Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Resolve in 2007 to eat responsibly!

What are your New Year Resolutions? Eating responsibly (in more ways than one) is one of mine. Something else appropriate to do in the first couple weeks of January is to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King by reflecting upon the privileges of personal liberty given to us by law--our civil rights--that some of us had to fight long and hard to obtain.

I reflect not only on the gains our society has made since Dr. King’s time (and how far we have yet to go), but also upon the fragility of those gains. It's naive to think that once protected by law, civil rights are forever guaranteed and need no defense. Habeas corpus might already be a casualty of George W. Bush's “War on Terror.” Who is to say that other rights of ours--or rights for certain groups--couldn’t eventually suffer a similar fate in the war on Enlightenment values currently waged from numerous quarters? Commitment to Dr. King’s vision of equal rights for all Americans needs to be renewed each generation. These rights need to be extended to those yet left out (the gay, lesbian and transgendered community here comes to mind) and defended from those nostalgic for white supremacy, patriarchy and theocracy who would turn back the clock.

It will surprise some to learn that there is a group here in Ithaca who promote the idea that our society would be a better place had the civil rights movement--and indeed the 13th & 14th Amendments to the Constitution--never happened. They are an odd bunch who thrash their children for playing make-believe games while they never cease playing make-believe First Century Jews for Jesus. They are called the Twelve Tribes and they run the Maté Factor restaurant on the Commons.

If you find the Twelve Tribes' ideology as unsavory as we do, we urge you to overlook the savoriness of the chai, salads and wraps they serve at Maté Factor and get your grub elsewhere. Point others to the information on this website so that they can make an informed decision about where to spend their money.

And Happy New Year!

P.S. If you haven't already seen it, check out John Sullivan's guest commentary column in the January 2nd Ithaca Community News titled "Why We're Boycotting Maté Factor on the Commons"

"The time is always right to do what is right."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.


Anonymous said...

The 12 Tribes stole my sister. I want her back. I realize that the situation she is in is not healthy, but my family counters that she looks so happy and healthy.

And because she looks so happy and healthy it is OK to ignore how they operate. That doesn't mesh well with me yet.

I could go on and on but it's really not about how I feel. It's what I've lost.

Anonymous said...

How I lost My Sister
By her brother

I always wondered who those smiling faces were under the tent near the big red bus. They had talented musicians and they seemed so happy together, dancing and laughing.

I was at a Phish show. On this day, in Maine, I decided to make a visit to the tent. I sat down and listened to the music. All the girls dressed the same. The guys had beards and long hair.

After about 15 minutes, one of the guys approached me.
"Hi, how are you doing?"

"Good," I replied. "What exactly is going on in here?"

He walked away for a few minutes and returned with a woman. They gave me some reading material and told me to take a look and it would provide me with some idea of this gathering. I glanced at it. It seemed bizarre; very religious. Is this some kind of hippie commune?

I left the tent, feeling slightly uneasy. I was free to walk away and I did.

Little did I know I would come face to face with these folks after my young sister, who was 18 at the time, fell into their web of deception.

My sister was born into a dysfunctional family, but loving nonetheless. Her father abandoned her when she was very young, leaving my mother to care for her and her slightly older brother. She never felt connected to anyone in her family and the absence of her father affected her deeply.

Lost and wandering the earth, she searched for wisdom. And somehow she came across the Twelve Tribes. She must have been impressed. All these happy people, living together, laughing and making a living as one. It’s exactly what she thought she was missing in life. She had no idea she was only going through what almost all teenagers go through in dysfunctional families. It didn’t take long before she joined the Twelve Tribes, an obvious Cult by definition. I thought that the stature of Mother Mary given to her by her deadbeat dad became the symbol of her path to the Twelve Tribes.

She left the house and moved in with these folks in Ithaca, NY. And I’ve seen her once since she made this decision. Sure, I could go visit her at the commune, but I refuse.

The last time I saw my sister was Christmas 2004. She came with two members of the Cult. It was uncomfortable. I always wondered: “Why do these people only show up at concerts where they may find troubled young people, under the influence of all kinds of drugs and alcohol? Why don’t they present themselves in other venues?”

I found my opportunity to ask, not only that question, but a host of others that included the charges made against this cult, their beliefs and how they operate in general.
I don’t remember the guy’s ridiculous name. I remember clearly his answers: He had none.

The Twelve Tribe representative couldn’t tell me exactly why they seem to only go to shows such as the one at which I first interacted with them. He defended the way of life: No music, books or friends outside the cult and cult literature. He defended the bizarre tenant of marrying within the tribe (which means my sister could end up marrying one of these hairy, ugly goofballs). He defended the fact that much, if not all, of their earnings from making the cult members perform free work goes to some freak in Tennessee who created this cult because he felt alienated from traditional church. But the most startling of all was his inability to answer why these people seemed to always surface at these shows full of troubled folks, tripping on LSD or mushrooms, zoned out of their minds. Just tell me why? Are you seeking people who will make sound decisions? Or are you seeking lost souls, with delicate egos and minds, whom you could attract to your clan of merry pranksters?

“Could it be because they are more vulnerable for the start of your brainwashing techniques?” I asked.

Silence. In fact, all he could do was look at me and smile. Silence can be taken as a guilty conscience sir.

My voice rose. My sister got upset. I was angry. This was Christmas. And my sister had to get permission to come to our family get together. My sister had to bring these folks in my mother’s home---my mother is less inclined to worry about her situation because she sees my sister as being happy and healthy---and have them greet my family members. I wanted them to leave.

The Twelve Tribes stole my sister. My sister now talks like them. She says kids need to be obedient, as one might say about a bad dog. She has sent me their closed-minded literature, filled with Christian dominion talking points. It took her months to reply to me letter, after I am sure, it was read by the entire cult. She works at their café, for free. The money she received from a horrible accident settlement is now in their eye sight. They want the money. She wants to give it to them. It doesn’t matter this Cult just purchased two buildings in Ithaca totaling $1 million. They see that they’ve conquered my little sister. And all she had had now belongs to them. That money was supposed to be for college. She wanted to be a nurse. Now she won’t go to college. College is evil, she says. She won’t learn much at all. Half the freaks in their cult can’t even spell. They may preach a life without material things, but their actions with my little sister prove otherwise. They’ve stolen her from our family, albeit dysfunctional, but the love existed. It was there. In my sister’s quest for wisdom, she fell into a brainwashing trap.

So, Twelve Tribes, feel proud that you’ve stolen another lost soul. But none of you will reach the pristine afterlife one gains from wisdom and inner peace. The Twelve Tribes are tainted with controversy and it’s less based on the newspaper clippings of allegations of racism, child abuse and barbarian lifestyle. It’s all based, to me, on your ideology.

I want my sister back.

Aloysius Horn said...

To the writer above: Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience with TT. A lot of excellent observations on how they operate. I hope you get your sister back, soon.

Cultbuster said...

Sun Tzu had a few things to say about winning battles. In particular, he talked about striking the enemy where they are weak, and not where they are strong. It might be worth considering how that might apply to your goals (or at least what I think are your goals.)

It appears to me that you are trying to employ two principle tactics: economic sanction, and public hatred. On these two fronts, you are attacking into strength. First, the TT are an Abrahamic religion, and one of the more common traits among Abrahamic religions is that they thrive on public hatred. When you arouse hatred against such a group, its members become more sure of their existing convictions and, perversely, more effective in spreading their faith. Strange as it might be, persecution is an established building block of major and minor Abrahamic faiths, not a weak point.

Second, the importance of unity and the unimportance of economic wealth are major themes for the TT. In this case, there probably is a critical threshold past which they are vulnerable, but it's a much more distant threshold than that of nearly any modern American profit-centric person/corporation. Partly, this is because profits aren't their focus, and partly it's because part of their whole idea is mutual support, so even if the Ithaca group is turning out net losses, as long as the worldwide TT, as a whole, isn't out of assets, the Ithaca group isn't out of assets. And remember that when monetary profit is not the focus, turning out net losses isn't even a major reason to abandon a project. Again, economic sanctions are an attack against strength, not against weakness.

Look a little at the "attack weakness" side of Sun Tzu's advice. I'm not trying to present a complete fully worked-out suggestion for how to wipe the TT from the face of the Earth (I'm not sure if that's in line with your goals, anyway) but I think this is worth some consideration. My thought begins from two points: what they value, and what they think of as success.

While there are particular people (i.e. Yoneq) who get mentioned often, most of the TT is composed of members, so you have to look at what the members believe, rather than what a particular person believes. What is it that the members seem to value highly? As I mentioned in my second attack-on-strength comment, "unity" is a big deal for them. And, for good or for bad, they do manage to do a pretty good job of believing, acting, and generally living in unity with each other. In many ways, this is a source of strength, but in one instance, I think it can be exploited as a point of weakness.

Why a point of weakness? Because of another common issue of Abrahamic religions: pride. They think they've found The One True Narrow Path, The Way, The Light, and generally The Truth. One of their major points of supporting evidence is to point to the rest of the world and say "Show me anyone else who's living in unity." Most people can't come up with any good examples at all, and all the best examples I've seen so far are, to be honest, still open to plenty of debate on various points (TT included.) This is where the effect of pride begins to show: they generally feel that they are an example, period, and that there are no other examples, period. I know that a number of members feel strongly that they're in the Twelve Tribes because it's the best-and-only place in the world that live-in-unity can be found, and moreover that if there was something better, they'd leave the TT for that better thing.

How is this a potential point of weakness? Regardless of what any leader figures say, the fact is that if anyone outdid the TT's accomplishments (which are considerable) in the 'unity', a lot of the TTers would ditch the TT and join up. They wouldn't say "But how will I support myself?" or "What if it doesn't work out?" or "But Yoneq says I'll be [insert punishment here]", because those aren't the important questions that keep them in the group.

As a job-holding, economically-minded, plan-for-the-future American, the first two questions seem like they should be obvious concerns, and for the average student of cults, leader-dictated divine retribution would seem like an obvious concern as well.... and if you get your information off the web (very much including the various TT publications) it'll be easy to miss that these aren't the things that are important to most of the members. Try talking to them, though, and you'll find that amid all the "Our Father"s and "Our Master Yoshua"s, the theme that they (as people, not as Official TT Members) keep coming back to is Unity Unity Unity.

The pride of the TT prevents them from realizing that the road they're taking to accomplish Unity isn't the only one, and isn't even the best one, but because accomplishing Unity is so important to many (even most) of them, I think there's a chance they'd abandon their pride before they abandoned their goal. As long as there's nobody clearly doing a better job than them, their pride will tell them they're the best that could possibly be, and they won't abandon either. If there's positive evidence that there's better ways to Unity, though, I think the TT will crumble. I do, however, mean actual, positive evidence... you'd have to be able to point to another group that was doing better, and not just explain how such a group could exist. Hypotheticals are too easily dismissed by pride to be useful.

I do not deny that battles can be won by attacking into strength, but the cost required to do so is stupid. Whether the goal is to save people from getting religiously bound to falsehoods, or to topple the organization as a whole, I think the best method is more likely to come from outdoing the parts where they're actually managing something good, rather than bothering to reveal their obvious shortcomings to the population at large or to the blind eyes of the members themselves. And, cult or not, there are some things that they (as a community, not 'as disciples of Yoneq') are doing very well.

My suggestion: Find out what kind of unity is so important to so many of the members, dig it out from under the layers of misleading Neo-Abrahamist terminology, figure out how it works without the need for artificial divine respiration, and then use what you've got to make something good. Net result: a strong, stable, healthy community that enjoys an early population boom due to mass TT emigrations.

One concern with implementing this, though, is that the net result wouldn't be pleasing in the eyes of Big Commercial Business and Corporate Media America, and since it would have to be done well enough to grow by attracting the interest and attention of various Americans not thoroughly satisfied with TV Society (because doing less well wouldn't be sufficient to have an effect on TT members) there'd probably end up being some nasty legal (i.e. Corporate-interest) hassles. From the commercial perspective, intentional communities are generally bad enough, but at least their major 'oomph' runs out in a fit of internal squabbling after a decade or two. Establishing something stable with the capacity to grow would constitute a Real Threat and might be a major No-No in corporate eyes.

If you want to steal a few chapters from the TT playbook and ignore reality, go ahead and keep fertilizing them with persecution. I'm sure someone will set up a nice "Ithacans Opposed to the IOTTC Cult" website eventually. If you'd rather do something useful, knock down their foundation by showing them it's not impossible to live together and remain in the real world, even in the face of corporate litigation.

Aloysius Horn said...

Thanks for your wonderful commentary, CultBuster!

Ah yes, the great Sun Tzu. A sage in the art of war, but I am afraid he might have utter disdain for a wussy bloodless public awareness campaign, such as the one we are attempting here.

While it’s worth pointing out that we’re not really engaged in a war, Sun Tzu did also say (gotta love Google) that “what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy.”

One part of the Twelve Tribes’s strategy is to hide the truth of how they exploit people and the full truth about their teachings on race, gender inequality and child discipline to potential recruits. This strategy is undermined as more people learn about them through the information in our pamphlet and on this blog.

Regarding the “strength through persecution effect” you mention, it seems to be obvious that it is not peculiar to Abrahamic sects, or even to religions, per se. (Think of black Americans during the civil rights era. And a non-Abrahamic sect that seems to have thrived off persecution are the Scientologists.) What we are doing hardly constitutes persecution. No one is planning a Twelve Tribes Kristallnacht in Ithaca. But if the TT derives a morale boost as a side effect of our educational outreach activities to Ithacans, so be it.

Your comments illustrate that you don’t fully understand our purposes. Our activities are only in part directed against the economic prosperity of the Ithaca TT group.

Yes, we hope that if the group fails to prosper here financially, they might consider selling their properties and move on to a town with an uniformed populace where they might stand to make more money and find more recruits.

The other part of our mission is really to educate Ithacans about what TT stands for so they can informed choices about how to spend their money. I don’t expect that anyone boycotts WalMart thinking that their action will cause the collapse of the company. They do so out of a moral obligation they feel they have to spend their money in ways that don’t damage our community. I and others believe that Twelve Tribes damages our community. For this reason we don’t give them our money. We spread the word to those who share our values. C’est trés simple, mon cher.

On to your point about “unity.” I don’t really get it. Are you saying they have really achieved something worthwhile, their anticipated salvation aside, in their pursuit of “unity”? Because if so, I beg to differ, and I certainly wouldn’t care to compete with them in cult-construction. The only way to get the kind of unity they’ve achieved is by their surrender of psychological and physical autonomy to oligarchs who regulate all he information they receive, administer discipline and psychological and financial pressure. I’ll grant you, Yoneq and his cronies have done a smashing job at this. But the personal costs to his followers is enormous.

I don’t advocate offering any competing utopian vision to TT recruits. How about honesty? Life in the real world is tough. It requires individuals to make difficult decisions in situations where the right thing to do can be hard to discern. Some people get scared and would prefer to be sheep for a period of time, but it doesn’t work for long. Utopias have been tried and every one has failed. Trying to be a moral agent inside a noisy, democratic society (in which corporations wield too much power and consumerism dominates culture, I'll grant you) might just be the best we can do.