On November 15, 2008, Stefan Molyneux and FreeDomain Radio received unexpected and unwelcome media attention. The Guardian newspaper in the UK published an article based on interviews with a defooed family and with Molyneux himself: (‘You’ll never see me again’) The article inspired global interest in the media and additional exposes followed.
Molyneux believed the Guardian article was inaccurate and biased. (On the latter point, he is partly correct.) Therefore, he published his response on the FDR forum: (How to Escape a “Controversial Online Community!)
As I read his response, I could see how anyone unfamilar with FDR might consider it to be believable.
As I read his response, I could see how anyone unfamilar with FDR might consider it to be believable. In my view, however, there was quite a lot more shading of the truth in his response than the initial article. What follows is my line-by-line analysis of his response. As you will see, some hidden truths lurk behind his defense.
I’ll state my own biases up front, so you can interpret my assessment as you will. I do believe that FreeDomain Radio (FDR) may be a therapeutic cult that is in the seminal stages of development. I don’t believe it was started with that intention. I don’t believe that Molyneux is particularly aware of this or that he would actually wish for it to be so. I won’t lay out my case or try to convince you of that here; for the sake of fairness, I simply want to be up front about it.
Second, I have no particular axe to grind with Molyneux or FDR. I have never joined nor posted to FDR, nor conversed with Molyneux in any way. More than anything else, the sociology of the place captured my attention and I have been documenting what I have found there more or less as a hobby.
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. Again, that is all my personal bias and it’s only fair that I state it at the outset.
So, knowing all that, here is my analysis. I know it is extremely long, but given the importance of the subject, I felt the only proper method was to do a close reading of Molyneux’s entire article theme-by-theme, addressing each in turn.
No, it’s not just a Web site.
Let’s start with the headline of Molyneux’s response.
How to Escape a “Controversial Online Community!” (um – close your browser..? )
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.
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.
Yahoo is a Web site. I can’t even think of a comparison for FreeDomain Radio.
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.
Yahoo is a Web site. I can’t even think of a comparison for FreeDomain Radio.
I have already expressed my regret about how this article may affect Tom. Putting that aside for the moment, here are some of my thoughts.
I’ll put it aside, too. We’ll both come back to it later on.
Molyneux (briefly) puts on a stiff upper lip, proclaiming he is glad to have his group exposed:
I am glad that the article is out — we had to gain media attention at some point, and now is as good time as any. I am especially pleased that the concept that family relations are voluntary, and should be enriched and deepened if at all possible, is receiving such wide exposure.
There are particular biases in the article that I think are worth examining…
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 FreeDomain Radio 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.
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. [Ed.---Molyneux appears to have edited his initial post long after this article was written. The line about being glad has been removed!]
The question isn’t whether the article is biased, but why?
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. Here’s an imagined chronology:
- 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.
Molyneux claims it was Barbara’s hearsay…
Next, without any evidence at hand, Molyneux attempts to argue that the reporter simply took dictation from Barbara Weed and mysterious anonymous sources.
The most striking thing about the article is that the entire case against FDR is based on the hearsay of one aggrieved mother and entirely off the record “anonymous” sources.
It’s easy to see why the other parents stayed off the record. They know who they’re dealing with.
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.
The reporter did not choose to interview any other members of Barbara’s family.
For instance, Barbara reports what her younger son is supposed to have said about his childhood, but the reporter does not actually talk to the son directly — which scarcely seems like a difficult thing to do. Furthermore, she does not interview the father, or say that he refused to be interviewed — or talk to any extended family members. Of course, Tom did not wish to be interviewed either.
I am no reporter, but it seems likely that you need at least one corroborating statement when dealing with an aggrieved party, otherwise it is just hearsay. Since the presence or absence of significant family problems is the most essential question in this entire matter, not lifting a finger to verify the facts is highly significant. Since the younger son lives at home, it would have been simply a matter of Kate saying, “Please put him on the telephone, so I can ask him a few questions…”
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.
…and then counters with his own!
Now, in his defense, Molyneux attempts to paint a “true” picture of the family despite having less contact with them than the reporter!
Once you get beyond the mother’s stories about how happy her family was, some striking facts do emerge. The father had significant mood swings, was verbally abusive and aggressive towards animals, and threw objects when he was angry. The family no longer ate meals together, and had not for some time.
Family communication was almost nonexistent, as Barbara says later regarding her new relationship with her other son. Also, the marriage was close to ending when all of this was going on, since it has ended recently, and that does not happen overnight, particularly in a lengthy marriage.
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 group that promotes the practice of discarding family and friends, a practice also commonly found in destructive cults. Talk to the family of a destructive cult member (any destructive 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!
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.
Pushing to extremes
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.
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.
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 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.
Furthermore — and most significantly — Tom literally burst into tears during our conversation when talking about how terrified he was of his father, and you simply cannot fake or be manipulated into that kind of deep emotion.
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.
These facts indicate significant family problems, which at the very least should cause any reasonably objective or curious reporter to investigate the matter further — particularly if you are making the rather startling claim that the only significant problem in the entire family unit is some podcaster from Canada.
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.
How Molyneux made things worse
We’ve finally reached a point in the response where there is a glimmer of substance in Molyneux’s reply, but the glimmer is obscured beneath layers of Molyneux re-framing of the situation:
After Tom said that he intended to leave the family, he did stay in contact with his mother, since she says that she tried everything — persuasion, negotiation, compromise and so on — and yet the content of what is being discussed is never mentioned. What is being negotiated about? What is the content of the compromise? What is the compromise itself?
Then, the mother says:
“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.”
This completely denies Tom’s genuine experience of his family and calls him an outright liar — thus throwing accusations at him, which is not quite the same as trying everything to come to a compromise.
The phrase “Tom’s genuine experience” reveals the saddest truth of all. If a trained counselor had entered the picture here, the situation may have been improved. Molyneux may never be able to admit or realize it, but the following shows why he made things far, far worse.
Here’s the glimmer. Everyone experiences their family differently because everyone experiences communication differently. Anyone who has studied personality types knows that each 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.
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 quite true for him, but it is no more (nor less) “genuine” than his mother’s, father’s, or siblings.
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 ways different individuals receive and need to receive communication, Tom would have found a healthy environment to discuss his true experience and his issues with the family. Perhaps he and the other family members would have acquired the tools they needed to deepen their relationship.
At minimum, they would have learned how to talk.
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?”
Why didn’t the reporter identify FreeDomain Radio as a destructive cult?
Molyneux notices something in the article and he’s right about what he’s found. Again, however the question isn’t about what he’s found, but why is it so?
The reporter then shifts from talking about FDR to talking about the Cult Information Center, as if the two are related in some unstated way. The CIC reports that:
“…several people have been in contact recently about family members recruited into cult-like organisations via chatrooms or other online means – recommends that families try to keep up some form of contact.”
This statement could be associated with any website, and is not specific to FDR in any way. If the CIC had tagged FDR as a cult, doubtless this would have been mentioned. This is just a transparent form of guilt by association.
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. Maybe 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, “You might believe that but I’m not sure of the proof. What we can do is take out the direct accusation 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 point Molyneux is probably correct. I also suspect that Molyneux hasn’t heard the last of the CIC.
Tom’s new life
Next, Molyneux attempts to suggest that there minimal and mostly positive impact on Tom when the 18-year-old discarded all of his family and friends.
Now — what has the net effect been of Tom’s “absorption into a cult”? He is not begging for loose change at the airport, he has not shaved his head, he does not wear a bedsheet, he has not been charged any money, he has not been tattooed with the FDR logo—in fact, I have not seen him around for months, or had any interactions with him at all.
The net effect is that he is doing fine at university, and I wish him the best.
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.
The net effect is that a family has been ripped apart.
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.
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.
At this point, Molyneux dispenses with the half-truths and tells a complete lie
Short and sweet and 100% factually incorrect:
The sum total of this “cult” accusation is that I showed him deep sympathy when he burst into tears about his family — a real surprise to me — during a call in show. I will always show sympathy for the child over the parent — that is not specific to FDR, but would be any compassionate person’s approach to this kind of psychological pain.
The truth? The call actually had nothing to do with Tom’s parents. Tom was a brilliant, sensitive 18-year-old who wondered why he was particularly sensitive to animal cruelty. He called Molyneux to discuss it. That was definitely a wrong number, as most people would say there is nothing with being 18 and particularly sensitive to any outrage in the world. However, listen to the podcast and you’ll hear that Tom’s emotional break actually occurs when Molyneux suggests Tom reacts more strongly to cruelty to animals than cruelty to people! Tom’s tears appear to be a result of his shame about that accusation.
Up to that point, Tom hadn’t even mentioned his parents! But Molyneux quickly pulls a voodoo “theory” out of his hat and “proves” to Tom that it really is all about his parents. If Molyneux hadn’t pulled the switch, none of what followed would have happened.
From Voodoo to Crazy Therapy
I believe if there was any surprise to Molyneux, it was a pleasant surprise. Leaders of therapeutic groups such as FDR 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.”
In his review of Crazy Therapies, by Margaret Thaler Singer and Janja Lalich, Bob Conrad noted:
(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.”
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.
Finally! Some validation.
Molyneux found one bright spot in Hilpern’s article:
I was pleased that Kate included this quote from me:
“[Stef] …simply reminds people “that our family relationships are voluntary and you should really work, if you’re unhappy in these relationships, to improve the quality of those relationships – but to remember they do remain voluntary. And that gives people the motivation, I think, to try to improve them. But if you can’t improve them – and we can’t change other people, as we all know – for sure you should have the option to disengage.”
There is no reasonable therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist in the world who would fundamentally disagree with such a statement. If people have a problem with this basic reality, then they have a problem with psychology as a whole.
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.
A real Molyneux relationship
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:
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…”
When you line all of Molyneux’s arguments up and follow them 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.
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.
When you line all his arguments up and follow them 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.
A little sidestep about the money
Any focus on FDR ultimately has to involve profit. How is it funded and how much revenue does it produce? Molyneux is usually very excited to tell his insiders that the group is “doing well,” but also usually reluctant to discuss any of this with outsiders:
A little later, an interesting switch occurs about money.
After quoting my statement that I do not charge money, Kate responds that critics say people do pay — which is not the same thing at all. I do not charge money, but people who are grateful for whatever help, insight and wisdom they get from the site do donate if they want. If receiving voluntary donations is the same as charging people for goods, then the Heart and Stroke Foundation is actually a competitive business, and should cancel its charitable tax status.
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.
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.
Therapy, slightly chilled
At this point, we reach the part of the therapy session that is almost entirely unforgivable or, frankly, even explainable; that is, the over-the-top excoriation of Tom’s parents by Molyneux. During the recorded therapy session, it went on and on as Molyneux compared Tom to a rape victim and used nearly every satanic reference at his eloquent disposal.
Here, Molyneux attempts to minimize Hilpern’s take on it:
Towards the end of the article, we see an interesting “argument from adjective.”
“Tom does say that he is frightened by his father’s mood swings, which sometimes cause him to throw things or shout at the cat. But the conclusions Molyneux jumps to, his manipulation of the conversation, is chilling.”
So—when Kate listens to a sensitive and hurt young man sobbing about his childhood, and his terror and humiliation in the face of his father’s rages, the only thing that “chills” her is my side of the conversation? That to me is impossible to comprehend emotionally. Even if there were clear criticisms of how I handled this emotional eruption, surely the more chilling aspect is the behavior of the father throughout Tom’s childhood.
There is no proof of my “manipulations” of course—and the fact that Kate finds the conversation “chilling” is perfectly meaningless: it is a mere statement of subjective experience. If I say that I find the theory of evolution “chilling,” clearly that contains no truth statements about its contents.
Also, it would have been very easy to include a link to the podcast itself, or at least provide the podcast number, which was not done, which seems very strange, especially when we remember how Alec Baldwin’s verbal attack on his daughter was so widely distributed.
The media loves to reproduce truly chilling audio clips, like 911 calls, taped recordings with bad people, and so on. It is a shame that she did not give her readers the chance to easily find the podcast in question, and come to their own conclusions. The podcast number is 1037.
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.
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.
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.
Yes. “Chilling” was a well-chosen word, indeed.
A question of motivation
After all that, the lengthy passage that follows gets to the saddest revelation of all, as Molyneux questions the motivations behind the article (and misrepresents his own). He begins with a voodoo defense of his statement “there are no really good parents out there.” It would almost be believable, except at other times he has succinctly said “nearly all parents are horribly bad.”
I do stand by my statement that there are no “really good” parents — I think that until a rational proof of objective ethics is more widely disseminated, parents have little choice but to substitute will and punishment for genuine and reasonable moral authority. If I have criticisms, which of course I do, at least I strain myself to the utmost to provide better solutions.
Saying that there are no really good parents is not the same as saying there are no good parents at all.
I also stand by my statement that it is wrong to use the media in this way — to insult, degrade, attack and humiliate your son by implying that he is weak-minded, hysterical, defensive, aggressive, irrational, susceptible to cultism, a liar and so on — and to not only provide a first and last name, but also the town that he grew up in, which is a complete non sequitur in the context of the story itself.
There is an even more essential question: why is this article being written at all? Is it because FDR is some monster child-eating cult that is laying waste to families across the world? Of course not.
Did Kate find this story and then go looking for a parent? That seems highly improbable—the most likely scenario is that Barbara contacted Kate with her complaints about FDR. Why would Barbara do this? Why would she subject her son to this kind of article, with all that it implies about him? Is it because she believes he is in a cult and wants to help him?
Of course not—she is fully aware that the CIC instructs parents not to attack the “cult.” Is it because she wants to warn other parents about FDR? If that were genuinely her goal, she would have demanded anonymity in the article to protect her son, and suppressed all personally-identifiable characteristics about herself or her son. This she did not do.
Furthermore, it was clear to both women that Tom did not want the article to be written or published. So—what is the purpose of the article? The likely net effect is that Tom feels hurt, frightened, angry and exposed.
Imagine seeing a childhood photo of yourself splashed across a popular newspaper, and your mother bringing every complaint and accusation against you to the attention of millions of people, and on the Internet, permanently. This is an exercise in humiliation.
Why did Kate write the article? Clearly, to expose Molyneux.
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.
And because she believed others needed to know what she had found out about Molyneux.
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.
In the end, who is really using Tom?
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.
On the matter of memory
Hilpern’s article says something very significant about memory and manipulation. Something that is apparently true but not widely known. Molyneux makes use of this lack of awareness to make another false claim:
The fact that I suggest seeing a therapist to people with a great deal of emotional ambivalence does not exactly support the thesis that FDR is a cult — this fact is summarily dismissed in the article:
“…by the time people go into therapy, it’s probably too late – they’ve already decided they were abused and persuade the therapist as such.”
The idea that a web site can implant false memories in people so permanently that they would completely fool a trained therapist is pure nonsense. Therapists are trained to assess, probe and evaluate — and are not easily misled.
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:
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?
Those are the facts…
…and now the only thing left for you is to answer the big question for yourself.
Who is telling the truth?
The only other thing that I wanted to mention was this ridiculous idea that people can somehow be imprisoned in a website. As Kate puts it, when she is attempting to comfort Barbara at the end of the article — scarcely indicating impartiality or objectivity:
“Some people do manage to leave FDR, however, and I point out that Tom is only 18.”
It is hard to imagine how an educated and intelligent person could conceivably make the statement that it is hard to leave a website — freeing yourself from the “grip” of a web site is as easy as navigating to another web site, or simply closing your browser.
(I responded to this deception earlier. It’s much more than a Web site.)
Overall, I am very pleased that some of the core ideas that we talk about here have been accurately quoted in the media. Of course there is a fair amount of bias and manipulation in the article, but to me it is so obvious that it is impossible to imagine that it fools many people — and those who are fooled by it, would be very unlikely to benefit from exploring philosophy anyway, so no real harm has been done to those who remain so frightened by hearsay that they will avoid exploring the truth.
I can only hope Mr. Molyneux has found my exploration of the truth acceptable.
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