Monday, February 4, 2008


Somer did a report for biology this weekend on moose. She learned that the moose are able to adapt to the harsh winters of northern climates because they have very thick fur, which keeps them warm in the winter; and because they have very long, thin legs, which help them travel through heavy winter snow. No wonder I have so much trouble adapting to Minnesota winters. I have thin skin and short, thick legs.

Somer also learned something about the word moose, which, of course, interests me. The plural of moose is moose. The plural of goose is geese. The plural of mongoose is mongooses. English, such a fascinating language!

The word plural, of course, means more than one. As we all know, plural nouns are usually nouns ending in the letter “s,” such as the word mongooses, but there are exceptions such as the words moose and geese. There is also another, much more disturbing, use of the word plural.

I recently read Escape, Carolyn Jessop’s memoir of her life in a polygamist cult, where she was given in marriage at the age of eighteen to a fifty-year old man living with his three previous wives and their many children. I am currently reading Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which is a scholarly history of the Mormon faith and its fundamentalist offshoots, often polygamist cults or polygamist extremists. I am also a fan of the HBO television series Big Love, which is a fictional account of a polygamous family. In each of these stories the word polygamy is interchangeable with the phrase plural marriage.

Actually, there is some appeal to plural marriage for most women, including me. It would be very nice to have sister-wives as confidantes and partners in cooking, cleaning and child-rearing. The appeal, however, ends there. The attractiveness of the arrangement is also based on the assumption that the wives are companionable and cooperative, which is usually the case in the fictional Big Love, but rarely evident in Jessop’s real-life narrative.

It is not uncommon for polygamist groups to force 14-year old girls into plural marriage with older men and to drive out 14-year old boys before they become competition for the established male hierarchy. Forcing young girls into marriage and forcing young boys to fend for themselves on the street are child abuse. The man who kidnapped 14-year old Elizabeth Smart in Utah 5 1/2 years ago believed the Lord had asked him to take her as his second wife. He abducted her from her bedroom at knifepoint, raped her and claimed her as his own. The fact that she was eventually rescued and is said to be doing well is miraculous. The fact that some version of what happened to Elizabeth is still happening today in polygamist cults in the United States is unspeakably sad.

More than 10,000 polygamists are now living in one such cult in Colorado City on the Arizona-Utah border. They are members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), an offshoot of the Mormons (LDS) who believe that the Latter Day Saints erred when they gave up polygamy as espoused by founder Joseph Smith and his successor Brigham Young.

The lives of Colorado City residents are funded by American taxes. American laws, which should protect the children living there. are rarely enforced. According to Krakauer members of the FLDS in Colorado City consider the governments of Utah, Arizona and the United States to be “Satanic forces intent on destroying them.”

From these “Satanic forces” Colorado City polygamists received over six million dollars in aid in 2002. The government paid for their school, which employed FLDS teachers and taught FLDS doctrine. The government paved their streets, improved their fire department and upgraded their water system. The government built an airport outside of the city, which is used by few people other than Colorado City residents. In 2002, 78% of the town’s Arizona residents received food stamps. In fact, each resident received an average of eight dollars in government services for every dollar paid in taxes. Members of the FLDS are told by their leaders that this assistance is coming from the Lord, that defrauding the government is “bleeding the beast” and therefore virtuous.

Manipulating words to make plurals is fun for word nuts like me. Manipulating people into plural marriages and a government into supporting them is criminal and pathetic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The polygamists in Texas should not be reunited with their children until they have passed psychiatric tests and parenting classes. I have no doubt that most of them love their children, but they do not know how to parent them without abuse. The rights of the children come first.