Why Can't All Cults Get a Fair Shake?

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"A nation of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves."
~ Bertrand de Jouvenal

At this point in time, few people have not heard the stories about the West Texas Polygamists who had some 440 children seized by local authorities. The courts recently ruled that there was insufficient evidence to seize the children in the first place. The authorities acted outside their rights in taking the children from their mothers, members of the sect, so says the Austin-based, Texas Third Court of Appeals. Regardless of one's feelings about this particular group of people, it still strikes me as convenient selective logic to attack this group, or any other supposed cult, particularly when those attacks come from the State. When those attacks are supplemented with the cataclysmically misnamed Child Protective Services it just makes bad matters worse.

Imagine a scenario where people have been, over centuries, conditioned to support the cohesive social grouping(s) into which they are born. A random twist of fate makes them members. From the time they are born until their death, they are subjected to repeated assurances — both by other members and by the directors of the group(s) — that the most important aspect of their lives is their unmitigated support for their way of life, their culture, which is largely defined by membership in this group. In fact, they are told in no uncertain terms, via practiced pledges of allegiance to the cult's coat of arms at schools funded by the cult, that the cult is "indivisible" and endowed by a holy creator with "liberty and justice for all."

The cult has managed to infiltrate every aspect of life: land management, ownership of everything from real property to DNA, education, agriculture, medicine, appropriate personal choices, trade and sale of all goods, and even trade between the cult and other equally oppressive cults around the world. Imagine that this cult is so controlling that it requires — at gunpoint — allegiance to its geographical dominion. Attempts to leave the cult, either geographically or jurisdictionally, without permission, are grounds for lethal force by cult representatives. Indeed, for the organization to survive, its participants must not be allowed to easily leave as this could be construed as a sign of weakness.

To make sure its subjects understand its power, this cult requires that those born into it continue to pay tribute to it no matter where they live, i.e., even if they do succeed in escaping its geographic boundaries. Anyone who fails to follow this edict will have their personal liberty taken away immediately upon returning to the cult's geographic boundaries. Punishment is swift for those who fail to pay "their fair share" of income they made even while not within the geographic boundaries of the cult.

Periodically, this cult stages a great spectacle during which the members ostensibly get to select their leaders. History has shown that those who rise to the highest ranks of leadership during these spectacles are almost uniformly of the same socio-economic class, educational attainment, and have been, for the overwhelming majority of the cult's existence, of the same race and sex. Not only do they think alike, but they look alike as well. Careful analysis of the founding of this cult shows that its progenitors were simply well-to-do subjects of another cult looking for a scam they could themselves enjoy. Not-so-careful analysis of the outcome of these leadership-selection spectacles shows that little, if anything, in the normal daily lives of the lower-echelon cult members' changes as a result of these leader-selection pageants.

Interestingly, the cult's stated highest principles appear to pander to the "equality of men" and other supposedly egalitarian concepts. Simultaneously, those who govern the cult exist in a socio-economic stratum nearly impenetrable by their subjects. In an effort to appease those who might wonder why these trappings are not more generally available, that is, why their best efforts do not result in economic outcome that one might otherwise expect, the cult's leaders set up laws that supposedly guarantee equality of access and equality of outcome for those far below them in status.

Ironically, these laws — since they fly directly in the face of basic Austrian economic theory — preserve the conditions that the lower echelons hope to escape. Often they further enrich those at the top of the bureaucratic food chain. Worse, they pit factions at the lower ends of the socio-economic spectra against each other while preserving the position of the cult leaders.

Minimum wage legislation — a price floor — guarantees that those employable below that specific wage threshold will not get a job: unemployment must therefore result.

Maximum price control legislation — a price ceiling — guarantees that demand will far exceed supply: shortages must therefore result.

Believing that this cult has successfully discovered the Rosetta stone of cult dogma and operation, well-schooled members of the cult routinely travel outside its geographic boundaries and physically attack those who ostensibly threaten it. Interestingly, few seem to notice or care that the leaders of this cult — chickenhawks to their core — rarely endanger themselves in these misadventures, instead filling their armies with sacrificial lambs from socio-economic strata far below them. These crusades are always couched in the rhetoric of securing the blessings enjoyed by those within the cult for those unlucky enough to live outside its geographic boundaries or beyond its direct governance. More often, these wars are either wag-the-dog exercises or outright profit-generating exploits for the cult's leaders or their cronies.

This cycle continues interminably. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

We are, of course, talking about the State.

The disconnect, the query, the puzzlement, from whence the idea for this essay arose relates to why the State, obviously a cult, is not more vigorously decried, particularly outside libertarian circles, while voluntary organizations which have been labeled as “cults” by the State, are. Amazingly, those who exist under the State’s vicious talons also simultaneously support attacks on voluntary organizations simply because the State labels them as cults.

How many among us, after hearing that a cult has been "taken down" would not almost reflexively think, "Good. We’re all safer now!" This while enjoying membership — if one can call it enjoying — in a cult that arrests and incarcerates anyone who decides they’d rather not contribute to the coffers. Voluntary? Hardly. Draconian? Absolutely. The moral inconsistency necessary to deride sects like the one in West Texas — or any other similar organization as described by the mainstream media — while simultaneously chanting “USA! USA!" at a ballgame spins the mind.

The irony is overwhelming.

Maybe I overstate. Do you think one can’t end up in a "U.S. Rape Room," A.K.A. a prison, for failing to contribute to whatever cause the State dreams up? Well, Wesley Snipes — who has apparently been granted an appeal that will keep him out of prison for the time being — would beg to differ. Marion Jones is doing time right now because she lied in statements to representatives of the cult of state. (She lied about taking part in an exploit that was not against the law per se, so she is effectively in jail for lying, not for taking part in the exploit!)

The list of people in similar (and much worse) circumstances to Jones is long, and that's even if one ignores the people being dishonestly held at places like Guantanamo Bay, where they are often held without formal charges or any idea of exactly the edict against which they have transgressed. One hears the stories about how cult members on some compound can’t leave and laments their plight. Then we hear about illegal aliens getting arrested as they attempt to leave the U.S. Does that not sound similar?

Have you ever watched an episode of the Sopranos and wondered how the soldiers of le Cosa Nostra can so blindly follow the orders of a crime boss? You shouldn’t, well, unless maybe you missed a little story about a place called Abu Graib. While one might, if he ignores years of evidence, suppose that this one time the rights-infringers acted outside the orders of their superiors, the evidence points in another direction. When one of those current superiors, someone like Michael Mukasey is even to this day somehow unclear, at least publicly, on whether or not water boarding is actually torture, it doesn’t require a great deductive leap to think that the behavior of those at Abu Graib was more about getting caught enforcing orders than acting out against orders.

Conclusion

The classical (read: statist) definition of a cult seems to be any organization that doesn’t meet some standard of normalcy in its construction, its basis, its membership, or its practices. By that account, any socially-cohesive organization not fully authorized (read: paying tribute to, after being licensed by) the State, is a cult. That this definition (or maybe those who ascribe to it) often doesn’t include the most “cultish” organization ever invented is an example of intellectual gymnastics worthy of Olympic gold.

Here’s a suggestion: Forget about all the other cults. Don’t worry about them. Just leave them alone. Break free from the vicious grasp of selective logic and decry the most dangerous cult of all. One of the rubrics employed by Austrian economists to determine if an activity is illegal or unethical evaluates the level of choice employed by the participants. Simply put, was the transaction voluntary for all involved. For example, in the case of prostitution as long as there is a willing buyer and a willing seller, ceteris paribus there can be no activity warranting law enforcement or bureaucratic concern.

Similarly, if one voluntarily joins an organization that requires him to wear a chicken suit while baying at the moon on Wednesday nights, that is fine as well. While this activity might not appeal to everyone, anyone is free to partake, or not. However, the instant the participants and their chicken-suit-wearing friends require all in some arbitrary geographical region (country, state, county, city) to pay for buying, cleaning, and repairing the chicken suits, well, that’s a problem.

Just because one may have been taught, for as long as they can remember, that the original chicken suit wearers were founding fathers or that wearing chicken suits is patriotic is truly irrelevant.

Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.

Wilton D. Alston Archives

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