Ep 68 – Motivations of a Broken Mind
On this episode, we jump right in to adding an incredible well of depth to the character of Joseph Smith by reading a number of excerpts from William Morain’s “The Sword of Laban, Joseph Smith and the Dissociated Mind”. The excruciating pain from his childhood leg surgery coupled with the death of his eldest brother in his late teens had significant impacts on Jo’s psyche, baggage he would carry for the rest of his life. Maybe we can understand the inner-workings of a broken mind by viewing decisions Jo made through child’s eyes. Jo calls the Quorum of the Twelve home from their mission in England but permits Parley P. Pratt (P-cubed) to tarry a bit longer to continue his publishing duties with the Liverpool Book of Mormon and the Millennial Star. The economic outlook for Nauvoo looked good on the surface at the end of 1840, but the whole thing was built on credit and there was a jobs vacuum affecting every Mormon who chose to settle roundabout. After that we invite recurring correspondent, Ryan McKnight, for a Mormon Leaks Minute before dealing with some listener feedback.
The Sword of Laban by William Morain M.D.
Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt
MLM BYU Francis Bernard Video
John Whitmer History Association
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
Let’s boot up with some milk to tickle our appetite.
Last week’s episode was all about shifting perspective. We began with discussing John C. Bennett’s addressing the Mormon leadership during the October 1840 conference and how his soapboxing likely cast him into the in-group of trusted Mormon leadership. One of his important provisions to be adopted into Nauvoo public policy was that 2 to 3 witnesses were required before a person could be convicted of a crime, which introduces all sorts of problems, especially when it came to Brokeit’s incredibly active and predatory sex life. After that, we invited Marie Kent, my cohost from My Book of Mormon Podcast on to discuss what abortion was like in the 19th century, in addition to a number of other women’s rights issues. Women having children out of wedlock was essentially a sentence to utter destitution or death if they didn’t have a support system to get them through life. I’m glad to live in the 21st century.
Our thirst for milk has all but expired, but our hunger for meat overwhelms, let’s get into it.
Motivation. What is it that gives us motivation? What is it that takes motivation away? It’s a complex psychological exercise, trying to figure out our own motivations. What am I going to eat for breakfast this morning? Trying to ascertain the motives for why a person chooses eggs and toast over cereal is surprisingly complex and those are only motivations which work within incredibly constrained parameters. It’s hard for a person to choose to have genuine Maine lobster for breakfast when they don’t have ready access to the needed materials to make it happen, so a person can even be motivated to have that Maine lobster for breakfast, but their decision is limited to what is reasonable given the limited choices available to them when they wake up in the morning.
If you want an explanation for why I choose to eat cereal in the morning, speculating on my motives would be based on who you ask. If you asked Freud, he might say it’s because my dad always fed me pancakes as a kid. Ask a behavioral psychologist and they may say it’s because I’ve had success every day that I’ve eaten cereal whereas days that start with eggs and toast usually end in disaster. Ask a comparative psychologist and she might say that I went for the food source which was easiest to attain with the least expended calories. Ask a social psychologist and he may say that I chose cereal because it’s what the majority of my peers eat for breakfast and I don’t want to be an outcast. Ask a forensic psychologist and they may tell you that I once read an article that said serial killers frequently eat eggs and toast for breakfast and I’m not a serial killer so I’m predisposed to choose the cereal. The truth of the matter is, none of those explanations is fully accurate and all of those subtle influences may have played a small part, but you ask me why I chose cereal and I’ll tell you because I felt like having cereal this morning. The psychologists are there to analyze why I felt like eating cereal, but personal answer would be much more simplistic on the face than any explanation these fields of psychology could offer.
Unfortunately though, those explanations for motivation can be incredibly complex and each one may only be partially correct, and that’s with a decision as simple as what to eat for breakfast in the morning. If somebody were looking back on my life from 200 years in the future and trying to ascribe motivations for why I chose cereal on any given morning, they would be at incredible pains to try and explain it, and they wouldn’t even have the luxury of personally asking me why cereal instead of eggs and toast. This is the historical roadblock we consistently run into when trying to judge Joseph Smith and his motives for any given decision throughout his life. Humans are incredibly complex problems to attempt any deconstruction which is why the typical labels usually ascribed to Jo are woefully inadequate to explain his life. Was he a prophet? Was he a fraud? Was he motivated solely by testosterone which frequently got out of hand bordering on pedophilia? Was he sincere in his beliefs but utterly misled by the learned folk of his day?
We can sit and psychoanalyze Jo’s decisions till were blue in the balls, but no matter how deep we dig we’ll never understand the full truth or be able to manufacture a box big enough in which to fit the real Jo Smith. That being said, psychoanalyzing Jo isn’t an exercise in futility, the more we understand his complex brain, the more we can see how naturalistic pressures led him to do any given thing he did and the less room there is for God to fit in his motivations.
I’ve recently been reading through this book by William D. Morain titled “The Sword of Laban Joseph Smith and the Dissociated Mind,” available at a fine retailer near you. William Morain is a reconstructive surgeon who’s had decades of experience in caring for patients who’ve undergone horrific experiences requiring major reconstructive surgery. In doing so, he’s incredibly familiar with the psychology of trauma and how it affects people, especially children. He relates a number of personal experiences where he’s had to unwrap and rewrap dressings on burn children burn victims and he’s seen first-hand what the pain does to them and how their brains engage certain survival mechanisms to deal with the pain. He discusses one prominent survival mechanism known as dissociation, where the individual’s mind essentially disconnects and goes elsewhere while their body deals with the pain of the given situation. Those experiences consequently become locked behind psychological barriers in their mind where they don’t usually remember actually experiencing the pain, but they may remember that it happened.
Children in a dissociated state of mind experience all sorts of weird phenomenon as manifestations of this dissociation make themselves apparent. According to Morain, during this survival mechanism they frequently regress to younger states of mind, becoming incapable of understanding their own reality, often becoming incontinent in the process, lashing out at their parents who are in no way responsible for the pain they’re experiencing, and a number of other incredible things. Only half-way through I’m gaining a massive respect for doctors who see stuff like this day-in and day-out and still somehow get up for work every day to do it all over again. I’m going to share a few excerpts from the book as I think it lays an interesting psychological foundation on which Joseph Smith constructed his empire.
From the preface:
“Bettelheim, a psychoanalyst with special interest in children, made a convincing case that fairly tales help a child to experience the common mortal fears shared by all his or her peers by allowing him or her to express those fears in the world of imagination. Thus those unspeakably threatening fantasies already lurking in Peter’s [Dr. Morain’s son] mind may be shared with simpletons, giants, and princesses in ways that assure him that the world has a sense of order and fairness. His rapt attention has been such confirmation for me of Bettelheim’s wisdom that I have made certain that a different fairy tale is served up at each bedtime.”
He goes on to relate an interesting observation:
“Child psychiatrist Lenore Terr has written, “A whole life can be shaped
by an old trauma, remembered or not,” I recall the 45-year-old carnival
roustabout who was burned over 40% of his body when his mobile home
furnace exploded. His repeated dressing changes in the large tub were as
painful as expected. However, he soon became unusually fearful and
tremulous whenever I entered the room, but not when the nurses or the
more junior members of the surgical team approached him. His exaggerated
submissiveness and fear toward me apparently had some hidden
One Saturday morning I put my feet up to have a more leisurely conversation with him. Steering the conversation from his immediate family to his childhood, I asked as casually as I could about his father. The tears broke quickly. This paragon of machismo melted into the sad child he really was, as he poured out a story of physical beatings and abuse that continued to torture him long after he had escaped the blows by running away from home to join the circus. Being placed in a submissive and powerless role again by a man who inflicted pain brought back the original emotions and the behavior he had spent the rest of his life trying to expunge through bravado…
There was the woman in her fifties with terrible bedsores who clutched her teddy bear to her cheek and sobbed bitterly whenever we discussed plans for her treatment. As I knew she had successfully raised a large family before a mishap had taken away the feeling and use of her legs, I directed our conversation toward illnesses she might have had as a child. I learned between her sobs that she had burned her feet severely while walking barefoot through a dump at the age of 8. She had been unable to find a way out of the smoldering embers left by a rubbish fire. There followed weeks of painful treatment in the hospital at the time. Now, once more[,] she became the same 8-year-old she had been nearly five decades earlier.”
These are merely anecdotal evidences of the phenomenon of dissociated mind disorder. These people underwent incredible traumas at a very young age when their mind dissociated as a survival mechanism and it took a traumatic experience later in their lives to unlock those memories which almost regressed their minds to the mindset they had when the young age trauma occurred.
Any of you who know the history of Joseph Smith know where I’m going with this, and that’s exactly where William Morain goes in the first 3 chapters of his book. Let me read a few more excerpts, and I’m getting at a much larger overall point, but let’s get there together, don’t get ahead of the story. What I’m about to read to you offers some interesting context to who Jo Smith really was and some of the psychological dynamics which has causal impact on his motivations at some level.
“There are some additional assumptions that may be properly made.
Joseph, Jr. must have become caught up in the pecking order of sibling
politics in the rivalry over scarce provisions and personal attention in
the teeming Smith household. He might have harbored some jealousy, as
well as awe and affection, for his older brothers Alvin and Hyrum in
particular. But his social aspirations in early life should hardly have
extended much further than gaining preferential favor with his parents
among his several siblings.
The pivotal event in Joseph’s life that seems, at least in substantial part, to have profoundly altered his personality occurred shortly after his seventh birthday.”
Then he goes on to tell of the typhoid fever which overran the Smith home, infecting every one of the children. Jo was infected, and the infection caused the lymph node under his left arm to swell up and required lancing to discharge the fluids. Soon after this successful procedure, the infection moved down to his left leg. The surgeons performed 3 separate surgeries to remove the infection with the third surgery including removal of actual infected bone tissue, which Dr. Morain gives in explicit detail.
“There was to be a second complication, however. The salmonella typhi bacteria had already spread through his bloodstream to the upper portion of his left tibia, the shinbone, where the marrow was being replaced by a second abscess. As is the natural history of this condition, called osteomyelitis, the abscess expanded to involve the layer of tissue just beneath the periosteum, the nourishing membrane ensheathing the bone. This nerve-rich sheath was expanded by the growing pocket of pus, and this expansion caused pain greater than any he had ever experienced. (Indeed, it is widely reported that periosteal pain is more severe than that of any other tissue.) The intervening bone on the front surface of Joseph’s tibia was deprived of its blood supply and died. Pus produced a massive swelling on the front of his leg. This most painful stage of the illness lasted a full two weeks. Any seven-year-old would have found such a noxious event to be terribly frightening and excruciating.”
Then it goes on to give Lucy and Jo’s account of the infection but the passage Dr. Morain writes afterward is important to understand the psychological dynamics at play during this fragile time in Jo’s young life.
“Now for a short period, perhaps one of few in his young life, Joseph Smith, Jr. appears to have been permitted the sole nurturing attention of his mother. As it had with the oldest daughter, all of the powerful mixture of maternal emotions induced by her child’s illness rallied Lucy’s attention now to the cause of her middle son. He was suffering and in mortal danger. But even this protective, grieving mother was not omnipotent:
‘During this period I carried him much of the time in my arms in order to mitigate his suffering as much as possible; in consequence of which I was taken very ill myself. The anxiety of mind that I experienced, together with my physical over-exertion, was too much for my constitution and my nature sank under it.’
From Joseph’s vantage point, however, the admitted failure of his mother’s nurturing at this point of crisis must have been dreadful. It is reasonable to assume that the seven-year-old perceived his mother’s actions as a rejection and betrayal at best or as some form of punishment at worst. His age-specific powerful affection for his mother—once all but realized at the moment of his greatest physical pain—could not have been relinquished without enormous disappointment…
One can scarcely imagine Joseph’s state of fear during those days and nights as the pain in his leg returned in ever-increasing intensity. He knew the surgeon would certainly have to return to slash again at the open wound whose swollen edges had become so tender they could not bear even the gentlest touch. His mother had abandoned him, he had barely slept in weeks because of the pain (and nightmares), and the sight and smell of the oozing mess that used to be his left leg would have repulsed any seven-year-old into a state of panic…
Fear had by now certainly driven rational understanding of these terrible events from the child’s mind. The repressed fears would likely have been erupting with waves of terror as fantasy and reality converged in the sleep-deprived chaos of his psyche. Something inside him—something of which he, at age seven, was but vaguely aware—must have known his father’s companions could exact the ultimate punishment. His assaulted leg at some level of consciousness would become a powerful symbol for the terrible conflict of childhood fantasy that he would never resolve. Had they come to cut it off?”
And if you ever wonder where the vivid hallucinations of angels wielding swords of fire in Jo’s later years found their genesis, look no further than the operation itself.
“The instrument case was reopened. Joseph would have dreaded viewing its contents once again. The chief surgeon, Nathan Smith, always brought the complete set... Most of all, Joseph would have feared the amputation knife, that foot-long, sword-like instrument whose design had not appreciably changed in the hundreds of years since the primitive barber-surgeons. Most surgical instrument kits carried two or even three. That “sword”—its pain and its ultimate purpose—had haunted his dreams and daytime fantasies since it has been first (and for a second time) plunged into his leg. The sword would not cease occupying those fantasies, ever.
The swollen, pus-filled tissues were cleaved once again. The sensitive periosteum was stripped. The trephine was drilled and twisted into the bone. The largest chunk of dead bone was pried free with a hook. Blood poured after it. Forceps grabbed smaller chunks and forcefully dislodged them from the fresh edges of sensitive living tissue. Saws cut through the margins. The geyser of blood was stemmed with cloth packing, and then it was over. Joseph’s leg would one day heal. His psyche would not.”
You may wonder why I decided to include so much of Dr. Morain’s work to start out the discussion today, well, it has much to do with how this childhood trauma inflicted unseen wounds on the young Jo’s fragile mind. This is the penultimate passage I’ll read to get to the broader point of today’s show.
“As a surgeon, this author can say that Lucy’s description of Joseph’s behavior is so atypical of a seven-year-old boy facing a surgical assault that one is tempted to dismiss the entire narrative out of hand. However, it is possible that her portrayal of Joseph as a brave victim may have had a grain of validity, but only under a very special condition. It is typical of children who suffer repeated bouts of terrible trauma that they may enter a kind of trance or “self-hypnosis” that protects against the emotional experience of the horror. A kind of depersonalization supervenes so that the event is experienced as though it were being viewed from the outside. Lucy’s narrative suggests that this may have been Joseph maiden voyage into “dissociation.” There would be many more.”
It tells of Jo being sent to live with his uncle Jesse in Salem, MA, as soon as he was healthy enough to walk, likely a reprieve from his parents and a break for his parents from him. Now to the final passage we’ll read from Dr. Morain’s book today:
“It was probably in his exile at the seashore that the fantasies began, projected from within by an unspeakable horror he could not recall. As will be seen, these included huge, violent fantasies. Fantasies of wars. Fantasies of people in chaos who escape to the seashore. Fantasies of magic swords that dismember heads and arms. Fantasies of sons overthrowing fathers, princes killing kings, righteous killing unrighteous. Fantasies of towers, trees, serpents, flaming swords, pillars, cigar-shaped boats, sickles, and “stiff-necked” people. Fantasies of evil men brought to humiliation by young heroes. Fantasies of good fathers and evil fathers, of faithful women and whores. Fantasies of good armies and bad armies pushing one another to-and-fro like battles of ants. Fantasies of betrayal. Fantasies of darkness, of magic stones that light up the darkness. Fantasies of good white people and evil black people, of good white people becoming evil black people. Fantasies of princes being “bound with cords,” of “blood on garments,” of maggots eating flesh. Fantasies of destroying angels with drawn swords. The fantasies would flood out of his unconscious in hundreds of repetitive dreams and nightmares, in daydreams, in random sequences, in play, in speech, and in silence. They took over the inner life of Joseph Smith, Jr. as automatic pilot takes over an aircraft. In this state he limped into his future.”
This episode isn’t just a book report on the first few chapters of “The Sword of Laban,” by Dr. William Morain, I read so much from the book because it strikes me as a fundamental piece of the Prophet Puzzle we need to understand Joseph Smith in proper context. While Dr. Morain goes on to describe that Jo’s trance-like state was the catalyst for how he was able to automatic-write the Book of Mormon, with precious and Mr. Hat as the physical item which cast him into his self-hypnotic state, the deeper implications of this mental damage wrought on his young mind had its effects for the rest of his life. Reality didn’t mean much to Jo, he saw everything in simplistic good and evil terms with simplistic consequences and simple heroes and villains. Jo had a major problem with authoritarian figures and they often represented his greatest personal foes during all his years, but especially once his life came into the limelight of social prominence.
I think this purview into Jo’s psyche offers some context and reasoning behind his violent rhetoric against those damned mobocrats which were always trying to arrest or kill him. But the case shouldn’t be made that he was consciously thinking of his dad and the team of doctors pinning him down and inflicting grievous wounds whenever he was preaching violent rhetoric from the pulpit, the psychological wounds were much deeper than met the eye, which fundamentally altered his mindset and outlook on life. This confrontation Jo had with death at such an early age caused him to see every person as either ally or foe, someone who was out to help him or hurt him. It eviscerated any nuance his mind might be able to see in the future, and served to be one of his greatest weaknesses. When we only see black and white, the colorful world and colorful folk populating it shrink to 2 dimensions and all nuanced perspective is utterly lost.
In December of 1840, Jo penned a long-awaited letter to the Quorum of the Twelve in England and there’s a single passage in it which shows Jo’s dichotomous mindset of good and evil with no nuance fitting in between the two.
From the Vogel HoC vol 4 pg 223:
“There are many things of much importance, on which you ask cousel, but which I think you will be perfectly able to decide upon, as you are more conversant with the peculiar circumstances than I am; and I feel great confidence in your united wisdom; therefore you will excuse me for not entering into detail. If I should see anything that is wrong, I should take the privilege of making known my mind to you, and pointing out the evil.”
Not pointing out the inaccuracies, not pointing out the mistakes; pointing out the evil. If people were aligned with Jo’s will, they were good, if they somehow fell into conflict with what he wanted, the actions, and usually the person, were branded as resoundingly evil. However, Jo handles a few other important pieces of business in the same letter, and we’re going to read a few more excerpts to bring in a few points about motivations and what caused Jo to do or not do what he did or didn’t do.
“In my former epistle I told you my mind respecting the printing of the Book of Mormon, Hymn Book, &c. I have been favored by receiving a Hymn Book from you, and as far as I have examined it, I highly approve of it, and think it to be a very valuable collection. I am informed that the Book of Mormon is likewise printed, which I am glad to hear, and should be pleased to hear that it was printed in all the different languages of the earth. You can use your own pleasure respecting the printing the Doctrine and Covenants. If there is a great demand for them, I have no objections, but would rather encourage it.”
So, the Quorum got Jo’s stamp of approval for the Liverpool Hymn book and Book of Mormon to be distributed as soon as could be handled. The English converts were hungry for Mormon publications and it took too long and cost too much money to ship them materials from Nauvoo, thus the Quorum did something good in Jo’s mind. This is convenient because earlier in the letter, Jo called the Quorum home.
“Being requested to give my advice respecting the propriety of your
returning in the spring, I will do so willingly. I have reflected on the
subject for some time, and am of the opinion that it would be wisdom in
you to make preparations to leave the scene of your labors in the
spring. Having carried the testimony to that land, and numbers having
received it, the leaven can now spread without your being obliged to
Another thing:-- there have been whisperings of the Spirit that there will be some agitations, excitements, and trouble in the land in which you are now laboring. I would therefore say, in the meantime be diligent: organize the churches, and let everyone stand in his proper place, so that those who cannot come with you in the spring, may not be left as sheep without a shepherd.”
But not all business was handled as it would be necessary to leave a few of the brethren in England to perpetuate the church there, and make sure they didn’t fall astray as had so many congregations after baptism and abandonment by their baptizing elder.
“If Elder Parley P. Pratt should wish to remain in England some time longer that the rest of the Twelve, he will feel himself at liberty to do so, as his family are with him, consequently his circumstances are somewhat different from the rest; and likewise it is necessary that someone should remain who is conversant with the rules and regulations of the church, and continue the paper which is published. Consequently, taking all these things into consideration, I would not press it upon brother Pratt to return in the spring.”
Pratt would remain in England to continue directing the church and sending convert immigrants to America until around November of 1842. This is a quick extract from his autobiography describing the conclusion of his mission in England. He was quite proud of the millennial star he’d been publishing for over 2 years from Liverpool up to this point. Check the show notes for a link to his autobiography.
“Being about to return to America, I published in the October number of the Star, 1842, my Farewell Address, from which I here give a few extracts: FAREWELL ADDRESS TO OUR READERS AND PATRONS
Brethren and Friends:--As I am about to take leave of the STAR, and give it to the management of others, I feel it necessary to make a few remarks suited to the occasion. This publication was undertaken two years and six months since. Since that time I have labored diligently, as far as a pressure of other duties would admit, to render it a useful and interesting periodical. I have published the principles of the Latter-day Saints, together with a choice selection of the most interesting items of news in relation to the progress of these principles among men.
I have also endeavored at all times to defend the cause of truth, and to ward off the arrows of envy and slander which have been hurled at the children of light by the strong arm of thousands who speak evil of things they understand not. I feel great satisfaction in a review of my editorial course; I feel my conscience clear, and a secret whispering within, that I have done my duty faithfully before God.
I also feel to rejoice in the success which has attended the efforts of the servants of God in this country in the publication of truth. At the commencement of the STAR, the Saints in Europe numbered less than two thousand, they now number near ten thousand, besides thousands who have emigrated to a distant land. This, surely, is a great triumph of the truth, when we take into consideration the prejudice and opposition which we have had to encounter. Surely the STAR has stood forth as a beacon on a hill, as a lonely lamp amid surrounding darkness, to light the weary pilgrim on his toilsome journey, and to kindle up the dawn of a day of glory when the effulgent beams of the sun of righteousness shall shine forth as the morning, and dispel the misty vapors which, like a gloomy cloud, have for ages hovered over the pathway of mortals.”
Thanks to the efforts of P-cubed, Parley Parker Pratt, the missionary efforts in England continued to perpetuate, and just to let you know, those numbers he gave are wildly exaggerated. Let’s get back to another extract from the letter Jo wrote to the brethren when he called them back from their mission.
“I am happy to inform you that we are prospering in this place, and that the Saints are more healthy than formerly; and from the decrease of sickness this season, when compared with the last, I am led to the conclusion that this must eventually become a healthy place. There are at present about 3,000 inhabitants in Nauvoo, and numbers are flocking in daily…
Provisions are much lower than when you left. Flour is about $4 per barrel. Corn and potatoes about 25 cents per bushel; and other things in proportion. There has been a very plentiful harvest throughout the Union.
You will observe by the Times and Seasons, that we are about building a Temple for the worship of our God, in this place. Preparations are now making; every tenth day is devoted by the brethren for quarrying rock, &c. We have secured one of the most lovely situations for it in this region of country. It is expected to be considerably larger than the one in Kirtland, and on a more magnificent scale, and which will undoubtedly attract the attention of the great men of the earth.”
This passage standalone paints an optimistic picture for the progress of the Saints in Nauvoo, but a number of major problems existed which required a nuanced and pragmatic approach to economics, which Jo was woefully unable to bring to the table. Contrast that previous passage with this passage from earlier in the letter:
“I would likewise observe, that inasmuch as this place has been appointed for the gathering of the Saints, it is necessary that it should be attended to in the order that the Lord intends it should. To this end I would say, that as there are great numbers of the Saints in England who are extremely poor, and not accustomed to the farming business, who must have certain preparation made for them before they can support themselves in this country, therefore to prevent confusion and disappointment when they arrive here, let those men who are accustomed to make machinery, and those who can command a capital, though it be small, come here as soon as convenient, and put up machinery, and make such other preparations as may be necessary, so that when the poor come on, they may have employment to come to. This place has advantages for manufacturing and commercial purposes, which but very few can boast of; and the establishing of cotton factories, foundries, potteries &c., would be the means of bringing in wealth, and raising it to a very important elevation.
I need not occupy more space on this subject, as its reasonableness must be obvious to every mind.”
One the one hand, Nauvoo was beginning to prosper by the winter of 1840, but on the other hand, nobody had any jobs other than just farming their own plots for a meager amount of food to sustain the people of Nauvoo, hardly any crops were collected for major export operations as the land had yet to be cultivated to an industrial scale.
The economics of Nauvoo required a conservative hand with some knowledge of economics, Jo had neither of those attributes. He was motivated by a relentless desire to raise up a city of followers which looked to him as the answer man and profit-in-chief. What this amounted to was the entirety of Nauvoo being built on nothing more than credit, with a chief export of crippling debt. Jo was being presented with so many contracts which would serve to build up the kingdom, but the capital the church could throw around was nothing more than an empty paper bag. Jo and the church were shouldering tens of thousands in debt, and the Mormons were buying property from the church, but not enough to pay the debts. This problem was deeper perpetuated by the fact that Nauvoo was nothing before the saints got there, and it takes years to build up the infrastructure of a city with enough industrial exports to match the resource demands of the population.
Robert Flanders’ book, Nauvoo, Kingdom on the Mississippi does a great job of showing just how in-demand business was in Nauvoo’s early years. There was a labor vacuum, too many skilled workers in a sprawling metropolis without any jobs to offer.
From page 147:
“Nauvoo needed industry; almost everyone who commented on the economy or was responsible for its welfare agreed upon the need. However, industrializing Nauvoo was more typically the concern of the laborer seeking employment, the Church official worried about jobs for the poor, or the consumer anxious about the high cost of imported manufactures than it was of the profit-seeking capitalist-entrepreneur, of whom there were relatively few. The kind of workers’ cooperative, self-sufficient, moneyless economy that budded in Nauvoo and blossomed in Utah was a natural result…
Many English immigrants were experienced factory workers, including weavers and other textile laborers, bootmakers, potters, and carriage-makers. They naturally urged the creation of manufactories in Nauvoo. Francis Moon wrote home in 1840: ‘we have no factory as yet, but we want means to build corn mills, and not having much machinery we have to do at home what would be done at factories if we had them. What we want is some persons with property for to raise these places… and then the clothing would be at a less rate, and we English would feel more at home…But after all this… is a new country…’…
Weaving enterprises would keep in Nauvoo the money spent for clothing and ‘also furnish many with employment who are better acquainted with weaving than any other work.’ [Joseph] Fielding noted in addition that ‘several have done well at shop-keeping, and it is likely to be a good business. Farming is also important, as all we get out of the earth…has not to be purchased from the world.’ John Needham wrote in the summer of 1843: ‘With regard to the laboring people here, we want some one with money to raise a manufactory or more; we then could employ many idle hands, and many who go to the neighboring towns and states. This is caused by the often flush of emigrants, both from the Eastern States and from England. It would be a great thing for this place to have manufactories of different kinds, but time and perseverance and faithfulness before the Lord, will bring [about] a good deal…’ No one was more anxious for industry or enthusiastic about its benefit than Joseph Smith.”
One need look no further than the Book of Mormon to see Jo’s childish and naïve approach to economics and morality. One of the central tenets taught multiple times throughout the Book of Mormon is that the rich should be charitable by giving all their money to the poor, and that totally righteous rich people are blessed by the Lord until they become too rich, then they’re totally evil deserving of some kind of violent humbling, usually at the hands of the totally wicked dark-skinned Lamanites.
That’s not how anything in the world works. Jo had a worthlessly childish view on how to build a city and what an insurmountable perpetual deficit could do to a city the size of Nauvoo. And I guess that brings us back to the original point. Jo was probably motivated by simplistic notions of whatever he considered good, and by extension, disliked anything he perceived as evil. Unfortunately, the world is constructed with shades of grey. Anything to build up the kingdom on the Mississippi was righteous and approved of the Lord, so when self-interested people would approach Jo with a venomous contract which would further build up the city, but drive him and the church hopelessly further in debt, he was motivated to sign the contracts with little negotiation, because it was in pursuit of a righteous goal, what could possibly go wrong. But, viewing everything through the eyes of purely good and evil can cause people like Jo to rationalize whatever makes them feel good as being the will of God. While his motives of pursuing whatever God dictates may have been pure, it doesn’t make his decisions any less damaging or wholly stupid when everything comes out in the aggregate.
What motivated Jo? I would guess that it was an honest and sincere desire to fulfill the will of whatever God lived in his mind. However, in spite of what the world around him thought and how we judge Jo looking back on his actions, it almost seemed like he could make that God say whatever he wanted most in life. But that’s just my guess. The truth of the matter is, Jo marched to the beat of a different drum than most of his contemporaries. And just like we can never truly know why I ate cereal this morning, we can never truly know what it was that actually motivated Jo to become such an anomaly in American history.
Response to last MLM about Child abuse on Ep 64:
I was very disappointed the other day with your attitude toward how the church should handle accusations of sexual abuse. I have volunteered for years with victims of sexual assault, and while it is important that people believe and support them, you advocated for the church to publish details of accusations with no regard for due process or proof. This is irresponsible and life-shattering for victims of false accusations and you should be apologizing for promoting it. Do you know how many teachers get falsely accused of sexual abuse every year? Their lives are ruined whether or not their names are cleared. Sex offender registries are a legal punishment for those found guilty of an offence, and no matter how bad it makes you feel, it's wrong to put people's names out without guilt established in a court of law. I think you let your feelings for the church cloud your judgment and I hope you choose to publish a retraction.”
I’m glad this email came in because it forced me to go back and give the segment another listen in order to prepare a response and articulate my position a little better, instead of speaking off the cuff as I did when the segment first aired.
I think the main point where Anonymous took issue with what I said was when I said that when allegations of child sex abuse come up, that should go on a person’s church record and when a bishop attempts to call that person to a leadership position where they deal with children there should be an error. I went on to further state that members of the community should be aware when a single person is accused of sex abuse and the information should be publicly available so people can protect their children. I should have substituted allegation there for conviction. So let me restate it. “When a person is convicted of child sex abuse, their name should be available on a public registry and an error message should pop up on the bishop’s screen when he tries to call them to a leadership position over children. Members of the community should also be made aware so they can keep their children safe even if the bishop overlooks the person’s record with child abuse.” Had I said convicted of sex abuse instead of accusations of sex abuse, I don’t think anonymous would have taken issue with what I said, because that’s the whole reason the sex offender registry exists. I don’t think that a person’s life should be ruined if somebody accuses them a sex abuse, but their life should definitely change if they’re convicted of it. However, nuance exists in this, so let me further qualify what I really mean.
It's a well-studied fact that the majority of sex offenses, especially when it comes to children, go unreported. If Anonymous does, indeed, work with sexual assault victims, they would understand how rampant the problem is when it comes to underreporting and lack of prosecuting people when a sexual assault occurs. I understand that when false allegations arise of a person committing said atrocity that it can ruin their lives in many ways, but being raped also ruins a lot of lives, and more people are actually raped where the perpetrator goes unpunished than there are false allegations of sexual assault that ruin a person’s life. A false positive when it comes to sexual allegations can devastate a person’s life, and if I try to empathize with what that’s like I can’t imagine how terrible that would be. But there are a lot more false negatives when it comes to actual sexual assault, and I prefer to air on the side of caution.
Let me be as crystal clear as possible with what I envision as a few small fixes which may make the problem slightly better, and I’m coming at this from the perspective of somebody who never deals with this, has no experience with sexual assault victims, and am completely ignorant to much of the nuance of the issue, so take that for what it’s worth. All ecclesiastical officials at any capacity should be mandatory reporters in all states, Utah shouldn’t be exempt from it like they are now. The hotline the church uses for sex abuse cases shouldn’t go to an internal committee, it should be an outside law enforcement watchdog committee, the church policing itself on this issue is obviously inadequate. Ryan’s suggestion of publishing the dollar amount paid out to settle sex abuse cases by the church would be a wonderful statistic to see because members wouldn’t know the details of the cases, but they would know that $X-million of their tithing goes to settle sex abuse cases every year. Also, women in church authority positions would curtail the problem at a systematic level. Those are some very small fixes that could only help make the situation better handled and more transparent. I don’t think people who are accused of sex abuse should be doxed like the sex offender registry does unless they’re convicted in a court of law, but that lets a lot of people slip through the cracks where the majority of cases go unprosecuted or come down to he-said she-said without any legitimate evidence to prosecute the offender and I don’t have a solution to that. Unfortunately for us all, often times the only way a repeat offender is prosecuted is when a number of disconnected allegations arise to the point that they can’t all be fabrications or coincidence, but by the time a conviction comes down on those people, they’ve done too much damage long before.
So that’s my response to Anonymous’ email. I’m not retracting my statements so much as I’m correcting some very small word choices and trying to clarify my position. I await another email if you take issue with anything I’ve said in this episode.
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