A Triumph of Independence

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

This morning, via Hacker News, I came across a remarkable biographical account, by Flor Edwards, of her childhood in an apocalyptic cult. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the narrative is the independence of its author, who began questioning things at an early age, and who doesn't pull punches when she describes what she had to overcome:

When people ask me what compelled them to join, I think back to the times in which they were living: the 1960s. It was a time of protest, political turbulence and school rebellion. Baby boomers were coming of age, exploring sex and lowering their inhibitions. Hippies on the streets of California were looking for answers and Father David believed he had them. He incorporated the movements of the '60s into his evangelical mission, even writing a letter called, "C'mon Ma! Burn Your Bra" and a series of letters on "revolutionary sex." Father David believed that we could return humanity back to the Garden of Eden, the way God intended, a world of peace with humans living close to nature and serving God. He understood that the youth of the generation were ready to believe anything. [bold added]
Predictably, the people attracted to this cult, having abandoned their own minds, ended up living like they were in an army, blindly following orders.

But this was the choice of her parents, and Edwards' account shows -- from her early ruminations about how she would die, through the continued existence of the world past 1993, to the struggles of her fellow cult members after the death of the leader -- that to remain in this army of fools, she would have clearly had to make a similar choice too many times, and against the grain of a child eager to learn about her world.

Perhaps "inquisitive" (as opposed to "independent") would more accurately describe the author when she was very young. Nevertheless, it is clear that she became stronger and more independent than many others who suffered similarly from the poor education and psychological abuse dealt out by the cult:
I've heard many stories about kids who grew up like me and killed themselves because they didn't how to make it in the world. Some were my friends, others distant acquaintances. They'd blame their parents for not teaching them how to write checks, or fill out applications, or hold their own in a normal social setting. There are girls who became strippers because all they knew how to do was give a powerful "look of love," as taught by Father David during the flirty-fishing movement. They had no skills for working or making money, so they used their sexuality, just like their mothers did in the early days.
Against this backdrop, the end of Edwards' story becomes even more inspiring:
I was beginning to see that for the first time in my life I had a future.

In an honors business class our professor announced that there would be an all-expense paid field trip to UC Berkeley. I raised my hand.

"What's UC Berkeley?" I asked.

Looking back now, I can see how naïve my question was but I also quickly learned that curiosity was going to be my greatest and only ally. I would have to forfeit seeming dumb for my own survival. [bold added]
I recommend reading the whole account, because it exemplifies, on many levels, the maxim that, "To save the world is the simplest thing in the world. All one has to do is think." For one thing, as Edwards indicates, one's own life depends on it. For another, anyone selfishly interested in broad cultural change and who understands that it must happen one person at a time, might do well to see that it can and does, and how it can occur.

-- CAV

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