Warning: Freedomain Radio

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
Abraham Lincoln

This is the third posting about Freedomain Radio (first one, second one), which is the operation of Stefan Molyneux. My impression of that site shifted rather drastically over the last two weeks.

The Good

I still think that there is a lot of interesting stuff in his podcasts.

  • For example, the idea that calling someone arrogant is designed to provoke self-attacks, that it is not an argument without concrete examples.
  • The widely held belief (at least of certain men and women) that women should not only have the same rights as men (that’s a no-brainer, actually), but also the same responsibilities (here certain feminists take issue with it).
  • The idea that you can recreate your relationships with your parents in the situation you are in as an adult. As far as I know that’s a rather old idea but worth examining.

The Bad

But I began to notice that he uses the same explanation irrespective of the personal issues his callers have. He asks for the relationships the callers have with their parents and homes in on moments of abuse (spanking, emotional abuse, etc.). Then he uses it to explains the current problems.

Can’t get a partner? It’s because your parents were abusive and your potential partners sense it. Becoming a camgirl/prostitute? It’s because your step-father abused you and you now want to have power over men.

And I find this rather strange. It either means that all callers do have the same underlying problems and are drawn to this show (and other callers are screened out), or that the issue is not a fixed part of the callers but of Stefan Molyneux himself.

I mean, all personal narratives are incoherent and have gaps and inconsistencies. That’s life. It’s not like in the novels where everything makes sense. Life is complicated. There are countless influences and pushes and pulls. And there will be “blank spaces” [if this is the correct translation from the German “Leerstellen”, places in which, e.g. a reader of a book, can use his/her own fantasy to picture the event]. And it’s in these blank spaces a therapist can sink his claws and force into his own explanation of the events. It’s amendable for projection. That’s why it’s important for therapists to stay neutral, know about their issues and let the client do the work.

But while Stefan Molyneux frequently says he is not a therapist, he certainly acts this way. Or rather, he acts like a therapist without any of the necessary training. He is analyzing the life stories of his callers and he is coming to the same conclusion again and again. And while he is not openly arguing for cutting ties with ones family, they way he conducts the talks strongly suggest it.

Sure, he says “Talk to your parents and seek therapy.” But I wonder how well “talk to one’s parents” works after such a conversation. I mean, what do you think happens when you suddenly “see” what they did and make them responsible — completely out of the blue?

And just to be absolutely clear, I am not defending abusers. People who get a high out of hitting children or who make children responsible for their lot in life. There are some things you cannot excuse, like sexual abuse, severe physical abuse (and I don’t mean the occasional spanking), or severe emotional abuse. These people should be avoided or jailed. But these are a tiny minority. In most cases adults simple did the best they could in a situation they encountered each and every day.

Just consider this. You could become a parent within 9 months. Knock up a girl or get knocked up — about 9 months later you are wholly responsible for a little child. How much do you know about raising a child? Dealing with it screaming? Dealing with it reaching for the power outlet? Dealing with it throwing tantrums? It strongly changes every aspect of your life — yet how well are you prepared to deal with it?

Seriously, how well would you do — having to deal with an individual outside your control for whom you are utterly responsible?

Would you make mistakes? At least in hindsight? Sure you would.

And you can be sure that a child notices these mistakes. And the issue of “divorcing” one’s parents (or defoo’ing to use Stefan Molyneux term) seems like a good idea. And it is not a new idea. And the first instance I encountered of it was not in a psychology book or on Freedomain Radio, but in an old Heinlein novel:

She added, “Did I ever tell you why I divorced my parents?”
“No, you never did. That’s your business.”
“So it is. But I think I’ll tell you, you might understand me better. Bend down.” She grabbed him by an ear, whispered into it.
As John Thomas listened he took on an expression of extreme surprise. “Not really?” “Fact. They didn’t contest it so I never had to tell anyone. But that’s why.”
“I don’t see how you put up with it.”
“I didn’t. I stood up in court and divorced them and got a professional guardian who doesn’t have nutty ideas. But look, Johnnie, I didn’t bare my soul just to make your chin drop. Heredity isn’t everything; I’m myself, an individual. You aren’t your parents. You’re not your father, you are not your mother. But you are a little late realizing it.” She sat up straight. “So be yourself, Knothead, and have the courage to make your own mess of your life. Don’t imitate somebody else’s mess.”
“Slugger, when you talk that stuff, you make it sound rational.”
“The Star Beast” by Robert A. Heinlein

But using it as a default? Just think about what impact suggesting such an action has on a caller.

Other Voices

I mean, I got curious and also did a (quick) Internet search and there are several sites critical of Stefan Molyneux. I think the following comments pretty much hit home regarding this issue:

“… it certainly is concerning to examine the influence of a 40+ year-old faux professor personally intervening in the family lives of his admiring (and usually much younger) followers. A man who presents completely untested psychological theories, practices, and guidelines as if they were the proven product of years of research, when the truth is he made most of them up off the top of his head.
And this is where things can go from kind of quirky or kind of funny to kind of destructive.”
http://www.fdrliberated.com/freedomain-radio-destructive-cult-part-2/

or

[Upon reading the first version of this article, a frequent visitor to Liberating Minds who writes under the name Argent, had this to say]
I followed the link to the Transference page, and found this fascinating gem:
“A new theory of transference known as AMT (Abusive Multiple Transference) has been suggested by David W. Bernstein, in which abusers not only transfer negative feelings directed towards their former abusers to their own victims, but also transfer the power and dominance of the former abusers to themselves.”
Leaving aside the question of whether Stefan is “abusive,” this does seem to fit with what goes on at FDR. Stefan, having declared himself fixed by therapy, but evidently unable to leave the past behind, lines up a bunch of young males in situations similar to his own. He can transfer his unresolved childhood feelings to them, and, under the guise of helping them deal with their problems, continue to rail against his mother. Perhaps that is why he can’t resist the conclusion that it’s all the parents’ fault: it’s not about the listener, but about himself.
http://www.fdrliberated.com/stefan-molyneux-the-splitting-question/

And I think there might be something to these comments. He has cut his relationship to his parents — and perhaps for good reasons. He can’t do it again, yet he is not satisfied either. So he enables other to do it as well. It might be the right choice in some circumstances. But for all but those children who ended up in hospitals or were sexually abused, I think it’s more useful and mature to have real conversations with them and improve the relationships this way. And that might mean cutting off contact or excluding them for your life for some time. You have to be clear about how serious you are, that you are not an immature child but an adult with his/her own mature views. And yes, talking about it, setting and maintaining boundaries is hard work. But it allows you to keep in contact with a support structure and your own personal history you would otherwise lose.

But that does not seem to be an issue, or even desired at Freedomain Radio. Perhaps I’m missing it, but given how frequent abuse seems to be and how important setting boundaries is, shouldn’t there be a highly visible page on talking with your parents?

Being a Guru is the last thing you want to be

Instead, the whole operation seems to focus on him, on his work and his attitudes — and his demons. And I get that being revered is a powerful feeling and validation of one’s work — and life. But I think that every person with integrity strongly tries to avoid it. For example, Stephen King once wrote books under a pseudonym to find out whether people actually liked his stories or were blinded by his reputation. Or to use a fictional example, consider this attitude:

[examining small statues of himself for sale] “This is how I’ve come to be seen by my people. Despite my best efforts, I’ve become an icon. I didn’t understand why or how until I saw this. I realized it’s simpler to make a statue to someone who you believe embodies all your better qualities than it is to actually improve yourself.”
“And this saves you from having to think.”
“Exactly. For the last year, I’ve tried to point my people toward the simple truth that we are one, regardless of race. Somehow, that message has gotten twisted so that I have become their idea of the truth personified. Once you turn into this, you can no longer be who you are. You can only be what they want you to be, what they … expect you to be.”
G’Kar and Garibaldi in Babylon 5: “The Wheel of Fire”

I think this is pretty much what he has become — and strangely enough, he seems to accept it.

Missed Opportunities

Which is a pity. Because I think he is a quick thinker with impressive skills, but chased by personal demons. And I think he is trapped in a role he cannot get out of without losing a lot of followers (= income through donations).

And this severely limits him. It prevents him from being a “force of good” — good in the sense of rational behavior, a “no bullshit let’s get to the issue and solve it” attitude that is missing in the political correctness world of the 21st century.

Instead he seems hunted by his past. Simply cutting ties with all your family does not work. In some cases cutting ties with some people might be beneficial, but — and I’m going out on a limb here — it seems he has not achieved closure. With some callers, he talks about recreating the relationship with their parents in everyday life, yet he is doing the same when he immediately zooms in on parental abuse and retrospectively “explains” everything with it.

For me, this “playing proxy wars with your past in other people’s life histories” isn’t ethical behavior. He could make an incredible contribution. Instead, he’s doing the same thing over and over.

Collateral Damages

And to make matters worse, he could damage other movements.

One podcast I listend to was “FDR2729 The Dangers of BEING a Sexworker – Saturday Call In Show June 21st, 2014”. One of the callers has an issue with his condemnation of a camgirl (doing porn on demand on the Internet) in a previous episode. The caller works as a camgirl herself. He went into stats regarding the background of prostitutes (rather dark, although I would like to check the studies, esp. where the prostitutes were recruited — if they were, for example, recruited at a place designed to “help women escape prostitution”, chances are they are not representative), her family history (even darker), and her relationship with her unemployed partner (some good questions here, but who has his/her act together at that age?). But what struck me was that there was a nice disconnect between saying he is fine with sexual behavior between consenting adults and his condemnation of her work — going as far as condemning her partner to accepting money earned this way. Would it be different if she worked as waitress? The caller mentioned the “sex-positive movement” and her hopes of changing attitudes regarding sex, whereas Stefan Molyneux pointed out that employers would not hire her because of the problems it could create at work.

Really?

She is becoming a computer programmer. There is hardly any job more suitable to a person who wants to stay anonymous or wants to work unencumbered by her past. She can do contract work if she is good — without people being bothered by her past. What’s more, whereas Molyneux seems to be fine striving for a philosopher’s utopia, reaching sex positivism in society seems to be out of the question. Personally, I hope that attitudes are changing. And I think they are. I mean, really? Co-workers might be offended if they find out that a colleague earned her money by having strangers ejaculate to her split legs online? What do you really think happens outside work with your employees? Do you think they never have sex? Never watch porn? Never visit prostitutes? I mean, there are sexual harassment laws that serve well to prevent any spill over at work. Who cares what a colleague did earlier, or a side-job, or for fun? No matter the hypothetical scenario, this isn’t the Victorian age.

I mention this episode not because I disagree with him here and have no problem with prostitution (well, I do disagree and I don’t have a problem with prostitution, at least when prostitutes rights are respected, their jobs are safe, they stay healthy, are not exploited, and they have a choice — to quote a “Penn & Teller’s Bullshit” episode), but because I think it is strange when a person who claims to be for freedom is condemning people for utilizing this freedom. It puts in question on how committed he is to rationality and freedom in general.

In Conclusion

So yeah, some interesting points of view on a lot of issues, but the undercurrent of his personal demons pretty much spoils it. And I pity anyone who gets dragged into it. If I had any advice to give it would be this:

Never trust anyone who claims to know you better than you do yourself, and who always comes up with the same explanations.

Yes, you might have to confront your parents about what they did, and how you feel about it. But consider that hindsight is always perfect, and whether you really could do it better if you had children (today). And while it might seem tempting to cut all ties to ones family, that is a rather immature way to deal with it. You just end up in a state with no permanent resolution of the issue and which will haunt all your future interactions.

And if you look for an example of how it can spoil an otherwise impressive intellect — well, you just need to listen to a call-in show of Stefan Molyneux.

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