Mankind Project provides journalist with a “very weird weekend”

The Mankind Project has been off my radar for months. However, UK journalist Tom Mitchelson put it back on with his eyewitness account published in Saturday’s UK Mail Online

I first heard about the MKP’s New Warriors Training Adventure at a NARTH (National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) conference in 2003. Various members, including then President Joe Nicolosi, were recommending it to those in attendance as a way to support healthy masculinity.  A few same-sex attracted men who tried it thought it was great and a few others thought it made no sense to be naked in the woods with other guys. New Warriors is still recommended on the NARTH website. In view of the current critiques of the sexual identity therapy framework (SITF), it is worth pointing out that the SITF discourages experiences like NWTA. More about that after I review Mitchelson’s weird weekend.

The next time I recall thinking much about MKP was when I read Chris Vogel’s Houston Press article about the suicide of Michael Scinto. You can read all of the articles on MKP and NWTA here.

For veteran NWTA watchers, these experiences will seem familiar. Mitchelson grabs your attention out of the gate:

How our man found himself with 65 naked men chanting, drumming – and screaming their rage against women to ‘reclaim’ their lost masculinity…

The temperature has plunged to freezing. I am deep in a remote English woodland outside Exeter.

I have been blindfolded and I am standing, holding hands, with a long line of men – who, until about 24 hours ago, I’d never met before.

Together, we are stumbling through the scrub as beating tribal drums guide our way. Oh yes, and we are naked. Totally naked.

Abruptly, my blindfold is ripped off and I see we have been led to a shadowy candle-lit room. There are about 65 of us in a double horseshoe formation.

This is a ceremony where we are to become ‘new warriors’. And then the dancing begins.

I wish I were somewhere else. Anywhere else. So why on earth am I here?

Why indeed? On its website, MKP proclaims:

We’re redefining mature masculinity for the 21st Century – and we want your help!

Along the way Mitchelson seems amused that the NWTA is viewed as a path to redefined masculinity.

A leader holding a wooden staff decorated with feathers rambles on about the mission of the weekend, using the pompous jargon that would later become very familiar: words like ‘shadow’, ‘warriors’, ‘masculine’, ‘commitment’ and ‘responsibility’.

He tells us how to be a man. It’s hard to take from a man wearing face paint, carrying a feathered stick.

Whatever healthy masculinity is, it seems to involve making the world into a giant man-cave, free from those pesky women.

Everything I read from them is baffling non-speak. They claim the weekend is a ‘process of initiation and self-examination that is crucial to the development of a healthy and mature male self’.

They claim they help move men away from the ‘comforting embrace’ of their mother – something, on the face of it, some wives might even encourage. Then I am told I will ‘confront’ my ‘dependence on women’, to help me move into the ‘masculine kingdom’.

The fun begins when they arrive at the camp. (more…)

Houston Press on the ManKind Project’s transparency

Chris Vogel, the reporter who broke the Michael Scinto story, files a post about the new transparency from the MKP. Like me, he has been unable to get confirmation from MKP. I do trust my source however.

Vogel interviewed Kathy Scinto, Michael’s mother, who is very happy with the prospects of a change at MKP.

“I’ve got chills,” the mother of Michael Scinto, Kathy, tells Hair Balls. “Honestly, Hallelujah. I can’t believe it.”

“I’m just so happy because that’s all that we ever wanted, and for it to actually happen is just like a miracle,” says Kathy Scinto. “It’s so wonderful.”

Mankind Project goes transparent

In 2007, I took some heat over my interest in and criticism of the Mankind Project. My initial interest was sparked by the suicide of Michael Scinto shortly after attending a New Warriors Training Adventure, the signature program of MKP. In addition to my interest in strange approaches to counseling, this program was doubly intriguing because reparative therapists and their supporters (e.g., Joe Nicolosi, Richard Cohen, Arthur Goldberg, Paul Miller) recommend NWTA as a way to reduce same-sex attractions.

Since then, MKP has made it plain that they do not recommend NWTA as a reparative therapy adjunct and they have become quite gay friendly. However, these reparative therapists have not back away from their support. For instance, Richard Cohen, in his book for parents of gay children, recommends that fathers and sons attend the weekend together.

One regular criticism of MKP relates to the secrecy of the activities on the NWTA weekends — and for good reason. Some men would surely not go if they knew of the sometimes odd things they would be asked to do. Some of the odd things are harmless but sometimes they can be upsetting. I list links to some on this blog, such as this one, called Killing Daddy. See this page for more about MKP and click this link for prior posts on the topic.

And so, it was with interest that I read a note from a reader who follows MKP. He noted that MKP is now going transparent. All of this is on my MKP page but here is a couple of sections of the memo.

Transparency and the NWTA: Next Steps

At the February 2009 Annual Meeting in Glen Ivy the Project Council approved a proposal moving MKP toward greater transparency. The full proposal is included at the end of this note, which is intended to let you know the work we’re doing to put the plan into action.

External Communications

This is the main focus of the initiative designed to increase candor regarding FAQ’s for men coming to the training as well as specifically addressing inaccurate criticism of MKP and the NWTA on the web.

· We are developing a set of FAQ’s to guide men in speaking with potential initiates about the training and the organization. You are encouraged to share information about the NWTA to the extent that it is requested, encouraging men to step into the mystery while answering questions honestly.

· The MKP public website is being revised to include the above material and appropriate “spoiler” warnings. It will include direct responses to some of the specific criticisms and misperceptions on the web (Houston Press, Haven Ministry, Rick Ross, Warren Throckmorton, Reid Baer, etc.)

MKP is going to talk more freely about what they do but they are going to respond to what some of us have published as “misperceptions.” Well, I look forward to finding out what those misperceptions are.

In any event, the proposal for transparency was apparently approved and will result in significant changes if this memo can be believed. Here is the context of the proposal for transparency and some of what is supposed to happen.

Transparency Regarding the NWTA

Context

In our Confidentiality Agreement and the processes Secret Male Ritual and Integrating the Training we ask men not to share the processes on the NWTA. As an institution we maintain this secrecy in how we speak and write about our training. In the last few years we have been criticized on blogs, on websites, and in a suit for not providing sufficient details for men to make an informed decision about attending our training. The ManKind Project has been labeled a cult by some for our refusal to disclose what we do on the training. It is likely that at least some of these attacks could have been avoided if we had provided more information about the training. The cost of these attacks has been significant to MKP and to our centers. At the same time, most, if not all, of our processes have been described in various media, and in some cases our protocols have been made available on websites.

In many contexts, MKP as an institution and we as individuals highly value transparency, and around the globe organizations are being increasingly called to provide transparency about their activities. Nevertheless we have continued to hold an expectation that we can and should keep our NWTA processes secret. Many of us are concerned that knowing more about the training will make it less effective for participants. Others who read about our processes before attending the NWTA say it was still extremely impactful. I have spoken in depth with the Leader and Center Councils about how we hold secrecy and transparency, and the overwhelming response has favored transparency.

Proposal

I believe that on balance, it will serve the ManKind Project to release our expectations of secrecy and step into transparency about our processes. I propose that MKP begin to provide disclosure about our processes to the extent it is requested by potential initiates and the general public. This means:

· Men who have done the NWTA will be released from any obligation to maintain secrecy about our processes, and will be encouraged to share information about the NWTA to the extent it is requested. This applies particularly to men involved in NWTA enrollment.

MKPers can now sing like birds about their experiences. Might as well, many of the processes and procedures are already on the web anyway. But this way, new initiates will know more directly from the people involved what they are getting into. While I still think MKP is a risky proposition given the lack of training of the leaders and the questionable efficacy of the processes, this move is a good one.

Not sure how many MKP or anti-MKP readers I still have but if you are out there, what are your reactions to this move? Do you believe it? Is it enough? Too much?

AHO!

Mankind Project says report inaccurate, offers no corrections

Last week, I reported that the Mankind Project Houston has not kept the terms which were a part of settling a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of Michael Scinto. Scinto killed himself after a New Warriors Training Adventure. In an online article Friday, the Houston Press confirmed with Mrs. Scinto that she was unaware of any effort to comply with the court settlement.

Prior to that post, I wrote the Mankind Project of Houston to ask if I missed something on their website or if they plan to comply in the future. Friday afternoon, an unnamed person from MKP-H wrote back to refer me to their legal counsel “regarding your inaccurate assumptions against MKP on your blog.”

However, the emailer offered no examples of anything inaccurate. In fact, I didn’t assume anything. I reported what the court order said (a copy of which was retrieved from the Harris County court website) and what their website says.

If MKP-H has evidence that either of those sources are incorrect, then it should be a simple matter to produce it.

Mankind Project Houston has not implemented Scinto court settlement

Mankind Project came into public view via a Houston Press article on the suicide of Michael Scinto. Due to statements made after the New Warriors Training Adventure weekend by Mr. Scinto, his parents came to believe that the weekend conducted by MKP-Houston was responsible for the tragic death. The Scintos sued and settled with MKPH in June, 2008. The settlement called for MKPH to provide a new level of disclosure about the activities of the NWTA. MKPH agreed to several changes in disclosure on their website:

-MKP of Houston agreed to have its pre-New Warrior Training Adventure Adventure questionnaire reviewed by a licensed mental health professional for recommendations about how it can be improved. However, the MKPH board must approve changes before they can be implemented.

-Each application for the NWTA must be screened by a mental health professional who has personal knowledge of the weekend. The screener shall determine whether the applicant shall be accepted or not with the decision written on the application.

-The following changes will be made within 30 days of a required MKP of Houston Board review of the website:

1. Change the website to provide adequate information from which potential applicants can make an informed decision about whether to attend the NWTA.

2. The website shall disclose that a mental health professional will screen applications to determine suitability for participation.

3. The website will need to disclose that people who wish to leave the NWTA are free to do so.

4. Applicants will be told that the NWTA may involve optional nudity and certain elements of Native American traditions.

-MKPH agrees to develop a written protocol which will allow any participant to leave NWTA safely with MKPH assistance. Participants requesting to leave shall be allowed to do so immediately unless the action would result in further risk of harm. Once a request is made, the participant is not required to do any other activities unless the participant changes his mind.

These changes were to be made within 6 months of approval of the MKPH board. It is now January, 2009 and no changes have been made. In fact, the secrecy surrounding the weekend is still offered as a selling point on the group’s website:

Why aren’t the details of the Weekend divulged in advance?

There’s all the difference in the world between a concept and an experience. Our commitment is to give you a transformational experience along with information you can use.

Traditional initiations utilized fasting, isolation, sleep deprivation, mind altering substances and painful physical ordeals to break down the psyche’s natural resistance to change.

While we don’t use those extreme conditions, we do rely on the element of confidentiality to intensify and deepen the process. We ask you to trust us in this regard. All activities during the weekend are optional but you will get the most benefit if you participate fully. Remember, the training is mostly staffed by volunteers who have gone through the same experience and found it very worthwhile.

What is ironic about this description is that MKPH says NWTA does not use “fasting, isolation, sleep deprivation” techniques to “break down the psyche’s natural resistance to change.” However, as described by prior members, NWTA clearly involves at lease some level of food and sleep deprivation and isolation. Some people who view themselves as survivors of MKP would alter MKPH’s description of NWTA to say that the weekend simply breaks down the psyche.

I wrote the MKPH director for a comment or clarification of their position which I will post if I hear back. For more information regarding NWTA and MKP, see this page.

Former Mankind Project journal editor plans YouTube revolution

Reid Baer doesn’t go quietly.

Former Mankind Project (MKP) member-only journal editor is planning an online meeting for men who dislike MKP for one reason or another and those who are remaining in it. Mr. Baer was recently fired from the editor position for several vague reasons, one of which was using New Warrior in his online screen name. MKP claims such use is a copyright violation.

If using New Warrior online is a copyright violation then get ready for an orgy of violations. Here is Baer’s plan. He wants men who have interest or who have ever been involved with MKP to go to this YouTube page and register as a New Warrior. Currently, there are only a few names (e.g., NewWarriorObserver, NewWarriorMan2). We could all go over and be NewWarriors. Like NewWarriorDrowssap or NewWarriorEddy or something (I think NewWarriorMary would be kind of humorous). Anyway, the “event” will be 12/1 and 12/2.

MKP also recently terminated the contract of long-time MKP administrator Drury Heffernan. The reason given was the need for someone to improve MKP technological capabilities. Whatever the reasons for these changes, MKP’s numbers are dropping and the financial crunch continues. According to Baer, the organization needs to become more transparent. The release of Baer indicates that the group has opted for maintaining the secret lodge-like approach. The Houston Press article and Scinto case which triggered it have clearly had an impact on MKP.

For more information, see my page on MKP.

Mankind Project self-destructing?

After a steady rise in influence and numbers, the Mankind Project may now be in decline. More about that in a bit.

Today, Chris Vogel writes about a dispute within the murky inner-circle of the MKP which has become public. Vogel writes:

Here’s some news for you readers who’ve been keeping up with The ManKind Project, the controversial so-called men’s self-help group that detractors have criticized for targeting members of 12-step recovery groups, practicing therapy without a license and maintaining a dark cloak of secrecy regarding its “New Warrior” rites and rituals.

Reid Baer, the former editor of the non-profit organization’s monthly publication, the New Warrior Journal, says he was fired from the position because the group’s leadership is tired of him demanding more transparency to the public.

“The problem,” Baer tells Hair Balls, “is that they have been a secret organization for so many years that they don’t know how to stop being secret. I fought for stuff for five years and I think they just got tired of me telling the truth, because I would interview men who had dissenting views, and they hated it.”

Nice that Baer confirms what has been obvious: MKP deliberately keeps practices secret from initiates and requires participants to keep these activities secret. Baer’s firing may have been multi-determined though, as Vogel explains.

But, Baer concedes, that was not the official reason he was let go from his $10,000 a year post. According to a letter Baer says MKP’s Executive Director Carl Griesser wrote him, Baer, a former journalist turned poet on the Internet with his own Wikipedia entry, was terminated because he uses the nom de plume “NewWarriorMan.” In his letter, Griesser says the name “New Warrior” is a registered trademark of The ManKind Project and therefore Baer cannot use it.

Baer says that while MKP has trademarked similar phrases to the one he uses, his specific Web name is not one of them.

Griesser also complains in his letter that Baer made the “unilateral decision” not to publish the organization’s periodical in November (to which Baer says his supervisors made the call) and is concerned with “some especially offensive videos in recent weeks.”

One such video Griesser points to, taken by Baer, shows the poet drop trou in front of the camera, bend over a desk, smack lube across his backside and then say, “Go ahead, I’m ready.” The segment is titled, “Jack Nicholson is ready for Barack Obama, et al.”

Thanks to the Houston Press, and several websites, including this blog, men who want to know more about the MKP can find out almost everything about a New Warriors Training Adventure via an Internet search in advance. So Baer argues that MKP should become more transparent, saying,

“Some of the things we do we keep from the public because the surprise value of it, historically speaking, has had more impact. But now that we’re in the Google world, I have for the last five years been campaigning to be more transparent and to share more about what we do on the weekends because men now, before they go, will Google ‘MKP,’ and if all they see are the bad stories, a lawsuit, this and that, then that’s not doing us any good. And so for them to fire the very guy who wants to put good information out there is insanity.”

Another reason Baer may have been fired is to save money. MKP is not doing well and has recently informed members of significant financial problems.

The Mankind Project is currently facing one of the biggest financial challenges of its life. Due to a significant decline in men enrolled in NWTA’s, and despite $30,000 in budget cuts over the past three months, we are facing a projected shortfall this year of $75,000. We need your help.

Historically, about 90% of the revenue generated by the Project has come from tuition from our trainings. The rest is raised through contributions, primarily to the Chairman’s Campaign. For the first

time in 23 years, our average number of men per training has decreased significantly – by about 10%. We expect to initiate 2849 men this year, down from a high of 3209 in 2005. We are budgeting

for a similar decrease in 2009.

MKP is now holding re-initiation weekends where men who have been through the weekend Training Adventure can do it all over again. Despite the gay friendly nature of New Warriors, NARTH, JONAH, Richard Cohen, and Northern Ireland’s Paul Miller continue to recommend New Warriors as a kind of reparative therapy intervention to reduce same-sex attraction via an enhancement of masculinity feelings.

Back to Mr. Baer; he is not too happy about the copyright issue and has created another YouTube identity at NewWarriorMan2.

AHO!

Mankind Project on marriage: Is this good or bad advice?

Jim Belushi is a funny guy. He apparently is also into “the men’s movement.” He gave an interview to the Mankind Project’s journal (which normally is password protected) you can read via a link on the MKP website. The interview was conducted by MKPer Reid Baer and contains what is portrayed as wit and wisdom about true masculinity in the context of relationship with a woman. The title of Belushi’s book is “Real Men Don’t Apologize” and there are some rules he recommends:

Here are Belushi’s 5 Commandments for his wife:

Thou Shalt Not Shush Me

Thou Shalt Not Steal

Thou Shalt Never Banish Me to the Couch

Thou Shalt Not compete With me

Thou Shalt Not Expect an Apology for Something I am Not sorrieth For

There are many more tributes to the frat guy approach to masculinity. Here is another:

“Women say they want a man who is kind, gentle, compassionate, polite, considerate and nurturing,” Belushi intoned. “Bullshit! They just described a chick! Women really need a man who is mysterious, powerful, passionate, confident, unpredictable and a little dangerous. That’s the guy they will sleep with … the most interesting person in the world to a woman is someone they know nothing about. The stuff they come up with in their own head is a lot more interesting than you. That’s why so many women out there have a crush on Tony Soprano. He cheats on his wife, works in an illegal business and kills people.”

And then more specific to the masculinity work of MKP, Belushi advises:

“I’ve been doing men’s work for a long time because I’ve had to … to survive,” he said. “There’s a lot of healing that we men need because we’ve got some wounds to deal with. Women may want to fix them, but they can’t. We have to use the tribal approach and let the men work with the men.”

So women cannot help men be men. This is a common theme in the MKP stuff I have read. Women are of some other tribe and the coming together is apparently not for companionship or for mutual completion. In fact, I am not sure what (other) role women play for men when I read

“Love without sex is friendship, sex without love is spring break, and if you want companionship, get a dog.”

Ok, let me open it up. Does this look like a respectful, winning approach to heterosexual relationships? This is one of two featured interviews on the MKP page, so they must think this is good stuff. I am wondering what wives think reading this interview — (“Is that what my husband will come home expecting?”). Readers, chime in here…

PS – This is the thought for the day (7/23/08) on the MKP website:

Thought for the Day:

When a man finds his own heart, he outgrows his unreal romanticism about women, as well as the neurotic need to please them.

Call me neurotic but I like to make my wife happy. And besides, I do not know what that even means. To me, it sounds like, when a man gets self-centered, he puts himself first. Is the MKP vision of manhood a guy who finds some great thing to conquer and then puts that mission in first place?

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