Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can you explain the Bankman-Fried connection?
A: I met Joe Bankman and Barbara Fried during the 2007-2008 academic year at Stanford Law School, where I was their student and mentee. I already had a Ph.D. in philosophy from another university and was interested in pursuing the legal academic track. Their courses that year were well suited to that end. Joe, along with then-dean Larry Kramer, was teaching the Legal Theory Workshop, a year-long seminar designed to groom Stanford Law students for academic careers. Barbara, along with Prof. Josh Cohen, was teaching a course called “Luck in Morality, Public Policy, and the Law,” which meshed with my philosophical interests.
Those classes went as well as could have been hoped for. Joe and Barbara were both drawn in by my Legal Theory term paper, Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression, which examined what conservatives maintain is the covert oppressiveness of the liberal elites—also known as the New Class or the Clerisy, among other labels. And so, they became my academic advisers. I charmed them well enough that they quite spontaneously offered me a two-year academic fellowship to stay on at the law school after graduation, which I accepted.
Unfortunately, things later went sideways, at which point they initiated the gaslighting detailed in The Star Chamber of Stanford. My hopes for an academic career were at an end. Even so, I vowed to one day expose my advisers’ gaslighting, by making of it a case study in the cultural pathologies of liberalism and academia, first unearthed in my term paper. That’s the purpose of the memoir, which crafts a philosophical argument through the tale of my convoluted association with the Bankman-Fried power couple. I had been toiling over it for more than a decade before it finally appeared on Amazon in April 2022, after many delays.I didn’t learn that one of Joe and Barbara’s offspring had emerged as the celebrated crypto wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) until fairly recently—only a month or two before his fall from grace, quite by happenstance online. So, it’s pure serendipity that my former advisers should be thrust into the national spotlight just six months after the memoir’s belated release—utterly uncanny, just like my story itself. Ruminating on the denouement of my association with Stanford toward the close of the book, I summed up the situation as follows:
Now clear-sighted as to the nature of my jihad, I could see in hindsight that what Barbara had diagnosed as my proclivity to “make specimens” of people was perhaps more worrisome than I could then appreciate. But that penchant had always lain latent in my research agenda, spurring me on inexorably according to an invisible logic, and I would hold Stanford to account by dint of it. … Reflecting on Barbara’s prophetic prescience alongside my own premonition all through the summer of 2008 that I’d be engrossed in the project [Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression] full time by the upcoming fall, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we were all vessels for forces larger than ourselves, wooly-minded though that sounds, with these signs from a wise providence auguring a distant yet destined day of reckoning when balance would be restored to the universe.
That arguably superstitious trust in the fates has, to my mind, been vindicated by the astonishing, unpremeditated timeliness of the memoir, as the spectacular fall of SBF, in combination the role his parents will inevitably play in the various narratives set forth to explain it, will hopefully garner the memoir a lot more attention than it otherwise would have gotten. Truly do I have the favor of the gods (unlike a lot of crypto investors these days). I believe the research agenda I first initiated at Stanford—beginning with Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression and culminating with the memoir—positions me to help elevate the emerging discourse on the fall of SBF. My work—written both for and about SBF’s parents—can illuminate some of the profound questions naturally raised by this epic debacle.
I’ve never met SBF, but I distinctly recall once espying him as a teenager alongside his parents in the late summer of 2008, when Joe and Barbara hosted a gathering at their home for law students contemplating academic careers. My outsider’s impression was one of authentic and harmonious familial relations. From what I’ve read, Joe and Barbara were seriously committed to cultivating their offspring’s moral capacities (moral philosophy being one of Barbara’s specialties). And yet we all know how things panned out. My best guess is that they were as blindsided as anyone. How did that happen? That’s where my research agenda and memoir come in.
To explain is not to excuse, but SBF was raised on the Stanford campus, by not one but two academic superstar parents. So he was being marinated in the elite culture and its vices from the day he was born—the elites’ hubris, their unfounded sense of moral and intellectual superiority, their penchant for stealth, subterfuge, and plausible deniability. These unfortunate tendencies can express themselves in a host of ways. Apropos my feud with my advisers, the medium was a campaign of barely noticeable psychological warfare. Apropos their wayward son, it was epic financial fraud. But the underlying ethos is the same. That ethos was reproducing itself in SBF in subtle ways that Joe and Barbara, snuggly ensconced in their elite bubble, could ill understand, and that’s why he broke bad despite their high-minded intentions. They aren’t responsible for SBF’s (alleged) crimes, but they are responsible for contributing to a culture in which the rise of SBF became possible. The Star Chamber of Stanford can help us understand why.
Q: What’s with the endnotes and bibliography? Those are unusual in a memoir.
A: The Star Chamber of Stanford is an academic memoir in the dual sense that it both recounts an academic experience and supplies academic commentary to illuminate that experience. As I explain in the introduction, this is “the story of a term paper that came to life, the paper that was written for Stanford before the force of its own inner logic made it become about Stanford.”
That said, the academic citation is pretty light compared to conventional scholarly fare, so readers shouldn’t be deterred. True eggheads can turn to the companion works available on my website, which take a deep dive into the memoir’s big ideas. They can also have a look at my published Two Orientations Toward Human Nature. But you don’t need these to understand the memoir—just an open mind.
Q: What do you mean by “gaslighting”?
A: Gaslighting is a specific form of psychological manipulation that aims to undermine its victims’ confidence in their own memories and perceptions—and possibly their very sanity. The term derives from a 1938 play, Gaslight, and its 1944 film adaptation, starring Ingrid Bergmann and Charles Boyer (spoiler alert). Set in Victorian London, the movie tells of a Janus-faced husband who schemes to convince his trusting young wife that she’s losing her mind, so he can get her committed, seize her property, and recover lost jewels secreted away somewhere in the home. By stealthily displacing various household chattels while disclaiming responsibility for this, he persuades her that she’s in the throes of unconscious kleptomania. Unbeknown to her, he spends his evenings rummaging for the lost jewels in the attic. When he ignites the attic gaslight, less gas becomes available to other gaslights in the dwelling, causing them to dim, which the wife notices but cannot explain. The mystery initially drives her further into self-doubt but eventually becomes the husband’s undoing.
Clinically speaking, gaslighting needn’t involve this degree of premeditation, and the manipulation is typically verbal rather than environmental. The term has now seeped into political discourse, where it may denote a ploy to sow doubt about self-evident truths, though its meaning is often diluted to encompass run-of-the-mill intellectual dishonesty. The gaslighting in the memoir is more akin to what takes place in the movie than to this more elastic political usage, except that it’s a great deal more intellectualized, as befits the setting. My story is quite involved, seeing as I was gaslighted by some of the country’s leading minds. That’s why I can’t give you a quick and dirty rundown of what the hell I’m talking about and am reduced to making cryptic pronouncements. It simply defies familiar categories of human behavior, so you’ll have to read the book.
Q: No offense, but could you be deluded about the gaslighting? You’re holding yourself out as a sane actor who was gaslighted into a simulacrum of insanity, but might you be an insane one who only imagined being gaslighted?
Q: Is it fair to call you a conspiracy theorist?
Conspiracy theorists get a bad rap. But no matter the stereotypes we’re not all alike, and our theories should be judged on their own merits. I know my allegations are stranger than fiction, but I think they hold up on close reflection. Plausible deniability is a thing, and extraordinary events do occur in the world from time to time. Did it all transpire exactly as I’ve theorized? Maybe not. Are my claims substantially true as to the big picture? I think so, but readers will judge for themselves. That’s the fun of the book.
Q: Are you also a troll?
A: An agitator perhaps, but not a troll. Some of my methods may be trollesque, as I do have an impish streak, but my ends are serious.
Q: Aren’t you exploiting your former affiliation with Stanford to raise your own profile?
Q: I don’t bother with conservative screeds. Why should I read this?
A: I do follow conservatives in redirecting the language and values of the Left against the Left, especially against the academic elites. But, as the memoir clarifies, I’m simply taking liberal principles to their logical conclusion, not defending conservatism as an overarching worldview. It’s a mainstay of left-liberal thought that subtle forms of white, male, or heterosexual privilege blind us to the subterranean inequalities perpetrated by dominant ideologies. I’m bringing that critical spirit to bear on the ideologies of academia and the chattering class. By exposing the gaslighting, I expose those ideologies.
Q: But isn’t it common knowledge that academia is fertile soil for all sorts of irrationality? Most academics would acknowledge this much, so what’s new here?
A: Elites may be tempted to say, “Sure, we have prejudices and biases. We’re only human, too, and have never denied that. So, there’s nothing to see here. Please move on.” And yet some of these same people display a keen, highly theorized interest in the alleged prejudices of other social strata, or at least approve of that interest. The blasé banalization of academic irrationality is an ideological deflection mechanism. It’s like discounting critical race theory and such with the refrain that everyone knows slavery and segregation were wrong—a dismissal that won’t get much traction in elite circles. So, the banalization is really a kind of privilege, enjoyed by those who, as Bourdieu observes in Homo Academicus, “wish to objectify without being objectified.” The memoir takes aim at that privilege. It’s one thing to acknowledge academic irrationality with low-resolution platitudes but quite another to examine it under a psychophilosophical microscope in human subjects research. That’s what the memoir accomplishes.
Q: Is this a revenge memoir?
Q: Why aren’t these the grievances of a disgruntled former employee?
Q: Are you claiming victimhood?
A: Philosophically speaking, I’m a victim of the times. Interpersonally speaking, I’m both a victim and a victimizer, as we are all. I faced more than my share of microaggressions at Stanford, as would anyone resisting the elites’ hegemony over higher education, and I do draw rhetorically on the grievance culture. That said, I also try to stay clear of facile black-and-white moral judgments, so don’t expect straightforward answers to such questions.
Q: Why are you only now going public with these allegations, over a decade after the relevant events? Some people are going to wonder why you took so long to come out of the woodwork. Doesn’t that harm your credibility?
So the long delay shouldn’t raise eyebrows. I’m actually glad the memoir is only now being released. Tell someone ten years ago that you’d been gaslighted and they likely would have had no clue what you were saying. Today there’s greater awareness of gaslighting. People understand it’s a problem and will listen to survivors.
Q: Why the jester on the cover? Is he supposed to symbolize you?
A: Yes. The medieval jester or fool was a versatile entertainer whose wide skill set included dancing, juggling, acrobatics, singing, and magic tricks. He was also a stand-up comedian responsible for mocking his audience at court, where he had special license to openly ridicule and abuse kings and nobles without retribution, since he was not one to be taken seriously. This niche empowered him to voice frank criticisms and unpopular insights that the high and mighty dared not utter. So, the fool was really a sage who spoke truth to power through a veil of calculated buffoonery. The Star Chamber of Stanford channels the spirit and power of the jester.