Cyreenik Says

Thoughts on the YFZ Ranch incident

(Polygamy, Panic, and human instinct thinking)


Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright, April 10th, May 26th 2008


On April 3rd, 2008, Texas authorities started a raid on the YFZ Ranch in El Dorado, Texas. The YFZ ranch was a remote compound holding hundreds of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

The FLDS sect broke off from the main Mormon church (LDS) in the 1930's, about fifty years after the main church renounced polygamy, and said it was a bad practice. The followers of what became the FLDS whispered, "No, it's not." and finally split off over that and other issues.

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

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.

.... ouch!

A Rich Trove of Topics

This incident provides a rich trove of topics on the subject of human thinking patterns.

Human thinking, how the human brain is "hardwired", is something I've done a lot of thinking about in 2007 and 2008. And this incident shows off a whole lot of cases of instinctual thinking being done instead of reasoned thinking.

Here are the specific topics of instinct thinking I see highlighted in this incident:


Whew! Rich! So rich, that I will break my discussion into the several topics outlined above. These topics are only slightly related to each other, so view this as several essays rolled into one.

That said, lets get started.

Blunder and Panic

The first thing I noticed about this incident as the news was breaking the first week in April was the size and hastiness of the action.

This raid started with a call from a young woman... a sixteen year old... to Texas authorities, saying she had been married when she was fifteen, to a fifty year-old man, and now she had an eight month-old child. And, presumably, she was unhappy with her situation. (This last part was not mentioned in any early news article.)

That's all there was to start this incident... TCPS would not identify the caller at the time they started the raid. It turned out they did not 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 her or identify her.

In the meantime, find her or not, they saw fit to move over four hundred children and one hundred thirty wives out of the compound.

Ouch! This screams of Bush, Iraq, and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

This screams of: Panic Thinking, and a Blunder response.

Panic Thinking... and Blunder Response

Panic thinking happens when a person, or a community gets stressed... worried... then faces a brand new situation... one that they have never thought about before, but one that calls for fast action.

The situation calls for fast action, but the brain has never faced this situation before, so it can't respond with "sport thinking" (the opposite of Panic Thinking). Sport thinking happens when fast action is called for, and the brain has practiced the situation. When sport thinking is in place, a person's actions in response to a threat look smooth and good.

When Panic Thinking is in place, a person's choices and actions look smooth... and good... to the person deciding... at the time action is being taken. But the actions taken look risky, expensive and crazy to any "cool headed" observer... a detached, not so scared, observer who is watching at the time, or to observers who critique the actions after the fact.

In this case... moving out four hundred children over the space of a few days, with no advance notice, is going to look hasty in retrospect. This is hasty because those children will not be moving into a better environments soon, and they were not at risk of any new damage at the time of their evacuation.

This was not some kind of a hostage-taking situation. These people had been living like this for decades!

The correct response... the cool-headed response to this situation... would have been something like:

A) after the call, first find the woman. Confirm that this isn't some kind of crank call.

B) Send a social worker to the compound. If that social worker can't locate the girl or the husband, if they encounter problems, then send in a lawyer.

C) If the social worker observes that hundreds of children are at risk... do some educating and negotiating. If educating and negotiating fail, then plan for a mass evacuation first. Plan first, evacuate later.

This isn't the course of action we have seen in this situation. That's why this is going to become a huge blunder.

What is a Blunder?

A blunder is an action taken that, over time, is going to look silly and very expensive. In this case, uprooting four hundred children on a week's notice and trying to find foster homes for them after the uprooting is going to look very, very expensive.

I see much ugliness ahead in this crisis, and I see the ugliness lasting for years and years. This is going to be a lose-lose-lose big situation.

Another feature of Blunder Thinking is that the person who decides the blunder is the right course of action is usually emotionally attached to the choice of action taken. Just as we should never expect Bush to feel that his Iraqi choices were... hasty..., we should not expect the decision makers at TCPS to back down from supporting their choice to move out all these children in a hasty evacuation.

So, in sum, the actions taken by the TCPS are a Blunder. They are hasty actions, and, while they look like good choices to many of the TCPS people now, they are going to be seen as crazy, risky and expensive choices by outside "cool-headed" observers in the future. Inside the TCPS, there will be people, "coolheads", who disagreed with this course of action, but they were not listened to at the time.

Finally, this Blunder was taken because the people at the TCPS were panicked -- they were scared by something. I will talk more about that elsewhere.

Clannish Thinking = Stone Age Village Thinking

What is the attraction of being part of a "brainwashing cult"?

The attraction of a "clannish lifestyle", as I will now call it, is that it stimulates thinking patterns that are well adapted to living in a Stone Age village. This is important because human genes are well adapted to living in Stone Age villages, and some of these genes control human thinking through instincts. If a thinking pattern follows an instinct, it quickly becomes habitual, and feels very comfortable.

Here are some ways clannish thinking resonate with Stone Age village thinking. Which means that these ways of thinking can become very comfortable ways of thinking.

Instinct flowering

So, the people living in the FLDS "clannish" environment are living in a way that lets loose a lot of "standard thinking" for humans. By standard thinking, I mean that there are a lot of instincts in the human brain to support this kind of lifestyle and the thinking it supports.

Getting comfortable with a clannish lifestyle is an example of instinct "flowering". An instinct is a suggestion that comes from nowhere that to do some action is "right." An instinct does not come from learning, it "pops out of nowhere" from inside the brain. Young boys don't like watching movies filled with "mushy stuff". At some point they change their minds. This is an example of an instinct flowering.

If a person does what the instinct suggests, they feel really good, and the instinct thinking quickly becomes rooted in the brain. It flowers, it becomes habitual, and it becomes difficult... very difficult, to change.

In the case of the FLDS cult, the Stone Age instincts to be: obedient to elders, to marry young, and to raise lots of children, are all instincts that the cult environment allows to flourish.

Yes... the TCPS people are going to find this way of thinking hard to "break". These ways of thinking are instinctual, and in the FLDS environment they have flowered fully. This is why this kind of thinking will look like "brainwashing" to those trying to change the FLDS thinking patterns. It is brainwashing... if brainwashing means letting an instinct flower, so that it becomes like a habit... difficult to change.

Why does a cult make enemies around it?

Why does a cult make enemies around it?

Clearly, 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.

The enemy-making comes from two actions:

First, because there is strong "them and us" thinking, there is a strong temptation to "defect" in transactions with strangers. Defect in this use means to make a promise of some sort, then break it. It is very common for clannish groups to betray those outside the group. A legendary example of defecting against those outside the clan is the reputation gypsies had for stealing chickens as they moved from one place to the next. Those who did the stealing were defecting against the strangers around them, and they received little censure from those in their clan for doing so.

In the case of the FLDS at El Dorado, my guess... I stress, this is only a guess... is that the history of town-compound relations is full of broken promises. The YFZ Ranch was a wild game ranch before the FLDS bought it. As a wild game ranch, it brought some tourists and some income to the El Dorado area. When it went belly up, the town elders felt the loss, and wanted to replace it.

I can imagine Warren Jeffs, leader of the FLDS, talking to the El Dorado city elders and telling them something like, "We intend to invest tens of millions here. We will build factories... roads... houses... even a large temple."

I can imagine the village elders thinking, "Umm... millions invested, factories, roads... all that means jobs! We can sure use some more of those here. And that temple could become a tourist attraction!"

And I'm sure Jeffs did nothing to discourage their enthusiastic thinking. The only problem being... the FLDS dedicates itself to self-sufficiency. The FLDS came... and built... and the other people of El Dorado got... zip!

Score one for broken promises... Over the years, there were probably many 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. Legally, they can't be "real" wives, so they become "spiritual" wives at the compound... and are, in the eyes of Texas law, unwed single mothers.

This opens up a possibility for defection. If Texas law says these women and their children are unwed single mothers, they can apply for some welfare benefits. When they do so, the folk at TCPS can see they aren't "real" unwed single mothers, and they can get upset because they can see that the polygamists are "cheaters" -- they are working the system to exploit a loophole.

Second, any closed group with a nature like the FLDS is going to do some selecting. There are people who can "get with the program", and people who can't. Those who can't are exiled.

Exile, in Stone Age days, was often a death sentence. There might not be another human community to flee to, and it was a killer on human thinking. Exiled humans often simply rolled over and died because exile was such a shock to the instincts they had let flower.

These days, exiles often survive, but they are very often very bitter about their experience. Still... even though the group has rejected them, it is their group! They still have a lot of instincts which have flowered which support thinking that they are part of the group.

This means that closed cults will develop a circle of love-haters around them, and that circle will hold people who are deeply emotional about the issue, and some of those people will badmouth the cult with great emotion.

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

Why did something happen "now", now meaning in 2008?

This is a Panic and Blunder situation. For a panic to happen, the community must be stressed... it must be unusually worried, and the usual solutions to dealing with the worry must not be working.

This situation also smacks strongly of "witch hunting". We have lurid tales of dark things happening inside a clannish group, and those dark things must be exorcised. The outside community is trying to exorcise its bad luck demons by making the clannish community pay for its sins.

I suspect this incident is a case of craziness caused by economic stress in the US. This is a crazy fallout from the Subprime mortgage Crisis and the currently unnamed, but upcoming, US recession.

This is, a classic, panic-driven, witch hunt. It is not going to look good in Texas, or US, history.

The ugliness has not begun.

Where do we go from here?

The YFZ Ranch incident is a blunder. This means that whoever started this chain of events will stand by their choice for a long time. They are emotionally attached to their choice.

Around them will be some "cool heads" who see that this choice is both wrong, and very, very expensive. But... during the panic they won't be listened to. (Think of Colin Powell telling Bush before the fighting started, "If you break it, you buy it.")

In this YFZ Ranch case, the goal of the hot heads is to scatter the children and "deprogram them" so they can live "normal lives." In some cases they will succeed, but there will be many children who will remain unhappy in their new environments for a long time.

I predict some scandal as it is discovered how many of the children are deeply unhappy outside the compound.

Because this is a blunder, this action will be expensive... very... very... expensive. I don't know how, but it will be expensive. I do know this mistake will scar TCPS for years to come, and to a lesser extent, the FLDS.

I predict the FLDS will abandon YFZ Ranch soon, in about a year, and search for some other safe haven. For the FLDS people, Texas has proved it is an intolerant place, and not trustworthy.

Losing all the children will be a big shock to the community... a terrible one! But, in Stone Age village time, plagues happened, so this kind of tragedy is a familiar one in human experience, and the community thinking should adapt to it. The FLDS should recover. (In 1953 the FLDS was raided in their Utah/Arizona complex. As in this case, all the children were taken away, about 200 that time. The sect survived that.)

How the TCPS will suffer is not so clear to me, but they will suffer... mightily... this is a big blunder on their part. The most immediate effect will be to whack out their budget for 2008, but that will be just the beginning.

Because of media enthusiasm for reporting polygamy stories, there is a strong chance for a copycat raid on Hillsdale/Colorado City in Utah/Arizona. But... the more the blunderishness of this action at YFZ Ranch becomes clear, the less likely that is to happen. I predict that if nothing happens there within six weeks, nothing will happen.

Matriarchy, Male Cooperation and Arranged Marriage

The FLDS community has been described as a patriarchy, one in which the males dominate. I question if that's a full description of what is happening.

It is likely that males are "running the roost" when they are around... but if you have lots of women, and lots of children, and not many men, and the men are away much of the time doing what is necessary to provide for the family... then the polygamist community is also a matriarchy... women control the day-to-day events of the community while men control "the big things".

Once again, instinctual thinking can support this structure easily. Most mammal communities are matriarchies -- the females form some kind of community, and the males show up for mating. This kind of social structure is easy for mammal thinking to adapt to.

Male cooperation, on the other hand, is a big, big change. This is hard. This is an area where mankind has had to make big changes to average mammal and average primate thinking, and that means that human males can "relapse" out of cooperative thinking easily. It is easy for a man to become a "loner" or to join a different group.

This is why most clannish communities, another example being the Amish and Mennonites, have a "wild oats time" for the men. Young adult men are permitted to leave for a time, and they get to find out if the outside world's temptations are too much for them. If they are, they don't come back. In the case of the FLDS, excommunication serves the same function.

Because this is partly a matriarchy, this clannish FDLS community is probably strongly, but quietly, supported by the women, especially the older women. The women will support this community because it a comfortable lifestyle for their Stone Age Village instincts. Many might say, "It just feels right."

Borders, Immigration and Enfranchisement

Amazingly, there are lessons in this incident for US Immigration policy.

The FLDS got in trouble mostly because it was so clannish. It 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 the strong border, the leaders of the FLDS told its followers that people outside the border were bad people. Thus, the strong border made defector transactions very tempting. It was easy for clan members to make promises to outsiders, then break them, and then retreat across the border to avoid punishment for being a promise breaker. These defector transactions would be happening on both sides of the border. People on both sides would be 'sniping", and they would not get much censure from people on their side of the border for doing it.

The US faces similar problems on a larger scale on it's borders. The more the US closes its borders, the more temptation there is to engage in defector transactions across the border, and the more "sniping" will happen. This is not good.


Heart-and-heart with this issue is the issue of enfranchisement. If a community is disenfranchised... if community members feel they have no say in what's happening... the temptation to engage in defecting behavior is strong... very strong. The polygamy issue was, and is, a strong disenfranchiser.

One "solution" to the FLDS crisis, and a good one, is to build the FLDS franchise... to reenfranchise it. The more the FLDS people feel they have a stake in the larger community, the more incentive they will have to cooperate, and vice versa. Enfranchisement is the key to this problem, not hauling off four hundred children. Woo... I get shivers just thinking about that solution... I would not have predicted that as a good solution to anything!


Note: the facts I have quoted come from:

an article published by ABC News, April 8th, 2008: Abuse Probed at Polygamist Compound

Life on Texas Polygamist Compound Old-fashioned, but Far From Pleasant, Authorities Say

By MICHELLE ROBERTS, The Associated Press

and Wikipedia articles on the FLDS and related issues


April 14th follow up thinking


What's wrong with Clannish thinking?

If humans are so comfortable with clannish thinking, what's wrong with it.

Well... nothing... if you are living in a hunter-gatherer human society before agriculture became widespread.

Agriculture succeeds better when bigger groups than clans cooperate. And when it is successful, it provides a more attractive lifestyle for many people. But agriculture and post-agriculture lifestyles are not the best for everyone. The chronic disputes between "hill people" and "valley people" around the world are partly how-to-think disputes between clannish and post-clannish thinking.

Plus... with the Industrial Age came another surprise use of technology. It turns out... that... with the help of labor saving devices... women can work! As in... work outside the home and contribute productively to the community.

This is new, and because it is new, it takes new thinking. Some people can adapt to this new thinking easily, others can't. Some of those who can't, find clannish thinking, and living the clannish lifestyle, comfortable.

Tolerant thinking: It's new, It works, It's not comfortable thinking

What has replaced clannish thinking is tolerant thinking: Thinking that recognizes there is a big, big world out there full of strange people it is valuable to respect and cooperate with.

This kind of thinking is new thinking. It works, and works well when there is sufficient technology to support it: agriculture and industry technologies. But, because it's new, it doesn't come easily to humans. It is not as comfortable as clannish thinking, and it must be taught, again and again, to each generation.

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 clannish thinking.

For example: feeling good about building a big wall around the US to keep out evil criminals and keep in jobs is an example of clannish thinking slipping in to the tolerant thinking environment.

What happens next?

Blunders often create more blunders: a Blunder Chain.

A blunder happens when a community is stressed and it faces a problem it has never dealt with before, so it doesn't know how to think about it.

The Blunder itself is often a strange and stress producing action. If so, the response to the blunder by those affected is likely to be... another blunder!

In this El Dorado incident, there is a wide circle of people who are now facing a novel situation.

According a Wall Street Journal article of April 11th, "Texas Faces Hurdles Dealing with Polygamous Sect",

o seven percent of TCPS's manpower is now involved in this one incident.

o This is likely to keep 100 Texas lawyers busy for months.

And that's just the government side.

Unless these people are truly inspired, or they have secretly planned for this for months, big mistakes are going to be made in how these kids and wives are handled. The blunder chain will continue.

On the FLDS side, we have fifty men who have just had their families taken away from them.

My guess... my strong guess... is that the TCPS and other Texas government workers are going to be way too busy looking after the kids and wives to give much attention to the men. Besides... they're half criminal... or full criminal!... in the eyes of the Texas authorities and the media.

Ignoring them, ignoring trying to heal them in some fashion, is a mistake. They have been stressed, they have been massively disenfranchised by this action, and they are a highly unified group.

An example of a blunder response to a similar blunder was the Oklahoma City Federal Building Bombing in response to the Branch Davidian disaster in Waco, TX. That blunder response took only two hotheads, who were only vaguely connected to the Branch Davidians.

If the men of the FLDS compound are not addressed with respect, and reenfranchised in some fashion, they will seek revenge. And, given that they are fifty very resourceful men (men who carved a city out of a wilderness), the revenge could be quite nasty. If they act in revenge, the blunder chain will continue.

So... to end this part of the blunder chain, these men need as much attention as the kids and wives... and they're going to get it, right?... riight!

Other groups are going to be affected, too. This is a sudden hit on welfare and lawyers in Texas. Other activities depending on welfare and lawyers are going to be inconvenienced. This incident will also reverberate back to Hillsdale/Colorado City in Utah/Arizona.

There will be other institutions affected, too, but they will be more surprising, at least to me.

We haven't nearly seen the end of this situation!


April 22nd followup


Here's an article in the LA Times Title: Sect hearings are a logistical scramble


It describes the logistical nightmare lawyers are facing trying to represent the children in this case. Some lawyers haven't even met their clients yet.


Oh, and it's now Day 18, and the kids are still living in the tents in San Angelo.


May 26th followup


Cooler heads at the Texas appelate court level have finally said, "Yes, this is a blunder." While the TCPS continues to defend its action.


Here are some articles on their action of dismissing the lower court decision to allow all the children to be taken away.

LA Times article

NY Times article

another followup LA Times article

FLDS Raid appears to have backfired


As part of the defense of their extreme action in this situation, the TCPS people bring up the Waco Branch Dividian Disaster, where 70 people died including many childrean. This makes this case an example of a Blunder Chain, as well as a simple blunder.


-- The End --