worse than removing a similar number of children from a random selection of families “for their own good” would be, even if the outcomes for individual children were similar.

No. If the individual children have bad outcomes, then the situation is about the same in terms of badness. It definitely is not “much worse”. You could possibly make an argument for slightly worse, but not “much worse”.

Cultures—and arguably families—have a legitimate interest in their continued existence beyond the interests of their individual members.

Don’t believe you. Throughout human history people have set about changing their own cultures. For example, the abolitionists, the civil rights movement, feminism. As it happens, I think that my own culture has a lot going for it, but people have a right to make arguments that it’s a terrible culture and it should be destroyed. If a culture doesn’t serve its’ individual members’ interests, it doesn’t have a right to keep on existing.

Again, consider a policy to deliberately bring about the extinction of a distinct culture that does not harm any particular individual. (There’s no shortage of examples historically, even if the no-harm-to-individuals part was mainly honored in the breach.) Many people, including me, consider such policies reprehensible.

Ah, you think Martin Luther King was morally reprehensible?
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

60

Roy Belmont 04.30.08 at 8:29 am

“it’s based on the fact that the historical cultures in which women are married off early are very bad for women, physically, mentally and emotionally.”
And this is obviously because those women were “married off” early. What else could it be? Couldn’t be violent patriarchal dominance, couldn’t be a culture of intellectual repression, couldn’t be self-serving institutional morality, it couldn’t be anything other than early marriage. Which you conflate, naturally enough, with early child-bearing and its consequences, though the two are not symmetrically linked.
While you can’t “ignore the real power imbalances between an adult and a teenager” you, or the culture you rode in on, that’s given women so much freedom, can and do ignore virtually every other form of power imbalance that functions in that arena. Money, for instance.
Harming people for your own gratification, because you have an advantage of some kind over them, is not exactly confined to sexual activity between age-disparate heterosexuals.
This is not an argument for or against, certainly not in favor of FLDS-style polygamy. But the hypocrisy of too many self-styled champions of the innocent needs to stop. And one way to stop it is to point it out.

61

john b 04.30.08 at 8:58 am

Three cheers for Roy; three boos for anyone who thinks that consensual sex between a 16-year-old and a 25-year-old is rape.

@ Lemuel – surely genocide is generally considered bad because it involves killing a whole bunch of people for stupid reasons, rather than because of whatever it may do to ‘a culture’, whatever one of those may be?

62

Dave 04.30.08 at 9:53 am

@60, you need to read up on the actual definition of ‘genocide’. As for Roy Belmont, sorry, but he is coming over here as creepy, weird, bordering on both nutty conspiracy-theory, and advocacy of pedophilia. Maybe it’s just the way he’s putting things, but that’s the impression I’m getting. Also, assuming that you have to approve the Iraq Mess [and apparently, absolutely every other aspect of contemporary US culture] to approve what is being done to the FDLS is, frankly, a crock.

63

ajay 04.30.08 at 10:04 am

onsider a policy to deliberately bring about the extinction of a distinct culture that does not harm any particular individual. (There’s no shortage of examples historically, even if the no-harm-to-individuals part was mainly honored in the breach.) Many people, including me, consider such policies reprehensible.

I find this paragraph rather difficult to follow. If the historical examples (such as the Stolen Generation, cited above (the Lost Generation was the generation of the Great War, incidentally)) involved harming individuals, then they aren’t really examples of policies aimed at bringing about the extinction of a distinct culture without harming any particular individual, are they?

But I’ll try to think of a hypothetical example. Say I wanted to, for example, stamp out the (violent and femicidal) culture of the Yanomami of Brazil without harming a single Yanomamo. I suppose I would do some or all of the following: set up schools to teach them all Spanish; provide them with free housing and medical care to entice them out of the jungle; encourage them to watch Spanish TV; subsidise their travel and housing to other areas, such as cities; send them lecturers to explain why it was a bad idea to break the necks of their newborn daughters, and pacifist missionaries to teach them about non-violence and civic life… If I were successful, within a generation or two every Yanomamo would, of their own free will, be a good peaceful Brazilian urbanite, wearing jeans and farming corn, and their spirit songs and hallucinogenic snuff would be remembered only as we now remember stories about Paul Bunyan and Robin Hood.

And would that really be so reprehensible?

64

john b 04.30.08 at 10:07 am

“you need to read up on the actual definition of ‘genocide’.”

I know the definition of genocide. But whenever it’s actually been done, it’s involved the killing of a lot of innocent people, and I’m fairly sure that’s the reason why it’s so unequivocally perceived as A Bad Thing. If there were examples of cultures disappearing without any individuals from said culture being treated unjustly, I’m sceptical that many people outside of academia would give a monkey’s.

“Roy Belmont, sorry, but he is coming over here as creepy, weird, bordering on both nutty conspiracy-theory, and advocacy of pedophilia.”

Eh? The whole fucking point he’s making, accurately, is that if you equate sex with a 16-year-old to paedophilia you are stark raving mad and/or incapable of using words correctly.

65

john b 04.30.08 at 10:09 am

[or, on the first point, what Ajay @ 62 said. If anyone were to oppose his plan on the grounds that, while very clearly and obviously making life better for all the people involved, it would destroy Yanomamo culture, then they would be an idiot.]

66

noen 04.30.08 at 10:16 am

The amount and intensity of the hysteria in your remarks may be coming from something unresolved and personal.

Actually Roy I’m calm, cool and collected. I’m just arguing my position. That position is that the state has a legitimate interest in the welfare of children. I haven’t even touched on the broader question of social policy vis a vis native Americans and so on. Your attempt to label me as an hysterical woman simply because I defend my position strenuously is a low blow.

As far as I can tell there was no “systematic rape of children” at the FLDS compound.

People who actually know what they are talking about and have been reporting on the case say otherwise Roy.

Sara Robinson
“I believe that the raid was necessary, and long overdue. The FLDS has a 60-year history of abusing women, raping young girls, and exploiting or abandoning its boys. Those who have long familiarity with the church know beyond a doubt that it violates the civil rights of its members in more ways that one lone blogger can possibly recount.”

what were not talking about
“So far, the wall-to-wall news coverage of the state of Texas’s raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints compound in Eldorado, TX has been focused on just a couple of narratives. The first, of course, is the state’s dogged and thorough — and long overdue — attempt to prove that the church’s young women have been systemically sexually abused by the men of the group; and that this abuse is not just rare, but rather an inherent and accepted feature of the group’s social order.”

Roy:
I have no solution to the problem of what to do with the orphans generated by this intervention, because I have almost no faith in the people and agencies involved.

Too bad, cynicism is a luxury that we just can’t afford right now. There are real children who have been abused. Not 16 year olds, oh no, 13 and 14 year old girls have delivered babies. Cynicism is the cowards way out.

three boos for anyone who thinks that consensual sex between a 16-year-old and a 25-year-old is rape.

What we are talking about – Rulon Jeffs

“FLDS founding patriarch Rulon Jeffs with his last two wives — sisters Edna and Mary Fischer — on their wedding day. He received the pair as a 90th birthday present.”

The man was 90 years old, the girls are still children. Go ahead, look at them, imagine they are your daughters. Imagine they were your children taken from you because you didn’t obey the prophet and you know very well what happens to them. Now tell me again how this is equivalent to a twenty something year old and a 16 year old who have met, dated and fallen in love. Really, I’d like to hear how you make the moral case for a 90 year old man having 75 wives and 65 children.

67

engels 04.30.08 at 10:46 am

Say I wanted to, for example, stamp out the (violent and femicidal) culture of the Yanomami of Brazil without harming a single Yanomamo. I suppose I would do some or all of the following: set up schools to teach them all Spanish… encourage them to watch Spanish TV…

If I were successful, within a generation or two every Yanomamo would, of their own free will, be a good peaceful Brazilian urbanite

Rather unlikely, when everyone else in Brazil is speaking Portuguese

68

Ed 04.30.08 at 10:52 am

For me, this is one of those “I can’t believe there is even a debate about this moment”.

The once concern I have with laws enabling the government (in this case Texas child custody) to shut down cults like FLDS, is that the same laws could be written to allow government agencies to barge into the lives of parents who are not brainwashing their kids into turning into sex slaves. I want to prevent some future version of the Texas state government from taking children away from nuclear families and moving them into polygamous compounds. For this reason, and for this reason alone, I think we should be careful about the latitude we give child welfare agencies.

That said, isn’t it a core function of government to prevent abuse by private organizations? The one part of the US constitution that applies to private individuals is the ban on slavery. The FLDS seems to be exactly the sort of sinister private organization the state should be targeting. Why should it be treated any different than some group that kidnaps young women in other countries and imports them into the US to be prostitutes?

69

Dave 04.30.08 at 11:10 am

Well, the answer to the ‘laws could be written’ argument is to a) remember that laws can be written to do any dam’ thing the lawmakers want, and b) make sure you vote for sane individuals to be those lawmakers [while c) remembering that you are lucky enough to be able to do so]. Any other response to such vague ‘agin the gummint’ alarmism is just the peculiar brand of silliness the rest of the world has come to expect from the citizens of the world’s most powerful state…

70

john b 04.30.08 at 11:12 am

Really, I’d like to hear how you make the moral case for a 90 year old man having 75 wives and 65 children.

Literally as expressed in your quote above, I don’t think there’s a moral problem there at all. It’d be a bizarre set-up, but if they entered into it out of their own volition then *whatever*.

But the point you’re implicitly making, and the right reason for the state to intervene and to lock the FLDS leaders up, is that people aren’t entering into it out of their own volition; they’re being coerced by authority figures into actions they would never otherwise do.

[indeed, the “taking children away to places where bad things are likely to happen because you didn’t follow the rules” point that you made above appears to work both ways…]

Either way, the reason this is wrong isn’t because of Teh Secks, which is the way it’s largely been reported, and which is the aspect that I read Roy as objecting to.

71

Katherine 04.30.08 at 11:15 am

Just a note john.b – in the UK and the rest of Europe as far as I am aware, a liason between a 16 year old and a 25 year old would not be considered rape, because the age of consent is 16 not 18. This is not, repeat not, to say that I agree with anything that roy belmont has to say.

72

john b 04.30.08 at 11:20 am

Indeed, and as someone from the UK I find it disturbing and weird that plenty of people of my acquaintance over the last 10 years (not so much now I’m nearing 30) would be merrily locked up as paedo nonces by the commenters on this thread.

73

noen 04.30.08 at 11:56 am

It is a poor moral philosophy indeed that sees no problem with a 90 year old man having children by two 14 year old girls. 31 of the 53 girls between 14 and 17 years old are pregnant (or have had children) and no, they are not capable of giving their consent. That’s absurd.

74

john b 04.30.08 at 2:45 pm

It is a poor moral philosophy indeed that sees no problem with a 90 year old man having children by two 14 year old girls

Yes, I imagine a moral philosophy which believed that this was a good thing would indeed be poor. Did you not actually read my comment, or did you merely ignore it?

75

john b 04.30.08 at 2:46 pm

[also, while it might well be absurd to suggest that a 13-year-old can meaningfully consent to pregnancy, suggesting that the same is true for a 17-year-old is tending towards the lunatic end of the spectrum…]

76

Katherine 04.30.08 at 3:33 pm

Erm, it’s most certain;y not my moral philosophy that there is nothing wrong with a 90 year old having children with a 14 year old. It’s pretty much my moral philosophy that there is something very wrong with a 14 year old having children, whether the father in question is 20, 30 or 90.

I was merely pointing out that it is a minority view even in the West that 16 and 17 year olds are incapable of consenting to sex. I would it personally morally disturbing if a 16 year old were to have a child with someone considerably older, but illegal? Not so much.

77

ajay 04.30.08 at 3:54 pm

67: oh, drat. Clearly I need to get more sleep.

78

lemuel pitkin 04.30.08 at 4:03 pm

I know the definition of genocide. But whenever it’s actually been done, it’s involved the killing of a lot of innocent people, and I’m fairly sure that’s the reason why it’s so unequivocally perceived as A Bad Thing.

No. You don’t know the definition of genocide.

The term was invented precisely to distinguish the crime of destroying a *people* from the crime of killing a large number of individuals. That is why e.g. sg can describe the forced removal of aboriginal children as part of a policy of genocide even though no one may have been killed.

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mq 04.30.08 at 4:13 pm

group rights are what everyone in moral philosophy is talking about these days.

Thanks, Harry. I was hoping to get such a response. Any chance you could recommend some books?

Also, this discussion is showing how weak and confused “consent” can be as the basis on which to rest one’s moral judgements. Consent is a socially supported thing that requires a particular kind of education in autonomy, which only certain kinds of cultures will produce.

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lemuel pitkin 04.30.08 at 4:19 pm

The UN defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” such as “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

In other words, it is precisely a crime against a people rather than against the individuals composing that people. Under this defintion, an aggressive family planning polci such as China’s is acceptable, but an identical polic intended to selectively reduce births among a particualr ethnic group is unacceptable.

Now, you don’t have to accept this. But you do have to recognize that for most people, families, cultures and nations have an independnet moral worth apart from the individuals that compose them at any given moment. Genocide as a distinct crime only makes sense inthis frameowkr.

You can take the Tracy G/harry Brighouse/ajay/etc. line consistently, and say that the whole idea of genocide is misguided and should be thrown out. Buit you need to recognize that this is a radical departure from the morality most of us operate under.

On the other hand, if your goal — as Harry’s seems to be — is to clarify generally-held moral views, then you need to be able to accomodate genocide as a distinct crime. In which case statements like 39 (“Cultures have interests? No, people have interests.”) are simply wrong.

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lemuel pitkin 04.30.08 at 4:20 pm

(My comments had a lot fewer typos back when preview was working….)

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noen 04.30.08 at 5:18 pm

“Did you not actually read my comment, or did you merely ignore it?”

What I read you saying is that you don’t have a problem with a 90 year old and a 14 year old getting married if the girl enters into it willingly. You appear to be suggesting that in the outside world this would somehow be possible.

My claim is that a 14 year old is not able to give her consent simply by virtue of her age, she is still a child. You seem to want to emphasize the 17 year old and appear to be saying that, outside of this fertility cult and all things being equal, consensual relations between a 90 year old and a 14 year old would be ok. That’s what I hear you saying.

(BTW, I am not upset, not hysterical. I am just arguing for my position.)

I have less of a problem in the case of a 25yo man with a 17yo woman, though I would still not like it. In many states here in the US that 25 year old man would go to jail (I don’t keep up on these things, maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know) because even though a 17 year old is above the age of consent it is still considered statutory rape if one partner is more than 5 years her senior.

In general I agree with that. 25 year olds have no business being with 17yo girls because really, at 17 you are still very immature. There is also going to be a considerable power dynamic. At 25 he should have graduated and have a full time job or a trade by then. She is still listening to boy bands.

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john b 04.30.08 at 5:51 pm

“What I read you saying is that you don’t have a problem with a 90 year old and a 14 year old getting married if the girl enters into it willingly. You appear to be suggesting that in the outside world this would somehow be possible.”

No – you misread my admittedly cheap dig at your poor phrasing above. The sentence of yours I quoted said “I’d like to hear how you make the moral case for a 90 year old man having 75 wives and 65 children”. Without the additional condition that the wives are themselves children, then that’s a pretty easy moral case to make. With the condition that the wives are children, obviously that’s not something that I – or anyone else on this thread, Roy included – would defend.

“There is also going to be a considerable power dynamic. At 25 he should have graduated and have a full time job or a trade by then. She is still listening to boy bands.”

I’m sceptical that you’ve met many 25-year-olds, or 17-year-olds, recently. But, whatever.

“No. You don’t know the definition of genocide. The term was invented precisely to distinguish the crime of destroying a people from the crime of killing a large number of individuals.”

Yes I do; and you’re a patronising arse. As I said “I know the definition of genocide. But whenever it’s actually been done, it’s involved the killing of a lot of innocent people“. As was pretty obviously from the “but”, I’m aware that the definition doesn’t involve killing innocent people.

But whenever it has happened in practice, genocide has involved terrible injustices being perpetrated against people – usually mass killings. Even the Stolen Generation (which is questionably a genocide) is abhorrent to people-in-general at least partly because the mothers were bludgeoned into giving their kids up, and because many of the kids were then raised in appalling orphanages or abusive foster homes.

It would be very interesting to carry out an opinion poll on Ajay’s voluntary-tribe-educating plan. I strongly suspect we’d find that c.100% of respondents claimed to oppose genocide, but that at the very least a large minority of these supported the scheme.

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engels 04.30.08 at 6:08 pm

Harry — if you are still reading this let me re-phrase me question slightly. Is your argument consistent with the state allowing any couple to have one child, but re-distributing any further children at birth to other couples (perhaps to those who are unable to conceive)?

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lemuel pitkin 04.30.08 at 6:43 pm

John B., what you actually wrote was:

“But whenever it’s actually been done, it’s involved the killing of a lot of innocent people and I’m fairly sure that’s the reason why it’s so unequivocally perceived as A Bad Thing.

On that second point, you are simply wrong. And you obviously know you are wrong, since you simply dropped that half of your sentence when you repeated your assertion.

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john b 04.30.08 at 6:49 pm

No, I still stand by that: I believe that while genocide is *defined* as the “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, the reason for popular revulsion with the concept of genocide is that in practice, carrying out those acts involves doing a great many horrible things to individuals.

If a literal genocide – i.e. the destruction of a particular cultural identity – could be carried out that didn’t involve doing horrible things to any individuals (compulsory sterilisation or adoption clearly count as ‘horrible’) here, I don’t believe it would be unequivocally perceived as a bad thing, and I think that most people outside academia would be reluctant to refer to it as a genocide precisely *because* it didn’t involve doing horrible things to individuals.

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Martin James 04.30.08 at 6:58 pm

Noen,

My experience in life has been that people have incompatible value systems. Therefore, the peace is best kept where the State keeps its distance from defining how values are created.

I guess you could say I’m pro cult. If cults are tolerated, then I’m safe from the state interfering with the indoctrination I intend to practice on my children.

If instead the state extends into ensuring a flourishing of individuals across all cults rather than just trying to limit dangerous feuds between cults then I would prefer to band with a diversity of cultists against those willing to use the state to police and destroy cults.

The troublesome part for me is not the lack of recognition of the group rights of the cult, it was the group justice meted out on the cultists.

An entire group’s children was taken away based on the alleged criminality of the acts of a few.

I can understand Harry’s ethical argument but for me no right is more fundamental than the right to make cultists of one’s children.

If this means somehow undoing the last several hundred years of the trend towards the symbiosis between the state and human rights then so be it.

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john b 04.30.08 at 6:59 pm

[sample survey: “what was worst about the Holocaust? a) the murder of six million innocent people; b) the attempt to wipe out Jewish culture”. I reckon it’s the a) box that’s getting the majority of the ticks here…]

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lemuel pitkin 04.30.08 at 7:11 pm

88-

John B., 40-50 million civilians died during World War II. You might ask yourself why we consider the deaths of those six million to be uniquely horrible.

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john b 04.30.08 at 7:52 pm

Intention. The other civilians died during The Horrors Of War (TM), as a nominally unintentional consequence of bombing campaigns or as victims of murders by individual soldiers.

The concentration camp victims died as a result of a deliberate policy of industrial-scale murder committed by something that rather closely resembled a modern state.

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lemuel pitkin 04.30.08 at 7:57 pm

The other civilians died during The Horrors Of War™, as a nominally unintentional consequence of bombing campaigns or as victims of murders by individual soldiers.

You do realize you don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about and are just making sh*t up, right?

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john b 04.30.08 at 8:10 pm

I’m not sure why I’m bothering to argue with someone who combines your levels of pomposity, belligerence and ignorance.

However, I’m reluctant to stop when I’m right. So: “the horrors of war” is precisely how the casualties inflicted by us and our allies were accounted for at the time and afterwards. Yes, I was being slightly glib, hence the TM, but the generally understood narrative of WWII is:

1) lots of bad things happened because it was a war; AND

2) the evil Nazis murdered innocent people in concentration camps.

The firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo, along with the atrocities that took place in the USSR, fit in to box 1 and not box 2 of the popular narrative.

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john b 04.30.08 at 8:14 pm

Nonetheless, thanks for helping me clarify the slightly surprising fact that in principle and on the technical definition of the term, and obviously as long as no individuals’ rights are violated, I’m not opposed to genocide.

[for example, the eradication of the FLDS would be genocide according to the UN definition, but if we could do it without doing terrible things to individuals then I’d be strongly in favour…]

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Katherine 04.30.08 at 9:22 pm

I’m rather at a loss as to how an entire culture could be destroyed without any individual’s rights being violated and/or horrible things happening to individual people. Care to share a for instance with us?

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engels 04.30.08 at 10:37 pm

Genocide does not mean ‘destruction of a culture’, according to the UN, and it necessarily involves harms to individuals. Anyone who doubts this should just look at the definition.

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Helen 04.30.08 at 10:42 pm

If people can’t make their point without accusing others on the thread of being “hysterical” or “lunatic”, it points to the poverty of their own argument.

Noen, you don’t have to justify yourself to these characters or engage with this rubbish: we’re quite aware your comment which kicked off the accusations of being “hysterical” was nothing of the kind.

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john b 04.30.08 at 10:58 pm

I’m rather at a loss as to how an entire culture could be destroyed without any individual’s rights being violated and/or horrible things happening to individual people. Care to share a for instance with us?

Which is rather my original point – that we see genocide as bad because it involves those things. But a possible example is Ajay’s point upthread about offering massive benefits to people who abandon their culture without punishing those who don’t.

If people can’t make their point without accusing others on the thread of being “hysterical” or “lunatic”, it points to the poverty of their own argument.

Hysteria is a mysogynist and more or less meaningless term; I didn’t use it and I rather wish Roy hadn’t; “lunatic” IMO is an accurate description of someone who thinks that a 25-year-old man who has a consenting relationship with a 17-year-old woman should be incarcerated.

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Laura (Carroll) 04.30.08 at 11:29 pm

But John B, a number of the FLDS ‘marriages’ appear not to have been consenting, for instance the young woman whose forced ‘marriage’ to her cousin and ensuing rape by him precipitated Jeffs being charged.

I assume of course that you don’t include forced marriages in the relations you’re defending, and of course you don’t need to make this explicit because it’s a question of basic human decency, but I haven’t seen much acknowledgement that at least some of what Roy Belmont is saying doesn’t quite fit the bill (eg “no systematic rape of children” in the FLDS community, @55)

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Roy Belmont 04.30.08 at 11:42 pm

noen:
Your attempt to label me as an hysterical woman simply because…
The last example of your hysteria that I’ll cite here. I knew you were male after the second sentence of yours I read. Hysteria isn’t a female pathology, in my experience it’s at least sometimes a by-product of self-aggrandizing hypocrisy, which seems to be what’s driving you. The preening tone that saturates your later posts as the attention focuses in on what you’re saying, and the half-ration assertions with no back-up evidence – these come right out of that hysterical spin of denial and insistent traumatic wound I was alluding to earlier.
I met a man at the Hooker’s Ball in San Francisco back in I think 1978. He had buttons spread out on a little folding table. They were pink triangles on a black background with the words “Never Again” in white underneath.
It was the first time in my life that I heard about the Nazi’s attempt to extinguish “sexual deviants”.
One of the reasons “why we consider the deaths of those six million to be uniquely horrible” is that their surviving relatives have made sure we’re so conscious of it we’re unable to think of anything else when we think of WWII.
Gay people, crazy people, retarded people, the European Roma – and it being April 30 let us not forget to remember the socialists and anarchists who were pretty much the first to go – not so much there in the list of victims.
The problem with regard to gays being sacrificed to the Aryan dream of racial purity is that lots of those condemning the mass killing of Jews aren’t particularly disturbed by it, ditto crazy people.
That hypocrisy disgusts me almost as much as the abuse of the innocent by selfish and immoral but powerful men.
Which brings me around to noen’s quoting someone else saying what he said and thereby proving what he said true because there it is now twice.
If the FLDS performed officially sanctioned rapes of 13 year olds, they’re evil and should be stopped.
If the FLDS were promoting privileged marrying of young girls to elder men, they’re living exactly Mormons lived in the 19th c. when they took over Utah.
“Conspiracy theory” or no, Waco and Ruby Ridge are examples of moral crusades on the part of govt. agencies that have very dubious justifications for their outcomes. And both Waco and El Dorado had the rescue of young girls as their mediagenic causative purpose.
I’d like to make it very clear that I am opposed without reservation to the harmful misuse of the less-advantaged by the privileged.
I would also like you semi-nauseated bourgeois m.f.ers to look in the mirror and see how easily you tolerate the abuse of children by your government by your economy by your social institutions by your media and by each other – as long as it isn’t overtly sexual.
And abuse is actually a watered-down word for what’s happening to the children of Iraq right now, and has been happening to them for the last 5+ years.
It may be comforting to pretend that anyone who opposes your puritanical campaigns is thereby defending what you prominently attack, but this is, sadly, not how things work.
I am against people with power taking advantage of people without power. Are you?
In all cases? Or just where there’s penises and vaginas involved? Especially old wrinkly penises and young fresh vaginas.

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harry b 05.01.08 at 12:40 am

engels — I’m still reading and still thinking. I think what you propose might be consistent with our argument, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. I can think of plenty of considerations which, in combination with our argument, would rule it out. And its possible that an elaboration of our argument would, too.

In our favor, I’d note that rival accounts either fail, or also don’t rule it out. (I say that and immediately demur — I suspect that Matthew Clayton’s argument for parent’s rights is successful and may well rule it out).

mq — I’ll get some references and do a short post later.

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noen 05.01.08 at 1:33 am

johnb
“No – you misread my admittedly cheap dig at your poor phrasing above.”

Ok, I accept that I misread you in part. To the extant I do understand you though, I think we have a profound disagreement here.

“I’m sceptical that you’ve met many 25-year-olds, or 17-year-olds, recently.”

That noticeable huh? I have no idea what they’re listening to these days. ummmm… hip hop right?

martin
“If cults are tolerated, then I’m safe from the state interfering with the indoctrination I intend to practice on my children.”

I rather doubt that you would be safe for long. Though I understand where you are coming from and even share some of your concerns. I don’t believe that a completely homogeneous society is in everyone’s long term best interest. At the same time, our best interests are also not served by allowing dangerous cults like the FLDL to metastasize. The solution I believe lies in a balanced approach. I think the state of Texas has done an admirable job at that.

“An entire group’s children was taken away based on the alleged criminality of the acts of a few.”

Sorry martin, that isn’t what happened at all. An entire group’s children were taken away because the entire group systematically abused both girls and boys. Even if there are innocent parties the primary responsibility of the state is to make sure those children are safe.

johnb
“lunatic” IMO is an accurate description of someone who thinks that a 25-year-old man who has a consenting relationship with a 17-year-old woman should be incarcerated.

Then I guess in many states you’d be going to jail. Sexual Consent Age Laws (USA)

“Why Do We Have These Laws?
Although many young people are mature enough to know how to deal with the consequences of sex, some teens are not grown up enough to know that their actions have consequences. Age of consent laws are there to stop young people from being exploited by adults.”

“What is Statutory Rape?
It’s a crime committed when an adult has sexual intercourse with a minor. Who is a minor? Anyone under the age of 18, (or 16; check this list and the current laws in your state.)”

This is supported by studies which show that the teenage mind is not at all like the adult mind. Teenagers are NOT adults and should not be having sexual relations with adults. These laws exist for very good reasons and are based on sound medical facts. Let me know when you come up with something other than “hysterical” or the slightly better “lunatic” as your rational justification for your beliefs.

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Helen 05.01.08 at 2:59 am

“lunatic” IMO is an accurate description of someone who thinks that a 25-year-old man who has a consenting relationship with a 17-year-old woman should be incarcerated.

“Disingenuous” is an accurate description of someone who conflates a relationship between a 17- and a 25- year old which comes from meeting each other in a normal social setting, and such a relationship which results from the 17 year old being given to the man in an arranged marriage without choice in the matter.

Oh, and being required to start breeding at once (which the couple in the first example would tend to avoid.)

In fact, given the evidence that has come out, many of the age differences were more extreme than 17/25.

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john b 05.01.08 at 8:11 am

But John B, a number of the FLDS ‘marriages’ appear not to have been consenting, for instance the young woman whose forced ‘marriage’ to her cousin and ensuing rape by him precipitated Jeffs being charged

Me @ 70: “the right reason for the state to intervene and to lock the FLDS leaders up, is that people aren’t entering into it out of their own volition; they’re being coerced by authority figures into actions they would never otherwise do.”

I’m not sure how much more explicit I could have been here…

“Disingenuous” is an accurate description of someone who conflates a relationship between a 17- and a 25- year old which comes from meeting each other in a normal social setting, and such a relationship which results from the 17 year old being given to the man in an arranged marriage without choice in the matter”

*I* believe, as does everyone here, that forcibly marrying someone off against their will is a bad thing that should be punished.

However, it’s clear from Noen’s other posts that they believe “a relationship between a 17- and a 25- year old which comes from meeting each other in a normal social setting” is also something which should be punished with imprisonment.

And yes, I know there are parts of the US where this is legally the case; I believe those laws are crazy and that anyone who supports them is crazy.

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Roy Belmont 05.01.08 at 8:47 am

Some of you, John B distinctly excepted, have assumed my opposition to your assertions and tone to be an opposition to your intent, and as a defense of those you attack, but this is not so. I’d no doubt find plenty to condemn in the practices and beliefs of the FLDS, and no doubt will after I read Krakauer’s book.
I’m pointing out your hypocrisies not because hypocrisy is such a ghastly thing in and of itself, but because of what you’re being hypocritical about.
Kids got burned alive at Waco, to save them from being molested. That was a direct product of the kind of hypocrisy, and hysteria, I’m pointing at.

As for the actual topic of the post: something missing from Swift and Brigham’s argument and from the arguments they rebut as well, is a recognition of the family – the constellation of individuals life is lived with and among daily – as strongly present if not as strongly defined as the individuals whether parent or child, and as entitled to the rights of its place. Family as distinct from though incorporating parents.
For children, family is the most important other there is. The educational system creates an artificially specific age-derived version of this which occupies much of most childhoods and gets deeply internalized and may account for the irrationally exaggerated negative reaction to age-disparate coupling so prevalent now.
In social terrain where the child is isolated from other biological kin the parents become synonymous with family by default, while school and things like television occupy the functional places of an extended family in the child’s life. For most all our history that condition of biological isolation was an aberration, a deprived condition. Within the last 100 years it’s become the norm.
The simultaneous denigration of the aged has meant that one of the strongest voices for that larger biological family as a child’s natural context has been trivialized to the point of silence.
Discounting this larger more complete biological relationship, and defaulting it exclusively onto the parent-child cognation, is a serious change from traditional patterns of child-raising, though it’s very similar to the traditional domestication processes of animal husbandry, and it may involve a more serious deficit in children’s lives than present consensus understands. Present consensus consisting mostly of children raised in that isolation as if it were the norm.

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Katherine 05.01.08 at 9:39 am

Noen, I believe one of the many and varied points being made was that whilst in many (most?) states in the US the age of consent is 18, in Europe (including the UK) the age of consent is 16. This was being said not to rejoice in that fact particularly, or to excuse forced marriages of any kind, but just to point out that even in the West, the view that 16 and 17 years olds (male or female) are not capable of consenting is a minority view.

This is all extremely OT of course. But I think sometimes it can be a good thing to point out that “the US” is the not the same as “the World”.

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Martin James 05.01.08 at 3:38 pm

Noen,

If it is so clear that the group systematically abused children why haven’t they all been arrested?

Its the incredibly low standard required to prove harm before taking the children away that has me disgusted.

Bringing evidence and charges of rape against individuals or even conspiracy charges against a group and then taking those people’s children away is one thing but what has happened here is different.

The danger of the FLDS growing like a cancer is laughable. If they were a species or an aboriginal culture they’d be on the endangered list.

I’m not sure what you mean about protecting cults not offering a given individual protection. Are you agreeing with me that the state has gotten so instrusive in child-rearing practices that no one is safe.

Or are you saying indoctrination is abuse?

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Roy Belmont 05.01.08 at 9:21 pm

Sexual hypocrisy, puritanical smugness, pathological consensus morality:
Deborah Jeane Palfrey.
Same disease, different outbreak.

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john b 05.01.08 at 11:22 pm

No, you don’t get it, Roy – it’s vitally important that people who’ve done nothing aside from brokering transactions between consenting adults are either imprisoned or hounded to death, because [something utterly nonsensical]. These laws exist for very good reasons and are based on sound medical facts. You evil misogynist freak, you.

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noen 05.01.08 at 11:28 pm

johnb
“I believe those laws are crazy and that anyone who supports them is crazy.”

Why?
I mean, that’s fine, but that isn’t a reason. I’ve offered my reasons, you’ve offered only emotion. I can only conclude that your position is irrational.

I understand that the age of consent in the UK is 16, the same as it is in many US states. I don’t have a problem with the age of consent being 16 or 17 or 18. The reasons for picking 16 rather than 17 are probably not very significant. But I do agree with the laws as they are now. That adults should not be allowed to have sexual intercourse with teenagers below the age of consent. If that is 16 or 17 isn’t the point.

One problem with this whole discussion is the confusion between US law, UK law, the situation faced by members of the FLDS, and some hypothetical neutral case. Sometimes when people were talking about 25 year old men and 17 year old girls they meant the FLDS and others were talking about a generalized situation. This ambiguity has not helped very much.

martin
“If it is so clear that the group systematically abused children why haven’t they all been arrested?”

For the umteenth time, the situation has to be stabilized and the children made safe before any further steps can be taken. And 31 pregnant children from ages 14 to 17 is overwhelming evidence that crimes have been committed.

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Martin James 05.02.08 at 5:11 am

noen,

You are one typical bureaucrat: take all the kids and sort out the crimes later. A country with that kind of due process is a country without much due process.

Describing 2,4 and 6 year olds being taken from their homes under no immediate threat whatsoever as “stabilization” is totalitarian in the extreme.

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SG 05.02.08 at 5:56 am

roy, the case of the washington prostitution ring is not the same morality at all, at least not as the issue is presented by Harry here.

martin, I think everyone here agrees with the concerns that some people have about states taking onto themselves the power to tell others how to be good parents. But conflating simple situations with the extreme doesn’t help with resolving practical questions like this one. And you seem to be suggesting that we should extend a good faith assumption that 6 year olds aren’t being abused to a community which supports and protects the abuse fo 12 and 14 year olds. Why would we do that? And who should take responsibility for making that assumption when (and it will be when, if the initial accusations prove to be true) it turns out to be wrong?

lemuel, in defending the definition of genocide you never got around to answering my original point. Are you still reading?

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Roy Belmont 05.02.08 at 9:05 am

Thank you sg, for this calm remonstrance – but from #55 down there’s been another, non-Harry thread woven alongside the main, official one.
Involving, exactly in my view, the same moral, ethical, psycho-sexual, civic, and, though it hasn’t been overtly brought forward in either case, religious elements.
As Martin James succinctly points out, some of the voices on the other side of the debate into which I entered the outrageous tragedy of Palfrey’s suicide are assuming the moral totality of the state’s mandate to protect its citizens as their own, and therefore just and appropriate. This would call for wholehearted support if that morality was, as it claims to be, a superior force. If not, it needs to be reminded of the beam in its own eye, and to have its hypocritical elisions made clear. Not to mention, again, the stacked bodies of thousands of children in Iraq. Thousands.
In the FLDS case specifically this moral totalitarianism is bringing unnecessary turmoil into the lives of at least some of the children the state is ostensibly acting to protect. Not to mention feeding the arrogance of people with a vicarious appetite for moral catharsis. Not to mention Waco, again.
My own efforts haven’t been so much to gain a superior position in an argument of points as to illustrate the hypocrisy operating behind the, to me, self-righteous moral warriorism evident in the tone of some of the comments. Which I have, I think, again.

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john b 05.02.08 at 10:12 am

I’ve offered my reasons, you’ve offered only emotion. I can only conclude that your position is irrational.

Hmm. You’ve not offered /any/ reasons, beyond asserting that It Is Wrong And It Is Illegal. In general, the person seeking to impose restrictions on freedom is the one who’s supposed to justify them.

I don’t believe that for a 16-year-old girl to go out with a man in his 20s or even 30s is a particularly bad thing; I know many women who dated or slept with older men when they were in their teens and don’t regret it; and I know very few who do regret it [and for the avoidance of doubt, this is Very Very Different from forced marriage, incest, or abuse by someone in a position of power]. And that is why I don’t think it should be criminalised.

Your turn.

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lemuel pitkin 05.02.08 at 3:18 pm

lemuel, in defending the definition of genocide you never got around to answering my original point.

Which point? I thought we were basically in agreement….

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Martin James 05.02.08 at 8:08 pm

SG,

I have three layers of concern. The first is that the same high standards of proof that would be required for a crime (formal charges, counsel, trial by jury, etc.) do not apply to child custody situations. I understand that the law is not on my side on this one. The law makes it relatively easy to remove children if a child may be harmed. Let’s set that one aside.

The second point is that the legal precedent has been very much less restrictive in terms of indoctrination. A custodial parent is allowed extreme latitude in terms of inculcating beliefs. Here I think that Texas is trying to move the law and expand the definition of harm and abuse to include inculcating certain beliefs. Let’s set that aside.

The third point is that the definitions of rape and abuse that are under consideration are ones that have been under transition over time. The age of consent to marry, the allowable punishments for children, the law on rape for spouses, etc. have changed over time to protect women and children.

The FLDS is a culture that is out of step with the times and I am willing to concede that they are out of step enough that some persons in the group have likely committed crimes. I am not contesting the right of the state to the full enforcement of those laws towards those individuals.

My primary point is that goes too far, way too far, too far to the point of totalitarian evil, to conclude that since your GROUP does not agree with the law on a specific matter (marriage and pregnancy at a young age) that the GROUP loses it right to custody of all its children, even those that are unlikely to be affected by a young age of marriage.

I think they deserve at least as much good faith because they are weird and cultish rather than less because it means its more likely their practices may be misunderstood by the community at large.

Let’s look at some analogous situations. Take female circumcision or even male circumcision. By some evolving standards this is abuse.

Are you OK to taking all the children away from families that support these practices?

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SG 05.03.08 at 2:26 pm

Lemuel, I thought you were suggesting that the Australian government was balancing individual rights (welfare) against a group right (cultural survival), which is the common right-wing argument for the removal of Aboriginal children. My bad if I misunderstood you, sorry… as you were, back into the breach and all that…

Martin, I don’t know anything about US child protection law, but I did have some exposure (professionally) to the child protection laws in one state of Australia, and in that case it was very clear that the state always attempts (in theory, the state being a state and all that) to try and keep families together, with removal being the last option. That said, however, when dealing with a child in a family one always has to take the family as a GROUP. After all, if you decide to leave the child with the family are you not at least partially taking into account the rights and desires of the GROUP (i.e. the parents) and balancing them against the child? The realm of child protection law and study needs to take into account the dynamics of the family unit, including but not necessarily limited to the long-term effect of a child witnessing his siblings being raped, beaten or abused. I guess you don’t work in child protection, and neither do I but I have worked close enough to the industry to have heard some truly shocking stories, and to have seen their long term consequences. Child abuse is the gift that keeps on giving, for generations after it is done, and it really is the case that broad and generalised intervention makes a big difference to the future of more than just the actual victims.

You also should note you have phrased the situation very poorly. You say that because the

GROUP does not agree with the law on a specific matter (marriage and pregnancy at a young age) that the GROUP loses it right to custody of all its children, even those that are unlikely to be affected by a young age of marriage.

as if children were being separated from parents on the basis of a theoretical dispute. But what you should be saying is that because the

GROUP rapes female children and impregnates them, and raises boys to do the same, the GROUP loses it right to custody of all its children, even those that are unlikely to be affected by rape

And its worth noting that all the boys in this GROUP are being raised to commit a crime (the crime of incest and rape). We aren’t talking about a matter of ethical debate here – this is a cauldron of child abusers, their protectors and their victims.

(Assuming, of course that the facts of the case as asserted by the authorities are true).

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shteve 05.03.08 at 9:33 pm

You can’t forfeit a fundamental right – inalienable, and all that.

Are you assuming that the state grants the right? I doubt it, but there seems to be a “papa state knows best” creep in your analysis.

Isn’t the issue one of the state’s protection of the fundamental right?

Could you give your reaction to the recent case of child seizure in the US, where the state invaded a Mormon community? Clearly there’s a lot at stake there, and it’s all very complex. But I gagged when a state official expressed concern that the children couldn’t stomach processed foods because they’d been raised on a natural diet. I fear they’ll have to put up with some rather dreadful re-education.

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SG 05.04.08 at 3:11 am

The state is not a person with an evil avaricious mind, you know. We give the states these powers, and in the case of child protection populations tend to clamour for them when the need becomes evident. For example in NSW, Australia, after the Woods Royal Commission of 1996, child protection powers were strengthened and enhanced by popular demand. In making the changes we did, NSW residents made very clear that individuals in the community have a far greater responsibility to protect children than was previously believed. It became much harder for groups (particularly churches) to overlook or condone child abuse, or protect abusers. These powers are almost universally supported. The idea that “the State” (or Sauron, or anyone else) is “grabbing” these powers is just silly.

And compared to being forced to eat processed foods, these kids are suffering far worse problems. It’s good to keep some perspective…

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Martin James 05.04.08 at 4:21 am

SG,

1. I am not aware of any evidence of “group” rape or abuse. Individuals had sex with young women with the approval of some other people.

2. There are 3 main allegations underage sex (and/or involuntary marriage), incest, child abandonment.

So, if a family in the group has no prior practice in any of the things listed in 2 above and disavows support of any of those 3, what reason is there to take their kids.

Also, I don’t recall you answering the circumcision question which is a live issue in the USA.

I don’t see popular support as evidence for the policy being a good one. The USA maintains a small, but meaningful legal tradition and the tyranny of the majority.

History has countless examples of “almost universal support” of what later generations determined to be criminal behavior.

It only according to our own lights that we’ve made the moral progress that gives sanction to our sanctimony about the protective powers we give the state.

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