This is the second article of a two-part series. Part One is here.
In the arc of every argument, particularly when one participant insists on skirting the truth, there comes a time to call a spade a spade. There is a time to throw down your final card and say, “this is the bitter truth, plain and simple. What do you have to say about it?”
As spectators watched the Logical flaws in RTR thread grow to 6 pages, many began to wonder anxiously when that time would come. When would bake or Allison—having exhausted all genteel attempts—forcefully lead the discussion to its conclusion?
Not yet…not just yet.
We have a just a few more tactics to go—a few more chances for Molyneux to “win” the debate without ever reaching the truth.
The wounded warrior
As the conversation grew past Page 6 to Page 8, much of it had become mired on only one of bake’s initial questions—the “false premise” Molyneux apparently derived from the Vince/Jennifer movie: “one partner’s need to nag proves a lack of respect from the other partner.”
But something else seemed to trouble Molyneux far more than the possible logic error. As the participants continued debating, few seemed to notice an apparent anger from Molyneux. The reason? He hadn’t been asked nicely. He didn’t want to be questioned about his logic. He wanted his followers to come to him for enlightenment. As he observes here:
….For instance, as everyone knows who has read the book, RTR is about asking questions rather than jumping to conclusions, which was not at all how this thread started, or has progressed for the most part. Asking questions might be something like: “Hey Stef, this part of RTR bothered me, and I’m not sure why, can you help my understand why it was written that way?” Something like that….
….I think it’s best to try out the principles of honesty and curiosity suggested in RTR rather than jump to conclusions.
In fact, if this thread had gone well, that would have been a far more grevious blow to RTR than any logical problems that might exist in the text…
He would repeat this complaint again and again during the conversation.
Perhaps so few noticed his anger because they didn’t see the point for it. Allison and bake had been courteous, solicitious, and quick to apologize for any perceived wrongs. Allison replied:
I do apologize if my previous post came off as lacking curiosity. I was debating between presenting it as I did, or simply asking you what the purpose of the first part of the book was. I chose the method I did because I wanted to demonstrate that I had put a considerable amount of thought into the question, it wasn’t just me not having done my homework.
In fact, as far as bake was concerned, I suspect her courtesy had actually created a significant problem for Molyneux. It offered him no observable reason to ban the newcomer. For now, he simply had to endure the questions.
But just for now.
Molyneux’s observation about the thread “not going well” mystified most of the participants. It was an uncommonly lively discussion that gathered many thoughtful responses. No surprise there—it was one of the very few times that any kind of true critique of Molyneux’s thinking had been allowed on FDR. The participants were enjoying it. They were energized, even if Molyneux was not.
Allison may not have been ready to throw her spade yet, but she makes a devastating observation on Page 7 of the thread:
….In the interest of giving us a specific topic to work with, I’d like to do a contrast between two sections of the book:
Section A: pages 69-71;
Section B: pages 222-228(ish).
These two sections are very similar, in that they both describe situations of conflict of interest between two people. However, there is also a fundamental difference between the two.
Looking at section A, I believe it is trying to show that it is abusive to make the assumption that a person is lazy and selfish. But the thing that strikes me is that the very assertion that, through her actions, the woman is implying that the man is lazy and selfish, is itself an assumption. An entire mythology is built on top of this assumption.
Section B, in my reading, warns us not to do the very thing that was done in section A. It suggests that we start by just discussing the feeling that arose after the other person’s action, not any of the conclusions we may be tempted to draw from it. I believe it follows that we shouldn’t even go down the path of building up those conclusions in our mind, because it’s kind of hard to forget a conclusion once we’ve made it.
A pointed question: am I incorrect in my identification of a fundamental contradiction between sections A and B?
Molyneux does not respond immediately. In fact, his next significant response occurs on Page 8 of the thread. Not in written words—as Allison and bake had requested—but as an audio podcast with “a few thoughts I recorded.”
They were angry thoughts.
The audio will explain it all
The podcast, embedded in the thread and later uploaded as FDR1566 The Logic of Real Time Relationships, Part 1, didn’t even begin to address the profound problems that Allison was now raising. It was nothing more than Molyneux’s explanation of the Vince and Jennifer passage.
And it wasn’t even that, really. It was clearly intended as a public punishment of sorts. Molyneux was disciplining Allison and bake as if they were unruly children. It wasn’t the typical “Good evening everybody, I hope you’re doing well” podcast. Molyneux begins brusquely. His voice sounds irritated.
At both the beginning and the end of the podcast, Molyneux states that his purpose for recording it is to give us an example of the kind of discussion—the type of rich insight he would have offered—if only he had been asked in the manner befitting. If only his interrogators had shown curiosity and empathy. At the end of the podcast, Molyneux says:
15:26 We could go more into the other sentences that are quoted—they all have I think pretty good explanations and understandings behind them. But that’s just the sort of example [of the reply I would give] if someone had said “Hey, what’s the purpose of this?” That’s something that would be more fun to respond to and to talk about rather than “Oh, well that’s just wrong.” I mean, to me that’s just kind of an immature way to approach questioning.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, there is something within Molyneux that seems deep and perplexing to me—it’s the tendency he has to view any critique or challenge as a personal attack. Is it nature, or did some sequence of events in his life create such profound defensiveness?
Bake also noticed it, asking this question on Page 6:
An important side note: I’ve gone to some length to say positive things about you, and minimize personal criticism, while focusing on aspects of your work. I’m honestly curious: how much do you distinguish between criticism of your work and yourself?
One wonders—can Molyneux make such a distinction at all?
Throughout, the thread and podcast seem to show flashes of anger in response to the challengers—regardless of the courtesy (not to mention maturity) they showed in the process. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen this.
It was Danny Shahar and UPB all over again.
In the podcast, Molyneux takes 16 minutes to point out that he wasn’t conclusively saying Vince didn’t respect Jennifer. He was writing about Jennifer’s perception, that’s all. Molyneux could easily have offered such a simple explanation after bake’s first post. But he waited until the thread had reached 8 pages and recorded a podcast to do it. Why? Because the podcast was never about offering an answer; it was about correcting bad behavior.
At the very beginning of the podcast, Molyneux diminishes the importance of the logic problem in two ways—first by saying that “some, not many” members were having trouble and second by pretending that bake’s and Allison’s questions concerned only two sentences in the book. Neither were true.
Strangely, Molyneux appeared not to notice the reactions to his podcast. Later, in the chatroom, he said:
Stefan Molyneux: It’s a shame that no one has responded to a rather detailed and rigorous analysis of the two sentences in my recent podcast
Stefan Molyneux: but I must say that I completely expected it
But they did respond, almost immediately. Just not very positively. In fact, one member was reaching his breaking point:
The degree of disrespectful passive-aggression displayed by “defenders of the faith” in this thread has really disturbed and disappointed me! I don’t intend to “take my bucket and spade and change playpens” over it, though I will happily discontinue my account if that is what Stef wants.
There has been much respectful, insightful and logical debate between many contributors from both sides, but also an undercurrent of obstruction by a few. Such passive-aggression is not only against all the principles of RTR, but also at odds with the ethos of FDR itself.
First Stef had “a little bit of trouble following the examples” given by Bake that many others had no trouble following. I was very irritated by that post and concluded some negative motives for it…..
…Then the opening sentence of Stef’s magnum opus addressing the questions in this thread – podcast FDR1566 – appeared to me [I don’t claim to speak for ‘bake’] to passively-aggressively belittle Bake by starting with: “There is a sentence that seems to be giving some people … not many, but some [snigger] … a certain amount of trouble in Real Time Relationships”. My understanding of Bake’s initial post was that he was an avid logician and had found a number of false dilemmas in RTR and proceeded to detail 5 examples to “illustrate”, plus 3 non-sequiturs he “just stumbled across”.
However, the content of the podcast didn’t matter much because it was a tactical failure on Molyneux’s part. (Remember, for Molyneux, this was never about collaborating to find the truth; it was about appearing to win the debate!) He had recorded it too late. Had Molyneux made his stand on the “acceptable” way for bake to ask her questions early on, it might have been a winning tactic.
But by now, Allison, bake, and a number of others had pushed beyond that into discussing major fundamental flaws in RTR.
Logic is for losers
By now, the thread was careening madly. All of the deft logic was coming from the participants, led by bake and Allison. Molyneux, on the other hand—contrary to his claims of building grand visions from first principles (or “from the ground-fucking-up,” as he sometimes puts it)— was now claiming in another short podcast FDR1567 The Logic of Real Time Relationships, Part 2 that everyone should quit “nitpicking” about the logic and embrace the big picture—that RTR is the revolutionary book based on the theory that we need to be “honest, open, and vulnerable.”
Molyneux had somehow managed to jump the fence completely. It turns out that the logic of “The Logic of Love” isn’t particularly important, after all. Certainly not compared to the main theory.
That might be fine, except there’s absolutely nothing revolutionary or even remotely original in that main theory. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a relationship expert who doesn’t encourage you to be honest, open, and vulnerable. Just for fun, I entered the phrase be honest open and vulnerable in your relationships in the Google search window.
I got 183,000 hits.
And quite a few of them were from sites about relationships or referring to books about relationships.
In the podcast, Molyneux says all of the “nitpicking” happens because RTR is hard to embrace. And it’s hard to embrace because it’s humiliating:
It is a humiliating experience to read a book that says “Hey, be honest, be really honest and open with people around you and don’t jump to defensive conclusions and don’t manipulate and don’t level up with someone by putting them down—and just be open and honest and curious. That is a very humiliating thing to be told.
Personally, I disagree. In fact, I think it would be a breath of fresh air for the FDR members who now experience relationships this way: Any FDR True Believer who reads a letter or e-mail from a defooed family member to Molyneux receives an instant jumped-to conclusion from him, putting down the parents as guilt-manipulators, in order for Molyneux to manipulate the True Believer into being defensive about his or her decision to defoo. There is no shred of open, honest curiosity about the family left behind.
Astoundingly, Molyneux complains in this podcast that worrying about a “small collection of possible…logical errors ” will hold you back from embracing the power of RTR—the ability it gives you to hop in your car and drive over to your friends or family and be open and honest about your feelings. It is an exhortation to seize the day—go out and claim the loving relationships that await you.
Never mind that this exhortation is coming from the same man who left his family through a three-line message and refuses to speak with them. The man who encouraged his wife to do the same. The man who has encouraged his True Believers to continue the practice. Everything he says in this portion of the podcast in no way reflects the behavior he consistently encourages.
What price, I wonder, would the discarded Molyneux family, Christina’s family, and the families of all the defooers be willing to pay for even one chance to have an honest, open, and vulnerable conversation with those who have left?
And who was this Molyneux? The one now claiming that points of logic are of little consequence and encouraging his followers to jump in their cars to pursue an open and honest relationship with their families?
It was a paradox inside a contradiction wrapped in a reversal.
The fall of RTR
Back to the thread. The out-of-touch podcasts didn’t matter any more. Fundamental flaws in RTR were now being called out.
Earlier, on Page 6, bake had already begun to tease around the edges of one of them:
…Isn’t RTR supposed to fundamentally be a process which one choses to use oneself, whether or not ones’ conversational partner is doing so? This is a genuine question, which I’m asking with curiosity (I specify this because this type of detail is too often lost on forums).
An important detail, to be sure. Collaborating with a partner on RTR is far different than ambushing the unsuspecting with it. And the book itself—especially the lengthy description of an RTR session with a fictional mother—it’s all about the ambush.
On Page 8, Allison rolled out the central, devastating flaw of RTR:
….The above thought process…has got me wondering if I went into this discussion (as well as reading the RTR book) with the wrong expectations for the book. Maybe this book is more about how to gain certainty and closure in relationships you already have a gut negative feeling about, than about how to use RTR to maintain healthy relationships. Perhaps a new book on RTR could be written to help people use RTR in relationships after they’ve already gotten all the negative ones out of their lives?
Still, I think my earlier concerns, e.g. the ones arising from my contrast between two sections of the book, are valid. The book states that employing RTR will probably bring about the destruction of most of your relationships, but I think that ending is all but certain if you go into an RTR discussion with a set of conclusions about the relationship already in mind. In which case, why use RTR at all? (E.g. If your stomach continually sinks when you see your mom’s name on caller ID, why not pick up the phone and simply say, “Hi Mom, I don’t want to talk to you anymore, so I’m not going to.” Click.) If RTR is the path you choose, there must be some glimmer of hope for the potential of the relationship. In which case, why not give the relationship the best fighting chance possible, and refrain from drawing conclusions before RTRing with the other person? By all means, use logic with them, allowing them input along the way to ensure that they feel each step is fair. I think the latter part of the book encourages this, but again, I refer as an example to the section starting on p. 69, which I think could mislead readers in this regard, as I’ve explained previously
Allison was kind, considerate, and thoughtful. But with this observation (combined with her earlier demonstration that assumptions and conclusion-jumping comprised the first part of the book) she crushed RTR altogether. It certainly would have been difficult for Molyneux to take this criticism on directly, since he himself claims to use RTR for that very purpose—to end relationships.
Allison takes it an important step further—if you use RTR as Molyneux has defined it, the end of the relationship is all but certain.
Her innocent-sounding question: “Perhaps a new book on RTR could be written to help people use RTR in relationships after they’ve already gotten all the negative ones out of their lives?” could have been phrased this way: “The next time you try writing a book about relationships, why not make it about—oh, I don’t know—keeping them?”
What Tom never knew
I wonder if Allison and bake knew that RTR was pure invention? There were no workshops that went into developing it. No years of experience in coaching couples through their relationship troubles (FDR has probably been responsible for far more breakups). No focus groups. And, sadly, few personal experiences for Molyneux to draw upon.
The truth is, Real-Time Relationships, the Logic of Love occurred to Molyneux one day and he wrote it down, self-published it as a book, and offered it as a PDF for all of his followers.
Then he sat back and waited for some unsuspected reader to take it out for a test drive.
That unsuspecting reader was Tom—the famous Tom of the UK Guardian’s exposure of the dark side of FDR.
Molyneux was very excited when he learned the 18-year-old had RTR’d with his parents, with unfortunate results. I don’t know if Tom knew at the time that Molyneux was virtually unpublished, that RTR was all a theory, and he himself the unwitting guinea pig.
But would Tom have made the same choices if he had considered bake’s distinction between collaboration and ambush? Or if he had known, as Allison realized, that if you employ RTR as Molyneux suggests, the demise of your relationship is a virtual certainty? It is darkly amusing to consider that in this regard, RTR is very close to a proof of determinism—one of the many banned topics at FDR.
For whatever reason, RTR became one more Molyneux influence that sent Tom hurtling toward the final break with his parents.
The thread continues on, with Allison making significant points here and there, but I think this moment—when Allison observes that RTR actually produces the opposite of its claims—begins the downward arc. There is an end in sight.
Part of which was being planned…out of sight.
“Just say ‘thank you'”
Bake was particularly troubled. She had asked good questions. She had clarified them. She patiently withstood the FDR bullies and enforcers. And all she had gotten for her troubles was a podcast that included a disciplinary message for her.
So in response to the podcast, she opened a new thread: I’m puzzled; please explain. She wanted to know, straight up, why wouldn’t Molyneux answer her question? Molyneux replied that he addressed it in the podcast. But that wasn’t an answer and she knew it. What, bake wanted to know, was going on?
Molyneux replied “I’m not going to interact on this topic any more, I am neither learning anything nor enjoying myself.”
Perhaps my cultural touchstone in understanding Molyneux’s personality is a paraphrase of Jack Nicholson’s Colonel “you gotta ask me nicely” Jessup. “You sleep under the very blanket of ethics and then question the manner in which I provide it? I prefer you just say thank you!”
At any rate, bake wasn’t going to get her answer. Ever. Allison expressed her concern about Molyneux’s reply, but he played divide and conquer in return. He assured Allison that she was free to Skype with him any time she liked. “I always have time for you.”
Allison politely declined.
The unkindest cut of all
As the thread finally limped to conclusion, a Molyneux supporter jumped in with a personal story to shore up Molyneux’s defense. He told about a difficult time he recently had talking to his mother but, instead of stewing in silence, he gathered the energy to reach out to her once again. And this time, they connected.
It was a wonderful outcome. The supporter said the important thing about RTR, to him, was that it worked—not whether it was logically consistent.
Despite this positive outcome, few realize that within this compliment is the unkindest cut of all for Molyneux. We now know that almost no one can explain the logic of RTR, so this entire debate had largely been between two camps: those who simply accept that it works without knowing or caring why and those who are reluctant to accept that it works precisely because no one can explain why.
Stefan Molyneux, who in any other universe would be a happy member of the second camp, is forced to endure the admiration of the first camp. Because he cannot escape his own authorship.
And because the first camp cannot delve too deeply into the nuts and bolts of the logic, they take away only the surface suggestions—stuff like it’s a good idea to find a non-confrontational way to tell the other person how you feel. Advice that has been printed in books on relationships since, well, the dawn of printing.
It was actually this generic, though useful, advice that the supporter benefited from—not RTR.
All this should be maddening for Molyneux, because the book originally was supposed to be about the nuts and bolts. It was about the logic of love—what could be more interesting or original than that? Remove that, and you are left to squander your admiration on simple relationship truths that aren’t original and have been better said elsewhere. (And—not to push the dagger in too far—said by people who have actually had relationships.)
All in all—although Molyneux himself appears unable to see it—he had been shown more respect by bake’s questions than by the admiration of his followers.
Perhaps Molyneux was so battered by this time that any admiration was good enough. This is how he responded to the one who said who cares how it works? It just does.
Molyneux replied, “That’s what I call philosophy!”
So there you go.
Winner and still champion
Of bake, it can be said that she met her end on a secret battlefield far away from the thread itself.
As I have said elsewhere, FDR communications are constantly in orbit, furiously circling the community like so many subatomic particles. Much work gets done there, out of sight.
And it was there that Molyneux turned to the most devastating of his debating tactics—Psychologizing (No. 5 on Conrad’s list, if you’re counting).
Psychologizing is a potent tactic for Molyneux. His defense is that there is no need to explore your argument when it can be shown that it was produced by a troubled psyche. True, this particular tactic does require a little character assassination but it does allow for an instant and total dismissal of the opponent’s argument.
Small price to pay.
Publicly, Molyneux claims he dismissed bake for a reason that even his most ardent followers would have trouble buying. During the thread, someone had said, “emotions are a logical conclusion based on the premises.” She replied, “That is empirically false.” An extremely minor point/counterpoint that was barely noticed.
However, by this time any excuse would do. Shortly after, bake received the following e-mail:
While I certainly appreciate the enthusiasm and experience that you bring to questions of philosophy, the general mandate of the messageboard is to engage in debates with open curiosity, and I find posts such as “This is empirically false” to be uninviting, especially since most listeners have reviewed recent Freedomain Radio interviews with experts in the field of neurobiology which generally confirm what you are denying.
I certainly don’t have any problem with you believing something contrary to expert opinion, of course, but I think that just stating flatly that a proposition is “empirically false” is not helpful, and does not advance the kind of debates that genuinely move people forward.
Thank you very much for your participation in this community, and I certainly wish you the very best in finding a more appropriate place to post on the Internet.
Stefan Molyneux, M.A.
Host, Freedomain Radio
Yes, the uncurious bake was ejected for flatly stating views contrary to expert opinion. Well, where to begin with this one?
- Molyneux’s stated theories that (1) virtually all parents are child abusers, (2) forgiving them is impossible, and (3) everyone must leave their parents and never speak to them again—is contrary not only to expert opinion, but also to the opinions of amateurs and even most pinheads.
- Molyneux’s apparent belief that the “recent FreeDomain Radio interviews” now comprise a library of thinking from leading neurobiologists… well, less said about that, the better, I suppose.
- Molyneux’s entire war on academia is based on his claim that “expert opinion” is frequently the result of cronyism.
- bake didn’t flatly state her opinion, but provided references—unlike the Philosopher King she was responding to, who was flatly stating his opinion.
- For the first time, Molyneux is stating that he is concerned about the debate “not moving forward.” At this point, the debate had reached nine pages—all because of Molyneux’s continued refusal to answer bake’s opening questions on Page 1!
Just pick any one of those you like, we have to get back to the story.
Because it was all a smokescreen. Behind the scenes, before bake understood what FDR was really all about, she had made the unfortunate error of being more forthcoming about her personal life. As often happens, it was a personal crisis that led her to FDR. Trying to help, a friend had given her a copy of Real Time Relationships. bake read it and wanted to explore it further.
Had she simply expressed admiration for Molyneux, she would have been instantly accepted into the fold and her reasons for coming to FDR would be considered praiseworthy.
But because she did not, her story would be used against her.
In the chatroom and behind the scenes, Molyneux began his psychological condemnation of her. This is a typical comment:
Stefan Molyneux: she did kind of come out swinging
Stefan Molyneux: “stef made lots of basic logical errors in RTR”
As always, Molyneux characterized bake’s (actually cordial and highly complimentary) opening post as a personal attack.
Stefan Molyneux: I can’t imagine going to, say, Richard Dawkins’ board and posting “Dawkins makes lots of basic biological errors” and expecting to be taken seriously.
Stefan Molyneux: It’s not healthy to enable people to avoid dealing with their own issues in that way.
Let’s just mercifully overlook Molyneux’s comparison of himself to Richard Dawkins, shall we?
What Molyneux accomplished behind the scenes was this: He convinced his followers that what bake said no longer mattered. Don’t you see? It was all a ploy to avoid dealing with her own issues! It would have been unhealthy for him to enable her.
And so it was over. Psychologizing would win the day for Molyneux. Nothing bake said had mattered after all. She was being aggressive. She had personal demons.
She was just acting out.
Molyneux was winner and still champion after all.
And so, my Liebchen, this is where the story ends. The story of the newcomer to the village and The Question No One Would Answer.
You see, it didn’t matter how often bake responded with courtesy to discourtesy, with patience to impatience, with clarity to confusion. It did not matter that in eleven days no one could answer her questions, no matter how precisely she asked them.
None of that mattered at all, you see. The village leader explained that it was a personal crisis that brought bake to FDR and therefore her questions were simply an attack.
At first, a few of the villagers were confused. Bake’s questions didn’t sound like an attack. Not even once. Oh, yes, he assured them, she was acting out. Some of the village leader’s closest followers began to repeat the phrase:
“Acting-out acting-out acting-out.”
After a while, all the villagers began saying it.
And peace began to return to the village.
The conversation with all the annoying questions was left to drift slowly into the past. Pretty soon, no one would be able to see it anymore. And everyone began paying attention to other things.
Allison said something just before she, too, left the village. She was playing her last card.
Critiques are absolutely integral to the process of philosophy and are something that I think should be embraced and encouraged, not shooed away. If your first instinct is to perceive a critique of Stef’s work as an attack, that might be an interesting avenue to explore. Banning the people (i.e., bake) who attempt to offer these critiques results in the creation of a closed community subject to bias and decay. It also results in the silencing of diverging voices within the community. There are people here who are afraid to speak their minds. If you made an anonymous poll, I bet they would tell you so.
…As for me, my experience in this thread has shown me that I need to take a break from the forums…
And then she was gone.
But the villagers could only hear the refrain their leader had taught them—“acting-out acting-out acting-out.”
So Allison’s last card was left lying on the table.
And no one seemed to notice. Or care.
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