Saturday, 2 February 2013

Freedomain Radio and Confirmation Bias: A recent ban and thread deletion

My friend Anna was banned from the Freedomain Radio forum yesterday, at the same time as the last thread she had posted on was tacitly deleted. I write about this here for the benefit of the FDR-curious or FDR-conflicted people who still occasionally make their way to my blog, which has never been very lively since its early days when I mainly wrote about my disagreements with Stefan Molyneux.

The deleted thread is/was called Why do so many libertarians/anarcho-capitalists/voluntaryists hate Stef/FDR?, and its full text can be retrieved here.
Forum member MarisaO then opened a new thread in which she politely asked why it had been deleted, stating that she "would love to know what is and isn't allowed to mention on this site", and this thread was immediately deleted in turn (for what it's worth it can now be retrieved here). Anna tells me that Stefan Molyneux was the only moderator who was logged on at that time and must therefore have been the one to delete Marisa's thread, but we do not have any lasting evidence of this. At any rate, Stefan must be well aware of the many deletions and occasional alterations of other people's posts that happen on his forum, and in some cases (like this one), I find it hard to imagine exactly how he might justify these deletions to himself.

I think the people who expressed criticisms of Freedomain Radio on that thread were remarkably polite and charitable, but many of Stef's followers will certainly disagree with me on this, so if you're interested you can see for yourself in the full text linked to above. Here are some highlights:

If you'd like to learn more about where some of the bitterness comes from, I would suggest reading some ex-members' stories about their negative experiences at FDR. (...) I have the impression that only the positive stories see the light of day around here. Not so long ago a thread about more negative experiences was deleted. To be honest, I expect this thread might be deleted as well. 
... I wish I could just post the links here, but I don't know if I would be reprimanded for that. ...
(Note that people were banned for linking to my blog, and the links were tacitly deleted from their posts. The bans were subsequently lifted, but the alteration of their posts was never undone or acknowledged despite insistent questioning by other forum members. My friend Ondrej was later permanently banned for linking to from his profile page. When the forum at was still active, Stefan's policy used to be that anyone who had posted there would automatically be banned from the Freedomain Radio forum. Anna was not being overly dramatic here.)

Heiko Cochius:
I have been thinking about my ambivalence towards FDR for a long time. Three years ago I wrote about my personal Stef cult (...)
Three years later I am still transferring - like Stef suggested correctly - the idealization from him to reason and evidence.
I have had a - what I call - fanatic phase with people. I did not want to meet with colleagues, I cut contact with my father, I really tested my friendships, my marriage, my FDR acquaintaces. (...)
Over time, I changed my attitude, I relaxed the strictness of my borders, went on a field day with the office staff, met with my father again, socialized some more with Statists etc. I need less purity. But I am much more aware of the dangers of letting confused people be important in my life. I try to find a balance (...) Of course, relying too much on one source can be dangerous and cult-like, and FDR lends itself to that somewhat. Stef is very confident in himself, and that is one cue that might attract one to lean on him for orientation. It was for me. 
I find it troubling that so many people posting here read nearly all critics as "haters". You accuse the critics of blindly dismissing Stef, but it seems to me most of the people on this thread are very quick to dismiss his critics. (...)  
I'm also very troubled by people here saying that disgruntled FDR members somehow wanted to be in a cult. I'm frankly shocked to find this sort of victim blaming within the FDR community. Of course, everyone who joins any cult holds some responsiblity for their choices, but there must be some responsiblity put on the cult community and leader. I'm not trying to argue whether or not FDR is a cult, because it's a terribly inflammatory topic, but I think it's really unfair that people here are so quick to assume those that claim they had a cult-like experience here are just wrong, stupid, or crazy. Here at FDR, we see cults all around us in churches, families and many other institutions. However, I never see this kind of exclusive victim blaming and excusing the leader or community in those cases. I would expect more curiosity, but I understand that it's your own group that's being called a cult and that's very uncomfortable.
(...) I actually had to seriously debate whether or not to post this opinion for fear of being banned or causing the whole thread to be deleted. I really hope that's not the case and a discussion can come from this so that we can better understand each other.
One thing that is clear (or at least with what I've observed so far) is that the positive reports get quite some attention here, as when Stef publishes or reads outloud mails of thanks, praise and positive experiences as result of FDR. Those topics also don't get deleted, and rather get enthousiastic, affirming reactions. But I don't see mails of negative experiences being read, and topics talking of negative experiences have been deleted. Also I don't recall any of the people who testified of their bad experiences, to have received curiosity and concern from Stef or the community, in order to figure out what went wrong and to see if anything can be improved at FDR. (correct and refer me if I'm wrong)

Stef talks about surveying customers of your business, and likewise checking in your relationship whether your friend/partner is still happy. A criticism against Ron Paul was also that he didn't track outcomes, set a goal, so that his campaigns can be measured against that goal and seen as a success or failure. 
But I don't see this kind of measuring of customer satisfaction or results against a predefined goal here either. It's against empiricism to pay attention to and see as valid positive outcomes, and to ignore, deny or dismiss negative ones. Just imagine if scientists did that with their research! (which they sometimes do, and that's obviously fraudulent) One step would be to take stock of the whole range of outcomes, preferably with something more systematical than just waiting for self-reports to pop up on the internet. The second would be to research what leads to good and bad outcomes, so that improvements can be made.
There have been several threads where I've been arguing that people on this site seem biased toward the nurture argument on the causes of violence and aggression as opposed to the nature side of the argument. Even though no credible experts that I know of claim that we have this anywhere close to solved, it seems like many treat it as a foregone conclusion that nurture, rather than nature, is the cause and most of FDR's philosophy is based on this assumption. 
In response to my pointing this out, people repeatedly throw at me studies showing support for the nurture side. I repeatedly respond that I'm not claiming there aren't studies supporting that side. My complaint is that those studies are shared here selectively, while those focused on the nature side of things are ignored. I've even suggested a book and an author that might be interviewed for more information on that side of things, but few really seem to take an interest. 
That bias in selectivity - eagerly promoting data supporting the desired viewpoint while mostly ignoring data from other perspectives - is what is coming up in your response too. 
Nathan T. Freeman:
Of course there is highlighting of positive feedback. FDR is donation-based; highlighting success stories is fiscal good sense. (...) expecting someone to advertise their mistakes is demanding that they self-attack.
A recent deleted thread was 'I noticed I was a lot happier...' (try googling it) of a woman that told about her feeling worse after involvement in FDR. I'm glad that the thread wasn't deleted at the time (some years ago), but recently it was revived. As far as I know it was civil, and consisted among others of Maja R. asking Stef how much responsibility he felt for negative FDR outcomes. He never replied to that question. Another user, Parker85 shared his thoughts about what might make FDR look cultish, and also mentioned the suicide, explicitly stating that he wasn't saying that FDR is responsible for it. Both were banned. I've got the recent part of the thread saved. If anyone wants to see it, mail me. 
I must say I'm positively surprised that this thread is still alive and that me and perhaps others aren't banned yet. Hope we can keep it that way.
The way Stef uses language can induce fear as well, I think. Talk about your soul dying or losing the chance to be a virtuous person and to be happy, if you stay around the wrong people for example. I've also felt alarmed about the state and economy, though that's something that more libertarian authors warn about. Thinking of yourself as a slave and continually under threat of violence, even though in a sense that's true, can in my experience really fire up your fight and flight reaction. Makes it easier to see statists as a horrible enemy and people who're really dangerous to you. Even if you're talking to someone meek and not even really interested in politics (at least, that's how I used to look at pretty much all non-anarchists).


  1. "Here at FDR, we see cults all around us in churches, families and many other institutions."

    Er, these are all involuntary, in essence, and people are indoctrinated into them from a young age, often through threats of violence as in both the church (eternal torture) / state (arrest, imprisonment) / family (genital mutilation, the bizarre sexual assault known as spanking, threats to remove one's food or abandon a tiny child alone, etc.).

    FDR lacks those powers. Indeed, Scientology barely has them.

  2. Yes, there are useful distinctions that can be made here. I would point out, however, that if we're going to count churches' threats of "eternal torture" for unbelievers as ways of "coercing" people into joining the cult, then we should probably also count Stefan Molyneux's claims about how those who follow his philosophy will become happy, authentic, virtuous people, whereas those who do not will become/stay unhappy, inauthentic, bad people.
    I anticipate that my saying this will strike many who appreciate Stef's output but do not feel that living his philosophy is indispensable for avoiding such dreadful outcomes as ridiculous, which is fine; if Stef has no such impact on you and you're just consuming his material that you find interesting, I think that's a good thing. But I have a lot of experience of people who genuinely dread(ed) the alleged consequences of not properly applying Stef's philosophy. And on the face of it, it does not seem plausible to me to argue that Stef has no responsibility in this issue.

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  4. I've been called a cult once or twice.

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