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Stefan Molyneux’s
philosophy of (un)forgiveness



In understanding Molyneux and his FreeDomain Radio group, I don’t think the importance of Molyneux’s Philosophy of Forgiveness podcast can be overestimated. I believe it is the “heart” of defooing. I think it’s at the core of the Molyneux philosophy (and dysfunction). If FreeDomain Radio were The Inferno, this is pretty close to the 9th circle. This is the one podcast I could take to most psychologists and, with one listen, offer them their best entrée into Molyneux’s mind.

This is the podcast that most easily lays bare Molyneux’s limitations as philosopher and logician. He pronounces this podcast, “A philosophical examination of forgiveness—what it is, how to earn it, and when to grant it.” The only problem is—he completely mis-defines “forgiveness”! Which makes everything that follows—all the arguments built on that definition—just plain wrong.

This is the podcast that explains why he has thrown a decade-long temper tantrum against his family. Why he has been frozen in time, unable to move forward, bringing them up again and again in his books and podcasts. It exposes the mental tricks he plays on himself that makes it easy for him to discard people—the same tricks he has played on his followers to encourage them to turn their backs on those who love them.

I’ll describe the arguments of the podcast in the order they were presented below.

At least, blissfully, this is also one podcast where you don’t need to stay awake for 30 minutes waiting for the crazy to pop out. He starts right at the beginning:


00:00 – 00:50: He defines forgiveness, and gets it wrong.

Forgiveness is a form of restoration…there is a kind of restitution that is involved in forgiveness… It is a restoration of a prior situation…

Analysis

No, that’s completely wrong. Forgiveness and restitution are not equivalent!

If I forgive a debt, it doesn’t mean that someone has made restitution—in fact, it usually means the opposite! Molyneux’s idea that it is a “restoration of a prior situation” again implies the definition of restitution, not forgiveness.

The common definition of forgiveness is that it is a pardon granted for a debt or perceived wrong. In other words, whatever caused the need for either restitution or forgiveness remains, but the offended party has made the decision to wipe the slate clean. On the other hand, if the offended party agrees that restitution has been made, then there’s no need for forgiveness—the prior situation has been restored!

Restitution and forgiveness are two different ways of handling the same situation.

So before the first minute of the podcast is up, Molyneux has it completely backwards and—with his insistence on the need for restitution—makes the critical mistake that turns forgiveness into (un)forgiveness.

00:51 – 01:23: He demands Super Restitution

If I borrow your car and dent it, clearly, the mininum I would need to do to gain your forgiveness would be to have the car repaired. So the restitution of the wrong in question is the bare minimum. If that standard is not met, forgiveness becomes impossible.

Analysis

This introduces an idea I’ll call Super Restitution. What you’ll see throughout this video is distinctly different view of what you should expect when a stranger wrongs you, versus someone you supposedly love. In Molyneux’s mind, if a friend or loved one wrongs you or damages your property in some way, then restitution is only the “bare mininum” of what they must do to gain your forgiveness.

The bare minimum. If it is the bare mininum, Molyneux is saying that more restitution—at the discretion of the offended party—must follow. This is someone who loves you, right? Should such a person be content in giving you the bare minimum? So now—in the opening alone—he has taken the definition of forgiveness to almost to the polar opposite of its actual definition.

01:25 – 02:40: There are no accidents, only malevolent actions

If I cut down a tree that falls on your house, clearly I’ve done a bad thing that I need to restore your house to its original state….the feeling of being wronged…these occur after the willed and malevolent actions of someone else.

Analysis

I trimmed a little from this statement to connect some dots, so listen to the whole thing (you should listen to the whole podcast!) for clarity. I’ll wait right here.

In this little statement, Molyneux makes a comparison between Mother Nature knocking a tree down on your house (accident; no forgiveness necessary or possible) vs. him accidentally cutting down a tree that hits your house (triggering the need for restitution). What’s interesting about this comparison is that they are both accidents—but within seconds he identifies the “bad action” of an offending party (I guess he means cutting down the tree) as a malevolent action. (Oh, the drama.)

I just don’t understand this example, except that it does bear a similarity to Molyneux’s typical rhetoric—particularly polarizing actions and their intent to their most extreme. Anyone who has followed the forum, chatroom, or convos for any length of time is familiar with the…

“My parents were strict sometimes.”
Strict? Your parents were monsters!

…dialogue that passes for Molyneux-therapy.

Is that what he is doing here? If lightning strikes a tree and it hits your house, it’s an accident and you don’t “need Mother Nature to apologize to you.” But if someone cuts down a tree and hits your house, it’s a “willed and malevolent act”?

Perhaps Molyneux is suggesting a Freudian “there are no accidents” point of view?

No, I think it’s a little insight. Again, there seem to be no degrees of offense in this podcast, especially here. Molyneux appears to live in a tit-for-tat world, where every offense—from the most innocent to the most heinous—is a bad act that requires restitution. With haughty grandeur, it appears that he considers even accidental offenses against him malevolent.

If I’m not interpreting this passage correctly, then why did he pick a human accident instead of an actual malevolent act as an example? Perhaps he’d recast this passage if he thought more about it, but I think we probably have an unintentional insight here.

02:41 – 04:13: People who apologize are aggressive

Forgiveness cannot be willed into existence. We’ve all been in this situation where someone does something wrong to us…and then they begin to insist that we forgive them, so they’ll apologize in an aggressive way..and we won’t feel that sweet relief that comes when someone genuinely empathizes with our hurt and works diligently and with integrity to make amends…They’ll get more aggressive if you withhold this forgiveness…

So, how to respond to the malevolent acts of people who love you? Well, you certainly cannot do something as foolish as choosing to forgive your friend (he explains why in the next section). They have to work for it. They have to work “diligently and with integrity” to compensate you beyond the bare minimum.

Again, that is insanely untrue. It is the very definition of and the only way forgiveness can exist. One must often make the choice to forgive despite lack of restitution because, as Danny Shahar so eloquently said: “As political philosophers have long noted with regard to infringements on rights, many invasions are simply not amenable to restitution (some losses of beauty or functionality, for example), and other invasions may be extremely difficult to “cancel out” through restitutive action. To say that complete restitution is a necessary condition for true forgiveness is essentially to say that in many cases, forgiveness will be logically impossible to obtain, and in many others, obtainable only through Herculean effort.”

So, to simply apologize in those situations (“I’ve told you a thousand times, I’m sorry”) is an act of aggression from Molyneux’s perspective.

Okay—so we’re about four minutes into the podcast and it’s been outlandishly crazy and wrong from the first word.

What’s next?

04:14 – 04:39: You can’t grant forgiveness

They see the forgiveness they want from you as something that you can will—something that you choose, but forgiveness is fundamentally an emotional understanding.

Analysis

Again, completely wrong. Molyneux describes forgiveness as an uncontrollable emotional reaction. Yet the heart and soul of forgiveness is granting pardon regardless of your feelings; again Molyneux has it 180° backward. If you no longer feel wronged, there is nothing to forgive! Forgiveness is making the decision not to hold a grudge and moving forward. Why does Molyneux not understand something so simple? Answer, next section….

04:40 – 08:49: If you grant forgiveness, it is an act of self-loathing

In order to avoid being manipulated by others, we always have to retreat back from the habit of self-attack. If you do not attack yourself, it is almost impossible to be manipulated.

Analysis

If you choose—if you make an intellectual choice—to forgive, it is only because you have fallen into the habit of self-attack. Choosing to forgive is weakness. Choosing to forgive is an act of self-loathing.

So let’s wrap our minds around that. In the Molyneux world, when someone offends you, you must remain at the whim of your emotions, nursing your anger and hurt until the offender (and let’s keep in mind we’re primarily talking about people we allegedly love) super-compensates enough that your negative emotion fades away. And you must fiercely stand your ground, hanging onto those emotions with both hands, because to do otherwise would be self-attack. Worse, you would be a victim of manipulation.

Molyneux rambles for the next few minutes, concentrating mostly on listening to (hanging on to) your bad emotions while telling your offender “I still don’t feel that the relationship has had its proper restitution.” Stand your ground. “Don’t let them bully you into forgiveness.” He repeats that line for impact.

(By the way…now that you’ve read this far. According to Molyneux, it is impossible to grant forgiveness—but did you notice in the 02:41 – 04:13 section above, he suggests you can “withhold” it?)

08:50 – 12:09: The Empathy Catch-22

Another way people will blame you for remaining offended is to use the old trick—which is to say ‘What do I have to do to gain your forgiveness?’ Now, this on the surface seems like a plausible request, but it’s not. Because, if someone empathizes with you, they will know what to do to gain your forgiveness.

Analysis

I call this the Empathy Catch-22, because it is without a doubt the cruelest emotional weapon employed at freedomain against family and friends.

This sick way of looking at relationships is the “heart” of defooing. Despite appearances to the contrary, most defooed family and friends are rarely given an explanation why they have been kicked to the curb (Molyneux often encourages such action). After the defooing, most of Molyneux’s followers receive letters from those friends and family with a reasonable, very sad request: “We apologize for whatever we did wrong—can we at least talk about it?” And these letters are met with stony silence—all because of the Empathy Catch-22. The argument is “you didn’t empathize enough with me to even understand what you did wrong. This proves you do not love me, so I will not speak with you, (so now you will never know).”

Any attempt to communicate, to understand what the offended person needs, in Molyneux’s view, “drives the possibility for forgiveness even lower,” which he compares to asking a woman how to be the kind of man she’d be attracted to. It’s a ridiculous analogy.

So, now, Super Restitution includes one more thing. Not simply material restitution. Not just additional compensation to encourage you to stop hanging onto your emotions. The offender must also have the mental/emotional synchronicity to know exactly what kind of additional compensation you require. If you simply tell the offender what you want, Molyneux says, “they haven’t learned anything.”

12:09 – 17:22: Super Restitution also requires a time tariff

Every day that you don’t fix something in a relationship requires 10 days of perfect behavior to just get back where you were. It’s the crucial and essential thing about relationships that are going wrong.

Analysis

This section starts with a couple minutes of rambling before we get to the quote above at 14:36. Molyneux starts by talking a bit about knowing when a relationship is over. It’s just a hint of the need to defoo your friends. He offers up a dandy relationship calculator (10 good times for every 1 bad time). At about 13:30 minutes in, I think you’re getting the clearest picture of how Molyneux views his relationships.

Then he comes back to the calculator, as Super Restitution rears its ugly head once again!

It turns out that if someone you love offends you, they still haven’t put enough offerings on the altar yet if they have given you everything Molyneux requires above. Molyneux now says they also owe you 10 perfect days for every one bad day they’ve caused. And if it takes them six months to read your mind and understand what you need as restitution beyond the apology and compensation you offered, that becomes “six months of betrayal of trust…and you actually need five years of perfectly trustworthy behavior to get back to where you were.”

It all ends with Molyneux making a weak point about knowing when it’s time to end a friendship, but he doesn’t need to go into that here—just join up and you get filled in on the next part.

Conclusion

So there you have it.

If a stranger damages or takes your property, you should expect to be compenstated for the equal value of the property.

If, however, someone you love offends you, before you forgive them you should expect to be fully compensated. You should expect additional compensation beyond that. You should expect them to read your mind and know exactly what you think that additional compensation might be. You must kick them to the curb if they fail to do so. And then they owe you 10 times the number of days you were offended in blissful, perfect days.

And then you may resume your relationship not one step further along than the time of the offense.

Got it.

Molyneux does have a beautiful mind and it is discomforting to see so clearly—as he inadvertently shows in this podcast—the sadness that runs through it. I sincerely hope he and his followers find their way.






Addendum

(Originally published in Quickies! Dec. 2009)

I hope you’ll forgive me for not mentioning this. You know that little article I wrote about the crazy thinking behind Molyneux’s Philosophy of (un)Forgiveness?

It occurred to me shortly afterwards that with one simple change, Molyneux could have turned it from one of his more destructive podcasts into one of his very best. Do you know what that change is? Instead of “proving” why you should make loved ones who hurt you grovel for your mercy, he should have said “this is what you should do if you hurt someone you love.”

One simple change in focus, and it transforms from a narcissistic exposition on selfishness into a loving exposition on caring for the most important people in your life.

He got everything right except the direction. And that is why he got it so terribly wrong and created something so sadly revealing.

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