A 50-year-old man had ritual sex with a 12-year-old girl while adult women assisted.
And everyone was cool with it.
That’s just part of the bizarre story told in Netflix’s Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey and the exploits of its prophet, Warren Jeffs.
Keep Sweet’s Fascination
It’s the story of a renegade Mormon group that still practices polygamy. Vigorous polygamy, especially the type that lets old men bang young women and, occasionally, girls.
It’s the kind of thing that disgusts, but it also arouses, at least at some level. Sex sells for a reason. Keep Sweet did, its IMDB rating currently sitting at 7.3 with 11,000 reviews (Netflix’s Murder Mountain, which enjoyed the endorsement of Joe Rogan, sits at 6.8 with 3,200 reviews).
But I don’t think sex is the only reason Keep Sweet fascinates.
I think it fascinates because, although everyone understands the sex part, they can’t understand how an entire culture could allow such a thing to occur.
If It Doesn’t Fit, Put It on the Shelf
The docuseries tries to explain it, but every interview or explanation came down to the same thing: it’s how these people were raised. It was the only thing these people knew. They were raised in a polygamous culture that celebrated their prophet. If the prophet told girls to do something—or someone—they did it/him.
If something didn’t make sense, they were told to “put it on the shelf.”
And just as the lechery of old men resonates with all men at some level, this kind of rationality resonates too.
These girls who submitted to sex with old men, the parents who gave their consent, the women who participated in the erotic ritual: they acted rationally.
It’s All Rational
That’s the real dirty secret in the docuseries and another reason why, besides the sex, it fascinates.
We’re all capable of such a thing.
Not because of our nethers.
Because of our brains.
We All Put Stuff on the Shelf
Our culture has evolved to favor the mental faculties of rational control: measurement, clarity, purpose, efficiency: the processes of the left hemisphere of our brains. It’s a story told in Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary. The left hemisphere is the hemisphere of “purpose” and it has increasingly usurped authority from the right hemisphere.
The right hemisphere, however, is meant to be the master. The right hemisphere is laid back: it empathizes, doesn’t insist on controlling things through understanding or otherwise, focuses on relationships and the whole. It’s the hemisphere of “being.” It mellows the logic and control (the search and destroy) mechanics of the left hemisphere, keeps them at bay, unleashing them when required to deal with life’s practical exigencies.
The right hemisphere is the one that accepts that there are certain things we don’t understand. Creation is full of paradox. The right hemisphere accepts it, co-exists with it, and even thrives with it. It’s a peaceful understanding born of not needing to understand.
The left hemisphere, on the other hand, recoils at it.
The left hemisphere insists that all things fit in their place within a system.
And those things that don’t fit within the system? They get put on a place on the shelf. The rational system itself fits it onto the shelf somehow, like those renegade Mormons who were willing to put things on the shelf because their rational system's bedrock--the prophet--told them to.
It’s All About the Rational System
Modern life is left hemisphere life. Money (“power’s master key” in the words of Simone Weil), commerce, mechanics, technology, inventions, speed. All those things we celebrate and lament at the same time—modern dentistry, yay! monkey chimeras, boo!—are modern things born of a ravaging left hemisphere.
We all need to fit ourselves within a rational system where the left hemisphere can run free with its tools of logic and control.
And if that rational system doesn’t hold together at points, we just put those things on the shelf. That shelf—the suspension of rationality—is itself rational. We put it on the shelf because the system says we need to put it on the shelf. The rational system is what matters. Not the details that fit (or not) within the system.
We All Live in M-Pods
We’re all raised in these modern rational pods. They vary greatly, but they’re each a system. It doesn’t even need to be completely coherent, just as long as it’s a system where the left hemisphere can run free without the inconveniences and hurdles presented by a full reality that transcends the system and the right hemisphere’s intuitive appreciation of that full reality.
If someone tries to convince us that our pod is wrong, we’re not going to listen. You ever wonder how people can be so ensconced in their political beliefs? It’s because they exist in a rational pod (made worse by social media, as documented in another Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma).
The first rule of the rational pod is: We don’t recognize it. Neither pod nor system. We don’t recognize it anymore than a fish with rational faculties would recognize that it’s wet.
We don’t recognize it anymore than those parents who surrendered their young daughters into the hands of Warren Jeffs.
If we come across something that doesn’t fit in the pod, we just put it on the shelf.
Trump Supporters: But he’s such a dick. Put in on the shelf.
Bidenites: Buy he’s cognitively impaired. Put it on the shelf.
Climate Change Deniers: These insufferably hot summers. Put it on the shelf.
Climate Activists: Our ilk has been wrong repeatedly for the past 100 years. Put it on the shelf.
Anti-Vaxxers: Even Trump believes in the vaccine. Put it on the shelf.
Vaxxers: They said the vaccine would stop the virus’ spread. Put it on the shelf.
No one can reason us out of our pods because we didn’t reason ourselves into them. We mentally evolved into these cocoon-like systems. We were raised in them or adapted ourselves into them or were indoctrinated into them. No one, quite frankly, quite understands how each of us gets into these pods.
We just know we’re in them.
But each of us should want to get out.