First Impression about Freedomain Radio

“When one is a child, everything your parents do seems intentional, doesn’t it?”
Star Trek Dominion War Book 4

In the past couple of days, I made the time to listen to a few more Freedomain Radio shows.

First off, let me strongly recommend listening to the episode “How to Handle Criticism” (see this page, or this YouTube video, or listen to this mp3). Really worthwhile to listen to if you want to be creative. And yeah, you should discard particular kinds of “criticism”.

Things get a little more difficult when it comes to regular episodes where he talks to callers. (Update: That view intensified when listening some more and having a look at what other blogs write about this podcast. I no longer recommend this podcast. While there are very interesting points of view, I think there is also an underlying poisonous ideology at work. Some podcasts about general topics are really good, but any personal advice he gives to callers — whose problems inevitably are related back to issues with parents (and they were at fault/abusive) — are just highly unethical and poisonous. More in a third posting when I have the time to write it which is available here.) The way he shows the inconsistencies in the life stories and personal narratives of the callers, esp. regarding their relationship to their parents, is impressive. However, there are four things I stumbled over:

First, what about the other party, usually the parents? What is their take on the situation? They are frequently called out as abusers — and in many cases, they might as well be. I only listened to the latest episodes and the calls are screened. Not that hard to find people with actually abusive parents. But are they evil? Or is there another perspective? Being a parent is hard. Perhaps not with all children, but when the child you have does not “fit” to your personality, conflicts are bound to happen. And society usually does not have a good way of dealing with it. What is a parent to do? Parent’s are supposed to be good at their job. But many people aren’t fit to be parents. After all, life did not come with a handbook, so perhaps the parents — even if they were abusive assholes — could not see a way out of their behavior. However, should we condemn them as “bad people” for it? Or is there another way to deal with it? Of seeing this extremely complex system?
Personally, I’m a fan of Lewin’s equation: Behavior is the function of the person and his/her environment. It’s one thing to look on what parents did with the benefit of being trained in making ration arguments and having a sharp mind. But hindsight is always perfect and — with very few exceptions which should be shot on sight (the bad ones) — few people are inherently good or bad. And even if they did something incredibly bad, this does not mean there is no hope of redemption. Yeah, you should remove sociopaths from society, but everyone else? It might take more effort than society might be willing to invest, but in most cases it might be possible to get them to improve.

Second, what I am missing is more information on how to deal with these problems. Pointing out mistakes on the part of the parents — and that sometimes means gut-wrenching abuses by parents, which some children seem to deny even as adults — is one thing. And it’s a good thing in my opinion. There is power in truth and in exposing grand delusions. But the question is: Where do we go from here? And is it ethical just to expose these delusions and not give these people the tools to handle the following discussions in a mature and skillful manner? Perhaps it’s addressed in earlier episodes — but besides “talk to the parents and go to therapy”, I’m missing addressing how to have successful conversations with parents who think they did the best they could. How do you start such a conversation? After all, the child now — and probably quite frequently quite suddenly — sees the parents for what they “really” did. Or at least, a possible perspective. How do you stack the odds in favor of a beneficial outcome?

Third, I wonder how much is projection. He seems to have made very negative experiences with his parents. So I sense a conflict of interest here. I detest the ideas of victims of a particular crime being in a jury to decide guilt or innocence of someone accused of that crime, and I think it’s … problematic when a person with personal experiences of abuse makes recommendations. Yes, people can make very negative experience with their family, but if all families are this way something isn’t right. It might be as simple as a selection bias — people with conscious or unconscious problems calling into the show and only those with problems with parents are selected. Still, what about the children of great parents?

Fourth, philosophy isn’t everything. Yup, after listening to a few episodes, I have a renewed admiration for the skills of philosophers to make good arguments and detect inconsistencies. But when it comes to acting rationally — well, human beings aren’t rational. A human being is not a homo economicus. Rational decision making does not work. We use heuristics. And yes, they bias us. But they work well enough on a species level to make up for the cases where they do not work. While rational human beings might have their advantages in sci-fi literature, we can’t sustain a rational level. In our daily lives, we have to use quick and dirty but right “often enough” strategies. And perhaps that’s my own bias — I think too much of anything is bad (possibly echoing Paracelsus). And here it’s a focus on rationality — I think.

So, I am in the interesting situation where on the one hand I see a lot of interesting input and thought-provoking questions in the podcasts. But I also see a selective view on the situation that neglects important perspectives, lacks information on how to deal with these problems, a possible conflict of interest/projection, and an over-reliance on philosophy. And there is the issue that asking about the abuse callers have suffered by their parents puts him in an incredible position of power. I wonder how many people have the courage to tell him if he is dead wrong in his assumptions, and how anyone can handle this kind of power.

But I’m still in the single digit range of episodes, yet … I’m not sure. There are some things that rub me the wrong way. Might be personal, might be something else.

So, yeah, certainly thought provoking — but take it with a good deal of skepticism. There is value and there is bias. So make up your own mind. Change the points of view. Ask hard questions and be truthful. Follow your own goals — not the goals of certain philosophers, no matter how wise and skilled they might seem. Or to use that brilliant expression: Sapere aude.

After all, we are all “just” human beings.

Update: Added some clarifications.

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