(Note: I wrote the following article near the end of 2008. At that time, Molyneux had launched an all-out assault on a forum known as Liberating Minds to the point of using dishonest charges to get the site deleted on a Terms of Agreement violation. Why? Because he mistakenly believed that Liberating Minds was behind an intense news media scrutiny of his “community” that was occuring at the time.
More than that, Liberating Minds has long-been nettlesome for Mr. Molyneux. Members of the LiMi forum freely discuss the pros and cons of Molyneux’s ideas—something that cannot happen at FDR. Molyneux prefers to operate FreeDomain Radio under what he calls “dinner party” rules. In short, if whatever you say offends the host, you are asked to leave. Many have discovered, to their peril, that one of the most offensive things one can do on FDR is point out fundamental flaws in a deeply-held Molyneux theory.
It turns out that Molyneux not only wants to have his own dinner party but also ensure that his party is the only one in town. In addition to banning people critical of his ideas from FDR, he began banning without apology or explanation FDR members who also participated in any way on LiMi.
Molyneux has coached his followers to dismiss Liberating Minds as a “hate site” wherever it was mentioned on-line. As a result, a number of folks who have never even visited the little forum began to believe the characterization. It seemed to me like a very bullying tactic. I like the folks I met on LiMi, I always root for the underdog, and I’ve always considered myself an independent observer, so I wrote the following little defense about my experiences with the forum.)
One can meet with others to discuss Libertarian issues at a number of places on the internet. One of them is FreeDomain Radio (FDR). Another is Liberating Minds. Neither of them is the largest or most comprehensive forum but each has its unique place in the scheme of things.
Currently, Stefan Molyneux of FDR is under intense public scrutiny for his oft-stated negative views of parents, his advocacy of an extreme practice known as deFOOing (leaving your entire family and typically your friends with the intention of never speaking to them again), and the role he may have played in the family break-up of Barbara Weed and her 18-year-old son, Tom.
Apparently uncomfortable with that scrutiny, Molyneux is now lashing back. He has singled out Liberating Minds as the “masterminds” behind his negative publicity and now, in a short article called “FreeDomainRadio and Liberating Minds,” is attempting to define Liberating Minds as a “hate site.”
Again, I have nothing personally against Mr. Molyneux and no particular connection with Liberating Minds, save the fact that I like the people there and enjoy the conversations.
Molyneux does everything in his power to keep his members from visiting the site and has been known to ban people who post on both forums. For as long as I have been reading and posting on Liberating Minds, I have noticed Mr. Molyneux’s attempts to “define” the site for his followers as ex-FDR members who are bitter about being banned, who just-can’t-let-it-go.
That just hasn’t been my experience. Several members, like me, have actually never joined FDR! A number of members pay no attention to FDR whatsoever. Some refuse to participate in any conversation in which FDR is mentioned.
The forum has 28 different categories to post in, such as economics, culture, literature, art, technology, relationships, current projects, etc. Of those 28 categories, only one (1) is called “FreeDomain Radio,” set aside to discuss Molyneux’s ideas. (Admittedly, it is the category with the most posts and threads.)
Recently, a sub-category has been opened under the FreeDomain Radio section. It’s called “Family and Friends of FDR’ers.” As more parents are coming to the realization that their children were encouraged to deFOO by Molyneux and FDR, they have been finding their way to Liberating Minds. As a result, Conrad, the adminstrator, opened a sub-category specifically for them. A cult exit-counselor with 25 years of experience in the field has begun dropping by to offer advice.
Contrary to Molyneux’s attempt to paint the members of Liberating Minds with extreme colors, my experience has been that the individual members’ relationships with FDR are as varied as any human relationships.
- There is the 18-year-old who desperately wishes he could have back the year he spent deFOOed from his mother (at Molyneux’s encouragement).
- There is the wife who nearly lost her husband to FDR, but was able to pull him out before it was too late.
- There are ex-FDR members who believe they learned the most profound truths about philosophy from Molyneux.
- There are banned FDR members who dearly miss their FDR friends (but once you are banned from FDR, your former friends there no longer speak with you).
- There are ex-FDR members who believe they have exorcised Molyneux from their systems and openly advocate no further Molyneux discussion.
- And even one banned FDR member still donates to FDR because he finds Molyneux’s podcasts valuable.
Many members are conflicted because the man they looked to as a friend, confidant, and teacher one day banned them and refused to speak to them afterward. Sometimes, as a parting shot, he’d make a podcast about them, sometimes misrepresenting them and leaving them with no way to respond. To the people involved, sometimes those bannings seemed less than ethical. That’s the conflicted part—how does one reconcile learning great truths from one who no longer seems to embody them?
At minimum, Liberating Minds remains the one place where the ideas of FreeDomain Radio are freely discussed. At Liberating Minds, it’s OK to disagree with a Molyneux idea—hotly so—if you can support it. No one will be banned. No one will be psychologized. No one will be told to leave and not return until they’ve had therapy. No one will find themselves made into a podcast.
And you are also free to discuss the ideas of anyone else. Because at Liberating Minds no one worries that you might insult Molyneux by suggesting there are other philosophers more profound. The ideas of more influential philosophers and thought-leaders are the subject of many conversations in which Molyneux is unmentioned (a fact that may rankle him more than being criticized!)
Here’s an opinion of another blogger I discovered recently. She writes Iconoclast or Malcontent? You Decide! under the name Karen. She had begun following the back and forth between FDR and Liberating Minds—not as a Libertarian or philosopher, but with the humor of someone who just likes a good internet show. I liked that. It reminded me that no matter how serious the squabble seemed, millions and millions of people just couldn’t care less! Her opinion of Liberating Minds more or less matched mine:
Regarding the question of banning. I tuned into this program because I was happy to see someone criticize a website that I had already decided was full of itself, and for the worst reasons. So I am biased against Freedomain Radio, and it was frankly a delight to find Liberating Minds. (Thanks, Freedomain members for linking to that site in several places.) Liberating Minds is the underdog, and who doesn’t like an underdog? It’s funny to me that the banning of people from Freedomain Radio is so openly acknowledged as a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I have looked up some of these hostile and aggressive people, and they just don’t seem that aggressive. And since the word “chilling” has been bandied about a lot on both sites, I’ll use it now. It is chilling that people who visit both websites are being banned from Freedomain Radio. It was chilling enough that, if the posters at Liberating Minds are telling the truth, people who participated in both communities were being banned, but all you supposedly have to do to get banned now is go to Liberating Minds and click through one of the links to Freedomain Radio and your IP address is put on some list.
Saying all that, there’s no need to go through Molyneux’s anti-Liberating Minds article point-by-point as I did with his response to the UK Guardian. I just want to highlight a few themes.
Language—Much of Molyneux’s defining of Liberating Minds as a “hate site” is based on language that is sometimes found there. Molyneux is being slightly dishonest though—he led off by quoting freely from a thread that was just silly, a short spontaneous thread of people using extreme language simply for its own sake. There’s a pretty big difference between goofy and rage.
But about that language—Molyneux says, “of course, there is nothing like this on the FDR board, I would never tolerate such rage and hatred.” That’s true. However, Molyneux freely tolerates offensive language when it is coming from his own mouth in many of his podcasts.
One example. Molyneux quotes a post by Dylboz describing Molyneux: “he is a sick son-of-a-bitch.” Molyneux is offended. Why, that kind of hateful language would never be permissible on FDR.
Really? Because when Molyneux, in the now-famous deFOOing conversation with 18-year-old Tom, uses exactly the same phrase to describe Tom’s father—heck, it’s just two guys talkin’ ’bout ethics.
Further, when a deFOOed mother showed up in the FDR chatroom several months ago, just trying to get more information about her son, Molyneux didn’t seem to have any problem with one of his members swearing at her. Fortunately, the Guardian reporter saw the incident as well.
If anyone wants to get a picture of true rage and hatred, just give one more listen to the podcast in which Molyneux describes Tom’s parents. I listed the horrific charges Molyneux made against Tom’s parents (all of which are conjecture) in this post.
Sonia Mansour-Robaey—Molyneux attempts to slip Sonia in as part of all this. You should know that she is not part of the Libertarian discussion at all but a concerned academic with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and a Ph.D. in Philosophy. She read the article in the Guardian and felt outrage at the story of Tom, his mother, and the role Molyneux may have played in their estrangement. As a researcher and teacher, she has some highly informed and pointed views on the role of the family in human development. She logged onto FDR just long enough to express those views. Molyneux told her she clearly didn’t know anything about philosophy and banned her.
Barbara Weed—I admit there’s a special place in my heart for Barbara Weed. Molyneux has done everything in his power to demonize her, just he is continuing to say “isn’t it awful the way everyone keeps talking about Tom,” at every opportunity, to anyone who will listen. I was a member of Liberating Minds before Barbara joined. She joined (well after the reporter had finished her research) as part of the growing number of deFOOed parents who had been finding their way to the site. I have seen the other parents on Liberating Minds thank her for her courage. It was Barbara who was the source for the Guardian article (again, before she joined Liberating Minds). She made a difficult choice between allowing FDR to continue to operate out of the spotlight and potentially driving her son further away by speaking out.
One final thing. Just as Liberating Minds is nothing like the “hate site” Molyneux attempts to depict, his attempt to define this as a pitched battle between two competing sites is also entirely wrong. First, I don’t think Liberating Minds is actually competing. Everyone’s welcome. Second, the Libertarian community at large sometimes debates what to make of Molyneux’s ideas, not often favorably (and he is sometimes simply dismissed altogether). I spent about 20 minutes on Google and dug up some examples:
- Mises debates on FDR as a cult
- Anti-State weighs in
- Adventures In Legal Land debates on Molyneux
- Jezebel has over 51 comments on the Guardian article
- FreeTalkLive debates the FDR cult question
- Iconclast or Malcontent? runs a series of articles, attracting over 50 comments
- Freedom blogger Sunni expresses concerns over deFOOing practice
- Blogger Alrenous checks out of FDR
- RichardDawkins.net debates Molyneux’s UPB philosophy
- Grupthink lists FDR as 3rd on its “Crackpot Web site” list, between Sylvia Brown the psychic and ABC Homeopathy
In addition, Molyneux has very recently been dropped from the archives of the Lew Rockwell site. I’m not sure why, but it did occur after the Guardian raised concerns over the deFOOing practice.
In the end, there is really only one way to define a Web forum, be it Mises, FreeTalkLive, or any other. Visit, post, and see what happens. That’s what I do.
Update (11/29/08): After the article below was written, Mr. Molyneux took his “case” to a number of notable Libertarian forums. The feedback he received speaks for itself:
Second update (12/01/08): Mr. Molyneux, stung by criticism regarding the “outing” of Conrad’s real name, amended his article to demonstrate why he believed the action was justifiable. Once again, independent blogger Karen brings a unique perspective to that reasoning in “The Best Defense, I Suppose.”
FLASH! (12/03/08): Stefan Molyneux, clearly shaken by the continued discussion on Liberating Minds of the activities of the FreeDomain Radio community and the possible role he played in the family breakup of Barbara Weed and her son Tom, appealed to the site’s host (Forumotion) to entirely delete Liberating Minds. (As usual, Karen offers some thoughtful insights in her article “Anti-Semitism, Censorship, and Taking One for the Team“)
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