“They Must Have Been Raised in Polygamy”

This is the first of a series of posts that I am calling, “For Gail“.  This  series will consist of my answers to a range issues brought up in comments (mostly on this post about the McGees, but also on the Dateonomics post by Taylor) and personal correspondence with a blog reader, Gail, back in April of 2019.

Nits make LiceOne of the views Gail repeats in her comments is that polygamists must have a sense of satisfaction and happiness that is stunted, malformed, or distorted in some way by their own upbringing in a polygamous family.  There is something seriously wrong with them. Thus, they can completely accept the inherent unhappiness and dissatisfaction they experience while interpreting it as its opposite: actual (or full) satisfaction and happiness.  Understandably, this makes Gail “sad” and “greatly troubled”.  Especially since (at least at the time of her writing) it was, by her own admission, impossible for her to understand things in any other way.  She says of my family’s reasons, “I cannot fathom [them] other than its how you were raised to look as marriage”.  Here are some longer quotes with more context so that we can better understand the issue at hand.  I have included links to the full comments as well, but please note that I will not be addressing every issue in every comment in this post – it is just too much to cover in one sitting (but I will be getting to everything eventually).

Speaking about Christine Brown (from the show, Sister Wives), Gail said:

“But she grew up in a plural family and I think her cultural upbringing formed her ability to find satisfaction and happiness in these circumstances. This intrigues me and yet saddens me at the same time. But I don’t doubt that plural families are intrigued and saddened by my perspectives regarding monogamy too.  – Gail, April 4, 2019

on another occasion, Gail went on to say about my own family:

“These inequities in your marriages greatly trouble me, but I think you and your wives just accept them for reasons I cannot fathom other than its how you were raised to look as marriage — as a group endeavor.”  – Gail, Apr 6, 2019

I am quite sure that Gail is not the only one out there who has difficulty with this concept, and, to be honest, I can sympathize with her and others who can only understand it thru this lens.  It is undeniably true that it is difficult (if not impossible) to comprehend something that you have no experience with.  In the case of polygamy, this is all the more true when the only reference point you have is what the media has to say about polygamists, which is almost all grossly imbalanced and sensationalized (but further comments on this will have to be its own post).  This is the source of most people’s information, and it is almost exclusively about one group of polygamists: the FLDS.

“Then there was the horrible Warren Jeffs trial that further soured my view.”  – Gail, April 4, 2019

The FLDS undoubtedly have many unique problems all their own, and their leaders have done plenty of things to muddy the public’s perception, but this will have to be its own post as well.

For many people, Gail included, the information they have also comes from reality television.  While this is actually much much better than the standard media coverage, it is still only glimpses, is distorted in sometimes surprising ways, and doesn’t really paint the full picture.

To all the people in this camp I would say that the chances are very good that you don’t personally know any polygamists (altho you might be surprised).  Therefore, to understand them you can only do so by analogy with your own way of thinking and feeling.  I would like to point out that there is nothing wrong with this – there is no other way of understanding things!, and I am not just talking about understanding plural marriage here.  No, no, my friends, this is true of all our understanding, and of every branch of knowledge.

When I pointed this out to Gail, she, to her credit, concurred.

“I agree that I cannot understand plural marriage well at all because I don’t see it lived day to day by anyone.”  – Gail, April 4, 2019

So, limited understanding, due to naivety on the subject (whatever it may be), is not a hurdle to comprehension.  It just calls for a little humility.  Problems come when those with zero experience, begin telling those who have experienced something what that thing is all about; and furthermore, wont accept their words as valid if they go contrary to their experience-less understandings.  Have you ever had this happen to you?

When my wives and I write about these things it is coming from an entirely different perspective than most of our readers.  Our knowledge isn’t second, third, or fourth hand at all.  We are living polygamy! and, in addition, we personally know and interact with dozens of other polygamist families as well!

Now we come to the really important thing that I wanted to communicate in this post.  I want Gail, and other readers in her boat, to realize that we also know perfectly well where they are coming from, because we were there too!  This is probably a difficult thing to wrap your mind around, (and understandably so because it is such a foreign concept), and doesn’t fit at all into your preconceived notions about it.  Therefore, just to make this explicit,  and I realize this may be a mind blowing realization to some,  I want to say:  In my family, we were all formerly monogamists, and we were all raised in monogamist families.  This has very little to do with the way we were raised.

Anyone who is sincerely curious to know about our family can read about our former monogamy and our mainstream LDS upbringing in one of several posts that we have already written (here, here, here, here, here, here, or here – it does little good to rewrite material that has already been organized and published as a post already).  So, when you tell us about the virtues of monogamy, you’re preaching to the choir. We love devoted monogamists, and think the world should have more of them! 

I just want you to know that we completely understand your point of view.  There is likely nothing that you can tell us about living monogamy that we don’t already know (because we were monogamists, like you), but there are things that we can tell you about polygamy (because we are polygamists, unlike you).  Please also know that we fully respect and accept the sincerity of your decision to be monogamist.  Please grant us the same sincerity.

Next I’m going to share an even more mind bending fact:  We aren’t even close to the only ones.  I do know many polygamists who were raised in polygamist families, but I actually know more who weren’t.  Dozens of them (both husbands and wives), were raised in monogamist families, and were monogamists themselves for a number of years.  Case in point, in the Brown family, which Gail mentioned earlier, Kody was raised in a monogamous, mainstream, LDS family.  I have actually visited with Kody’s mother (who was also raised monogamous – as was his father).  They converted to fundamentalism when Kody was on a mission for the LDS church!  Can you imagine? When he came home his family had joined another church (and one that he had been preaching against).  You should hear the things she said about LDS singles wards (haha, this will have to be another post).

It is not an uncommon occurrence within polygamist circles, for monogamists, and people who were raised in monogamy, to become part of a plural family, and I don’t think this fact is commonly known or appreciated by “outsiders”.  Rather, my strong suspicion is that that the common perception is that people are born into polygamy and then later flee, leave, or escape polygamy.  I’m not sure people realize that there is lots of movement the other way as well.  Normal, everyday people leave monogamy to become polygamists regularly.  The funny thing is that when people “escape monogamy” they usually just call it “divorce” – because no one (or nearly no one) believes that monogamy is something you need to escape.  The common belief is that the specific marriage, or the specific family situation, was bad or abusive and worthy of leaving.  This is in contrast to those who leave their plural marriages.  They don’t simply get divorced; rather, they “escape”!  Why is it so difficult to realize that there are some bad or abusive plural families just as there are some bad or abusive monogamist families?  It is because polygamy is unusual in our culture, and therefore easily sensational.

Having said all this, how do you account for this movement of people from monogamy and monogamist upbringings with the axiom that polygamists have a warped “ability to find satisfaction and happiness” because they were raised in a polygamist home?  No need to answer that question, because you can’t.  Without modification, the axiom does not even allow the situation to exist as a possibility.  Nevertheless the situation exists, and has continued to manifest and repeat itself for millennia.  Keep reading these posts, and you might gain a glimpse into some of the reasons why.  But beware! you may have to modify or discard this axiom.

One more thing, for those who might be interested in learning more (sorry for the short notice), on Saturday, August 3rd 2019 (that is today), session number 358 of the Sunstone Symposium will be titled:

Panel Discussion: Mainstream Mormon Women Go Plural

The brief description given on the website is as follows:

“This session features a panel of women who chose to leave mainstream Mormonism to live the polygamous lifestyle. Panelists include the stars of a popular reality show and women from a variety of polygamous sects.

This is your chance to pick their brains on how and why each came to choose plural marriage, how their family and friends have been affected, and what the various benefits and challenges of the polygamous lifestyle are.”

The session will begin at 2:00 pm in room 300-D of the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy, Utah.  Charlotte and Melissa will be there, as well as several other women.  It should be an interesting time.

Mark Twain and the Mormons

It has been a while since I posted anything on this blog, and many things have happened since my last post. Sadly, many of those things will have to be left without comment – the moment has simply passed. But, in order to get back into writing, I thought I would start with a simple, and lighthearted post, and one which I have been wanting to write for some time.

Mark Twain in 1867

In 1872 Samuel Longhorn Clemens, (Mark Twain) published an autobiographical account of his travels thru the Wild West during the span of years from 1861-1867. It was during these travels in the pioneer west, that he first made use of the pen name, “Mark Twain”. While on these travels Samuel learned many things; among them was “how far he could push a joke” a lesson learned from some “disagreeable experiences” he brought upon himself.

He made these travels with his older brother, Orion Clemens, who was the newly appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory (its first and only). In writing the account, Twain relied on his brother’s diary to refresh his memory. In order to fill in the gaps, he borrowed heavily from his own active imagination, and wry sense of humor.

Altho I would recommend the book generally, it is very long, being 608 pages. And tho I have read a good deal of it, I could not push myself to complete it before the library stopped allowing my renewals.

However, for the interest and entertainment of the reader, I will reproduce some briefer quotations from the book below. The Great Salt Lake City, founded by Mormons in 1847, became known as, “The Crossroads of the West”. A great many travelers, famous, infamous, and otherwise, came thru Salt Lake City in those early pioneer days. Many of them were naturally curious to see the Mormons and their peculiar ways; namely, plural marriage. Samuel Clemens was no exception, and goes on for several chapters of his book, Roughing It, describing his experiences in Utah among the Mormons.

In the beginning of Chapter 13, after arriving in Great Salt Lake City (more commonly known today by its short form, “Salt Lake City”, or even just, “Salt Lake”), Twain reports:

We had a fine supper, of the freshest meats and fowls and vegetables—a great variety and as great abundance. We walked about the streets some, afterward, and glanced in at shops and stores; and there was fascination in surreptitiously staring at every creature we took to be a Mormon. This was fairy-land to us, to all intents and purposes—a land of enchantment, and goblins, and awful mystery. We felt a curiosity to ask every child how many mothers it had, and if it could tell them apart; and we experienced a thrill every time a dwelling-house door opened and shut as we passed, disclosing a glimpse of human heads and backs and shoulders—for we so longed to have a good satisfying look at a Mormon family in all its comprehensive ampleness, disposed in the customary concentric rings of its home circle.

He goes on to say:

Next day we strolled about everywhere through the broad, straight, level streets, and enjoyed the pleasant strangeness of a city of fifteen thousand inhabitants with no loafers perceptible in it; and no visible drunkards or noisy people; a limpid stream rippling and dancing through every street in place of a filthy gutter; block after block of trim dwellings, built of “frame” and sunburned brick—a great thriving orchard and garden behind every one of them, apparently—branches from the street stream winding and sparkling among the garden beds and fruit trees—and a grand general air of neatness, repair, thrift and comfort, around and about and over the whole. And everywhere were workshops, factories, and all manner of industries; and intent faces and busy hands were to be seen wherever one looked; and in one’s ears was the ceaseless clink of

One Crest

hammers, the buzz of trade and the contented hum of drums and fly-wheels.

The armorial crest of my own State consisted of two dissolute bears holding up the head of a dead and gone cask between them and making the pertinent remark, “UNITED, WE STAND—(hic!)—DIVIDED, WE FALL.” It was always too figurative for the author of this book. But the Mormon crest was easy.

The Other

And it was simple, unostentatious, and fitted like a glove. It was a representation of a GOLDEN BEEHIVE, with the bees all at work!

We saw the “Tithing-House,” and the “Lion House,” and I do not know or remember how many more church and government buildings of various kinds and curious names. We flitted hither and thither and enjoyed every hour, and picked up a great deal of useful information and entertaining nonsense, and went to bed at night satisfied.

On the next day Twain was very much excited to meet the famous, Brigham Young, but the feeling was not as mutual as he would have liked.

The second day, we made the acquaintance of Mr. Street (since deceased) and put on white shirts and went and paid a state visit to the king. He seemed a quiet, kindly, easy-mannered, dignified, self-possessed old gentleman of fifty-five or sixty, and had a gentle craft in

Brigham Young

his eye that probably belonged there. He was very simply dressed and was just taking off a straw hat as we entered. He talked about Utah, and the Indians, and Nevada, and general American matters and questions, with our secretary and certain government officials who came with us. But he never paid any attention to me, notwithstanding I made several attempts to “draw him out” on federal politics and his high handed attitude toward Congress. I thought some of the things I said were rather fine. But he merely looked around at me, at distant intervals, something as I have seen a benignant old cat look around to see which kitten was meddling with her tail.

By and by I subsided into an indignant silence, and so sat until the end, hot and flushed, and execrating him in my heart for an ignorant savage. But he was calm. His conversation with those gentlemen flowed on as sweetly and peacefully and musically as any summer brook. When the audience was ended and we were retiring from the presence, he put his hand on my head, beamed down on me in an admiring way and said to my brother:

“Ah—your child, I presume? Boy, or girl?”

As for Twain’s intentions to bring about a reformation of the Mormons, on the subject of polygamy, he had these sobering words to share in Chapter 14:

Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.

I Was Touched

I had the will to do it. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here—until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, “No—the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure—and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.”

And finally in Chapter 15, he shares a humorous tale which, tho fictitious, has a kernel of truth. It was supposedly told to Mark Twain by a Gentile named Johnson:

Mr. Johnson said that while he and Mr. Young were pleasantly conversing in private, one of the Mrs. Youngs came in and demanded a breast-pin, remarking that she had found out that he had been giving a breast-pin to No. 6, and she, for one, did not propose to let this partiality go on without making a satisfactory amount of trouble about it. Mr. Young reminded her that there was a stranger present. Mrs. Young said that if the state of things inside the house was not agreeable to the stranger, he could find room outside. Mr. Young promised the breast-pin, and she went away. But in a minute or two another Mrs. Young came in and demanded a breast-pin. Mr. Young began a remonstrance, but Mrs. Young cut him short. She said No. 6 had got one, and No. 11 was promised one, and it was “no use for him to try to impose on her—she hoped she knew her rights.” He gave his promise, and she went. And presently three Mrs. Youngs entered in a body and opened on their husband a tempest of tears, abuse, and entreaty. They had heard all about No. 6, No. 11, and No. 14. Three more breast-pins were promised. They were hardly gone when nine more Mrs. Youngs filed into the presence, and a new tempest burst forth and raged round about the prophet and his guest. Nine breast-pins were promised, and the weird sisters filed out again. And in came eleven more, weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth. Eleven promised breast-pins purchased peace once more.

“That is a specimen,” said Mr. Young. “You see how it is. You see what a life I lead. A man can’t be wise all the time. In a heedless moment I gave my darling No. 6—excuse my calling her thus, as her other name has escaped me for the moment—a breast-pin. It was only worth twenty-five dollars—that is, apparently that was its whole cost—but its ultimate cost was inevitably bound to be a good deal more. You yourself have seen it climb up to six hundred and fifty dollars—and alas, even that is not the end! For I have wives all over this Territory of Utah. I have dozens of wives whose numbers, even, I do not know without looking in the family Bible. They are scattered far and wide among the mountains and valleys of my realm. And mark you, every solitary one of them will hear of this wretched breast pin, and every last one of them will have one or die. No. 6’s breast pin will cost me twenty-five hundred dollars before I see the end of it. And these creatures will compare these pins together, and if one is a shade finer than the rest, they will all be thrown on my hands, and I will have to order a new lot to keep peace in the family.

Sir, you probably did not know it, but all the time you were present with my children your every movement was watched by vigilant servitors of mine. If you had offered to give a child a dime, or a stick of candy, or any trifle of the kind, you would have been snatched out of the house instantly, provided it could be done before your gift left your hand. Otherwise it would be absolutely necessary for you to make an exactly similar gift to all my children—and knowing by experience the importance of the thing, I would have stood by and seen to it myself that you did it, and did it thoroughly. Once a gentleman gave one of my children a tin whistle—a veritable invention of Satan, sir, and one which I have an unspeakable horror of, and so would you if you had eighty or ninety children in your house. But the deed was done—the man escaped. I knew what the result was going to be, and I thirsted for vengeance. I ordered out a flock of Destroying Angels, and they hunted the man far into the fastnesses of the Nevada mountains. But they never caught him. I am not cruel, sir—I am not vindictive except when sorely outraged—but if I had caught him, sir, so help me Joseph Smith, I would have locked him into the nursery till the brats whistled him to death. By the slaughtered body of St. Parley Pratt (whom God assail!) there was never anything on this earth like it! I knew who gave the whistle to the child, but I could, not make those jealous mothers believe me. They believed I did it, and the result was just what any man of reflection could have foreseen: I had to order a hundred and ten whistles—I think we had a hundred and ten children in the house then, but some of them are off at college now—I had to order a hundred and ten of those shrieking things, and I wish I may never speak another word if we didn’t have to talk on our fingers entirely, from that time forth until the children got tired of the whistles. And if ever another man gives a whistle to a child of mine and I get my hands on him, I will hang him higher than Haman! That is the word with the bark on it! Shade of Nephi! You don’t know anything about married life. I am rich, and everybody knows it. I am benevolent, and everybody takes advantage of it.

I hope you all enjoyed these accounts, and can see the humor in them.

Happy Pioneer Day!