Table of Contents


Case Studies

In the following case studies, I apply the ideas I’ve been talking about to real world events, in the hope you’ll see how these theories can successfully predict, and may become useful for predicting, your future in various circumstances.

A Criminal Tragedy: 2009, near Times Square, NYC

The Incident

On December 10, 2009, a spectacular criminal tragedy unfolded in Times Square, New York City. A scam artist—or, if you want to be kinder to his image, an aggressive street peddler—named Martinez ran afoul of plainclothes police. Rather than get arrested for peddling without a license, he ran, got cornered, started shooting with a gun he’d brought with him, and as a result was shot and killed.


Let’s look at this by considering some composite articles reporting the incident, based on the many written at the time and still available on the Internet, stating the points required for my analysis. As you’ll see, the first insights I’ve interspersed are based on this book’s sections about Panic and Blunder Thinking. After that we’ll use the prisms of the Prisoner’s Dilemma and of Enfranchisement.

Blunder One

Gunman Killed by Police Near Times Sq.

By Lois Lane, Daily Planet Crime Specialist

December 11, 2009. Yesterday a pistol-toting man was shot and killed in a late-morning gun battle off Times Square. The daylight gunfight between a CD-hawking scam artist and a policeman had bullets crashing through store windows and people diving for cover.

The man, Raymond Martinez, 25, of the Bronx, had been running a CD-hawking scam on tourists at 1515 Broadway.

The first notable Blunder was Martinez’s, in carrying a pistol to Times Square while he did his CD-scamming and/or aggressive peddling. In the classic phrase, it was asking for trouble.

We don’t know for certain why he did it. Perhaps he forgot he had the gun on him, perhaps he was planning to use it later after the Times Square “work”, but most likely his friends’ account after the fact, that he wanted it for protection from the police, is accurate. We don’t know.

Blunder Two and Initial Panic

Around eleven AM, a veteran NYPD sergeant in plainclothes, who heads a task force that monitors aggressive panhandling, recognized and accosted him.

Martinez was accepting an even higher risk than just toting a gun into Times Square. He was a known arrestable quantity. As is mentioned below, this wasn’t the first time he’d done what he was doing around Times Square, and it wasn’t the first time the cops had caught him doing it. In fact he had a bench warrant out against him, and that bench warrant made him subject to arrest on sight.

I call accepting that much risk his second Blunder. He was an accident waiting to happen.

A Blunder Chain Begins

The officer, Sergeant Christopher Newsom, 41, of Queens, asked Martinez to show his ID and the tax stamp required to sell CDs legally. Not having what was asked for, and with a bench warrant out against him, he fled on foot.

When the police do come up to him: Uh-oh! Seriously scared, Martinez’s mind focuses down into Panic thinking. He’ll be able to think of getting just one thing done … his brain chooses that one thing to be escaping.

The tall, brave sergeant pursued, trailed by a couple of other plainclothes anticrime officers.

Martinez’s choice to flee was another Blunder, the third link in the building Chain.

The Chain Continues …

“Stop! Stop! Show me your hands!” yelled Newsom.

Newsom has to react at least as fast as Martinez does, but he’s been trained for this emergency situation, so he can display some Sports thinking despite its novelty and the primordial heat of the chase.

But Martinez is in full, untrained Panic, focused solely on escaping. The conscious part of his brain won’t process anything coming into his ears unless it directly helps find him a path to escape.

Then his nightmare deepens. While focused down, he’s picked the wrong path. Running isn’t working. What he hears all too well are footsteps steadily pounding a few yards behind him. He’s cornered. He can’t continue escaping, so his panic thinking moves quickly to Plan B. He can feel the weight of a pistol in the sling under his coat …

…and Continues …

Martinez in fact stopped, but only to draw and shoot a MAC-10 semiautomatic pistol. After two or three shots, the gun jammed.

Umm! … Here the world around Martinez got lucky. As later articles said, he held it horizontally, flipped on its side with the magazine parallel to the ground, as though posing in a gangsta rap video, which led to its jamming almost immediately.

The sergeant, who had never before shot his gun in the line of duty, returned fire, hitting Martinez in the chest, collar bone, and each arm.

The MAC-10 semiautomatic has a magazine that holds more than a dozen bullets and is a lookalike to a fearsome machine pistol of the same name with a huge rate of fire. Martinez has pulled out what looks to be that machine pistol, a handgun that acts like a machine gun. So the Panic spreads and Newsom gets to join in—he’s brought a pistol to a machine gun fight! And this dog isn’t just barking, he’s biting—two or three bullets come flying out from that weapon.

In the face of a potential bloodbath—one that would have included him!—in what is now a full Panic situation for everyone involved, the policeman’s brain moves into Practiced thinking and he does what he has been trained to do: He crosses his left arm over his heart and shoots.

…and Continues …

His four wounds didn’t stop Martinez, who struggled with the officers as he lay bleeding, still gripping his gun.

Pain doesn’t end Panic thinking. If it makes you more scared, it exacerbates your Panic.

…and Continues …

Said witness Eric Hoelle, “I saw two cops holding one guy down. They were wrestling to get the gun out of his hand.”

A worker at nearby Maxwell Jewelers, Robert McKuhan, declared, “He was putting up a good little fight. And then this other guy jumps on one cop’s back and yells, ‘That’s my brother! Get off my brother!’”

That other guy was Oliver Martinez, 28, who had been in Times Square with his brother and was now taken into custody.

We can admire his self-forgetful bravery, or we can conclude that like others involved he has Panicked and added another step to the Chain.

Fortunately, the trained policemen do not respond with equal Panic and open up on him, too. They just shake him off. The lesson here is that Blunder Chains do finally end, and cool-headed thinking can resume.

…and a Man Dies

Martinez was rushed to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The Blunder Chain may not have ended with the death of Raymond Martinez, but if it continued it wasn’t nearly so physical or acute, but became emotional and legal.

The part we’ve reviewed was a textbook case of a Panic and Blunder Chain leading to a very expensive solution, the death of a participant. And as we’ve noted, the cost could have been far higher, involving bullets in one or more cops, innocent bystanders, and/or Martinez’s brother.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma and Times Square Hustling

Let’s look at a couple of the Planet’s companion articles, viewing the first through the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Times Sq. Hustlers Routinely Bilk Tourists

By Clark Kent, Daily Planet City Life Specialist

December 12, 2009. Raymond Martinez, 25, who was shot Thursday on Seventh Avenue off Times Square (see related story), was one of many scam artists working the crowded Square. Like several other aspiring rappers, he would come up to tourists, ask them their names, which he would write on a CD, sign, and demand a ten dollar donation for the “autographed” result.

According to police, these scammers have been known to surround and intimidate victims, even grabbing their wallets. But Zach McCabe, a comedian who shared their strip of Broadway until they failed to appear today, says different. “I don't see it. I see them talking to people.”

Martinez had been arrested in September for selling CDs without a license, and had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. A bench warrant had been issued in November for his arrest because he missed a court appearance.

Other scams, stolen goods, and counterfeits are common in the area. Tourists and residents alike …

Why are there Times Square hustlers, a group of people famous for taking advantage of visiting tourists? How do they get away with trading with people, but cheating them when they do so? It’s because they’re being Prisoner’s Dilemma defectors who take advantage of tourists who behave as cooperators. Here’s how they can get away with it.

In the vast majority of our day-to-day transactions, we deal with people we know, with whom we will deal repeatedly. Even at a fairly impersonal supermarket, where the cast of characters eventually changes over time, our transactions become Iterative Double-Cooperator transactions. In such cases, if someone cheats in a way we can discover, it’s expensive for that person. We’ll take retributive and/or protective actions.

This is why even some fairly large transactions, such as paying college tuition, can be carried off without formal contracts. When cheating will be expensive, it becomes rare.

A few common transactions are protected one-offs—we do them once, or only once in a while, as when we buy a house or a car. As noted above, when the cost of defection seems significant, we treat these as Double-Defector situations and add protections like multipage legal contracts.

A very few of our transactions are essentially unprotected one-offs. The most common come when we travel and must perforce trust and deal with strangers.

When chance encounters with locals are involved, the situation usually comes up rarely for the locals so that they see little or no benefit in defecting, such as when you ask for directions, need assistance with your vehicle, or are invited for lunch while on an outing because you are an object of exotic interest. The chances of your being hit over the head and having your wallet stolen are fairly low, as indicated by such occurrences making news.

Many of the people to whom you pay money have even greater motivation to be trustworthy. They never know whether a traveler’s transaction may recur, over a short stay and/or on repeated trips, and word can get around to potential other customers, even more so now in the Internet era. For almost any identifiable vendor, the cost of betrayal is higher than the profit. (A little aboveboard price-boosting during high season doesn’t count.)

But fertile ground for profitable betrayal transactions exists where there is a continual stream of strangers and the vendor is either not easily identifiable by a swindled customer or is untraceably gone before the swindle is realized. This is the case in border towns and districts like Itewan in Seoul, Korea, or Tijuana, Mexico. “He was shorter than me, with a black mustache. He had a few missing teeth and, uh, … oh, forget about it, officer. I really don’t suppose I could pick him out of a fair line-up. It’s not worth taking any more time from our vacation anyway!”

Despite being centrally located in New York City, Times Square is effectively a border town. And apparently tourists who have already been put in their place by the local bellhops and taxi-drivers can also be bullied by sellers of worthless CDs.


Hustler’s Family Grieving, Defiant

By Jimmy Olsen, Daily Planet Lifestyle Specialist

December 11, 2009. The family of Raymond Martinez, 25, who was shot yesterday on Seventh Avenue off Times Square (see related story), mourn their son, brother, and husband, and are critical of police behavior.

At the Midtown North station house, Ancela Martinez declared, “I want justice. That was my beloved son. I want to know why the cop didn’t shoot him in the leg or something to stop him, rather than in the heart.”

Sharanda Martinez, his wife of seven years, lamented, “All I know is that my son doesn’t have a father.”

His brother Oliver, 28, who briefly attacked a police officer at the scene and was questioned in custody for some hours, was said by Ancela to be “like twins” with Raymond. Oliver declared he didn’t know what happened except that his brother was gone. “He was a good guy. He was not evil.”

Before the shootout, Martinez had five prior arrests and was wanted for an assault in the Bronx.

Border towns and districts are famous for being different in culture from the home country they’re in or the country they neighbor, respectively.

That’s how a colony of betrayers can survive despite knowing they are cheating fellow humans. Why don’t they feel guilty enough to stop? Because of Neolithic Village thinking: Us-vs-Them.

For Raymond Martinez and his family, the tourists and the cops were Them. It didn’t matter that he was routinely betraying people and on the fast track to more trouble over that domestic assault charge. Like him, his family felt disenfranchised from the larger community. Martinez must have paid for his groceries and liquor. He probably showed up regularly for Sunday dinner at Ancela’s place. He may actually have studied the Bible with his family. In any case, when his family and neighbors thought about how Ray made his living, they felt, “Meh! So what? He’s a good boy inside.” And he kept it up.

This poisonous disenfranchisement was exemplified in the lyrics that, under the nomme de guerre “Ready”, he rapped with his group Square Free: About staring down cops, resisting arrest, and calling in forensics to chalk around his dead body. It was the root of the tragedy his family experienced.

The good news is that enfranchisement is neither black and white, nor constant. It can grow and shrink. The majority of young men who feel disenfranchised like Martinez did at the time of this incident settle down with age and become more enfranchised—they get a job and become part of the system. Likewise, the Martinez’s cool-headed neighbors, and some family members, will in time remember that prior to this incident Martinez was giving the family a bad name. In time he will become a legendary bad example for the neighborhood and its enfranchisement will grow.

The YFZ Ranch Incident:

2008, near Eldorado, Texas

I read about the events at the FLDS church’s ranch in Texas on April 4th, 2008, the day after they started, and immediately said to myself, “Ummm … this is a Blunder, for sure!” And it was.

This case study is also an opportunity to consider how a semi-closed social system can function much in the Neolithic Village lifestyle. If the environment produces comfortable enough thinking for the people living in it, then even though shunned and harassed by those outside their community, perhaps even after being exiled from their community, they will choose to be its members.

The Incident

From the opening section of Wikipedia’s article on the Ranch:

The YFZ Ranch, also known as the Yearning for Zion Ranch, is a 1,700-acre (7 km2) community which housed as many as 700 people just outside of Eldorado, Texas in Schleicher County, Texas, United States. It is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). It is about 45 miles (72 km) southwest of San Angelo, Texas and 4 miles (6 km) northeast of Eldorado, Texas. The Ranch was settled by members of the FLDS Church who left Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona under increasing scrutiny from the media, anti-polygamy activists and law enforcement officials.

In 2008, state authorities entered the community after Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) and other authorities received several calls from abused juveniles. However, one or more of these calls were made by a Colorado Springs, Colorado resident, Rozita Swinton, masquerading as a YFZ ranch resident. In the call or calls, Swinton falsely identified herself as ‘Sarah’ and gave her age as 16. She was later arrested in Colorado and the fictional ‘Sarah’ has not been shown to exist.

Nevertheless, officers removed nearly every child to state custody after alleging they were actual or potential victims of abuse. The state determined that the minors had to be protected from alleged force or socialization into underage marriages. Since CPS considered the children to be residents of a single household in spite of the multiple residences, it was routine to remove all of the children. Residents and critics questioned if removing every child and infant and seeking to place them all in foster care violated the civil rights of the families just because of their religious beliefs about marriage. Those who believed that the families had been separated and housed in substandard shelters criticized the raid as unnecessarily putting the children at risk, and residents asked that the children be returned.

In May, 38 parents petitioned the Third Court of Appeals, in Austin for a writ of mandamus to overturn the removal of 126 of the children. The court ruled that the state had not presented sufficient evidence of immediate danger to remove the children. CPS then requested that the Texas Supreme Court overturn the Appeals Court ruling. The Texas Supreme Court declined to do so, advising the trial court to order the return of the children, but to issue orders to prevent abuse of them. On June 2, the media published photos and video of parents and children returning to the ranch, and Willie Jessop [a church leader and frequent spokesman, according to a linked article] announced the FLDS church would not sanction underage marriage. The total cost of the raid and the ensuing litigation was reported to be upwards of $14 million.

Schleicher County, in the center of Texas, is sparsely populated. The whole county’s population in the 2010 census was under 3500, with about half that in Eldorado, the county seat. San Angelo, 50 miles away in the next county, boasts some 90,000 people. This might be God’s Country (as is claimed by some of the locals) but it’s not country God made easy for humans to live in. It’s hot, arid, sagebrush-covered wilderness that even in the 2000s no other Americans could find any good use for.

The FLDS sect broke off from the main Mormon (LDS) church in the 1930s, about fifty years after the latter renounced polygamy. The followers of what became the FLDS finally split off over that and other issues. As noted in the Wikipedia quotation above, before they came to the YFZ Ranch many of the members had been living in a pair of small towns in an equally sparsely populated area on the Utah-Arizona border, Hildale, UT, and Colorado City, AZ.

The YFZ ranch compound was started essentially from scratch in 2003. At the time of the raid the members had built many buildings including housing, small construction-related factories, and a large multi-story temple.

From other articles—

The YFZ Raid went on over many days, and in the process more than four hundred children were removed from the compound. This is every child they could find in the compound, and is a record confrontation between a government welfare agency, in this case the Texas Child Protective Services (TCPS), and a religious sect.

“Four hundred!!” I thought. “My goodness!”

All the children were removed because, according to Marleigh Meisner, TCPS spokesperson, “This is not about numbers. This is about children, children in imminent risk of harm.” The children removed from the compound ranged in age from infants to 17-year-olds, she said.

From the detailed Wikipedia account again:

Law enforcement officers were armed with automatic weapons, SWAT teams with snipers, helicopters, and one county provided an M113 armored personnel carrier as backup, but they met with no armed resistance.

Ouch! Sounds like a parody scene out of a Hollywood movie.

A Rich Trove of Topics

This incident shows off many cases of Instinctual, unreasoned thinking, discussed below.

Whew! Rich!

Blunder and Panic

Blunder Symptoms

As the news of this incident was breaking in the first week in April, the first thing I noticed was the size and hastiness of the action.

The raid reportedly started after a call from a young woman, a 16-year-old, to Texas authorities, saying she had been married when she was 15 to a 50-year-old man, and now she had an 8-month-old child. And, presumably, she was unhappy with her situation. (That last part wasn’t mentioned in any early news article.)

According to the news, that’s all there was to start this incident … TCPS would not identify the caller at the time that they started the raid. It turned out they didn’t identify her partly because they didn’t know who she was. This became more obvious when, after spending close to a week searching the compound, the authorities could still not find or identify “Sarah”. (Rozita Swinton wasn’t outed until months later.)

In the meantime, find her or not, TCPS saw fit to move over 400 children and 130 wives out of the compound.

This screams of Panic thinking and a Blunder response.

As you’ll remember, Panic thinking occurs when stressed people get scared. (For more on this trigger, see the section after next, on why cults make enemies.) The choices and actions made under Panic thinking look smooth and good … that is, to the person(s) deciding … at the time they take action! But those decisions and actions often look risky, expensive, and crazy to any cool-headed observer at the time, and especially in hindsight.

A merely neutral description of what happened makes it look hasty and injudicious: Moving out 400 children to San Angelo over the space of a few days, with no advance notice, using SWAT and military-style tactics, into tents set up in the Fort Concho tourist attraction and into the Wells Fargo Pavilion. These were hardly better environments, given that, despite Ms. Meisner’s firm declaration, the children were not at risk of any new damage at the time of their evacuation.

You’ll also remember that people who make or go along with a Blunder are usually emotionally attached to their choices and will stand by them for a long time. So the decision makers at TCPS could not have been expected to back down from supporting their hasty evacuation of hundreds of children, just as no one expects George W. Bush or his team to feel, let alone say, that their Iraqi choices were … hasty. There were undoubtedly cool heads at Protective Services who recognized the Blunder as both wrong and very, very expensive, but the dissenters would not have been listened to any more than Bush listened to Colin Powell telling him before the fighting started in Iraq, “If you break it, you buy it.”

Alternatives to Panic Thinking and Blunder Response

Perhaps TCPS’s choosing overkill tactics resulted from the scars of a previous Blunder Chain in Texas, the 1993 siege of Branch Davidians at Waco where 70 people died, including many children. But the people at the Ranch had been living the same way for decades in various locations and, unlike the earlier incident, there were not even allegations of hostage taking.

The correct response—the cool-headed response to the original call—would have been something like:

Since nothing like that course of action was reported by the media, I called Blunder the first day the news broke, and I’ve become more convinced by every detail I’ve subsequently learned.

Clannish Thinking = Neolithic Village Thinking

What’s the Attraction?

What attracts people to a “brainwashing cult”? Or, to use a less pejorative label, a clannish lifestyle?

The attraction is that it stimulates and accommodates Instinctual human thinking patterns well adapted to the Stone Age village. When those gene-facilitated patterns of standard thinking for humans work, they quickly become very comfortable and Habitual.

When a person successfully follows standard human thinking, it is an example of Instinct flowering. If a person does what the Instincts for clannish thinking suggest—being obedient to elders until one becomes an elder, marrying young, raising as many children as can survive—it feels really good. What thus flowers becomes rooted in the brain, and very difficult to change, particularly when the person remains in a clannish lifestyle.

So What’s Wrong with That?

If humans are so comfortable with clannish thinking, what’s wrong with just letting Instinct flower?

Well, nothing, if you’re living in a hunter-gatherer human society before agriculture becomes widespread.

However, agricultural lifestyles succeed better when bigger groups than clans cooperate, and post-agricultural ones even more so. Those lifestyles are more attractive for many people. But the chronic tension between hill people and valley people around the world are partly disputes between clannish and post-clannish thinking. (Look, for instance, at mountainous West Virginia seceding from the plantation-covered area to its east during the Civil War as mentioned above. Or the Afghan situation over the last few centuries.)

The Industrial Age brought a surprise use of technology. It turns out that with the help of labor-saving devices, women can go to work outside the home, contributing productively to the whole community as well as to their nuclear and extended families.

Clannish thinking and the clannish lifestyle are incompatible with all this.

Tolerant Thinking

What has replaced clannish Us-vs-Them thinking is tolerant thinking. It recognizes that there’s a big, big world full of strange people, and that it’s valuable to respect and cooperate with them.

Such thinking works, and works well, when there is sufficient technology to support it, but it doesn’t come easily to humans. It’s not as comfortable as clannish thinking, and it must be taught, again and again, to each generation—the definition of culture versus Instinct.

So even when tolerant thinking is widely recognized as right thinking, clannish thinking will constantly be trying to sneak in, and it will feel good when it does. Many of the chronic controversies in today’s intellectual landscape are controversies between tolerant thinking and neoclannish thinking.

So for example, it’s easy to feel good about building a stockade wall around the US to keep evil criminals away from our children, pets, and womenfolk and to keep in our precious jobs. Arguing against this is supported by the more dollars and prosperous lifestyle that come with free trade and open borders—but it’s a wealth versus “feels good” argument. It’s not easy for either side to win conclusively.

On a local level, gated communities are another overt example of creating an Us-vs-Them environment and slipping into neoclannish thinking.

Reasons a Cult Makes Enemies

Why does a cult make enemies around it?

Clearly, even before this incident broke, the FLDS had enemies, and they are far from the only cult to develop a circle of virulent critics around it.

There are two main reasons.


Us-vs-Them thinking has a long, long history in human thought. When indulged, it creates a strong temptation to, in Prisoner’s Dilemma terms, defect in transactions with strangers.

The legendary example is the Gypsies—as the Roma used to be called—who “gipped” the gorgios (non-Gypsies) by stealing their chickens, selling them curses and love potions, pretending to tell their fortunes, and so on. The strangers around them already feared and despised them, so no one in the clan censured those who did such things.

Consider the implications of this paragraph:

The YFZ Land LLC, through its president, David S. Allred, purchased the ranch in 2003 for $700,000 and quickly began development on the property. When he purchased the property, he declared that the buildings would be a corporate hunting retreat. Allred stuck with that story even after William Benjamin Johnson, a Hildale man, was alleged to be shooting all the white-tail deer on the ranch and, after an investigation, fined for hunting without a license. Later, ranch officials disclosed that the hunting retreat description was inaccurate; the buildings were part of the FLDS church's residential area.

All this would indicate that the history of town-compound relations is full of broken promises and that it is high profile for the town.

I can imagine the YFZ officials talking to the Eldorado city elders and telling them something like, “We intend to invest tens of millions here. We will develop this area, build roads and housing.” If so, those elders must have thought, “Umm … millions invested, roads and housing and fat cat corporate tourists … all that means jobs! We can sure use some more of those here.”

And I’m sure YFZ officials did nothing to discourage their enthusiastic thinking. These were, after all, outsiders to the cult.

The first problem to show up was likely the lack of jobs for the Eldoradans because the FLDS church dedicates itself to self-sufficiency. The FLDS came, and they built, and the other people of Eldorado got … zip!

Score one for broken promises. Over the next couple of years there were probably more incidents like this one, and relations soured.

The TCPS, Texas Child Protective Services, may easily have become the focal point for chronic town-compound defector transactions. Because Texas does not recognize polygamy as legal, the second and third wives of polygamists are disenfranchised … they aren’t part of the system. The “spiritual wives” at the compound can’t, in the eyes of Texas law, be real wives.

This disenfranchisement opens up a possibility for chronic and expensive defection. Reportedly, the FLDS, at Eldorado and elsewhere, refer to defrauding the welfare system as “bleeding the beast”. Since the government insists on seeing plural wives as unwed single mothers, it sets itself up to be neatly bled. These women and their children can apply for some welfare benefits. They allegedly “collect millions of dollars in welfare benefits every year, which goes into the pockets of church leadership and into building big fancy houses on FLDS land.”

However much or little money plural wives actually collected, the folks at TCPS could see they weren’t really unwed single mothers, and would be upset by watching them cheat on welfare—exploiting a loophole to game the system.

The townsfolk were also worried by other aspects of the invasion.

With less than 2,000 registered voters in the whole county, it seemed possible for the FLDS to become a practical if not an absolute majority. Specifically, the schools looked to be at risk, given that those in the Utah/Arizona FLDS communities had been taken over and their resources drained. In fact, up to the time of the raid, sect members had done as they said they would and stayed out of local Texas politics. (That changed afterwards. )

Even without the FLDS voting, their presence could have adversely affected others’ water rights—a term famously opaque to Easterners but immensely important in the arid West.

People noted that compound workers never returned their polite waves. A Catholic deacon explained, “It’s the fear of the unknown that’s bothering everyone. I pray for them. I know they are hard workers. But what is their focus?”

Reports of the high-handed cultish edicts that the sect leader, Warren Jeffs, had issued elsewhere can’t have helped to build trust in Eldorado.

In response to all this townsfolk worry, Eldorado’s representative in the state legislature got bigamy outlawed, forbade stepparents from marrying their stepchildren—both prohibitions new to Texas law—and had the minimum age for marriage raised to 16 from 14. At the time he mentioned “welfare abuse and domestic violence” as among the evils he hoped his legislation would prevent. (Hardly classic, but this is a wonderful example of a special interest group influencing legislation. These rule changes designed to deal with concerns about a community of 700 by a city of 2,000 would affect 24 million Texans.)

The net result of all this failure at neighborliness, if not actual defection, was that within a couple of years a lot of stress had built up between the compound and both town and state authorities. This made the relation ripe for Panic thinking and a Blunder.


Any closed group as clannish as the FLDS is going to do some selecting. People who can’t get with the program will be exiled.

In Stone Age days exile was unpleasant but routine. When a village member couldn’t reconcile their differences with others—whether as an uppity adolescent challenging the authority of the chieftain or elders, or from one of the many other possible causes of friction—they would decide or be forced to leave. Moving to another village, perhaps one with another branch of the clan in it, perhaps one just needing another willing body (since calamities were common), was the usual option. But if no such place existed, exile was a death sentence. Either way, requiring exile was comfortable thinking, if more or less unpleasant, for the humans left behind.

Some exiles who survive are delighted to have shaken the dust of their old communities from their heels. Others’ Instincts make them continue to feel they’re members of their old group and they therefore harbor some degree of bitterness about their separation from it.

This means that closed and semi-closed cults will develop a circle of love-haters around them, and that circle will hold some people who badmouth the cult with great emotion. This has demonstrably happened in the FLDS case.


For both these reasons—defecting against outsiders, and developing a circle of emotional exiles—clannish groups with strange practices are going to be disliked by many of those around them. It’s only a question of how strong the dislike is.

People like the TCPS staff people (and documentary film makers) find that Instinctual ways of thinking have flowered fully in the FLDS environment and become so hellishly hard to break that “brainwashed” looks like the most appropriate description. In the early 21st century, that’s bound to make enemies for the cult.

Why Did Something Happen in 2008?

A Panic and Blunder situation occurred in April 2008. The Texan community was stressed by unusual worry—the general economic stress in the US—for which no solution seemed available. This very local incident was a crazy byproduct of the national subprime mortgage crisis and the upcoming, as yet unnamed, Great Recession!

In that atmosphere, the call by “Sarah” set off a witch hunt. When lurid tales of dark happenings inside a clannish group surface, by exorcising them the outside community hopes to exorcise its own bad luck demons—to make the brainwashed clan pay for everyone’s sins.


This classic Panic-driven witch hunt was not going to look good in Texas, or US, history.

The Blunder by TCPS’s hot heads was setting a goal to scatter the Ranch children and deprogram them so they could live normal lives.

Fortunately, cooler heads finally prevailed.

On May 22, 2008 an appeals court ruled there was not enough evidence at the original hearing that the children were in immediate danger to justify keeping them in state custody. The court added that Judge Walther had abused her discretion by keeping the children in state care. The court ruled, “The department did not present any evidence of danger to the physical health and safety of any male children or any female children who had not reached puberty.” The children were to be returned to their families in 10 days. CPS announced they would seek to overturn the decision. On May 29, the Texas Supreme Court declined to issue a mandamus to the Appeals Court, with a result that CPS must return all of the children. The court stated, “On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted.” The court also noted that although the children must be returned, “it need not do so without granting other appropriate relief to protect the children.”

This was not a complete turnover of what had happened. There were scars. On the government side:

On the FLDS side:

A year after the raid, two thirds of the families were back at the ranch and sect leaders had promised to end underaged marriages. Twelve men, not all apparently from the ranch, had been indicted on a variety of sex charges, including assault and bigamy. One child, a 14-year-old girl, remained in foster care. She was married to jailed leader Warren Jeffs when she was 12. The following summer, 2009, she was sent to live with a relative and ordered not to have contact with Jeffs.

Why We Haven’t Seen FLDS Revenge

In response to the Blunders of the Branch Davidian disaster (mentioned earlier) in Waco, TX, and those at Ruby Ridge, ID, it took only two hotheads, not directly connected to the people involved, to commit the Blunder of bombing the Oklahoma City Federal Building. So far, nothing remotely similar has come out of the FLDS community. Since Warren Jeffs’ conviction and incarceration, that’s what all the news about and from them has instead centered on.

Losing all their children, even temporarily, was a huge shock to the community, comparable to a plague in a Stone Age village that took mostly the young. But just as that village would have sorrowfully gone on after such a tragedy, especially if there were memories of similar occurrences, the FLDS have apparently adapted and recovered. They must have recalled the 1953 raid on their Utah/Arizona complex when all the children, about 200, were taken away, then returned, so that more Practiced thinking and less Panic thinking was involved after the incident.

Matriarchy, Male Cooperation, and Arranged Marriage

Let us now consider some of the other ways this incident shows Neolithic village thinking thriving in post-Industrial times.

The FLDS community has been described as a patriarchy, the males dominating without question. I don’t think that’s a full description.

When males are around, they presumably rule the polygamist roost. But when you have lots of women, lots of children, and not many men, and when the men are away much of the time earning the bacon to bring home, then the community is a matriarchy, in that the women by default control day-to-day events and let their men control “the big things”—the country’s foreign affairs, fiscal policy, perhaps even government nearer home!

One symptom of the YFZ lifestyle not being as male-dominated as might be presumed was that the media reported great difficulty in determining the children’s parentage; they seemed not to know or to care too strongly who their biological parents were. This implies a single marine sanctuary of children within a single sea of caregivers.

Instinctual thinking can easily support such a structure. Most mammal communities are matriarchies—the females dominate the community except when the males show up for mating. And probably the women of the clannish FLDS community, especially the older women, strongly and quietly support its structure as a comfortable lifestyle for their Stone Age village Instincts, because “It just feels right.”

Male cooperation, on the other hand, is not provided for by our very oldest Instincts. Because this is an area where mankind has had to make huge changes to average mammal or even average primate thinking, it’s easy for young human males to relapse, to become loners or eventually join a different group.

The rumspringa or period of adolescence among the Amish and Mennonites—when, in many communities at least, furtive misbehavior and even experimentation with the worst of the outside culture is less strongly condemned than it would be for those fully committed to the sect—can lead to youths finding the outside world’s temptations too much for them, so that they leave. In the case of the FLDS, excommunication serves the same function.

Borders, Immigration, and Enfranchisement

Amazingly, there are lessons in this incident for US immigration policy. Let’s recap the “Defection” section above from a little different perspective.

The FLDS got in trouble mostly because they were so clannish. The sect set up a tight border, a boundary between its community and the outside world. The outside world did not understand the FLDS, and vice versa.

To justify that strong border, FLDS leaders told their followers, perhaps in so many words, that those outside the border were bad people. This made defector transactions against outsiders very tempting, because on their side of the border there would be no punishment.

With enough such incidents, the outsiders would decide that the FLDS were bad people, so any defector transactions against the FLDS would similarly meet reduced censure.

On a larger scale, the US faces similar problems. The more we close our borders, the more temptation there is to engage in defector transactions across it, and the more sniping will happen in both directions.

Moreover, if a community is disenfranchised so that community members feel they have no say in what’s happening, the temptation to engage in defecting behavior becomes very strong. Being scorned as polygamists was and is a strong disenfranchiser for the FLDS. So is the outer society’s conviction of their prophet as a child molester. Some FLDS undoubtedly believe that the evidence against Warren Jeffs has been wholly or partly manufactured, others that anything he did was right simply because he was God’s prophet.

The solution to Eldorado’s FLDS problem would have been, and still is, to build the FLDS’s franchise in the Eldorado community, to convince the FLDS people that they have a stake in the larger community, composed of tolerant, even accepting members. I don’t claim it is or would have been easy, but success would have given everyone more incentive to cooperate—instead of creating a crisis by hauling off 400 children! I still get shivers just thinking about that “solution”.

Human Enjoyment of Altering Consciousness

One of the curiosities of human thinking is that humans often don’t like how they’re thinking, and therefore indulge in deliberate mind-altering experiences.

Means of Alteration

Mind altering can be done in hundreds, if not thousands, of ways. Examples of deliberate experiences that change how you think include:

Why People Like to Change How They Think

People who practice any one or more of these mind-altering experiences tend to speak very enthusiastically about them.

And we humans started early to invent at least one way to change how we think. It seems that every few decades the invention of beer, the first reliable source of alcohol, gets pushed back a few centuries or a millennium.

But what’s our motivation?

Even before the first beer, for hundreds of thousands of generations (millions of years) natural selection had been favoring larger, more versatile human brains. They’ve gotten big fast by evolutionary standards so it should not be surprising that the human brain has kinks of various sorts. It works well enough on the whole, but there are undoubtedly parts that could be (and will be) designed better.

The part that has evolved most dramatically is what we call consciousness—the part that does advanced tool use, language, and abstract thinking. I speculate that this part of peoples’ brains sometimes “aches” a bit, that it tires of ordinary conscious-level thinking, especially after a long day’s use.

Therefore, much mind altering involves turning down the intensity of higher-level brain functions because it’s more comfortable. For instance, we “let down our hair” in one way or another at parties and other celebratory social functions, the local tavern, or even our living rooms, leaving the lower level functions—Habit, Reflex, and Instincts—to run the show for a bit while Morality and Judgment go to bed early. Meanwhile we may let our body slouch in sweats in an easy chair or get it dressed up for an evening out according to our, or our significant other’s, tastes.

Another reason people mind-alter is to pierce the veil of conscious reality and search for the deeper truths that lie beyond it. Whether there is any such veil to be pierced or not, these new insights come from reducing higher-level brain functions. (Please note, as mentioned previously, it’s not true that we use only 10% of our brain. We use 100%; it’s a busy organ. Much as it may feel like veil piercing is upping brain activity, it doesn’t.)

We also may change consciousness because it’s exciting, to experience sensations that the high-level processes rarely encounter by pulling what is normally Instinctive thinking up to the conscious level. For instance:

Perhaps this, too, involves the same turning down of intensity.

Judging How Your Neighbor Messes with Their Mind

Just as universal as consciousness altering is watching and evaluating your neighbor’s consciousness altering. That evaluation can be negative when others’ choices differ in kind or even degree from our own, if any: “They’re stupid juicers/stoners.” (That was the booze/weed distinction among Americans in the Vietnam War.) “Never knows when he’s hit his limit, I’m afraid!” “My dear, she … drinks!”

But watching someone else go through a mind-altering experience can instead leave us very favorably impressed (“What a great mystic!” “He was so wasted!”) or very curious (“Waiter, bring me what she’s having”), rather than frightened (“Isn’t that dangerous?”) or outraged (“Disgusting!” “He was so wasted!”).

There can be good reason that observers may fear for themselves, too. A person with a temporarily altered mind is hard to distinguish from a crazy person. Either may do severe damage to themselves or to their community unless they are watched and controlled. If doing so fails, or if the community considers that impossible or too expensive, they may be jailed, kicked out of the community, or even killed.

However, people who do mind alteration the right way by community standards can be deeply admired. While getting high and loud at a symphony concert will be generally condemned, getting drunk and dancing on the tables at a sports victory celebration will probably be applauded by some attendees even if deplored by others. And speaking in tongues at a Christian evangelist religious revival will be admired.

This judgmental thinking can easily mix with Us-vs-Them Instincts. The way strangers mind-alter can be doubly frightening, doubly fascinating, doubly blameworthy or admirable.

When humans form strong opinions on what is right and wrong consciousness altering, we back up those opinions with regulations. So regulations about, for instance, using marijuana or alcohol for temporary mind alteration, and the extent to which it may or can be done in public, vary wildly across the globe. There are often different rules for different categories of people. Muslims may be civilly required to observe their religious rules against alcohol in places where others are exempt, and marijuana may be legal only by prescription. There is often a legal drinking age which may vary, among other considerations, by kind of liquor, whether a meal is being consumed, and whether an adult is present and/or has ordered the liquor.

In sum, the choices each community makes about what are and are not acceptable mind-altering practices may seem quite arbitrary to outsiders first encountering them, but they are based on the community’s history, usually involve a lot of community emotion, and are backed by considerable community resources.. This latter point becomes important in times when a substantial minority exist or develop who want to engage in a currently forbidden practice and those minority members are willing to devote a lot of resources to doing so. The conflict in ideas leads to community disenfranchisement.


Cancer on a Community

Making judgments seems to be Instinctive thinking. And as I noted earlier in our discussion of blind spots, prohibitionists of mind-altering experiences often don’t see the huge expense they incur by disenfranchising the would-be practitioners of one or more popular kinds of mind altering. Let’s explore these huge expenses.

(To better understand the following, if you are personally against all such activities that happen to be illegal in your jurisdiction, imagine that we’re discussing the prohibition of some activity you would willingly tolerate—say, group chanting—in a community where it is forbidden because of the wild thoughts it can spawn. Keep that in mind, even though many of my examples involve bad results of the efforts to restrict alcohol and other drugs. So for this exercise in disenfranchising, if you need to, imagine we are going to have a War on Group Chanting.)

But another practice is an indisputable example, the level of whose expense can get astounding: US police seizing property that may be related to a crime, usually a drug crime, was a $3-billion windfall in 2008. That “may” can be so tenuous that no charges related to the seizing ever have to be filed!

So what may cost practitioners dearly comes at even higher cost to society. And, back to its main fault, it hasn’t even solved the problem!

As discussed above, enfranchisement and disenfranchisement come in shades. A person can back their community’s welfare whole-heartedly, somewhat, a little, or not much, or even work against it. And the larger the numbers of disenfranchised, the more justified each will feel in disconnecting from the community they live in.

The spectacular worst case scenarios for community disenfranchisement in recent years are Palestinian Gaza and the coasts of Somalia. Palestinian terrorists and Somali pirates conduct their horribly anti-social activities without check from their communities because those communities are so seriously disenfranchised that they just don’t care what their radical elements do.

Fixing This Disenfranchisement

Disenfranchisement in the USA is not as severe as in Somalia or Gaza, but as I’ve discussed above, we have it, it’s expensive, and one of its major sources (though not the only one) is fighting the War on Drugs.

By this point, you will hardly be surprised at my prescription. To end one cause of corrosive disenfranchisement, the American community must recognize how expensive it is to be judgmental about consciousness altering activities, in all their forms, and alter our laws accordingly. For those who have the power in society, this goes against Instinctive thinking, which means it’s hard to do. But perhaps not impossible.

We already recognize that consciousness altering as an element of formal religious practice must be tolerated. We must extend that tolerance, an important Industrial Age virtue, to all other forms of consciousness altering. Doing so will make America more American, more nearly the ideal Land of the Free to which people around the world dream of coming, because enfranchisement has always been at the heart of the American Dream.

And it will save us a whole lot of money, to boot.

Of course for this to work, practitioners must be responsible about their practices—say, no loud group chanting in residential areas after 10 PM—and laws can promote such responsibility. However, to be fair and enfranchising, such laws must cover what happens, not why it happens: Reckless driving, not DUI. If a person is weaving across lanes of traffic in a dangerous way, it shouldn’t matter whether it’s from being stoned, being high, texting, talking on a cell phone, kids screaming in the back seat, an improbably bad reaction to a legal drug, an unpredictable seizure, or tinfoil-hat crazy—hearing Jesus or seeing UFO’s attacking. These are interesting social and moral issues, perhaps newsworthy, but they should not be interesting legal issues.

This will require a big change in what Americans expect of their lawmakers. They should be called upon simply to establish level legal playing fields, not to micromanage or support feel-good causes de jour, which should be the responsibility of other social groups. The result should be a much simpler, more easily understandable legal system, and one that is a lot more predictable. That understandability and predictability will be deeply enfranchising. The law and its makers will be something people can count on, because they won’t be capricious, frivolous, or obscure.

Disenfranchisement is a big issue. Mind altering, immigration, social justice, and many other contemporary issues are important because of how they affect enfranchisement. One of America’s perennial strengths is recognizing its importance, but America has no monopoly on enfranchisement. It was the heart of “The American Way” in 20th-century US, Liberalism during the British Empire’s 19th-century peak, Japan’s surge in the Meiji Era, and other communities that have soared into historical greatness. The more we lose it, the more we are losing our key to greatness and being a shining example to the world.