19/08/2014 – UPDATE: Molyneux, a man who claims he does not believe in intellectual property, had two videos linked in this piece removed, claiming copyright infringement. Luckily, I anticipated it, and wrote down what he said! Both removed videos have now been replaced with quotes of what he said. Enjoy!
Like all cult personalities, Stefan Molyneux cuts a superficially charismatic figure. Tall, bald and smiley-faced, the increasingly popular 47 year old Canadian runs FreeDomain Radio, the world’s most popular philosophy podcast. He’s interviewed people like Noam Chomsky; he gives public talks about economics, and he’s even been fortunate enough to have Joe Rogan helplessly nod in agreement with him for 3 hours during a nauseatingly fawning encounter. A self proclaimed libertarian anarchist, those who stumble across Molynuex will more than likely be greeted by videos in which he argues (poorly) for free-market solutions to the worlds woes: that everything, including law, justice and security, can be provided by an unregulated market system.
Fine. It’s just his point of view, and, agree or disagree with him, Molyneux’s online bloviating about a political system that’s never going to become a reality is at first seemingly innocuous. His followers are free to click, watch, agree, and tip their fedora in solidarity.
Behind this Youtube philosopher, however, is a growing cult of personality in which devout followers adhere to alarmingly absolutist (and widely discredited) teachings.
If, for some reason, Molyneux’s videos have spoken to you in a profound sense, and if you’re willing to donate 50 or more dollars a month to FreeDomain Radio, you can become one of its ‘Community’ members. These members are, for the most part, people who have fully committed to Molyneux’s teachings on ethics, philosophy and family. It is to these followers that Molyneux discusses and often endorses the appalling practice of ‘Defooing’.
‘Defooing’ – a term coined by Molyneux – is the practice of cutting any and all ties with ‘corrupting influences’ in one’s life. These corruptions can range from an immoral acquaintance to an abusive parent or spouse. In theory, defooing would be fine if Molyneux were merely advocating leaving abusive or unhealthy relationships; however it seems as far as Molyneux is concerned, virtually all friends and parents are corrupt and worthy of cutting ties with. In a 2005 essay in which he discussed his philosophy, he scathingly wrote
“So face it: your parents were bullies, or weak curriers of favour, or manipulative emotional infants themselves. You have no respect for them, for respect requires courage, and courage requires logical morality. You do not love them, since love demands virtue, and manipulating children into blind obedience is not at all virtuous.”
Numerous people have cut ties with their friends and families as a result of Molyneux’s teachings on relationships and family. Parents have been never spoken to again. Friends have been lost. Jobs have been quit.
‘Defooing’ and practices similar are widely discredited by psychologists. Molyneux’s wife – a psychologist – was even accused of professional misconduct for advocating it to callers to the show. In fact, such is the damage people feel that Molyneux and his wife have done: there are three websites dedicated to warning people about the dangers of joining their online community.
“You’ll watch videos related to the topics that you’re interested in, whether its atheism, or whatever, and gradually he sort of bleeds in stuff about relationships and psychology” says Alex, a young woman who cut ties with her family at the behest of Molyneux. Although she has since reunited with her family, Molyneux’s teachings greatly damaged her life, causing her to drop out of her college major, quit her job, and cut all ties with her loved ones. “I was committed. I was a true believer”
Finding herself increasingly interested in Molyneux’ teachings, Alex became involved with the FDR community, eventually becoming a member of Molyneux’s inner-circle, a select group of ‘Philopher Kings’ who are in direct contact with the libertarian luminary. She and the others in this small group were even at times invited to Molyneux’s house.
“I was listening to the podcasts non-stop…I would listen to 6 or 7 a day. [After she eventually left the FDR community] What I learned about later was this concept of’ information overload’ that happens in cults. Once you’ve absorbed a certain amount of information, you lose your critical faculties…so, you have these podcasts that are like, one, two, three hours long, and once you’ve absorbed all of these different tangents, he hits you with stuff that’s really, really radical. But, by that point, you’ve sort of been depleted of your resources to think about these things critically. That’s where the real shift starts to happen.”
At least consistent in applying their philosophy to themselves, both Molyneux and his wife have cut all ties with their respective families. His wife, who he often references on his show, had a relationship with her family until she met Molyneux and he convinced her that her childhood had not been happy at all. Alex’s experience was almost identical to that of Holy Molys first victim – Molyneux encouraging her to sever ties with her family and friends in the name of his absolutist conception of morality. “I listened to the podcast about confronting your family, and the different ways that you felt that they’d made mistakes when raising you. Very quickly I went towards the podcasts that were like, ‘Well, this is how they’re going to respond, and this is why, and this conversation is actually futile.’ And I went really quickly from that to defooing. I left my home in the middle of the night, moved in with my boyfriend, and just stopped responding to my parents. They were thinking of filing a missing persons report at the time.”
Once a successful young woman with a boyfriend, a job, and a college course, Alex soon found herself poor, alone, and miserable. “I had two conversations with Stef, one was about childhood, and the other was about how frightened I was to defoo. I didn’t really have a contingency plan.”
Two years after defooing, Alex still found herself living her life in search of the approval of the FDR cult. “I broke it off with my boyfriend. I had been getting the feeling that, Stef thought our relationship wasn’t healthy. It’s a very common thing that happens. And so, I broke it off, and was ready to become more deeply involved in the group, but here I was again, no job, no money, nothing. I was kind of in a state of catatonic depression for a while.”
In conjunction with deliberately isolating new members of his community – a practice that is commonly accepted as being a trait of cults – Molyneux also releases videos in which he discusses ‘the facts’ about popular or historical figures. The subjects of his scholarly ‘Truth About’s range from Abe Lincoln to Chelsea Manning.
These videos without fail advocate a free-market approach. In his critique of Lincoln, Molyneux argues that the American civil war – and indeed the problem of slavery – could have been solved if the southern states had been allowed to secede. Apparently, the north could have simply purchased all the captive laborers , and then promptly set them free. It didn’t seem to occur to him that the Confederacy may not have wanted to sell their sources of unlimited free labour, and that slavery remaining legal in the seceded south might still have been potentially problematic.
Unrelenting in his quest for poor taste, on the 28th of May – the day Maya Angelou died – Molyneux posted on his Facebook asking if he could be directed to any source materials regarding the authors life. Two days later, ‘The Truth about Maya Angelou’ was uploaded to YouTube; the only harsh truth revealed being the lack of research that goes into Molyneuxian exposés.
In his critiques, Molyneux almost without fail brings up traumatic events from the individual in questions childhood. He then uses these juvenile misadventures to explain what he regards as his subjects foibles. In making the childhoods of public figures he is criticizing central to their flaws, Molyneux is underhandedly reinforcing his other teachings about parenting and relationships. Everyone is flawed because of a bad childhood, and what is needed for the moral progress of the species is a year zero approach in which followers of Holy Moly cut all ties with past corruptions in their lives and begin anew.
As well as reinforcing his widely discredited views on relationships and family, these videos serve a very important function for the cult of Molyneux: in his demystifying and criticizing heroes of history and lore, he’s also tacitly adducing his own prestige to his followers. The philosopher king is slowly but surely discrediting people commonly accepted as moral heroes, all the while portraying himself as an ethical, economic and relationship guru.
Adding more problems, in his role as a dating guru, the right-wing Renaissance man is an unapologetic misogynist in his attitude toward women. The cognitive dissonance required in order to take Molyneux seriously as a social critic and philosopher became particularly obvious when he turned his sights on woman-hating mass murderer Elliot Rodger.
Unsurprisingly, in revealing ‘the truth’ about Elliot Rodger, Molyneux pointed the finger at two of his usual targets: women and socialists. The latter because they have normalized the notion that it’s okay to redistribute wealth with the use of force, and the former because someone – presumably some gold digging slut – must have gotten the idea into young Elliot’s head that wealth can be traded for beautiful girls. When Rodger realized that this wasn’t so, he snapped.
For a philosopher king, Holy Moly doesn’t seem to realize that the kind of rhetoric he espouses on his channel both validates and encourages people with views similar to Rodger’s. Addressing a caller in a video titled ‘The Matriarchal Lineage of Corruption’, Molyneux went on a particularly vitriolic rant, in which he blamed women for the presence of evil in the world, saying