Posts Tagged ‘controversy’
Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Few would deny that the market is an integral part of every economy. The market involves all of the processes necessary for the economy to function, from the efficient management of resources to the setting of prices by means of differences between supply and demand and subsequent economic growth that results from a tendency to produce more value than is consumed.
Wikipedia defines the market as follows:
A market is any one of a variety of different systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby persons trade, and goods and services are exchanged, forming part of the economy.
So the essence of every market is in trade, which is also defined as a voluntary exchange of goods, services, or both” and “voluntary” is defined as “a word meaning “done, given, or acting of one’s own free will“. Since what is being voluntarily exchanged can be both goods and services every act by a trader can be considered a service so everything an individual does for another individual, for it to be a part of the market as hereby defined, must be completely voluntary, of one’s own free will rather than by compulsion or coercion. Thus the essence of a market is voluntary interaction.
It seems obvious then that any form of compulsion or coercion is incompatible with the market and is exactly opposite of the kinds of interactions that happen within the market. Since the market is a crucial part of the economy then voluntary interaction is crucial to the workings of a healthy economy. Any economic management that involves coercion therefore harms the market. One would argue that such coercive intervention on the economic activity brings more good than harm, but the harm can hardly be dismissed while the good remains to be proven.
The argument that coercive intervention on the market brings more good than harm (since it is fundamentally anti-market) generally stems from the assumption that the one coercing knows better what is good for the economy than the one being coerced and thus implements his “better knowledge” or wisdom by means of force. However, in addition to arising an obvious question of trust into the coercers wisdom, this also gives rise to flawed logic.
The purpose of the economy is the management of value or wealth. Natural resources, products of human labor (such as technology) and human labor itself (or services) all have certain values. However value is subjective since one person may value something to be worth far more than another depending on their individual needs, desires and personal value systems. Yet nothing in the universe and natural world by itself has a specific inherent price tag on it. Nothing in the universe inherently values itself relative to human beings. It simply is the way it is and human individuals are the ones who mentally assign value to it.
So when it is claimed that the one has higher wisdom and thus the right to force another to act against his will, it is in fact claimed that one’s values trump another’s without leaving any further objective justification of why that is so, because such justification is impossible. It is one essentially forcing another to do his bidding. The “higher wisdom” is a thus a fallacy, because it merely matches one’s personal values, no matter how many people agree with such values (majority doesn’t make coercion right).
Government is based on compulsion or coercion. It is founded on the assumption that a group of people chosen by means of a particular process or ritual is justified in forcing others to do another’s bidding. They want to help the poor by stealing from those a little more well off (not even necessarily the rich). They say the price of security can only be paid by money which is taken against your will and so on. All laws include punitive laws as threats of incarceration, extraction of money or worse for disobedience, which is what qualifies each and every instruction in these laws as coercive.
So how does this government harm the economy?
1. It is a coercive monopoly.
Even the most minimal governments outright monopolize at least a few markets, by threatening force against competition and thus essentially denying even the existence of these markets since markets are about voluntary interaction not compulsion. The typical examples of these markets are defense (police monopoly) and arbitration (court monopoly), but very often includes far more such as the monopoly on provision of roads, telecommunications monopoly, healthcare monopoly and so on.
Every industry monopolized by a government is one less opportunity for an individual to use in order to achieve greater economic success. An individual either has to work for the government or he can’t work at all or in limited cases can work only if licensed by the government and still under their rules, which hardly in any way allows any real competition. This lack of competition in these industries thus ensures that certain people who would have otherwise prospered in them don’t, that advances in quality of service in these industries are not made or are made very slowly and that prices remain static or even increasing (essentially determined by an arbitrary tax rate).
It’s not only that these industries are monopolized in the sense that you have nobody else to turn to if you need these services, but in most cases you are not even allowed to refuse them. You must pay for it whether you’d like to use it or not. The only way to escape this is by exile, leaving the country only to enter a jurisdiction of another monopolizing group (another government).
2. Fiat money currency
In theory some say it is possible to trade with currencies other than those government provides, yet history (even recent history in cases of certain electronic currencies like e-gold) is filled with examples of governments clamping down or trying to control currencies that are alternative to their own. Yet their own currency is in modern world backed by absolutely nothing except the largely unfounded faith of the people using it. The government or agencies which it has exclusive partnership with, such as Federal Reserve in the US can arbitrarily print more or less of the currency or just create it by typing a number in the computer. This gives them the unearned power to manipulate the value of every dollar you hold on a nearly daily basis.
When using such a currency for trade individuals are using a measure of value which by itself has no value whatsoever. It is just paper or numbers in a computer. It means nothing and is worth nothing and you cannot exchange it for anything other than more worthless paper or worthless numbers. You can buy things with it so long as enough people have unfounded faith in it, but if you are foolish enough to hold it as a storage of value you in reality have nothing. You are gambling.
This faith never can and never does last forever. Currencies not backed by something of actual tangible and measurable value not determined by arbitrary whims of a certain central government agency (or even a non-government agency doing its bidding like Federal Reserve) but rather by actual supply and demand in the market always do and always will collapse. That day is coming for the US dollar just as it is eventually for the Euro and every other fiat currency in existence.
This creates a ridiculous situation in which every economy is essentially pre-destined for a monetary collapse because its lifeblood, the currency, is in fact poison – a fraud, a lie everybody believes in, unreal and subject to malicious manipulation. Yet the government with all its force stands behind it and tends to look very unfavorably to more solid alternatives such as gold – usually banning its use for currency once it is most needed and thus once its popularity rises more than the government can tolerate. The government wants you to use their monopoly money, not real money, because that’s what gives it power over your wealth.
3. The Corporation
If you think corporations are the product of a free market you have been living under a rock, but don’t feel bad because most people have too. Corporations have very little to do with the free market. The power of a corporation is largely the extension of government power. Corporations are “legal entities” not individual human beings nor groups of them. They are fictional and exist merely as a set of promises, permissions and restrictions provided by the government. They are analogous to sock puppets pulled by actual human beings which is why you can see business people talking about their corporations as if they were persons separate from them, even when said business people seem to run the said corporation and all its dealings.
The problem with this arrangement is that it basically shields said corporations from the effects of the market (the voluntary interactions described earlier) since instead of being subject solely to the natural laws of supply and demand based on individuals pursuing their values through voluntary trade they are subjected to not only restrictions, but also powers and benefits they have not earned through the market. This is evident from the very separation of the corporation and the individual actually running and owning it. This separation makes it possible for the corporation to be ran as if IT and not its owner was the one doing the jobs, so if IT uses bad business practices or perpetrates fraud, IT is to blame, not the actual individual running it, yet IT doesn’t exist in reality – it’s just a fictional entity based on said promises, permissions and restrictions to the said individual, all of which can be arbitrarily manipulated by their provider, the government.
So there is no real liability and no real accountability to the market. Corporations are thus such a great tool for business people to gain unearned power. It is hard for a smaller business to sue them without being in an unfavorable position, because the power of government favors the corporation.
Of course, there are not only unearned promises and permissions, but also restrictions which gives people the illusion that government actually doesn’t empower these corporations, but merely “keeps them in check”. However these restrictions often end up merely scrubbing off the part of the whole of power they already gave to the corporation and often end up in merely shifting the power from one to the other corporation. For instance, antitrust laws punishing one corporation only means that another corporation just gained a free unearned boost. A particular new regulation prohibiting a particular way of doing business will punish one set of corporations depending on such a business practice thus effectively giving a free boost to those who don’t.
Therefore no restriction and no government regulation can actually ensure that all corporations are “kept in check” at once. All of it has “unintended” consequences which beat the whole supposed purpose of regulation.
Finally, the whole concept of regulation even if idealized in some manner is completely flawed because whatever the powers the institution of a corporation as a legal entity provides the business owners or whatever restrictions it imposes on them are both artificial because they are unearned through the market. Thus the whole scheme completely routes around the market, removing YOU from the power of affecting the value and wealth of the corporation, removing your power to vote with your wallet. Even boycotts become ineffective. No wonder some people end up feeling quite futile in their attempts to thwart the big corporations. The problem is they are blaming corporations themselves and then the free market for this instead for the source of their empowerment: the government. People shout at the “free” market (which we don’t have) saying it gives free reign to corporations yet it is government, the supposed savior, which by itself has free reign and empowers corporations with it.
Needless to say, omitting market forces has generally bad effects on the economy. Corporations get bigger, competition is stifled and when the compound of all the ways in which government harms the economy collide creating a huge economic crisis, government fails the last test of their credibility as those keeping the bad corporations in check: they don’t let them fail, instead they use the money they took from you with taxes or created out of nothing (devaluing, again YOUR money) to BAIL THEM OUT, claiming this will save the economy, when in fact they merely expand the very practice that caused economic failure in the first place – coercion = involuntary interaction – anti-market activity – forcing you to pay for something you don’t want to pay for thus perpetuating win-lose relationships rather than win-win relationships upon which the health of the economy and continued growth depends.
4. Taxes and bureaucracy
This may be somewhat redundant given point number 1 about the government monopolies since I already pointed out that people don’t have a choice but pay for government services regardless of whether they want them while being denied the right to form competing ones. However it bears special mention in one aspect: it makes getting into business as well as maintaining it harder, thus making a larger amount of the population into what some call “wage slaves” rather than innovative entrepreneurs that create competition and push the economy forward.
Taxes serve as a disincentive to doing business since they rob you of a good chunk of what you’ve earned by application of your own mental and physical effort. Bureaucracy ties well into this motivation crushing effect as, unlike being a simple employee, as an entrepreneur you become obligated (forced by government) to deal with tax filing, various registrations, licenses, keeping up with latest regulations etc. all of which obviously increases your costs of time and effort even further. Government thus makes doing business as an entrepreneur much harder than it otherwise would be which means less entrepreneurs, less competition, less innovation, less economic growth, worse economic conditions for too many people and lower level of satisfaction and happiness.
It then feeds into the self-reinforcing chain of poverty, which is often the reason cited as justification of poverty, that someone must feed the poor. Continuous free hand outs of band aid charity to the poor without provision of education and motivation only prolongs their poverty, and when an inevitably economic collapse occurs, even these hand outs stop and the poor become even poorer if they can even survive. Thus instead of actually fighting poverty, taxes act as a double edged sword against the solution to poverty: free handouts without entrepreneurial education keep people poor continuously while the bureaucratic and tax costs make it that much harder for them to actually become entrepreneurs and thus rise out of poverty.
Taxes create poverty rather than solve them. People have been using the same old justification for taxes for decades and centuries, yet poor still get poorer while rich (the corporations above) get richer. And you still keep pretending.
5. Perpetuation of personal irresponsibility
The government and the ideas which justify it are surrounded by myths of its far reaching power, wisdom and ability, even as people continue to view its talking heads make fools of themselves on TV on an almost daily basis. It is as if people believe that government is something beyond the group of people actually calling themselves the government, as if it’s some sort of an all powerful entity that has the ability to protect them from all harm, like a father extending his strong arms around you or a mother keeping you in her arms.
This submission to coercive authority that can punish the “bad” and reward the “good” despite a lack of an apparent definition of the two out and keep all harms away indeed very much fits the typical family setting. Parents are seldom well practiced in philosophy and science to the point to which they can with great true authority actually define good from bad, and besides they never really try. They simply tell you what you can or can’t do regardless of their definitions and justifications. You are treated as if you don’t need to know why something is “bad” and another thing “good”. You simply learn that those things which are prohibited and for which you get punished are “bad” and those for which you aren’t or are rewarder are “good” and that sits with you on an emotional level till adulthood and becomes the way your persona operates, completely bypassing the rational examination of the empirical world around you.
The government then merely replaces the parents. Their justifications for punishment are filled with contradiction you’re incapable of seeing because you’ve never been taught to think critically about them and you simply end up accepting everything on the basis of them being a government, having all the power and thus they must be right. What they say is “legal” and everything they prohibit is “illegal”. If you do “illegal” things you are bad and so you must always obey, always do the legal, always “be clean under the law”, even when such law contradicts reality and human nature.
How does this affect the economy? The inhibition of critical reasoning as well as the learned adherence to coercive authority rids the individual of much of the sense of personal responsibility. Instead (s)he outsources much of it to said government. Let them take care of the big issues, of the ills in the world, let them cure the economy, let them cure violence and poverty – they should do everything and you the individual are supposed to simply vote for the right people. Whenever something bad happens, like the current economic crisis, everyone turns to the daddy/mommy government and tells it how bad it is, how it failed, how it sucks and how it should change immediately, like a child shouting in frustration at his or her parent. It’s not a sign of a child being less submissive to the parent, it’s just another protest “you’re supposed to protect me from this, so do it!”.
Personal responsibility is dead. Instead when such people talk of personal responsibility they talk of fraud that took its place, mere personal allegiance to the government and the mythical “nation” or “country” it represents. How can such a mentality help create a prosperous economy if it is fundamentally based on submission of the individual creative power and critical thought to the one entity which by nature exists as an anti-market force? It can’t.
I have never understood the justification of war except on an emotional level which I would describe more in terms of mental illness than in terms of healthy reasoning. The reason people support war is because they are emotionally manipulated into hating the mere image of an enemy. They never see the people branded as the enemy, they don’t imagine them as human beings just like them, they don’t imagine their suffering and their struggles in life nor their honest successes and achievements. They merely imagine them as evil drones bent on destroying them. This is what war brainwashing does. In an attempt to defeat this terrible image of an enemy, they are willing to support or actually perpetrate even the worst of atrocities.
Thus the government uses such support to commit billions if not trillions of funds from taxes and money created out of thin air into massive war efforts which by their very nature are impossible to be defined as mere defense of any kind. Defense is an immediate reaction to an attack or an individual’s increase in his own security measures. It most certainly is not an increase in the likelihood of getting shot by a police officer or a clamp down on your privacy (the “security measures” of the post 9/11 USA) nor is it a vengeful destruction of almost an entire country followed by years of chaos and violence on its streets. Vengeance is not defense. It is merely a blood thirsty destructor of both the perceived enemy and the self.
This self destruction is the effect of war on economy as its efforts tend to drain the economy to the limits and beyond, albeit the actual effect on individuals is postponed by the governments arrogant and arbitrary ability to create money out of nothing. The resulting devaluation of currency takes time to make its way through the economy, but such a process is absolutely inevitable. In case of the current economic crisis, it has in fact slowed down the process by countering said inflation with deflation, but given government’s absolutely stupid and malicious moves to respond with 10 trillion fold inflation, the corrective power of said deflation was effectively cut and hyperinflation is to follow sooner or later. USD’s days are being numbered.
Another way in which it affects the economy is the rise of the threat level. If you have an enemy designated as such and one you bully on a regular basis you’re seldom to expect safety from his retaliation and this would go on forever if you take every sign of his potential or actual retaliation as only further justification for continued violence. Violence breeds violence and it is only destructive of value and thus completely and diametrically opposed to economic growth. It’s more expensive to do business if fear is pumped up and pretty much impossible if bombs are whizzing over your heads.
7. The inevitable diminishing of liberty
Since it is based on coercion the nature of government is by itself anti-liberty for the same reason it is anti-market. Liberty is the ability to choose for yourself how to think and act without fear. Coercion, however, depends on fear. Thus all of the 6 previous points are already examples of particular ways in which liberty is diminished to the detriment of economy, which is to say, the detriment of well being of nearly all individuals in a country.
However this particular point is primarily about the inevitability of diminishing of liberties, something that is impossible to avoid so long as the very idea of government continues to be believed and pursued, regardless of what illusions to the contrary you may hold. Needless to say that less liberty, the ability to choose for yourself without fear, also means less economic activity – since economic activity directly depends on you choosing to act upon your values. If you are afraid to do a particular kind of business, produce a particular kind of good, offer a particular kind of service or just generally afraid to make money to begin with out of fear of misstepping in your tax obligations you are that much more likely to simply not bother, thus robbing yourself and others of the wealth you could’ve created.
The reason diminishing of liberty is inevitable is simple. Just as violence breeds more violence government breeds more government. It feeds in on itself in order to justify its very existence. If government starts very small, monopolizing solely the arbitration and protection industries, it wouldn’t be too long before people would question the necessity of it being a monopoly in these areas. Why can’t people establish other agencies to offer the service of arbitration (private courts) or protection (private defense)? Thus in order to continue being a government (a coercive monopoly) it must continuously keep active, it’s not enough to simply sit in place and keep things just right as they are. Instead it must keep raising issues and fuss and campaign for new legislation and yet more legislation eventually monopolizing new industries and as it keeps biting into more and more of the market and thus inevitably more and more of individual liberties, there is more and more fuss, more and more issues to keep addressing, more and more laws to pass to supposedly address said issues.
People end up being duped into believing that every problem can be solved by a yet another law being oblivious to the fact that law merely increases the government power at the expense of their liberty and consequently their own power to solve said problems so the circle of hell continues until the government effectively eats up the whole market, and so little of civil liberty is left that people are essentially boxed. Just holding the wrong views may get you kidnapped (jailed) or murdered (executed) by the government for whom now more than half of the entire country works.
In such conditions the economy is effectively at a stand still since people are literally afraid to be themselves and thus liberate their own creative potential that is necessary to innovate and create more value in the market. In fact the market barely even exists. All production is centrally coordinated and only produces what is necessary for basic subsistence of what was already achieved when the country was still relatively free.
This totalitarian nightmare thus keeps living on the brink of total collapse just waiting for an event to trigger it, whether it is a yet another “glorious” war with the nightmare inspiring image of an enemy or the few brave martyrs inciting general rioting that leads to the violent implosion of the regime.
This, my american and european friends is where we are inevitably heading if you continue believing that a group of people willing to use threats of violence or actual violence , no matter how you elected them to such a position, are the ones who should solve your economic and societal problems. Government is not a magic bullet that you may believe it to be. It is not an answer to everything. There is no magic bullet in fact, not even anarchy.
Anarchy is not an answer. Anarchy – as the admission that violence is not the way, but rather exclusively voluntary interaction, a free market – is merely the recognition of the fact that there is no single answer and that solutions are best found when individuals are let free to apply their unique creative abilities, without compulsion, to find solutions to the problems that we face. And that’s the only way we stand a chance at building a stable and perpetually prosperous and accelerating economy which can last for not merely decades before the collapses or years between recessions, but centuries and millenia.
Saturday, July 11th, 2009
At last, this is the final part of this series. I am responding to the two part series called “The Promise and Failure of UPB – The Inside Story” from my own perspective on the issues. I am gonna try to summarily address both parts in this article.
In the first section of the first part the author begins by describing what is referred to as the “crowning achievement” of Stefan Molyneux, the “definitive answer to ‘what is moral behavior?’” and “the world’s first top-to-bottom system of philosophy, something philosophers have been unable to even attempt for the last 6,000 years” and goes on to point out how Molyneux’ “plan” apparently failed to materialize.
Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly in the context of his other articles, the author makes suppositions about Molyneux’ motives as part of what appears to be an attempt at exaggeration. In the process of describing the alleged failure he charges Molyneux’ of himself being unable to “respond in writing to inquiries on the subject” citing Molyneux’ as saying: “I have never seen a UPB discussion work out well on a Board, the concepts are too slippery for this format, and everyone always just ends up frustrated. I invite the OP to call into the Sunday show, 4pm EST, to ask these questions directly…
I do not, however, see how this inference follows from what Molyneux said. It simply appears to be an account of past experiences with discussing UPB on a forum followed by an invitation to discuss them in a live call in show. It may also be worth noting that the quoted response is to a thread which was started by a Liberating Minds member “ReIgNoFrAdNeSs” who by his own admission, pretended to be someone else, as pointed out in part 4. This of course doesn’t invalidate the quote, but it sheds some light on the tactics used by the author’s associates (as an active participant LM).
The author continues with an analysis of Molyneux’ motives pointing out his pursuit of originality, a desire to influence the world and a purported roadblock he stumbled on in that path when he was “not accepted as a PhD candidate”. This is characterized as the “bitter parting of the ways between himself and the academic career he sought” with reference to a quote from the podcast #1019 as containing the first glimpse of such disappointment, albeit the quote is inconclusive about whether the resentment was result of being rejected more than of the company being ripped out, sold and undervalued.
Author proceeds to quote from another podcast, #1039 titled “Intellectual Entrapment”, which criticizes the academia for essentially being set in their ways and insufficiently open to ideas which do not carry certain predetermined assumptions resulting in the perpetuation of the same old things. Specifically the ideas in question seem to refer to the necessity of government in certain areas. He also implies a form of impartiality by referring to different reactions depending on whether they “like” him or not.
The author infers from this that Stefan Molyneux was rejected for two reasons; in terms of his ideas and because they didn’t like him, pointing out that this is still an issue for him even after 20 years and that UPB was supposed to be “the ultimate weapon” in this purported war with the academia. The rest of the first part of this article focuses on the nature of the Molyneux’ ideas with respect to the development of UPB, the emergence of skepticism by an academic student of philosophy Danny Shahar and the great importance that Stefan Molyneux assigned to UPB.
In a nutshell the idea was that a rational proof of secular ethics and the necessity to win the argument from morality is absolutely crucial to the advancement of the libertarian movement and the advancement of human thinking on morality beyond the realm of superstition. He was discussing these ideas before the publishing of UPB when Danny Shahar first became involved by expressing skepticism towards the idea that such a proof of morality is even possible.
Danny is also credited for pointing out a ‘semantic problem with the word “Preferred” as opposed to “Preferable”‘ which I assume refers to this post. However Stefan already used the term “preferable” earlier in the thread in this post to which Danny dramatically replied here. So it is in fact Stefan who used the modified term earlier and it is thus not as clear as the author makes it appear to be that it was Danny who realized this distinction first, and in any case this really is a fairly trivial issue.
But it is taken as, in author’s words, “the beginning of a series of errors that Shahar found with Molyneux’s work on UPB that began with correcting Molyneux on a single word and ended less than a year-and-a-half later with Molyneux declaring all of academia, with respect to philosophy, invalid” which is quite a dramatic statement to make.
In the rest of the part 1 the author emphasizes Molyneux’ alleged past failures in contrast to what he hoped to achieve with UPB and proceeds to illustrate the importance which Molyneux assigned to his work on the UPB by referring to the podcast #1019 titled “We Are Full of Treasure”.
What was quoted from that podcast are certain things Molyneux said which reflect a pretty big deal of confidence and enthusiasm. Indeed it does seem like they are full of treasure that they just discovered and wish to share with the world. I personally do not find much to be objectionable about these kinds of statements, even if they are rather grandiose. Regardless of what one might say, if I felt and really believed that I’ve accomplished, after years of work, something so exceptional and historic in a certain area, I might in some instances make similar expressions of enthusiasm.
The author portrays this account with a rather hyperbolic remark, that Molyneux knew he replaced God with himself as the final authority on morality. As someone who readily accuses Molyneux of making grandiose statements, he just made one himself. Hyperbolic statements aside, it may be worth putting the word “god” here into perspective.
In the last century technological evolution has repeatedly given human beings powers which would have earlier been considered as godly. From airplanes, rockets and atomic bombs to such “magical” devices as modern touchscreen smartphones, laptops and instantaneous communication networks that bind them. Technology wasn’t the only area where gods were consistently replaced. Science in its advances has been explaining more and more of what was previously considered as inexplicable and thus evidence for gods intervention.
One only needs to think of certain onward looking thinkers such as the inventor Raymond Kurzweil to observe the emergence of a trend which is, sometimes even quite explicitly, about the evolution of human beings and human understanding to even more “god-like” proportions. And this should not be shocking, at least not to the atheists as those who wont be offended by such notions, for this whole concept of a “god” from a secular perspective appears to be nothing more than a constantly evolving metaphor occasionally applied to the unimaginably great things that humans have the potential of achieving.
My point is that metaphorically putting god into the picture the way the author did in his hyperbole, is in fact far more common than the author and many seem to think. Human beings have been replacing god for a great deal of time now, as a matter of natural course of our evolution. Revolutionary breakthroughs in the field of ethics, as in any field, are thus to be expected, and even if Molyneux didn’t quite achieve it, there is always the next Nth chance for him or somebody else to finally make it. If proof of secular ethics specifically isn’t possible, as Danny seems to think, that still does not mean further revolutionary advances in the field can’t be made.
Let’s move to the part 2 of the article.
“The rise and fall of Danny Shahar”
First of all I will upfront state that I do not have completely sufficient understanding of UPB to be able to make any conclusive and final judgments of it nor to pick a side between Danny Shahar and Stefan Molyneux over it. As Molyneux says himself, UPB is tricky and thus not easy to get at first. I would assume this would increase the chances of people falling into various interpretive traps and whatnot. I’ve read the book once, it made a lot of sense, but I don’t have even close to as much experience with philosophy as Stefan Molyneux and Danny Shahar to quickly judge such a work.
In this part Danny Shahar is venerated as a gracious graduate student in philosophy, “well trained in the language of philosophy, schools of thought, and academic criticism” who has written more than anyone about Molyneux’ work. A contrast is portrayed between Shahar as someone who represents the academic world and has set out to provide a thorough critique of UPB and Molyneux as an independent philosopher convinced that he has made a seminal achievement with UPB.
The article explains the whole chronology from the first thread where Stefan Molyneux posts a link to Shahar’s Molyneux Project to the last thread where Shahar was asked to stop posting. The story is of course (unsurprisingly given the context of other FDRLiberated articles) spiced up with expressions of slanted attitude against Stefan which seems bent on discrediting him as an able philosopher.
I have read through a large part of the conversations in question which go deep into the terminology and concepts regarding UPB which I don’t want to get into here. Large part of the matter of disagreement seems to have revolved around the application of UPB to fringe cases known as flagpole and lifeboat scenarios, effectively involving the moral characterizations of acts of a person who has to violate somebody elses moral right in order to save his own life.
A particular theme of the Shahar’s critiques was that given Molyneux’ big claims about UPB its (purported) inability to cover such fringe cases is unimpressive, but that otherwise it may be a useful theory in the same sense that Rothbards Ethics of Liberty is. Stefan Molyneux apparently disagrees and maintains the original claims for UPB probably dismissing the criticisms as lack of understanding while continuing to be open to live conversations about it where questions, critiques and requests for clarifications can be made.
As I said I cannot conclusively weigh into this disagreement to defend either of the two, however I do wish to express my tendency to agree with the points Stefan Molyneux made in an article, that largely seems to have came out of this controversial discourse, called “Hanging by a thread”.
I have a distinct feeling that most people in fact do know the very basic moral principles, possibly even as a matter of their nature. I am under the impression and even conviction that if one was to ask anyone on this planet if it is as a matter of norm and principle moral to kill, steal or coerce in any way, clearly explaining what such coercion entails, that if they were truly honest they would answer no.
So when philosophers rack their minds and endlessly debate the moral questions it really does sometimes seem like they’re asking for a why to a what they already know. In general, everybody knows it is wrong to kill, we’re just trying to discover why exactly this is so. And as we do this there is a fair point to be made sometimes; why do we spend so much time and effort bickering over the one in a million fringe cases which a moral theory or framework X imperfectly applies to while millions of people die every year from coercion and violence because nobody reached out to them in order to give them too the opportunity to participate in this debate by getting THEM up to speed to the things we have already beyond much doubt concluded as reasonable?
The biggest problem I see in the world is not so much that people do not know what is moral, but that people are not brought to terms with the inconsistent application of their morality. If everyone would only start consistently living as they preach, opening their eyes to the support they have so far been lending to things which are in fact against their morality, whatever bad morality is left in the world, I would think, would be neutralized by itself. Then the only theory really necessary could generally be summed up in a sentence: Be consistent in your application of your moral principles.. Even more generally, however, would in my view pretty much solve all of the worlds problems: “Do not tolerate contradictions. Ever. EVER.”.
If people could only brush up on their logic skills and taken away from such destructive ideas as those espoused under the umbrella of post-modernism (which see contradictions as acceptable), ultimate harmony would emerge by itself, just like a free market tends towards greater value for everyone, because each individual strives to achieve integrity – the state of complete non-contradiction in every aspect of their lives.
Incidentally, this is what UPB seems to be about, but Danny Shahar would state that as a philosophical theory it does not stand up to academic scrutiny, that it falls short on closer inspection etc. yet most people do not give a damn about the exact specifics of relatively obscure moral theories (and even the more famous ones, aside from those based in mythology, are indeed pretty obscure to the general public). What they do understand, however, is common language, the same language Stefan Molyneux, by incident or not, chose to convey his ideas.
That said, I am not in a position to neither agree nor disagree whether UPB truly stands up to academic scrutiny. I am open to both possibilities. I am however, inclined to agree that the realm of academy is not an end all be all of philosophy. While I am not necessarily interested in somehow corrupting the thorough, exact and rigorous nature of philosophy, I think it is about time for the dam to burst. One does not need to be an academic philosopher to think philosophically. By definition, philosophy is about pursuit of wisdom and truth. Every single human being with a healthy mind on this planet is capable of it.
Yet the great majority of them are effectively sitting idle, thinking small talk and small thoughts, jumping from routine to routine, entertainment to entertainment and so on. Philosophy is in popular culture still too often associated with distant introverted bearded and very old men whom utter weird and complicated statements. It is seen as something meant only for a special class of people, as if thinking critically, logically and empirically for yourself was not supposed to be something every human should do. That has to change and I think that regardless of all the accusations, Stefan Molyneux is taking an important step towards that.
To get back to the article, it brings out accounts of some angry sounding statements made by Stefan Molyneux in chatroom and podcasts which apparently refer to Danny. I originally thought of addressing each of them briefly, but then realized there’s no real point to that. What I’m gonna say is that Stefan did seem angry at Shahar and that it was obvious he perceived Shahar as condescending and overall unpleasant, so he expressed that. I can even understand why when I consider Stefan’s obviously negative opinion of the academy (with which I to an extent and for reasons explained above actually agree) and Stefan’s high hopes and confidence over UPB, which Danny boldly criticized.
As for author’s implications regarding Molyneux’ psychological state, if we’re gonna psychoanalyze him and given that I know the author has the negative version, I might as well provide a positive version. Yet both of these are merely speculation and conjecture. If Molyneux isn’t a therapist, me or FDRLiberated author certainly are not. So, the positive possibility is that Molyneux obviously spent a huge deal of time (decades even) essentially trying to accomplish something world changing and that upon rejection by academy and at the outset of formative ideas behind UPB he put a huge amount of hope and conviction behind it, perhaps even too much. Thus this book is “his baby” so to speak and he feels personal about it. Is there any sin in that? Certainly not.
I realize that one might say that this doesn’t become a professional philosopher, but that really depends on what you mean by “professional”. Few would deny that Molyneux is a brilliant philosopher, atypical, controversial, temperamental, but still brilliant and that he has created, at least as far as I know, tremendous value for me and I would argue the libertarian and voluntaryist movement. I think he plays a great role in popularizing philosophy and critical thinking, promoting consistent application of moral principles and spreading and explaining the voluntaryist and anarcho-capitalist ideas. When everything is put into perspective, the controversies are just an imperfection in an otherwise incredible thing.
Finally, all this said, I would be interested in an eventual thorough response to this UPB critique in one convenient article, albeit I realize some of these issues might have already been addressed in various podcasts, conversations, debates and forum threads. If I ever find one I’ll try to remember to link it here.
Friday, July 10th, 2009
Aside from the whole concept of breaking out of unpleasant or abusive relationships this is the biggest issue FDR’s “critics” (as if that’s all they were..) have a problem with.
The claim is that Stefan Molyneux consistently bans dissenting opinion from FDR and that this represents a form of hypocrisy because he otherwise promotes freedom so much. People say such things as, “this is a forum about freedom and anarchy yet it is one of the most tightly controlled boards on the internet” or “Stefan Molyneux repeatedly says he is open to criticism, yet when somebody even politely disagrees he asks them to stop posting”.
I can play the devils advocate all day, but I’m not the devil though I’m sure some dissenters, excuse the pun, will see me as such once I’m done with this piece.
So let’s see what we’ve got here.
1. Private property is not the state
The reason people often passionately decry a particular forum administrator’s tendency to, as they say, “ban dissent” is an obvious connotation with tyrannical, totalitarian and anti-free-speech leadership (or dictatorship if you will). However this simply conflates private property with the state. Whereas the state coercively prohibit you from speaking out even when you use your own property or voluntarily acquired means to do so, somebody in his house, hall or online forum can at best prohibit you from speaking up in his own place. These are two completely different things in that the former is a true clamp down on free speech and the latter is an exercise of property rights.
To claim that those who deny their visitors to say certain things or express certain opinions represent oppressive state leaders if they were given a chance is complete and pure fantasy. If this was so then every christian whom prohibits people to spit on his religion in his house or even every homeowner who prohibits swearing in his home is a would be totalitarian dictator. This is pretty ridiculous.
So this connotation between a private property owner enforcing certain speech related “house rules” with coercive banishment of free speech by certain governments simply needs to be destroyed. It has completely no basis whatsoever and only reflects poor understanding of both the state coercion and property rights. Libertarians should by far be the last ones to carry such connotations.
2. Am *I* a cult?
I own myself (prove me wrong!). Therefore I totally decide with whom I wish to speak, associate with and have relationships with. Thus I totally decide whom will I allow to use my property and what they are allowed to do with it. Thus it can easily be claimed that if I choose to disassociate with people whom I disagree with, whom I personally find unpleasant and whom bring up topics I don’t like and ban them from using my property (no you cannot borrow my bike, now beat it), I am a “cult”. Just me, my own cult of one.
Or.. I am just a freaking human individual!
Conversely, FDR (in terms of server, bandwidth etc. he is paying for) is owned by Stefan Molyneux, an individual that is, just as I am, totally free to decide whom will he allow to use it and what will he allow them to do with it. Does that alone make him a cult leader? Obviously not. Far more is required for that to be true.
This cannot be emphasized enough! Self ownership and consequential property rights consistently applied can only lead to voluntaryism which consistently applied can only lead to every person being a little “dictator”, if you will, over his own self and property. To decry such a rightful dictator of dictating is just funny and ridiculous. Of course I know there are countless of statists (including our friends minarchists) who would have all sorts of qualms about the above equation, but they know where they’re coming from and they know how “complicated” they feel these issues are, given how difficult it is to keep all those self-contradictions jammed into one brain. Have fun with that guys (and gals)!
3. Let’s agree to agree or stop talking!
There is a very popular, but as I am finding out actually quite peculiar notion called the “agreement to disagree”. The reason it is peculiar is that it really makes most sense for those who think there is no such thing as objective truth and reality, the post modernist types, and biggest fans of performative contradictions who essentially thus lost all real motivation to speak truthfully and may as well make up stuff as they go along and write “scientific” papers about it using such smart and juicy terms as “the subpatriarchial paradigm of expression and the neotextual paradigm of consensus” as titles of those papers.
Clearly, to them the “agreement to disagreement” presents no problem whatsoever. For all they know they could both be right even if they state two completely, utterly and directly contradictory statements. “That circle has a diameter of 10 centimeters. – No it has the diameter of 20 centimeters. – Let’s agree to disagree. – Okay.”. Oh I know I am being derogatory about it and I know few (I hope) post modernist relativists, nihilists and other such performative contradictions licking freaks would agree to disagree in an instance where a simple measuring could prove what’s actually true.
The problem is that they would, even upon taking such a measure, claim that what they just found as true might actually be false, or true.. or who cares anyway. Most importantly, in cases where possibility of such an easy determination of what is “actually true” is not obviously available, as if assuming it doesn’t even exist, they all to readily agree to disagree on completely contradictory statements. This really reminds of the “god of the gaps” theory, except instead of putting god in the gaps of their understanding they put “impossibility of uncertainty”.
Anyway, for the rest of us, who believe there is such a thing as an objective truth and reality that can be measured, sensed and felt, because we do measure, sense and feel it with all of the devices that we’ve got at our disposal capable of such detection, “agreement to disagree” really is quite peculiar. We know that either one of the two disagreeing parties is most likely right and we thus know that “agreement to disagree” is in fact no agreement whatsoever. It is in fact an obvious contradiction in terms and unlike post modernists we do give a damn about contradictions!
Agreement to disagree is thus a very cheap shot, a lie and a sign that you do not really care about getting to the bottom of what is true. Did you agree or did you disagree, it can hardly be both at once.
Now this can be seen as an attempt to justify some form of intolerance of differences in opinion, but I am not saying that not agreeing to disagree must immediately mean not tolerating disagreement. You can certainly let someone disagree with you, but that can be done without pretending to be in any kind of agreement. You can simply agree to stop talking to each other, which ties well into the previous two points I have made in an attempt to show that such an act does not represent some draconian kind of intolerance or persecution of dissent, as is often hyperbolically claimed.
4. So what if Molyneux asks you to stop posting on his forum?
Nothing more than it states. He would like you to stop posting. This in no way means he somehow wants to force you to stop talking about it in your own venues, that he is a burgeoning cult leader or on the same level as some dictator. All it means that he doesn’t want you to post anymore, on his forum for the exact reason that he states. Everything else is pure conjecture, framing, projection, straw manning etc.
So you can build that case of yours that supposedly proves his “banning of dissenting opinion”, and even if you succeed you still don’t really have much to stand on. All you’ve proved is that Stefan Molyneux exercises rights he ascribes to every other individual in a way in which you find particularly unpleasant and distasteful. That’s all you proved. And not everybody cares what what you think. Those who have a problem with this are perfectly free to not use his property and if Molyneux really does that and it results in too many people leaving his forum, he may very well have an incentive to change a tactic. In any case this is absolutely his choice.
That said, a lot of such claims have only a selection of controversial forum threads to show for it for which they often tend to portray a rather one sided picture of what happened usually following a pattern like “someone comes in and politely states his disagreement and promptly gets swarmed with irrelevant questions that stonewall him into a defensive position that gets him banned”.
I realize something that resembles this did seem to happen in certain instances, however when examining purported examples of this behaviors it is still worth asking if such stated disagreement really was all about mere expression of disagreement and curiosity or contained something more that could cause the discussion to take a more inflamed route.
It may also be worth to note that certain people can easily be exposed as effectively trolling FDR with questions supposedly meant as “simple expressions of disagreement and curiosity” when in fact they were former FDR members from Liberated Minds posing as someone else to put on a “good show” and produce supposed evidence for Molyneux’ banning policies.
“Recently, when someone asked for clarification on his forum, he gave the curt reply, ‘I have never seen a UPB discussion work out well on a Board, the concepts are too slippery for this format, and everyone always just ends up frustrated. I invite the OP to call into the Sunday show, 4pm EST, to ask these questions directly…’”
That ‘someone’ was me (masquerading as a female named katietron)
Another member, QuestEon, who happens to be the author of FDRLiberated to whose articles I was responding in my last two parts, applauded this tactic by saying: “Good show on that!”.
Molyneux’ response to that topic however seemed fairly polite and did not in fact reflect an unwillingness to address the poster’s concerns, but invited the poster to pose it in a call in show (which of course accusers claim are manipulative, which I’ve already addressed in previous parts, they will claim anything). This is his common response to critiques or requests for clarification on the boards. As the response clearly indicates, he does not consider boards to be a good medium to discuss that particular topic.
5. “But he threatened LM with violence?”
Consistent with the whole “purging of dissent” line of accusations it was actually claimed that Molyneux threatened LM with violence, which is a claim of actual authoritarian-style attempt to purge dissent even by dissenters own venues. I wish to put this claim to rest once and for all.
The sole basis of this claim is Molyneux’ plea in this video where he says that “using these words without detailed and specific evidence is actionable legal slander” and where he also states:
“You can call me all of these things, but you can’t call me an embezzler. You can call me names and that’s fine, but you cannot call me a thief, you cannot say I kidnap people and lock them in because that’s where you’re starting to talk about facts and as we’ve seen there are very specific facts which need to be presented with objective evidence in order to support the charges of cult. Cult is a very specific legal term that is different from “jerk”, you can call me a jerk, I’m never gonna get bothered by it fundamentally, but when you’re gonna use words like brainwashing, cult, cult leader and so on, that is specific, that is associated with criminal activity and you need to provide evidence or you need to withdraw those claims. If you call my show a cult, or me a cult leader, and do not provide objective evidence from standardized definitions, you and I will have a problem. Don’t do it, let’s not go down that road. That’s silly, let’s keep the debate on principles
The terms “actionable legal slander” is taken as to mean that he can take legal action against those using terms in question to portray his show. What accusers infer from this is that he effectively threatened to sue them and since it is impossible to sue someone today without state courts and since state is the one enforcing laws against slander, this is seen as threatening to use state violence against them.
But this simply does not follow. As is seen in the quote above, he clearly states that the accusations in question are associated with criminal activity given that many cults foster certain acts which are not only illegal (by laws of state), but morally illegitimate (natural law referred to by libertarians for the principle of non-aggression). Therefore accusing FDR a cult without real basis not only presents potential harm to the value of FDR and its brand and reputation, but puts FDR in a legally vulnerable situation to others who may in fact initiate legal action against him.
Even in a free society which Stefan Molyneux, libertarians and voluntaryists promote, filing disputes for arbitration on the basis of baseless slander is not inconceivable. In market anarchy there would be a severe plurality of private courts with various terms of service. If Liberated Minds, for instance, was a group registered with court A and that court had provisions against slanderous activity, one can certainly sue Liberated Minds if they break such a contract. If they however went with the service without provisions against slander, Molyneux could still claim a dispute with it by means of a different arbitration agency which could have some sort of a contract with the agency representing LM which would allow a way of settling inter-agency disputes.
Whichever route was pursued the bottom line is that Molyneux could claim that his business was damaged by what were deliberately slanderous and untrue statements against potential customers of his business, claiming that these slanderers are perpetrating fraud. If he could prove that he is at a loss as a direct consequences of said slander, and the arbiter determines that the claims they have been making truly were without basis and deliberate attempts at smear, with conclusive evidence, LM could conceivably be forced to pay damages.
But given that we do not live in such a society and are all subject to the same coerced set of rules, appealing to the vulnerable legal state seems entirely reasonable.
In any case, quite a bit of misrepresentation is necessary for this to be understood as a threat that flies in the face of Molyneux’ own philosophy.
Addendum: One thing which was not explicitly stated above, albeit it ties well into the explanation of possibility of filing a dispute against LM even in a free society, is that threatening legal action is not the same thing as threatening violence since initiation of legal action is merely an initiation of dispute. The fact that state has a monopoly on dispute resolution changes that only in so far as neither FDR nor LM agreed to the terms prohibiting slander of any kind (since state coerces its rules), but it is worth pointing out that this makes both FDR and LM vulnerable, not just LM. Thus if FDR would indeed continue to be associated with criminal activity it could as well end up in some sort of a lawsuit by some parent, something that was even mentioned (if not suggested) as a future possibility at LM. Going “down that road” certainly constitutes a problem between FDR and LM that Molyneux suggested. In any case to treat Molyneux’ statements here as a necessarily thin veiled threat of violence without considering the whole context is just slanted attitude talking.
This accusation thus fails and the best that they’ve got to work with, if even that, is him asking certain people to stop posting on his own board. I hope this at least offers some food for thought and an alternative perspective on this aspect of the controversy.
Friday, July 10th, 2009
EDIT: If you wish to skip this article due to its length please check The Times interview and consider downloading and listening to it. It contains evidence that refutes much of the assertions in the analysis hereby responded.
Continuing with my series on the FDR Controversy I wish to share certain points pertaining to the purported analysis of Stefan Molyneux’ response to the UK Guardian article.
* The UK guardian article: “You’ll never see me again”
* Stefan Molyneux’ response: “How to Escape a “Controversial Online Community!” (um – close your browser..?)
* FDRLiberated “analysis” of the response: Molyneux’s response to the UK Guardian article, analyzed .
I will do this point by point as it helps address everything that is relevant and in order to quote the article in its current edition so it’s clear what exactly is being addressed.
In the last article, however, where I addressed the “brief introduction” to FDRLiberated.com it was clear that this web site is far from unbiased. It appeared like a presentation of one particular story or picture about FDR which isn’t always backed by direct evidence and is largely constructed by conjecture.
Note that the author at the beginning of this article does not deny that he is biased as he says: “I’ll state my own biases up front, so you can interpret my assessment as you will. I do believe that FreeDomainRadio (FDR) is a therapeutic cult that is in the seminal stages of development.” While his being up front about it may be applauded this hardly inspires confidence that this site is more than an attempt to portray FDR in accordance to this particular bias regardless of what the actual truth may be.
If I have negative feelings about FDR at all, it is only because it promotes itself as a significant Libertarian voice. Given the difficulty that Libertarians in general have in helping people understand our point of view, I’m concerned that–if FDR is a significant voice–then they could be a detriment to the movement. For a large number of people, it is their first experience with Libertarianism.
As explained in my last article FDR is also the biggest if not the only project that encourages consistent application of libertarian principles in every day lives without which the libertarian movement of which the author is here concerned of remains to a large extent hypocritical, and some people do call them out on this. If we believe in the non-initiation of force and fraud as a moral principle why do we support those who support violation of or themselves violate this principle? Again, Wilton D. Alston’s article is apt: Do You Really Want Freedom, Or Are You Just Kidding Yourself? It’s a damn serious question.
The headline of the article strikes an important theme that will occur later in the response—Molyneux’s diminution of FDR as “simply a Web site.” To make his case, it is important for Molyneux to characterize FDR as a simple forum/podcast where people exchange ideas. The truth is, this is the first time I’ve heard Molyneux take such a humble view of FDR. His vision has always been grandiose.
FDR is a financial enterprise and Molyneux’s sole source of revenue. It is a complicated system of video and audio podcast outreach, on-line forum, chatroom, media library, books, and a distribution of members into a hierarchy. There is clearly a social system on display: at the highest level in the hierarchy is an inner circle that enforces behavior and thoughts posted to the site. Critics of the site or Molyneux are swiftly purged.
1. Grandiose statements can certainly be made about something that is not more than a web site.
2. Something being a sole source of revenue tells us absolutely nothing of significance. My web sites are my sole source of income, so what?
3. Podcasts, on-line forum, chatroom, media library and books are all distributed by means of a web site and can thus certainly be “escaped” by solely closing the browser window as Stefan points out. Not all of this is hosted solely on FDR web site, but that does not somehow decrease the ease with which one can get away from it.
4. The so called “social system” referred to is consistent with just about any other online community with levels of participation. The so called “inner circle” (which sounds more like mythology invented by those behind the smear campaign) is easily equivalent to moderators on other forums.
5. That “critics of the site or Molyneux are swiftly purged” sounds like a sweeping generalization. Even IF the atmosphere towards criticism of what FDR or Stef represents is not particularly encouraged on the boards, plenty of call in shows and publicly available recorded debates seem to testify to the opposite of outright purging of criticism. But hold that thought.. I am going to address this issue in the next article specifically, given how much fuss is thrown around this assertion.
FDR members have vacationed together, attended annual BBQ’s at the Molyneux home together, attended philosophy and psychology seminars conducted Molyneux and his wife, and more.
I assume this is supposed to contribute to the point that it is harder to get out of FDR community then just closing a browser because it implies certain social bounds. First of all, the idea promoted by FDR that all relationships are voluntary does not somehow exclude relationships between certain FDR members no matter how much certain accusers would want to advance such a claim. There is no evidence that anybody is coerced into such relationships or instilled unchosen positive obligations towards them. I would defer to part 1 for further examination of that (re all manipulation, control, dishonesty etc. claims).
Of course many online web sites have similar social events and meet ups and most of them are never as explicit about these relationships being without positive obligations as FDR. They’re seldom chastised for it.
But above all–more than anything else–FDR members are intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally invested in a utopian worldview based on Molyneux’s unique approach to anarcho-capitalism. Even though they understand at some level that the utopian society they hope for is at minimum generations away, their investment is powerful enough for many of them to live lives in near-isolation, each one a modern-day Diogenes, hoping to find “honest and virtuous relationships” based on Molyneux’s definition of such relationships.
This is another sweeping generalization. There are currently 3 467 members on FDR and while not all of them are active at all time what basis does the author have for claiming that all of these members or even all of the members who are currently active are without other social circles or that they haven’t even been able to build such ideal relationships which some of them may strive for?
Also, what basis is there for claiming that all of them are anarcho-capitalists? I have easily encountered people who are in fact minarchists and who have debated anarcho-capitalism and continue to participate.
The author is simply trying to arbitrarily infer or invent some supposedly hard to break tie ins to the FDR community. Yet in the case which the Guardian’s article, Stefan’s response and consequently this “analysis” is about, the guy in question didn’t have contact with Stefan Molyneux for months, never met him live and appears to be leading a rather normal life. It’s hardly a case of being trapped in FDR.
Glad? At the time of this writing, it has been discovered that those who now visit Liberating Minds (a site that contains a sub-forum where Molyneux’s ideas are discussed, often critically) and click on a link that leads to FreeDomainRadio may find themselves IP banned from FDR. Not just Liberating Minds members–anyone whose browser tells FDR that the previously visited site was Liberating Minds. This happened the day after the furor over the Guardian article began.
Somehow, this doesn’t seem like the actions of someone who is glad. More like the action of someone furiously trying to control the conversation.
Liberated Minds is by Stefan Molyneux considered a smear campaign. It was largely founded by banned or other former members some of which have made certain disturbing expressions against Stefan Molyneux. It provided the atmosphere of encouragement for mother’s advances against FDR and her sons choice in the media and it continues to serve as a place where even the extreme and unfounded accusations easily gain sympathy. The “smear campaign” characterization doesn’t seem far off.
Given such an identification of Liberated Minds one of the obvious responses would be to defend against it by any means at his disposal and Molyneux apparently believed IP bans were among such means, which given that he owns the site is perfectly within his right (whether I agree with such means is thus irrelevant unless I want to make enough fuss over it to leave a site in protest, which I don’t).
Saying that he is glad the article is out because it constitutes media attention and that he is especially pleased that the concept of voluntary relationships got out hardly means the same thing as being glad that Liberated Minds as such are the ones behind this media outing.
More important, let’s consider the apparent bias of the article.
Molyneux is correct, of course. The Guardian article is slanted. But is that good or bad? The reporter clearly wrote the article from a particular point of view and made no attempt to hide it. And so what? It’s not hard news.
The better question is what led this reporter to her bias?
My perspective is the Guardian article is a result of the reporter’s research. If she had written instead a chronology of how she researched and wrote the article, perhaps the perception of bias might have been different:
A mother calls the Guardian and complains that a Web site ate her son. The reporter is skeptical. It’s far more likely that something bad has happened in the family. She begins to research–how could a simple Web site influence kids to leave their parents? But then she’s surprised to learn from the son’s siblings that they remember a happy childhood. She talks to cult experts about the techniques of Undue Influence. She logs onto the FDR chatroom to watch Tom’s mother attacked by other FDR members. She listens to the podcasts. She reads the books. She hears the many contradictions in Molyneux’s claims (”I don’t charge anything for what it is I do”–except FDR is his sole source of revenue.). She realizes that it is much bigger than a Web site. At some point, she makes the conclusion it is a cult and it is a tragedy. She writes the article from that point of view. It is thoroughly vetted by attorneys prior to publication.
Typically, journalists are natural skeptics and I’d tend to wager skepticism is where the research from this article began.
You may not agree with her conclusions, but I am inclined to think they were indeed conclusions and not her starting point. The bias arose as a result of research.
Common elements of journalistic ethics include objectivity and impartiality as is quoted from wikipedia:
While various existing codes have some differences, most share common elements including the principles of — truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability — as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.
Note the emphasis. It is exactly the final product with all of its conclusions which is supposed to be objective and impartial, not just the process of acquisition and research. The fact that the author of the Guardian article did research does not excuse her bias at all, as the author of this “analysis” seems to think.
Additionally, while certain elements of the chronology of the journalist’s research may be inferred from the Guardian article, the author hardly has enough evidence to claim the above description of it as conclusive.
There is one other thing to be noted in this instance. Describing the said chronology the author notes: “She hears the many contradictions in Molyneux’s claims (”I don’t charge anything for what it is I do”–except FDR is his sole source of revenue.).
This is where he sets up a false dichotomy between not charging for what he does and depending on it as his sole source of revenue which effectively discounts the possibility of a person living solely off of donations. For him to be charging for his work he would make it available exclusively upon a payment and not regardless of whether there was a payment or not. Thus he is both not charging people and living off of the donations. Of course, he does charge for a very small portion of the content (premium podcasts), but that is openly admitted so the claims of not charging obviously do not refer to those.
Of course if he would eventually begin charging for all of it, his right to do so would be indisputable given that he is the producer of that content.
I don’t think it’s “striking” at all. One only needs to see how thoroughly Molyneux’s followers have excoriated this mother (one even found and posted her picture and other personal information on the FDR site) to see why the other parents stayed off the record. They know who they’re dealing with.
Tom’s mother is an educated woman who knew what would happen going in. I consider her decision to proceed, fully aware of what would happen, a courageous act.
1. I did not find the picture and personal information posted on the FDR.
2. Even if it was posted by that one member that hardly implies direct responsibility on Stefan Molyneux’ part.
3. Mrs. Weed already outed her personal information through the media.
4. A libertarian calling the act of public humiliation of a son by his own mother for making a voluntary choice to disengage (based on physical intimidation no less) a “courageous act” is quite ironic and hypocritical (as pointed out in part 2). The mentioned condemnation would be more consistent with the principles the author supposedly upholds as a libertarian and market anarchist.
This is complete conjecture. Molyneux has no idea who Kate talked to, so his polite sarcasm here is without merit. She simply didn’t use the quotes of everyone she talked to, most likely for space reasons. Reporters must edit their articles to fit a specific word count. Neither Molyneux, me, nor anyone else outside of the Guardian knows who Kate talked to or were privy to the choices made of what to include and what to cut.
While accusing (in this case probably rightfully) Molyneux of conjecture the author himself first makes a statement that implies certainty of that she did talk to said individuals,but simply chose not to quote them, and then claims he nor anyone else can know who Kate talked to. A little sentence to sentence consistency would help. In any case this may be a fair point, for once.
This is re-framing by Molyneux. First, he has no knowledge of the marriage and his comments on it are all conjecture. Sadly, if the relationship was already strained, one of the worst things that could have happened is losing an 18-year-old son to a cult. Talk to the family of a cult member (any cult) and you will hear tales of near unbearable grief and pain. Molyneux, who is now making conjectures about the marriage, quite possibly greatly contributed to the rift!
I would agree he was conjecturing. However that marriages don’t end over night (or in any case quickly) was a reasonable assumption considering the well known nature of such a process. As someone whose parents are divorced I can definitely testify to that. This paragraph however repeats a baseless and refuted cult claim. Tom’s break with his parents may have escalated the marital problems, but that has nothing to do with whether FDR is a cult, nor is their marriage in any way Tom’s responsibility nor was the break up Stefan’s decision made in stead of Tom.
And really, as far as all the conjecture accusations, pot calls the kettle black.
In addition, it is a common complaint among families that by the time kids reach their teen-age years, family meals are rare. It’s not a “striking fact”–it’s normal! It’s a direct result of teenagers beginning to build their own busy lives as they grow to adulthood.
That is a fair point. Of course it doesn’t change the fact that such meals were, as the mother confirmed, rare. Still, in healthy and exceptional relationships between a child and a parent, which seem quite rare, such shared meals would have probably been more common.
Furthermore, this effectively reflects a child’s readiness to alter the previous relationship arrangement with his parents and embark on his own, which would still to a large degree go in favor of Stefan’s point, especially given that the mother knew that he was well and probably happy. So her whole reason for this media circus is that this departure came with a complete termination of the relationship and thus denies her the pleasure to participate in it. These are pretty selfish reasons for such extreme initiatives as what she undertook. One would hope that if she truly loved him, she would try to understand and let him go without this exercise in humiliation.
Regarding the father’s temper, there isn’t much excusable about it. Anger management is a good thing. However, none of us outside know anything about the severity and frequency of the anger—only that he took it out on inanimate objects in his office and yelling at the family cat.
We know what his very son expressed in the call in show and it involved a little more than was mentioned in the guardian article (such as window smashing for instance, which counts as completely destructive behavior) and was enough for the guy to publicly burst into tears while talking about it. Both the author and the spouse of this angered man appear to understate the severity of the problem by ignoring certain instances of publicly available testimony (the call in show).
What I do know is that Molyneux consistently re-frames the parental actions he finds unfavorable using the most extreme terms he can get his hands on, as part of his persuasion. It is part of the dishonest technique he uses to bond with his members. “My parents were mean sometimes,” says the member. “Mean?” Molyneux replies, “they were monsters!”
So it comes as no surprise during the podcast when Molyneux refers to the Tom’s father’s “psychotic rage” and “his sick and disgusting rages.” He calls the father a “sick son-of-a-bitch,” “terrifying,” “violent,” “a bully,” “dangerous,” “psychotic,” “insane,” and, finally, “the devil.” All characterizations come from Molyneux, not Tom.
And for the coup de grâce, he tells the 18-year-old, “your mother didn’t protect you from the devil–she created you for the devil.”
It is unclear to me how the road to mental health for an 18-year-old begins by convincing him that his father is Satan and mother simply a servant who spawned him as a diabolical offering.
The first paragraph is conjecture and generalization without reference to evidence, especially the charge of dishonesty which was among many other things addressed in part 1.
That said, it is true that Stefan Molyneux used rather extreme and colorful language in this particular call in show. What is seldom stated, however, is that such terminology comes after the guy publicly burst into tears while talking about the issue he called about which coincidentally had to do with the treatment of animals, like the cat that his father consistently kicked. Tom might have not uttered those specific terms that Stefan did, but he certainly set the stage for emotional escalation in the context of which such extreme statements begin to make more sense, as emphatic expressions. And this is the context out of which such terms are usually quoted.
To better understand this consider an example which is essentially an emotional and contextual equivalent to this case. Jack tells his best friend Joe about a particular case where Fred whom he thought was a good friend bullied him with intimidation and humiliation and as he describes this to Joe he begins crying. Upon experiencing this Joe tries to comfort Jack, but also hurls certain ugly terms for Fred as a particular kind of expression of empathy towards Jack. His terms could include such things as “what an asshole he is”, “a god damn backstabber”, “a total nutcase” or even “he should go back to hell where he came from” and of course “he is obviously not your friend and you should probably not have anything to do with that guy”.
Yet in such a case seldom would people consider Joe to be manipulating Jack into breaking his supposed friendship with Fred. Instead most people would normally consider Joe’s reaction completely justified and a sign of empathy for how Jack is feeling.
Now that doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with his use of such terminology and that I would not condemn it as a little over the top. But who would take these expressions to be serious and literal portrayals of Tom’s parents the way the author here seems to imply when he speaks about Stefan “convincing [Tom] that his father is Satan and mother simply a servant who spawned him as a diabolical offering” (in his own chosen words, as this is not a literal quote of Stefan)? I would wager a bet that Tom is not living his life today in some conviction that his father is a devil that spawned from hell. Gah.
Patently untrue. You can be manipulated into that kind of emotion. Ask any qualified psychologist. I believe Molyneux consistently uses manipulation during the therapy sessions he provides for his followers. He plants suggestions, pushes emotions, and draws conclusions throughout to lead his subjects where he wants them to go. I believe he employed it in the very podcast in question. The link is below. So, please–listen to it yourself and make your own decision.
(Tom’s therapy begins at about an hour and 25 minutes in. It starts with Tom saying, “Hi Stef, I have a yearning, burning, if that’s OK?” [I believe he means "yearning, burning question."])
I do join in the call for readers to listen to the podcast in question and draw their own conclusions.
By itself, the claim that one can be manipulated into bursting to tears and that every qualified psychologist would confirm this, cannot stand. One would have to actually refer to a psychologist’s discussion of that possibility and methods by which this can supposedly be achieved. This is my own suspicion, but a suspicion nevertheless; that what is possible is to drive a person to certain ingrained feelings which would make that particular person very emotional. But this is not an exercise of manipulation and planting of emotions which were not already there, but an archeology of emotions which WERE there all along.
If any psychologist says that a therapist can make somebody cry, but does not provide the exact methodology of doing this, then that claim alone cannot be given as evidence for the author’s assertion above. Only if methodology is explained and if it involves somehow planting of emotions which were never before present may it serve as such evidence, not that it would necessarily be completely conclusive because different psychologists may have different views on the matter.
In any case, the author simply doesn’t provide enough to back his outright “Patently not!” exclamation.
Again, minimizing (his role) and maximizing (the family problems). The actual facts so far indicate a normal family to me. It’s by no means perfect—clearly the father had problem controlling his temper. Yet, I have no doubt Kate–a highly respected journalist–thoroughly investigated this family before putting her reputation on the line. And does anyone think the Guardian would hang itself by running a negative article on Molyneux, only to discover an untenable family problem? I do not.
This paragraph is full of irony. Undisputed accounts from both Guardian and the recording of the call in show portray the father as someone with serious anger issues and someone who engaged in violence destructive and harmful to both his pet and his property (smashed windows, throwing stuff around), yet the author claims this to be a normal family.
If the author is right then we truly live in a very sad society and much of what Stefan Molyneux says about common abuse in families turns out to be true. If the author is wrong then this family is abnormally worse. If one would claim my standards for a normal family are too high, well then I suppose you’re fine with your father kicking your cat, smashing your window and throwing things while shouting with rage. Enjoy your normal family.
What’s also ironic is that Kate’s and Guardian’s credentials are emphasized in an attempt to strengthen the legitimacy of this story when the story itself accounts for throwing things and shouting at the cat, explicitly acknowledging Tom’s fear of him. It doesn’t appear like the author of this purported analysis is doing himself any favors here.
Of course Guardian does understate the issue, but given that the author himself refers to the call in show recording as valid evidence, he simply cannot discount what Tom himself says of his father in that recording, which adds to what the Guardian article acknowledged.
We’ve finally reached a point in the response where there is a glimmer of substance in this reply, but the glimmer is obscured beneath layers of Molyneux re-framing.
Here’s the glimmer. Everyone experiences their family differently because everyone experiences communication differently. Anyone who has studied personality types knows that each different personality type experiences the same interaction differently. It has been the stuff of drama and comedy for centuries and often the root cause of family dysfunction.
Amazingly enough looks like the author throws Mr. Molyneux a bone here. With respect to such differences in experiencing certain interactions it is not these differences for which one ought to be condemned, of course, but the willingness to try and understand the other’s point of view, the curiosity (which also happens to be one of the crucial things Stefan Molyneux emphasizes in his book “Real Time Relationships: Logic of Love”).
However, without details of the content of what was being discussed between Tom and his mother it is rather impossible to determine if she or he was truly open and curious or not, her one sided claims notwithstanding. This is why Stefan’s asking of those questions was completely sensible.
But Molyneux misses the opportunity for true healing when he mentions Tom’s “genuine experience.” No, it’s Tom’s personal experience. Molyneux’s use of the word “genuine” implies that only Tom’s interpretation is true. Tom’s experience is no more (nor less) “genuine” than his mother’s, father’s, or siblings.
Here the author gets mixed up by trying to make a distinction between “genuine” and “personal” and ends up attacking a straw man (since the claim he tries to address is one not raised by Molyneux). A reputable Merriam-Webster dictionary has these relevant definitions of “genuine”:
* actually produced by or proceeding from the alleged source or author
* sincerely and honestly felt or experienced
* free from hypocrisy or pretense
The author claims that by using the word “genuine” Molyneux implies that only Tom’s interpretation is true, as if “genuine” refers to objectivity rather than sincerity, honesty and lack of pretense. As can be seen from the above definition, however, the only thing that Molyneux could have been referring to here is that Tom did not seem to fake his experience (and I didn’t hear anyone accuse him of doing so). Molyneux never claimed the experience of his mother, father and siblings is less genuine.
This is the point where Molyneux’s victimization of his followers typically begins. Had Tom and his mother gone together to a qualified relationship or family counselor–one who had been educated in the personality-type disconnect I mention above, Tom would not only have found a healthy environment to discuss his issues on the family, but also he and his mother would have received the tools they needed to deepen their loving, family relationship. They would have learned how to talk.
In this video Molyneux claims to have heard from Tom that he did try to “work things out with his family, requesting protection from his father and suggesting family and/or individual counseling” and that “his pleas were all rejected”. Tom confirms this in The Times interview with Tom Whipple where he says the following:
“I tried to sort of improve the situation, improve the relationship, but it didn’t prove to be an easy thing to say the least” and “In talking with my parents, with my mother in particular, I couldn’t sort of broach the topic, (as if) it wasn’t something she wanted to get into at all. I stayed around for a bit and tried to get into it with her, but because that sort of progress wasn’t forthcoming I didn’t feel like it would be and she didn’t agree to get into therapy and my therapist said to me; this guy, your dad especially sounds like a violent one..” In that interview Tom shares a very revealing testimony on the case, shows no regret of his choice and in fact expresses that he feels happy.”
Secondly, whether one goes to counseling or not is obviously not solely up to Molyneux nor Tom himself, but up to the parents in question as well. If a blame is to be laid on the failure to communicate, both Tom and his parents are candidates. Given that these are not his relationships and that he did not make any explicit and direct suggestions (and actually emphasized that the decision was up to Tom, suggesting even some compromises such as staying with parents, but limiting contact with father), Molyneux is hardly the one responsible for failure of communication between Tom and the mother.
In fact what he has to say could largely be helpful in such instances should the parents be open to such an advice. The following would illustrate this.
The Guardian article quoted the mother describing an example of accusations she met in her attempts to persuade, negotiate and compromise as follows:
Barbara says she tried everything – persuasion, negotiation, compromise. “But Tom didn’t seem interested in communicating, merely in throwing accusations – for instance that his brother John and me were fond of laughing at him, which wasn’t true. I began to notice that he was interpreting all family interactions as abusive.
If this example is reflective of the accusations that Tom apparently made against his family it is also reflective of a response the mother had towards them, which is obviously immediately dismissive, a complete denial. Simple denial of a problem expressed by Tom is effectively akin to calling him a liar. It’s like asking “what’s wrong” and once the answer is one you did not expect or personally do not see or agree with just dismissing the answer like “oh, but that’s simply not true” rather than being curious as to why exactly would he think so.
This is exactly the kind of behavior described in “Real Time Relationships: Logic of love”. If the advice of curiosity rather than dismissal was followed, the communication that the author speaks of could have indeed been established. It would not be far off to imagine that Tom indeed tried to point this out to his mother and encourage her to be curious, given that he has read this book. It would also not surprise why would he dismiss his mother after she repeatedly dismissed what he had to say as him “interpreting all family interactions as abusive”.
That didn’t occur and could never occur in a conversation with Molyneux. Instead, he typically puts his arms around his caller and says, “I know you have the genuine understanding of your family. In fact, I’ll show that it’s even worse than you think. Are you sure staying with them is healthy?”
The reliance on the use of the word of “genuine” as somehow manipulative has been already been addressed above. Other than that the author is putting words into Molyneux’ mouth. What is here described as “showing that it’s even worse than you think” can just as well represent validating that ones emotional suspicions aren’t necessarily lying and that whatever negative emotion you do feel about a particular relationship you’re free to experience and address it rather than repress it as nothing significant.
It is easy to see how would the author and others interested in smear misrepresent one for the other.
Molyneux is probably right. I’ll suggest a scenario. The Guardian reporter, the editor, and the lawyers were talking. The lawyer said “In this article here, you refer to FDR as a ‘cult.’ You could be setting us up for a lawsuit with that claim. I know you believe you can prove it, but it would still be a costly legal battle and we’re not guaranteed a win because the legal definition is fuzzy.”
The reporter said, “That’s sick. I know it’s a cult and you know it’s a cult and we can’t say it?”
Then the editor replied, “What we can do is take out the connection but leave the paragraph about the CIC in. The readers will make the connection themselves, even if we don’t. We’ll get the message across and not open ourselves up to the liability.”
I’m suggesting that the Guardian decided to identify FDR as a cult in a way that minimized their legal liability, so on that Molyneux is probably correct. I also suspect that Molyneux hasn’t heard the last of the CIC.
This is just fictional storytelling, pure and simple. The author previously accused Stefan Molyneux of framing, yet he is here doing so much more than just framing. He is painting an entire picture all of his own and then using it as basis for his claims.
He may defend this as just trying to make a point, but in the process of doing it he relies on a few assumptions which he completely made up (that there was any kind of a conversation like this, that the reporter and the lawyer are both truly as strongly convinced this is a cult etc.). Without that story, not more could be inferred than Molyneux already did, making this entire section a superfluous attempt to hype up the association between FDR and cults, not to mention make a snide remark about this not being the first time Molyneux would hear of CIC.
The net effect is that a family has been ripped apart.
Only someone who believes holding together no matter how painful it may be to those involved would see this break up as such a tragic “ripping apart of the family”. By that same logic, divorce is something that should almost never happen, at least not on the basis of such things as shouting, throwing things around, breaking windows, kicking pets etc. Yet of course we see divorces happen for far lesser reasons involving more subtle forms of emotional pain and sometimes a simple inability to understand each other.
Why is it so incredibly hard to demand the same standards for relationships with our parents? Why this double standard? The usual reason behind such irrational inconsistencies is cultural bias and conformity. It’s simply the way it has always been done. It’s effectively tradition. Parents are supposed to be the ones relationship with whom should almost never be terminated and there is a general encouragement of nearly life long indebtedness to them (regardless of the fact that their choosing to have a child was voluntary and what they provided through the childhood was freely given rather than traded for something, or otherwise it really is a case of giving birth and raising solely to have someone to serve you later in life).
The net effect is that Molyneux has helped spread anger, sadness, and grief not only to Tom’s mother and father, but also to every relative and friend, all of whom have been discarded by Tom as a result of Molyneux’s coaching.
He here continues to make generalized and unfounded claims. How does he know that Tom broke up with all of his friends and relatives? Furthermore, how does he know that all of these mentioned relatives and friends are so grieved, angered or sad about such a break up.
Sounds like simple petty emotional sensationalism.
The net effect is that Molyneux has thrust Tom in a long-term existence of unresolved feelings about his family–his anger and his love–that will never be resolved in any healthy way as long as he remains a member of FDR. It has been nine years since Molyneux himself has spoken to any members of his own family, yet they are constantly on his mind. He speaks of his anger against them often, even while he speaks of his glorious new life of freedom.
He wishes Tom the same.
How would he resolve anything if his parents persist in being dismissive every time he expresses that he has a problem, claiming that it’s not so and he must be exaggerating, imagining etc.! How long a time should he waste, indeed with unresolved emotions with regards to these relationships, before he simply finds them to be lost causes? Given the logic that the author seems to operate with, it would probably be close to “his whole life”.
Of course, that breaking a relationship at a point of realization that the relationship was not worth it or doomed anyway simply doesn’t qualify as “having unresolved anger and love”. The whole point of exiting a relationship in such circumstances is to put it all behind and move on to striving to build something better.
And what evidence does the author possibly have to be able to so confidently claim that Molyneux’ parents are “constantly on his mind”? Merely speaking of them often hardly constitutes evidence for constant obsession, not that it actually is “often” considering that most podcasts don’t even deal with the topic of family relationships.
In any case there is a big difference between having unresolved emotions towards his parents and having unresolved issues which are a result of being exposed to particular treatment at a young and formative age. Old habits die hard and this can reasonably apply to old mentalities and emotional complexes. It doesn’t help that he is running a show that is supposed to, among other things, produce useful material on exactly these topics which would naturally remind of his parents with some frequency, as they are the only parents he had first hand early experience with.
When you listen to the podcast, you actually hear that the tears begin for Tom early on, when he is speaking in general about the violence that men do, before Molyneux steers the already distraught Tom to a discussion about his parents.
One cannot hear tears. I assume what he’s referring to are the occasional breaths through the nose (excuse me if I’m missing a proper term, I’m not native english speaker and I’ve never had to describe refer to this before in english), but those are quite ambiguous as far as determining if somebody is tearing up or not is concerned. So neither the author nor Molyneux could know for sure if he’s really crying there or just being obviously bothered by what he’s describing.
I believe if there was any surprise to Molyneux, it was a pleasant surprise. Leaders of therapeutic cults commonly tell their victims that they must experience the pain their “therapies” dish out in order to feel better. Molyneux himself once described the pain and depression you feel as your “old limbs reawakening.”
Statements of beliefs are not necessarily statements of facts. It is assuming quite a lot to so readily claim that it was a pleasant surprise, regardless of what is claimed about what therapeutic cults commonly tell their victims.
In his review of Crazy Therapies, by Margaret Thaler Singer and Janja Lalich, Bob Conrad noted, “Finally, it is quite amazing that most of the therapists discussed by Singer and Lalich seem oblivious or indifferent to their role in priming and prompting their patients. They condition their patients, prompt them, and in some cases, clearly plant notions in their patient’s minds. They give their patients books to read or videos to watch not to help the patient understand a problem but to prime the patient for belief in some crazy therapy. They plant notions during hypnosis, group sessions, etc., and then these planted notions are “recovered” and offered as validation of their therapeutic techniques and theories. Rather than provide real therapy, these “crazy” therapists indoctrinate patients into their own worldviews. This is surreal pseudoscience at its worst.”
First of all, Molyneux does not claim to be offering therapy sessions of any sort and in fact repeatedly and explicitly recommends therapy by professional therapists.
That said, describing dishonest and deliberately manipulative practices of others is hardly evidence of this being perpetrated by Molyneux. Simply offering books and podcasts to read or listen does not by itself indicate an attempt to merely prime the reader/listener towards belief in some sort of a crazy therapy session rather than a genuine desire to express or promote certain sincerely held ideas.
An activity or process A resembling an activity or process B in appearance does not make A equal to B.
Furthermore, relationship issues are only a small portion of the overall set of topics and ideas discussed.
(In the book, the authors also implore readers to immediately abandon any therapist who “requires as a condition for therapy that you cut off all relations with your spouse, children, parents and other loved ones.”
To claim that Molyneux poses such a condition is blatantly false. Most times he has conversations with people before they make any such relationship decisions.
Molyneux completely misrepresents his role as a mere “sympathizer” for Tom. As Crazy Therapies suggests, Tom was primed prior to his Molyneux “therapy” session with hundreds of podcasts and forum conversations about evil parents. In none of these do you find Molyneux simply expressing sympathy for “child over the parent”–the subject is always child as victim of the parent. Always. When the already primed Tom showed up for his podcast therapy with Molyneux (as linked above), he was then prompted throughout until the goal of demonizing his mother was reached.
Absolutely no legitimate psychologist would validate the kind of leading, guided “therapy” Molyneux conducts.
“Priming” insinuations and framing of Molyneux’ conversation’s as “therapies” were already addressed.
The focus of his two books about relationships is on what is problematic, not on what is perfectly functional so of course that the relationships portrayed largely exhibit the “abuser and victim” dynamic. That said expressing sympathy for a child as a victim obviously does not contradict the expression of sympathy for a child over the parent. If this was supposed to pose a contradiction, it is clearly a false dichotomy.
Also, given that Molyneux never claims to conduct actual therapy (and himself refers people to professional therapy), no psychologists validation of therapies is sought nor necessary.
Correct. There is no therapist who would fundamentally disagree with that statement. However, all but the most lunatic among them would disagree with Molyneux’s recipe for “improving the quality of those relationships.” So let’s talk about that.
Let’s say you want to have relationship (including a parental one) with someone who believes in a religion or in some form of government. Here’s Molyneux’s response:
“I do think that it is important to talk to a statist patiently and with curiosity, and help him to understand that when he wishes to use government to achieve his ends, he is advocating the initiation of force against you.
In the same way, a Christian or Jew or Muslim all worship the morals in a holy book that commands death to unbelievers, promotes slavery and rape and other heinous crimes.
If people are willing to reject the use of violence in dealing with others, I think that is wonderful!
I don’t think that it is particularly honorable to remain ‘friends’ with someone who is unwilling to renounce the use of violence against you, but that is everyone’s decision to make of course…”
It’s slippery, but it’s definitive. He maintains that if you believe in either religion or government, then you therefore must believe in violence against him. Resultantly, the only way you can reject the use of violence is to renounce religion and statism completely. As he defines these two belief-sets, there is absolutely no middle ground.
In other words, to “improve the quality” of your relationship with one of his members, you must become an atheist anarcho-capitalist. And–as the atheist anarcho-capitalists who have been banned by FDR have discovered–you must actually believe in Molyneux’s own particular brand of it.
As his books such as “On Truth” demonstrate, this claim of “improving the quality of relationships” is all a fuzzy smokescreen. When you follow all the arguments to their end conclusion, you’re either in FDR or you are not. Period.
When you line all his arguments up and follow the arguments to the end, it is inescapable that FDR has never been about improving the quality of relationships. It is about deFOOing family and friends and replacing them with FDR relationships.
I have largely addressed this issue in my last article. It demonstrates the author’s hypocrisy as a market anarchist libertarian himself.
With the kind of criteria that are set forth by him anyone who practices his own moral beliefs completely and consistently is a burgeoning cultist because such a person would disassociate from those whom support the things which he finds immoral. So in order for you to not be a cultist you must be inconsistent in the application of your own moral beliefs.
It’s really hard to imagine then what exactly should FDR become for the accusers like him to be satisfied, other than for Stefan Molyneux to effectively stop practicing what he is promoting and just “chill a little” and sway into the realm of shallowness and compromise of principles.
Replace “FDR” in his last paragraph above with “consistent application of my principles” and you may get a semblance of actual truth. I am not saying that only FDR members are the ones with whom you can have relationships that are consistent with your principles, since such relationships can be made elsewhere without any reference to FDR and since your principles may conceivably differ from those promoted at FDR. But that is the inference which the author is trying to make.
FDR is a business and Molyneux’s sole source of income. He accepts donations because if he charged people for the therapy he provides, he would be committing a criminal act. Each month he makes a post hawking for donations and he grants rights and privileges to those who pay the most.
If he really were providing professional therapy it still doesn’t mean he would have to charge for it. That he doesn’t charge solely because he may not provide professional therapy without some state permit (which is what I assume “criminal act” is referring to) is complete conjecture that relies on a false assumption that he either claims to provide therapy or does provide real therapy.
To destroy any notion that FDR is anything other than a business, you may be interested in hearing this podcast I found during my internet searches where he happily talks about the revenue he earns from his internet business:
(Click on the lengthy article title, and when that page opens, click on the words “Episode 10″ to hear the podcast.)
This interview was apparently conducted over a year ago, prior to the current monthly subscription model he employs now. I would guess his income is much higher now.
I don’t understand why is it at all significant to destroy the notion that FDR is not a business. In many ways it clearly and absolutely is a business. He is tirelessly providing value on a consistent basis and in return gaining significant returns. Its business model is simply one where nobody is charged for immediate access to content, but instead offered a chance to disseminate it and then pay as a sign of support and to gain certain vanity titles on the forum (like many other online communities).
I could not download the podcast in question as the direct link to an mp3 seems broken. However, judging from the description I don’t see anything objectionable. It appears to emphasize providing of good and useful content as one way to create a successful podcasting business based solely on donations where the sheer value of the podcasts themselves is enough to generate significant profits without directly charging for it.
That said, this talk about FDR being a business obviously in no way contradicts what Molyneux’ says about not charging people, so it’s entirely superfluous. I suppose the author believes this would be a negative point against FDR (it is not).
Molyneux’s humorous coinage of the term “argument from adjective,” is again extraordinarily ironic. Nothing is more prevalent on Molyneux’s site and in his conversations than the way he reframes everything he is against in the most extreme language possible.
Perhaps the larger question is if there is anything more to the argument than the adjective.
But that’s not the most important thing one learns in this passage. No–here we come to the sad realization that he is the most ardent believer in his own theories. He has no idea that the therapy he practices is the utmost quackery.
You may want to listen to the podcast and come to your own conclusions, but if you have time and money to spare you would find it far more revealing to ask a legitimate, reputable therapist to listen to it and critique Moyneux’s methods.
Competent therapists always ask open-ended questions. They do not guide patients to a conclusion they have already reached. They never plant. They never create connections between your feelings and events and convince you to accept them. They never use the technique of saying obvious truths in the beginning, followed by “Right? Right?” until you fall into the resultant pattern of saying “yes, yes” to everything they suggest later on. And when you reach the core of what you are trying to understand about your relationships, they never demonize the other party in an attempt to drive you further away.
The podcast is chilling in that it reveals a quack therapist–one of Singer’s “Crazy Therapists,”–with the kind of transparency few people ever get to witness first hand. It is only a result of Molyneux’s narcissism that he posts it with pride.
Insults are inconsequential (“quackery”). Insinuations of planting and manipulation I’ve already addressed here and in part 1. And the author continues to rely on a completely false assumption that allows him to treat Molyneux’ conversations as if they were actual therapies which again (a) he never claims them to be and (b) the author himself disputes them to be in any way comparable to professional therapies.
The goal, of course, is to portray them as some sorts of derogatory “crazy therapies” according to conditions which the author arbitrarily chose. As far as presenting facts, however, such tactics simply don’t count.
Why did Barbara approach Kate? Because she loves her son.
Barbara approached Kate knowing that she may be placing her relationship with her son at further risk, knowing that she would have to expose her private life to the world, knowing above all that she would be excoriated by Molyneux’s followers, knowing that those who do not understand cults may conclude that there “something wrong with the family” in the first place, knowing some might conclude she was the reason why Tom left, knowing that she would be scrutinized, dismissed, sneered at, or worse.
She knew all of that going in and she did it anyway. Why? Because it was her son.
The author seems to operate under the default assumption that the fact Tom was Barbara’s son, she must automatically love him and that him being her son is the only reason she went to the media, which is here portrayed as some sort of a self-sacrificial rather than a self-interested act.
This also flies in the face of the concept of love in that it essentially implies that the biological relations alone are enough for love rather than the integrity of the persons involved and their actual behavior towards each other. At best, this is pure mythology.
The basic argument comes down to “she loves you, thus you owe her” as if love implies positive obligations on the part of the loved one.
The true subject of the article is Molyneux. But the biggest danger Barbara knew she faced (and which Molyneux even quotes here) is that parental criticism of the leader is often reframed as criticism of the victim.
Molyneux has successfully inoculated himself among his followers against parental criticism through this technique. Find any thread on FDR where one of the members is complaining about a letter they have received from their parents or where the parent has foolishly tried to post directly, and you will see an instant response by Molyneux or his inner circle claiming that the child, not Molyneux, has been attacked.
And Molyneux and the inner circle gather around to electronically hug the “victim.”
And Molyneux skates away.
And the circle grows tighter.
But Molyneux’s response here also proves the CIC is correct, because while this article was a exposé of him and him alone, he feverishly spins it into something else. This entire response about his “simple Web site” and the unfairness of the Guardian is the duck gliding serenely across the lake. But underwater, his feet are paddling furiously to ensure you see it instead as an attack on Tom.
The truth is–among Kate, Barbara, and Molyneux– there is only one person using Tom.
And it is Molyneux.
In this response, as always, Tom becomes Molyneux’s shield, battering ram, and weapon to beat back the criticism and demonize Barbara, Kate, the Guardian, and beyond. Hiding behind his crocodile tears for “poor Tom,” Molyneux thrashes back against the world, against anyone who would dare criticize him.
Molyneux sees the article as an “exercise in humiliation.” I see him using Tom as a shield. And I view that as an exercise in cowardice.
Well, pot again calls kettle black. The author again uses the exact same tactic he accuses Molyneux of using, only in the opposite direction. The assumption is that there is manipulation and dishonesty going on and he certainly believes that it is not him that does the manipulating here. In any case while accusing Molyneux of portraying Tom as the sole victim in order to smear Guardian, Barbara etc. the author is portraying Tom as the victim in order to smear Molyneux.
I view that as an exercise in futility.
Again, it’s not a Web site we’re dealing with. It’s Molyneux. And what he claims above here is completely false. Consider this passage from the book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook, by Dr. Bruce Perry:
“We know today that, just like when you open a Microsoft Word file on your computer, when you retrieve a memory from where it is stored in the brain, you automatically open it to “edit.” You may not be aware that your current mood and environment can influence the emotional tone of your recall, your interpretation of events and even your beliefs about which events actually took place. But when you “save” the memory again and place it back into storage, you can inadvertently modify it. When you discuss your memory of an experience, the interpretation you hear from a friend, family member, or a therapist can bias how and what you recall the next time you pull up that “file.” Over time, incremental changes can even lead to the creation of memories that did not take place. In the lab, researchers have been able to encourage test subjects to create memories of childhood events that didn’t happen: some as common as being lost in a mall, others as extreme as seeing someone possessed by a demon.”
What Kate says about Molyneux’s influence is completely true. Memories can be altered and a therapist wouldn’t know it, especially if they’re not looking for it in the first place. I wonder how many members of FDR disclose the full details of FDR and its leader’s therapeutic activities to their therapists?
I would again like to reiterate that something being possible is not an evidence of it actually being done, especially deliberately, by Molyneux.
Even according to this particular quote presented by the author, creation of memory of events that never happened requires some time of repeated incremental changes or lab testing. I am no expert, but it may also be worth pointing out the possible distinction between memories and emotions. Even if emotions affect strengths of memories, emotions themselves may be less susceptible to such faking and more deeply imprinted into the subconscious. It is thus possible that even when memories lie about their content, emotion’s do not lie about theirs and may still react to stimuli matching authentic past experiences.
In any case, it doesn’t seem reasonable to base final conclusions about that on a single quote especially as an exact descriptor of what someone like Molyneux might be doing.
As far as anyone’s ability to through conversation modify what one remembers is concerned, it only underscores the issue of trust in which case the issue boils down to whom exactly can we find trustworthy not to be deliberately manipulative, and the whole point of this series so far is to build a case against the accusations of sinister manipulation on Molyneux’ part.
The problem with this “analysis”, much like the article reviewed previously from the same site, is that it relies heavily on conjecturing, storytelling, framing, false dichotomies or baseless assumptions, but most of all on a profound lack of understanding of such concepts as consistent application of one’s individual principles or the definition and nature of love.
An even bigger problem, however, is the fact that the author seems inclined to claim that my deference to these concepts and critique against his understanding of them is just another swath of Molyneuxian propaganda that I have personally assimilated as means of blinding myself to what he may claim is the obvious truth.
But such assertions effectively come down to saying that “if you disagree, you’re just blind”. They leave practically no room for rational argumentation. Whatever I say will just be dismissed under the pretense of being brainwashed by Molyneux.
So either I truly am brainwashed or the author is in disagreement over fundamental concepts behind relationships, personal freedom, consistency and integrity and love.
Or this FDRLiberated article is simply another piece of biased anti-FDR slander.
You may be the final judge of that for yourself.
Addendum: At the time of writing this I foolishly forgot to refer to a very crucial piece of evidence that by itself blows many of the FDRLiberated assertions out of the water: Interview with Tom Whipple of The Times – Jan 6 2009 in which Tom (Barbara’s son) expresses a rather detailed account of the situation, saying he did try to work things out with his mother to no avail, expressing his feelings about the Guardian article as very one sided and even disgusting and so on. Anyone interested in the truth behind this story must listen to this interview before making any accusations and inferences!
Thursday, July 9th, 2009
FDRLiberated.com appears to be the most coherent collection of information regarding the “big picture” about Freedomain Radio, but judging from this “brief introduction” which I wish to respond to here, it begins to seem more like an anti-FDR web site that politely presents some rather impolite ideas about it. It is not that these ideas are impolite simply because they are critical or negative towards FDR, but because they are, at least or especially in this “brief introduction”, presented like a one sided story without much references to evidence short of a link to a mess that is the Liberated Minds forum (hosting all kinds of fragmented opinions from different people some of which I’ve addressed in part 1).
The author of FDRLiberated is quoted as saying that he “consistently [re-reads his] little articles for language [he] think is outrageous or unfounded”, but unfortunately I am beginning to suspect that these supposed advances of politeness and balanced attitude are just attempts to lend some credence to what is otherwise a thinly veiled smear campaign.
Still, given that claim one could expect that an article I am responding to right now is not gonna be the same article some time later as he continues to edit them, so I will include the current revision as a quote below, just so there is no confusion as to what I’m addressing.
He begins the article by essentially identifying his audience:
Whether you found this blog as a parent or family member wondering what happened to your loved one, or you are someone intrigued by the ideas of FDR and considering joining the community (as I once was), I offer you the big picture.
On the homepage he also identifies his audience as:
- * family member or friend who has been defooed and looking for answers
- * member of the press trying to unravel the mysteries of FDR
- * someone considering joining the FDR community
Combining this with the overall tone of the article makes it hard to not see this as anything else other than an attempt to completely sway people from even giving FDR a chance, provide some additional reason to certain parents or people who have had someone terminate their relationship with them with more reason to be mad at FDR and provide the media with some additional juicy controversy to write about. Yet the article has no references to evidence, only a story, all ready to go with all of it’s conclusions hereby branded as “the big picture”.
So the baseless accusations start with:
Stefan Molyneux has long been associated with the Libertarian community. His goal has always been to be recognized as a person of importance.
As if the author knows all of Molyneux’ motivations throughout his life. This kind of a generalized statement has no place in what is supposed to be a factual article backed by evidence, but indeed this article is not such.
Upon explaining what libertarianism is, he continues to analyze Stefan Molyneux starting with concessions to his explaining ability and brilliance and then continuing with what can easily be explained as FUD.
As wikipedia describes, “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) is a tactic of rhetoric and fallacy used in sales, marketing, public relations, politics and propaganda. FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence public perception by disseminating negative information designed to undermine the credibility of their beliefs.”
This perfectly describes what is being done in this section which is filled with arbitrary conjecture. He first brings up Stefan’s tendency to not cite his exact sources posing questions which imply that Stefan may be “simply addicted to the accolades from his less-well-read followers”. He then proceeds to describe how Molyneux’ tendency to combine various fields which he names as politics, philosophy, psychology, economics, relationships, and religion must mean that in Molyneux’ head (as if the author knows exactly what is going on in Molynex’ head) all these areas are tied up into “one cohesive truth” that everyone who agrees to any of his ideas must accept as a whole.
Of course, this was all serving as the follow up to the conclusion that Stefan Molyneux is an accolades craving psychologizing manipulator who believes he has what the author terms as “the very key to existence” and an “unified theory of the universe (that only the leader knows and offers to his followers as the key to happiness)” which just coincidentally happens to be what “nearly every other cult leader has in common”. But no he wont tell you outright if FDR is a cult or not, but he doesn’t really have to because in so many words it is already utterly clear what he thinks and wants you to think as well.
To illustrate just how ridiculous this line of reasoning is consider his jump from tying politics, philosophy, psychology, economics, relationships and religion into “one cohesive truth” to calling this a “unified theory of the universe”. As anyone who has read anything about science knows, there are various pursuits of the unified theory of the universe and neither of them involve solely these areas mentioned and certainly cannot be without one crucial field which Stefan Molyneux certainly is not about and never claims to be: physics. So how can he possibly have a unified theory of the universe without physics?
In the second section he describes defooing and the same style of argumentation continues. He starts with a staggering statement:
Another significant Molyneux idea–one that has caused immeasurable suffering within the afflicated families–is that family relationships are voluntary.
I am almost at a loss for words on this one. Apparently it is the idea that family relationships are voluntary which is responsible for immeasurable suffering within the “afflicted families”. From such a statement one can only conclude that for such suffering to not be present such relationships must in some way be coercive or imposed. Yet this is apparently not the position he takes as he in the second paragraph and in parenthesis states that for what it’s worth he believes in voluntary family relationships.
However, the contradictions continue alternating since if he truly believes such relationships are voluntary then he would respect every choice people in such relationships make with regards to them and not imply that they have a freedom to exit such relationship only in some arbitrarily determined “extreme cases”. Of course if he would consistently take such a position his FUD campaign against FDR and Stefan Molyneux would lose quite a bit of thrust.
Instead he refers to Stefan Molyneux’ book “On Truth: The Tyranny of Illusion” (without naming the whole title) to point out that Stefan apparently “tries to tell you that your parents are liars and bullies if they believe in government or religion” and that “your childhood was a prison and you are a victim of abuse”. Now it’s easy to see how this provides some rocket fuel to his ongoing flame against Stefan Molyneux. However, this is coming from a self professed libertarian, someone who believes initiation of force is wrong.
Unfortunately this hits on a sadly recurring theme in the libertarian movement, a problem that coincidentally Stefan Molyneux has been most vocal in targeting head on; and that is the consistent application of libertarian principles in every day life and to personal relationships where such application is possible (without threats of violence). (Wilton D. Alston has recently wrote an excellent piece on this topic aptly titled “Do You Really Want Freedom, Or Are You Just Kidding Yourself?”).
If you believe initiation of force is wrong you by definition consider someone who supports it to support something unethical, no matter who that was. Are parents somehow to be excluded from this? What about siblings or friends? If they are to be excluded then why not arbitrarily exclude everyone else whom we wish? How exactly do these libertarians plan on achieving their freedom if they are not only afraid, but so hypocritically hostile to even suggestions of applying the core libertarian principle to their own lives?
Instead they somehow find it perfectly fine for a son or daughter who discovers the moral problem with the initiation of violence to see their parents support of same violence as somehow acceptable. Yet these are their very own parents and their own family. The same reason why they decry the termination of such familiar relationships as somehow cruel is the reason why it is exactly these relationships which ought to be examined first with regards to the moral and other support of initiation of violence. It is in these relationships in which a person is most vulnerable.
What about religion? In Stefan’s view religious beliefs are defined as superstitions, beliefs based solely on faith towards certain revelations in certain mythical books. One may disagree with this exact definition, but this is the definition he seems to use consistently throughout his work and serves to understand what exactly is he condemning when he condemns religious parents.
Libertarians, those oh so principled libertarians, are also on about their opposition to initiation of fraud or cheating someone out of something or into something. Some of them equate the fraud offense with the force offense and some do not, however hardly anyone believes that cheating and dishonesty are virtues to be defended. So when Stefan Molyneux judges parents as abusing their children when teaching them certain religious beliefs he is referring to exactly the fraud that is perpetrated by such acts. The child is a natural explorer, like a little scientist. In its very early age (s)he truly has integrity. She does not escape expressions of what she feels nor suppresses what she senses. She thinks naturally and has no built in cultural or societal paradigms of thinking.
When such a child is then exposed to claims of truthful existence of that which she cannot possibly perceive and is asked to somehow communicate with (pray) or obey that something under threats of being considered evil and outcast not to mention the horrifying threats of hell and certain eternal death, that is not only a clear case of fraud given that parents whom teach a child such nonsense cannot provide the child any real evidence of what they claim, especially evidence that a child can understand, but it is also a case of emotional manipulation and intimidation that given it is inflicted at such early age is bound to leave lasting consequences.
Yet of course, this type of abuse is so common and widely accepted today that someone suggesting it is actually a very real type of abuse worthy of critical examination, the whole world frowns and libertarians, the very ones who are supposed to be understanding towards these types of things, join in the chastisement.
Typically, I myself may be now accused of falling for some sort of a cult manipulation for saying such things. Of course, no way that I could actually be telling what I see as an honest truth that I understood on my own volition. I must be intellectually inept and susceptible to manipulation. Everything, just don’t let me be right.
And this really seems to strike at the very core of this controversy. It is really pitifully said that there are libertarians who would rather engage in a smear campaign on the basis of these ideas considering them somehow sick and twisted rather than try to understand what is it that they are getting at.
In any case, this “brief introduction” article continues with more conjecturing telling an interesting story about a straw man he names Stefan Molyneux, a person whom, rather than for the above explained reasons, wrote the things he did in “On Truth” because he wishes to portray everyone who doesn’t believe in anarcho-capitalism as an abuser. A person who wishes everyone to break all of their relationships with anyone except other FDR members and singlehandedly guides them through this painful process. And a person who never devoted any podcasts to developing healthy relationships with your parents (yet he wrote a whole frakking book on exactly that topic; Real Time Relationships, which after identifying the problematic things about modern relationships offers a constructive framework of what truly loving relationships could and should be).
Ultimately, Stefan Molyneux is portrayed as nothing more than an entrepreneur whose goal is to manipulate people with his podcasts, books and conversations into buying his “truth package”. And apparently another piece of evidence is this hearsay I’m just supposed to take his word on, that most of this manipulation is happening, guess where? Where YOU and most people cannot see it and from where he coincidentally cannot provide much evidence. How convenient.
The final characterization of Stefan Molyneux may be most interesting of all – that he is the most loyal member of his own cult. He is supposedly somehow accidentally creating this cult without any real plan and deliberation because he truly believes in it. One could say Mr. QuestEon just “proved” his own theory wrong, for if there truly was no deliberate attempt on Molyneux’ part to create a cult that pretty much automatically blows most of the FACTnet’s cult warning signs out of the water since they depend on exactly the deliberate, dishonest and sinister manipulation.
At any rate this article is completely void of evidence and completely consisted of biased conjecture and unfounded claims. It effectively amounts to an interesting story to sell to the media and disgruntled mothers like Barbara Weed who supposedly love their children so much that they cannot respect their choices enough not to put their names and reputations through metaphorical mud that is the media hungry for the next scapegoat.
This article puts a bitter taste in my mouth and discourages me from addressing any of the other ones presented. However, I may still try, for the sake of being balanced. There are certain issues to be addressed and perspectives to be expressed with regards to one case to which critics have some shred of credible things to say; the UPB (not that they completely blow it out of the water).
Below is the quote of the entire article I was above responding to.
A brief introduction to FreeDomainRadio
Whether you found this blog as a parent or family member wondering what happened to your loved one, or you are someone intrigued by the ideas of FDR and considering joining the community (as I once was), I offer you the big picture.
Stefan Molyneux has long been associated with the Libertarian community. His goal has always been to be recognized as a person of importance.
If you’re new to all this, it’s easiest to think of Libertarians like the US Republican or Democrat parties–in that within each party you’ll find a range of liberal-to-conservative view points. In general, Liberatarians believe that government is never a solution to the problems that face us. Like US President Reagan, Libertarians believe the nine scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
As I mentioned, however, there are a range of beliefs. On one end, you’ll find Libertarians who believe in small government (however they define that) and at the opposite end are those who believe in no government (anarcho-capitalists)–and everything in between. Some are atheists. Some believe in a Higher Power. Within Libertarianism, you’ll find many different views on economics. It’s a single word that covers a broad area of thinking.
On Stefan Molyneux
Stefan Molyneux is an atheist anarcho-capitalist. He received early notoriety as a great explainer of already existing concepts. Many of these early podcasts are downloadable from his site and from YouTube. In addition, some of his early papers are still on-line at reputable Liberatarian sites. Make no mistake, Molyneux is a brilliant man and an extraordinary teacher. He is very engaging and many people tend to connect with him on a personal and emotional level. While he has not made many original contributions to Libertarian thinking, the few he has made are typically grandiose (and usually preposterous).
Unfortunately, Molyneux often ignores the need to cite his influences or give references. As a result, many of his followers today–who came into FDR as a result of his podcasts–mistakenly believe that most of the ideas discussed originated with Molyneux. Is it plagarism? Well, Molyneux doesn’t specifically claim to be the author of those ideas. He simply discusses them–unattributed–with great passion and lets his acolytes draw their own conclusions.
This troubles me because there may be some deception or self-deception occurring here. In his passion, does Molyneux simply forget to attribute his sources? Or is he simply addicted to the accolades from his less-well-read followers?
Molyneux has a unified theory of the topics (politics, philosophy, psychology, economics, relationships, and religion) that he discusses on FDR. He expresses his views on each of those topics with great authority.
What’s important to know is that in Molyneux’s head, he has them all tied together as one cohesive truth. In other words, to accept Molyneux’s beliefs, you must accept his conclusions in all of these areas. If you do not, he typically attempts to demonstrate that some psychological flaw is preventing you from understanding the truth he is revealing. His critics often accuse him of psychologizing any detractors.
As a result of this unified truth, his followers don’t believe he’s just teaching them ideas about Libertarianism or philosophy–they believe (and he believes) he is giving them the very key to existence. Now, one can say he is a cult leader or one can say he is not a cult leader, but I know one thing–a unified theory of the universe (that only the leader knows and offers to his followers as the key to happiness) is something nearly every cult leader has in common.
Defooing and the break-up of families
Another significant Molyneux idea–one that has caused immeasurable suffering within the afflicated families–is that family relationships are voluntary. For example, you owe your parents nothing because you didn’t get to choose them. They freely accepted the positive obligation of birthing you, caring for you, teaching you about ethics, and sending you out into the world as a healthy adult.
That idea might be difficult for some to accept. (I believe it, for what it’s worth). But–in and of itself–it’s not the real problem of FDR. The problem is how Molyneux subverts it.
He has introduced into the FDR community the idea of defooing. In this case, FOO is the abbreviation of a common psychological term meaning “family of origin.” As you can imagine, a great deal of study in psychology is devoted to understanding how your family of origin shapes you.
Defooing, on the other hand, is purely a Molyneux term. It refers to completely leaving your family behind and having no further contact with them. Now, most psychologists do agree that a few family situations are so toxic, the most mentally healthy course for a patient is to separate from them. However, they also quickly point out that these are extreme cases and typically a great deal of counseling with the family is suggested before such an act.
Not so with FDR.
If you read the book “On Truth” by Molyneux, you’ll begin to understand how he truly views families, using arguments that (I believe) are without merit or substance both philosophically and psychologically. He tries to tell you that your parents are liars and bullies if they believe in government or religion. Your childhood was a prison and you are a victim of abuse.
Got that? If your parents believed in any kind of religion or government, you were a victim of abuse. Also, if your friends believe in either of those two concepts (which they nearly always do), they are corrupt and should likewise be abandoned. So, defooing really means getting rid of everyone.
He believes that the reason you struggle with accepting the truth and beauty of his version of an anarcho-capitalist society is a direct result of this abuse. You have accepted the role of slave. Only by throwing off the shackles will you find your way to freedom and happiness.
In this case, of course, the “shackles” are your current family and your current friends.
As I said before, one can say he is a cult leader or one can say he is not a cult leader, but I know another thing–convincing one’s followers of the need to separate from their family and friends and associate only with other members of the group is something nearly every cult leader also has in common.
One more thing about this defooing business. No one ever seems to pick up on the fact that Molyneux’s first two philosophy books are clearly targeted to late-teen to early twenty-year-olds. Whoever heard of targeting a philosophy to a specific age group?
Since Molyneux believes that most family relationships are bad, he’s doing his followers a favor when he convinces them to defoo. That’s the danger and destruction of FDR. If you are a victimized parent, that’s what probably led you here.
His goal has always been to separate kids from their parents, a goal made easier by the fact that nearly everyone in his target age range is already in the difficult struggle of finding his/her independent self. To many of them, Molyneux is the pied piper.
Molyneux has defooed his family and speaks often of his rage for his mother and brother. He convinced his wife to defoo after they were married.
Despite his claims of innocence, most assuredly if Molyneux removed all of his defoo “therapy” podcasts (such as the one he did with Tom) from the board and promised he would never counsel another potential runaway again, I believe there would never be another defoo.
In other words, although Molyneux’s book “On Truth” sets the hook, it is only a recruiting tool and not persuasive enough to allow him to achieve his goal of family breakup. Based on the many hours I’ve spent listening to his “counseling” podcasts, watching him interact in the chat rooms and on the main forum, I believe nearly every defoo is heavily, personally influenced by Molyneux in one way or another.
Amazingly, each of his followers who suddenly decided they were the victims of abuse believe they came to that conclusion of their own free will with no input or influence from anyone.
Sometimes Molyneux offers the weak excuse that he is only interested in building healthy families. He probably has hundreds of podcasts that are about or mention defooing at one point or another. Would you like to know how many podcasts he has devoted to developing a healthy relationship with your parents?
The FreeDomainRadio Community
FDR is a financial enterprise and Molyneux’s sole source of revenue. He receives money in the form of contributions or subscriptions. Molyneux does not simply preach the truth–he packages it and sells it.
Despite Molyneux’s defensive responses to media inquiries, FDR is as far from being “simply a Web site” as you can imagine.
It is a complicated system of video and audio podcast outreach, on-line forum, chatroom, media library, books, and a distribution of members into a hierarchy. There is continual development of technology to allow for immediate and one-on-one counseling and discussion.
Few people realize how much of what is “FDR” takes place within the chat room and during Skype chats. It is through those means that FDR members get the personal attention from Molyneux that they crave, as well as (since many are now alone and without family and friends) the ability to socialize with others. All the necessary work of indoctrination, love-bombing, and social control gets done here.
There is clearly a social system on display: at the highest level in the hierarchy is an inner circle that enforces behavior and thoughts posted to the site. Critics of the site or Molyneux are swiftly purged.
FDR members have vacationed together, attended annual BBQ’s at the Molyneux home together, attended philosophy and psychology seminars conducted Molyneux and his wife, and more.
But above all–more than anything else–FDR members are intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally invested in a utopian worldview based on Molyneux’s unique approach to anarcho-capitalism. Even though they understand at some level that the utopian society they hope for is at minimum generations away, their investment is powerful enough for many of them to live lives in near-isolation, each one a modern-day Diogenes, hoping to find “honest and virtuous relationships” based on Molyneux’s definition of such relationships.
Okay–so is it a cult?
You’ll have to decide that for yourself. In my opinion, the answer is yes. I think of it as a baby cult. It’s relatively new and I’ve been watching it with the same fascination that an astronomer would watch the birth of a star. I don’t think Molyneux has a master plan. I think he is, in fact, the most loyal cult member of all. FDR seems to be springing up organically around his need to be revered.
In this blog, we’ll examine specific issues of FDR. I’d be very interested in your input. One of my favorite sites is Liberating Minds. Many of these issues are discussed there as well. Why not drop on by?
Thursday, July 9th, 2009
As promised in my last article I wish to explain why certain accusations against Freedomain Radio (FDR) are unfounded. Here I explore the biggest one, that FDR is some sort of a cult.
But first I would like to expand on my motivation for writing this. If FDR was any other online community forum with a split off like Liberated Minds and I read all of the ugly stuff that has come out of it, I would have probably already decided to put all of that BS behind me and move on. I would feel annoyed, disillusioned and disappointed, but I would also eventually come to realize that I can be bigger than that and go on my own. I do not necessitate any comforting affiliations. I can create my own (especially as a web publisher with experience in building an online community). To a large extent this actually IS how I feel about this controversy.
However, I believe this to be an exceptional case and the reason is simply the amount of value that I have been able to derive from FDR and its relative uniqueness. So I am hard pressed to dismiss FDR as a complete failure for me. Instead I am compelled to look at it as a potentially great thing, but perhaps with a few glaring bugs that could use fixing. However, even if they aren’t fixed, I think it can still play a significantly positive role in liberating people’s minds and consequently changing the world to the better. Even the biggest accusers tend to concede to the positive value of at least some of the ideas promoted by FDR.
So first of all let’s just take the definitions of a “cult” from a reputable Merriam-Webster dictionary and see how they relate to FDR.
1. formal religious veneration : worship
Stefan Molyneux promotes atheism and discounts religion (as it is commonly viewed) as mythological superstition. Furthermore, formal veneration is distinct from genuine admiration in that it implies acting in accordance to a particular specifically pre-defined form (e.g. a ritual) so whatever spontaneous or genuine expressions of admiration may exist towards Stefan Molyneux, they cannot fit this definition.
2. a system of religious beliefs and ritual ; also : its body of adherents
As said above, religious belief is discouraged and no rituals exist. I am aware religion may sometimes be defined to include all spiritual tendencies and that certain philosophies meant to affect how one lives his or her life may be seen as having a spiritual dimension (how an individual experiences the world on an emotional level). However, these are scarcely the terms in which FDR discourse is held and individualistic philosophy it promotes leaves too much room for personal and private development of whatever spirituality one wishes to adopt for Stefan’s philosophical views to be seen as any kind of a specific and coherent “religious belief system”, let alone one prescribing certain set of rituals.
3. a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious ; also : its body of adherents
I think the above covers this one pretty well too.
4. a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
FDR is hardly a “health cult”. I don’t remember the last time anyone tried to sell me some health tips there. I’d go elsewhere for that.
5. great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book) ; especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b: the object of such devotion c: a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion
This essentially refers to a different kind of cult than what I’m trying to disprove. For example a Star Trek franchise is often described as a “cult TV show”. It has more to do with a general identification of exceptionally popular culture than dangerous cults which are the topic here. If this definition applies to FDR then it probably applies to the entire libertarian movement (devotion to the idea of a non-aggression principle, austrian economics, Atlas Shrugged etc.).
So with the caveat in the fifth definition neither of these definitions clearly describe Freedomain Radio.
That said, let’s get to the more detailed analysis of characteristics that a certain group needs to exhibit in order for the suspicion of it being a dangerous cult to be justified; the FACTnet’s Warning signs of a destructive cult. It begins by noting that “anyone could attack a group they disagree with by unfairly labeling it a destructive cult” which only illustrates the importance of this analysis.
I am aware that Stefan Molyneux already went through these warning signs in his own rebuttal of the cult claim and made a video about it, but I wish to expand on that and provide an independent and hopefully unbiased analysis.
So let’s start.
1. A destructive cult tends to be totalitarian in its control of its members’ behavior. Cults are likely to dictate in great detail not only what members believe, but also what members wear and eat, when and where members work, sleep, and bathe, and how members think, speak, and conduct familial, marital, or sexual relationships.
Next to impossible
Much of the described totalitarian controls are simply physically impossible in the case of FDR unless one would advance a claim that Stefan Molyneux has a paid gang of thugs distributed around the world who can physically intimidate FDR participants into submission to certain ways of clothing, eating, working, sleeping, bathing etc. which would be a claim without absolutely any evidence. The fact that this is an online community with members dispersed around the globe makes this next to impossible.
An example of misrepresented “evidence”
There are various things which accusers claim as evidence to the contrary and I would like to address an example for a case in point. One of the accusers claims that FDR requires an uniform basing that on the fact that FDR sells T-Shirts and that Stefan Molyneux allegedly “produced an angry rant about how cowardly the FDR members all were for complaining about the clothing’s quality and not doing their duty to FDR by buying and wearing them”. He never referred to the exact recording of such a rant and even though I tried I could not find it. However, it appears that another member recalled the podcast in question and had this to say on it:
“That podcast was not chastisement for not buying goods. It was chastisement to the individuals who were clamoring for goods to be be made available for purchase and did not buy them when they were made available. The issue was not the purchase of goods, but the lack of integrity on the part of a few individuals.”
While I cannot take this as absolutely solid evidence against the accuser’s claim since I cannot find the podcast in question, neither does it serve as any evidence in favor of the accusing claim. It does however demonstrate a method of misrepresentation which I’ve seen repeatedly used by the accusers where a given podcast or a forum thread is claimed as evidence which on further examination shows a significantly different picture than the accusers wanted to portray and thus invalidates the reference as any kind of solid evidence for their claim.
There are also various conversations Stefan Molyneux held with certain members who have subsequently broken their relationships with parents or other people which are claimed as evidence that FDR, in accordance to this point of FACTnet’s warning signs, tends to be “totalitarian in its control of its members’ behavior” with respect to “how members think, speak, and conduct familial, marital, or sexual relationships”.
However, the worst that they could possibly claim in this instance falls a little short of “totalitarian control”.
Totalitarian control implies total or absolute control of behavior, albeit not necessarily direct in the way a puppeteer pulls the strings of his dolls. It would require members to act in exact accordance to a particular predetermined fashion exclusively through suspension of their own critical thinking and deference to the leader’s instructions. This suspension and deference would have to be initiated in pursuit of a particular reward promised by the leader which is in fact not gonna come. It would also require certain sanctions to be in place should the victim fail to act in such a pre-determined manner (such as intimidation by threats of physical violence), but such sanctions would not be known to the victim until (s)he fails to follow said instructions. Only this way could control be reasonably called totalitarian.
Yet the worst claims I’ve heard are limited to someone being supposedly verbally manipulated to terminate a particular relationship and involve no violent threats against anyone who failed to terminate them. Furthermore, critical thinking is promoted on FDR (rather than their suspension) and probably emphasized more than on most other web sites.
So even if Stefan Molyneux does use certain manipulative tactics they hardly count as “totalitarian control” and thus fail to meet the criteria for this warning sign to be fulfilled. That said, does he really use manipulative tactics?
According to relevant definitions from Merriam-Webster to manipulate is “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage and to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose. And unfair is defined as “marked by injustice, partiality, or deception” and “not equitable in business dealings”. The keywords to insidious are also treacherous, seductive and subtle.
The reason I am defining this so rigorously is because I wish to posit that manipulation is impossible without dishonesty of the manipulator and sincere will to harm somebody for his purposes and that manipulation is akin to fraud in that it is like selling something you do not even possess or promising results that will not happen. So is Stefan being dishonest in his conversations? Is he trying to deliberately harm the other party in those conversations and is he indeed promising results which will not deliver?
Let’s take a poster case for the cult accusations which I referred to in my part 0.
Was Stefan dishonest in his conversation? It is hard to say, both for me and the accusers, because we do not have absolute insights into his psyche during that conversation. We can only conjecture and the burden of proof is on the accusers. He was asked for thoughts about a psychological issue a caller had. He asked questions, inferred certain assessments from the provided answers and repeatedly asked the caller for confirmation or correction of those assessments. Regardless of accusers claim that this repeated asking for confirmation is just another manipulative tactic, one can hardly argue against the fact that it does offer the caller repeated chances to express his own thoughts which seems opposite of Stefan wishing to lead him in a particular arbitrary direction of his own.
Was Stefan deliberately trying to harm the caller? Well DID he harm him, since he so to speak “succeeded” in “convincing” the caller to terminate a relationship with his mother? Last I know even after his name was smeared across the media by his own mother, he remained firm in his decision and testified positively about it, had no regrets. One would think the whole media circus would have given him enough chance to ask himself if he truly made a mistake and fell victim to a cult. That he did not reconsider his decision and in fact testified to no regrets about it and an improved life seems more in line with the supposition that FDR is NOT a cult. So there is no evidence that Stefan actually harmed him, but that he helped him.
Note that this is not the only case where cult accusers “analyze” a particular conversation claiming that the caller was a victim of manipulation where that supposed victim never in fact complained nor asked for their defense in the matter. I suppose the accusers simply assume that these people are somehow brainwashed (thus implying they are susceptible to such a thing and not strong enough in their critical thinking to resist) or that they are worse off.
Was Stefan promising results that would not be delivered? First of all, the only promises, if they can even be called that, are of more personal freedom, but the true goals and the true results desired are with the caller. He is the one who defines the results he wishes to achieve. Still, supposing that Stef did promise the caller a better life, the promise was certainly delivered. You can listen to his own account here.
You can also watch Stefan’s take on this case here.
Given these facts the claim of manipulation begins to look a little weak and appears based on some incredibly ridiculous arguments.
Some ridiculous arguments
1. Colorful language.
The argument: “Stefan is manipulative because he used a metaphor which I find distasteful and are meant to make the victim vulnerable to suggestion.”
Response: I agree that certain metaphors used are sometimes quite distasteful and emotionally charging, however the caller already WAS vulnerable to suggestion which is the whole reason he called! Being vulnerable to suggestion does not immediately exclude the ability to reason for himself and thus reject the suggestion should he find it inappropriate (which is, after all, what many did). Suggesting otherwise is offensive to the caller, especially when the caller never complained.
2. He says “right?” after many sentences.
The argument: “Stefan is manipulative because he says “right?” after almost every sentence thus deceiving people into thinking he’s actually interested in their opinion.”
Response: First, if verbal habits make someone a manipulator then we’re all manipulators, including the accusers. Second, many times when he says “Right?” he actually does pause for a response. Manipulation or a chance to terminate him in order to interject with your own thoughts? Would accusers rather have his rants go on without such chances of interjection? I doubt it.
3. He makes overconfident and grandiose statements about himself.
The argument: “Stefan is manipulative because he praises himself too much expecting others to confirm his claims.”
Answer: So, someone being an overconfident a** is a manipulative tactic? Only if you truly think he is worth your confirming his claims will it be a problem for you to simply politely remain underwhelmed. Someone’s expression of overconfidence is hardly an enticement of your cooperation unless you truly believe his confidence is justified. This could in fact be anti-manipulative in that a good manipulator would wish to not make his victims feel awkward, but leave them with an impression that they’re talking to a really really nice and humble guy who will really help them, when he’s not.
4. He tells people to not associate with people who explicitly express support for them being harmed.
The argument: “Stefan manipulates people into breaking all ties from the rest of the world and thus strengthen ties to FDR members by telling them to confront people whom they have relationship with with a question of whether they support initiating violence against them (the against-me argument).”
The answer: Since these accusations come largely from libertarians I am tempted to ask what kind of a libertarian are you to have a problem with people confronting their friends or family with such a question? Do you not believe in the non-aggression as a matter of principle? No libertarian, and probably no human being, wishes to be aggressed upon. If one wishes to have a truly deep and understanding relationship with someone I would find it absolutely crucial to know if that someone would be perfectly fine with initiation of violence on me or not.
This part has turned out to be far longer than I anticipated out of my desire to cover as much as I can and due to the fact that claims of control of members behavior and claims of manipulation form the majority of all reasoning behind the overall cult claim.
2. A destructive cult tends to have an ethical double standard. Members are urged to be obedient to the cult, to carefully follow cult rules. They are also encouraged to be revealing and open in the group, confessing all to the leaders. On the other hand, outside the group they are encouraged to act unethically, manipulating outsiders or nonmembers, and either deceiving them or simply revealing very little about themselves or the group. In contrast to destructive cults, honorable groups teach members to abide by one set of ethics and act ethically and truthfully to all people in all situations.
On FDR members are encouraged to do the exact opposite of inconsistent and dishonest behavior as a core of its philosophy, even if behavior of certain members and occasionally perhaps even Stefan Molyneux himself seem to reflect an imperfect application of this in practice. It is hard to argue that a web site founded to promote consistency among its highest principles is somehow turning out to be the exact opposite. What validates this further is the fact that 90% of all content published by FDR including all inter-member interactions and conversations are public which greatly lowers the distinction between non-members and members and allows any inconsistency and double standards to be exposed immediately.
Cults usually have a far more reclusive membership core mired in secrecy and mystery which allows them to present a distinctively different picture to the non-members than they do to the members. Furthermore, once inside members find it hard to escape even if they wish so, which is simply not the case with FDR as members can come and leave as they please without feeling in any way threatened.
3. A destructive cult has only two basic purposes: recruiting new members and fund-raising. Altruistic movements, established religions, and other honorable groups also recruit and raise funds. However, these actions are incidental to an honorable group’s main purpose of improving the lives of its members and of humankind in general. Destructive cults may claim to make social contributions, but in actuality such claims are superficial and only serve as gestures or fronts for recruiting and fund-raising. A cult’s real goal is to increase the prestige and often the wealth of the leader.
FDR is set up as a donation based web site where donations are absolutely voluntary. The site merely proposes a certain way of donating with a proposed value per a certain number of podcasts. It’s donations system is technically not different at all from that of FreeTalkLive.com.
Some of the most obvious and most easily refuted claims have come from the cult accusers with this regard, severely limiting their credibility. It was claimed, for example, that FDR collects a tithe or a tenth of member’s income, which is simply and blatantly false.
Additionally, every online community is set up with the goal of growing its membership exactly because such growth increases the value that each member gains by participating (more people to interact with, more potentially useful content etc.). FDR is no different in this respect.
Where it does obviously differ, however, is that it is set up around the podcast published by a single person whom does obviously has it in his interest to increase the number of viewers of his podcasts like any blogger or podcaster may. The fact that he deals with philosophy provides further justification for the need and desire to be more widely recognized for his ideas (especially given that these ideas promote views held by a relative minority of people) which is in and of itself hardly equivalent to pursuit of some empty kind of prestige let alone a pursuit of wealth given that all of his content is available without obligation to pay.
4. A destructive cult appears to be innovative and exclusive. The leader claims to be breaking with tradition, offering something novel, and instituting the ONLY viable system for change that will solve life’s problems or the world’s ills. But these claims are empty and only used to recruit members who are then surreptitiously subjected to mind control to inhibit their ability to examine the actual validity of the claims of the leader and the cult.
It is true that Stefan Molyneux claims the ideas he promotes (not all of which are necessarily those he originated, but also those he adopted) are non-traditional and to many people still novel. He also does promote those ideas as fundamental to personal freedom and social change, as do most libertarians or pretty much any political movement as well. However if these claims are empty he would have to be dishonest and not believe what he is promoting, using it solely to grow his membership and power. There is hardly any evidence that this is true and even many critics who subject him to psychological analysis of some sort claim that he has a personal investment in what he promotes which would indicate that he does believe what he says genuinely.
Accusers would often claim, however, that he does “surreptitiously [subject people] to mind control to inhibit their ability to examine the actual validity of the claims” claiming various cases of persons being banned for expressing their disagreement in particular ways which he claims were abusive or unpleasant, as evidence.
However given that these bans are public and explicit he is hardly surreptitious about it and it does not follow that such bans somehow make the rest of the members unable to critically examine the validity of the claims. They are not forced to stay on FDR nor to stop expressing their opinions on other web sites even if they are discouraged to post certain styles of critique on FDR boards themselves.
However, Stefan repeatedly invites those whom disagree or wish to examine certain ideas to talk to him in his sunday call in shows or to have a verbal debate with him. This is a practice that flies in the face of cult behavior even if such conversations do not satisfy everyone in terms of how willing Stefan may be to concede certain points or how often does he do that.
I would be further examining the issue of disagreements in my responses to FDRLiberated articles directly, but suffice it to say I do not see sufficient nor solid evidence that would make this warning sign square and fair apply to FDR, not even if the whole “banning of dissent” accusation was true.
5. A destructive cult is authoritarian in its power structure. The leader is regarded as the supreme authority. He or she may delegate certain power to a few subordinates for the purpose of seeing that members adhere to the leader’s wishes. There is no appeal outside his or her system to a greater system of justice. For example, if a schoolteacher feels unjustly treated by a principal, an appeal can be made to the superintendent. In a destructive cult, the leader claims to have the only and final ruling on all matters.
Accusers might want to point to the bans again as well as the enforcement of the forum rules, but if they do so they would effectively describe almost every internet forum. So the capability of the site administrator to ban people and give and enforce certain arbitrary rules of conduct simply cannot apply here.
I have never heard Stefan Molyneux make claims which would in any way explicitly or implicitly say that he has the final ruling on all matter concerning the lives of FDR members
6. A destructive cult’s leader is a self-appointed messianic person claiming to have a special mission in life. For example, leaders of flying saucer cults claim that beings from outer space have commissioned them to lead people away from Earth, so that only the leaders can save them from impending doom.
If he has claimed anything as prosaic as this it was in a poetic or metaphorical artistic form and/or applied to not only himself, but to everyone else who understood and agreed with his goals and desires for the world. As a voluntaryist with a desire to promote the ideas which help people live freer lives with more integrity, greater tendency to think philosophically and no violence, I would consider myself as having something significantly important to say to the world, something that I wouldn’t hesitate to describe with a metaphor involving a cure and a disease. This hardly means that I think of myself as a messianic leader.
7. A destructive cult’s leader centers the veneration of members upon himself or herself. Priests, rabbis, ministers, democratic leaders, and other leaders of genuinely altruistic movements focus the veneration of adherents on God or a set of ethical principles. Cult leaders, in contrast, keep the focus of love, devotion, and allegiance on themselves.
In the same spirit of the response above, when speaking prosaically or metaphorically, the veneration is either of a particular set of ideas or on those who have adopted such ideas. His occasional expressions of what we might call overconfidence and expectations of enthusiasm about something he seems to see as a great accomplishment is not necessarily the same thing as a set up designed to manipulate people into focusing “love, devotion, and allegiance” on himself.
If this was so then every time anyone feels that (s)he accomplished something incredible and significant expecting others around him or her to be enthused about it are exhibiting characteristics of a potential cult leader. I could think of countless examples where I’ve felt the need to talk about enthusiastically and even perhaps with a bit of an exaggeration about something I personally accomplished only to be met with a less than stellar reaction and a bit of a disappointment. I didn’t necessarily feel the immediate need to punish them for that, even if I did express a bit of friendly frustration with it.
8. A destructive cult’s leader tends to be determined, domineering, and charismatic. Such a leader effectively persuades followers to abandon or alter their families, friends, and careers to follow the cult. The leader then takes control over followers’ possessions, money, time, and lives.
Stefan Molyneux may arguably be charismatic and determined. However I would doubt that he is domineering in the sense that this warning sign is putting it. He did effectively persuade certain individuals to abandon certain specific relationships, but that was far more precise than a complete abandonment of the whole family, all friends and whole careers. The terminated relationships are with specific individuals. One may for instance cut ties with a mother without cutting ties with a father or cut ties with one friend while still having others etc. I have written about the nature of this process in response to the first warning sign above.
Taking control over possessions, money, time and lives is also somewhat resonant with the first point and the point about it being to a large extent impossible is applicable here too. All donations, book purchases or t-shirt purchases are voluntary. There are no explicit rules or demands for members to spend particularly high amounts of time participating on the FDR.
I realize this is a pretty large piece of text, but my intention was to cover as much as I could and express my reasoning behind extreme skepticism I have towards the claim I wish to dispute here. In a nutshell my general understanding of the reasoning behind the cult accusations is that they need to rely on a rather fragmented and weak structure of reasoning and claimed evidence.
Cult claimants tend to say that on the surface FDR does not appear like a cult and that it is required of one to really scratch deep beneath the surface and connect the dots in order to see how it really is. But such a line of reasoning already leaves much to be desired because it effectively claims that most people will not be able to see and understand the evidence and that only few, including presumably the few of those who are perpetuating such claims, were capable of this. It also begins to sound a lot like some kind of a conspiracy theory.
Yet when one takes a look at the nature of a project such as FDR it is obvious that there’s not a lot that could be so susceptible to this sort of a sophisticated cover up, or if anything of the sort even was possible it would not be an equivalent to strong evidence for FDR being a cult, but merely strong evidence that Stefan Molyneux can and is just as imperfect as all human beings no matter what kind of an ideal he aspires to and no matter what kind of an ideal some of his current or former admirers wish to ascribe to him.
More than 90% of all content is public including forum conversations, audio conversations, podcasts etc. FDR discussion is ongoing both on and off the FDR web site. If there’s anything that is somehow “hidden” and thus not obvious to those who don’t scratch deeper and beneath the surface then it is hidden in plain sight among all of the words Stefan has ever uttered. And coming up with conclusive evidence and argumentation for the claim that FDR is a cult begins to look a lot like scouring the bible for quotes that would supposedly confirm that it prophesied a particular dramatic event. In that sense I could claim almost anything about Stefan Molyneux and then seek various “interesting” and “whoa look at that” kinds of statements to support my claim considering the sheer amount of material he has put out.
That said, I am willing to respond to whichever arguments anyone can put forward in the comments as well as various “extremely objectionable” podcasts or recorded conversations to some of which I might dedicate an article all of its own. I also intend to respond to some articles written at FDRLiberated.com.
But I will not participate on Liberated Minds again and in fact regret that those who do not buy into the cult claims still do act as if they are completely fine and not more than a smear campaign. I do not wish to associate with those who advance such extreme accusations nor do I wish to be in the same group which seems to foster support for such actions as those by Barbara W. Even if I was banned from FDR for any reason, I would not come to Liberated Minds for sympathy.
Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
As a voluntaryist and someone who has a penchant for free thinking and philosophical discourse and someone who can get quite passionate about the particular ideas that I feel are important to promote or discuss I have been attracted to the material put out by Stefan Molyneux on Freedomain Radio, a web site that contains hundreds of podcasts, a number of books and a rather unique discussion board.
What attracted me is the apparent rigor and brilliance of his presentation of philosophical ideas. After listening or watching his podcasts I would often have epiphany like moments where things just clicked in my head and I feel like I’ve gained deeper understanding on the subject that I care about. It further validated and deepened my evolving understanding of voluntaryism and begun to add further context to it in form of its application to what is real in every day life, from how I personally think and feel to how I relate with other people.
I would attribute a lot of my recent thinking about things like integrity, honesty, the evil of contradictions and my relative fall from relativism to Stefan Molyneux’ influence, albeit I have taken a liberty to think them through myself and sometimes even form slightly different expressions of these ideas or perhaps adopt slight modifications of them. I certainly did not feel compelled to take absolutely every word for it from Molyneux and that seems perfectly fine by him, as this is exactly what he appears to encourage with people. So long as there is consistency in your logic and your theories are empirically verifiable, go for it! And so I did.
But then I begun learning about the controversy. The first negative thing that I heard about Stefan Molyneux was fairly benign. One of my best friends online, with whom I speak with almost daily in our IRC channel sometimes expressed his view of Stefan as a bit “insane” on the basis of his presentation style in certain podcasts where he appeared very angry. I didn’t take this all too seriously since it is merely a small percentage of podcasts and expressions of anger scarcely have much to do with the validity of the ideas presented. Additionally, I largely sympathize with the anger since I myself feel it when it comes to facing the violence of the governments, wars etc. and the ignorant and/or self-contradictory defenses put forth for it.
The worst kind of controversy however had to do with some rather extreme sounding accusations against Freedomain Radio which called it an “online cult”. Initially, I didn’t take these accusations for much and was interested in neither concluding that FDR was or was not what it was accused of being. My position was that it was basically irrelevant to the validity of ideas presented in it. This is a stance I still hold to this day. However, it is hard to stop me from being extremely curious and the more I came to admire what was being done at FDR and what Stefan Molyneux was saying the more I felt the need for some sort of a personal closure to the whole controversy thing.
That’s just the way I am. If somebody makes accusations and questions what I’ve come to admire as a good thing and even a truthful thing, either I am going to completely debunk these accusations to sky high to the point where it will be clear beyond all reasonable doubt that they’re just false or flawed or I’m going to separate the possibly valid from possibly bad and just take it at that or I’m gonna have to determine they’re actually all true and dismiss what I’ve believed previously.
And I realize that one way or another it’s not gonna end and I’m gonna keep returning to the issue, visiting the site of the critics and accusers, read the blogs, watch the videos and never be satisfied until I have my final answer.
That said, I am already, despite my silence about this process on my blog, some ways deep into that process. I have been posting on the critics forum mentioned, Liberated Minds, some months ago in an attempt to express my dissatisfaction with the way they have handled their opposition to Stefan Molyneux and his work. I argued that they have essentially exaggerated their case, used misrepresentation and supported downright disrespectful acts towards a person who made a conscious choice. For those not familiar with the issues in question Molyneux’ summary can be found here, and not to be accused of being one sided a representation of the opposing side can be found on this site.
The founder of the Liberated Minds forum and a number of people on that forum were largely behind these stories. Given that the whole issue centers on the conscious decision of one guy to break up with his mother based on what he expressed were feelings of being at least emotionally abused, I couldn’t and still cannot find the mother’s behavior excusable. It could hardly be seen as anything other than a continued pattern of abuse. Once her son decided to exercise his freedom of association and not associate with her again, she plasters his private information and private story all over the media and by calling Freedomain Radio a “cult” who somehow mind controlled him into doing it, also effectively calls him incapable of thinking for himself and acting on his own volition.
I was disgusted at the fact that this act was and to this day continues to be defended by some in the Liberated Minds community, which still serves as a home and encouragement to people like that man’s mother. I haven’t necessarily been too happy with the way Stefan Molyneux handled the controversy either, as far as accusations of him wishing the hoster of the LM forum to shut it down were true, but I’ve considered LM’s support for the above described strategy far more egregious of an offense.
In my relatively brief time there (a few days) I have been having some relatively long debates on the above sentiment upon which I posted my conclusions here. Just this weekend, tempted by a reply to my few months old response to a critical “analysis” of Stefan’s philosophy of forgiveness, I engaged them for one last time, and then left the board by deleting my account.
The reason for that is an experience of a rather recurring theme with the Liberated Minds forum which only seems to support my earlier linked and described conclusion. Certain people on LM forums seem bent on periodically scanning the Freedomain Radio boards for what could possibly be used against FDR and Stefan Molyneux even further. Even if such people had any valid points and criticism of FDR, this kind of practice dilutes their credibility and brings their honesty in the matter to the question.
For instance, they have turned a mere BBQ planning among the FDR community into predictions of them wanting to build some sort of an FDR compound where I suppose they would permanently live with each other isolated from the rest of their world. Their basis for that incredibly ridiculous conjecture is Stef’s apparent description of the BBQ atmosphere as “perfect” because it would be a meet up of like minds.
Another example is their portrayal of Stef’s debating tips video as the worst podcast ever responding with apparent shock and indignation. I’ve actually seen the thread before I’ve seen the actual video and as usual when I encounter this kind of stuff I wonder what the hell could be this bad to cause such reaction, and as usual I am let down. The debating tips in question were not the general debating tips as I would expect them to be, but tips on debating with him in which he brings out some rather benign and obvious concepts as the necessity of preparation, especially when debating with someone who has much more debating experience. Besides, given that he is effectively advising people on debating with him he is in full right to make whatever terms and conditions he wishes.
But the Liberated Minds forums are full of this kind of stuff. However, in fairness, they do have some interesting people and some probably valid points. It’s just pitifully sad that it is diluted this way and that they insist in lending voice and credence to such extreme and unfounded accusations. It begins to look more of a smear campaign than a mere word of warning to those who may have found something valuable in the Freedomain community.
How and why exactly unfounded their accusations are I will write about in subsequent articles, trying to be as balanced as I can possibly be. I will focus on the weak foundations behind their cult accusations, the failed critique of Stef’s philosophy of forgiveness, accusations of certain acts of hypocrisy (alleged legal threats), certain examples of exaggeration etc. I will however also admit where things are less than stellar as far as FDR is concerned, especially given the current stand off as far as controversy over Stefan Molyneux’ book on Universally Preferable Behavior is concerned.
I will also do direct responses to article series published at “FDRLiberated.com”.
My goal is not necessarily to be a good little defender of everything FDR or everything Stefan Molyneux says and does (as I’m sure some critics would like to portray me). I merely wish to be an independent voice in this controversy because I feel that I have some insights to contribute and for my own sense of closure.
- FDR Controverys Part 1: The (flawed) cult claim.
- FDR Controversy Part 2: A “brief” misrepresentation of FDR
- FDR Controversy Part 3: Response to the “analysis” of Molyneux’ response to the UK Guardian article
- FDR Controversy Part 4: “I would like to ask you to stop posting here”.
- FDR Controversy Part 5: Response to The Promise and Failure of UPB
- Response to “Molyneux’s Philosophy of (un)Forgiveness (by QuestEon)” (7th post from top by Guest, written on April 6th 2009)
- “The Guardian and the Cult of Freedomain” (links to resources)