So Stefan Molyneux has responded in an entirely predictable manner. He proffers a PowerPoint presentation that, oh my, decisively refutes the whole body of contradictory scientific claims. In truth, of course, anyone who attentively reads my article and watches his video sees that he simply begs most of the main questions. From my personal perspective, though, more importantly, he has yet again danced around what has always been the real issue.
Why, even for a moment, he might have thought that I doubted his ability to cobble together a self-affirming narrative from selectively chosen, convenient sources, I have no idea. Any two-bit hack can do that. Surely the arch atheist Molyneux must be aware, for instance, that defenders of Intelligent Design use science exactly that way to “prove” their claims. The heart of science is the open dialogue of mutual self criticism among peers. Without this challenge to established positions, science is reduced to an empty charade. Sadly, far from the enlightened world of science, this interchange with Molyneux and his crew, that started out as a comradely difference of opinion, became a journey into darkness.
And any journey best starts at the beginning. So if you haven’t read the preceding article posted on this blog, please do: Limits of Peaceful Parenting. I defy any impartial reader to say that that article was not measured, reasoned, respectful and even somewhat comradely in its tone and treatment of Molyneux. Furthermore, I explicitly said that I agree with the over whelming range of his libertarian positions and repeated on numerous occasions that I fully endorse his principles of peaceful parenting as the parenting ideal. There was just this one claim I had trouble with: the suggestion that such parenting constituted a realistic or coherent libertarian strategy.
Given Molyneux’s constant reiteration of his fealty to reason, empirical evidence and the scientific method, I expected a civilized, open discussion on these differences. Little did I expect what lay ahead. I had in the past heard the Freedomain Radio circle referred to as a cult. At that time, I dismissed such statements as the hyperbole of the weak-minded. Sadly, after the events of the last week, I may have to rethink that position. However, to really start at the beginning, maybe it is best to first offer a little context to the Limits of Peaceful Parenting article.
Molyneux’s yeoman work on behalf of libertarianism first came to my attention at few years ago, just a couple years or so after I’d read Steven Pinker’s book The Blank Slate and gotten more generally interested in the arguments and evidence around the so-called nature vs nurture debate. Though I found the overwhelming majority of what Molyneux had to say compelling, I was made uneasy by his claims for peaceful parenting as libertarian strategy on the basis of my recent reading. And, in all his archive of great interviews, I couldn’t find one in which he confronted this challenge to his position head-on. There was a long parade of alleged experts to support his preferred nurture-dominant position, but I could find not one single such expert arguing the so-called nature side of the case.
So, I wrote him a polite little email suggesting he correct this oversight. I received the – what has now become the expected standard – one line reply in which he asked whom I thought he should interview. I suggested Pinker and heard not another word from him, while waiting in vain for the Pinker interview to appear. It never did. A follow up email likewise was greeted with silence. A few months ago, when Bryan Caplan’s book was released, I wrote Stefan again, to suggest Caplan as an interviewee, thinking a self-described libertarian might be more agreeable. Again, only silence greeted this suggestion.
Yet, all this time, not only did Molyneux’s advocacy of peaceful parenting as libertarian strategy not abate, quite the contrary, it grew more vociferous. In recent interviews and debates he has posted on YouTube, it seemed to me to be reaching new heights in tone and emphasis. It was in this context that I decided to write the article posted prior to this one on the present blog. I am no authority on these matters, just a moderately intelligent fellow who tries to stay well read on a variety of issues. My hope was to use the article to publicly goad Molyneux to have Pinker, or Caplan, or some credible source on his video program to argue the contrary side.
When I published the article, I sent an email to Molyneux, with a link to the article, inviting his comment. He made none on the blog and replied with the dependable single line in which he called the article very interesting and asked if I wanted to have a debate. Again, I am no expert on these issues and my public speaking abilities pale in comparison to Molyneux’s great rhetorical skills. (Surely the objective is to get to the truth, not score debating points.) I pointed this out to him and reminded him that my objective all along has been to have him expose his many followers to the other side of the argument on the alleged claims of peaceful parenting as libertarian strategy. There was, by this time, unsurprisingly, no reply from him.
A couple days later, though, it came to my attention that there was a thread in the forum on his web site that was discussing my article. Well, at least, making a pretense of discussing it. Obviously, a good many of the contributors either hadn’t read the article at all or if they had they were in desperate need of an introductory course to basic reading comprehension skills.
So, given all this nonsense, the reader might understand my interest in joining the discussion. To post, of course, I needed to open an account, which required administrator approval. I attempted to do so. I was a bit chagrined to have my approval take 48 hours. And this despite a follow up email at the 24 hour mark. By way of comparison, I had a shill apply for an account who was approved in 10 hours – during the 48 hours I waited for approval.
That is, he applied 24 hours after me and was approved 14 hours before me. Presumably, backlog was not the problem. It would appear that a great deal of consideration must have been given to whether I was to be approved at all. Thankfully, the honourable choice was made and I eventually was allowed access to the inner sanctum. Clearly, there was some apprehension about me being allowed to speak directly to Stefan’s followers.
Now, no libertarian would dispute that Freedomain Radio, and its forums, is Molyneux’s property and he is entitled to control access in any way he chooses. However, such conduct certainly puts his alleged devotion to the scientific method, with its commitment to rigorous mutual peer criticism, in a rather different light than the somewhat angelic glow in which he bathes himself in his various video programs.
But perhaps you think I overreact; it could have been an honest mistake. Sure, it could have. And I would have been inclined to assume such benefit of the doubt, except that things got much darker when Sebastian Nickel contacted me. He was one of those on the above mentioned thread in Molyneux’s forum who defended my article, and with whom I’d never had any previous contact of any kind.
He emailed me to tell me that he and others who had defended my position had been banned from the site and some of their posts had been removed. Okay, as stated, it is Molyneux’s web site, but this seemed to be deviating from the alleged commitment to scientific culture of mutual peer criticism to a disturbing degree. I asked Sebastian for evidence of these claims, which he promptly sent along. He has given me permission to share this information; however, I’m not nearly computer wiz-boy enough to really make sense of it, so I won’t try to present it here. Though, I’m happy to send it along to anyone who is interested or you can contact Sebastian through his blog.
What I did do though was to forward this information to my brother, who is a computer wiz-boy and, while something of a libertarian in spirit, has zero involvement with the libertarian movement and thus no axe to grind on this topic. I asked him if the evidence sent by Sebastian substantiated his allegations. For those computer wiz-boys (and girls) out there who understand this stuff, I’ll quote a few paragraphs from my brother’s reply:
He is indeed quite right there is some very serious and underhanded editing going on over there. It is the worst type of editing they don’t even know how to remove the entire code of what they are trying to hide so they are just removing the actual link but leaving the references to it in the source code.
This tells me a couple of things, first being they are not very bright anybody with a mouse and a right click button (any windows mouse) can find the source code and it is still there as I write this clearly showing the link in the code but it’s been removed from view in the actual post. Talk about censorship…
Something else I realize I have a lot of very strong feelings about net things having worked in the computer industry for so long but it’s an unwritten rule and I can’t remember the last time I saw it being broken but they have trampled all over it here. You NEVER edit someone’s post without leaving the “admin – comments” field filled in as to why it was done. They have done it and in such a clumsy way to try and make it look like it never happened which of course just makes it look worse.
For the record, the ellipses at the end of the second paragraph are by my brother’s; these paragraphs are copied in full and completely unedited. Since the matter of creative editing would seem to be a delicate matter just at the moment.
To repeat, Molyneux is free to do as he pleases with his own web site and those who join it do so under the conditions determined by him. In the libertarian utopia we are all free to take any non-aggressing actions which we please. However, that does not suspend us from criticism of those actions by others. That he is free and entitled to exercise dictatorial control of discussion on his forum does not excuse him from being called a hypocrite in his constant and emphatic public declarations on the inviolability of the free and open discussion of the scientific method, and its culture of peer criticism.
His refusal to comment on my blog, where I may reply freely; his laboured reluctance to allow me to address the many foolish and erroneous statements about me and the article on his website (a matter, one fears, corrected more for a concern over optics than principles); the “memory hole” editing tactics identified by Sebastian and my brother; to say nothing of the unrelenting refusal to have an open discussion in front of his faithful followers with an authority on the genetic hereditary literature, to give a hearing to the other side; all comes together to form a distinctive pattern. And that pattern is not one that reveals a fearless champion of reason. I’ll leave it to the reader to conclude what the pattern does reveal.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the pathetic story of the small man who tries to make himself feel bigger by attempting to tear down a bigger man. For those who suspect me of such motives, all I can say is that I’m perfectly aware that Stefan Molyneux has already done far more to advance the cause of libertarianism than I ever will. I respect and appreciate those efforts. But we’re also all equally aware of Lord Acton’s warning about the corruptions of power.
Libertarians are no more exempt from such impulses than are anyone else. Indeed, that’s exactly why the libertarian anarchist position advanced by both Molyneux and myself is the only morally defendable form of social organization. Sadly, though, those facts mean that vigilance is always necessary; cults of personality can do as much harm as the good done by the valid ideas that originally attracts the followers to the leader.
Nothing written here diminishes the good done by Molyneux, but neither does any of that good excuse him playing fast and loose with principles of reason and scientific method when the discussion takes a direction of which he disapproves. I hope this little journey into darkness may be a cautionary tale for us all. In the end, though, I am much more interested in spending my time arguing with statists than with other libertarians, so, as important as I felt it was to air these matters, I intend this to be my last word on the topic – my line in the sand: until Molyneux has Steven Pinker on his video show to challenge his own construction of the science, I will be unable to take seriously any of his claims for devotion and fealty to the ideals of the scientific method.
 For example, he again trots out the conceptual saviour of epigentics while entirely ignoring the many problems with resorting to this deus ex machina that I raised in the original article.
 Seb’s blog is also very much worth watching as he has a far stronger constitution than I and is willing to argue through some of the minutiae of the scientific arguments around the nature-nurture debate. I recommend keeping an eye on his blog to follow both substantive debates and for updates on the some of the less than savory admin practices at Freedomain Radio.